GoPro bring out new smaller, non 4K “Hero 4 Session” first impressions and hands on look.

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It doesn’t rain, but it pours! Whilst I haven’t had any new cameras to play around with for ages, not really since the FS7, the past week has made up for it…I do love playing with new cameras, not just because shooting is my job…I just love gadgets!
 
Shooting with the Sony RX100 IV and RX10 IV with the Ricoh Theta 360 cheekily on a GoPro arm for a little shot!
Shooting with the Sony RX100 IV and RX10 IV with the Ricoh Theta 360 cheekily on a GoPro arm for a little shot!
RX10 II with Small HD 502 on Waterloo Bridge
RX10 II with Small HD 502 on Waterloo Bridge
Then Canon loaned me the C300 MkII until Wednesday too! I have done a fair amount of shooting with it recently, and it’s looking very nice. I should have my first post on my blog up tomorrow, with one more to follow. This will also include native footage to download!
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C300 Mk II filming in Hammersmith, little bit of cheeky RX10 ii and RX100 iv at same time for a couple of shots
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Getting some gorgeous shots in Westminster. The GoPro clamp/ arm with RX100 IV didn’t live there, just for a few BTS bits of video! (That’s a wide-angle adaptor on it)
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Shooting C300 MK II in Hammersmith
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First impressions:
 
Nice and small
Lovely design. Simple.
It’s waterproof out of the box!
No exposed lens to scratch.
Internal, non replaceable battery…hope battery life is better than normal GoPro 4.
Very limited control on camera, settings via app/ remote (remote is sold separately).
No 4K.
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Frame rates:
The frame rates for the various modes are quirky. The biggest omission appears to be 24p… 25p is here in PAL mode, but there is no 24p in either NTSC or PAL MODE.
HD 1440 30p, 25p
1080p Superview 48p, 30pp, 25p
HD 1080p 60p, 50p, 30p, 25p
Other resolutions which go lower including 720p up to 120p, 100p
Many frame rates here are accessible only by switching to NTSC or PAL mode. For example, in PAL mode 1080p is 50p to 25p. In  NTSC mode its 60p and 30p (yes that lack of 24p stings!)  Comparing this to my Hero 4 Silver, the camera has 24p in NTSC/ PAL mode and the multiplications of that in PAL mode like 48p, as well as the normal PAL frame rates.
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GoPro Session iPhone app options from Philip Bloom extras on Vimeo.

Protune:

There are very few controls on the camera itself. You need the old remote (which seriously needs updating) or the iPhone app. Upon examination of the iPhone app, I noticed there are more limitations to the camera, especially regarding the wonderful “protune” settings. If you don’t know what this is, it’s the flat setting you should use to record using the GoPro to get the best dynamic range and most gradable image. The bit rate is also raised, so less compression. Normally I set my GoPros to:
ProTune
Colour – Flat
Sharpness – Low (it has medium and high, the low is best and is easy to add punch in post if needed)
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Here we have fewer options. Protune gives us an ISO limit (which isn’t available otherwise) of 1600 or 400 plus a sharpness setting of just OFF/ ON. I haven’t done any side by side comparisons with my Hero 4 black or silver, but I will update this post when I have.
Also Protune only works from 1080p upwards. Lower resolutions won’t be available unless you come out of Protune, so that means no 720p 120p in Protune which is a shame.
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The new strap
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The new floaty!

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For charging and the card. Make sure its closed when going near water!
More first impressions:

Because it doesn’t need a waterproof housing to go underwater (please make sure that SD slot is closed!) and it’s a different shape, that means there are a few new accessories and mounting options. There are two types of frames to attach the other accessories too. The standard and the “low profile” one which lets you get the camera nice and tight to the surface you are mounting it on. There is a new floaty and a lovely new ball joint connector, which is great for getting the perfect angle. Please note, though, that the quick release for these new connectors has slightly changed and is not compatible with the current Hero accessories.
The two frames
The two frames
Low profile frame
Low profile frame
Low profile frame
Low profile frame
Nice articulating connector
Nice articulating connector
Comparing it to the Hero 4 silver and Sony X1000V action camera, you can see just how tiny it is, especially when you add waterproof housings, although the Sony is “splashproof”…which means rain really.
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What I like about the Sony is the XAVC-S recording, which is great in 4K mode as it’s less compressed than the GoPro 4 Black. The other things I like are the superb remote, which gives you a live image and full controls on your wrist, and the camera has in sensor stabilisation, which is useful when there are some vibrations. It’s not perfect, and the pictures settings can’t be as nice as Protune, and the lens seems to have more distortion with only two settings for field of view.
GoPro need a remote like the Sony one
GoPro need a remote like the Sony one
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As I haven’t shot with it yet, there isn’t much more to add. It’s really lovely and small – a terrific design. It’s going to be great for hiding as it’s more discreet. It really makes the old design feel dated! The lack of swappable battery or ability to add a battery bacpac will be an issue for some. The lack of 24p or 48p is a real pain and will be for a lot of people. All our stuff on “The Wonder List” was 48p, or when shooting 4K or just simple behind the scenes was all 24p to match the main camera. This would be an issue for sure when we come to start shooting season 2 next month.
Still, frame rates can be fixed in firmware, and I think this is a biggy that needs to be addressed soon. I need to try out the Protune issue to see what it looks like, and I will update this post when I have. The other omission is exposure compensation. I use it a lot on my GoPros. Not having it here is a shame. I would love full manual control on these small cameras, as we can get ND for many of them to get past correct exposure issues. As the Session is missing other things that the normal GoPros have, I am not surprised we don’t have it of course. Unless I missed it, there are also no options for white balance.
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EDIT:  I did a short test to compare the new camera with the Hero 4 Silver and the Sony X1000V. I attached the three to the windscreen of my car and drove. No sky diving, no surfing. I was going to do both but, both my parachute and wet suit are at the dry cleaners, so a little drive it had to be!
PLEASE NOTE MY HERO 4 SILVER MOUNT WAS NOT AS FIRM AS SHOULD BE SO DISREGARD THE EXCESSIVE WOBBLING! 
I tried to set them up as close as possible. Only the silver gave me some exposure control. I set it to EV -0.5, it probably should have been -1 simply because the sun was low, the sky bright but lots of shadows…this is a nightmare for these cameras with limited dynamic range and worse for ones reliant on total auto exposure, as it tends to brighten up the biggest part of the screen….the dark areas, which means the highlights say bye bye! You can bring those shadows up a fair bit, but highlights with the GoPros and the Sony action camera go very easily and clip hard, no subtle roll off here!
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The white balance was set to around 5600K on the Silver and Sony, the Session has no manual control. Protune was set to Protune flat, sharpness low for the Silver, Sony was set to Neutral (not many options) and the Session to Protune with sharpness off. Two clips were done, one in 1080p 50p across the board, and the second was 1440p 25p and (slightly unfairly, as I didn’t test against a Hero 4 black) 4K for the Sony. Don’t judge these against the 4K shot from the Sony, as that isn’t fair on the GoPros. It’s nice to include though, as it has a higher bitrate than the 4K on the GoPros and there is no middle ground between 4K and HD with it, unlike these two GoPros!
You can download the original files here by clicking the WeTransfer link here or below. It’s 5.17gb so you have been warned!
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Here are the frame grabs for the same moment on each….click on each to see better or download. All are PNG except the Sony 4K as it was too big to upload.

 

I took an HD frame from both GoPro Cameras and graded in with Premiere Lumetri panel and Filmconvert. The Hero 4 Silver looks immensely better. It graded well and sharpened well. So much more info came alive. The Session, not so successful. It just couldn’t cope with what I needed to do with it in post to bring those highlights down and shadows up. Click each image to see them properly.

GoPro Session 1080p 50p protune sharpness off
GoPro Session 1080p 50p protune sharpness off UNGRADED
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GoPro Session frame GRADED
GoPro Silver 1080p 50p protune flat sharpness low ev to -0.5 white balance 5500k
GoPro Silver 1080p 50p protune flat sharpness low ev to -0.5 white balance 5500k UNGRADED
GoPro Hero 4 Silver image graded with FilmConvert. 10% with code bloom at gopb.co/filmconvert
GoPro Hero 4 Silver image graded with FilmConvert. 10% with code bloom at gopb.co/filmconvert

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I don’t know what the low-end GoPros have in terms of Protune, but what the Session has isn’t what I am used to. The Hero 4 silver Protune looks better for sure. It helps that during my test I was able to use aperture compensation on the silver, as it helps hold highlights that the GoPro struggles with. Also the “sharpness off” in the Session isn’t the same as sharpness low in the silver. A big thing is that the Session records at around 25mbps whether in ProTune or not. The silver records at the higher 45 Mbps when ProTune is on.

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The nicest image in HD was the 1440p from the Silver, the session didn’t look too bad but does have more compression and is not as flat or neutral in colours as the Protune Silver shots. You can bring up the sharpness in the low sharpness setting in Protune very easily. It’s worth doing, as it avoids a lot of moire or aliasing.
The Session is a nice camera, design wise I love it. Feature wise it’s a disappointment. It’s missing key things that make the GoPro 4 cameras so good and I don’t mean even mean the 4K (although that would be nice!). The new shape/ size is lovely. My hope is we see a Session Black + Pro or whatever they decided to call it this year and hopefully give this little one some improvements in firmware to make it more appealing to filmmakers. Mainly 24p, proper Protune, and some control over white balance and exposure compensation.
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