Recently, GoPro unveiled an entirely new product lineup. Not just the new Hero5 Black, £349.99 from Amazon (UK) and the Karma drone, release date 23rd October 2016, a surprise hand-held gimbal, known as the Karma Grip, and a brand new cloud service called GoPro Plus. The Hero5 Black comes with some exciting, long-awaited new features, addressing common user complaints about functionality. It’s clear that GoPro is now focused on polishing the user experience.
The Hero5 Black has the same sensor, resolution and fps as the Hero4 at 4K at 30 frames per second. This is not necessarily a bad thing as currently there are few consumer options for viewing greater than 4K resolution video. The Hero5 does come with a slew of updates that makes the camera much more useful than its previous iteration.
Perhaps the most obvious change with the Hero5 Black is that it’s waterproof without a housing. This means you won’t need a separate case to protect it. The camera itself is a little larger than the Hero4 Black but it’s considerably smaller than the Hero4 encased in its waterproof housing. The result is that the Hero5 Black is much more pocket-friendly, and you won’t need to pry open the case just to charge it or access the memory card.
The native waterproofing works to “only” a depth of 33 feet/10 meters, but that should be good enough for the vast majority of people. A case for added protection up to 196 feet/60 meters is also available.
Another added benefit is that without a case, the camera’s microphones record better audio both in the water and on land. The classic “rattle” you hear on GoPro many water-based videos isn’t yet a thing of the past, but the setup here is much less distracting.
One downside to the new design is that it is not backwards compatible with accessories such as drone/hand-held stabilisers that were specifically designed for the Hero3 and 4. The benefits of not needing a waterproof case will likely outweigh the downsides for most people, though of course if you invested in certain accessories, you’ll need to consider whether the Hero5’s other new features are enough to sweeten the deal.
Previous versions of the GoPro have not included any GPS functionality. GoPro’s still not going all in, though. While the Hero5 Black does have a GPS sensor, it doesn’t do much right now other than tag your videos and photos with the location where you shot them. If you were hoping for Garmin-style data overlays showing your speed, height, location, etc., you’ll have to wait a bit longer.
Touchscreen and user interface
GoPro have added a touchscreen to the Hero5 Black, similar in essence to the Hero4 Silver. The new display is slightly larger than the one on the Hero4 Silver and is clearly visible even in direct sunlight. The major upgrade is with the user interface, which feels more simple compared to the Hero4. Accessing the different menus (e.g., gallery, settings, camera modes) is now done by swiping from one of the four of the edges, where you’ll find related submenus. You might encounter a small learning curve if you’re familiar with the old UI, but the new UI is faster and easier to use once you get the hang of it.
The Hero5 Black battery is different than the one used in the Hero4 and Hero3. The batteries in the new Hero5 have a chip on them that only allows official battery cells to work. This means that additional batteries will now only be available at a premium price. As for battery life, it managed just over two hours of constant recording at 1080p/30fps without GPS or any of the other energy-draining modes. This is almost exactly the amount of time it’ll take to fill up a 32GB SD card.
The GoPro Hero4 Black now responds to a range of voice commands that let you start and stop recording, take photo bursts, set a highlight tag, shoot pictures, change modes and switch the camera off. This is great for when you have the camera mounted just out of reach or when pressing the button would ruin the moment like jumping off a cliff! Voice commands worked well in testing but be warned that if there’s a lot of wind or background noise, the camera may not hear you and you’ll miss your shot. Or, at the very least, you’ll feel a bit silly having to say the command again.
The Hero5 camera finally has built-in stabilisation. It’s not full optical image stabilisation (OIS) like what Sony’s Action Cam has. Instead, it’s electronic stabilisation (EIS), which means the camera is using software to stabilise the image. The EIS system trims a little bit of the image around the edges and uses that as a buffer to digitally create a sense of stability. It works well. In early side-by-side testing, while walking with two cameras side by side (one with EIS, one without), the resulting image is clearly less jittery and prone to any sort of “jelly” effect, a common occurrence in video shot with a handheld grip. Suffice to say that the in-camera EIS will smooth out your basic footage, with the trade-off being a dent in battery life and some light distortion at the edges.
Linear mode removes the curved effect of the fish-eye lens, resulting in nice, straight lines, whether it’s the horizon or a lamp post, just as nature intended. Again, it works well. But be warned this mode does eat up your battery. It will also slightly crop your image as the “straightened” version will inevitably be longer.
Apps and GoPro Plus
GoPro has made a lot of progress with the apps that you use in tandem with your camera, particularly on mobile devices. The main app for your phone has been the rebranded Captur, and although its functionality mostly remains the same, the pairing process with the camera has been greatly improved. Just switch the camera on, the app will find it, and, basically, that’s it. Much, much improved. The GoPro Plus cloud service that will store 35 hours of video, 62,500 photos or some combination thereof. The idea is that editing will be even more convenient. And it does, eventually, cloud videos will be directly editable from the Quik mobile app (currently, only offline videos are available). Once this is the case, Plus will be much more useful.
GoPro made its name by making tough little cameras. Over time, those cameras got more and more capable, but in the race for more features, some of the fundamentals seemed overlooked. With Hero5 Black, GoPro has made a big push to rectify these neglected areas. Some of the new features are still under-exploited, GPS and advanced application integration for example, but for the first time in a while, GoPro looks like it has a clear vision.
The cameras are much simpler and more fun to use and getting video and photos out of them is easier than ever. There are still a few areas for improvement, more battery life and optical image stabilisation, as well as some general image improvements. But all in all, this is a a great step forward to an already impressive activity camera range. Overall the Hero5 Black would make a great choice for a Christmas present to the adrenaline junkie in your life.