GoPro first introduced the Session model of cameras in the summer of 2015 with the Hero 4 Session. At the time of its release, it was a real step-change for GoPro – the first camera not to have an external waterproof casing (instead being inherently waterproof), and the first to depart from the rather boxy shape that we had become familiar with. Initially, it was released as a premium product, with a $400 price tag. Clearly that pricing strategy didn’t work out, and by the end of 2015 the price had been slashed to $200.
Fast forward to 2016, and GoPro has now introduced an entirely new range of cameras, all of which are waterproof without an external case just like the original GoPro Session. This new range contains two Session cameras – the Hero Session and the Hero5 Session. As such, the full range of Session cameras is as follows:
- The Hero 4 Session – introduced in summer 2015; now out of production but still available on Amazon;
- The Hero Session – introduced in October 2016 and a current model; and
- The Hero5 Session – introduced in October 2016 and also a current model.
As you can see, GoPro’s naming convention is really confusing – there seems to be no real logic to why the older camera is the ‘Hero 4’ Session while one of the newer cameras (the ‘Hero Session’) drops the number entirely, while the other retains it but drops the space (the ‘Hero5 Session’)…! In addition, all of these cameras look basically identical – the only differentiating features being the (very small) labels on them, and the color – the Hero5 Session being gray rather than black.
Anyway, the important thing is to know what the key differences are between these three cameras and which one is the best one for you! With that in mind, we’ve written this short guide to help you with which GoPro Session to buy.
The first thing to realise is that the 2015 GoPro Hero 4 Session and the 2016 GoPro Hero Session are actually exactly the same camera – only the name has changed. You can see the 2016 Hero Session’s older roots from the fact that it still features an micro USB connector, while the genuinely new Hero5 Session sports a USB-C socket. These days, there are fewer and fewer Hero 4 Sessions still on the market (since GoPro has stopped making them) but if you happen to find one somewhere for a lower price than the newer 2016 Session then you should go ahead and buy it with confidence that you are not really getting an ‘older’ product.
With that it mind, how does the GoPro Session (or Hero 4 Session) compare to the Hero5 Session? We’ve set out the key differentiating factors below:
- First up, as a way of telling the difference, the more expensive Hero5 Session is a gray colour, while the Session is plain black.
- The key difference is the available video resolutions. In the Session, the highest video resolution available is 1080p at 60fps. Meanwhile, the Hero5 Session can shoot in 4K at 30fps, and in 1080p at 90fps – a decent bump over the Session
- On the still photograph side, the Hero Session can take 8MP shots, with a maximum burst rate of 8FPS. The Hero5 Session ups this to 10MP and 30 FPS.
- The Hero5 Session also has some new features that GoPro has only launched on its ‘new’ 2016 cameras (which, as above, doesn’t really include the Hero Session). Most notably, this includes:
- Video stabilisation – this is an electronic system rather than an optical one, but it does work well to dial out the high frequency small ‘jiggles’ that are otherwise common in action cam footage
- Voice control – in theory, you can control the Hero5 Session by talking to it… In practice, how well this works will depend on how noise the environment is. Unless you can’t actually reach the control buttons where it is mounted, we reckon it is better just to use your hands to start and stop recording. However, it is a fun gimmick to show your friends!
So, which GoPro Session camera should you buy? Is the Hero5 Session worth the extra $100 over the more basic Hero Session? Well, as ever, it depends on what you want from the camera. If you have absolutely no need for 4K video, or any particular interest in slow motion effects on the footage you take, then the Hero Session remains a good choice. 1080p60 video is perfectly adequate for most purposes, and you can save the $100 (which is 50% of the total cost of a Session, so not insignificant).
However, for many people we do think it is worth stepping up to the Hero5 Session for two main reasons. Firstly, 4K is increasingly becoming the de facto standard of video – most smartphones now shoot at this resolution, and most televisions you might buy are now 4K. Increasingly too computers have monitors that are at least greater-than-1080p resolution (if not a full 4K), and are powerful enough to handle editing 4K video. In addition, there is an element of ’future proofing’ the video you shoot – video shot at 4K is going to look relatively better in the future (where we will all inevitably get used to higher and higher resolutions) than footage shot at 1080p.
Secondly, the electronic video stabilisation on the GoPro Hero5 Session does make a significant improvement to the smoothness of the footage that can be recorded when you’re using the camera for an action sport like skiing or biking. While it is possible to apply a degree of image stabilisation post-production (using the tools in iMovie for example) the best results are always obtained from an in-camera stabilisation set up like the one offered by the Hero5 Black.
Taken together, we reckon that the higher resolution and the video stabilisation justify the extra $100 for the Hero5 Session. But whichever camera you chose, the GoPro Session and Hero5 Session both represent excellent choices for users who don’t want or need the more professional options offered by the Hero5 Black.
We hope you’ve found this article useful! If you’re ready to buy a GoPro (or anything else for that matter) and click on one of the Amazon links above (or here) then this website earns a small commission on any purchase you make – though it doesn’t cost you any more! And do let us know if you have any questions or comments below. Thanks!