DNA Test: The mini but mighty GoPro Hero4 Session
By Chong Jinn Xiung August 26, 2015
- Small, tough and waterproof out of the box
- Works with all current GoPro mount accessories
GOPRO, the industry leader in action cameras, are known for capturing videos in extraordinary situations.
Be it sky diving, swimming, skate boarding or rock climbing, you can be sure there is someone using a GoPro or its competitors to document their antics, so they can upload it to YouTube later.
This year, GoPro expanded its line of cameras with the Hero4 Session, a dramatic redesign of the action camera many have grown to love.
Small and compact, the Session offers the choice of capture videos in high definition of 1440p at 30 fps (frames per second). Lower the resolution to 1080p, and you’ll be able to record at 60 fps, while the standard 720p definition lets you shoot at 100 fps, for those buttery smooth slow motion shots.
It also captures 8 megapixel still photographs with a 10-shot burst shooting mode for high speed action images.
Hardware and design
If you ever thought GoPro cameras are small compared to typical video cameras, then you will be impressed with the Session.
The company has managed to shrink its new Hero4 action camera to the size that’s just slightly larger than an ice cube. The company’s tag line, ‘So small. So stoked.’ appropriately reflects this.
Indeed, the Session is GoPro’s smallest camera to date, as it does away with the rectangular design of its predecessors. Aside from the diminutive outlook,it is rugged and waterproof right out of the box.
If you are into water sports, the Session can go down to a depth of 10 meters. So, while you can’t take the Session for deep sea diving, it is perfectly suited for other forms of wet and wild activities, including surfing, snowboarding and cycling.
Measuring 35mm on each side, the Session has a minimalist feel and features just two physical buttons.
At the top sits a big red record button with a small monochrome LCD screen, displaying the current recording mode and other information below it.
On the back there is a small recessed button that cycles through the options to pair the camera to a smartphone or a proprietary smart remote device.
Connectivity with a smartphone is done through the GoPro app, available for iOS and Android platforms.
One of the inherent benefits of the Session’s new small design is its flexibility to be mounted almost anywhere, such as a bicycle’s wheel spoke, or even below a skateboard (for a really unique angle).
Though the Session has a new design, its square plastic frame mount is compatible with all existing GoPro mounting accessories. This will undoubtedly be good news to those who are heavily invested in GoPro’s accessories ecosystem.
The mounts however, provide minimal protection to the camera, leaving the front lens exposed.
While the camera itself is fairly robust, in the event the camera lens is scratched, it’s not as simple as buying a new case like other GoPro cameras. You will need to buy a replacement lens kit, which will set you back RM179.
The Session’s one-button control makes it extremely easy to use. Just press the record button to automatically turn on the camera and it will start recording at whatever setting it was last set to.
Press it again to stop the recording and it will subsequently power down.
But here is where it gets a little complex. You would need to hold the record button for 3 seconds to trigger the Session’s time-lapse photo mode.
In terms of power consumption, the Session is different from other GoPro cameras because it only powers on when it is recording.
As such, this tiny camera has a four-second start up time which you will have to take into account if you are recording a moving subject.
Admittedly, the start-up time is quicker than the Hero4 Silver’s QuickCapture feature that powers on and records videos, which takes six seconds.
We tested the Session against the Hero4 Silver under a variety of different lighting situations, taking videos both in the day and night.
Under the best conditions like during the middle of the day, both cameras captured respectable looking videos with nice contrast and colours, but the Silver produced footage was less punchy compared to the Session’s video, which had better contrast.
When it comes down to sharpness and level of detail though, there was little question that the Silver is the clear winner. The Session disappointingly is not as sharp, leaving fine details and edges looking soft and smudgy at best.
Under low light conditions, the Session captures night scenes just as well as the Silver. However, it gives an orange hue to the image as compared to the Silver’s more neutral tone.
As the Session does not require a waterproof casing, its new dual-microphone system picks up audio clearer compared to previous GoPro cameras.
In the footage which we captured, the Session’s microphone recorded superb audio quality. We suspect this was helped by a smart system that switches between the front and back microphone.
What this means is that in situations when the front is constantly hit by wind as a user is riding his bike, the camera will switch to the rear microphone to pick up their voice and other sounds more clearly.
GoPro action cameras are not known for their stellar battery life, considering the size. The battery typically lasts about two hours of video recording though the benefit is that you can swap batteries when one runs out.
The Session however, does not have this option as its battery is built-in. Still, the Session seemed more power efficient compared to the other GoPro models, since it switches off immediately after you stop recording hence limiting battery usage.
And while previous models allowed users to change settings on the fly, however cumbersome it was with the tiny LCD screen, GoPro has removed this feature entirely from the Session.
Your only option is to pair it with your smartphone or GoPro smart remote to make even the simplest of changes, such as changing the frame rate or switching to Photo mode.
Not only is this slow but it can be tedious especially if you need to change settings while on the go.
The GoPro Hero4 Session is an impressively designed action camera that crams in GoPro’s video capture capabilities in a small, yet tough package that happens to be waterproof out of the box.
Its small size opens up new possibilities for unique angles, and its fancy dual-microphone system produces better audio that help make your videos more exciting.
There are however a few trade-offs if you decide to own a Session.
Firstly, the video quality isn’t nearly as good as the Hero4 Silver, since it is noticeably softer. There is that slight orange tint as well when recording in low light conditions.
You also need to contend with the fact that the battery is built-in, so once the Session runs out of juice you can’t just swap another battery in.
Retailing at RM1719, the Session is rather expensive compared to the competition, considering it has fewer features compared to the similarly priced Hero4 Silver.
This segment is also heating up with the entry of cheaper action cameras in the market, so the choices for such gadgets are set to expand.
Yet, we find the Session to be a bold new step that will allow users to get obtain action video footage that’s more unique than before, and most likely will attract current GoPro users who already have a number of mounting accessories available.
But for new buyers, we would still put our money behind the Silver for its better video quality, ability to swap batteries and versatility. It’s just better value for money overall.