Which GoPro to buy?

There are now no fewer than 9 models of GoPro camera available ranging in price from $129 up to $500 – 6 in current production by GoPro, and another 3 from the ‘Hero 3’ range which are still widely available. All the cameras all work with the same mounts and, ultimately, they all do basically the same job – allowing you to capture great footage of your activities in circumstances where it would be impossible to use a normal camera. So, how do you chose which GoPro to buy? Our aim with this website is to help you navigate the options and come up with the best choice for you (and your wallet!) Elsewhere, we’ve got more detailed breakdowns and analyses of specific cameras for you (find these under the menus for GoPro Hero 3 and 4 above), but below we’ve set out what we think are the key considerations for buying a GoPro, and our suggestions for which models you should look at. 

Key Considerations

Price

Unless you’re not working to a budget all all (in which case lucky you!),  price is absolutely a key consideration. Given that all the GoPro models achieve basically the same purpose (i.e. they are all rugged waterproof action cams which can capture at least 1080p footage), if you’re on a tight budget you’ll probably want to look at the lower end of GoPro’s range, where you get a lot of camera for not very much money. 

Happily, earlier this year GoPro introduced the new entry-level Hero, which for just $129 offers you the key GoPro features at a very affordable price. Featuring 1080p30 video or 720p60 for a modicum of slow motion ability, the Hero also features GoPro’s SuperView function, which is missing on some of GoPro’s older and more expensive models. Of course, there are inevitable compromises given the price – the two key ones being no wifi connectivity – so no using the Hero with the GoPro app or remote control – and no interchangeable battery, so once you’re out of juice you have to stop filming and plug the camera back in. 

The other budget alternative is the GoPro Hero 3 White, at $200. This has the same basic video specs as the Hero, although its still photo burst capability is in fact slightly worse, reflecting the fact it is an older model of camera (first released in 2013). However, it does feature the wifi and replaceable battery that are missing on the Hero, so if those are important issues then it’s probably worth shelling out the extra $70 to step up to the White. However, now the White has been discontinued its getting harder to find and, as is the way with these things, paradoxically more expensive, so beware of paying too much for somewhat outdated technology.

We’ve done a much more detailed comparison of the GoPro Hero vs Hero 3 White here so do check it out if you want some further information!

Shape and size

Until recently this wouldn’t have been an issue at all – all of the GoPro range were the same size and shape, and pretty much identical in weight as well. Now however, there is a new kid on the block – the GoPro Session – a 1.5 inch black cube which is waterproof to 10m without an external case. The Session is unarguably easier and sleeker to mount on the body, and while none of the other GoPros could be called large, next to the Session they do now look a bit bulky. The Session also has a very simple (and perhaps over simplified) user interface which means the camera is either on and recording, or off and shut down, which saves on battery life.

GoPro originally released the Session at a whopping $400, making it the second most expensive camera in the range and the same price as the Hero 4 Silver, a camera that also packs an LCD Touch screen, a replaceable battery and considerably higher video resolutions. However, in early October 2015, GoPro dropped the price of the Session by $100 to $300, and then in early December 2015, the price dropped again to only $200. At that price, the Session is a genuine alternative to the GoPro Hero+ – indeed, given that the Session has slightly better video specs that the Hero+, there is every reason now to choose it over the larger model.

In comparison to the more expensive cameras,  as well as lacking the 2.7K and 4K options that are available on the Hero 4 Silver and Black, even a comparison at 1080p resolutions reveals that the video quality is not as good as that on the Hero 4 models. This is presumably due to the fact that the Black and Silver models have 4K-capable sensors, and that when these are down-scaling to 1080p, the output is bettie than that from the sensor on the Session (which maxes out at 1440p). 

It’s not that the video quality from the Session is poor – far from it in fact – it’s just that the Hero 4 Silver’s is notably better. However, now that the Session is literally half the price of the Hero 4 Silver (as opposed to the same price as it was on its introduction) this difference in quality is entirely understandable. 

4K ability

This is fairly straightforward, at least initially – there are only 2 cameras which can shoot 4K video – the GoPro Hero 4 Black and Silver models. However, the Silver can actually only shoot 4K at 15 fps. This is really too slow to be much use for shooting video – indeed, GoPro themselves don’t really mention the 4K abilities of the Silver in their marketing. As such, if you want 4K, you need to go for the $500 top of the range GoPro Hero 4 Black. However, it is well worth considering whether you actually need a 4K camera – we’ve pondered the issue and given you our thoughts here!

Built-in screen

Again, this is fairly straightforward – you only get a built-in touch LCD screen on the GoPro Hero +($300) and the Hero 4 Silver($400) models. As between those two, the Hero 4 Silver offers better video and photo resolutions and a replaceable battery pack. It is still possible to add the Touch LCD BacPac to any of the other non-screen GoPros other than the entry level Hero. However, given that this costs $80 and makes the camera body deeper, most users would be better off going for the Hero + or Hero 4 Silver – unless you really want or need the top specs of the Hero 4 Black combined with a screen.

Replaceable battery

The GoPro Hero 3 White, 3+ Silver and Black, and Hero 4 Silver and Black all come with replaceable batteries – as such, it is possible to buy some spare batteries and a chargerand carry on shooting all day long. Meanwhile, the Hero, Hero +, Hero + LCD and Hero 4 Session models feature a built-in and non-removable battery, so you have to plug in the entire camera in order to charge it. This is definitely something to consider before you opt for one of these models, though many users find that a single battery is sufficient for their needs even when using a camera with a replaceable battery set up.

Wifi connectivity

Other than the GoPro Hero, all the GoPro range now feature wifi and Bluetooth connectivity and can be used with GoPro’s app and its Smart Remote – indeed, on the Hero 4 Session you need either the app or the remote in order to change any of the settings. If you really want to be able to use the app or a remote then, as above, it’s a good reason to upgrade beyond the entry level Hero!

Slow motion 

In order to get usable slow motion video, you need to capture footage at a higher framerate than you will play it back at, which is what gives the slow motion effect. In practice, this playback framerate can’t be much below 30 fps (or 24 fps if you’re going for the “cinematic” effect) before the video starts to look a jerky. This means that the maximum framerate of the camera relative to 30 fps determines the maximum slow motion multiple that can be applied. The table below sets out the maximum frame rates available at 720p, 1080p and 2.7k and shows what kind of slow motion effect is possible:

 720p1080p2.7K
GoPro Hero60 fps
(2 x slow motion)
30 fps
(no slow motion)
N/A
GoPro Hero 3 White60 fps
(2 x slow motion)
30 fps
(no slow motion)
N/A
GoPro Hero 3+ Silver120 fps
(4 x slow motion)
60 fps
(2 x slow motion)
N/A
GoPro Hero +60 fps
2 x slow motion
60 fps
2 x slow motion
N/A
GoPro Hero 4 Session100 fps
(3 x slow motion)
60 fps
(2 x slow motion)
N/A
GoPro Hero 4 Silver120 fps
(4 x slow motion)
60 fps
(2 x slow motion)
30 fps
(no slow motion)
GoPro Hero 4 Black240 fps
(8 x slow motion)
120 fps
(4 x slow motion)
50fps
(2 x slow motion)

Advanced video modes

Finally, there are some extra video modes and settings which GoPro only makes available on certain cameras;

  • SuperView, explained in more detail here, is a mode that uses the full area of the sensor in order to cram as much as possible into the 16:9 widescreen field of view. SuperView is available on all of the ‘new’ GoPro models – i.e. the Hero, Hero + and Hero 4 Silver and Black, but not the older generation of Hero 3 White and Hero 3+ Silver cameras.
  • Auto low light mode – this setting automatically adjusts the framerate, slowing it down when the level of light available decreases, so as to preserve the correct exposure of the video (though obviously this is at the expense of the smoothness of the video). Again, this feature is available on all the new GoPro models, but not the older Hero 3 cameras.
  • ProTune – this mode opens up a range of professional settings intended for those users who plan to spend considerable time in post-production of the videos – it captures video with less compression, and allows control over white balance, colour profile, ISO, sharpness and exposure compensation. Full ProTune is featured on the GoPro Hero 4 Silver and Black models, while the Hero 4 Session features a subset of the ProTune functionality (ISO and sharpness controls).

We’ve summarised the key features in this table:

 PriceSize and weightWaterproof ratingMaximum video resolutionBuilt-in screenReplaceable batteryAdvanced video modes
GoPro Hero$1303.9 oz (111g) - integrated housing131 feet (40m)1080p30
720p60
NoNoSuperView
GoPro Hero+$2003.9 oz (111g) - integrated housing131 feet (40m)1080p60
720p60
NoNoSuperView
GoPro Hero 4 Session$2002.6 oz (74g) - no housing needed33 feet (10m)1440p30
1080p60
720p100
NoNoSuperView
Auto Low Light
Protune (partial)
GoPro Hero 3 White$2504.8 oz (136g) with housing131 feet (40m)1080p30
720p60
NoYesN/A
GoPro Hero 3+ Silver$3004.8 oz (136g) with housing131 feet (40m)1080p60
720p120
NoYesN/A
GoPro Hero+ LCD$3004.5 oz (127g) - integrated housing131 feet (40m)YesNoSuperView
GoPro Hero 4 Silver$4005.2 oz (174g) with housing131 feet (40m)4K at 15fps
2.7K at 30fps
1080p60
720p120
YesYesSuperView
Auto Low Light
Night Photo
ProTune (full)
GoPro Hero 4 Black$5005.4 oz (152g) with housing131 feet (40m)4K at 30fps
2.7K at 60fps
1080p120
720p240
NoYesSuperView
Auto Low Light
Night Photo
ProTune (full)

We really hope this page has been useful in helping you decide which GoPro to buy! Do check out our other articles in the menu or sidebar above for some more detailed information and product breakdowns.