GoPro HERO Session – The perfect kayak action camera?

Unlike my post a few weeks ago saying the GoPro Hero 5 sucks this isn’t click bait. I really want to go is GoPro Hero Session – The perfect kayak action camera? To give this some context, very recently I had what could best be described as a shit show of a weekend when on trip down the river where I lost not one but two GoPro cameras. Long story short kids use a tether on your GoPro.

I used my GoPros an awful lot and I’ve a project happening shortly where I’d need to use them. I didn’t want to wait around so I went out and got a GoPro Hero Session straight away. For those who aren’t as into tech as I am GoPro’s action camera current line up has three offerings.

  • Hero 5 Black (€499)
  • Hero 5 Session (€374.99)
  • Hero Session (€199)

Those prices are from where I bough the camera, I’ve no doubt that if you look elsewhere you will find both better and worse deals. I’m not going to bore you to death with a side by side spec comparison the net is awash with them already. Where I’m coming from is the view point of someone who likes to paddle with their mates, the average paddler. Any of my ‘edits’ are debuting at Adventure Film Festivals any time soon.

When I first seen the GoPro Hero Session I suspected that it was possibly the perfect kayak action camera. As the folks at GoPro say themselves.

GoPro, simplified.

HERO Session™ is ready for any adventure with its one-button simplicity and compact waterproof design.

THe GoPro Hero Session is compact! Like… really really compact! When you first take it out of the package it’s difficult to believe that its as capable as the spec suggest. It has cube form factor which looks more toddlers building block that all singing all dancing action camera. The GoPro Hero Session is a modular system made up of the camera and the frame. It’s tiny size is really obvious when you hold it in hand. Those of a certain vintage will recall it’s not that long ago where if you wanted to get some kayaking footage you had a mini-dv camera and Peli case taking up considerable space in between your legs.

While many will tell you size isn’t everything I’ll have to respectfully disagree when it comes to cameras. I want to find a balance between performance, ease of use and limited bulk. I have never been a huge fan of head mounted cameras, in the past I’ve always preferring the chest mounted option or the stern mount as of late.

Both the chest and stern mounted positions provide a bit more context for the view while helping you avoid liking like a nob with a camera on your helmet. That’s not to say I don’t look like one of those at the best of times or that I never use a helmet mount. Looks aside if you want to mount the GoPro Hero Session on your head it’s very neat in size. The low profile design limits the risk of the camera getting caught in branches on your local rocky ditch  while also being light enough not to cause strain on your neck.

You can pop them in the pocket of your PFD with out them taking up much room. (especially if you have a 2017 Peak UK river guide vest with a cave for a pocket)

When it comes to ease of use the GoPro Hero Session really comes into it own. It has only two buttons, shutter / select and status. When you are on the water all you have to do is press the shutter button and your GoPro Hero Session will power on and begin to record immediately. Press the shutter button once more and it powers off, it’s really that simple.

On the top of the camera there is a small LCD panel that tells you the remaining battery levels and current camera mode. If you like  you can cycle through it using a combination of buttons but I can’t see this being something many would need while on the water. Like all of the current line of cameras from GoPro the Hero Session can connect to the GoPro app on your smart phone to dive deeper into the camera set up. The average paddler will probably do this once or twice for initial set up and never find the need to go at it again. If you already own a GoPro Smart Remote this is also comparable and allows you to adjust settings on the fly with ease.

GoPro Hero Session drawbacks?

Before you think I’ve gone totally soft and I haven’t found any flaws with the GoPro Session you’d be wrong, there are a few.

  • The GoPro Session has an integrated battery which limits you on longer trips, you can’t just swap out for a fresh battery whenever you choose. If you have have the camera set to 1080p / 30fps you should get a little over 2 hours usage, when you get to 1080 / 60fps you can expect that to drop to an hour and a half. While 60fps might be better to allow you do slow motion in post production I think for the majority of people in UK and Ireland are better of keeping  it a 30fps for the increased low light performance.
  • Sticking with the battery there are only so many charging cycles the internal battery can handle before it decides enough is enough and your GoPro Hero Session becomes a useless cube. This is unavoidable but given the price point, the rugged environment these cameras operate in and how fast he tech becomes outdated there is a certain amount of disposability that has to be considered. I’m not saying that’s right or wrong but it needs to be a consideration.
  • The lens is pretty exposed, if you head rudder your way down your local class 4 or are less than careful when handling the camera it won;t belong before you have scratches on the lens. Where as the previous generation GoPro cameras used a waterproof housing that provided some protection that’s not the case any more. That said I’ve seen a bunch of 3rd party lens protectors from stick on tempered glass to clip on screens, I’m not sure how either of these solutions would work in a water environment. GoPro now sell DIY lens replacement kits at two for €50 which isn’t outrageous to be fair.
  • The GoPro app just isn’t very good, for company that’s the market leader action cameras their offering leaves a lot to be desired. I’ve had a Xiamoi Yi action camera for some time and not just is the camera great their mobile app is faster and more stable than what GoPro offer.

The thing for me is that the flaws that I’ve pointed out are common across the entire GoPro Hero range with the exception that the Hero 5 Black has a changeable battery. Sure the other models offer additional features but I can’t see them being of huge use to the average Weekend Warrior. The rear LCD screen on the GoPRo Hero 5 Black is great and all but it doesn’t work when wet.

The GoPro Hero Session does everything you need it to and then some, there are couple of tiny but nice new features that current go pro users will appreciate.

For some reason GoPro removed the attachment point for tethers in some of the GoPro Hero 4 cases, this was a pain and no doubt more than one camera was lost because of it. This has been addressed in the Hero 5 Session / Hero Session frame with a nice metal bar where you can attach your tether. Another small but useful design feature is the revised GoPro anti vibration clip, previously it was the white rubber add on which was always a nuance to use. The updated integrated solution works a treat and nice and low profile.

For a camera that costs sub two hundred bucks, is near indestructible and totally waterproof you better believe it when I say the GoPro Hero Session is the best action camera for kayaking. In anything bar darkness the image quality if fantastic, if you like to edit there is a flat color profile you can set in the app to make color grading easier, otherwise the ProTune is super for the majority of users. Don’t wait until your Boyfriend / Girlfriend / Granny / Whoever gets all the hints you’re about to drop, just go out and get one yourself. They are deadly wee things and I’m super impressed.

I’ve years of paddling done before waterproof stills and video cameras became affordable and common place, if you can at all afford a camera like this it’s well worth the investment to capture those memories. Take loads of photos and capture tons of video. It’s never been easier to share photos or video of our adventures with our friends, but just because you can upload everything unedited a tiny bit of effort goes a long way on 🙂

I’m looking forward to getting lots of use out of this and making mediocre edits that I enjoy.

If you have other suggestions of better cameras for kayaking I’d love to hear from you.

Posted in Gear Review.

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