GoPro Hero6 Black

GoPro Hero6 Black

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The GoPro Hero6 Black ($499.99) looks exactly like last year’s Hero5 Black. The only difference is the Hero6 logo, which is almost invisible as glossy gray text on the matte gray body, located out of the way on the left side of the camera. The big changes are inside. A new image processor, the GP1, makes it debut here, and gives the Hero6 some incredible slow-motion video options, bumps the maximum 4K frame rate to 60fps, and adds solid video stabilization. It’s more expensive than last year’s edition, but it’s the best action cam we’ve tested, and our Editors’ Choice in the category.

Design

The Hero6 Black doesn’t make any changes in design from its predecessor. It features the same two-tone black and dark gray motif, with a rugged, rubberized body that can go as deep as 33 feet (10 meters) without adding an external housing. It measures 1.8 by 2.6 by 1.4 inches (HWD) and weighs around 4 ounces. We didn’t dive with the camera, but we got it very wet and it kept working perfectly.

The Hero series has always been compact, so you can squeeze it into places that other cameras can’t go. But to mount it anywhere, you’ll need to put it in its cage. The included accessory surrounds the GoPro and adds the company’s proprietary mounting loops to the bottom of the camera. You can get an adapter to hook the system up to a standard tripod mount, but the Hero6 does not have its own tripod socket.

The only downside to putting the camera in the cage mount is a lack of access to the USB-C port. If you want to provide power to the camera while it’s mounted to something—a common want if you’re capturing time-lapse video—you’ll need to remove the door that covers the port before placing it in the cage. Be careful, as it is possible to break the door, even if you’re following instructions, and without it the Hero6 isn’t waterproof.

GoPro hasn’t changed its form factor much over the years. Designs and aesthetics have evolved, but the general small, boxy design is still there. It lends itself to squeezing into compact places, being mounted to things, and gimbal stabilization use along with the Karma‘s detachable stabilizer both in the air and on the ground. Most other action cameras copy the GoPro in design, although we’ve seen exceptions. Sony’s FDR-X3000 looks like a scaled-down palmcorder, although the company has taken a more GoPro-like design approach with its latest entry, the RX0 ($699.99).

Once you’ve put the Hero6 in its cage, you have a wide option of mounting accessories available, both from GoPro and from third-party manufacturers. The camera ships with two adhesive mounts, one flat and one curved, along with the Mounting Buckle—that’s what GoPro calls the foot that slides into the mounts. If you want to get creative with mounting, the world is your oyster. The company sells everything from selfie sticks and tripods to helmet and surfboard mounts to, and I’m not making this up, the Bite Mount, so you can hold the camera with your teeth. There’s even a dog mount.

There are only two physical control buttons on the camera. The Power/Mode switch is on the right side, and the Record/Shutter button is on the top. The Mode button toggles between video, still image, burst image, and time-lapse image capture. Additional options—like the interval between photos in time-lapse, video frame rate settings, and color output, are accessed using the touch LCD.

You don’t have to use buttons to control recording. The Hero6 also responds to voice commands. You can say “GoPro, take a photo” or “GoPro, start recording,” for example. There are also voice commands available to add a HiLight to video (essentially marking it as an interesting piece of footage to speed the editing process), and to start time-lapse recording or shoot a burst of images.

The display itself isn’t huge, just two inches diagonally. Its size is limited by the GoPro’s form factor. The LCD is small, but also bright, and viewing angles are strong, a big plus for a camera that is going to get a lot of outdoor use. And while the menus and icons are necessarily small, the touch input works well. It’s easy to tap the correct area of the screen to change settings and navigate through menus.

GoPro Hero6 Black : Sample Image

A secondary monochrome information LCD is located on the front, next to the lens. It’s a big help if you have the camera mounted facing you, as it shows the mode, video resolution, frame rate, and angle of view, along with battery and memory card capacity, and recording status. The display isn’t backlit, so it’s only useful in decent light.

The Hero6 uses the same battery as its predecessor. In our rundown test it netted 86 minutes of 4K, 60fps video on a full charge. Using the Wi-Fi system for transfers will impact battery life, however. The microSD memory card slot is in the battery compartment. USB-C and micro HDMI ports are located on the left side, protected by a waterproof, but removable, door. You can run the camera off of an AC outlet or power bank via USB.

Connectivity and Apps

GoPro understands that good hardware is important, but video production relies on good software to take raw footage and make it into something people will want to watch. And while desktop editing suites, like Adobe Premiere CC, are still the first choice for experienced editors, many consumers want to cut video on a phone or tablet.

The Hero6 has beefed up wireless connectivity. It sports both Bluetooth and Wi-Fi, so you can wake the camera with the Android or iOS GoPro app. It also has integrated GPS, so the camera’s clock is always properly set and location data is added to images and video.

Setting up the app is very simple—it walks you through Bluetooth pairing and the camera shows the Wi-Fi SSID and password on its rear display so you can set up that half of the connection. Unlike other cameras that use randomly generated passwords, the GoPro draws from a bank of short words and numbers to secure its network. The default password on our test unit was “swim4455,” as an example. If you aren’t happy with the password you can reset the network settings to generate a new one, but you can’t choose one.

GoPro Hero6 Black : App

The main app supports file transfer and remote control. The latter isn’t as big of a deal as it was with earlier Hero models that omitted a rear LCD, but it’s still useful if you want to set your camera up in an out-of-the-way place and control it with your phone. The app provides full control over the camera, letting you change settings, start and stop recording, and change modes.

File transfers are also supported. The GoPro app scans a connected camera and automatically downloads all of its media. Transfers aren’t quick, unfortunately, and if you record big, long video files, you can expect things to take a good, long while, and drain the battery of both your camera and phone. I clocked several video files, totaling about 2GB in size, at about 5.5 minutes.

For the most part, aside from the slowdown, wireless transfer went smoothly. But there’s an occasional hiccup. All of my images from an initial round of shooting transferred over, but my videos did not. In diving in to troubleshoot what went wrong, it appears as if clip length is a big factor. Several longer clips from my first day of using the camera didn’t transfer over manually, the longest being about 8 minutes in length, but the hiccup also affected clips as short as 45 seconds.

I wasn’t able to reproduce the error. In subsequent tries everything transferred without issue. I did update the camera firmware to a newer version, not yet available on day one, which could account for this. Once that was done I had no problem copying a 4K 60fps video file to my phone, although the process took a good 15 minutes.

GoPro Hero6 Black : Sample Image

Another headache you may run into with automatic transfers is a matter of timing. The GoPro app automatically pulls recent video, but it doesn’t get everything. I’m writing this on a Tuesday, and the app pulled down some test videos I shot earlier in the day. But it decided that some video shot on the previous Friday and Saturday was too old for automatic transfer. When talking to a GoPro rep about it, I was told that that the app only looks back over a certain period for automatic downloads. I’d love for it to give you more control over automatic transfers.

If you have an issue with an automatic transfer, you can still copy a video manually. You’ll just need to remember that some file formats use HEVC compression (more on that later), which is not yet supported by the QuikStories editing app. For automatic transfers the GoPro app transcodes all video to H.264 on the fly. (It doesn’t do this for manual transfers, but it should, especially for folks who have older handsets that lack HEVC playback support.)

Once media is loaded on your phone, you can use QuikStories to edit. (Editing with other software, like iMovie, works too.) It’s an automated editing app that takes a look at your clips and photos, picks out some footage, and adds music, transitions, and titles. It’s not hard to use—I spent about 15 minutes with it before I got the hang of it—and once you get going you’ll find that it’s pretty quick to create a movie.

I cut the video above in about 15 minutes (after my initial learning curve). I did some dragging and dropping of clips from one place in the timeline to another, trimmed a few redundant pieces out, and deleted some clips I just didn’t like. I also cut down the initial length significantly—QuikStories wanted to turn my video into a three-minute opus, which feels almost Kubrickian in length when watching on a phone. Even at about a minute and a half, it’s a little long—but if you have better adventures, you’ll get better videos.

There are a ton of music and theme options available, and the software works well enough to deliver results that could take hours in a pro editing suite in a matter of minutes. It’s a solid tool for GoPro users, and with a few tweaks and fixes on the file handling and wireless transfer side, will be as easy to use as promised.

Video and Image Quality

GoPro isn’t the first action cam to deliver 4K video at 60fps—the YI 4K+ did it first. And if you don’t mind having to add a case for protection, the 4K+ is a solid choice for less money. But the Hero6 is built GoPro-tough, and it adds more than faster frame rates and stabilization.

At the heart of the camera is a new image processor. GoPro calls it the GP1, but it’s not so much about what it’s called, as what it does. Doubling the maximum frame rate is a big plus for action shooters—the Hero6 can shoot at 240fps at 1080p, which means you can smooth action to one-tenth speed with 24fps playback.

Digital stabilization is the other big addition. It’s not available at the top frame rates—that means you won’t be able to add in-camera stabilization to 4K 60fps, 2.7K 120fps, or 1080p 240fps footage. But it is available at 4K at up to 30fps, 2.7K at up to 60fps, and 1080p at up to 120fps. It works well, but it’s not quite the substitute for a powered gimbal that GoPro would have you believe.

I shot some footage of myself walking down the street at varying settings. The unstabilized footage, 4K at 60fps, is noticeably jumpy and jerky. Shooting at 30fps in 4K nets pretty good steadiness; you still get a jump as each of my feet hit the ground, one after the other, but most jerkiness is gone. At 2.7K, where the camera has a bit more room to downsample footage and more processing power to devote to stabilization, I’d say it’s slightly more effective. It’s about as good at 1080p as it is at 2.7K. In situations where I wasn’t walking, such as our 4K 30fps test reel shot from a boat, the effect of the stabilization is pretty amazing. It does come at the cost of about five percent of the lens’ field of view, but the GoPro is so ultra-wide to begin with, you probably won’t notice.

Stabilization and faster capture aside, don’t expect to see a huge improvement in video quality compared with previous generations. There are enhancements in automatic exposure when shooting videos and time-lapses in dim conditions, as well as improved white balance at different diving depths, but the sensor and lens are unchanged from the Hero5. Improvements are all made by better firmware and the GP1 processor that powers the camera.

One big change you’ll likely notice is the video compression codec. While most video uses the long established H.264 codec, the highest frame rate footage—60fps at 4K, 120fps at 2.7K, and 240fps at 1080p—is compressed using HEVC, also referred to as H.265. It doesn’t have as broad software support, but is becoming more and more common in devices. The latest iPhone 8 and Samsung Galaxy smartphones support it, for example.

In addition to 4K, 2.7K, and 1080p, the Hero6 supports a number of other formats. You can shoot at a 4:3 aspect ratio in 4K at up to 30fps and 4:3 2.7K at up to 60fps. You can also shoot at 1440p at up to 60fps and 720p at 50 or 60fps; both resolutions are in standard 16:9 aspect ratio.

The GoPro is capable of shooting at a very wide angle, but with it comes some fish-eye distortion. That’s the nature of the camera, and when you’re shooting in 4K it’s what you get—the top resolution uses every pixel the sensor has to offer. If you’re working at 2.7K (and lower resolutions) you can go for a more modest Medium or Narrow field of view. They’ll still show distortion, but if you want to remove it in-camera you can opt for Linear mode, available only in 2.7K or 1080p. Its field of view is narrower than the full view of the lens, but still very wide angle.

Regardless of which resolution, field of view, and frame rate you choose, you can let the GoPro take control over video, or adjust settings by enabling ProTune. It allows you to shoot with a flat color profile, which is better for color grading, if you want to, and also lets you adjust in-camera sharpening, ISO limits, and white balance.

GoPro Hero6 Black : Sample Image

It’s primarily a video camera, but the Hero6 can also capture still photos. Resolution is 12MP, and if you shoot in JPG format you can enable HDR capture to better balance highlights and shadows, and there’s a setting to take distortion-free shots with a narrowed field of view, similar to the Linear video mode. You can also shoot images in Raw format, which lets you adjust colors and exposure. GoPro Hero6 files currently load in Photoshop CC, but Lightroom CC can’t import them. Lightroom needs to be updated to support new cameras, so expect Adobe to fix this in due time.

Conclusions

The GoPro Hero6 Black is the company’s answer to challenges it has been facing in the marketplace. Competing cameras have offered similar video quality and, in some instances, more robust video capture. The Hero6’s new image processor bumps frame rates to deliver ultra-smooth 60fps video at 4K, and extreme slow-motion at 1080p—and it also adds solid digital stabilization.

At $500 it sits toward the higher end of the action cam market. The YI 4K+ undercuts GoPro in price, and also supports 4K at 60fps. But its stabilization isn’t as good, it isn’t waterproof without a case, and you’re on your own when it comes to software. You can also still buy a Hero5 for $100 less, but I think it’s worth it to spend the extra money on the Hero6. It doesn’t look at all different from its predecessor, but a number of internal upgrades work together to deliver a palpably better product. It’s our new Editors’ Choice for premium action cams. Budget shoppers can take a look at the SJCam SJ6 Legend, which doesn’t do as much, but sells for around $150.

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