Until the Hero5, pretty much every new GoPro camera was defined by an increase in resolution. The first Hero HD was 1080p, the Hero2 added bumped photos to 11 megapixels from 5, and so on until the Hero4, which ushered in 4K at 30 frames per second. The Hero5 Session gets an upgrade this time around, also joining the 30fps/4K club (the original Session maxed at 1440p). But with the Hero5 you won't see any upgrades of that sort.
In particular, there's no 4K/60fps shooting mode, as some might have hoped for. In fact, the Hero5 Black's sensor is the same one found in the Hero4 Black. That's not a bad thing, per se -- you can still record in 4K, with additional options for 2.7K/60fps, 1080p at up to 120fps, and super slow-mo 720p at 240fps (plus all the quirky formats like 1440 that GoPro users will be familiar with).
That doesn't mean there isn't anything new here. In fact, the Hero5 and Hero5 Session come with a bevy of updates that make the cameras much more useful. Many of the new features come to both the Session and the Hero5 Black, though the flagship Hero5 gets a few extra tricks to keep its position at the top.
New for Hero5 Black
Perhaps the most obvious change with the Hero5 Black is that it's waterproof without a housing (the original Session and therefore new Hero5 Session already were). This means you won't need a separate case to protect it. The upsides are obvious: Though the naked camera is a smidge bigger than the Hero4 Black (a millimeter or so each side), it's considerably smaller than the Hero4 encased in its housing (which is how you most often see it). The result is that the Hero5 Black is much more pocket-friendly, and you won't need to pry open the case just to charge it or access the memory card.
The native waterproofing works to "only" a depth of 33 feet/10 meters, but that should be good enough for the vast majority of people. If you like, you can still buy a case for added protection up to 196 feet/60 meters. I took the Hero5 Black for several prolonged dips in the Mediterranean, and it's much nicer to swim with the smaller camera. The rear LCD (also new) was still usable, though at times it took a few attempts to get my taps to register -- something most phone owners can relate to.
Another added benefit is that without a case, the camera's microphones record better audio both in the water and on land. The classic "rattle" you hear on GoPro many water-based videos isn't yet a thing of the past, but the setup here is much less distracting.
There is a downside to the new design, however: The Hero5 won't fit many accessories such as drone/hand-held stabilizers that were specifically designed for the Hero3 and 4. Ditto for any accessory that uses the rear connector, because the Hero5 no longer has one (now everything goes through either the USB-C or HDMI ports on the side). I tried jury-rigging the Hero5 into a Feiyu-Tech hand-held stabilizer (pro-tip: Use a hairband to hold it in place) and it worked pretty well. It's not ideal, but it might ease the transition for those with a sizable GoPro accessory kit.
The benefits of not needing a case will likely outweigh the downsides for most people -- though of course if you're invested in certain accessories, you'll need to consider whether the Hero5's other new features are enough to sweeten the deal.
Rugged cameras and GPS go together like jam and peanut butter. Not if you owned a GoPro, though. This seemingly obvious feature has been conspicuously absent from the Hero lineup -- until now. GoPro's still not going all in, though. While the Hero5 Black does have a GPS sensor, it doesn't do much right now other than tag your videos and photos with the location where you shot them. If you were hoping for Garmin-style data overlays showing your speed, height, location, etc., you'll have to wait a bit longer. Those features are coming, at least: GoPro recently scooped up Dashware, a company dedicated to exactly that kind of thing, so it's only a matter of updating the software, a GoPro rep told me. Besides, and GoPro's not shy about adding features after the fact.
Touchscreen and user interface
The Hero4 Silver was the first GoPro with a touchscreen. That single feature made it our top pick for most people, besting the screen-less (but more advanced) Hero4 Black. This time around there is no Hero5 Silver; GoPro just added a touchscreen to the Black and made the Hero5 Session the step-down model. The Hero5's display is slightly larger than the one on the Hero4 Silver, thanks in part to the removal of the bus port on the back. As I found, too, it's clearly visible even in direct sunlight.
Perhaps the bigger story, though, is the user interface, which feels more simple compared to the Hero4. Access different menus (e.g., gallery, settings, camera modes) by swiping from one of the four of the edges, where'll you then find related submenus. You might encounter a small learning curve if you're familiar with the old UI, but I find it's faster and easier to use once you get the hang of it.
Some of the submenus require you to scroll or swipe through options, much like on your phone. At times, the menu wasn't always as responsive as I'd hoped, often switching back to the previous selection or registering a swipe as a tap and choosing a menu option by mistake. This didn't happen every time -- it seemed to occur more in humid weather or when my hands were wet -- but it was very annoying when it did happen. When it works, though, navigating options and viewing menus is an improved experience. It's also great that the flagship camera now has the touchscreen it deserves (remember, the Hero4 Black didn't have one, but the Silver version did).
Advance image capture modes