The GoPro Hero 4 Session was a small, barebones action camera. It was so simple, in fact, that it didn’t even have the fancy 4K video recording of its bigger, more expensive counterparts. That’s all changed with this year’s Hero 5 Session, as 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 – its brother, the GoPro Hero 5 Black. Weighing just 74g and covering a 38 x 38mm footprint, it’s a little larger than last year’s Session but, bar the change in chassis colour, it’s essentially the same cube we’re familiar with.
It still has 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 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 easy enough to attach to helmets and the like, and should give the camera a little-added protection from bumps and drops.
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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 Type-C cable, at least it won’t take long to top it up. You won’t always find a plug socket so easily outdoors, but 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 it will power on in just a couple of seconds and start recording. Press it again to 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 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. The app is easy enough to use, though, 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 like the Hero 5 Black is limited to 30fps. 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 60Mbits/sec bit rate, a bump up from 25Mbits/sec, making a huge difference to its overall quality.
Video of GoPro Hero 5 Session night-time timelapse
Higher frame rates are available at lower resolutions, going up to a maximum of 120fps at 720p. Some of the frame rate and resolution pairings are a little limited compared to its pricier counterpart, with 1,440p only hitting a maximum of 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 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, either, with noise issues being far more commonplace than footage taken with plenty of natural light, and colours looking a little 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 can 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 underexposed, 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, either, as it lacks the RAW export of its Black sibling.
One thing the Session has in its favour is its overall battery life. Taking it out and about on my commute, I reached roughly 1hr 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, and you’re looking at a noticeable improvement. Expect almost two 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 a great piece of kit. Aside from a couple of niggles, most notably with its still image quality, the Session is a barebones 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 a great buy. However, if you’re not too fussed about 4K video quality and a new microphone, you can now pick up a Hero 4 Session for just £149. This will 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.