GoPro’s latest action cam finally brings 4K video to its entry-level Session range. It’s significantly smaller and lighter than the current reigning action camera champion and its brother, the GoPro Hero 5 Black.
Weighing just 74g and covering a 38 x 38mm footprint, it’s a tad larger than last year’s Session, but bar the change in chassis colour it’s essentially the same cube we’re already familiar with.
It’s still got the monochrome display on top next to the record button, as well as a button for switching shooting modes at the back. Just like last year, the Hero 5 Session is also waterproof up to a depth of 10m, doing away with the need for a waterproof case. Once, this was the feature that made it stand out from its Hero siblings, but now the Hero 5 Black has proper waterproofing, too, it no longer feels quite so special.
There’s also no microSD card in the box, so you’ll have to provide one yourself. It supports up to 128GB cards, so you’ll have to fork out another £20 or so if you haven’t got one already. One thing you do get is a helmet mount. This is simple and easy enough to attach to helmets and the like and should give the camera a little-added protection from bumps and drops.
Another trait the Hero 5 Session brings forward is its non-removable 1,000mAh battery. This means you won’t be able to carry around spares for quick swaps while you’re out and about, unlike the Black, but when you can get a full charge in just over an hour via the supplied USB-C cable, at least it won’t take long to keep it topped up. Considering you’re not always going to find a plug socket so easily outdoors, you could always keep it connected to a battery pack for charging on the go.
GoPro Hero 5 Session review: Image and video quality
As with all GoPro’s cameras, its one-touch controls make the Hero 5 Session very easy to use. Simply press the shutter button on the top and you’ll power it on in just a couple of seconds and start recording. Press it again and it’ll save the footage and turn the camera off. You can cycle through video/photo modes on the fly with just a push of the mode button at the back, and you can see which settings you’ve applied along with battery information and storage info on the LCD display.
However, unlike the Hero 5 Black, the Session doesn’t come with a helpful touchscreen, so you won’t be able to dig deep into the nitty gritty settings unless you open up GoPro’s Capture app on your phone. I didn’t realise how much I’d miss the Black’s touch display, even if it was a little finicky from time to time, with the convenience of never needlessly draining your smartphone battery making everything so much easier. The app is easy enough to use, and is far more responsive than the sluggish touchscreen of the Black. Here, you can adjust the field of view, video quality, ISO and exposure levels. You can also make simple edits via Quik, splicing together footage with just a few taps.
The biggest addition to the Hero 5 Session, however, is that it can now capture 4K video. Footage is limited to 30fps, unlike the Black’s 60fps but video quality was top notch. I was impressed with how sharp and detailed my test footage looked, and it offers a significant step up from last year’s Session. Video is recorded at a higher 60MB/s bitrate, a bump up from 25MB/s, which makes a massive difference to its overall quality.
Higher framerates are available at lower resolutions, going up to a maximum of 120fps at 720p. Some of the framerate and resolution pairings are a little limited compared to its pricier counterpart, with 1,440p only hitting a max 60fps rather than 80fps for instance, but there’s still plenty to keep you satisfied on your adventures.
Like the Hero 5 Black, the Session’s colour saturation is just a touch cold for my tastes even if I was thwarted by the gloomy British weather and could only record while it was overcast. It’s not such a good performer in low-light, with noise issues being far more commonplace than footage taken with plenty of natural light, with colours looking a tad muted. The good news is that its dual microphone is now much louder and clearer than its predecessor thanks to its improved wind noise reduction, so at least it’s able to pick up plenty of sound.
You can take stills with the 10-megapixel camera, but this isn’t the Hero 5 Session’s strong suit. Colours are vibrant enough, but are noticeably lacking in detail. Several shots were also quite under-exposed, especially when I put them side-by-side with the shots I’d taken with the Hero 5 Black. There’s little chance of rescuing unusable shots taken with the Session as well, as it lacks the RAW export of its Black sibling.
One thing the Session does have in its favour is its overall battery life. Taking it out and about on my commute, I reached roughly 1hr and 40mins of stop/start footage, with the battery only just dipping below 40%. Put that side-by-side with the Hero 5 Black’s 1hr 45mins total, and you’re looking at a noticeable improvement. Expect almost 2 hours of solid recording time, storage space permitting.
GoPro Hero 5 Session review: Verdict
GoPro’s Hero 5 Session might not have all the fancy features of its action camera rivals, but that doesn’t mean this isn’t still a great piece of kit. Aside from a couple of niggles, most notably with its still image quality, the Session is a bare bones action camera that does the job well.
It’s not quite as well-rounded as GoPro’s Hero 5 Black, but if you’re a little strapped for cash, this is still a great buy. However, if you’re not too fussed about 4K video quality and a new microphone, you can pick up a Hero 4 Session for just £149. This’ll give you everything you need to get started for £100 less, so long as you’re willing to sacrifice on a few nice little extras.