The GoPro Hero4 Session is the smallest, lightest, simplest, and most rugged GoPro camera to date. Redesigned from the ground up with simplicity and ease of use in mind, the GoPro Session is ideally suited for anyone looking for a set-it-and-forget-it, point-and-shoot action camera.
The biggest selling point of the Session is its new design. Gone are the cumbersome waterproof housings and rectangular form factor: instead the Session is a neat, waterproofed cube, good down to 10m/33ft depths. This might be far short of the Hero4 Silver and Black’s 40m/131ft depth rating, but unless you’re going deep sea diving any time soon, this shouldn’t be a problem.
Not having to deal with the old, bulky enclosures is a pleasant change. Now you can leave the Session in its slim, form-fitting cage basically forever and still have access to the microSD card slot and USB charging port. And speaking of cages, the GoPro Session comes with two — one with a mount on the bottom, and another with a mount on the back. A new low-profile quick-release plate means the Session can now be mounted basically flat against any surface, and the camera itself can be reoriented easily within the cage so it’s always right-way-up.
Functionally, the camera couldn’t be easier to use. Press the main button to turn the camera on and start recording video; hold it down for a few seconds to start a photo timelapse. Press or hold again to stop recording and power off. The second, smaller button on the back is used to navigate the menu and set up wireless functionality.
The camera itself gives you fairly minimal control over settings, but by connecting the camera to your smartphone via the free GoPro app you can get a lot more in-depth. The app is simple and intuitive enough to use and allows you to change everything from the exposure and time-lapse settings, to the activity lights and sounds of the camera itself (You’ll likely find yourself turning off the confirmation beeps fairly quickly.) I found it easy to connect the camera to my phone to start with, but attempting to connect it to subsequent phones seemed unexpectedly difficult. Whether that’s a problem with the app or user error, I can’t yet say.
Rounding off the small body and simple interface is an impressively wide-angle lens with a 170 degree field of view. This ensures that so long as the camera is pointed roughly in the direction of what you want to film you’ll get it in frame; in fact, it’s almost harder to not film something with this camera. Such a wide angle does result in noticeable lens distortion, particularly at the edges of frame, but it’s hardly a deal breaker and not really any more noticeable or obnoxious than on any other wide-angle action cam.
So it’s small, light, easy to use — is there a downside?
Firstly, the camera doesn’t have a removable battery, meaning you’ve got about 2 hours of juice if you’re filming 1080p 30fps with the wifi turned off — fine for filming a sport session, surfing session, dance session (Is the name GoPro Session making sense now?) etc., but not terribly useful if you’re on a full-day adventure somewhere and have nowhere to charge.
Secondly, the image quality is okay. It’s not terrible, by any means. It’s just “okay”. It’s adequate. The smaller body has limited the type of sensor and processor that can be used, so you’re left with a maximum resolution of 1920×1440 and something that’s an obvious step or two down from what you’d get out of the GoPro Hero4 Silver or Black. For most people this isn’t really an issue, but if you’re a stickler for image quality — or really, really want 4K footage of your next ski trip — then it’s going to leave you wanting.
And as I said before, the 10m/33ft waterproof rating really does exclude a large chunk of divers.
Ultimately, however, whether those things are actually problems really depends on what you want, or need, out of the camera. Would I expect filmmakers to be grabbing these for their next theatrical feature? No. Nor would I expect hardcore adventurers or sportspeople to be rushing out in droves to pick them up.
But for the average person who just wants something small, portable, and incredibly simple to use?
The GoPro Session is the camera you’ve been waiting for.