Here's a detailed breakdown of how the GoPro HERO5 Session compares with the new HERO (2018), including video and photo capabilities.
It’s not always easy to tell the difference between models of GoPro cameras, especially when they release schedules are so staggered. So here’s another in my series of detailed comparisons between GoPro cameras. In this comparison, I’m focusing on the HERO5 Session and the newer HERO (2018).
GoPro has an unusual approach to model names and releases. As I’m writing this, you can still find an assortment of models in stores: HERO (2018), HERO Session, HERO5 Session, HERO5 Black, HERO6 Black, and Fusion. Precisely which of those are technically in GoPro’s current lineup at any given point in time and which fall into the discontinued category isn’t always clear.
The HERO5 Session was released in October 2015. At the time, it was in the middle of GoPro’s lineup, above the HERO Session (which looks identical) and the larger and more feature-packed flagship HERO5 Black model.
The HERO (2018) was released in April 2018. It’s designed as an entry-level camera. To keep it at an entry-level price point, it has a slimmed-down range of features. But it still has some key features, like an LCD touchscreen, that the HERO5 Session doesn’t have.
While there’s quite a bit of overlap between what these models can do, there are also some important differences. So here’s a rundown of how they compare.
Even at first glance, you can see that the HERO5 Session and HERO (2018) look very different. The HERO5 Session shares the same shape and case with other cameras in the Session series–that tiny cube-like case.
The HERO (2018) is the more traditional, larger GoPro style. When you put it side-by-side with the HERO5 Black and the HERO6 Black, it’s impossible to tell the difference unless you look very closely. Using that same case also has an important benefit–it means that they will fit in the same kinds of housing and frame accessories.
Waterproof. Being waterproof has always been one of the claims to fame of GoPro cameras. That you can take them places other cameras can’t safely go has always been one of the things that has set GoPro cameras apart.
With older GoPros, you had to put the camera inside a separate housing to make them waterproof. But in recent models, GoPro has been making the camera’s body waterproof. Not only does that means fewer moving pieces to deal with, it also means that the whole package can be smaller and more streamlined. A downside is that it loses that extra layer of expendable protection–if you cracked the waterproof housing on the older models you could replace just the housing quite cheaply. If you crack the body on one of the newer models, it can be game over and there’s a good chance you’ll have to replace the whole camera.
Both of the HERO5 Session and HERO (2018) use the newer approach of having the camera’s own body be waterproof without the need for a separate housing. They’re both rated down to 33 feet (10 meters). If you want to go down to the higher water pressures below that depth you can add a stronger, more waterproof dive housing. GoPro makes one that fits the HERO (2018), the Super Suit housing,1 but for the HERO5 Session you’ll need to source a third-party option.
It’s also worth noting that neither of these cameras floats, so if you’re using them in or around water, adding some kind of flotation is a good idea. Common ways to do that are to mount it on a floating handle or use a floating hand strap. Both of those options work with either model. You can also get float housings to encase the camera, but because of the different camera shapes you’ll need to make sure you get the one for that style of camera (like this one for the HERO (2018) or this one for the HERO5 Session.)
Back Screen. One of several major differences between the HERO5 Session and HERO (2018) is that one has a large screen on the back and the other doesn’t.
On the HERO (2018), the screen covers the back panel. You can use it for a live view through the lens, to play back photos and videos, and to navigate the menus and change settings. It’s a touch display, too, which makes it a quick and intuitive way to navigate the menus in much the same way you’re used to with a smartphone.
The HERO5 Session doesn’t have a back screen. The only screen it has is a narrow monochrome display on top that’s used for showing what settings are on as well as some menu navigation. It’s similar to the small monochrome screen on the front of the HERO (2018). It’s very much a bare minimum, and if you want to use any of the camera’s more advanced features you’ll probably be wanting to use the GoPro mobile app for a live view and better control over the menu options. You can’t use the HERO5 Session’s small screen to play back video, and it’s not a touch display.
Mounts. Neither camera has a mounting point directly on the camera’s case. To add that you’ll need to put the camera in a frame mount. Frame mounts don’t add any significant protection, but they do provide a firm hold around the camera’s body and, importantly, a mounting point so that you have a way to attach the camera to the standard GoPro mounting system.
Both cameras come with one of these frame mounts in the box. Each is shaped specifically for that style of camera.
Once you have the camera in the frame, they’ll mount to any of the standard GoPro mounting accessories.
Size and Weight. Both models are small and easily packable. But in situations where the smallest possible footprint is needed, the HERO5 Session has the clear edge.
That’s not just an advantage in terms of portability. In action scenarios, it has less surface area to be buffeted by wind and, being lighter, is less prone to any problems that might come from being bounced around. So there might be situations where being able to mount the smallest possible camera is advantageous, such as mounting on a helmet or on the outside of a fast-moving vehicle or bike.
USB-C. Both models have a USB-C port that’s used for charging and data transfer.
HDMI. Both have a Micro-HDMI port for video output to a TV or display.
Wireless. Both have built-in wireless, so you can use the GoPro mobile app to control them and change settings. There is a difference, though: you can use a wireless remote with the HERO5 Session, but you can’t with the HERO (2018).
Voice Commands. Both models can be controlled with voice commands. With the HERO5 Session, you can also use the voice remote (Remo), but that won’t work with the HERO (2018).
The HERO (2018) is designed as the entry-level camera in GoPro’s lineup, and the way it’s differentiated from the Black models is by having fewer features. That’s especially true when it comes to shooting video.
|Resolution||FPS||FOV||Dimensions||Aspect Ratio||HERO5 Session||HERO (2018)|
Stabilization. Both cameras have the option to enable the built-in software stabilization to get smoother footage. Also known as EIS, you can see some practical examples of it in action here. Both use GoPro’s first-generation EIS (compared to the second-generation EIS in the HERO6 Black).
Stabilization isn’t available in most, but not all of the video modes of the HERO5 Session. It’s not available in the 4K or some of the high-fps modes. On the HERO (2018), the stabilization is available in all of its available video modes.
When using the stabilization option, you do get a very slight cropping of the frame as the edges as cannibalized as part of the correction.
Fields of Vision / FOV. The HERO (2018) offers three fields of vision, or FOV, when shooting video, although they’re not all available in all shooting modes. The default is the distinctive Wide look with fisheye distortion that provides that immersive look we’re used to. When shooting in 1080p, you can also choose a Medium or Narrow FOV. Depending on how you look at it, these are crops of digital zooms (not optical zooms).
The FOVs available on the HERO5 Session overlap, but there are also some extra options. It also has Wide, Medium, and Narrow FOVs, but there’s also a SuperView mode, which is even wider and squashes the full 4:3 aspect ratio captured by the sensor into a 16:9 output. There’s also a Linear FOV, which mostly corrects for the fisheye distortion to convert it to a more natural perspective (particularly useful when filming from drones). The Linear FOV is different to the Medium and Narrow FOVs in that it’s a calculated correction applied by the camera’s software rather than a simple crop.
Bitrates. Along with resolution and framerate, a key factor in video quality is the bitrate. That refers to the amount of data that’s available to render each frame. A higher bitrate means that there’s less compression and therefore (potentially) higher quality. A lower bitrate means that there’s more compression being applied, which (potentially) means lower quality).
The maximum bitrate used (currently) on the HERO (2018) is 45 Mbps.2 The maximum bitrate on the HERO5 Session is 60 Mbps. Both are high enough to warrant some care in choosing an SD card that’s fast enough.
Video Encoding. Both cameras produce MP4 video files encoded with the widely used H.264 codec.
Neither of them encode videos with the newer HEVC / H.265 codec that’s used for a few of the high-end video modes on the HERO6 Black.
Looping. The HERO5 Session has a looping feature that records for an interval and lets you select which section to keep. The HERO doesn’t have looping.
Video+Photo. The HERO5 Session has the ability to capture still images while simultaneously recording video. The HERO (2018) doesn’t.
The photo modes of the two models are very similar.
Resolution. Both have a 10MP (megapixel) sensor. Both produce images that measure 3648 by 2736 pixels with an aspect ratio of 4:3. That’s big enough to make 8×10 prints at full resolution of 300dpi.
Image Formats. Both models capture images in the standard JPG format.
Neither has the option to save images in GoPro’s RAW format (.gpr)–for now, that’s only available on the Black editions.
Fields of View. By default, the images are captured in that distinctive fisheye look. On both cameras, that’s known as the Wide FOV.
The HERO5 Session has another FOV for standard photos: Linear FOV. This algorithmically corrects for the fisheye look that’s standard with the ultra-wide-angle lens. You can see some practical examples of it here.
The HERO (2018) doesn’t have the Linear FOV, but it does have two other FOVs: Medium, and Narrow. These are essentially digital zooms, or crops–it’s not optical zooming.
Night Photo. The HERO5 Session has a special photo mode that’s designed for low-light shooting such as at night. It leaves the shutter open longer to allow more light in.
The HERO doesn’t have this night mode.
Wide Dynamic Range. Both models have a mode that is designed to bring out details in the highlights and shadows.
GoPro calls it WDR, for wide dynamic range. I’m a bit ambivalent on the results it gives, and it doesn’t work as well as the better HDR mode in the HERO6 models, but it does recover some detail in shadows and highlights. I’ve put together some side-by-side examples here that show what it does.
Protune. Protune is GoPro’s name for extra settings that amount to an expert mode that lets you override or fine-tune parameters for various settings.
The HERO doesn’t have any Protune options. You mostly have to stick to fully automatic mode.
The HERO5 Session has several Protune settings for still images. They include options for exerting some manual control over the shutter, exposure compensation, setting maximum and minimum ISO, and adjusting white balance, sharpness, and color mode. Here’s the full list:
|Protune Setting||HERO5 Session|
|Color||GoPro Color |
|White Balance||Auto |
|ISO Limit||800 |
|Exposure Compensation||-2 to +2|
Time Lapse. Both cameras have timelapse modes, and on both, you can choose timelapse photo mode (which shoots a series of still images that you can compile into a video later using software) or time-lapse video mode (where the compiling is done in the camera itself).
But the HERO’s time-lapse options are much more limited. There’s no control over one of the crucial elements of a timelapse, the interval–it’s a standard 0.5-second interval. And in the time-lapse video mode, you’re limited to 1080p output.
With the HERO5 Session, you have much more granular control over the timelapse settings. You can choose from 0.5, 1, 2, 5, 10, 30, and 60 second intervals. You can also specify the field of view and Protune options.
Night Lapse.The HERO5 Session also has a special variation on the time-lapse photo mode that’s known as night lapse mode. It leaves the shutter open longer to let more light in when shooting in low-light situations.
The HERO doesn’t have night lapse mode.
Burst Mode. Burst mode is a special still images mode that captures a high-speed sequence of images. It can be especially useful for capturing fast action and gives you more chances to get the shot you want when the timing is critical.
Both cameras have simple burst mode options. With the HERO (2018) it shoots 10 photos in 1 second. With the HERO5 Session, it shoots at a faster rate of 30 photos in 1 second.
Continuous Photo. The HERO5 Session has a continuous photo mode–it’s not available on the HERO (2018).
Continuous photo mode is similar to burst mode in that it takes a quick series of shots, but it functions a little differently. With the camera in photo mode, you hold the shutter down. As long as you’ve got the shutter pressed, it’ll shoot five photos per second until you release the shutter.
Wireless. Both cameras have built-in wireless features, so you can control the camera remotely (with the smartphone app or a remote) as well as download photos and videos to use in Smartphone apps like GoPro’s Quik app. When set up with a GoPro Plus Subscription, both cameras can automatically upload to the cloud.
Voice Control. Both of these cameras offer voice control. When it’s enabled, you can speak some basic command to do things like start and stop recording or change the shooting mode.
Audio. Both cameras have built-in microphones. With its larger body, the HERO (2018) has three; there are two on the HERO5 Session (one each on the front and back). Neither model accepts external microphones.
GPS. Neither of these models has GPS. For now, that’s only available on the HERO5 Black and HERO6 Black.
There’s a significant difference between the HERO (2018) and HERO5 Session when it comes to batteries.
The HERO (2018) has a slightly higher-capacity battery that does allow for slightly longer shooting times in some shooting modes. In the 1080p30W mode you might get up to 2.5 hours in the right conditions. You’ll get a little less maximum potential shooting time on the HERO5 Session. On both models, you’ll probably find that in real-world shooting you get significantly less than these maximum times that GoPro quotes because you’re using features that suck more battery power or are in conditions that impact the performance of the lithium battery (such as very cold conditions). Features that eat up battery charge are shooting in 4K or high framerates (on the HERO5 Session), using video stabilization, and using wifi.
The HERO (2018) has a replaceable battery, which means you can swap it out for a spare. It’s the same battery that the HERO5 Black and HERO6 Black use, and you can get GoPro-branded versions or third-party after-market versions.
With the HERO5 Session, just like with all the Session models, the battery is hardwired in the camera and not removable.
Both cameras have a USB-C connection, so they’re compatible with the SuperCharger for fast charging.
Both models have built-in microphones. Neither accepts external mics.
For the most part, they’re compatible with the same accessories. They use the same standard GoPro mounting system, are the same size and shape so can use the same housings and frames, and they have the same ports.
There are some important exceptions, however.
Both are good cameras capable of capturing some great footage or photos. But each has some distinctive pros and cons that might make a better fit, depending on your needs and preferences.
If size matters, the HERO5 Session wins. It’s small and light and has a very small footprint/windprint.
If you want to be able to see what you’re shooting, the HERO has a strong advantage because of the screen on the back. You can, of course, use the mobile app for a live view with both models.
If you’re after simplicity, the HERO (2018), in my opinion, wins. You can make the argument that the HERO5 Session is simpler because it uses a couple of buttons for everything. And if you’re shooting in the same mode all the time it’s dead simple. But I tend to switch shooting modes quite often, and I find changing the shooting modes on the Session models to be slow and finicky. And not all shooting options are available on the camera, so you’ll find yourself needing the mobile app. The HERO (2018), by contrast, can do everything on the camera through the back screen.
If you want the most video and photo features, the HERO5 Session wins easily. It has many more video modes as well as more photo options.
For battery life, the HERO (2018) has a slight edge for shooting time, but it’s mostly pretty much a wash. Where the HERO (2018) wins handily, though, is with the ability to swap out batteries. That means that when the battery dies you can stick a new battery in and get back to shooting right away and film while another battery is charging. With the HERO5 Session, you’ll need to wait while the battery charges or connect it up to external power (which often isn’t convenient).
I buy most of my gear at B&H Photo and Amazon.
HERO (2018): Amazon
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This post was last modified on January 16, 2021 6:46 pm