The new GoPro Hero 5 action cameras have finally launched, and they look super exciting. But what are the key differences between the GoPro Hero 5 Black and Hero 5 Session, and which one should you buy? Let’s look at them both.
First, a disclaimer — we haven’t got our hands on the new cameras yet. We’re expecting to get review samples any day now, and we’ll update this article and publish reviews separately once we’ve used them. In the meantime, we’ll have to compare the two new cameras based on their specs and target uses.
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GoPro Hero 5 range overview
To begin, it’s worth explaining GoPro’s slightly confusing naming conventions. The ‘Black’ label is its indicator for the top-end model in terms of picture quality and price, and can be thought of as pro-level equipment. GoPro seems to have dispensed with the ‘Silver’ label, present on the previous generation, which was aimed at prosumers, i.e. people who are skilled at shooting action camera footage.
The GoPro Session is the smallest action camera in the range, and the simplest — just one button to switch recording on or off, with all other controls done via the mobile app. It usually has the lowest specs in terms of resolution and frame rate, the lowest price, and is aimed firmly at consumers wanting hassle-free footage. Oh, and the ‘Hero 5’ part refers to the fact they’re fifth generation cameras, following the Hero 4.
It’s not as simple as saying one’s better than the other, though — the GoPro Session could be perfect if you want an action camera that’s as small as possible, so you can fit it to a helmet or under your saddle. The Black has higher spec, but it could be overkill for your needs.
GoPro Hero 5 Black vs. Session: Design
So looking first at the GoPro Hero 5 Black, this top-end model no longer needs a case to become waterproof: it’s rated down to 10m/33ft out of the box. It gets a rear 2” touchscreen, enabling you to frame shots, play back, change settings and trim your footage. There’s also a small, square LCD display on the front that shows what resolution and frame rate you’re filming in, how much battery is left and how much memory.
There’s a simple one-button control on the top for powering the camera on and starting recording. And a USB Type-C port for charging and docking.
The GoPro Hero 5 Session looks very, very similar to its popular predecessor: it’s a tiny, rugged cube that GoPro CEO Nick Woodman likens to a cockroach as it’s “very difficult to kill”. On top of the camera there’s a simple button for powering the camera on and starting to record. Next to that button is a tiny LCD screen that shows your recording settings, filming time and more.
Looking at it from the front, there’s a small LED light in the top right corner above the lens for showing when it’s in record mode, plus a microphone in the top left corner above the lens.
Both cameras come with plastic cages that have the standard GoPro mount built in — so if you want to mount either of them to your handlebars, saddle rails or chest strap, you’ll need to put them in their cage first. This might make it look less clean than they would otherwise, but it also means the touchscreen will work as normal, and you don’t have to rely on the spongey buttons of the older Hero 4 waterproof cases.
GoPro Hero 5 Black vs. Session: Specs and features
Perhaps the biggest news of all here is that recording resolution on both the GoPro Hero 5 Black and Hero 5 Session tops out at 4K. On the latter that’s great news — being able to get detailed footage from such a tiny device is an incredible feat, and it’ll shoot at 30 frames per second in 4K mode too (1440p/60fps and 1080p/90fps also available).
On the Hero 5 Black, that’ll disappoint some people who were hoping for 8K filming capabilities. But you could argue that’s more than anyone needs with the current generation of displays anyway. It’ll shoot at 30 frames per second at 4K, 1440p at 80fps, or 1080p at 120fps.
Both cameras can also take still photos, with the Black able to shoot RAW and wide dynamic range 12MP images, or in burst mode will capture at 30fps. The Hero 5 Session will shoot still images at 10MP or in burst mode will capture at 30fps. GoPro is clearly trying to make these cameras a possible replacement for your stills camera too, because including RAW capability means you can do lots of image tweaking in post-production.
Other features shared between the two models include voice activation — yell “GoPro start video” or “GoPro take a photo” and it will do what you tell it, in any of seven languages (English, French, Italian, German, Spanish, Chinese and Japanese).
There’s also WiFi and Bluetooth chips built into both cameras, plus GPS chips for geotagging on the Hero 5 Black. At present it doesn’t look like the GPS chip will enable metrics like speed and distance to be overlaid on your footage, though that may come in a later update to the desktop editing software. Plus there’s what GoPro calls ‘advanced wind noise reduction’: on the Hero 5 Black there are three microphones in the camera body, and it automatically picks which two to use based on the amount of wind and background noise. We don’t know for certain how the Session reduces wind noise, but we suspect via audio filters in the software.
They both also get video stabilisation, though we wonder how much use this will be: it’s being done by the processor and not the lens, and this can be done equally well in post-production software (YouTube also offers this as an option for videos uploaded).
GoPro Hero 5 Black vs. Session: Battery life
This is probably the biggest question mark of all — with such a spec bump over their predecessors in terms of filming resolution (Session) and features (both), has battery life been affected? And the answer is… we don’t know. No information has yet been confirmed on battery life for either model, but we do know that the Hero 5 Black has a slightly larger lithium-ion rechargeable battery (1220 mHa vs 1000 mAh).
The battery on the Hero 5 Session isn't replaceable, and that’s a bit of a concern: if it gets drained quickly by features like voice activation, you won’t be able to simply swap in a new battery. We do know that the two cameras are powered by a different chip, but we don’t know how their respective battery lives. We expect it’ll be around two hours, but that’s just a guess.
GoPro Hero 5 Black vs. Session: Price and availability
There’s been a considerable price drop in the cameras, with the Hero 5 Black set to cost £349 / US$399 /AU$569, and the Hero 5 Session to retail for £249 / US$299 /AU$469. The new Hero 5 cameras will be available in the US and UK from 2 October, and in Australia from 3 October.
And if you're after a GoPro that's even cheaper, you can pick up the older GoPro Session for just £179 / US$199 / AU$299. That looks like a great deal to us, our reviewer reckons it's "bang on" for cyclists, with good picture quality (60fps at 1080p) in the same pleasing form factor as the latest Hero 5 Session.