GoPro overhauled its range of action cameras last year, adding more features to its ‘entry-level’ point of view (POV) devices and further improving its top-spec digital cameras to cement its reputation as the king of the action cams.
Granted, there are now plenty of rival offerings that aim to tempt buyers away from the biggest name in sports and action shooting, but few can compete with the level of functions and image quality offered by the Californian brand.
The Hero5 Session sits in the middle of GoPro’s current camera lineup, borrowing many elements from its bigger Hero5 Black brother (which has just been superseded by both the Hero6 Black and Hero7 Black), yet featuring the scaled-down simplicity and exterior packaging of the more affordable Hero Session.
GoPro Hero5 Session (Specs)
- Widescreen Video Capture: Yes
- Max Video Resolution: 3840 x 2160
- Max Video Resolution: 3840 x 2160
- Effective Photo: Resolution10.0 MP
- Protection: waterproof
It may sound confusing, and there’s a big price disparity between the four-camera, but the key thing to note is that the Hero5 Session shoots in 4K at 30fps, like the Hero5 Black, while stills are captured in 10MP (as opposed to 12MP by the Hero5 black) and it features GoPro’s ProTune feature for easier post-production editing.
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GoPro Hero5: Session
GoPro Hero5 Session: Feature
GoPro knows its audience, which is why it can get away with offering a number of cameras over a range of prices with very similar features.
But for those wanting professional touches, such as ultra-sharp image quality via an all-glass lens, excellent low light performance and 4K filming at 60fps, then the Hero6 Black is definitely the camera to plump for.
That said, the Hero5 Session still manages to cram a hefty amount into its diminutive shell, including the aforementioned 4K at 30fps video resolution, ProTune options and other pro-grade features, not to mention voice control and excellent smartphone connectivity.
It is a lot more expensive than the near identical-looking Hero Program, but that digital camera doesn’t support 4K video, nor does it sport voice control or the Superview, Linear and Narrow fields of view.
Features-wise, though, it’s more useful to compare the Hero5 Session to its bigger brother, because side-by-side there’s very little to separate the two bar the slightly reduced frame rate at certain video resolutions, the lack of RAW and WDR nevertheless image files, and the much more user-friendly rear touchscreen display.
The small differences in quality will be difficult to spot for anyone using the camera on a casual basis, but the fact that the Hero5 Session doesn’t have a rear screen or an interchangeable battery will undoubtedly be reason enough for those using their camera on a regular basis to jump to the more expensive Hero5 Black or Hero6 Black.
GoPro Hero5 Session: Design
The Hero5 Session really is a masterclass in simplicity, as this small cube (it’s only marginally bigger than pool cue chalk) features just two buttons and one side flap that houses the USB-C port and MicroSD card slot.
The shutter button on the top also acts as a power-on switch, and will start recording video automatically (if the relevant settings are activated) when depressed.
A much smaller, and infinitely more finicky button on the rear scrolls through the various menus and settings about the camera.
It takes a little while to get used to one-button control, and there will likely be multiple shaky video clips of feet and sky captured as users accidentally record when they merely meant to power-up the device.
However, things are much simpler when the Hero5 Session is linked to GoPro’s app, which acts as both the rear screen (for setting up shots) and as a hub for browsing menus and adjusting configurations.
Just behind the big red shutter button is a small white-on-black display that displays the mode (video, photo, burst, etc), the number of files recorded, the battery level and whether voice handle and Wi-Fi are activated.
If you don’t have your phone to hand this is also the only screen via which you can adjust and navigate menus, which isn’t exactly good news for anyone with imperfect vision, as it’s so small, although it remains bright enough to use in the dark.
The Hero5 Session also comes with a small exterior housing – it can’t be mounted to anything without this. But, unlike previous chunky plastic coverings, that is simply a thin plastic material jacket that sports GoPro’s recognizable mounting system at the bottom.
There’s also an USB-C cable and a little selection of adhesive mounts to get you started, and in all honesty that’s all that’s really required with this miniature Hero.
The camera itself is so small and light that it’s incredibly easy to stick it to the side of a bicycle helmet, for example, without the need for additional accessories.
Regardless, the camera’s exoskeleton (GoPro calls it a frame) is compatible with the vast array of GoPro accessories, which cover everything from floating selfie sticks to headband mounts and much more.
GoPro Hero5 Session: Performance
We spent a long time with the GoPro Hero5 Session, taking it on hikes along Portuguese cliff tops to capture the local surf, attaching it to a motorcycle and putting it to good use at a local skate park, and the results were always impressive.
Granted, it can be annoying and fiddly to access menus using just the tiny screen atop the unit, but many users will find video and stills settings that work for them and only stick to those.
Tethering to the smartphone is an easy solution to interface issues, but it does have an adverse effect on battery life. Regularly having to find a power outlet to charge the device was probably one of the most vexing aspects of our time with the Hero5 Session.
The GoPro app is comprehensive, and allows for imagery and video to be browsed and downloaded to a smartphone for later editing in Quik Stories, arguably one of the simplest ways to produce engaging short films to date.
This separate free app requires the user to feed in the desired clips and the software will then do all the hard work, offering a variety of edit styles, background tunes and font types to create neat short films that can be directly uploaded to social platforms.
GoPro Hero5: Conclusion
The video and image quality captured by the smallest camera in the GoPro range certainly belies its pocket-sized packaging. Clips appear vibrant and smooth, while stills imagery is crisp enough to feature on websites and social media with little or no enhancement.
A lack of a raw file option does reduce the scope for tweaking still images, but at the highest 10MP resolution shots are detailed enough to take into post-production software and print at a decent size.