The GoPro Hero6 Black is made to capture action in adventurous and scenic settings, and its improved image quality is designed to make it all look beautiful.
By now, GoPro is a household name for most. The camera that helped kick off the action cam category has made great strides over the years, helping users record their active lifestyles. A bustling aftermarket has truly supported the brand, helping broaden how they deploy their GoPros.
However, with smartphone cameras constantly getting better—including water-resistant bodies—GoPro had to push the Hero6 Black onto a different plateau. That meant improving the most important components to get better performance and output.
Updated design, inside out
The Hero6 Black retains the familiar blocky form factor synonymous with the brand, including the waterproof body introduced in the Hero5. So long as all camera doors are closed, the Hero6 can submerge down to 33 feet, including in saltwater. As before, it’s best to rinse it with clean water right after to get rid of any salt or sand that might linger.
Other points are essentially the same, like the 2-inch touchscreen, albeit with a more responsive panel that cuts out the delay from previous models. You can also pinch-to-zoom when previewing images, which is new. The lens uses digital image stabilization to try and smooth things out and avoid shaky footage.
A bracketing frame comes with the camera that has the ubiquitous GoPro mount at the bottom. Curved and flat 3M adhesive mounts come in the box, along with a USB-C charging cable and 1220mAh battery. There is no microSD memory card in the box, so you will need to get one.
The biggest change comes on the inside. First, GoPro crammed in a better and faster processor it calls “GP1.” Through that, the Hero6 Black is capable of shooting in 4K at 60fps, 30fps or 24fps. I’ll get to the ins and outs of how the processor helps in that regard a little later, but the gist is that the extra power under the hood enables the camera to shoot better than previous models could.
Adding a Wi-Fi support for 5GHz bands and Wireless-AC should help increase transfer speeds when funneling footage from the camera over to a phone, tablet or computer.
Prepare to shoot
For those unfamiliar with the GoPro, it might seem daunting to dive in and start firing away with it. Streamlining the interface has helped whittle things down to a point where you can learn the ropes and make quick changes on the fly.
Simply pressing the record button—even while the camera is off—starts a video recording automatically at whatever the settings were left at. The power button on the side doubles as a mode setter to toggle through the different options.
The Hero6 Black has four shooting modes: Video, Photo, Burst and Timelapse Video. The first two are self-explanatory. Burst shoots a batch of images in rapid fire, from as few as three-per-second, to as many as 30-per-second. Timelapse Video captures images in set intervals to create a timelapse shot. While video is the standard, it is possible to do timelapse photos, and even night timelapse shooting, though I’ll explain the perils in trying that last one.
I recommend exploring the settings available on the touchscreen for each mode. To keep things simple, GoPro layered the menu system to avoid going through several steps to get somewhere. Everything is visible and pretty concise, so that you know what settings you’re using at any given time.
Protune is a key feature that is always off by default. When in video mode, swiping left from the right edge brings up the menu, offering some manual controls. GoPro has an explainer outlining everything in detail.
Quality and performance
One of the biggest challenges with GoPro footage is keeping it smooth. Mounting the camera in so many different ways takes away a lot of that control, which is why the digital image stabilization inside is so crucial. In cases where footage is especially shaky for whatever reason, it can crop out some of the fringes to stabilize the overall image.
There is a catch to how that works though. The stability won’t work when shooting in 4K unless you use a gimbal like GoPro’s Karma Grip. Only video shot at 1440p or lower gets the stabilizing assist. One exception to that, however, is shooting slo-mo video at 240fps. The only time you get it in that case is by shooting at 720p in that framerate.
It does seem, at times, like using the GoPro comes with a list of compromises, but the truth is that most footage you take with it will come down to a few settings you settle with. By default, the Hero6 Black is all automatic, adjusting exposure and white balance. Other settings, like shutter speed, ISO, sharpness and colour are capped at certain limits.
Colour, in particular, has two modes in Protune. GoPro’s own colour mode is more saturated with higher contrast. Flat doesn’t treat the image in any way, making it look duller, but with more detail in shadows and highlights. The reason for that is because you have more control over how to adjust colour when video editing in post-production. If you have no need for that, just leave it at the default and you’ll get the dynamic look out of the box.
Image quality is excellent under the best circumstances. There was a vibrancy to the Hero6 Black that stood out compared to previous models. I liked the overall contrast and detail it was able to capture, despite having a fixed focus lens. Bright tones, without washing out highlights, leads to some superb captures, breathing life into any scene.
I wasn’t all that impressed with low-light performance though. I get that GoPro tried to tackle that with Protune, but even when adjusting the ISO and shutter speed, the camera struggled to stay smooth unless capturing a static scene on a flat surface or tripod.
A firmware update rolled out to improve low-light performance, and while decent, it wasn’t a substantial upgrade.
Using the apps
GoPro uses two apps for iOS and Android that help facilitate and expand on the Hero6 Black’s feature set. The regular GoPro app can connect with the Hero6 Black’s Wi-Fi to view and access content stored on the camera’s memory card. It also downloads and sends firmware updates over the other way.
Once connected, you also get a live view from the camera, where you can start recording, change modes and even adjust various settings, all the way to Protune’s options. Really useful if you’ve set it up somewhere out of reach and want to make changes on the fly.
The second app is Quik, which can mash together selected photos and video clips with background music from GoPro to create an edited clip called QuikStories. It analyzes each video clip to find the best moments, though I found manually choosing them was the best way to go, unless I tried to do it with a number of clips.
There’s a fair amount of customization to creating a good video, which is great. You can choose any DRM-free track from your iTunes library, or import something saved to Dropbox, iCloud, Google Drive and iDrive. However, doing it with 4K clips is not so seamless. Quik has to convert 4K footage to output in 1080p or 720p, so it does take time.
There was a lot there to partake in, but I would caution that being patient is a part of the process.
I’ll state it outright here: you will need to buy a backup battery. The Hero6 Black guzzles power like an eight-cylinder car, even on standby. More than likely, the GP1 processor is taxing on a battery that is a fraction of what a smartphone uses. Shooting in 4K only adds to the drain.
That’s not to say there isn’t enough time to capture great images. There is, but I found I had to manage its ‘on’ time whenever I could to maximize output. Even if future firmware updates were able to help mitigate it, I highly doubt it would be enough to make a serious difference. Thankfully, extra batteries aren’t expensive.
GoPro made the Hero6 Black for adventurous types, but is really accessible to anyone interested in capturing footage in different ways. The bevy of mounting options triggers creativity unto themselves, and the camera’s durability means it never tires of shooting. Image quality is objectively good in most cases, despite the so-so results at night or low-light.
Undoubtedly, any GoPro comes with a veiled commitment. I already mentioned the need for an extra battery, but investing in mounts, memory cards, a Karma Grip or other accessories is a likely consequence. To get the most out of the camera, some extras are ideal.
The GoPro Hero6 Black is available now.