GoPro Hero5 Black review

GoPro stays king of the slopes, half pipes, and trails with the Hero5 Black

The Hero5 Black is a proper successor to the Hero4, and it’s worth the upgrade.
The Hero5 Black is a proper successor to the Hero4, and it’s worth the upgrade.
The Hero5 Black is a proper successor to the Hero4, and it’s worth the upgrade.

Highs

  • Rugged and waterproof without housing
  • Great photo and video quality
  • Responsive touchscreen
  • Three stereo mics, with noise canceling
  • Voice control

Lows

  • Battery life remains the same
  • Requires some new accessories

DT Editors' Rating

In tech, two years is a long time to wait for a new product, but that’s how long GoPro took to introduce the Hero5 Black ($399), and naturally, expectations were high. GoPro went back to a yearly release schedule for the newly unveiled Hero6 Black, which is built on the same platform as the Hero5 and looks nearly identical. But the Hero5 remains in the lineup — and at the same $399 price (the Hero6 is $499). It has also received new features since we originally tested it. It seemed the perfect time revisit our GoPro Hero5 Black review, and to compare the camera to the new Hero6.

At time of launch, the Hero5 Black represented a radical new approach to design for GoPro. Many features were designed to make the camera much more convenient to use; it still captures great videos and photos, but now you have benefits like voice control, image stabilization, and durability. Services and apps made it easier to pull content off the camera, edit them into short videos, and share them online. It’s a better camera than the Hero4 Black and Silver in every way, and it launched at a lower price.

With the Hero5 Black, GoPro also simplified its product lineup, distilling it down to just three cameras; the Hero6 Black adds a fourth, but the others all stay the same and are clearly delineated by features and price. The Hero5 Session ($299) and original Hero Session ($199) are both compact, lower-budget options that don’t include LCD screens, but the Hero5 version can shoot in 4K. The Hero5 Black also complements GoPro’s Karma drone and handheld gimbal, which were 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 carried our review unit through the rain, dunked it in water, and dropped it more times than we count, and it continued working 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 imagine 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. (The cover is easy to remove for mounting the Hero5 to the Karma Grip handheld gimbal or drone.) Yes, GoPro finally ditched the Mini USB port, bypassing Micro USB in favor of the faster, reversible standard. That does mean you’ll need new cables if you haven’t adopted Type-C yet; fortunately 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 and higher-capacity 1,220mAh battery charges faster than before, but that 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 the many GoPro accessories in the market and the ones you already own, they will still work.

GOPRO HERO5 BLACK REVIEW
Daven Mathies/Digital Trends
Daven Mathies/Digital Trends

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 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 shake. It’s not going to make the bumps from your bike ride disappear completely, but it will make it considerably less jittery and easier on your viewers’ eyes. 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.

Better controls

Perhaps the biggest improvement GoPro made to the Hero5 Black 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 remaining storage capacity, 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 fluidly as any good smartphone can, 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.

Enhanced connectivity

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.

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 latest firmware update introduces auto download from the camera to a paired phone, plus a new feature called QuikStory, which automatically compiles a day’s worth of clips into a story you can share.

At time of launch, GoPro renamed its mobile app to Capture app (iOS and Android), but it’s essentially the same app. We guess the name didn’t catch on, because with the launch of the Hero6 Black, GoPro has reverted to its namesake. GoPro’s app has one of the easiest pairing methods for connecting a camera to a phone or tablet, and you can perform the same functions as you can with the rear LCD, but remotely and much faster.

Performance

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).

This is one of the big areas of improvement that GoPro made with the Hero6 Black. Thanks to a new custom processor in that camera, it performs more accurate stabilization that the company says is akin to mounting the camera in a gimbal. In our testing, we were impressed, but the Hero5 Black may be just fine for the average user.

“Oh s**t!” probably accompanies some pretty epic video.

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, but 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.

Telemetry displays enhance your adventures

Announced sometime after the camera itself, GoPro updated the Hero5 Black with the ability to log all sorts of telemetry data alongside the video. Using the onboard GPS and other sensors, the camera tracks altitude, elevation gain, speed, G-force, distance traveled, direction, and course position. Each data point can be toggled on individually, and gauges can be resized or moved so users can customize the video overlays to their liking. For example, a rock climber could turn on altitude and elevation gain, while a race car driver could go with speed, g-force, and course position.

While working with the telemetry data in GoPro’s Quik desktop app is easy, it is also considerably more limiting than competitor Garmin’s VIRB Edit app. GoPro allows just a single display style for every gauge and piece of information, as opposed to the many different graphical overlays, text options, and color choices offered by Garmin. Still, it’s nice to see telemetry information come to GoPro, especially as a surprise announcement after the Hero5 Black had already been available.

Warranty information

The Hero5 Black comes with a standard one-year warranty. GoPro now also offers a two-year replacement plan, called GoPro Care, which covers accidental damage and includes premium customer support and consulting, with some limitations. GoPro Care costs $79 for the Hero5 Black.

Our Take

Despite being dethroned by the Hero6 Black as the flagship, the GoPro Hero5 Black is still a very capable camera. It has become what GoPro would have called the Silver model, if Silver was still around. Importantly, it is simple to operate out of the box, but it can be as advanced as you need it to be thanks to ProTune. And no other manufacturer offers software — mobile, desktop, and online — that nicely complements the cameras like GoPro. While we certainly would have appreciated a price drop now that the camera is a year old and the Hero6 is here, at $399 the Hero5 Black is still a good value — and the fact that the price hasn’t changed is a testament to GoPro’s commanding position in the action camera market.

Are there better alternatives?

It took GoPro two years to introduce the completely redesigned Hero5 Black, but just twelve months later, the company has already one-upped it. The Hero6 Black is the most obvious alternative, and offers 4K video at 60 fps, improved stabilization, and better dynamic range, and low-light capabilities. It does cost $100 more, however, which will put it out of reach for some action cam shoppers.

Some of GoPro’s competitors also offer compelling alternatives: Sony, for one, offers great options in its Action Cam series, in terms of image quality, features, and use (its flagship model supports 4K and optical image stabilization). But Sony hasn’t updated its product line for some time. The Yi 4K+ was the first to introduce 4K/60p recording, beating the GoPro Hero6 by several months (and a couple hundred dollars), but that camera does not have the same build quality as the Hero5/Hero6 Black and requires an external waterproof case. But in the action cam world, it’s not just about hardware; software plays a big role, and GoPro clearly has a lead.

Still, no other action cam we’ve used offers 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.

How long will it last?

We used the Hero4 Silver and Hero4 Black models for years after their release — and they still have plenty of life in them, mind you. The Hero5 Black should get similar longevity (assuming you don’t lose it over a cliff or at the bottom of the bottom of the ocean). The camera’s 4K/30p footage is more than sufficient for most people and most applications today. 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 was a proper successor to the Hero4, and definitely worth the upgrade. Even in the shadow of the new Hero6 Black, it remains a very capable action cam. The lower list price makes it more affordable, so if you’re shopping for a new action cam, definitely still consider the Hero5 Black at the top of the list.

This review was originally published on October 5, 2016. The product has been re-tested to address new features and firmware, and we note its difference with the newly announced Hero6 Black. The article has been updated to reflect any significant changes.

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