In tech, two years is a long time to wait for a new product. But that’s how long GoPro took to introduce its new flagship camera, the Hero5 Black ($399), and naturally, expectations were high. In truth, we weren’t aching for a new Hero camera because the preceding Hero4 models are still very good. What could GoPro add that would make us want to trade up to the new camera?
The answer? A lot, and many of the new features are designed to make the camera much more convenient to use. The Hero5 Black still captures great videos and photos, but now you have benefits like voice control, image stabilization, and durability. Services and apps make it easier to pull content off the camera, edit them into short videos, and share them online. It’s a better camera, and it will make you wish you had the features in the Hero4 Black, not to mention a cheaper list price at launch.
GoPro is simplifying its product lineup. The Hero5 Black is the flagship – the GoPro camera you know, but even better. Joining it are the Hero5 Session ($299) and original Hero Session ($199), which are both smaller cameras, but the Hero5 Session can shoot in 4K (in some ways, it’s the replacement for the Hero4 Silver). The Hero5 also complements GoPro’s new drone, Karma, which was announced at the same time.
Design and features
GoPro introduced the biggest design change in the Hero5 Black. While the evolution from the Hero2 to the Hero4 saw the camera get smaller in size, the Hero5 Black is slightly larger and heavier. It’s still rectangular, but the corners are now curved and the body has a softer feel. That’s because the camera is now completely rugged and waterproof without the need for a protective housing – an accessory included with previous Hero cameras. It’s a cleaner look with a rubberized exterior, and GoPro is using a new shade of gray and matte black from previous generations. GoPro really wants you to know that this is a brand new camera.
The ruggedness means you can take the Hero5 Black into water (down to 33 feet) or toss it around, as is. We splashed water on our review unit, dunked it into water, and dropped it more times than we count, and it worked fine. The downside is that the camera body will suffer dings and scratches (we didn’t notice any damage to the 2-inch LCD, although we could see that happening), so for some protection, it’s best to use the camera with the Frame housing ($30). An optional underwater housing, the Super Suit, is available for $50 if you want to take the camera into deeper water.
As with all rugged cameras, you still have to make sure the doors are properly closed and sealed. The removable cover on the side is now a hinged door that protects the Micro HDMI and USB Type-C ports. Yes, GoPro finally ditched the Mini USB port, bypassing Micro USB, and in favor of the faster, reversible standard now used on most Android phones. Of course, that does mean you’ll need new cables if you haven’t adopted Type-C yet.
The MicroSD card slot is now located in the battery compartment, at the bottom. A new higher-capacity 1,220mAh battery charges faster than before, but also means you won’t be able to use the one from the Hero4 Black. Still, you can expect around one-and-a-half hours before it dies – a little more if used casually, less if it’s used continuously with the display and wireless on. If you plan on long shooting sessions, you can pack spare Hero5 batteries or an external battery pack.
Previous Hero cameras usually suffered from terrible audio, since they had to be stuffed in an underwater housing. Now that the Hero5 Black doesn’t need one, you can capture higher-quality audio, thanks to the three stereo mics. With manual audio control enabled, the mics can switch between stereo or wind-noise reduction. If you’ve ever used a GoPro at speed, you know this is an issue. No amount of noise-reduction technology could compensate for the really strong winds we encountered, but it does bring it down to a more comfortable level.
Because the Hero5 Black uses a Type-C USB connector, we could no longer use our Mini USB microphone adapter with higher quality microphones. You’ll need to shell out another $50 for one. As for many GoPro accessories in the market or the ones you already own, they should still work.
For video and photo capture, the Hero5 Black retains the same specs as the Hero4 Black, although it’s not repurposing the same chipset. It can shoot up to 4K at 30 frames per second and Full HD 1080p at 120 fps (max bit rate is 60Mbps), and photos up to 12 megapixels (burst, time-lapse, night-lapse modes are still there). With Protune enabled, you can adjust the shooting parameters like color, white balance, ISO, shutter, exposure, etc (note: some settings are unavailable in select modes). Most consumers probably wouldn’t bother with Protune, but it lets pro users, like filmmakers, adjust the picture quality to match the other cameras they are using in a production, for example.
A new setting, called Linear-View, eliminates the distortion when shooting in wide-angle (available in 2.7K or 1080p at up to 60 fps). You can also capture photos in RAW or wide-dynamic-range (WDR) now; the former gives you greater editing flexibility, and the latter brings out highlights and shadows (similar to HDR).
GoPro fans have been clamoring for image stabilization (IS), and the Hero5 Black introduces electronic IS for the first time. Unlike optical IS, EIS uses software to compensate for shakes. It’s not going to make the bumps from your bike ride disappear, but it will make the picture quality a bit smoother. Note that when enabled, the sensor crops a bit into the image.
The Hero5 Black also now has GPS built in, which embeds location data into your videos and photos. The camera has Wi-Fi and Bluetooth for pairing with an optional remote control (there’s a new version, called Remo) or the new GoPro Capture smartphone app.
Perhaps the biggest improvement GoPro made to its flagship Hero is the controls. The front power/mode button is gone, leaving only a shutter button and side button, which now handles power, mode (photo, video, burst, or time-lapse), and HiLight tagging.
But you don’t have to power it up first to take a video. Pressing the shutter button on top initiates either photo or video recording (you can select the shooting mode in the menu). It takes a second before the camera starts recording, but it’s handy for capturing impromptu moments.