GoPro HERO5 Black vs HERO5 Session

The GoPro HERO5 Black and HERO5 Session look very different, but there are also important differences under the hood. Here’s a detailed comparison.

GoPro HERO5 Black vs HERO5 Session
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The most immediate difference between the GoPro HERO5 Session and the HERO5 Black is something you’ll notice right off the bat looking at them. They’re obviously different shapes and sizes. The HERO5 Black looks more like the traditional GoPro shape. The other two are compact cubes (well, almost cubes) that continue the design first introduced in the HERO4 Session.

These two cameras share some key headline features and specs: 4K video, in-camera video stabilization, and voice controls.

But there are also important differences beyond their shape and size. So if you’re trying to choose between them, here’s a detailed breakdown of their similarities and differences.

Note that the HERO5 Session is different from the HERO Session. Overall, the HERO5 Session has more features and comes at a higher price point.
GoPro Hero5 Black — Waterproof Digital Action Camera for Travel with...
  • Stunning 4k video and 12MP photos in single, burst and time lapse modes charger not included
  • Durable by design, Hero5 black is waterproof to 33 feet (10 meter) without a housing
GoPro Hero5 Session
  • The GoPro Hero 5 session includes: Hero5 session camera, standard frame, curved adhesive mount, flat...
  • Make sure your GoPro is charged; To charge your camera, use USB cable and a computer or charge device...

GoPro HERO5 Black vs HERO5 Session: Battery Life & Charging Compared

[TOC]The HERO5 Black has a removable battery. The battery in the HERO5 Session is hardwired in and isn’t removable. So you can’t swap it out for a freshly charged one or replace it when it has finally exhausted its recharging cycle limit.

To check out how the battery life compared, I put a HERO5 Black and a HERO5 Session side-by-side to record non-stop 1080p60 footage (with Protune and stabilization turned off). They were in the same conditions and the same scene. The Black ran for 1 hr 47 mins, while the Session ran for 1 hr 53 mins. So they were essentially the same, although if one were to have a slight edge, I would have expected it to be the Black. Of course, this is hardly a definitive lab test, and there are some reasons your mileage might vary, including different settings, different memory cards, the health of the battery, and even the environmental temperature (lithium batteries don’t work well in very cold temperatures).

Both cameras charge via a USB-C cable. Neither comes with an AC adapter, but most standard USB chargers will work, as will external batteries.

You can also run both of them from an external power source, such as an external battery pack or AC, while filming, although doing so means that the camera won’t be waterproof. To access the ports to plug in the cable means that the small cover doors over the ports have to stay open.

I have a more detailed post on charging the HERO5 cameras here.

GoPro HERO5 Black vs HERO5 Session: Size and Weight Compared

The difference in shape and size is obvious when you look at them.

The HERO5 Session is a much more compact package overall, so it’s well-suited to mounting in tight spots, in places where discretion is important, and in places where the reduced surface area might be a factor for resistance against high-speed winds. And, of course, it’s just that little bit easier to throw in your pocket.

GoPro HERO5 Black vs HERO5 Session standing side-by-side without frames

Weight. In short, while neither is what you’d call heavy, the HERO5 Session is much lighter. These measurements are taken without the Frame mounts. Both are with a memory card. In the Black’s case, it’s with the battery installed (the battery is hardwired in the HERO5 Session.

  • HERO5 Black: 4.2oz / 118g
  • HERO5 Session: 2.6oz / 73g

Dimensions. I haven’t been able to find GoPro’s official dimensions for the new cameras, but breaking out my digital calipers, this is what I get:

  • HERO5 Session: 1.49 in (37.9mm) wide, 1.49 in (37.9mm) tall, and 1.42 in (36.1mm) deep.
  • HERO5 Black: 2.4in (61.7mm) wide, 1.7in (44.4mm) tall, and 0.9in (24mm) deep. The lens port protrudes a little from the body, and the depth of that portion with the lens port is 1.3in (32.3mm).

Housings

Starting with the HERO4 Session, GoPro started incorporating waterproofing into the camera’s case in quite a different way than earlier models had. Both of these new models continue that new method.

The upshot is that both of these cameras are waterproof on their own without a housing. They’re rated to withstand the pressure without leaking down to 33 feet (10 meters). If you want to go deeper than that, or want to add extra protection, you can pick up a dive housing separately.

Dispensing with the separate housing has both advantages and disadvantages. An upside is that the whole package can be smaller. A downside is that there’s no longer a first line of defense against damage, and the new method doesn’t offer the same level of waterproofing protection of the old Standard Housing. If you damage the lens port or the trap-doors, you can replace those, but cracking the case or the screen might mean having to replace the camera rather than just a housing.

You also still have to be able to access inside some parts of the camera, whether to insert a memory card, replace a battery (for the HERO5 Black), or connect cables. That means that you need some kind of removable cover. Both of these models use a detachable trap-door with a built-in seal; the Black has two of them, while the HERO5 Session has one. While there’s a slight variation in the latch between the two models, in both cases, the doors are quite flimsy, and it’s possible for grit to prevent a proper seal. In short, the doors form a potential weak link, but it’s one both cameras share.

GoPro HERO5 Black vs HERO5 Session USB ports and connections

Something to be aware of is that by themselves, neither camera has a mounting point. So if you want to mount it, you’ll need at least a Frame mount that provides the distinctive GoPro attachment system. Both cameras come with a wrap-around Frame. It provides that mounting point but doesn’t offer much in the way of protection.

Controls and Interface

One of the biggest practical differences between these two cameras is how you interact with them.

There are some similarities. Both offer the new voice activation system, which lets you use basic voice commands like starting and stopping recording, taking photos, or changing modes. Both can be controlled with the GoPro mobile app, now renamed Capture. And both will work with the Smart Remote and the new Remo voice remote.

But the controls on the cameras themselves are very different. The Black has three buttons, a small monochrome LCD screen on the front, and a large, color LCD on the back. You can control the camera and change settings with the buttons and the small screen on the front. And you can use the back screen, which has touch control, to move through all of the camera’s options and settings.

GoPro HERO5 Black vs HERO5 Session back panels

With the HERO5 Session, you have two buttons, as well as a much smaller monochrome LCD screen. It’s designed for simplicity, and if you tend to shoot with the same settings most of the time—and especially if you use the QuickCapture mode—it can work well. If you find yourself changing settings or shooting modes often, it can get tedious quickly. It’s the same setup as the HERO4 Session, and having used that for quite some time and now using the HERO5 Session as well, it’s not my favorite way of controlling the camera. It works, but it’s slow, and not all the settings are available this way.

GoPro HERO5 Black vs HERO5 Session Top View

LCD Touchscreen

The Black has one; the HERO5 Session doesn’t. It’s a bright, clear screen that helps with framing the shot, playing back footage or viewing photos, and changing settings. And it’s a touchscreen, so you navigate by tapping and swiping rather than having to use the buttons. It’s a significant improvement over the one on the HERO4 Silver.

It does several things, but I like it most as a way to see what you’re shooting and compose the shot. You can also do that through the Capture mobile app, which works with both cameras, but the on-board screen provides a much quicker and simpler way on the camera itself. With the HERO5 Session, you either point and hope or connect the Capture app.

A catch is that without a protective housing, the screen becomes more vulnerable. I’m not aware of any way to replace just the screen if you crack it—it most likely means a new camera.

HERO5 Session and Black Video Modes Compared

Overall, they offer broadly similar video options, although the Black has more options and offers more flexibility than the HERO5 Session.

Video Stabilization. Both have the new in-camera video stabilization, which GoPro calls EIS. It can work reasonably well in many situations to create smoother footage by minimizes vibration and jitter. It’s not perfect, and being a software solution, it’s not as effective as a good gyro gimbal, but I suspect it will be a popular feature for many people. I’ve put together some side-by-side examples of it here, so you can see some practical examples of the effect it has in real-world shooting.

Resolution. Both of these cameras have 4K video at 30 fps as their top-end mode. Below that size, they offer mostly identical resolutions with the exception of the smallest 480p mode that isn’t available on the HERO5 Session. Not every FPS and FOV setting is shared for every resolution.

These are the resolutions they have in common:

GoPro HERO5 Session video resolutions graphic illustration

Video Modes. When it comes to the combination of resolution, framerate, and field of view, these two cameras have many video modes that overlap. But the HERO5 Black has quite a few more options, especially in the high frame-rate modes. There’s a handful of modes that the HERO5 Session has that the Black doesn’t, but they don’t really offer anything extra—they’re mostly toned down compromises of what’s on the Black.

Video Modes Detailed Comparison

Here’s a master list comparing the video modes of the HERO5 Black with the HERO5 Session:

ResolutionFPSFOVDimensionsAspect RatioHERO5 BlackHERO5 Session
4K30Wide3840x216016:9
25Wide3840x216016:9
24Wide3840x216016:9
SuperView3840x216016:9
2.7K60Wide2704x152016:9
Medium2704x152016:9
Linear2704x152016:9
50Wide2704x152016:9
Medium2704x152016:9
Linear2704x152016:9
48Wide2704x152016:9
Medium2704x152016:9
Linear2704x152016:9
30SuperView2704x152016:9
Wide2704x152016:9
Medium2704x152016:9
Linear2704x152016:9
25SuperView2704x152016:9
Wide2704x152016:9
Medium2704x152016:9
Linear2704x152016:9
24SuperView2704x152016:9
Wide2704x152016:9
Medium2704x152016:9
Linear2704x152016:9
2.7K 4:330Wide2704x20284:3
25Wide2704x20284:3
1440p80Wide1920x14404:3
60Wide1920x14404:3
50Wide1920x14404:3
48Wide1920x14404:3
30Wide1920x14404:3
25Wide1920x14404:3
24Wide1920x14404:3
1080p120Wide1920x108016:9
Narrow1920x108016:9
90Wide1920x108016:9
80SuperView1920x108016:9
60SuperView1920x108016:9
Wide1920x108016:9
Medium1920x108016:9
Linear1920x108016:9
Narrow1920x108016:9
50SuperView1920x108016:9
Wide1920x108016:9
Medium1920x108016:9
Linear1920x108016:9
Narrow1920x108016:9
48SuperView1920x108016:9
Wide1920x108016:9
Medium1920x108016:9
Linear1920x108016:9
Narrow1920x108016:9
30SuperView1920x108016:9
Wide1920x108016:9
Medium1920x108016:9
Linear1920x108016:9
Narrow1920x108016:9
25SuperView1920x108016:9
Wide1920x108016:9
Medium1920x108016:9
Linear1920x108016:9
Narrow1920x108016:9
24SuperView1920x108016:9
Wide1920x108016:9
Medium1920x108016:9
Linear1920x108016:9
Narrow1920x108016:9
960p120Wide1280x9604:3
100Wide1280x9604:3
60Wide1280x9604:3
50Wide1280x9604:3
30Wide1280x9604:3
25Wide1280x9604:3
720p240Narrow*1280x72016:9
120SuperView1280x72016:9
Wide1280x72016:9
Medium1280x72016:9
Narrow1280x72016:9
100SuperView1280x72016:9
60SuperView1280x72016:9
Wide1280x72016:9
Medium1280x72016:9
Narrow1280x72016:9
50SuperView1280x72016:9
Wide1280x72016:9
Medium1280x72016:9
Narrow1280x72016:9
30SuperView1280x72016:9
Wide1280x72016:9
Medium1280x72016:9
Narrow1280x72016:9
25Wide1280x72016:9
Wide1280x72016:9
Medium1280x72016:9
Narrow1280x72016:9
480p240Wide848x48016:9

Protune. Both offer Protune options for video, although they don’t have all of the same options. For several of the settings, the Black offers more options.

A notable Protune option that the Black has that the HERO5 Session doesn’t is the ability to record a separate high-quality audio track (more on that below). It also unlocks significantly higher ISO ratings, although the image quality deteriorates the higher you go.

Here’s a breakdown of the specific Protune modes for video that each offers:

Protune OptionHERO10 BlackHERO9 BlackHERO8 BlackHERO7 BlackHERO6 BlackHERO5 BlackHERO4 BlackHERO4 SilverHERO Session
BitrateLow (default)
High
Low (default)
High
Low (default)
High
------
ColorVibrant (default)
Natural
Flat
GoPro Color
Flat
GoPro Color
Flat
GoPro Color
Flat
GoPro Color
Flat
GoPro Color
Flat
GoPro Color
Flat
GoPro Color
Flat
GoPro Color
Flat
White BalanceAuto
2300K
2800K
3200K
4000K
4500K
5500K
6000K
6500K
Native
Auto
2300K
2800K
3200K
4000K
4500K
5500K
6000K
6500K
Native
Auto
2300K
2800K
3200K
4000K
4500K
5500K
6000K
6500K
Native
Auto
2300K
2800K
3200K
4000K
4500K
5500K
6000K
6500K
Native
Auto
2300K
2800K
3200K
4000K
4500K
5500K
6000K
6500K
Native
Auto
3000K
4000K
4800K
5500K
6000K
6500K
Native
Auto
3000K
4000K
4800K
5500K
6000K
6500K
Native
Auto
3000K
4000K
4800K
5500K
6000K
6500K
Native
Auto
3000K
5500K
6500K
Native
Manual Exposure / Shutter*Auto
1/fps
1/(2xfps)
1/(4xfps)
1/(8xfps)
1/(16xfps)
Auto
1/fps
1/(2xfps)
1/(4xfps)
1/(8xfps)
1/(16xfps)
Auto
1/fps
1/(2xfps)
1/(4xfps)
1/(8xfps)
1/(16xfps)
Auto
1/24
1/25
1/30
1/48
1/50
1/60
1/96
1/100
1/120
1/192
1/200
1/240
1/384
1/400
1/480
1/960
1/1920
1/3840
Auto
1/24
1/25
1/30
1/48
1/50
1/60
1/96
1/100
1/120
1/192
1/200
1/240
1/400
1/480
1/960
1/1920
Auto
1/24
1/25
1/30
1/48
1/50
1/60
1/80
1/96
1/100
1/120
1/160
1/192
1/200
1/240
1/320
1/400
1/480
1/960
Auto
1/60
1/120
1/240
Auto
1/60
1/120
1/240
-
ISO Limit6400
3200
1600
800
400
200
100
6400
3200
1600
800
400
200
100
6400
3200
1600
800
400
200
100
6400
3200
1600
800
400
200
100
6400
3200
1600
800
400
200
100
6400
3200
1600
1200
800
400
6400
3200
1600
1200
800
400
6400
3200
1600
1200
800
400
1600
400
SharpnessHigh
Medium (default)
Low
High
Medium (default)
Low
High
Medium (default)
Low
High
Medium (default)
Low
High
Medium (default)
Low
High
Medium (default)
Low
High
Medium
Low
High
Medium
Low
OFF
ON
Exposure Compensation-2 to +2-2 to +2-2 to +2-2 to +2-2 to +2-2 to +2-2 to +2-2 to +2-2 to +2
Raw Audio TrackOff (default)
Low
Mid
High
Off
Low
Mid
High
Off
Low
Mid
High
Off
Low
Mid
High
Off
Low
Mid
High
Off
Low
Mid
High
---
WindAuto (default)
On
Off
Auto
On
Off
Auto
On
Off
---
Auto Audio Mode GroupAuto
On
Off
Auto
On
Off
Auto
On
Off
Auto
Wind Only
Stereo Only
-----
* Note on manual shutter: The specific options available in the manual exposure / shutter section vary by the framerate you've chosen. The available shutter speeds you'll see available will be limited to multiples of the framerate you're using. As an example, if you set it to record at 1080p60, you won't see the option for a manual shutter speed of 1/96 but you will see 1/120 and 1/240. In general, the scale goes 1/fps, 1/(2xfps), 1/(4xfps), 1(8xfps), and 1(16xfps).

Photos Compared

The HERO5 Black’s photos are a bit larger than those of the HERO5 Session, 12MP vs 10MP. The specific sizes are:

HERO5 Black: 12MP / 4000 x 3000 px
HERO5 Session: 10MP / 3648 x 2736 px

In practice, that’s not a huge difference. Here’s a visualization for comparison (click on it for a full-size version):

GoPro HERO5 photo sizes compared

Burst Mode. Both can take bursts of up to 30 photos per second. They share the same burst modes, which are:

  • 30 photos in 1, 2, 3, or 6 seconds
  • 10 photos in 1, 2, or 3 seconds
  • 5 photos in 1 second
  • 3 photos in 1 second
Tip: If you hold the shutter down in the single photo mode, it will keep taking photos at 5 frames per second until you release the shutter.

Night Mode. Both have night mode, which allows for longer shutter speeds to let more light in. It also risks getting blurry photos if your camera isn’t still.

Protune. Both cameras have Protune options for photos, although they’re not all exactly the same. In general, the Black has more options. Notably, it offers the ability the set both a maximum and minimum ISO, whereas the HERO5 Session only lets you set a maximum ISO.

Here’s a breakdown of all the Protune options for still photos available in each model:

Protune SettingHERO5 BlackHERO5 Session
ColorGoPro Color
Flat
GoPro Color
Flat
White BalanceAuto
3000K
4000K
4800K
5500K
6000K
6500K
Native
Auto
3000K
5500K
6500K
ISO Limit800
400
200
100
ISO Max1600
800
400
200
100
-
ISO Min100
200
400
800
1600
-
SharpnessHigh
Medium
Low
High
Medium
Low
Exposure Compensation-2 to +2-2 to +2

RAW File Format. Both cameras let you save images as standard JPG files. One of the new features on the HERO5 Black is the ability to save photos in a RAW file format. It uses the file extension GPR. The RAW format opens up the potential for better image quality, but the downside comes in terms of convenience in that you really need to add the step of processing them before sharing them. The HERO5 Session doesn’t offer the RAW image format for still photos.

HDR Photos. GoPro calls this WDR, for wide dynamic range, and it’s designed to bring out more detail in the shadows and highlights. It’s available on the Black but not on the HERO5 Session.

Timelapse

Both models offer two methods for creating a time lapse.

Timelapse Photo. This is the old-fashioned way of shooting a sequence of still images, downloading those images from the memory card, and stitching them together on your computer using a separate app like GoPro Studio. Like previous models, the available intervals in-camera (without using an external intervalometer) are 0.5, 1, 2, 5, 10, 30, and 60 seconds. This method gives you maximum flexibility and potentially much better image quality, but it also involves several more steps and time spent post-processing.

Timelapse Video. The other method is to have the cameras compile the video on the fly to create a finished mp4 time lapse video. This saves a lot of extra steps and time, although you end up with less flexibility. It offers the same intervals as the time lapse photo method. Both can create time lapse videos at 4K, 2.7K4:3, and 1080p.

Night Lapse Photo. Both have the Night Lapse Photo mode. This is a time lapse mode that provides extra interval and shutter speed options better suited to low-light shooting.

Audio

One of the new additions with the HERO5 Black is the ability to record a high-quality audio track as a separate WAV file alongside your video recording, and you can choose among different quality settings. The HERO5 Session doesn’t have that feature—the audio is standard audio embedded in the video file.

Ports and Connections

Wireless. Both have wifi and Bluetooth for wireless connections. That means you can control them with a mobile device or one of GoPro’s remotes.

USB. Both use the new USB-C connection. That connection is used for charging, connecting external microphones, and data transfer (N.B.: for both, it’s limited to USB 2 speeds, not USB 3.0).

HDMI. The Black has a micro-HDMI (Type D) connection for attaching the camera directly to a TV or display; the HERO5 Session doesn’t.

Recommended microSD Cards for the GoPro HERO5 Black vs HERO5 Session

extreme-u3_64gb

Both cameras take the same kind of microSD cards. And because they both have high-end video modes that record at 60 mb/s, you’ll need a fast memory card that can keep up. I have a separate post with more information on this along with some recommendations for the best SD cards for the HERO5 Black and HERO5 Session.

GPS

The HERO5 Black includes the option of adding GPS location tags to the EXIF metadata of still images and video. That automatic geolocation function will be very useful to anyone trying to place the images on a map or sort by location. When activated, the GPS function does detract slightly from battery life. The HERO5 Session doesn’t have GPS functionality.

Which to Get? HERO5 Black or HERO5 Session?

There’s obviously no “right” answer to this. Both are good cameras. I have both and tend to reach more often for the Black, mainly because of the convenience of the screen and relative ease of changing settings. But the small size of the HERO5 Session makes it an excellent option when mounting the camera in tight places or things that are moving, like under a bike seat or on a car or on a surfboard—basically anywhere that smaller is better.

So here are some ideas on which might appeal for certain uses:

Maximum Control Over Video Output: HERO5 Black. It simply has more options, giving you more control. It also has significantly better support for high framerate shooting.

Recording Musical or Theatrical Performances: HERO5 Black. You can enable the option to create high-quality audio files alongside your video, offering much better audio quality.

Size: HERO5 Session. It’s, well, smaller. If you’re mounting it in tight places or simply want to minimize what you’re carrying around, it’s an easy decision.

Giving as a Gift: I get asked this quite a lot, and it’s hard to give a one-size-fits-all answer. If price isn’t an issue, the HERO5 Black is a better camera. But assuming price is a consideration, the HERO5 Session is well-suited to anyone who wants to put a camera on their skateboard or surfboard or just carry it around with them all the time. The Black is a better option for using more like a traditional camera for travelling and everyday shooting largely because of its built-in LCD screen. It’s also worth throwing into the mix that there is also the entry-level HERO Session, which looks like the HERO Session but is cheaper and has fewer features.

Price: Of course, price is naturally a consideration much of the time. The HERO5 Black has an MSRP of $399, while the HERO5 Session has an MSRP of $299.

Prices of the GoPro HERO5 Black and HERO5 Session Compared

When GoPro launched the current range, they simplified the lineup and reduced the pricing compared to previous models. The HERO5 Black’s MSRP was $399 (less than the $499 set for the HERO4 Black), and the HERO5 Session MSRP was $299. But both of these are now older models, and their street prices don’t necessarily reflect those MSRPs now.

Places you still might be able to find them include Amazon (HERO5 Black | HERO5 Session) or B&H Photo (HERO5 Black | HERO5 Session.

And you might be able to pick up good used copies. It’s worth looking at KEH, which is where I often buy when I’m looking for used gear.

GoPro Hero5 Black — Waterproof Digital Action Camera for Travel with...
  • Stunning 4k video and 12MP photos in single, burst and time lapse modes charger not included
  • Durable by design, Hero5 black is waterproof to 33 feet (10 meter) without a housing
GoPro Hero5 Session
  • The GoPro Hero 5 session includes: Hero5 session camera, standard frame, curved adhesive mount, flat...
  • Make sure your GoPro is charged; To charge your camera, use USB cable and a computer or charge device...

Images and product information from Amazon PA-API were last updated on 2022-05-22 at 03:58. Product prices and availability are accurate as of the date/time indicated and are subject to change. Any price and availability information displayed on Amazon Site at the time of purchase will apply to the purchase of this product.

David Coleman / Photographer
by David Coleman

I'm a freelance travel photographer based in Washington DC. Seven continents, up mountains, underwater, and a bunch of places in between. My images have appeared in numerous publications, and you can check out some of my travel photography here. I've been shooting with GoPros for years, starting with the HD HERO, and have owned and used every model since. More »