GoPro Hero 4 Session Review

by Katie Browning

It's summer, time for new adventures, time to learn a new sport, time to travel to a new place...could it be time for a new GoPro camera?  GoPro certainly thinks so.

On July 12th, 2015 GoPro released the Hero4 Session.  The Session- all 1.5 cubic inches of it - is already making waves for it's cubical shape, size, double mics, and ability to be waterproof without a special case.

How does the Hero 4 Session compare to other GoPro models?  At $399.99, it's the same price as the Hero 4 Silver, so let's take a look at how those two measure up.

The Session boasts some features that set it apart from other GoPros'.  It has two microphones built in, one in front and one in back, and will automatically switch between the two based on sound quality.  The mics drain quickly when wet, which is a great feature, since the Session is waterproof up to 33 feet (10 meters).  Cliff jumping, anyone?

And then, of course, there's the shape.  The Session is a lot smaller than any of it's GoPro brothers and sisters - it's 50% smaller than the Hero 4 Silver or Black inside the shell and 35% lighter, at a mere 2.6 oz.

The Session's small stature makes it super easy to strap on anywhere, and the included Low-Profile Frame allows you to mount the Session almost flush against the mount, where it almost disappears compared to the Silver.  This is great for shoots where you'll be encountering a lot of wind or water resistance, and opens up the possibilities for some super creative mounts- such as under your skateboard.

The Session has only two buttons, and no display screen.  One button is for starting and stopping filming and, when held, will start filming in slow motion.  The other turns on Bluetooth for selecting settings using your GoPro mobile app or remote, and allows you to add highlights to your reel (marking footage easily locatable during editing).

Since the Session turns completely off when you're not filming, it sports a pretty long battery life- about two hours of continuous filming.  However, there are a couple of downsides here. One is that it takes about 4 seconds for the Session to turn on and start filming, which can feel like a long time if you're trying to catch quick action sequences.  The other downside is that unlike the Silver, the Session's battery is built in.  So once those 2 hours of footage are up, there's no switching your dead battery for a new one.

Also unlike the Silver, the Session lacks a micro-HDMI output and a built-in touch screen where you can frame shots, review footage and change settings.  All setting selection has to be done via the GoPro mobile app or using the $80 GoPro remote (sold separately).

And what about settings and image quality?  This is one area where the Session is definitely outdone by the Silver.  The Session allows for 1080p at 60 and 30 fps; 1440p at 30 fps; 960p and 60 and 30 fps; 720 at 100, 60 and 30 fps; and WVGA at 120 fps.  There's an option to shoot in SuperView at 30, 48 and 60 fps at different resolutions for a wider image.

What do all those numbers mean?  Basically, that the Session has fewer image quality options than the Silver.  In fact, the Session's default setting is 1080p 30 fps, which is similar to the quality of an average cellphone video.  And in practice, the image quality of the Session doesn't hold up to it's older sibling the Silver.  Color depth on the Silver is better, as is the sharpness of images and ability to deal with backlighting.

The Session also supports time-lapse filming, which you can choose to go off at 1 to 60 second intervals.  However, processing time-lapse images shot with the Session presents challenges that are not issues with the Silver.  With the Session, you'll need to import the time-lapse images into video software and convert them there, instead of just processing them in-camera like you can on the Silver.

So should you take the plunge and make the GoPro Hero4 Session your new summer companion?  It really depends on what you want out of your GoPro camera.

If you are primarily going to spend your time filming in the water- swimming, catching waves on your surfboard, kite-board or parasail - or just don't want to worry about water damage, the Session is for you.  If you want to avoid drag and resistance and be able to mount your GoPro almost anywhere, the Session is for you.  If you want to show off a camera with a cool new shape and mount, then the Session is for you.  Basically, if you want a camera that you can grab and run out the door to film your next adventure, then the Session is for you.

However, if youre willing to give up a bit of convenience in exchange for higher quality footage, then I would recommend the Silver.  It's exactly the same price, at $399.99, and produces higher quality more brilliantly-colored footage.  It allows you to tweak settings to your heart's content and review footage right then and there on the Silver's built in screen. You can replace the battery if you want to film for more than 2 hours and you can still take your Silver swimming (up to 131 feet) if you stick it in the waterproof case.  It boasts more options for frame-rates and resolutions and takes great images and time-lapses.

 

So what do you think?  Are you a Session or a Silver, a square or rectangle, a new or an old(er) Hero4 user?