GoPro Hero4 Session review: enduring the unforgiving New Zealand terrain
It's significantly smaller and lighter, but how well does it record video?
- One of the smallest and lightest action cameras around
- Proficient video recording
- Easy user interface
- Waterproof to 10 metres without housing
- Strong range of mounts that don't add much bulk to its size
- No still-photo mode directly from the camera
- Can accidentally activate the wrong mode
Price$ 580.00 (AUD)
Ordinary cameras can’t capture some of our proudest moments. Most can’t withstand droplets of water, icy temperatures or sandy environments. They can’t follow us into the action. And this is why GoPro’s range has spawned a following of loyal, diehard fans.
The company’s latest camera is its most inspired yet. It is called the Hero4 Session, and because it is 50 per cent smaller and 40 per cent lighter, it can fit into places other GoPros find inaccessible.
It looks utterly inconspicuous. A tiny, black body harbours a digital display and two buttons. A small trap door casts protection over a micro-USB charging port and a microSD card slot. All of this has been crammed into the confines of a 74 gram cube, giving the Hero4 Session the look of a single die. You could pick it up and toss it around in your hand with the same ease.
Another party trick separates this camera from the range. It is the first GoPro camera that can be submerged in water without the need for protective housing. The company claims it will work in waters 10 metres deep; both in freshwater and saltwater.
The biggest problem facing such a small camera has to do with how it is used. Are two buttons really enough to cycle through a myriad of shooting modes and resolutions? GoPro makes it work, although there are teething gripes and imperfections.
It works by combining the functions of a power button with that of a record button. It powers on and instantly starts recording 1080p video at 30 frames. A longer, 3 second hold turns it on and commences timelapse photography. Stopping and turning off the camera happens when the same button is pressed again. It’s a bare-as-bones system that helps capture fleeting moments with minimal effort.
Matters do get a little complicated when the camera is mounted out-of-sight, such as when it is affixed to a helmet, as it is hard to gauge its shooting mode. It is easy to accidentally press the button for too long, or not long enough, and the result can be a bunch of photos instead of a video.
Any activity that involves gloves exacerbates this problem. The gloves we wore when snowboarding in New Zealand were large and numb. The camera's audio cues were drowned out by the gusty wind. Rarely could we tell if we were recording a video or a sequence of timelapse photos. We got it right — most of the time.
More functionality can be milked from the camera when it is connected to a smartphone. GoPro’s app can be used to change the resolution, tweak various settings and view the photos that have been taken. The display of your smartphone also doubles as a viewfinder to help frame shots. The two communicate over Wi-Fi direct and, when the GoPro has Wi-Fi enabled, it can be turned on and switched off remotely from the smartphone.
People considering using this GoPro as their primary camera should reconsider. It captures 8 megapixel still photos with varying success. The Session is a specialist camera and its speciality is landscapes. GoPro’s software renders bright blues and bold greens, all the while keeping image noise down to a minimum. Complex lighting challenges it, which is the case when a large shadow cuts through half the frame. The well lit side will be rich in colour and detail, while the other will be lacking, rendered mostly in a shallow shade of black.
It can be used to take the odd photo quickly if there’s no other camera around. Group photos and selfies are less convincing due to the camera’s extremely wide lens and its subsequent barrel distortion. When taking still photos, the Session is no better than the cameras found in today’s leading smartphones, which also edge ahead with an LED flash.
Videos are recorded with much greater success. The camera supports a wide range of resolutions, maxing at 1920x1440, and is capable of slow motion recording, with Full HD videos at 60 frames per second and HD videos at 100 frames.
Two microphones are used to identify, process and record audio. It will switch between the microphone at the front and the back for the best results, and because the housing for the Session is skeletal, the microphones are as close as possible to the action.
We tested the camera in a variety of situations while holidaying in New Zealand. The camera’s petite footprint meant its presence was barely intrusive. It was small and light enough for us to wear, mounted to a helmet, for a whole day without ever finding it inconvenient.
Recording a video when snowboarding down Coronet Peak was revelatory of the Session’s attention to detail. The sun shone on the snow for a shade of white that was blinding, and yet the camera captured all of its characteristics in clarity. There’s the large clumps, the fine grooves and the powder kicked up by fellow skiers. Sony’s rivalling X1000V camera proves better versed in its rendition of blue, with the sky captured by the Hero4 Session coming off as soft, but that is a camera several times greater in size.
We experienced the same softened colouring when riding a luge. The camera dulled the bright background in order to capture the details concealed in the shadowy track. All of the colours were softened as it strained to juggle the illuminated background with the dark foreground. It did achieve a commendable balance and managed to keep everything in focus as we raced towards the finish line.
The camera performed best during a jet boat ride in Lake Wakatipu, where the green of the foliage lining the river bed was bright and bold. It was mounted to ‘the handler’, a floating freehand grip, and although we were at pace and the camera was being helmed in all directions, the video was always crisp, with it quickly focusing and rapidly adjusting to suit the constantly changing light.Read more: Olympus TG-850 review
Water sprayed onto the camera as the jet boat was performing stunts. The few drops that drizzled onto its lens required a quick wipe only, as it continued to work as normal.
It was while jet boating — and driving up Coronet Peak — that we noticed the GoPro’s software attenuating unwanted sounds. The microphones cancelled much of the engine noise and most of the wind. The soundtrack was legible, clear even, but certainly manipulated. Most will appreciate that the camera automatically tweaks the audio. Others might want to hear the engine burbling loudly. This is all a matter of personal preference.
Built into the camera is a rechargeable 1000 milliamp-hour battery. During a battery test, where we left the camera continuously recording Full HD video at 30 frames per second, it bested GoPro’s claims by lasting for 2 hours and 14 minutes.
GoPro pioneered the action camera category, and although rivals are clawing at its feet with competing iterations, the Hero4 Session is another large step forward. No competing camera can take it on in both performance and size. When it is worn, the small and light profile helps it hide in the background, for that sense of freedom.
Join the Good Gear Guide newsletter!
Lexar® JumpDrive® S57 USB 3.0 flash drive
Everki ContemPRO Roll Top Laptop Backpack
Microsoft L5V-00027 Sculpt Ergonomic Keyboard Desktop
Smart LED Bulb LB130
Samsung portable 1TB T3 drive
Epson EcoTank Expression ET-2500
Linksys AC5400 MU-MIMO Gigabit router
Epson WorkForce ET-4550
Lexar® JumpDrive® S45 USB 3.0 flash drive
Epson WorkForce DS-360W
Lexar® Portable SSD
Huawei Mate 9
Logitech G403 Prodigy mouse
Acer Swift 7
Google Daydream VR headset
Belkin MIXIT Metallic Lightning to USB Cable
3SIXT Ultra HD Sports Action Camera
Lexar® Professional 1800x microSDHC™/microSDXC™ UHS-II cards
Dell XPS 13 laptop
Dell Inspiron 5000 series 2-in-1
Blade 28 backpack by Arc’teryx
HD Pan/Tilt Wi-Fi Camera with Night Vision NC450
Surface Pro 4
Audio-Technica ATH-ANC70 Noise Cancelling Headphones
Lexar® JumpDrive® C20c USB Type-C flash drive
HP Pavilion x360 13”
Garmin Fenix Chronos smartwatch
Most Popular Reviews
- 1 Gigabyte Aorus GA-AX370-Gaming 5 AMD Ryzen AM4 motherboard review
- 2 Kogan curved 4K UHD 55-inch LED LCD TV review
- 3 Panasonic Blu-ray recorder PVR set-top box review
- 4 Garmin Fenix Chronos fitness tracker smartwatch review
- 5 Star Wars Death Star Bluetooth levitating rotating speaker review
Latest News Articles
- Boom: SanDisk just dropped the world's largest SD card
- Camera app makers tap into RAW power with iOS, and look forward to dual lenses
- Google Camera 3.2 lets you snap pictures while recording video
- CES 2016: Top 10 trends
- Sony α7S II aimed film-makers and low light photographers
PCW Evaluation Team
A smarter way to print for busy small business owners, combining speedy printing with scanning and copying, making it easier to produce high quality documents and images at a touch of a button.
I've had a multifunction printer in the office going on 10 years now. It was a neat bit of kit back in the day -- print, copy, scan, fax -- when printing over WiFi felt a bit like magic. It’s seen better days though and an upgrade’s well overdue. This HP OfficeJet Pro 8730 looks like it ticks all the same boxes: print, copy, scan, and fax. (Really? Does anyone fax anything any more? I guess it's good to know the facility’s there, just in case.) Printing over WiFi is more-or- less standard these days.
As a freelance writer who is always on the go, I like my technology to be both efficient and effective so I can do my job well. The HP OfficeJet Pro 8730 Inkjet Printer ticks all the boxes in terms of form factor, performance and user interface.
I’d happily recommend this touchscreen laptop and Windows 10 as a great way to get serious work done at a desk or on the road.
Ultimately, I think the Windows 10 environment is excellent for me as it caters for so many different uses. The inclusion of the Xbox app is also great for when you need some downtime too!
For me, the Xbox Play Anywhere is a great new feature as it allows you to play your current Xbox games with higher resolutions and better graphics without forking out extra cash for another copy. Although available titles are still scarce, but I’m sure it will grow in time.
- Samsung Galaxy A5 2017 phone: Full, in-depth review
- Subaru XV 2017 review
- LG G6: unboxing, hands on review and detail shots
- Which flagship TV is best? Sony 4K HDR Bravia 2016 versus LG 4K HDR OLED 2016
- 10 Blu-ray movies / Best looking Blu-ray movies
- FTSocial Media ExecutiveNSW
- FTReporting Analyst - HR / PayrollNSW
- TPBusiness Analyst - HealthQLD
- TPSenior Business AnalystNSW
- CCSenior Storage System Engineer -NetApp & TSMNSW
- TPMedia AssistantNSW
- FTHR Application Architect - WorkdayVIC
- FTApplication Security SpecialistVIC
- CCSenior Network Architect l CCIE R&S l Cisco ACINSW
- CCApplication Developer - FileNetQLD
- CCTechnical Business AnalystVIC
- CCSystems EngineerACT
- FTSenior IT Business AnalystNSW
- FTNBN Sales Consultant / Account ManagersSA
- FTDatabase DeveloperNSW
- FTLevel 2/3 Application Support SpecialistQLD
- CCDevOps Engineer - TelcoVIC
- TPAO6 IT Procurement OfficerQLD
- TPWintel EngineerVIC
- CCPega TesterVIC
- CCApplication Support Specialist- Bathurst or Port MacquarieNSW
- FTSenior Microsoft EngineerVIC
- FTSenior Security AnalystACT
- CCSenior Business Analyst AgileQLD
- CCSenior Teradata Developer/Analyst Programmer - Financial - Contract - ParramattaNSW