The GoPro Hero6 Black looks just like the Hero5 Black. It's the same small size and still waterproof to 10 meters (33 feet) with the same ports, controls, battery and same size touchscreen on back.
But, as the saying goes, it's what's inside that counts, and what's inside is a new custom-designed processor, the GP1, that's responsible for a whole lot of improvements. CEO Nick Woodman said in the past GoPro was building its cameras around off-the-shelf processors and those chips were available to competitors as well. The GP1 ends that by allowing GoPro to make a camera with the capabilities it wanted.
However, those extra capabilities will cost you: $499, £500 or AU$750. It's $100 more than the Hero5 Black, which stays in the lineup along with the Hero5 Session and the original Session. (Here's a chart to see all of the Hero6 Black features in comparison to the others.) If you have the money, it is without a doubt worth getting the Hero6 Black.
The Hero6 Black isn't quite the complete overhaul that the Hero5 Black was, but it does raise the bar on what you can expect out of such a small freakin' camera. For starters, that new GP1 chip means faster frame rates at higher resolutions. The Hero6 Black can record 4K 2,160-pixel resolution clips at 60 frames per second, which can give fast action a smoother look. And if you're into slow-motion clips, you can record in 2.7K at 120fps and 1,080p at 240fps.
Keep in mind, though, these higher resolutions and frame rates require a reasonably powerful computer for playback and editing. Also, GoPro switched from the H.264 video codec to the newer H.265 codec also called HEVC (High Efficiency Video Coding) to save on storage space while keeping quality about the same. HEVC is natively supported on Windows 10 and MacOS High Sierra as well as on Android 5.0 or higher and iOS 11, but again, your computer, phone or tablet will need a strong processor. You can read more about HEVC on GoPro's support page.
GoPro also claims the GP1 helps improve tonal range, color accuracy and low-light quality. There is a noticeable improvement in video quality over the Hero5, particularly with color and dynamic range. It's not as quick to blow out highlights and there is less image noise overall. Although l did see an increase in artifacts and fine details appeared softer as my conditions went from daylight to dusk, it wasn't bad at all and again, an improvement over past models.
The new processor gave GoPro the headroom to improve on the Hero5's electronic image stabilization (EIS) promising gimbal-like performance. That's a pretty big claim and one that could potentially cut into the sales of its own motorized gimbal. To GoPro's credit, the EIS works really well.
If you're running or walking hard with the camera, you'll get a visible shake with every step. However it's nothing compared to what you get without the EIS. That said, it's awesome at controlling shake from vibration, such as you would get from a handlebar or chest mount. For big movements, you'll still want a gimbal, but the EIS can handle a lot and while it occasionally looks a little jerky, I'll take that over nauseatingly unwatchable shakiness any day.
It's worth mentioning, too, that the EIS is not available at all frame rates, including 4K at 60fps (you'll have to drop down to 30fps). Also, to work its magic, it crops the wide field of view (FOV) by 10 percent -- a five percent horizontal reduction on both left and right sides -- which is a small sacrifice for the results you get.
Speaking of crops, the Hero6 Black has a new digital zoom. Well, sort of. Past models gave you the option to shoot with a wide, medium or narrow FOV. The new zoom feature replaces this. Double-tap on the screen and up comes a little slider on the right side. It's nice to have, particularly when paired with the Karma drone, but it only gets you a tiny bit closer, it softens image quality and you can't use it once you've started recording.
GoPro spent much of the past year building out its mobile apps to make it easier for users to shoot, edit and share with their phones. The GP1 chip actually supplies extra power to speed up and smarten its QuikStories automated editing feature with face detection and more. Of course, before you can edit and share, you need to get your videos off the camera and onto your phone or tablet, which is time consuming and a battery drain.
To that end, the Hero 6 Black has faster 5GHz Wi-Fi for speedier transfers, three times faster according to GoPro. But, you know, three times faster than slow is still kind of slow. In my testing it was quicker, but ideally you'll want to keep your clips short and, if you know you're going to want to edit and share from your phone, don't shoot in 4K.
I do have to say the experience of getting the camera connected to your phone has become about as painless as possible. Plus, once you establish the initial connection, the low-energy Bluetooth maintains a persistent link between your device and the camera, so you can open the app and start using it in a few seconds.
Something to definitely keep in mind, though, is with all these features -- Wi-Fi, 4K, high frame rates, GPS, EIS -- there's a power penalty: The more you ask of the camera, the shorter your battery life will be. To be fair, GoPro has done a decent job of bulking up on capabilities while keeping battery life relatively good. Still, you'll want to travel with a spare pack or two and maybe invest in GoPro's Supercharger.
As you might expect, the Hero6 Black builds on all the things that made its predecessor an excellent camera. The image stabilization and video quality alone make it easy to recommend for anyone upgrading from a Hero3 or 4. And if you're buying your first GoPro, it's definitely the way to go, assuming you have the cash. If, however, you don't need the higher frame rates or EIS, the Hero5 Black is still a great choice, has a lot of the same features and is $100 less.