GoPro HERO 4 Session: Hands On

GoPro's New Camera Is a Tiny Cube. I Took It on Adventures.

I've been keeping a secret, and today I can spill the beans. Last month, I took a new camera on some adventures. Yes, it's a GoPro. A smaller, lighter, more versatile GoPro than you've ever seen.

Gizmodo loves technology. Our product reviews are presented thanks to Dick Smith.

Full disclosure: GoPro flew me and a handful of other journalists out to Vail, Colorado for a few days, put us up in a hotel, and put some food in our bellies so that we could try out their new camera on some fun adventure activities.

What Is It?

Specifications
  • Resolution: 8-megapixel
  • Sensor Size: 1/3.2-inch
  • Screen: 1.75-inch LCD
  • Video: 1920x1440 @ 30fps / 1920x1080 @ 60, 50, 30, 25 FPS
  • Lens Mount: N/A (fixed lens)
  • Warranty: 2 Years

This is the GoPro Hero4 Session, and it represents one of the company's greatest leaps forward in product design and usability -- as I discovered first-hand while paddling down whitewater rapids.

But first, what makes this camera so great?

GoPro's New Camera Is a Tiny Cube. I Took It on Adventures.

To start with, the Session is small. How small? Ridiculously small. Just under an inch and a half in every direction. In fact, it's 50% smaller (and at 3.1 oz, 40% lighter) than other HERO4 cameras. On paper, that may not sound like much, but when you're 35 feet off the ground, swinging between obstacles in a high ropes course, it's nice not to feel like you're wearing the extra weight. Ask me how I know.

GoPro's high ropes course challenged us to navigate a series of rope-based obstacles high above the ground. Each obstacle varied in difficulty and approach; the course ended with a fast-rope down to the ground. I wore the Session around my ankle using a new GoPro mount -- The Strap -- which let me capture a unique from-the-ground perspective.

In order to take advantage of the Session's small size and weight, GoPro has created a host of new mounting options that allow for angles you weren't able to get with previous cameras. One of these new mounts is The Strap ($60), a low-profile hand strap that makes users feel like Iron Man. It makes for a fluid, dynamic perspective on the action and, equally important, wearing the kit felt good -- less obtrusive than wearing a winter glove.

GoPro's New Camera Is a Tiny Cube. I Took It on Adventures.

While on the course, I couldn't help thinking about all the different activities that The Strap could be used for to produce even more interesting results. Ice climbing. Air Hockey. MMA.

And that's just one of the new mounting options. There's also a low-profile frame which allows the Session to be mounted just fractions of an inch above any surface -- and rotate 180 degrees. Meanwhile, the included Ball Joint Buckle allows for subtle orientation corrections and essentially eliminates the need for an elbow joint when side-mounting to a helmet or other vertical surfaces.

Using It

GoPro's New Camera Is a Tiny Cube. I Took It on Adventures.

OK, so the Session is small -- but what about a waterproof case? Won't that make the camera bulkier? Nope! It doesn't need one. The Session is waterproof out-of-housing to 10 metres. And without the need for a housing, the Session's dual mic system picks up underwater sounds better than the Heroes before it. Again, how do I know?

Because thanks to the Strap and that dual-mic system, I'm pretty sure I just captured some of the most dynamic pole spearfishing video ever.

Over the 4th of July weekend, I travelled to Santa Cruz Island -- part of Channel Islands National Park -- to do some kayaking, camping, and spearfishing. Sadly, the area had been pretty fished out, but I still managed to nab one for dinner. I used The Strap to get a "hands-on" perspective of my kill.

In order to record quality sound underwater and above the surface without a case, GoPro's engineers designed a drainage system inspired by the human ear to aid in water-clearing post-submersion. According to GoPro, the system also dynamically reduces wind noise to improve sound during windy activities like skiing, biking, and motorcycling.

OK, so how easy is the Session to use? GoPro now has a one-button solution that not only powers the camera on, but also starts recording as well. You can simply press the button and jump straight into whatever activity you're doing, and it will begin capturing video a few seconds later. Or hold it down the button to start shooting timelapse photos instead. Remember when I mentioned whitewater rafting? It's an activity that requires both hands, and it was a great way to see just how useful the feature is.

We tackled a series of Class III and IV rapids while rafting the Lower Eagle River. The water levels were high due to the recent snowmelt, so it made for an exciting trip. I wore the Session on my hand using The Strap, which secured the camera and gave a lot of control over positioning. The Session's one-touch recording allowed me to concentrate on paddling during intense moments of whitewater.

Not only was the one-touch recording convenient, it also seems to help conserve battery -- which is important, because the Session's battery is not removable. Short battery life has always been an issue with GoPro cameras in the past, but GoPro claims that the Session gets a full two hours while recording in 1080p/30. While I haven't timed this exactly, I did use the camera very extensively while on the three-hour long whitewater rafting trip; the Session came out with 40 per cent battery left.

What else should you know about the Session? Well, it doesn't have an LCD screen, for one. You need to use the GoPro app or an external remote control to change its settings; and use the app to aim the camera and review your video afterwards.

Also, while many features from the Hero4 Silver and Black cameras do carry over (such as Protune for video, Superview wide-angle recording, and Highlight Tagging) some features like Protune for photos aren't present. Also, your recording modes top out at 1080p60, 720p100, and 1440p30 -- no 4K and no buttery smooth 720p at 240fps slow-mo footage.

Still, the Session's image quality is pretty good; though my fellow reviewer Brent Rose definitely noticed a difference between Hero4 Session and Hero4 Silver video in side-by-side comparisons, but from standalone tests, I personally can't tell.

GoPro's New Camera Is a Tiny Cube. I Took It on Adventures.

Should You Buy It?

GoPro Hero 4 Session

Price: $579

Like
  • Great new design.
  • Waterproof.
  • One-touch features are great.
Don't Like
  • Expensive.
  • Smaller sensor.
  • No LCD screen.

If you like the idea of having a versatile, durable, waterproof camera for capturing fast-paced moments of life, then the Session is absolutely for you.

The complicated nature of previous GoPro's two-button design and menu system was a deterrent, then the Session would definitely be worth considering.

At $579.95, it doesn't have some of the more powerful features of the Hero4 Silver you can get for the same price, like higher framerates, resolutions, and a built-in LCD -- but if you ask me, the Session is a lot easier and more fun to use.

And if you're a content creator, adding a Session to your camera kit could enable you to capture some unique perspectives that weren't available before, effectively enhancing your storytelling abilities. As a content creator myself, I'll definitely be adding a Session to my toolbox.

Photos: Chris Brinlee, Jr.


Comments

    overpriced, I would think about buying this at half the price

      I agree. Their RRPs get higher each year with every new model.

        Are the US RRPs also doing the same or is it just due to our falling dollars here in Oz?

    Dicksmith has online sale today for $485.54

    Thank you for the heads up regarding the camera GP session I was too late to get it from the shops tonight Monday but got it online an extra seven dollars still a big saving when you look around searching. I already have the silver and want this in addition for security purposes travelling in the wheelchair after a recent problem on a train station when the barriers closed and broke my leg when they shouldn't have they want what you what they were doing. I turned the silver of before getting on the train is a bit difficult for me to turn on and off so I turned it off just as a courtesy, but now I will have both because I cannot have this problem again and also other instances which have popped up in the past. Thanks again for the info regarding special. Regards Mark PS I know it's a bit expensive but the size and the ease of being able to turn it on without the waterproof housing on the 4 silver makes it much easier for me and the camera is less intrusive and easier to mount.

    I got a Hero 4 Session recently & have been somewhat disappointed.

    Getting the Session to connect reliably to the GoPro App is a complete pain, always taking several attempts.

    Hero 4 Black has better features & despite being more expensive is better value.

    "Sadly, the area had been pretty fished out, but I still managed to nab one".... the irony.

    just grab the SJCAM M10, probably just as good as this and is almost a fifth of the price.

    I'll stick to my mobius action cam.. better profile for Rc planes/quads anyway and 1/5th the cost.. once they release a v2 mobius which can do 1080p 60fps go pro will be in even bigger strife!

    Lots of people I skate with use go-pros, usually either helmet mount or on a stick. I still find them to be hideously expensive.

    $AU299 at Dick Smith Electronics only 6 months later... should be well below $AU200 by mid-year.

    Hi! Thank you for the shots on the session and the strap. With a South Pacific cruise coming up this weekend and a more reasonable price, I have bought a Session and The Strap so I can go snorkelling and maybe a cool trip video.

    I am now wondering would The Strap be enough for the trip? or would you recommend to get stick as well and why? ( my options currently are, GoPro 3 ways, GoPole evo or a floating handler such as GoPro the handler or the GoPole Bobber?) Thanks!

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