Just like you should never judge a book by its cover, you should never judge a GoPro by its same old design.
At a glance GoPro’s new action camera, the Hero 6 Black, looks no different from the Hero 5 Black, which was released only a year ago. But if you think it’s just an incremental update GoPro’s charging $499.99 for, you’re wrong. There are a lot of sweeping changes underneath the hood that make it the best GoPro ever.
The Hero 6 Black is the culmination of years worth of Lego-style hardware and software additions to GoPro’s action cameras. It’s the sum of all its efforts to vertically integrate the entire storytelling process from start to finish, from shooting to editing, to sharing online.
This is why the new camera is called the “Hero 6 Black with Quik Stories.” The camera now has the Quik Stories feature, which automatically uploads your footage into the cloud and creates a short video, is built directly into the camera’s UI and transfers footage to the cloud much faster with support for quicker 5GHz Wi-Fi.
When I last spoke to GoPro CEO Nick Woodman in June during the launch of its Fusion 360-degree camera, he said the company was investing heavily in AI-driven machine learning to help better create Quik Stories. On the Hero 5 Black, the software looked for moments in your footage it thinks are worth highlighting, but the entire process was random. With Hero 6 Black, GoPro’s using telemetry data from the more advanced GPS and various sensors like the gyroscope and accelerometer.
Owning the ‘whole stack’ isn’t as simple as it looks.
The software can detect face expressions and analyze movements. If you, say, speed up when you’re skiing, or if you make a jump while biking, it’ll recognize that high-adrenaline moment as something you’d probably want to include in your Quik Stories. The goal is to free you from having to go back and comb through your long footage to pick out that one special moment.
No surprise since storytelling has always been GoPro’s real mission statement. But owning the “whole stack” isn’t as simple as it looks, and it’s not possible when you use off-the-shelf components, such as processors built by other companies (Ambarella in GoPro’s case) that competitors such as Yi Camera can also use in their own rival cameras.
So GoPro designed its own chip for the new Hero 6 Black called the GP1. Much like how Apple moved to use its own custom A-series chips in its iOS devices, GoPro’s GP1 allows it to better integrate software features it couldn’t otherwise using Ambarella’s.
With the new chip powering the Hero 6 Black, you’ll notice a number of video capture improvements that make it the new standard for action cameras thanks to its doubled performance.
Dramatically improved image quality
The Hero 6 Black is still a 12-megapixel camera, but it’s better across the board. The camera now is fully capable of recording HDR photos and videos. Footage recorded in HDR looks more vibrant with richer, more saturated colors, and greater dynamic range. Shadows have better clarity and there’s even better depth of field.
The difference between footage from a Hero 6 Black and Hero 5 Black is night and day, and I prefer HDR video, even though the saturated colors make everything look a little less lifelike. You’ll still be able to record with HDR turned off, but most people will probably leave it on. Beside professionals, who really wants to spend time color-grading their GoPro footage? Not me. As you can see, HDR video capture is just another way GoPro’s trying to make storytelling the focus of its cameras. It’s about democratizing the complicated processes that go into capturing great footage.
HDR video capture is a game-changer, but so, too, are HDR photos. GoPro says backlit photos should now look correctly exposed instead of all overexposed.
The Hero 6 Black supports higher frame rates for both regular video recording and slow motion. It can shoot 4K video at 60 frames per second (the Hero 5 Black only does 4K at 30 fps) and slow motion at 1080p resolution at 240 fps (it’s 120 fps on the Hero 5 Black).
Low-light performance has also improved significantly. Whereas a Hero 5 Black camera or older struggled to record in low light, the Hero 6 Black does an great job. You can see the difference in exposure on the 2-inch touchscreen if you compare a Hero 5 Black and Hero 6 next to each other. And you can see it again in the footage.
Another key video recording feature GoPro built into the Hero 6 Black is auto exposure. You’ve probably noticed this yourself, but when you move from recording indoors to outdoors, the exposure is usually blown out for a few seconds while the camera “meters” or readjusts to the new lighting conditions.
On the Hero 6 Black, auto exposure is nearly seamless. The delay time between readjusting between inside and outside has been drastically reduced so that footage looks closer to what you’d see with your own eyes.
The Hero 5 Black had some impressive electronic video stabilization, but it was limited to to 2.7K resolution at 30 fps. The Hero 6 Black has improved 3-axis digitally stabilized 4K video at 30 fps. And because GoPro users apparently asked for it, there’s now a slider for adjusting digital zoom.
Now you can say, “GoPro, start recording” even when the camera is off.
Voice controls also got upgraded for the new camera. Now you can say, “GoPro, start recording” even when the camera is off. With the flip of a setting (it’s off by default), the GoPro will go into a low-power “listening mode” that only keeps the microphone on to listen for voice controls. The listening mode lasts for up to 8 hours from when it’s powered down. GoPro told me it should only drain about 5-10 percent of the battery during this time.
All of these advancements probably has you wondering about battery life. GoPro’s latest uses the same exact battery as the Hero 5 Black, and should last around the same, too. I haven’t fully tested the Hero 6 so I can’t say with any certainty how good (or bad) battery life is, but hopefully there’s no overheating issues when shooting in HDR and the higher-res 4K60 mode.
I’ve only had a chance to preview the Hero 6 Black for a short bit, but I’m already impressed. All of the new improvements to image quality unlock new possibilities and cement GoPro’s commitment to meaningful camera upgrades in the face of smartphone cannibalization.
With the Hero 6 Black, GoPro’s lineup of action cameras now grows to four: $149.99 for the Hero Session, $299.99 for the Hero 5 Session, $399.99 for the Hero Black, and $499.99 for the Hero 6 Black. The new camera’s pricey, but you pay for what you get and you’re definitely getting some serious upgrades. The camera goes on sale on immediately.
Along with the new Hero 6 Black, GoPro’s announcing new updates to its foldable Karma drone.
I’m told sales have been above expectations, despite stiff competition from DJI’s own more compact foldable drones like the Mavic Pro. Again, it doesn’t surprise me that the Karma is selling fine by GoPro’s own internal metrics; it’s different from the Mavic Pro in that it’s more than just a drone. It’s a drone and the detachable gimbal.
First, the existing Karma drone now supports the Hero 6 Black right out of the box. Second, a software update improves the camera tilt when the camera is docked into the drone. It now tilts up to 20 degrees higher on the vertical axis.
A couple of new follow features like Mimic, Leash Mode, Watch, and Multipoint Cable Cam means you can get even more cinematic shooting modes without needing to be an expert at the controller’s joysticks.