These tiny waterproof cameras are a significant jump forward for GoPro's Hero range
GoPro’s flagship range of action cameras just got its most significant upgrade yet in the small-but-powerful form of the Hero5 Black and Hero5 Session.
The company’s cameras have always been designed to withstand a thrashing, but these are the first GoPros to be fully waterproof to ten metres without the need for an external casing. This alone puts the Hero5 Black a good step ahead of its predecessor, the Hero4. Attaching the plastic casing to the Hero4 meant muffled sound, no access to its ports and in some weather conditions, having to apply anti-fog spray to the interior of the case.
Now the Hero5 Black and Session are waterproof, these cameras are ready to withstand all but the most extreme conditions straight out of the box.
Both of GoPro’s new cameras also include voice control in seven languages, including English, Chinese and Spanish. The cameras respond to multiple commands including “GoPro start recording” and “GoPro, take a photo,” meaning that the only real time you need to touch the camera is to turn it on or off.
The voice control wasn’t perfect, more than once WIRED had to get stern with both cameras and repeat the command a couple of times, but the feature did work the majority of the time. Rather than recording long swathes of footage and cutting out the boring bits in post-production, voice control will let users cherrypick the most promising moments on the go, saving battery time and SD card space.
The Hero5 Black swaps the plastic casing of the Hero4 Silver for a rubberised exterior. The casing itself scratches easily, with just a few hours of use in the rocky Sierra Nevada mountains giving the Hero5 a few war wounds and dents, but crucially the lens covering remained unscratched. The part-rubber, part-plastic Hero5 Black begs to be thrown around, and shows every sign of being capable of standing up to plenty of hard knocks.
Flip the Hero5 Black camera on its front and you’ll find a two-inch LCD touchscreen display. This isn’t the first time GoPro has experimented with on-camera screens, 2014's Hero4 Silver also featured a built-in display. The well-lit and high-contrast screen shows plenty of detail and is easily visible, even when competing against the Californian sun for brightness.
Swiping left on the screen switches the camera into playback mode, while users can also press the touch display or mode button to hop between different resolutions and recording modes. While the intuitive menus showcase enough camera options to be useful but not overwhelming, the touch display is frustratingly unresponsive. Repeated finger jabs often failed to bring up any menu at all, while the camera was also sometimes unable to recognise swipes.
Though the Hero5 Black has a bigger battery than any of its predecessors, the power-hungry screen keeps battery time down two hours. The battery can recharge from dead to 80 per cent in 45 minutes, though WIRED found the battery got very hot during sustained recording, which raises concerns about its longevity.
Luckily, GoPro hasn’t gone full touchscreen and foregone buttons altogether – the big red record button still sits proudly atop the camera. Hitting it causes delightful things to happen. The Hero5 Black can shoot 4K video at 30 frames per second, resulting in sharp footage with excellent detail across a range of lighting conditions. Enhanced electronic image stabilisation helps smooth out bumps and jumps, but for the smoothest handheld footage you’ll still want to use the three-axis stabilising gimbal included with the Karma drone.
The Hero5 Black also captures 12 megapixel photos in JPG, RAW and wide dynamic range formats. Left in its default setting, the GoPro takes crisp and well-exposed photos that weigh in at around five to seven megabytes in JPG format.
Three on-board microphones give the Hero5 the ability to record audio in stereo and are supposed to help with wind reduction. The gusty conditions at 8,200 feet still proved a challenge, though, causing enough interference that WIRED would still go for an external microphone if it was tasked with recording in strong winds.
WIRED tried out the Hero5 Black and Session with a selection of different clamps and mounts, including on the rear of an electronic bike, atop a remote-controlled truck and a wearable chest mount. The range of mounting options is exhaustive and both cameras are compatible with existing mounts and clamps, but WIRED found the sheer array of accessories slightly daunting.
Far too much time was spent rooting around in WIRED’s backpack in search of a mount appropriate for the situation. As mounts are bought separately (and some are one-use only), the costs would start stacking up if users want the full range of options available.
Despite its diminutive size, the Hero5 Session manages to squeeze in the majority of features from the Hero5 Black, including voice control, 4K recording and waterproofing to ten metres. And while the Session’s 10MP camera is a fair match for the Hero5 Black, its audio quality was noticeably worse.
Elsewhere, GoPro has launched its own cloud-based photo uploading and sharing service alongside the Hero5 range. Dubbed GoPro Plus, the service costs $4.99 in the US and will roll out internationally in 2017. Both the Hero5 Black and Hero5 Session automatically upload photos and video to GoPro Plus while they’re charging, and can be set to delete content off the SD card after it has been uploaded.
Both of these cameras are everything you could want from a GoPro. They’re hardy, easy to use and capture brilliant video footage. With the addition of waterproofing and voice control, these cameras aren’t just an incremental improvement to the Hero range, and should offer enough to tempt many GoPro fans – especially those in watersports – to upgrade. The Hero5 Black’s glitchy screen is a let down though, so consider ditching it altogether and going with the cheaper and formidably capable Hero5 Session.
The Hero5 Black costs £349.99 and the Hero5 Session costs £249.99. Both cameras will be on sale from October 2.