The updates to the GoPro line-up so far in 2015 haven't been specification-beating flagship offerings, but with new models that are more affordable or smaller, they might still be the right cameras for you. Gizmag looks at the key specs and features of the new Hero4 Session and Hero+ LCD cameras to see how they compare to the Hero4 Black and Silver from last year.
The new cube-like GoPro Hero4 Session breaks with the traditional rectangle form-factor we've come to expect from GoPro, and is also considerably smaller. The pocket-sized camera is 35 percent smaller than other Hero4 models, which allows it to be deployed in different ways. The Session is also compatible with new mounts, including the Low-Profile Frame and Ball Joint Buckle.
While we've given the nude dimensions of the Hero4 Black and Silver, it's worth remembering that once in a waterproof case they're the same size as the integrated housing of the Hero+LCD. The two depth measurements vary depending on whether the protruding lens is taken into account, but the Session doesn't require any additional housing for waterproofing so isn't going to change in size depending on how you are using it.
If weight is a concern for you, the Hero4 Session is the runaway winner. It is even lighter than the other Hero4 cameras when they are not in their protective housings, and once that's taken into account it's half their weight. This is going to be more noticeable if the camera is mounted to your body than your surfboard, and could be important if strapping your action camera to a drone.
The tough and waterproof credentials, which have made GoPro cameras so popular, have traditionally been thanks to the housings they could be popped in and out of. This changed last year with the Hero and now Hero+ LCD being built into their housing. The Session goes one further by boasting a design which is rugged and waterproof, though it can't go as deep as the other cameras in their housings.
Built-in LCD touchscreen
The GoPro Hero4 Silver was the first GoPro actioncam to boast a built-in touchscreen viewfinder. Earlier this year it was joined by the more budget-friendly Hero+LCD, which also features a touchscreen for framing shots, reviewing them, and changing settings. However, GoPro has informed us that the two screens don't boast quite the same specs, though has not provided details for the screen on the Hero+LCD.
While the Hero4 Black and Session lack a LCD screen, the Black is at least compatible with the optional LCD Touch BacPac. Users who want to see the framing of shots with the Session will need to use the GoPro app and a smart device.
Field of view (FOV)
GoPro cameras are typically known for their ultra-wide immersive field of view, in 35-mm-format terms this is (very) approximately a 15-mm equivalent, while a medium setting is around 22-mm equivalent, and narrow option equates to about 30-mm equivalent. However, this can vary slightly between models.
If you plan on regularly shooting in medium or narrow views, it's worth noting that the Session does not shoot in narrow, and that the Hero+ LCD can only shoot in ultra-wide. The field of view options on all cameras will depend on resolutions and frame-rates.
All of the GoPros in our line-up use reasonably fast fixed F2.8 aperture ultra-wide angle lenses.
While the Hero4 Black and Silver each have 1/2.3-inch sensors, the Session uses a smaller 1/3.2-inch sensor. This smaller physical size, while helping to explain how the Session is so compact, also means the new camera will probably not be able to deliver the same image quality or low-light performance. GoPro has not revealed what size sensor is used in the Hero+ LCD, though it is believed to be the same 1/3.2-inch type as used in the Session.
If you want a GoPro camera to record your adventures in detailed 4K resolution, get the Hero4 Black, as it's the only camera in this line-up able to shoot at a usable 30/25/24 fps (frames per second). The Hero4 Silver maxes out at 15/12.5 fps, while neither the Session nor Hero+ LCD can record 4K or 2.7K footage at all. The Session has a maximum video resolution of 1920 x 1440 at 30/25 fps, while the Hero+ LCD maxes out at Full HD (1080p).
The Hero4 Black again reigns supreme when it comes to high definition video recording. It can shoot Full HD 1080p footage at up to 120 fps, and HD 720p footage at 240 fps, along with more typical frame-rates. The other cameras can all shoot 1080p footage at up to 60 fps and have top 720p frame-rates of 120, 100, 60 fps for the Hero4 Silver, Session and Hero+ LCD, respectively.
High frame-rate shooting allows you to produce buttery smooth videos of stunts in slow motion, so if you want the the slowest footage with the best resolution you're again going to need the Hero4 Black with its 1080p at 120 fps and 720p at 240 fps.
The Hero4 Silver can manage 720p footage at 120 fps, but drops the resolution to WVGA if you want 240 fps, while the Session peaks at WVGA resolution at 120 fps, or 720p at 100 fps. If you want to produce slow motion clips, you're best to avoid the Hero+ LCD.
High video bitrate
Higher bitrate recording is going to be more important to those who use footage professionally, or just need more flexibility in editing than more casual users. As such, those users are going to be drawn to the Hero4 Black or possibly Silver with their up to 60 Mb/s and 45 Mb/s bitrate rather than the 25 Mb/s of the Session and Hero+ LCD.
All four of these GoPro cameras feature built-in mono microphones, though there are a number of audio differences. The Session is the only camera of the bunch to feature two microphones, one on the front and one on the rear, with the camera automatically switching to the one that's best-suited for capturing optimal audio.
However, both the Session and the Hero+ LCD lack the ability to use an external microphone. Meanwhile, the Hero4 Black is the only one to feature an integrated ADC (analog-to-digital converter) for wider compatibility with professional low-sensitivity external microphones.
Still photo resolutions
While a GoPro isn't going to rival your DSLR when it comes to overall still image quality, you're probably going to feel more comfortable using an action camera in the sea, or attaching it to a drone. All of these cameras can shoot stills at up to either 12-megapixels for the Hero4 Black and Silver, or 8-megapixels for the Session and Hero+ LCD.
Another photo-centric feature worth noting is a Time Lapse mode option. This will take a series of stills that can be combined into a video to show the passage of time.
Burst rate stills
With bursts of still shooting at up to 30 frames per second (and a variety of other burst modes, such as 30 shots over six seconds or 10 shots in one second) the Hero4 Black and Silver are going to give you the best chance of getting the perfectly timed photo of someone performing an amazing stunt. The Hero4 Session is limited to a maximum of 10 fps burst shooting, while the Hero+ LCD can only muster 10 frames over two seconds.
GoPro's Superview video mode is an interesting option that shoots video in a 4:3 aspect ratio (the full height of the sensor) and dynamically stretches the sides to produce a widescreen 16:9 aspect ratio that can feel more immersive. However, the feature isn't available across the board, with the flagship cameras typically able to use it at higher resolutions.
Protune gives users greater manual control over what they are shooting, with the ability to adjust settings including color, ISO limit, white balance, sharpness and exposure to produce a more dynamic look for immediate sharing, or a more neutral look for easier post production.
Only the Hero4 Black and Silver can make use of Protune when shooting video or stills. The Hero4 Session only has Protune available for video shooting, and the Hero+ LCD lack Protune altogether.
All of these GoPro cameras benefit from Bluetooth connectivity along with built-in Wi-Fi. This means they're compatible with the GoPro App, (which lets you control your camera remotely using a smartphone or tablet, complete with live video), and the optional Smart Remote.
This connectivity is particularly important on the Hero4 Session as you'll be using the GoPro App or the Smart Remote for changing settings, while this can be done directly on the other cameras.
All of these GoPro actioncams use microSD memory cards and require one with a Class 10 or UHS-1 rating. They all support up to a 64 GB capacity and if you're going to be shooting 4K video, make sure you stock up.
Battery life has never been a strong point for GoPro cameras and although shooting time still isn't up there with some competitor cameras, it is getting better. Taking a video mode all of the cameras are capable of (1080p 60 fps without Wi-Fi or LCD), the Hero+ LCD has the longest recording time of 2 hours, followed by and Hero4 Session at 1 hr 45 min and the Hero4 Silver at 1 hr 40 min. The Hero4 Black has an estimated 1 hr 20 min record time.
While users of the GoPro Hero4 Black or Silver always have the option of carrying a spare battery for their action camera, it's worth noting that the batteries of the Hero+ LCD and Session are built-in. It's also worth remembering that the cameras with screens have the potential to chew through batteries that much faster.
These cameras come in at a range of price points, with the Hero+ LCD being the most affordable despite boasting a touchscreen, and the high-end Hero4 Black commanding US$200 extra. However, the Hero4 Session has the potentially most interesting price-tag. Despite having inferior specs to the Hero4 Silver pretty much across the board, and lacking a touchscreen, it sells for the same $400 price. GoPro is really hoping that users are willing to pay a small cube premium.
With the new additions to the 2015 line-up (along with the omitted and suddenly dated-looking basic Hero) GoPro is expanding its offerings. It now has a range of models at a range of prices to appeal to variety of budgets, and with features that could appeal to different users. While some may prioritize the size of their action camera, for others image quality or the ability to use a LCD touchscreen will be the most important factor.
So, if you want a GoPro with the best image quality and the most comprehensive video options, is has to be the Hero4 Black. If you're willing to take a slight hit in the spec department, but save $100 and gain an LCD touchscreen at the same time, there's the Hero4 Silver. If you want a smaller GoPro, and are willing to sacrifice even more on the image quality and video options, the Session is your only option. Meanwhile, the Hero+ LCD is there for people who want a GoPro with a touchscreen on a budget.
Interestingly, we are yet to see a response from GoPro to the influx of action cameras that use built-in sensors or try to make editing clips easier. There's the Garmin VIRB X/XE with their ability to use built-in and external sensors to provide more info about your activity, or the TomTom Bandit, which can automatically edit highlight clips based on sensor information. Maybe we'll see some action in this department when the next flagship GoPro is announced.
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This article previously stated that the GoPro Hero4 Session and Hero+ LCD have 1/2.3-inch sensors – information that had been provided by a PR firm representing GoPro. However, that information has since been found to be incorrect, and the article has been corrected.