First Look: New GoPro Action Cameras Are Rugged and Ready for the Water

This was a tough year for GoPro. This past spring the action-cam innovator saw its stock price do a cliff dive related to poor demand for its products, and then had to delay shipments of its first drone, the Karma. But as of late, the company seems to have rebounded, launching the Karma and introducing two new GoPro action cams.

We've been using the cameras since they hit stores earlier this month and have found a lot to like—including the price. The Hero 5 Black, at $400, and Hero 5 Session, $300, are each $100 cheaper than their predecessors while offering more features. Here are the details on these new GoPro action cams.

Fewer Cameras but More Features

GoPro has slimmed down its lineup of cameras, taking some of the best features spread across four previous models and combining them into these two cameras.

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Among the best improvements: The Hero 5 Black is water-resistant to a depth of 33 feet without being placed in a plastic waterproof case, just like both the previous Session model and the new one.

Another standout feature is the Hero 5 Black's touch-screen LCD. The company had two models with touch-screen LCDs, but this display looks more vibrant and the menus appear to be more organized. I also like the onboard camera tour, which gives you a quick introduction to features and functions. That’s nice, especially for new GoPro users, because the few buttons perform multiple tasks.

Like GoPros of the past, the new models provide many video-capture options: resolution settings that range from 480p all the way up to ultra HD or 4K video; five field-of-view options (from very wide to narrow); and lots of frames-per-second settings (from 30 fps up to 240).

Additionally, you can capture still photos in single-shot or burst mode, and you can tweak exposure settings using the Protune controls. The GoPro Hero 5 Black gives you the advanced option of capturing both RAW or wide-dynamic range (WDR) photos similar to HDR (high-dynamic range).

Both GoPros let you capture time-lapsed photos and videos, setting image-capture intervals from .5 seconds to 60 seconds.

Remote Control and Voice Command

Connectivity has always been an important feature for action cams, especially because most lack onboard LCDs for reviewing what you've shot. Both the Hero 5 Black and the Hero 5 Session can connect to a smartphone with Bluetooth or WiFi, using the phone as a live-action LCD. You can also change video and photo settings, such as resolution, frames per second, and so on, using your phone.

I was particularly impressed with the voice-control technology. (It's not on by default, so you’ll need to go into the settings and activate it.) Although it’s not anywhere near as sophisticated as, for instance, Amazon’s Alexa voice-command technology, you can choose from about a dozen commands, including “GoPro, start recording," “GoPro, shoot burst,” and “GoPro, start time-lapse.”

Bottom Line

It’s good to see a company like GoPro take bold steps in redesigning its flagship product, the Hero 5 Black, although the company wasn't all that bold with the design of the new Hero 5 Session, which is almost identical to the previous model. The new capabilities, including image stabilization, voice control, and the ability to go underwater without an extra case, are useful, consumer-oriented features action-cam users will really like.

We’re testing both new GoPros in our labs and will let you know soon when we have the results. In particular, we'll be able to say more about image quality and battery life.

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