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 (don’t worry, one is included with the camera).
The coolest addition: voice control.
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.
The camera retains the front monochrome LCD, but it now functions more as a status display for important stats like battery life and storage capacity left, whereas in the past it was used to change settings. That’s no longer necessary because the Hero5 Black has a 2-inch touchscreen for handling all controls, live view, and playback.
The bright LCD was one of the best features about the last-gen Hero4 Silver, but the Hero4 Black couldn’t support both 4K and a display due to battery and heat issues. Now the Hero5 Black has one, and the new user interface makes it even more useful. The touch sensitivity is way more responsive, making it easy to swipe through menus as fluid as any good smartphone, and we didn’t have issues viewing it under bright sunlight. You can adjust every feature and menu option, and the menus are more intuitive than before. GoPro includes an onscreen tutorial that quickly guides you on how to use the screen, which is a nice touch. We encountered some lag and response issues when we had the camera inside the Frame, however.
But the coolest addition is voice control. When you’re engaged in an activity or your hands just aren’t free, it’s not easy to fumble with on-camera controls. Some companies, like Sony, offer a wrist controller accessory, but with the Hero5 Black you can just say, “GoPro, take a photo,” “GoPro, start recording,” “GoPro, HiLight,” or other commands – a total of 12 at the moment. More will arrive via future software updates. It supports seven languages (Chinese, English, French, German, Italian, Japanese, and Spanish) and some, like English, have regional options, like Australian and U.K.
The three mics are capable of picking up commands, even if there’s background noise – so well, in fact, that you could activate multiple Hero5 cameras at the same time, provided they are close by. We didn’t need to talk very loud for our commands to register.
And it works: We tried it in English, Spanish, German, Chinese, and Italian, and while we aren’t fluent in some of those languages, we were still able to initiate recording. You do, however, need to use exact phrasing. One fun thing that isn’t officially mentioned is that the camera can also recognize certain expletives and exclamations as potentially cool moments to HiLight. After all, “Oh s**t!” probably accompanies some pretty epic video.
Making a connected camera seems to be the Holy Grail that eludes camera makers, but GoPro has done a better job than most. GoPro said that the Hero5 would be the company’s most connected camera, and part of that solution, besides Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, is a new cloud service called GoPro Plus. (Note: This service was not available during time of testing; we will update this review once it’s available.)
For $5 a month after a 60-day free trial, users can set their Hero5 Black to automatically upload content to the cloud, while it’s charging (wireless needs to be enabled, naturally). This isn’t just a backup solution, but it lets you access the content later for editing, either from a phone or computer. Membership also lets you use licensed music, and offers discounts on accessories and other products, as well as technical support. GoPro hasn’t officially capped storage capacity, but to make the content easier to upload, edit, and share, videos are restricted to 1080p at 30 fps. You’ll need to pull 4K content off the camera the old-fashion way, but that’s the method video editors working with 4K content employ anyway.
Although GoPros are handy for capturing video and photos, many people don’t know what to do with that content. GoPro is acknowledging this issue, in part by making its Quik editing app for mobile and desktop part of the solution. With Quik you can access the content off GoPro Plus or a camera paired with a smartphone or tablet, and quickly create short video clips that are shareable.
You can let Quik automatically compile the clips and find what its algorithms think are the best moments, or fine-tune the editing yourself. Lay a soundtrack that fits the mood of your video, add some text, and you’re set. It’s a simple editing app to use, but the smaller smartphone screen makes it a bit difficult to trim down the videos, if you’re editing on the go.
The Capture app (iOS and Android) replaces the GoPro app that previous Hero cameras used, but it’s essentially the same app – at least, for now. GoPro has one of the easiest pairing methods for connecting a camera to a phone or tablet, and with the Capture app you can perform the same functions as you can with the rear LCD, but remotely and much faster.
Videos with the electronic image stabilization enabled do exhibit a smoother picture quality, but it can’t fix really bouncy situations, like an RC car travelling up a mound of jagged rocks. See our sample footage – we tried. But for mild action, you will notice some improvement in the video quality. Casually walking up a hill, we could tell the difference. Unfortunately, the feature isn’t available during 4K shooting or frame rates higher than 30fps (when in 4K, use a stabilizing accessory).
GoPro introduced the biggest design change with the Hero5 Black, and it’s now waterproof.
With the Auto Low Light function enabled, the footage we shot displayed more details than the one with it off. However, the noise level is more noticeable and the camera will lower the frame rate to compensate. A camera like the GoPro isn’t really a low-light champ, but it’s capable when needed, or when used creatively with an external light source. If you set the camera still, you can capture some interesting night shots using the Night Lapse feature.
For a small camera, the Hero5 Black is able to record smooth videos with nice details and colors. Compared to the Hero4 generation, the Hero5 Black seems to handle bright conditions better, as images don’t look as washed out. We didn’t notice any jittery frames or any major issues that were distracting.
We recorded most of our videos in 1080p, and some in 2K and 4K. The 1080p videos allowed us to edit and share straight from the camera and to our phone – using the Quik app – and then online. Some pros like to shoot in the highest resolution and downscale it for today’s screens, but unless you have the ability to view and edit 2K and 4K videos, sticking with 1080p should be sufficient unless you want to future-proof the videos.
With ample light, the Hero5 Black continues to be a very good camera for shooting stills. They’ll look nice when shared on social media or printed out in small sizes, however we wouldn’t blow them up, as picture quality begins do degrade at larger sizes. Color accuracy is good, with no noticeable color fringing, although some photos exhibited rolling shutter issues. With that said, the camera and other small cameras like it really need light; photos (and videos) shot under overcast skies weren’t as vivid as we would like.
The option of fine-tuning the settings via Protune is nice to have. If you’re shooting a video meant for production, or if you’re trying to combine GoPro footage with another camera, it’s worthwhile to play around with the settings. As we said earlier, we don’t think most GoPro users would bother, and just use the auto settings instead. That’s just fine, because the Hero5 Black is capable of delivering nice videos and photos in its default setting.Our Take
Despite being a flagship model, the GoPro Hero 5 is simple to operate out of the box, but it can be as advanced as you need it to be. And no other manufacturer offers software – mobile, desktop, and online – that nicely complements the cameras like GoPro. With the price drop to $399, all the features of a high-end GoPro are a bit more attainable.
Are there better alternatives?
It has taken GoPro two years to introduce a new flagship Hero camera, and in that time the action camera market has become increasingly crowded. Some of GoPro’s competitors offer compelling alternatives: Sony, for one, offers great options in its Action Cam series, in terms of image quality, features, and use (its new flagship supports 4K and optical image stabilization).
The DT Accessory Pack
But the Hero5 does take the company back to the front of the race, thanks to the improvements. No other action cam we’ve used offer the combination of ease of use, features (rugged build, voice control, image stabilization, and touchscreen LCD are just some of the highlights), and image quality the Hero5 Black does. Even wannabe-GoPro camera makers that claim to use the same chipset, lack the video and photo processing power GoPro offers. And with the Protune feature that lets you adjust the settings, it’s a capable camera for filmmaking. For these reasons, we think GoPro offers a better solution than the competition.
How long will it last?
The fact that we are still using our Hero4 Silver and Hero4 Black models – and they still have plenty of life in them, mind you – is a good indicator of the Hero5 Black’s longevity. The camera captures great 1080p videos for today, and it’s 4K-ready when it becomes mass adoption. We’ve heard mumblings of people expecting 8K, but consumers are barely adopting 4K and the industry isn’t ready to support 8K, so wishing for this spec is moot. We do ponder the camera’s physical robustness, as it no longer requires a protective housing. The Hero4 models are better secured due to the tough polycarbonate housing that’s included, so there’s a chance the Hero5 may be more susceptible to damage. We recommend getting the SuperSuit housing, or purchase GoPro’s extra warranty plan.
Should you buy it?
The Hero5 Black is a proper successor to the Hero4, and it’s worth the upgrade. Even existing Hero4 Black owners will benefit from the new features. The lower list price makes it more affordable, so if you’re shopping for a new action cam, definitely consider the Hero5 Black at the top of the list.