As little as five years ago, life was simple for the would-be action cam owner. GoPro only made one model, and so once you’d taken the plunge and decide to get a GoPro, the decision was simple. However, from the Hero 3 cameras onward, GoPro started to introduce a wider of models, and the situation became more complicated. It was also not helped by GoPro’s approach to naming conventions – a somewhat confusing mishmash of the word ‘Hero’, various “+”s and numbers, and the colours White, Silver and Black!
Since the latest release of cameras was released in October 2016, GoPro has actually consolidated its range, and now only manufactures three models – The Hero Session, the Hero5 Session and the Hero5 Black. However, there is still considerable stock and availability of the previous generation of “entry level” cameras – the GoPro Hero, Hero+ and Hero+ LCD, as well as the more advanced camera from the previous range – the GoPro Hero 4 Silver and Hero 4 Black. As such, it is well worth considering all the full ‘present and recent past’ range of cameras when assessing which GoPro to buy.
- The three “entry level” cameras – the Hero, Hero+ and Hero+ LCD models, which are all based around the same basic design with a black-coloured camera in a non-removable housing.
- There are also the two more advanced models – the Hero 4 Silver and Hero 4 Black models, both of which feature maximum resolutions of 4K.
- Sandwiched between the entry level cameras and the more advanced cameras (both in terms of pricing and spec) is the Hero 4 Session, which has a completely different design to the others – much smaller, and waterproof without a separate housing.
To complicate matters further, GoPro’s previous range of Hero 3 models – the Hero 3 White, Hero 3+ Silver and Hero 3+ Black the are still available and sold alongside the newer models by (for example) Amazon. So what are the key differences between the models, which features really matter, and what does that mean for which GoPro you should buy? In this article we’ve considered the most recent range of GoPros first, and then also looked at the Hero 3 models, and then considered which GoPro is the one to buy!
The current (and recently discontinued) GoPro Range
The six cameras in the ‘recent’ GoPro line-up are as follows:
|Current GoPro models||Date introduced||Max video resolution||Price|
|GoPro Hero||September 2014||1080p30||$130|
|GoPro Hero+||October 2015||1080p60||$200|
|GoPro Hero 4 Session||June 2015||1440p30||$200|
|GoPro Hero+ LCD||June 2015||1080p60||$300|
|GoPro Hero 4 Silver||September 2014||4K at 15fps||$400|
|GoPro Hero 4 Black||September 2014||4K at 30fps||$500|
Starting at the bottom of the price range, the GoPro Hero was directly targeted at the entry-level end of the market, in order to grab buyers who might previously have been put off by the price of GoPro cameras. While it has now been formally discontinued by GoPro, there is still plenty of stock of it. For $130, the GoPro Hero does pretty much everything that you need, shooting video at 1080p at 30 fps or 720p at 60 fps, and capturing 5MP still photos with a burst rate of 10 photos over 2 seconds. However, in order to get down to this price point, GoPro had to make various concessions – the most notable being that the camera (like the others in this “entry level” range) is fixed into the waterproof case, meaning that the battery is non-replaceable. The GoPro Hero also lacks wifi and Bluetooth connectivity, so it cannot be used with the GoPro smartphone app. We’ve taken a more detailed look at the GoPro Hero’s features and compared it with the previous generation entry level GoPro here.
Next up is the $200 is the GoPro Hero+ model at $200. Introduced in October 2015 (but discontinued only 6 months later in April 2016) this camera is identical in overall design to the entry level GoPro Hero (as you can see from the picture – spot the extra “+” in the logo!) with the same permanently-affixed case and non-removeable battery. However, it has an improved spec over the bare-bones Hero, and can shoot 1080p video at 60 fps (double the framerate of the Hero) and can take 8MP still photos at a burst rate of 5 frames per second. Unlike the entry-level Hero, the Hero+ also features wifi and Bluetooth so can be used with the smartphone app.
Also weighing in at $200 is, in some ways, most exciting current GoPro, the Hero 4 Session, which was released in July 2015. On its release, this camera cost a significant $400, but since then GoPro has had a serious rethink about its strategy. Within 3 months the price was dropped by $100 to $300, and then in December 2015 it was dropped again to $200 – the same as the Hero+. Subsequently, in April 2016, GoPro discontinued its other “entry level” cameras, and so in the current official line up, the Session IS the entry level model – quite a change from its positioning in the summer of 2015! In a departure for GoPro, the Session does not feature a waterproof housing, and is instead inherently waterproof, albeit only to 33 feet (10m) rather than the 131 feet (40m) of the other cameras. As a result of this it is tiny – a 1.5 inch cube with the lens on the front, a large power / shutter button on the top and a tiny status display on the back. It can shoot at a maximum resolution of 1440p at 30 fps, or 1080p at 60 fps or 720p at 100fps, and take 8 MP still photos. Unlike the other GoPro models, there is no way to control the settings via the camera itself – instead you need to use the GoPro smartphone app or the smart remote to configure it. We’ve looked into the comparison between the Session and its most natural competitors in the range in more detail here.
Next up the range (but now officially discontinued) is another model released in 2015, the GoPro Hero+ LCD. This is effectively the same camera as the Hero+ with identical photo and video specs, but (as the name suggests!) with the addition of an LCD Touchscreen, which is the same as that found on the GoPro Hero 4 Silver (discussed further below). We’ve got a more detailed review of the Hero+ LCD here.
The $400 Hero 4 Silver was introduced in September 2014. This is, in effect, an updated version of the previous generation Hero 3+ Black (discussed below), but with the addition of new firmware and a built in LCD touchscreen, like that found on the Hero+ LCD. It features 4K video at 15 fps, while at 1080p and 720p it shoots 60 fps and 120 fps respectively. Unlike the Hero+ LCD, the Silver 4 is a “classic-style” GoPro in which the camera is removable from its waterproof housing, meaning it can be used with “naked” with a frame mount, and the battery pack can be switched out for a replacement if necessary. It can shoot still photos at 12 MP with a maximum burst of 30 shots per second.
Sitting at the top of the tree is the GoPro Hero 4 Black model, costing $500. This camera introduces true 4K ability, shooting at 30 fps (rather than the somewhat unsatisfactory 15 fps available on the Hero 4 Silver and Hero 3 + Black). At lower resolutions, it can shoot 1080p at 120fps, and 720p at an extraordinary 240fps, while its still photo ability is the same as the Hero 4 Silver. Unlike the Silver however, it does not feature a built-in LCD touchscreen. We’ve compared the Hero 4 Black and the Hero 4 Silver in more detail here.
Discontinued GoPro cameras
As discussed above, while GoPro no longer makes or sells the GoPro Hero 3 and 3+ range of cameras, they are still on sale, though we anticipate that stock may start to run out soon. The range is as follows:
|Discontinued cameras (still available for sale)||Date introduced||Max video resolution||Current price|
|GoPro Hero 3 White||October 2012||1080p30||$255|
|GoPro Hero 3+ Silver||October 2013||1080p60||$300|
|GoPro Hero 3+ Black||October 2013||4K at 15fps||$374|
Starting at the bottom of the Hero 3 range, the GoPro Hero 3 White Edition is now the oldest GoPro camera still available, having been introduced in late 2012. Like the new entry level GoPro Hero, it can shoot 1080p video at 30fps, and 720p at 60fps, though notably the higher resolution is only available at a “medium” field of view of 127 degrees, compared to the “ultrawide” 170 degrees for both resolutions on the Hero. On the still photo side, it shoots 5MP images (again the same as the new Hero) though has a lower burst rate than the Hero of 3 photos a second. It also lacks the SuperView setting which is available on the GoPro Hero. As such, on video specs alone, the White now comes up short in comparison to the Hero. However, unlike the Hero it does have a replaceable battery and wifi connectivity to allow it to be used with the GoPro smartphone app. We’ve carried out a more detailed comparison of the GoPro Hero and Hero 3 White here. Note that while the GoPro Hero 3 White originally retailed at $200, prices now appear to be somewhat higher at around $250 – presumably as a result of stock running low.
The 2013 GoPro Hero 3+ Silver Edition has also been officially discontinued, but is still widely available. At 1080p it shoots the same 60fps as the Hero+ and Hero+ LCD models, though at 720p it can shoot at up to 120fps is also available, giving it a greater slow motion capability than the Hero+ cameras. As for photos, the Silver can manage a burst of ten 11MP shots in a second, with the ability to set the resolution to either 11MP, 7MP or 5MP. It sells for $300, making it the same price as the Hero+ LCD and the Hero 4 Session cameras.
Back in 2013, the GoPro Hero 3+ Black Edition was the daddy of the GoPro range. The spec that caught all the headlines back then was its ability to shoot at a then-unprecedented 4K resolution, but at a framerate of only 15fps. Now, that spec has been equalled by the new GoPro Hero 4 Silver, and surpassed by the Hero 4 Black. The Hero 3+ Black can also shoot at 2.7K resolution at 30fps, 1080p at 60fps, and 720p at 120fps, and can capture a 30 photo burst of 12MP photos in a second.
Unlike any of the other cameras, the Hero 3+ Black edition also comes bundled with GoPro’s Smart Remote, allowing you to control the camera from, say, your wrist rather than having to press the buttons on it directly. The wifi remote can also be purchased separately, and works with all the cameras other than the entry level Hero, but it’s a $70 option by itself. Given that the Hero 3+ Black has now been discounted to $350, this might be a tempting option for some who definitely plan to buy a Smart Remote, but for most others the $400 GoPro Hero 4 Silver is probably now a better option, given it matches the specs of the Hero 3+ Black but also features the LCD Touchscreen.
Which GoPro to buy?
So, what does all the mean for which GoPro you should buy? And “how much” GoPro is really necessary to get great shots of all your adventures?!
First of all, in our view it is now worth focusing primarily on the new range of GoPro cameras released since September 2014 rather than the previous Hero 3 cameras, unless you can find the latter at a serious discount. At the lower end of the price scale, other than the lack of wifi and non-replaceable battery (which may not be an issue to many of the target audience) the GoPro Hero has the GoPro Hero 3 White beat spec wise while still being cheaper, while the Hero+ more or less matches the Hero 3+ Silver for $100 less, while the Hero+ LCD throws in a touchscreen for the same $300. Meanwhile, the Hero 4 Silver is not significantly more expensive than the near-identically specced Hero 3+ Black and also includes a built in screen; as discussed above, the only argument for getting a Hero 3+ Black is that it comes with a bundled Smart Remote, so if you plan to buy one of these anyway, there may be some merit in grabbing a 3+ Black while they are still available.
Focusing then on the current line up of cameras: arguably, for the a lot of users, the entry-level GoPro Hero and Hero+ cameras provides all the functionality needed. They can both shoot HD at 1080p, and the 60fps option (on the Hero only at 720p) gives a 2x slow motion ability. The lack of wifi on the entry level Hero means that in some ways it is more like the GoPros of a few years ago – just turn it on and start filming without messing around too much with settings! Meanwhile the recently introduced Hero+ adds wifi and slightly better video specs if they are needed for an extra $70. While the lack of a replaceable battery might be a deal breaker for some users, one way to work out whether it is it is an issue is to consider whether you would definitely plan to buy a spare battery and charger with one of the other GoPro cameras. Our hunch is that the majority of people probably don’t do this, and therefore that it maybe isn’t a big deal problem for many users. Ultimately, at $130 for the Hero and $200 for the Hero+ the cameras are priced extremely competitively given the quality of video that they can achieve. And one other thing to consider – if the worst happens and you lose a GoPro doing something adventurous, you’ll get over it more quickly if is a $130 Hero rather than a $500 Hero 4 Black!!
Conversely, when looking at the other entry level model in the range, the $300 Hero+ LCD, we consider that you are better off saving up the extra $100 and buying the GoPro Hero 4 Silver. In our view, once you are spending $300+ on a camera, having one that you can replace the battery in becomes more of an concern, and there is also the issue that if you break the waterproof housing on a Hero+ LCD it is game over for the whole camera – while on the Hero 4 you can simply buy a new case. In addition, the extra cash for the Hero 4 Silver buys a considerably more advanced image sensor which features both higher resolutions (4K and 2.7K) as well as better performance at the HD resolutions of 1080p and 720p and the ProTune settings. All-in-all the Hero 4 Silver is an extremely competent camera, and the LCD Touchscreen definitely improves its usability – in our view it might well be the sweet spot of the entire GoPro range.
The new Hero 4 Session is an interesting proposition. Its size and shape make it very attractive for any use that involves mourning it on the body – particular on a helmet, where even though the “classic” GoPros are now a common sight, they can still look a bit boxy. GoPro clearly realised this, and thought it could charge a premium for this new product. At release, when it was $400 and the same price as the Hero 4 Silver (a camera which exceeds it in terms of resolution and qualify, and also features a built-in screen) it did look overpriced. Now though, at $200 (the same as the Hero+), it is a much more tempting proposition. Ultimately size matters, and so if the smallness of the Session really appeals, it is the one to go for. However, do read our more in-depth review of the Session here first!
At $500, the GoPro Hero 4 Black remains the choice for professionals, and those who want and need a true 4K video ability – at 30 fps, the footage is gorgeous and actually usable, in contrast to the somewhat jerky 15 fps efforts of the Hero 4 Silver and previous generation Hero 3+ Black. The Hero 4 Black also offers more opportunity for slow motion video, with 120 fps at 1080p and an amazing 240 fps at 720p following the firmware update earlier in 2015. However, unless you are actually going to use these features, you are arguably better off saving $100 and buying the Hero 4 Silver, which also benefits from having a built-in screen, and a better battery life due to its less demanding processor. We’ve considered the issue of whether 4K is important further here.
Overall, our favourite GoPros from the current line up are the entry level GoPro Hero and Hero+, and the GoPro Hero 4 Silver. However, for particularly needs and budgets there may be other GoPros that fit the bill better, and in particular the new GoPro Hero 4 Session is a very interesting option if ultra-small size is important.
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