The GoPro Hero 5 Session may look the same as its predecessor, but it now boasts 4k image quality, voice control, video stabilisation and a USB-C connection, as well as updated and increased frame rates and resolutions. We’ve managed to ride with it in some fairly varied terrain and climatic conditions, and reckon we’ve got a good handle on how it performs.
This review was last updated on 10 February 2017
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GoPro Hero 5 Session design
The form factor of the Hero 5 Session is identical in every respect to the older model, the Hero 4 Session. Ultimately, this is a tiny little camera that weighs just 72g — for reference, the Hero 5 Black weighs 119g without the protective frame.
The screen on the Hero 5 Session is so small that the menu remains slightly annoying to use and as such, I’d recommend simply using the GoPro Capture app to change any settings. The usability of the Session however is really quite simple. Aside from moving the camera between mounts, there’s very little need to actually touch the camera.
If you’re using remotes or the voice activation feature, which work well enough, this is almost a fit-and-forget camera. It lends itself perfectly to being used for short races — think cyclocross or cross-country.
Check out our video below to see the Hero 5 Session in use.
GoPro Hero 5 Session image stabilisation
As you’d imagine for a camera this size, the image stabilisation isn’t quite as refined as the Hero 5 Black. While it’s not bad, it can be quite noticeably ‘wavy’ in places and for many people there’s an off-putting floating feeling.
One of the most noticeably wavy occurrences happens when the camera is mounted on the handlebars. The stabilisation tends to overcompensate, which makes you feel like you’re sitting sideways on a rocking chair. This is a camera that’s best mounted on your body: a chest mount or a helmet mount are ideal and will produce video that’s very suitable for quick, punchy social edits.
GoPro Hero 5 Session image quality
When the image stabilisation works properly, the picture quality is crisp and easy to look at. The camera deals with exposure and contrast changes as well as the Hero 5 Black, so no complaints there.
Users now have the option of recording 4k footage at 30fps, as well as 1440p at 60fps or 1080p at 90fps. The latter’s not quite the 120fps of the Hero 5 Black, but it’s a nice option for relatively slow-motion footage.
GoPro Hero 5 Session battery life
The Session comes with a built-in 1000mAh lithium-ion battery. So, with Protune on, native white balance, connections off and the camera set to 1080p 50fps, here are a few examples of how it performed:
On one of our BikeRadar group rides at the Forest of Dean, the Session recorded 1 hour and 58 seconds of video before the battery showed less than 10 percent battery life, which isn’t entirely unreasonable for the mid-single-digit celsius temperatures.
When I left the camera on my desk for a full-to-empty run-down test, the 32GB memory card actually ran out before the battery did. In total, after clearing the full card and continuing recording, we had a total of 1 hour, 50 minutes and 15 seconds of recorded video.
Obviously this last example is a very controlled environment and the image stabilisation had very little work to do, despite being switched on, but it does suggest that you could get a fairly decent amount of run time in the right conditions.
GoPro Hero 5 Session cold weather performance
During a pre-work road ride over the recent UK cold snap, where temperatures ranged between 0 to -5 Celsius, the camera shut down after only 20 minutes of recorded video. I initially assumed the battery had drained, but after I’d arrived at work and the camera had warmed up, there was 70 percent battery life remaining.
This suggests limitations with using the GoPro Hero 5 Session in cold weather. Indeed, the manual states: “Low or high temperature conditions may temporarily shorten the battery life or cause the camera to temporarily stop working properly.”
GoPro Hero 5 Session summary
The Hero 5 Session is a camera that costs £299 / $299 / AU$469 so it definitely sits quite high in the market.
I have to say, though, that while the image quality is actually very good for such a small device, better than many other cameras out there, I just didn’t enjoy riding around constantly worrying about how much battery life is left or if the cold winter weather would shut the camera down.
Personally, I much prefer being able to record more footage with multiple back-up batteries, especially as they’re so small that carrying two or three spares isn’t much of a chore.
So if you’re a rider that likes to quickly knock out footage then there might be a spot for the Hero 5 Session in your race day kit bag, otherwise I would absolutely recommend spending a bit extra on the Hero 5 Black to enjoy all day recording.