[nextpage title=”Introduction” ]
GoPro Hero 6 Black Review Snap Verdict
The release of the GoPro Hero6 Black has been one of the most anticipated of 2017. Which would be surprising for a camera that fits in your pocket, but then this is a camera from GoPro, a company that more than most knows the importance of getting noticed.
The compact GoPro Hero6 Black has caused more speculation and intrigue than many cameras twice its size, but can it really live up to its hype? This last week we’ve been putting the Hero 6 through it’s paces and sure enough it is the best action camera we’ve used… but it’s not all been plain sailing.
For the GoPro Hero6 Black
- 60fps at 4K
- 240fps at 1080p
- Fits all Hero 5 accessories
Against the GoPro Hero6 Black
- No Live streaming feature
- Lens scratches easily
- Same old audio issues
Everyone expected the GoPro Hero6 Black to pack in the headline features: 8K, live streaming and smart features that set it aside from the action camera mainstream. We even put forward our best guesses: some of which were right, and some of which were wrong.
We’d been excited and speculating for months about what the new GoPro camera was going to reveal, but as the usual late September release date approached a swath of leaks from retailers across the globe gave us an early insight into what it would actually offer.
Those early sightings showed us one thing: although the camera would look identical to the Hero 5 Black there would be no big leaps in resolution. This release was all about something new inside.
Let’s not at this early stage of our GoPro Hero6 Black review dismiss the new camera’s leap in frame rates for both 4K and 1080p; they are after all double what we had in the Hero5 Black, it’s just that frame rates just doesn’t have the pull of big scale resolution.
When the Hero5 was released we were all expecting to see 8K, that didn’t materialise, but we did get voice activation, GPS, LCD and a touch screen, and for many GoPro die hards it was felt that GoPro was back on track. The Hero5 Black was a major update.
And with so much crammed into the Hero5 it shouldn’t really come as a surprise that the new Hero6 Black’s feature set pales in comparison. However packed inside the now familiar GoPro design is a new GP1 processor, a small chip that’s so incredibly powerful that it pushes the abilities and quality of GoPro footage well beyond anything that has been possible before.
The Hero6 Black includes the usual progressive frame rate increase, but the big headline feature for this release really is that new processor, and from the outset it shows exactly what it can do.
Let’s get this over with: the design of the new GoPro Hero6 Black is the same as the GoPro Hero5 Black, size shape and weight are almost identical. The new GoPro is 1g lighter, although my kitchen scales showed them weighing in at the same, and rather than having Hero 5 printed on the side it has Hero 6. Aside from that there really are no differences.
- GoPro Hero6 Black vs Garmin Virb Ultra 30: which is the best action camera?
- GoPro Hero6 Black vs Yi 4K+: which is the best action camera?
The cage is also exactly the same, with the standard GoPro mount on the bottom and a single action lever lock holding the thing together. Same design, same quality, and this means that it’s fully compatible with all existing official GoPro mounts and accessories.
As with the previous camera, the Hero 6 Black body measures in at 62 X 44.6 X 32.7mm and weights in at 117g with battery and card. Really there is no discernible difference between this and the Hero 5 Black. For those of us who’ve invested in a GoPro Hero 5 Black accessory or two, like the Karma Grip the identical form factor comes as a relief, as there’s no additional expenditure on new cages.
The big features are as always in the tech spec’s. Resolution remains at a maximum of 4K but pushes the frame rates to 60fps from 30fps on the Hero5 Black, 1080p boosts to 240fps, basically doubling the headline frame rates of the previous generation. What this means in real terms is that you can now shoot slow motion footage that will stretch 1 second of film over a staggering 8 seconds.
The full list of resolutions and their partnered frames rates is impressive, but one thing that’s instantly noticeable is that the volume of options has dropped significantly, especially at the bottom end. For instance, 480p is gone, all the additional 720p frame rates have also disappeared and 960p has bitten the dust as well.
This reduction of options makes sense. Best to keep it simple. That way when navigating the settings and options, the ones you want and use most often are quick and easy to select without wading through all the additional options that you’re never going to use. One day we may even see a custom menu that enables you to select only the options you use the most. Now I’m starting to think about the GoPro Hero7 Black! But I digress…
Before we shift away from resolution there is one other resolution feature that is of real interest and another that’s linked.
4K 4:3 is a new option and one that makes full use of the image sensor. All the 4:3 means is that the image has an aspect ration of 4:3 rather than the more common 16:9 that we’re so used to seeing with TVs. Ultimately you get a little more at the top and bottom of the image which can be handy for composition. Interestingly, the Hero 5 offered the 4:3 option for 2.7k.
Image stabilisation is back and can be used for 4K video shooting at 30fps. Unlike the 5 you only loose 5% to crop compared with 10% on the previous generation.
ProTune sees the bulk of the Hero6’s updates with white balance now offering an ultra warm 2300k option with the cool end still stopping at 6500k. The 2300k value is often associated with early morning light, or that produced by tungsten and will be a handy addition for many film makers and has probably been added to support the Karma drone.
GoPro has highlighted the improved low-light performance, and ISO changes reflect this with a new low ISO of 100 for bright conditions all the way through to 6400. Although the higher sensitivity remains the same, the lowering of value at the less sensitive end of the scale should signify improved image quality when it comes to grain, colour and tone.
Shutter speed options were introduced with the Hero 5 and it’s good to see those options once again increase. Taking the 1080p at 60fps as an example you still have the option for 1/60sec, 1/120, 1/240 but there’s now the addition of 1/960sec. Why is this good? Well it gives you the tools to break some rules or to be exact the 360 degree shutter rule.
In normal use you’d want the shutter speed to be double that of the frame rate; by pushing the shutter speed up you can add a visual effect to the footage that makes everything a little more jittery and action packed.
What this means for you is that you can take a sedate ride through the woods and by using the shutter speed you can make the whole thing look a hell of a lot more exciting than it is!
The rest of the ProTune options stay much the same, that might not seem like a huge leap forward when it comes to spec’s but believe me it is.
Other new and notables include the touch zoom – this enables you to progressively zoom in and out of an image with your finger. This zoom is digital rather than optical obviously but the quality is still impressive.
Then there’s cloud back-up. This enables your GoPro once set-up to automatically upload the footage you’ve shot to the GoPro server. There is a slight catch with this in as far as you need to sign up to GoPro Plus which incurs a fee, but once done you’re free to access and edit the footage from anywhere.
[nextpage title=”Build & Handling” ]
Build quality and handling
If you’re familiar with the Hero 5 then you’ll be equally familiar with the Hero6; there really is no difference.
Starting at the cage, this is the same design as the Hero 5 and is of course fully interchangeable between the two cameras. If you haven’t come across the design before then it uses a simple lever lock to hold the GoPro within so that it can be attached to many common mounts. The cage actually does more than just hold the camera: it also acts as the waterproof barrier between the elements and the electronics.
The cage doesn’t offer the same level of water proof protection as the old style water proof housing but it’s still good for 10m. Perfectly adequate for the majority of water sports and activities. If you did want to go deeper, then there is a more traditional style housing that can be easily fitted. This is different from the one that featured on the Hero 4.
In use, the camera generally stays put in the cage and really the only time you need to release it is when changing the battery, card, charging or when attaching to one of the accessories such as the Karma Grip.
Taking a quick look at the Hero without the cage and on the base is the battery and MicroSD card door. This is held in place by a small press button that is easy enough to release although not with gloves on.
Once the door is open the battery can be quickly swapped out. There’s a small tag on the base of the battery to help with its removal and the MicroSD card slot that’s spring loaded – again easy enough to get to as long as you have a bit of a nail to click and release.
On the right-hand side as you look at the camera you have the USB Type-C port for charging and the HDMI port. As yet, aside from testing, I’ve never bothered with the HDMI port but it’s there if you need it.
The small door that protects the two ports can be removed easily so that the Karma grip can be fitted. This door design works well but over time that click as you reconnect the door to the camera does gradually get looser. However once the door is clicked back in place it does hold securely. The door along with battery and lens are the three spares I will generally always carry with me.
Finally, on the exterior is the lens. This, as with the Hero 5, is made from Gorilla glass and should therefore be ultra tough. Indeed the lens on my Hero 5 has sustained enough knocks and bashes over the year or so that I’ve had it to prove that these lenses are ultra tough.
However on my Hero 6 the lens scratched within the first hour of use, not just a small scratch but a deep lens crippling scratch. Unlucky maybe, but then the Hero 5 that was mounted along side it and was covered in the same crud was fine. If the lens showed just one scratch, then I might put it down to misfortune but there were several.
Needless to say the lens was removed and replaced and the test was able to resume. The replacement lens worked out fine and seemed far more durable than the original, it is again identical to that fitted on to the Hero 5.
The lens design is inspired and enables you to easily swap out and replace lenses as needed simply by pulling the lens away from the body and twisting. It does take a bit of effort but when you’ve done it once then it’s easy enough.
Selecting options and filming
The appearance of the large touch screen on the Hero 5 was a revelation. It enabled for the first time quick option selection without having to delve through a carousel style menu system.
Not only was the screen and touch screen a huge leap forward but GoPro also introduced voice activation, ok they weren’t the first but it works and cuts out the faff of hitting the record button when you want to start or stop recording.
This may seem a bit of a minor thing, but just one good reason for voice activation is that you don’t have to stop what you’re doing to start and stop recording. After all, who gets up from the sofa and switches the TV channel these days. We all use a remote, and in some cases even TVs are voice activated now.
As you start to use the Hero 6 Black you do notice a few minor changes with the menu system: there are fewer options when it comes to resolutions and frame rates, and this makes everything far clearer and ultimately easy to use.
The same swipe gestures are used to navigate around the different settings, and again these are as easy to use as the Hero 5. Really, very little has changed when it comes to usability.
The one new feature that has appeared is touch zoom, and this basically enables you to zoom in and out of the scene. This is operated digitally and in our test worked well although isn’t available in all modes. You can read more about that here.
The other non recording new feature is the automatic cloud upload. Before you start with this feature you need to subscribe to the GoPro Plus plan, then once done download the GoPro app, connect the camera and follow the instructions and the GoPro will do the rest.
It’s all very clever but the upload process is not as instantaneous as I had expected. First you need to plug the GoPro into a power outlet and wait for it to charge, then once that’s done the auto upload will begin.
The connection to power all made sense but what I wasn’t expecting was that the images and video that uploaded were optimised for the web (it does highlight this in the manual / online) so before you delete the footage if you want the full resolution stuff it still requires backing up to computer.
The Hero 6 has some nice new features, but when it comes to the build and handling it’s much the same as the previous generation. There have been a few tweaks, and the menu system and options are a little more streamlined, but really there’s not a great deal new in terms of usability.
Build quality is as good as ever, with the only area for concern being the lens which instantly scratched; however the £25 replacement seemed far more durable and akin to the one on the Hero 5 even though I think they’re all supposed to be the same.
[nextpage title=”Performance” ]
At the heart of this new GoPro is the GP1 processor, a small chip that essentially drives every new feature of the Hero 6. GoPro have really taken a gamble on producing their own brain for the new camera. Ambarella processor has previously been the driving force behind the GoPro’s excellent speed and quality, especially when it has been coupled with the Sony sensor.
It is however easy to see why GoPro has opted to go with its own technology, rather than rely on one from a company such as Ambarella. Ambarella’s processors are now used in almost every top action camera, and no sooner is a camera released than an updated and far more powerful processor appears.
GoPro hasn’t released information on the sensor, but it’s more than likely going to be a Sony Exmor. No doubt time will tell, but at present I’m not going to break into our Hero 6 to take a look!
The GP1 processor has a huge job to do, even more so than the latest iteration of the Ambarella processor, as it’s as yet untested in the field. The Hero 6 will be the first camera to use it.
When it comes to performance the processor is key as you want the brain of the camera to be able to process data quickly. Be that flicking through the menu screens, reviewing footage or capturing stunning 4k at 60fps all seems as good when it comes to responsiveness and speed as with the Hero 5.
Side-by-side with the Hero 5 and Hero 6 and flicking through menu options and there really is very little difference. Both are responsive to finger gestures and easy enough to navigate around and play back footage without too much delay. If there is any real difference then it’s difficult if impossible to see.
Wifi connection does show some difference between the two models with the Hero 6 enabling you to select if you want to use 5GHz or 2.4GHz which helps to cut down on some search time when connecting. In both cases the connection strength and quality is excellent both in and out doors. The Hero 6 is slightly faster on the connection but when it comes to watching LiveView or reviewing footage there really is little difference between the two.
The Hero 6 also sees a few new voice commands, but again as with the Hero 5 activation and use of the voice feature is good, picking up a good 90% of activation calls.
When it comes to the basic performance of menus, mobile connection and reviewing footage, the Hero 5 and Hero 6 Black are pretty evenly matched. This similarity of quality starts to separate as soon as you get out in the field and start to use the camera.
The first thing you notice is the rear LCD screen; this is visibly better quality. The screen appears much brighter and the clarity and detail of the image is far better. That’s not saying that the Hero 5 was bad, just the Hero 6 is that much better!
Then you move on to all those menus, and again the Hero 6 has simplified the options available. This streamlining makes selecting the options you want that much easier and quicker.
Where the biggest difference comes is in the image quality. The Hero cameras have always been able to produce stunning image quality and really lead the field when it comes to detail, colour and contrast. Now the Hero 6 has promised to push the capabilities of these small cameras beyond anything that has been seen before and they have certainly achieved this.
But before we go on, I did have one issue and this was not completely to do with the camera. On the first outing the Hero 6 got a little muddy, as did the Hero 5 that was mounted by its side. A quick swipe of both to clear the lens and I should have been back off on the ride, but looking down to my horror I saw several large, deep scratches across the lens.
Luckily I was able to order another lens and this now sits on the front of the camera and all is again well with the world. Looking at that early footage prior too the scratch however showed a few horrifying image flaws. Firstly shooting a rather sedate time-lapse there where some signs of Chromatic Aberration around all high contrast areas, you can check these out in this post.
This aberration was more than likely caused by the lens misting up, which can again be seen if you watch this GoPro Hero6 Black time-lapse all the way through. Really this shouldn’t have happened, the lens had never been removed from the camera and it shouldn’t have scratched quite so easily.
The lens issues seemed to resolve once the new lens cover was installed and back out on the trial with the Hero 5 and Hero 6 and you can really start to see some of the deeper differences between the two models.
There’s the obvious doubling of frame rates but this is far more than a numbers game with the footage produced at 120 fps on the Hero 6 looking considerably better and less pixelated than that of the Hero 5. Even pushing the frame rate through to 240fps on the Hero 6 and the quality still out stripped the Hero 5 at 120 fps.
The same was true for the 4K resolution at 30fps, the Hero 5’s footage is excellent but the 6 is just that much better showing a far greater dynamic range. What this means is that you get detail in the shadows and highlights so there is less burnout in the skies and less deep detail lacking shadow. What’s more where as 4K could really only be used for scene setting with the Hero 5 now at 60fps you can enjoy shooting some real action with smooth motion.
Shooting action footage at 4K is incredibly handy as it enables you to recompose the shot and edit down to 1080p, a concept that we’ll all become more familiar with as the GoPro Fusion and other VR cameras start to dominate the market.
GoPro Hero6 Black Sample Video footage
Living in the UK where it gets dark very early in the winter months, one of the biggest issues with the GoPro – or for that matter any action camera – is the low light performance. Don’t get me wrong, we do have bright sunlight here it’s just we also have quite a few grey and overcast days as well! Especially around this time of year. Those overcast days lack light and without vast quantities of sunlight the small sensor and processor combos found within action cameras can really struggle.
I’d like to say that the GoPro Hero 6 Black aces it in low light; after all it has a low-light setting which is great for shooting at night, but in grey weather the grain is still apparent. That said, it is a definite improvement and fairs far better than many other action cameras.
Performance-wise, on every level the Hero 6 is far superior to the GoPro Hero 5.
[nextpage title=”Verdict” ]
The build and design of the GoPro Hero 6 Black is essentially the same as the Hero 5. Aside from the logo on the side of the lens there really is no difference. If you liked the design of the Hero 5, which I did, then the Hero 6 Black is the same and so again I think it’s ace. Why? Size, shape and weight makes it easy to handle and mount. Weight-wise, 117g isn’t a great deal, and if mounted on your person, helmet or dog then it’s not a burden.
The cage works well, and the ability to quickly plug directly into accessories such as the Karma Grip makes it part of a modular system, which I like.
Although I don’t mind a housing I do prefer action cameras without, and the ability to quickly change lenses on the Hero 5 and 6 when they get damaged is a nice feature, although it can get expensive.
Ultimately, as the GoPro mount has been adopted by almost the entire action camera market you can almost always find a suitable mount to hold the camera where you want it.
When it comes to using the Hero 6 it’s again a step up: simpler menus make this the easiest GoPro yet, and it still packs in the features. Voice control and app connection is seamless as it has been perfected over the years, and the GoPro interface for both the camera and app is still by far the best on the market.
Let’s not forget video quality, and this is where the new Hero 6 excels. Set aside my early lens issue and the footage was clear and crisp, with the extended dynamic range enabling me to capture some of the most detailed, colourful and impressive footage yet.
The increased frame rates aren’t just there to grab the headlines, as I felt to some degree with the 120fps of the Hero 5, or at least when shooting under UK weather conditions. However the 1080p at 240 & 120fps was good, and of a quality I would be happy to use. Ok there are signs of pixelation but that footage definitely has the wow factor.
There’s little more to add about the Hero 6, it is at present the best action camera on the market. It has rivals: the Garmin Virb Ultra 30 is good and has its niche in the fitness sector. The Yi 4k + is also excellent and matches some of the specs of the Hero 6 but is really aimed at the vlogger and family unit. Only the GoPro can appeal to all, from the family wanting to capture the moment through to broadcasters who need reliability (as long as they carry a spare lens cover). For out right quality it is a compact camera that really does lead the field.
Should I buy the GoPro Hero 6 Black?
OK it’s expensive at £499 – actually double that of the Yi 4K+ – but the GoPro has so much to offer. However that price will stop people from buying, and rightly so when there are so many great cameras out there.
So if you’re into extreme sports, need a camera for film production, want an action camera with creative control, then the Hero6 Black is for you. If you’re a fitness fanatic, then look at the Virb Ultra 30 and Garmin’s fitness eco system, if you’re a Vlogger then do check out the formidable Yi 4K+.