GoPro has always occupied a fairly tight niche of camera users. In fact, there are almost certainly more people who own the action camera than have lives gnarly or radical enough to actually need them. With this laser focus has come GoPro’s ability to continue optimizing fully with each new update to its HERO series.
This action camera expertise is on full display with their latest, the HERO6 Black. At $499, this is the company’s most expensive addition to the line yet, but the pervasive additions to this model establish the HERO6 Black as a clear flagship model for the action cam industry.
Design-wise it’s identical to what came before it, so what’s new to distinguish it over the cheaper, still very capable HERO5 Black?
The resolution and frame rate jumps are the most headline-grabbing feature bump. Capturing 4K at 60 frames and 2.7K at 120 frames is pretty fantastic for this tiny camera, and the quality you can get from pulling in 1080p footage at 240fps for buttery smooth slow-mo opens up a lot, creatively. This doubling in frames is opened up by the 6’s custom-designed GP1 chip, which also lets the camera reach a wider dynamic range than previous cams and improve low-light performance (even though there’s still room to grow there).
This camera does offer some notable improvements besides slapping higher frame rates on 4K video. The digital image stabilization is perhaps one of the biggest stars of the HERO6 — it’s surprisingly great. It’s not a miracle worker for hopelessly bumpy footage, but it does show off some magic with source video that was by no means stable in the course of shooting without making it feel unnatural. For current owners, the stabilization is one of the most notable upgrades.
If you rely heavily on the GoPro mobile app, you’ll also definitely notice the 5ghz Wi-Fi support, which lends a 3X improvement in offload times between the HERO6 and your phone. This time goes from being excruciatingly long on the HERO5 to merely being pretty lengthy on the HERO6.
Important to note for potential buyers is the camera’s use of the HEVC format, which lets the HERO6 fit more into smaller file sizes. HEVC isn’t going to play friendly with everybody’s devices, but if you have a pretty new phone or beefy computer running Windows 10 or High Sierra you can get in on the fun. You can check your device’s compatibility here. You’ll still be able to shoot using H.264 for a host of other modes, but things like 4K/60 and 1080p/240 are only reserved for HEVC, which is a bit of a bummer.
Battery life leaves a lot to be desired when shooting footage at 4K/60; after an hour of shooting aggressively, the camera’s battery was about kaput. Add in the extraordinary drain of offloading clips from the HERO6 to your phone over Wi-Fi and it’s apparent that you’ll want a few spare batteries handy. Thankfully, the HERO6 uses the same battery type as the HERO5.
GoPro, the company, may be striving to find another hit vertical with the Karma drone or Fusion 360 cam, but as it looks to create features in their flagship line to get consumers to upgrade, they seem to be on the right track with the HERO6.
The little action cam that could continues to be deliciously fun and shockingly powerful for its size. The HERO6 Black delivers excellent performance that bests its predecessor in several key metrics. With the HERO5 Black currently selling for $299, the decision to buy the HERO6 Black becomes a lot tougher for first-time owners, but if you’re looking to take the plunge for $499, you’re getting a whole lotta camera.