GoPro’s action cameras have always been dinky, almost a miniaturization of a traditional digital camera. But the company’s latest effort, the GoPro Hero 4 Session, is the smallest GoPro ever — and shaped like a near-perfect cube.
The GoPro Hero 4 Session is 50% smaller and 40% lighter than the rest of GoPro’s high-end Hero 4 range. This is important. GoPro is the go-to brand for action sport enthusiasts — think anybody who uses the words “gnarly,” “stoked,” or “rad” with reckless abandon. These thrill seekers want small and robust cameras to attach to skateboards, skis, helmets and just about anything else you can imagine. The smaller and lighter the camera, the better.
And if that’s the rule, the Session is definitely better. It’s an eight megapixel action camera with a 170-degree wide angle lens aimed at users who value compactness over all else. It’s also the first GoPro to be water-resistant without needing a separate case.
I’ve spent the last few days with the Session, dunking it in water, jumping over hills in a buggy and cycling through a busy city. I’ve been thoroughly impressed.
For its first task, I strapped the GoPro Hero 4 Session to a paddle for some white water rafting action. Being regularly submerged in the wet stuff didn’t bother the Session one bit – it can be submerged down to 33 feet – and I could hardly feel its weight on my oar. Best of all, the footage it captured is outstanding. The video is crisp and the shots of the foaming rapids look exactly as I experienced them.
It’s not just the Session’s video that looks good. GoPro has worked hard at improving its sound capture, too. Because the camera isn’t enclosed in thick, transparent plastic means its microphones aren’t muffled. Clever software decides which mic to prioritize so wind noise, for example, doesn’t drown out what you actually want to capture. What this leads to is some impressive sound quality that puts you right back in the moment. As the paddle dunks the camera underwater, the audio quietens, just like when your ears are submerged. As the paddle rises the sound explodes again in a cacophony of rolling waves.
Shots of driving a buggy over jumps are also thrilling, whether in full-HD at 60 frames per second or at the highest, 1440 pixel, 4:3 resolution at 30fps. You don’t get 4K here — that’s still limited to the top-of-the-range GoPro Hero 4 Black — but you do get 100fps slow-motion at 720p. The fisheye lens can capture almost everything in front of it, though at the cost of distortion at the edges. This is normal with action cameras, and is a small price to pay for the sheer amount the Session can fit into your shots.
Once you’ve shot your footage, you need to cut it into a compelling movie. You can use GoPro Studio for this. It’s reasonably simple to use and helps you make exciting and fun videos with a minimum of fuss.
Being so small means the GoPro Hero 4 Session doesn’t have many controls on the body. There’s a tiny LCD screen, a flap covering the microSD and microUSB slots and a main button that lets you shoot video or, with a longer press, time-lapse photos. The only other button is tiny and lets you either flag interesting moments in a movie or connect the Session to a smartphone, helpful for getting the most out of the Session.
The GoPro app has a slew of settings you can tweak to help create the perfect video as well as remotely control the Session. It’s easy to use, and connections between a phone and the Session are rock solid. Best of all, GoPro has added low-energy Bluetooth so neither device’s battery drains too fast while connected. The Session can last a full six days on standby like this. Battery life in general is impressive for such a small camera. I managed a little over two hours of video at full-HD 30fps. Gnarly.
The GoPro Hero 4 Session looks certain to be a firm favorite for adrenaline junkies. Its lightness and low-profile design make it a great complement for bikers who want a helmet-mounted action cam, or musicians looking to capture interesting angles at a gig.
For the rest of us, the Session is a luxury, particularly as it costs $399. That’s as much as the GoPro Hero 4 Silver, which has better specs, though in a bigger package. For anyone considering taking the GoPro plunge without sinking too much money into a purchase, I recommend the GoPro Hero+ LCD. Yes, it’s bigger than the Session, but it also comes with an LCD screen for viewing your shots and settings — and it’s $100 cheaper, at $299.