GoPro Hero 4 Session Camera Review

Hands-on with the GoPro Hero 4 Session

GoPro cameras have always been impressively compact ­– dinky rectangles capable of capturing some of the most incredible footage the world has ever seen. Add waterproof housing, though, and they become much bulkier.

That’s not a problem for most of us who want a small, water-resistant camera to take to the beach. For extreme sports fans, though, size and weight can make all the difference. Mounting a GoPro Hero 4 Black to the end of a ski can affect the balance of the skier, for example, so designing a smaller, lighter camera is one of GoPro’s top priorities.

With three years of development behind it, the GoPro Hero 4 Session is a tiny cube of clever optics. The key to its diminutive size is that it doesn’t need a case; it’s water resistant off the bat. Miniaturisation doesn’t come cheap, though. At £330/$399 the Session is the same price as the better-specced Hero 4 Silver.

GoPro Hero 4 Session – Design

How much smaller than a traditional GoPro is the Session? Impressively it’s 50% smaller and 40% lighter than the top-of-the-line GoPro Hero 4 Black. Much of that saving comes from the lack of a clear plastic shell for keeping it water tight. That shaves off plenty of bulk, yet the GoPro Session can withstand being submerged up to 10m. That’s less than the rest of the Hero 4 range, which can be submerged up to 40m, but it’s still impressive for such a small action camera.

GoPro Hero 4 Session 5

It also looks quite different to previous GoPros. The Hero 4 Session looks like a cube with rounded edges. It’s not the most aerodynamic design, but it has a much lower profile and smaller surface area than its siblings. Regardless of the new shape the Session is compatible with previous GoPro accessories, although I did find that because it’s a little thicker it doesn’t have as much travel – using the GoPro headstrap it points down slightly more than other Hero 4 cams. There are also a bunch of new accessories GoPro is launching with the Session, such as the Floaty, which, as you might have guessed, helps the action cam float and be easily seen.

Floaty GoPro

The cube design looks good and works well when mounted, but not so well when it’s in your hand. Because it feels the same from every angle it’s sometimes difficult to figure out where the lens is pointing by touch alone. The periscope shape of the HTC Re makes it a lot easier to frame a shot, but I’d take the image and video quality of the Session every time, even though it’s more expensive. The shape is just one of those things that takes a little getting used to.

Textured, rubber coating along two sides makes the Hero 4 Session grippy even when it’s not mounted. It also makes it tough. I dropped it several times over the days I’ve been using it and it hasn’t got the slightest scratch on the body or the strengthened glass protecting the lens. GoPros need to be tough – this one is.

GoPro Hero 4 Session 11

As you might expect on a camera this small physical controls are minimal. There’s a main button that starts and stops shooting or, if pressed for three seconds, takes photos at timed intervals. You can use the latter to create time-lapses using GoPro’s PC or Mac software.

A second, smaller button, sits at the back. Used in conjunction with a small LCD screen and the main button it lets you pair with a smartphone, or flag interesting moments in a video that can later help with editing.

That’s pretty much it, aside from a small flap that opens to give access to a Micro USB port charger (as opposed to Mini USB that most GoPros use) and the SD card slot.

GoPro Hero 4 Session

Packing so much tech into such a small, water-resistant body makes the Hero 4 Session get a little toasty when used for prolonged periods. You shouldn’t notice much if you have it mounted and I didn’t experience any performance issues, but it does get warm.

Other than that the GoPro Session is a doddle to use. Press the main button once and a few seconds later three small beeps tell you that you’re rolling, press it again and seven beeps let you know it’s turned off.

Taking photos is slightly trickier. You need to keep the button pressed down for three seconds and keep your ears peeled for two beeps. I found I was often taking video instead of photos, because I hadn’t kept my finger on quite long enough. That’s not a problem if you have the Hero 4 Session in your hand or mounted somewhere you can see the screen, like the handlebars of a bike. Mount it on a helmet, though, and you’ll never be quite sure it’s doing exactly what you want it to.

You can take single shots too, if you want, but you’ll need to use the app for that.

GoPro Hero 4 Session – Setup, Software and App

Pairing the Hero 4 Session with a smartphone is simple enough. Download the GoPro app, set the Session to App RC setting and then just find it in your Wi-Fi settings. Easy peasy. In several days of testing I found the connection and app to be rock solid.

The size of the LCD screen and streamlined nature of the Hero 4 Session means you really need to use the app to set it up the way you want it. It’s not too tricky, though, and opens up a whole new range of possibilities.

GoPro Hero 4 Session 13

There’s the obvious settings to tweak, like resolution, framerate and megapixels. Protune lets you also tinker with ISO and sharpness settings, albeit in a limited way, while the photo and multi-shot settings allow you to change the resolution and time intervals of photos.

You can also use the app as a remote control, getting the Here 4 Session to start recording when it’s out of easy reach. Finally, you can also view all the content stored on the Session on your phone or tablet.

GoPro also has its own editing software you can use to create movies with your shots. GoPro Studio is a reasonably simple editing tool that comes with a few templates to help create exciting videos without much effort. If you’ve never edited video before there’s a minor learning curve to overcome, and you will need a decent computer. My three-year-old laptop takes a while to import and convert video and generally struggled. My chunky and powerful desktop PC, on the other hand, zoomed through edits.

GoPro Hero 4 Session – Video and Image Quality

The first thing to note is that the 8-megapixel Hero 4 Session does not come packing 4K video, unlike its larger, 12-megapixel brother. Instead GoPro has opted for a 1440 resolution with a 4:3 aspect ratio as the highest resolution offered.

It might sound surprising, but the 4:3 aspect ratio (that was the staple of TVs until the last few decades) is preferred by many extreme sports enthusiasts. That’s because it provides a better sense of scale in some scenarios – think tall mountains in the background that would have their peaks cut off in widescreen.

GoPro Hero 4 Session photo

The 170 degree lens means you get a fish-eye effect on photos and videos. You can reduce this barrel distortion by using a 16:9 aspect ratio, or while editing the footage.

During testing I mainly used the full-HD 16:9 ratio, but all options delivers good footage. And that’s the crux of it. The GoPro Hero 4 Session manages to provide high-quality video, but in a much neater package than other GoPro models. Colours are bright and vivid, quick sharp movements are captured smoothly and there’s tonnes of detail. The lack of 4K doesn’t appear a major weakness unless you need professional quality footage.

The one feature that didn’t work perfectly for me was automatic low-light. This tweaks the settings (e.g. dropping the framerate) when the camera senses it’s not bright enough. It worked well one shot, but not another. I’ll be testing this feature further during the full review.

It’s not just video that GoPro takes seriously, it’s sound too. The GoPro Hero 4 Session comes with two microphones – one at the back and one at the front – and uses clever software to decide which to prioritise. If you’re racing down a hill on a bike then wind noise might make the front mic useless, but the rear one ideal.

Watch a video created using the GoPro Hero 4 Session and GoPro
Studio. It took me about an hour to create with very little knowledge of
the software:

This second video took just 15 minutes to make using one of GoPro’s generic templates enticingly called Dub Step Baby – and yes wubwubwub music is included. I used the Protune setting on this video to enhance colours. Both videos have been compressed for viewing on a website.

GoPro Hero 4 Session – Battery Life

You might expect battery life to be compromised in a product so small, but the Hero 4 Session promises to last for two hours of Full HD shooting. I actually managed a little more than that shooting Full HD at 30fps.

The Hero 4 Session also comes with impressive standby time of six days with the Wi-Fi and Bluetooth turned on. GoPro has packed low-energy Bluetooth to the Session, which means it can turn off the power-sapping Wi-Fi until it’s needed – when you open the app on your phone.

Early Verdict

The GoPro Hero 4 is an incredible achievement and a dream come true for adrenaline junkies who want to capture their exploits (with obligatory shouts of ‘Gnarly’ and ‘Stoked’) with ease. Its diminutive size and lack of weight also makes it the perfect choice for helmet mounting or clipping to a musical instrument during gigs.

At £330 it’s not cheap, though. For those not overly concerned about size and weight the GoPro Hero+ makes more sense as a cheaper way of capturing those perfect holiday moments without ruining your lovely flagship phone. Having an LCD screen on the back is an added bonus.

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