Written by: Mark Abell
Photo courtesy of GoPro
I wanted a great Ultra HD Action Camera, so I got my hands on the GoPro Hero 4 Session.
Let me break it down for you:
For $200, you get the ability to record 1080p video at 30 frames per second (but also 1,920x 1,440 at 30fps, 1,920×1080 at 60fps and 1,280×720 at 100fps, and many other variations) through a well-built and extremely compact camera. It also pairs well and adds versatility to the more expensive models in the line, the Silver and the Black. The Session has the smallest form-factor of the HERO4 line-up, which makes for ideal placement in hard-to-reach places that would be claustrophobic for the Silver or the Black.
In addition, the Session is great for capturing secondary angles, while the Silver or Black capture primary angles.
The Session’s aesthetic is appealing. It looks much sleeker than its more expensive Silver ($400) and Black ($500) HERO4 siblings. The Session’s lack of a LCD screen reminds me of the iPod Shuffle. There is a minimalist sense of beauty present. Its screenless façade and lack of a removable battery is a blessing because they make the camera much more durable. There’s one less screen to crack and there’s one less battery compartment seal to worry about keeping shut when the camera is submerged underwater.
And speaking of water, this camera can be used in water up to 33ft deep right out of the box, unlike the Silver and Black which requires secondary waterproof casing before immersion in water.
The Session will find a following among all stripes of athletes. The mounts available are fantastic and finding ones that match the activities you have in mind is easy. The “Chesty” Chest Harness ($40) is well-suited to pursuits like hiking and running, while the Helmet Front Mount ($15) fits a skateboarding helmet and the Helmet Side Mount ($15) fits mountain-biking, motocross, and some snowboard helmets. The Roll Bar Mount ($30) will clamp onto anything pole-like, making it among the most useful. For example, I’ll attach it to my Jeep’s roof-rack on road trips and to my bicycle handlebars while touring the wine-country of rural Vermont.
I believe the Session is fairly priced at $200. That said, if you want the highest performance, shell out an additional $200 or $300 and get the Silver or Black, respectively.
The best way to learn how to use the Session is to take Richard Harrington’s GoPro HERO: Fundamentals course on Lynda which runs 4 hours and 21 minutes and includes approximately 100 videos. With regard to knowledge and technical ability, Harrington is fantastic. He will teach the most effective skills with which to approach many common situations in action videography. However, less is sometimes more, so I chose to highlight 16 things I learned from the course that will be most useful to Ember’s readers.
How to care for the GoPro Hero 4 and get the highest quality videos.
- Transferring photos from the camera directly to your computer is the slowest way of moving your pics at 2 minutes. Using your computer’s built in SD-card reader is second slowest at 30 seconds. It’s worth purchasing a USB 3.0 card reader for fastest transfers.
- Have spare memory cards and batteries for your longer shoots. You can capture approximately 3 hours in 4K (Black edition only) and 5 hours in 720p on a 64GB card however, the camera will not tell you how quickly your card is getting filled. Avoid the disappointment of missing prime footage by having a second 64GB (or larger) MicroSD in your camera pack to swap in should you see a card FULL warning
- When mounted to one’s car, bicycle handlebars, skateboard, helmet, the adhesive takes 24 hours to fully set. Leave it alone for a full day before use to prevent the camera from flying and shattering during active pursuits
- You choose your Resolution in Video Settings. Then, your Field of View is the visual information your camera takes in. You choose Wide, Medium, or Narrow. For posting to YouTube, 720 is the ideal setting. 720 SuperView is another option which is 720p with the application of a stretch effect. SuperView content should be edited in the GoPro desktop app. In addition, if you want to record in 720p but know you will be adding a lot of cropping to your video, record in 960p, and will save you space on your memory card over using 1080p. Choosing 1080p is high-definition, and 1080 SuperView is high definition with a stretch effect that needs to be edited in the GoPro Desktop app. With the more elite Black, you can shoot above high-definition in 1440p, 2.7K, and 4K. As you increase the resolution, the amount of available frame choices decreases. Memorizing the video resolution page which includes columns with frames per second (fps), field of view, and screen resolution is worthwhile, although you can reference the sheet anytime by keeping the included guide in your camera pack.
- Field of View. Wide gives you a fish eye effect, Medium and Narrow work well for interviews and close-ups of products
- Spot metering mode is ideal for shooting from a dark place into a light place. Turning this option ON will give you better exposure when shooting from inside of a car, or from inside of a window.
- ProTune is the highest quality video codec you can use to produce professional quality video. Enable in capture settings. Recommended: faster cards, SDXC ideally. ProTune increases your array of available options. With regard to White Balance there’s Auto, 5500K, up to 6500K, and Native which uses the GoPro’s default settings. Native is best for people who want to fix their color settings in post-production. ProTune also increases color choices. Here, with Color GoPro applies a color boost, while Flat is more neutral and easier to edit. Next is ISO Limit which is the sensitivity limit of the camera. There’s 6400 which is great in low-light but has the disadvantage of introducing busyness to your picture. 1600 is more neutral and looks great in bright light and doesn’t make the picture busy. 400 is best for extremely bright outdoor settings. Consequently, there’s Sharpness with options for High, Medium, and Low. Medium is ideal for architecture shoots because you can apply further sharpening when you edit in post-production. There’s also Exposure Compensation a.k.a. EV Compensation which features -2,-1.5,-1.0, -.5, 0, 0.5, 1.0, 1.5, and 2.0. The -2 applies a shadow and the +2 makes the image extremely bright.
- Regular shooting uses UP To record the bottom of a car or skateboard, go to Capture Settings, turn on Upside Down or changing the Orientation to Down
- To record in low-light situations such as tunnels, you can go to Video Settings and turn to Low Light so your camera will automatically adjust to a reduction in light and record at a slower frame rate, which will improve picture quality. You can also change the camera to a low light setting manually. You could turn your frame rate from 60 to 30 and achieve similar results
- You can record video and photos simultaneously in Capture Settings. Choose one photo every 5 seconds-60 seconds. Select Video + Photo
- With Looping in Capture Settings, you can keep recording and the camera will write over existing videos and leave you with the most current video. This is great for action sports. You can press the stop button and be left with your most recent footage to view and edit. It erases the footage before minute one but also keeps your most recent clips on the card
- White balance of 3000K is best for candlelight and incandescent light, 5500K for daylight and sunlight, 6500K for fluorescent and bright skies, and Camera Raw is useful if you are planning to fix colors and improve contrast in your video editing tool
- Let the camera cool down after it has been sitting in the sun for awhile but don’t put in into an air conditioned room. Don’t expose it to extreme temperature changes.
- Download the GoPro app from the Google Play or Apple App Store. Here, you will be able to view all of the menu’s for the camera from your phone on a bigger screen. This is particularly useful on the screen-less GoPro Session edition, although you may find this helpful on the small-screened Silver and Black editions, too.