They look identical from the outside. And the similarity of their model names is unnecessarily confusing. But once you dig into the features and price, there are some significant differences between the GoPro HERO5 Session and GoPro Session. Here’s a detailed breakdown of how they compare.
Firstly, it’s worth clarifying this up front: The GoPro HERO5 Session and GoPro HERO Session are two different cameras. Both are current models; the old version was the HERO4 Session. Yes, it’s unnecessarily confusing. The very short version of how they differ is that the HERO5 Session has more features and is more expensive than the HERO Session. The HERO Session is the basic, entry-level camera.
Secondly, it’s also worth reviewing where these two models fit in GoPro’s lineup, because that has a direct bearing on how they compare. As you can see right off the bat, they’re both small cubes. Well, actually, they’re not perfect cubes–one dimension is just a shade shorter than it should be for a perfect cube, but you get the idea. They look quite different to the traditional GoPro shape.
GoPro first used this cube shape with the HERO4 Session, a camera was launched in July 2015, about nine months after the other two models in the HERO4 range, the HERO4 Black and HERO4 Silver. (Actually, Polaroid was first with their Cube). Despite being about half the size and weight of the Black and Silver, the HERO4 Session was a flop–it was overpriced and competed too directly with other cameras already in GoPro’s range. But the HERO4 Session gave GoPro the opportunity to branch out into the smaller form factor.
The current HERO5 Session and HERO Session are both directly descended from the HERO4 Session. They share the external case and overall design. And in the case of the HERO Session, it shares even more. The HERO Session is the same camera as the HERO4 Session, just rebranded and priced at a much lower price point. So if you already have a HERO4 Session, you already have a HERO Session; so this post doubles as a comparison of the HERO5 Session with the HERO4 Session as well.
The HERO5 Session, though, is a more powerful and feature-packed camera and falls between the HERO Session and HERO5 Black as the middle camera in GoPro’s current range.
Housing and Handling
For all intents and purposes, they’re identical in terms of housing, ruggedness, and handling. Branding aside, there are only minute differences that make no functional difference, like a slightly different shade of black plastic and that the HERO5 Session has an every-so-slightly larger button on the back.
Both models are the same dimensions and have the same built-in rugged protection. They’re rated to be waterproof down to 33 feet (10 meters) without a separate housing.
They both fit in the same frame. You’ll need the frame if you want to mount your camera somewhere, because by itself the camera has no way to attach to anything else.
They also have the same controls and most the same interface, with a large shutter button on top, a small power/wifi button on the back, and a very small monochrome text display screen on top. There are some minor differences between the text displays on top–the new version is slightly tweaked and has some refreshed icons, but they’re not much different. Neither of them has the kind of LCD screen that the HERO5 Black or HERO4 Silver have where you can see what the camera sees. If you want to frame your shot with any precision you’ll have to use the live view through the mobile app.
By not having a back screen, having only two buttons, and having only a tiny two-line text display panel on top, the options for controlling the camera are pretty limited. GoPro’s marketing department prefer to emphasize the simplicity of it–just push a button and go–but if you’re looking to change settings or modes or it can get pretty tedious quickly. And you can’t do things like format the memory card in camera.
Thankfully, you can also control both cameras with GoPro’s Capture app via wifi and Bluetooth. That’s a much easier way to change a lot of settings at once. You can also use GoPro’s Smart Remote.
Overall, the HERO5 Session has far more options when it comes to video. It offers a number of features the HERO Session doesn’t. They include:
- Up to 4K resolution. The cheaper model tops out at 1080p60. (Technically, there’s a 4:3 aspect ratio version that is taller–1440p30–but it’s not really considered a higher video mode.)
- Faster framerates
- In-camera stabilization. This helps smooth out jumpy and jerky footage. It can offer quite an improvement, as you can see in the example here:
I have more details on GoPro stabilization here.
Video Modes Compared. The HERO5 Session also offers a wide selection of resolutions and framerates, including 4K video, that the HERO5 Session doesn’t have.
Here’s a master list of the video modes each camera offers. There’s one minor difference in the way that the cameras describe their video modes. While the HERO5 models have SuperView and Wide fields of view, the Session refers to Super View and Ultra Wide. In the table below I’m treating the Wide and Ultra Wide FOVs as the same thing.
|Resolution||FPS||FOV||Dimensions||Aspect Ratio||HERO5 Session||HERO Session|
Resolution. The HERO5 Session shoots photos at a resolution of 10 MP. The images measure 3648 by 2736.
The HERO Session shoots photos at a resolution of 8 MP. The images measure 3264 by 2448 pixels. It also shoots a cropped mode with a Medium field of view with 5 MP photos.
Here’s how those sizes compare, along with the 12 MP images generated by the GoPro HERO5 Black.
Burst Mode. The HERO Session can shoot in burst mode at 10 frames per second. The HERO5 Session offers more options, with up to 30 frames per second.
Night Mode. This mode keeps the shutter open longer to allow more light to come in. The HERO5 Session has it; the HERO Session doesn’t.
Timelapse Photo and Timelapse Video
GoPros have two methods of shooting timelapse (though not all of their cameras offer both methods, as in this case). One is the traditional method or shooting a series of still photos at intervals that you can then compile together into a video using software on your computer. It’s known as Timelapse Photo.
The other is known as Timelapse Video. Timelapse Video is far more convenient because you get a compiled video straight out of the camera, but Timelapse Photo gives you more control over the processing of anything from colors and contrast to resolution to framerate.
The HERO Session can only do timelapse photo mode. It offers intervals of 0.5, 1, 2, 5, 10, 30, and 60 seconds.
The HERO5 Session has the Timelapse Video modes. It offers the same intervals as the timelapse photo method. The video resolutions you can use are 4K, 2.7K4:3, and 1080p.
Night Lapse Photo. This is a special mode that keeps the shutter open longer to let more light in and can adjust the interval accordingly to make it continuous. The HERO5 Session has this mode; the HERO Session doesn’t have it.
Ports and Connections
USB. Both use USB connections for charging and data transfer. That means they can be charged with regular USB chargers and external batteries as well as connected to computers by a cable. One thing to note, though, if you’re planning to use external power, is that to access the connection you need to open the latch door, and with the door open the camera isn’t waterproof.
While they both use USB, they use different cables. The HERO5 session uses the newer USB-C format connector. That opens the possibility of it being able to be charged more quickly with GoPro’s Supercharger. (Note that while USB-C is often used for USB 3.0 data transfer, the USB-C connection in the HERO5 cameras is still limited to USB 2 speeds.)
The HERO Session uses the older micro-USB connector for charging and data transfer.
HDMI. Neither of these has HDMI output. The HERO5 Black does.
GPS. Neither of these cameras has GPS functionality. For now, that’s limited to the HERO5 Black.
Batteries. The batteries for both models are hardwired internally and can’t be replaced.
Voice Controls. This is something specific to the HERO5 models; the HERO Session doesn’t have it. Voice control lets you issue basic control commands verbally, such as “start recording” or “take photo.” It can be a little buggy, and there are a lot of situations you might not want to use it, but both HERO5 models have it.
I’ve found the battery life to be essentially the same. It’s pretty much impossible to give a definitive figure when it comes to battery life because there are a number of factors that affect it. Things like leaving wifi and Bluetooth on, the resolution and framerate settings, using stabilization or GPS, and even the outside temperature (lithium batteries don’t perform well in very cold temperatures).
But as a general idea, I’ve run them side-by-side a few times in 1080p60 video mode without any other options on (that is, Protune, GPS, wifi, etc, all off) and they’ve been getting in the 1 hr 45 mins to 1 hr 47 mins range. If you turn on any of the other features you’re likely to get less than that.
But the gist is that I’ve not found that one has an advantage over the other in terms of battery life.
And it bears repeating that the batteries in these models aren’t removable–they’re hardwired into the camera.
Memory Card Compatibility
Both cameras are compatible with microSDHC and microSDXC cards. That means that both support cards ranging from 16GB to 256GB and above.
The HERO5 Session supports 4K video capture, so it has higher demands of the memory card’s write speeds. You don’t necessarily need the fastest microSD card, but you do need one that’s fast enough. I have a separate post on recommendations for memory cards for the HERO5 Session and HERO5 Black.
Because the HERO Session doesn’t record 4K video, it isn’t quite as demanding on the speed of the memory card. Most of the current crop of microSD cards–especially those from well-known brands and sourced from reputable retailers–will work just fine. If in doubt, the SanDisk Extreme is a good choice.
- Both cameras can get quite hot, especially when recording longer videos at the higher framerate and resolution settings. The hottest part is the metal rim of the lens port, which can become hot enough to be uncomfortable to hold.