The GoPro Hero 5 Black action camera sits in the middle of GoPro’s line up of its popular cameras and has a retail price of around £400 or $400.
It’s waterproof to 10m without any additional enclosure, comes with a 2″ touch screen, records 4k video. It can be controlled with your voice and it’s tiny!
But who’s it meant for and what advantage does it have over just using your smartphone, or a waterproof point and shoot camera?
The single biggest advantage of action cameras like this are the mounting options available. GoPro cameras have been around for years and have an ecosystem of mounts and accessories that together with their compact size and light weight, enable them to be mounted to pretty much any thing, any where.
But I wouldn’t recommend one as a general camera. Their diminutive size can make them difficult to operate, sound quality is not great and battery life is below average.
With that out the way, let’s take a closer look.
You’ll need to insert the battery and memory card to get started. Press the latch release button on the bottom battery door and slide the door open. Slip in the included battery and a microSD card, which isn’t included, with the label facing the battery. You’ll need a fast card, of at least Class 10 or UHS-I speed.
The camera itself is 6cm by 4cm and just over 3cm thick taking into account the lens, which is thankfully replaceable. With the battery and card inserted the camera weighs in at only 120g.
Hold down the latch release on the side door and slide open to reveal the USB-C charging port and micro-HDMI port. This door is very fiddly to open, and don’t be surprised if it becomes detached – it’s meant to be easily removable. But if you do take it off temporarily, put it somewhere safe because GoPro charge £25 or $25 for a replacement!
Charge the camera using the supplied USB-C cable, connecting to a USB charging adaptor which isn’t included, or a computer. GoPro also sell their Supercharger which allows faster charging via USB-C Power Delivery. It works well and will fast charger the latest smartphones too, but it’s pricey. It would be really nice if this was included.
Charging is complete when the status light turns off which can take up to 3 hours.
If you want to get going quickly, just press the top red shutter button to turn the camera on and start recording with the default settings. Use the Mode button on the side to create Tags after any part of the video you want to highlight. This will make the editing process much easier. The camera has a built in GPS receiver, so will also record your location. To stop recording just press the shutter button again. The camera will also then turn off.
This Quickcapture mode as GoPro calls it is great but if you want configure the camera’s settings, connect the camera to your smartphone or playback what you’ve recorded, turn the camera on using the button at the side. The camera will turn off with a long press of this button.
The touchscreen is small but very clear and fairly responsive. You can directly tap on a setting to change it or you can swipe down from the top to access the Connect menu for pairing to your smartphone, and the Preferences menu. Here can also quickly turn on or off voice control, and lock the screen.
If we tap on the Preferences, it’s good practice with a new memory card to scroll down to and tap on Format SD Card.
Just below this setting is Camera Defaults – which will restore the camera back to its original settings which can be very useful once you start messing around, since it’s very easy to get lost. The default setup is actually very sensible for most of us for reasons I’ll get to shortly.
Swiping to the left accesses advanced settings and swiping to the right lets you view your recorded content.
The camera’s current settings are also displayed on the front LCD panel.
The mode button at the side also switches modes from Video to Photo to Burst to Time Lapse and back to video again.
Recommended video mode settings
The Hero 5 Black is hugely configurable which can be confusing. There are two main choices to consider. Firstly and most importantly is resolution. The default 1080p is actually a very good choice for most of us. This is what’s also referred to as Full HD so would be played back at the native resolution on the majority of TVs and computer monitors. Personally I wouldn’t go any lower than this. The camera will record up to 4K, which is 4x the resolution of 1080p, and there’s also a 2.7K setting in between, sometimes referred to Quad HD or 1440p.
Secondly you’ll need to decide on frame rate – that’s how many frames of video are recorded every second. This dictates how smooth the video is, but beyond 30 fps or frames per second, it also allows slow motion effects in editing. Normally video is played back at 30 fps, so if you record at 120 fps, say, you could potentially slow down the video by a factor of 4 whilst editing, for true slo-mo.
But the faster frame rates also need more light, and they aren’t available at higher resolutions. Again, the default frame rate of 60 fps is a good option – it allows for nice smooth video, and you have the option of slowing down by a factor of two if you like.
There is also another consideration and that is field of view or FOV. By default this is set to wide, which uses the whole camera sensor. But you can also choose Medium and Narrow which increasingly zooms in on the centre of the shot, without any loss in quality. In 35mm equivalent terms, Wide is 14mm, Medium is 21mm and Narrow is 28mm.
As you increase the resolution, you lose many options. At 1080p you can choose up to 120 fps and from all field of views. At 2.7K, you can’t go beyond 60 fps and you lose the narrow field of view. And at 4K, 30 fps is the limit, you can only shoot the wide field of view, and arguably most importantly, image stabilisation, which I’ll discuss shortly, is turned off.
I tend to record at 2.7k and 60 fps which still allows image stabilisation. If I’m outputting to 1080p I can zoom in slightly whilst editing the video, without losing any quality – basically the same as FOV in camera, and if I output to 30 fps too, I can slow down any footage I want to half speed, again without losing any quality.
But generally I’d recommend sticking with the default 1080p, 60 fps, at least to get started. You can then zoom in using the FOV, and increase the frame rate to 120 fps for any clips you know you’ll want to get true slo-mo when editing.
I’ll briefly mention the two other field of views you are offered in 1080p and 2.7K. Superview records a more square, 4 by 3 ratio and then stretches the sides to make a standard 16 by 9 ratio. This mode can be useful when using the chest mount for mountain biking for example. You get to see your handlebars, and the trail ahead and it just looks a little more immersive.
There is also Linear mode, which corrects the fisheye effect of the wide angle lens if you don’t like those distorted edges of the video. Some video editing packages let you do this also.
Mounting your Hero 5 Black
Included with the Hero 5 Black is the frame, a mounting buckle, a curved and a flat mount, as well as the USB-C cable and battery already discussed above.
There is no standard 1/4″ tripod mount on the Hero 5 Black, so you’ll need to insert the camera into the frame, which gives a little additional protection and moreover provides the standard GoPro buckle attachment that fits a plethora of mounts.
Slide the camera in evenly until it rests against the raised edge of the frame, close the door and secure the latch. Attach the mounting buckle using the thumbscrew. Flip up the mounting buckle plug and slide into your mount. Here I’m using the curved mount on a cycling helmet. The adhesive mounts are very secure but make sure you’re sticking it to a smooth, clean surface – I always use some Isopropanol alcohol to wipe the surface I’m attaching to.
GoPro sell a load of mounts for all sorts of activities. For mountain biking, I’ve found the most useful to be the Chesty and the Pro Handlebar mount. For general use and at the beach, the Handler hand grip, which will also float in water, is very good.
The original GoPro accessories are good quality but expensive. You can get a complete set of third party accessories off Amazon for a fraction of the price. They won’t be the same quality but may just do the job for occasional use.
Connecting to your smartphone
The accompanying GoPro app makes it easy to control your camera wirelessly and to download content for quick edits and sharing straight from your smartphone.
The app guides you through the process of connecting to your camera over WiFi and then also creates a low power Bluetooth connection so as to extend the GoPro’s battery life.
The GoPro app works very well for setting up shots where you’re unable to see the screen – when the camera’s mounted on your head for example. It’s also more convenient changing settings via the app, than using the touch screen.
You can also view your recorded content, and download it to your device to edit and share.
One issue with action cameras has always been trying to convert the huge amount of recorded content into something a few minutes long, that can be easily shared. GoPro has spent of lot of money developing their apps in the last year or so to try and make this easier. You’ll be prompted to download GoPro’s Quik app to automatically convert your footage into what it calls a “Story”. I like to have a little more control, but it is a quick and easy way of creating something that you can share, straight from your smartphone.
If you’re running an iOS device GoPro also has the Splice app which is an easy to use video editor, and provides a lot more control and it works with any smartphone footage too.
The Hero 5 Black supports voice control so you can say:
GoPro Start Recording
GoPro Take a Photo
You can also add HiLights tags after a good bit for easier editing later – say:
Voice control is off by default but you can turn it on from by swiping down and tapping on the voice control icon.
The voice recognition works well when the camera’s mounted near you – on the chest mount for instance, and there’s not too much background noise. When I’ve used it for mountain biking I’ve found I’m better off slowing down or stopping to ensure a command is heard. But it’s still a very convenient feature.
Video and audio quality and battery life
Considering the size of the camera, the video quality is very good. It has a small sensor size, so the more light the better, but the colours are pleasing, and the camera adapts to changes in light quickly, which is important for action sports.
There is only electronic image stabilisation – no optical image stabilisation, and it doesn’t work in 4k mode, but it does offer a noticeable improvement.
With default settings, I find the footage over sharpened – especially noticeable with people. But if you’re willing to delve into the advanced Protune settings, you can turn sharpening down – I’d recommend the medium setting, or low if you’re going to apply sharpening in your video editing package.
Something has to give with the tiny size of these action cameras and it’s battery life. You’re be lucky to get more than one and half hours. I’d recommend carrying at least one extra battery around with you. Or try and use the Quikcapture mode I discussed earlier, and just record short clips, with the camera turning off between recordings.
Audio quality is much improved over older GoPro models, and other action cameras I’ve used, but if you want the best audio, the camera does support external mics via the optional mic adaptor – but it’s pricey at £50 or $50 and almost half the size of the camera itself!
Compared to other cameras in range
For £100 or $100 more you can get the Hero 6 Black – the main upgrade is a faster processor which can record 4K at 60fps which allows for image stabilisation in 4K albeit only at 30fps.
For £100 or $100 less, there’s the Hero 5 Session which doesn’t have the touch screen or GPS.
And finally there’s the Hero Session which at £150 or $150 is half the price of the Hero 5 session, if you don’t need 4k video, voice control, or image stabilisation.
It’s hard not to like the Hero 5 Black. It has pretty much every headline feature you could ask for: 4K video, voice control, GPS, WiFi with Bluetooth, a touch screen and it’s waterproof without any housing. The amount of native mounts and accessories available is comprehensive to say the least. And the video quality is very good when you consider its size.
My two general concerns are:
Firstly the price. It’s expensive – for the same price you could get the Olympus TG-5 camera for example which is more rugged, has a 4x optical zoom, better image quality and proper camera controls. But of course it is much heavier, and you’d have to be more creative when it comes to mounting.
And secondly, which is partly related to my first point. What do you plan to use it for? Despite all GoPro’s marketing efforts, these cameras are really designed for recording action sports. They are not great as general purpose cameras. So if you not about to jump out of an aeroplane, and just want a camera for taking down the beach, there might be a better option available.
And if you are set on getting an action camera, but are will only edit clips on your smartphone and share with friends, then you might not need 4K video and the Hero Session for only £150 or $150 might be more suitable.
So coming back to the camera, here’s a summary:
- Waterproof to 10m without any additional housing
- GoPro ecosystem of mounts and accessoires
- GoPro app works very well for wireless control
- Good image quality in decent light
- USC-C connector supports fast charging via USB-C Power Delivery
- Compact and lightweight – only 120g
- Replaceable lens
- Touch screen clear and sharp
- Battery life only 1h 30mins
- Expensive – compared to say the Olympus TG-5 Tough
- Low light performance
- Resolution’s effect on other settings confusing. In 4K mode, only 30 FPS is allowed with only Wide FOV and image stabilisation has to be turned off
- Micro-SD cards are fiddly to insert and remove and there are no markings to indicate which way round they go
- Thumbscrew can be difficult to remove when very tight and hands are cold
- Doors difficult to open – particularly side door. Easy to lose the side door cover and expensive to replace
- Advanced ProTune camera settings can be confusing
- Audio modes confusing
- No fast charger included
I hope you found this article useful. If you have any specific questions, please do ask below in the comments section – I do my best to reply to any questions.
And as ever if have found the review helpful, please consider using the Amazon links below for any purchases. It doesn’t cost you a penny, and the small amount of commission I get will keep the site going! Thank you.
Amazon links to products mentioned in review:
GoPro Hero 5 Black
GoPro Hero 6 Black
GoPro Hero 5 Session
GoPro Hero Session
Olympus TG-5 rugged camera
Sandisk Extreme Fast Micro-SD card
GoPro Pro Handlebar Mount
GoPro The Handler
GoPro Audio Adapter
Third party budget accessories