GoPro Hero 4 Session Review: Do Not Buy If You Want To Use It In Cold Weather!

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GoPro Hero 4 Session Clever Rating

58%
58%
Thumbs down

I wanted to love this camera since my testing in Florida had amazingly good picture quality! It just wasn't cold tolerant enough for snowmobiling, and I should've bought the Hero 4 Silver or Black Edition that I talk about below. For a trip to the Bahamas and for warm weather use, it's hard to beat the price of this little guy vs how good it works on 1080p 60fps out of the box. Just be sure you use a UHS-1 or U3 rated SD card instead of a 1-10 speed class card that I mentioned below...

  • Camera Size
    10
  • Price
    9
  • Ease Of Use
    7
  • Warm Weather Picture Quality
    7
  • Cold Weather Usage
    1
  • Manufacturer Warnings
    1

That’s right, If you’re looking for reviews of the GoPro Hero 4 Session to try and figure out which GoPro to buy, let me save you some time and agony if you ever plan to use it in cold weather!

Do NOT Buy The Hero 4 Session Model If You Plan To Use Your GoPro In Cold Weather!!!

Now don’t get me wrong, the picture quality on the Hero 4 Session is amazing… When it’s hot enough for it to work properly.

I’ll get to all the details throughout this review, like which settings are the best, what mount works well, etc… But for now, if you’re packing for a skiing or snowmobiling trip like I was, and you just want to know which GoPro model to order, get the Silver or Black model instead of the Session 4. (by default they have more mass and extra insulation due to the secondary housing… the Hero 4 Session does not!) You’ll spend a little bit more, but you’ll be very VERY happy you did!


Quick Review Of The GoPro Hero 4 Session: Pros & Cons Comparison

You might not want to spend time reading a long comprehensive review, so I put together this quick review overview section, with the detailed breakdown of my real world experiences further down below.

Keep in mind my intended usage for this GoPro was for winter sports in the snow, and I purchased it for a skiing/snowmobiling trip I was going on in Maine.

Pros:

  • Great picture quality
  • Small and easy to mount/carry
  • Audio quality surprisingly good
  • Worked great in the Florida heat when I tested it before my trip

Cons:

  • Froze up in the cold
  • Ruined warm weather footage with incomplete temp files
  • Needs an insulated housing
  • Can’t remove the battery to force it to reset like you can on other models

Would I buy it again?

No, I’d buy this model instead for two reasons: It has the bigger chassis with space on either side of the lens so the cold weather hack is easier to perform out on the trail with rubber bands, and it has the extra waterproof housing for more protection from the elements to make it last longer in the cold. The #1 thing you can do no matter which GoPro you buy, is MAKE SURE you buy a UHS-1 rated sd card or higher.


My GoPro Hero 4 Session Camera 2016 Review: The Good & The Bad & The Ugly

my-gopro-hero-4-session-purchase-date-on-amazon

Below I’ll go over what I liked about the Session 4, what was bad, and what conditions it quit working in and ultimately made me send it back. Unfortunately, I lost most of the good footage I could’ve used to show you this camera in use when we were out in the mountains, but there was nothing I could do to salvage it once the Session 4 started freezing up and malfunctioning.

Admittedly, The Session 4 Has Amazing Picture Quality… In Florida Heat!

I love this camera in warm weather! The picture quality is downright amazing, and you won’t get anything close to this in another action cam for $200 bucks! Surprisingly, the microphone picks up great audio as well. A buddy of mine also bought the same exact camera for the snowmobiling trip we were going on… So the weekend before we left, we wanted to test it out here in Orlando so we had time to get acquainted with the camera and figure out how to use it on the go.

We mounted it to a car using a suction mount for testing before I left for Maine, and the results we phenomenal. Excellent image quality, not very jumpy even on 1080p 60fps (the best setting for this camera in my opinion). We were even impressed with the 1440 setting, but it ended up being too vertical, so we switched back to 1080.

I also love the size of the camera, and that’s what got me to buy it in the first place. I wasn’t sure if we’d be skiing or just snowmobiling on this year’s trip, so I figured the smaller the better in any case. I also loved the fact that I could just palm the camera at any time, and shoot selfie videos to capture the crew I was with, and it would easily fit into any of my snowmobiling gear pockets.

At night the camera does fair in low light situations. We went to Sugarloaf Mountain one evening for dinner and drinks, and it did average in the dark. In sunlight, especially in the great outdoors, it excels and the image quality is awesome.

Why Amazon Wouldn’t Approve My Scathing Review (So I had to make this one)

lol.  So while I was still on my trip, I was googling like crazy to see if I could find a solution to the camera shutting off after a few minutes of shooting on a snowmobile ride. I had this crazy idea that maybe if I left a bad review on Amazon, someone would comment within a day or two with maybe a solution I could try that I hadn’t thought of.

Do not buy the session 4 for any winter activities! The damn thing freezes up!

What a pile of shit this thing is in any type of cold weather! I bought this for a skiing trip I’m on right now, and it only runs for about 2 mins in 25-35 degree weather before freezing up. I overnighted the best mini sd card available thinking the one that came with the bundle was cheap/non cold tolerant. Nope! Still freezes up, then the battery (it feels like) heats up and stays really hot and you think it’s gonna blow up.

I’ve researched this on the fly because we’re losing a lot of great footage from our runs… I don’t have the means to make an insulated housing, and it’s a huge pain in the ass to tape hand warmers to the housing every time you go out.

Super frustrating… GoPro if you’re listening, you should sell an insulated housing for this, or at least rate it for warm weather activities only.

It probably didn’t get approved simply because there was profanity in it, which in hindsight wasn’t helping. But I was fired up, and I was losing video footage and experiences with my family in beautiful places like this: (thankfully my phone worked!)

maine-snowmobiling-trip-20162016-maine-snowmobiling-trip-campfire2016-maine-winter-tripapple-iphone-works-when-gopro-session-4-wont

GoPro Hero Session 4 VS Iphone 6 In Cold Weather

Sadly, my Iphone 6 that I kept in my pocket for most of the trip worked longer in the cold than the GoPro. The only reason I’m able to show you the pictures above, is because I had my phone with me. Of course the Iphone 6 still shut off after being out in the cold for some time (when we were up in the mountains like in the picture above, the wind chill was probably a factor too), but considering it’s not designed to be an outdoor action camera, I thought it performed pretty damn well for a phone.

I learned something by using the phone when the GoPro would shut off though… I realized I could ride to a destination with the GoPro in an inner liner pocket close to my skin to keep it warm. Then once we arrived, I could slap it on the chest mount and capture everyone. Nope, only a couple minutes in 15 degree weather, which only worsened after the battery heat up episode I’ll get to below.

Why The GoPro Hero 4 Session Shuts Off In Cold Weather (And what to do about it if you’re in a pickle)

So after being on this snowmobiling trip, and dialing in my gear to shield the GoPro from the wind while snowmobiling, I realized that all the hacks on forums that people are using to keep the larger GoPro’s warm are sub par on the Session 4.

Here’s why: by default, a Hero 4 Silver or Hero 4 Black are in the larger chassis. Deductive reasoning would point to, more mass, more insulation right?  Well that’s not all.

Most of the full size GoPro’s have something going for them that helps in two ways when trying to extend your GoPro’s working life in the cold. The additional waterproof housing you mount it in, and the larger batteries themselves. (Not to mention the ability to remove and replace the battery with an extra one if it does freeze up)

On top of this, because it’s in a larger chassis, there’s a lot more surface area to do the cold weather hacks I learned from all the forum posts I found from people having the same problem. I didn’t end up doing this myself since the session is smaller, and it would be a pain in the ass to get out on the trails and stop to attach/remove hand warmers out in the field. Here’s how to do it if you happen to be on a trip right now and are desperately trying to get some good footage any way you can:

Stop gopro from shutting off in cold weather with hand warmers taped to housing

src: http://www.leelau.net/Misc/GoPro/feedthehabit/

For more ideas, see these google images of how people have attached hand warmers in various ways.

It’s going to be a lot harder to do this hand warmer trick on the Session since there isn’t space on both sides of the lens to make it easy to tape or rubber band heat warmers to it like the larger models. Not only that, you have to be careful nothing touches the front since the whole face of the camera is the lens… it would obstruct the view if anything wraps around it toward the front.

The Hero 4 Session simply doesn’t have the battery size/life, or extra waterproof mounting housing to give it that extra layer of protection or advantage in the elements. In my opinion, that is why it shuts off and freezes up in the cold much faster than the Hero 4 Silver or Black, and GoPro should really address this in one way or another. I can’t believe initially they were charging $400-$500 dollars for this thing!?!?  (I paid $199 by the way, but actually $300 something by the time I bought all kinds of accessories and overnighted another sd card to try and make it more “cold weather tolerable.”)

GoPro themselves do not provide a temperature rating for this camera, as you can see directly on their website:

GoPro Official Website - No Cold Weather Or Temperature RatingsThat’s the same response for every model of camera they offer, as you can see here by searching the GoPro Official Website.

This is a huge fucking problem, and I would have never bought this camera if I had known there might be issues with it in the snow, even just walking around outside of our cabin in 20 degree weather.

All of their marketing videos show guys jumping off of cliffs and shit on snowmobiles riding in the back-country at high altitude. “Surely it’ll work for my trail riding at lower altitude”, I thought.

Negative ghost rider, the Session definitely does not work well for this. In fact, I doubt this thing would work much at all below zero degrees for any length of time. If it does, then I surely got a lemon being that most of my days were 15 – 20 degrees with no sleet, rain, snow, or wind. (on a chest mount, behind a windshield/windscreen at that!) I guess I just assumed that one of their newest cameras (the Session 4) would at least do half of what you see in their marketing videos. (in hindsight, I see most all of them are using the Hero 4 Silver and Black editions in the description, which is what I should’ve bought)

In my opinion, this is misleading customers, and should be addressed in one of two ways: either warn customers about cold weather usage with temp ratings, or sell an insulated housing that you can slip warmers into or something. (had I known I’d have problems BEFORE my trip, I would’ve just made one to take with me and this review would probably be VERY very different.)

Edit – I see after writing this article that there’s something in the FAQ on the GoPro website that recommends updating the firmware on the camera itself if it’s freezing up. There’s a difference between the camera “freezing up” and a camera that stops working due to “freezing cold.”  I’m not sure if there’s a discrepancy there, but to all the people pointing to that as a solution, I have a really hard time believing that a firmware update is going to solve a likely hardware problem in extreme temperatures. As I mentioned before, it’s highly likely that an additional waterproof housing or an insulated housing would be the best bet at keeping systems operational, regardless of how the device is programmed to perform.

Don’t Believe The Nonsense About Having To Get A Higher Quality SD Card That’s More Cold Tolerable To Stop Your GoPro From Freezing Up In The Cold

Just like above with the hand warmer hack, I saw everyone and their brother recommending a high end sd card on forums since it would be more tolerant to the cold. I overnighted the best sd card I could get that was available for same day delivery. (this one on amazon)

It didn’t help at all. In fact, the GoPro seemed to do BETTER with the shitty 1 rated sd card that came free with my bundle! The device itself was freezing mid recording, battery heating up after it freaked out, and just wouldn’t do well after a few minutes in the 20 degree weather.

In the defense of the many people on the snowmobile forums saying to get a better sd card… If you have a 2015 or 2016 model card with a decent speed class rating (or a UHS card like the one below), it isn’t going to help or hinder your cold weather performance. With the original GoPro Hero from years ago, and older SD cards yes! But the technology has come a loooooong way since then.

The Best SD Card For Your GoPro (and which one I’d buy if I were purchasing mine again today)

The best sd card for a GoPro Hero 4 SessionIf I were buying all of this equipment all over again, and delivery time wasn’t an issue like I mentioned above when I had to overnight an sd card, I would buy this Scandisk Extreme.

It’s only $9 bucks more than the other 64 gig cards, and it’s a UHS speed class rated card, with a performance rating of 3. (it’s the fastest type of card you can get today, and is designed to write/record video in real time, which supports up to 4k video.)

If you want to learn more about what the SD speed class ratings, check out this website: https://www.sdcard.org/developers/overview/speed_class/

SD card speed class ratings to help choose an sd card for your gopro

src: https://www.sdcard.org/developers/overview/speed_class/

You can find the list of recommended SD cards from the Official GoPro website here: http://gopro.com/support/articles/software-update-release/

Once Your Hero 4 Session Battery Heats Up To The Point Of Almost Burning Your Hand – It’ll Never Work The Same Again

My experience after a couple of days trying to get this thing to work, is that once it goes through a freak-out cycle of freezing mid recording, you have to bring it inside and let it warm up. Not only that, but most of the time, there’s no resetting it, even though GoPro says to hold down the power button for 10 seconds to reset the damn thing.

The majority of the time, I had to let it sit overnight and let the battery drain all the way to zero in order to get it to do anything after a recharge. After a couple of sessions like that, it’s operation just declined thereafter. (in the beginning it would last a few minutes outside… at this point two minutes or less.)

The Bad – My Biggest Complaint About The Hero Session 4

My biggest complaint, and what really pissed me off the most (and ultimately made me want to write a scathing review on amazon), isn’t the frustration of trying to get the equipment to work. It’s the footage I lost with my family.

You see, the way the GoPro records and writes data, it doesn’t save temp files with completion stop points every so often. (I don’t even know if this is possible, but the lack of accomplishing this ruins a lot of salvageable footage. If anyone knows how to restore incomplete temp files, please PLEASE comment below or let me know!!! I’ll pay you for your time.)

This means all those times I was wearing it indoors for 20 minutes or so while shooting the shit with everyone or getting geared up, all that good footage is completely lost due to walking outside and the camera freezing up. I have tons and tons of incomplete temp files from this happening, and those moments with family seem to be irretrievable. (see image below)

gopro-camera-corrupt-temp-files

To me this is pretty bad. GoPro should warn customers about using their Session 4 camera in cold temperatures so they have to opportunity to either make a different purchase decision, or craft some type of insulated housing before auto-save-draftembarking on a northern adventure. Additionally, I suspect a tweak to their firmware could allow for auto save points as their data is written… Much like is happening write now on this WordPress blogging CMS I’m using to write this post. This would at least preserve those moments when the camera does work well, because when it does, the quality is awesome for the size of it.

If I had it to do over again, I’d buy the Hero 4 Silver if price was a concern, or the Hero 4 Black if not.  I feel as though I could insulate the bigger one easier, and the video quality is even better than the Hero Session 4.

Even though this experience was frustrating as hell, I will buy another GoPro even though I sent this one back. But I’m going to wait until the 5 comes out and see if it’s compatible with the upcoming drone though. I would not buy another Hero4 Session unless I was only going to use it in the Bahamas.

The fact of the matter is, having a GoPro is better than not having one. However, thanks to Apple, I still got some stills that are keepers.

GoPro wasn't working, had to use iphone 6 instead

Which GoPro Mounts To Buy (And why I love the chest mount)

The suction mount I bought for my Gopro Session 4

The suction mount I bought

By far my favorite mounts for the GoPro are the suction cup mount and the chest mount. I like the suction cup mount because you can mount it to any flat surface, and it’s easy to capture rear facing video (super cool shots btw) and flip it around in any direction. The chest mount is awesome for hanging out with people because it’s relatively hands free so you can focus on doing what you’re doing, but the wide angle lens will still capture everything. Just make sure you have to swivel adjusted to the camera is perpendicular to the ground, and be mindful when you move your chest (like if you lean over) position so you’re not cutting off the frame. (side note- the suction mount is super strong… strong enough to mount to the door of a beemer for some high speed runs. Don’t ask me how I know. 😉

gopro-session-4-chest-mount

The chest mount I bought

Overall, my favorite mount for the GoPro is the chest mount. It’s the most versatile, and I can wear it over my snow gear and any other clothing. It’s adjustable to wear up high enough on your chest to where visibility riding a snowmobile in the seated position will still capture the scenery. Occasionally standing up while riding will give you awesome footage too, but it’s not that big of a deal unless there’s a huge wind screen in front of you.

I would have bought some more sticky mounts to use as a helmet mount, but I didn’t take my own helmet this time, and we rented some sleds during our trip and I didn’t want to mess them up.

Which GoPro Model To Buy: Price VS Value (And what’s the best GoPro to get for what you plan to use it for)

If you haven’t figured out which GoPro to buy for your particular situation, here’s what I would do after this experience with the Session 4.

If you’re never going to travel in the cold or go skiing or snowboarding, you’ll be fine with the Hero 4 Session. It’s waterproof, has great image quality, and in general is an awesome hot weather action cam from the times I tested it out in Florida before my trip to Maine. However, if you’re planning a winter trip of any kind, get a larger model like the Hero 4 Silver.

The GoPro Hero 4 Session is definitely the cheapest, and usually runs about $199 on Amazon.

If for a second you think you might go on a winter trip though, spend the extra $150 bucks and get the Hero 4 Silver. It has that larger chassis so it’s easier to attach hand warmers to it with rubber bands like we talked about above, and it has the extra layer of protection from the additional waterproof housing that snaps around it. The Hero 4 Session does not have a housing… it’s waterproof by itself which is nice, but the drawback is there isn’t any lens protection. If it gets scratched, it has to be replaced.

GoPro Hero 4 Session Price Drop: The Cheapest GoPro Yet – But Only Buy It For Warm Weather Use

I didn’t realize this when I bought this camera, but since the Session 4 is the latest and greatest (well maybe not greatest) from GoPro, it was originally priced at $400. Makes sense, because the picture quality is great. But I would have been pissed if I paid the same amount as the cost of their flagship camera, the Hero 4 Black Edition.

GoPro Session 4 VS Hero 4 Black Or Silver (My perspective for cold weather use)

From what I can tell, there wouldn’t be much difference between the Hero 4 Silver and Hero 4 Black for my snowmobiling trips. Possibly slightly better quality on the Black Edition, but I don’t know as I’d shoot in 4k anyway, and I think the Silver Edition would do just fine.

Aside from that, either one would work better than the Session 4 in cold weather. Like we talked about above, the bigger chassis would make it a LOT easier to make some kind of insulated housing to go around it, or at least have more surface area to use hands warmers and duct tape.

Take Advantage Of The GoPro Bundles And Get Free Accessories

I bought the Session as a bundle and got a couple free mounts, a head strap mount for use with hats or beanies, and an extra sd card as a backup. It was the same price as the camera by itself, so be on the lookout for one of these bundles when shopping for your GoPro. For example, if you wanted to get the Hero 3 Silver, they have a bundle like this one that has extra batteries, a charger, and a backup card for about $20 more than just the camera by itself. Should save you a few bucks since there aren’t really any good coupon codes out there for these.

gopro-bundle

Where To Buy Your GoPro So You Can Send It Back If You Don’t Like It! (And who normally has the best price)

I know everyone and there mother probably thinks I’m obsessed with Amazon (and I am), or that I just hawk products left and right to make Amazon affiliate commissions. Nope, I am actually a little nuts and buy all this shit myself just because I want to (well and to use it on my trips of course)… And thank god I DO buy from Amazon, because if I didn’t I’d be up shit creek without a paddle right now, and so would you if you bought from a mom and pop vendor!

Getting to the point here: if you’re looking for the best place, and cheapest, to buy your GoPro it’s going to be Amazon hands down. But the main reason I bought mine from there isn’t because of the price… It’s because of Amazon’s fast free shipping and return policy. I was headed out for a snowmobiling trip and only had a few days left to get all my gear together. I waited until the last minute, but still got my GoPro within two days which was awesome.

Here’s the thing you need to pay attention to! When you’re looking on Amazon at the different GoPro’s, you’ll see a bunch of bundles and vendors selling the cameras with free accessories to make it more enticing. Don’t fool with those third party sellers, you only want to buy from the listing that specifically says sold by Amazon.com (or is a Prime item).  This is the one I bought, for example.

See how it says: “Ships from and sold by Amazon.com.”  That’s what you want to buy from. If I were buying another one, it would be this one.

This will also make sure you’re not getting a knockoff camera too! (side note – there are a ton of knockoff GoPro accessory companies selling things everywhere… make sure you read the reviews before you just assume that it’s a genuine GoPro made accessory)

This was my only saving grace to not being stuck with a paperweight… Since you’re dealing with Amazon’s return policy themselves, not some third party seller that sells THROUGH Amazon. I know I probably sound like a broken record saying this over and over, but if I didn’t do this myself, I might be out of a couple hundred bucks right now with a camera that won’t work up north. (or be subject to restocking fees and all that bullshit by buying somewhere else to save $20… exactly like I’m experiencing with the snowmobile jacket and bibs I bought right now! No thanks!)

Hope that helps for anyone looking to use a GoPro in the snow. As I said before, if anyone knows how to recover partial temp files, please comment below… I’m happy to pay you for your help to get some of the footage of my family!

Edit – I Added a couple short clips to answer the youtube comment questions

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