Buttery-smooth 4K video comes as standard with the Hero5 Black, while a touchscreen interface and voice activation makes it the most user-friendly GoPro to date. However, it doesn’t feel as robust without its plastic casing, and that touchscreen can be awkward to use.
GoPro has become a synonym for action cameras, and with good reason. Its devices capture high-quality video and photos and can be used just about anywhere, thanks to a massive selection of housings, mounts and other accessories.
Going on holiday is always the perfect time to test out an action camera such as the GoPro Hero 5 Black. So when I booked in two weeks in Vietnam, I figured it would be opportune to break out what I initially described as GoPro’s “best camera to date” for another spin.
GoPro quality has always been high, and the 4K/UHD capable Hero5 Black continues the tradition. It also eliminates some nagging, persistent drawbacks in the company’s legacy physical design and interface, making the Hero5 Black the most useable GoPro yet.
Design and accessories
Waterproof up to 33ft (10m) – without waterproof housing
Bigger battery, small wrap-around frame and USB Type-C port
The Hero5 retains the blocky shape of its predecessors, but wraps the camera in a rubbery exterior, with protection around the lens and gasket-sealed doors for the battery compartment and ports. That allows the camera to survive a 10-meter (33-foot) dive into water, as well as light rain, splashes and mild bumps on land.
It’s just a tad larger and heavier than the old, naked GoPro camera modules, at 2.4 x 1.7 x 1.3 inches (including the protruding lens) and 4.2 ounces. A light bracket around the edges of the camera is all that’s needed to attach the Hero 5 to GoPro’s dozens of mounting kits.
For water adventures, GoPro sells a $50 housing, the Super Suit, which takes the Hero5 down to scuba-worthy depths of 196 feet (60 m)— a big improvement on the 131 feet (40 m) possible for previous GoPro cameras with housings. Close rival Garmin’s Virb Ultra 30 camera measures 1.7 x 2.3 x 0.8 inches and 3.1 ounces but needs a case for any waterproofing (down to 131 feet), which expands it to 2.3 x 3.1 x 1.3 inches and 5.5 ounces.
There’s also a large red button on the top of the camera, which GoPro refers to as its One-Button Control. Simply press this rubbery square and the camera powers on and immediately starts recording.
The eagle-eyed among you will notice that the Hero5 Black no longer wears the protective casing of its forefather – that’s because this camera is waterproof up to 33ft (10m) straight out of the box, although the absence of a case does leave it feeling a little exposed (more on this later).
The small lens cover on the front of the camera is now removable, as GoPro offers a range of filters that are said to boost footage captured when diving or snorkelling. You simply twist to remove the cover and snap on a filter; it’s also handy if the cover gets damaged.
Other notable GoPro accessories compatible with this new camera include a Remo waterproof voice-activated shutter remote button, as well as a Quik Key USB-C (yup, GoPro has finally moved to the new USB-C ports) mobile microSD card reader for downloading and transporting files when a phone or laptop isn’t available.
In addition to updating its action cams, GoPro has made its first foray into the drone market with Karma, a super-simple aerial filming solution that folds up and fits neatly into a backpack.
Controls and Usability: Vastly Improved
The most notable change is that the typical three-button control scheme – a mainstay of GoPro’s cameras up to this point – is now no more. On the side of the camera you’ll find a button for power and jumping between shooting modes, and there’s a shutter button on the top. The small LCD panel remains on the front and, if you do want to change settings while viewing the camera from the front, you can dive into the familiar menu by holding down both buttons together.
The 2-inch display is of a decent size but an even larger one would have been welcome, by way of removing the thick bezel around the current display. The display is nice and bright for viewing outdoors.
The menu system has been completely revamped and is more intuitive than the older, touch-based control systems of past GoPro cameras. It draws from the kind of experience that is familiar from a smartphone, with swipes in from the sides to bring in menus and options.
Video And Photo Quality: Top Quality
- ProTune offers advanced control
- New Linear mode provides less barrel distortion
- RAW and WDR photos, with GPS tagged locations
As with any GoPro it requires some photographic knowledge to get the most from the Hero5’s footage, with advanced users able to fine-tune exposure with a new Exposure Control setting, as well as adjusting ISO, sharpness and EV comp through the ProTune settings.
There’s a bunch of resolutions and frame rates to tinker with, with the Hero5 Black able to shoot in 4K resolution at 30fps and a whole host of other combinations.
The sheer weight of options can be baffling for those new to the action camera game, but it doesn’t take much trial and error to get things right.
Generally, sticking with the most common 1080p/30fps is a reliable way to capture great footage, while we also found that leaving the camera to determine the best settings produced solid results.
Battery Life and Storage: Long Shooting Time
The Hero5 Black’s 1220mAh Lithium-ion battery has a smidgen more capacity than its predecessors. I tested it at 1080p/60fps, and the battery ran for 1 hour and 58 minutes, versus 1 hour and 32 minute for the rival Garmin Virb Ultra 30. Enabling Wi-Fi and the smartphone app eats into battery time, as does enabling voice commands and GPS, which were all turned off for my tests of both cameras.
The Hero5 Black has a microSD slot and takes cards up to 128GB in capacity, enough to hold about 9 hours and 20 minutes of 1080p/60fps video (twice as much as the Hero4 Black). GoPro publishes a list of recommended cards.
Overall, I love the new design of the Hero 5 Black. The rubberised exterior makes it great to hold and it helps the camera when it comes to shock-proofing, too. Where I never really felt comfortable using the Hero 4 Black without its protective case even when out of water, the Hero 5 Black feels solidly constructed.
Having now used the Hero 5 Black for a few months, its build quality has largely stood up to the bumps and knocks in use. The front display of my review camera has picked up a scratch and there are a few marks on the edge of the lens’ housing, otherwise, all things considered, it’s done pretty well.
Not needing a waterproof case for all but the deepest depths is also a real benefit.