Which GoPro should you buy?



Joshua Goldman/CNET

GoPro’s current camera lineup stands at three: the Hero5 Black, the Hero5 Session and the original Session, (formerly called Hero4 Session). In February 2016, the maker of the “world’s most versatile camera” announced it was killing off its more budget-friendly offerings — the Hero, Hero+ and Hero+ LCD — because having too many options was perhaps causing confusion for potential buyers leading them to buy nothing at all. Then, the Hero4 Black and Silver cameras (the latter a CNET Editors’ Choice) were replaced with the introduction of the Hero5 models in September.

Just because GoPro isn’t selling the old cameras anymore doesn’t mean you can’t find them elsewhere. However, there’s not much reason to buy them unless you can get one at a good price and, even then, it might not be worth it because the Hero5 models are so good and there’s plenty of solid competition out there that do more for less. 

If you’re looking to buy one right now, though, this list breaks down the basic changes from model to model so you can figure out just which one is right for your needs.

Hero Session

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Sarah Tew/CNET

When it launched in July 2015, the Session was the smallest, lightest GoPro to date. It was also the first GoPro to be entirely waterproof to 33 feet (10 meters), so there was no need for a polycarbonate housing. It was also priced too high at $400. Now, however, it costs just $150 (£150, AU$220) and is the current entry-level model. 

Because of the square body and included accessories it was also the easiest GoPro to mount right-side up while still keeping a low profile. However, because of its size and waterproofing, the battery is nonremovable and, with just a sliver of a screen and two buttons, changing its settings without connecting to a phone or GoPro’s wireless remote requires a lot of patience.

Its video recording capabilities top out at 1,920×1,440 at 30fps, though it’s more likely you’ll be using its 1080p at 60fps or 720p at 100fps settings. 

Recommended for: The Session is the point-and-shoot, grab-and-go model. It’s perfect for mounting somewhere other cameras just won’t fit. I’ve even seen people skip using a mount all together and just put it between their teeth. Available at Amazon.com.

Read the full review.

Hero5 Session

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Joshua Goldman/CNET

The Hero5 Session’s design is essentially unchanged from the original. It’s waterproof. It turns on and records with a single button press. And its battery is still built in. If it weren’t for the branding and a USB-C port for faster charging and transferring content, you couldn’t easily tell them apart. What’s inside and its recording capabilities are completely different, though. 

Priced at $300, AU$460 and £300, this version can record video at up to 4K resolution at 30fps and 1080p at 90fps and video and photo quality is much better as well. It has electronic image stabilization and lens distortion correction and GoPro added voice controls for starting and stopping recordings, snapping photos, changing modes and even tagging highlights in your clips. 

Recommended for: If you liked the small size of the original Session, but just wished it could do more and don’t mind paying double for it. Available at Amazon.com

Read the full review

Hero5 Black

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Joshua Goldman/CNET

The Hero5 Black is the current top-of-the-line GoPro. It has all the features of the Hero5 Session, including the waterproof body, but also gets you a removable/replaceable battery and a built-in touchscreen along with more shooting options including faster frame rates for video (up to 120fps at 1080p) and raw and wide-dynamic-range photos, a Micro-HDMI output and GPS for adding data overlays to your videos

Those are the big reasons to step-up from the Hero5 Session and spend the extra $100. However, it is worth noting that the Black is compatible with GoPro’s Karma drone and Karma Grip stabilizer while the Session currently is not. If you think one of those is in your future, you’ll want the Hero5 Black. 

Recommended for: If you want the best GoPro camera to date, the Hero5 Black is it. Available at Amazon.com

Read the full review

Aside from the three cameras above, GoPro has discontinued all other camera models. You can still find them, but really the Hero4 Black and Sliver models are the only ones worth considering and that’s assuming you can find them at a good price. However, just so you know what all the old models were capable of, I’ve included info on them below. 

So why consider a Hero4 at all? The answer for me comes down to one thing: accessories. While most mounts from past models will work with a Hero5, there were a lot of cool accessories made that will only work with Hero4 cameras because of the design changes. And because those accessories become less and less relevant the older and older the cameras get, you can potentially find some good discounts. 

Hero

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Sarah Tew/CNET

The GoPro Hero’s biggest feature was its price at just less than $120 (£94, AU$210). Its video capabilities include 1080p at 30 frames per second and 720p at 60fps, but can also do 5-megapixel stills — one at time, in bursts of 10 at 5fps, and as time-lapse sequences snapping continuously every 0.5 second.

The video quality is good for the money, but without a screen or a way to add one, positioning the camera to make sure you’re capturing what you want is a bit of a guessing game. There’s also no built-in Wi-Fi, so you can’t use GoPro’s app on a phone or tablet to preview or review your videos or wirelessly transfer them for sharing without going back to a computer.

Two other potential issues: The battery is built in, so no swapping out for a fresh pack to keep recording, and the camera is permanently in its polycarbonate housing. The housing is tough and waterproof to 131 feet (40 meters), but if you damage the housing you’re not easily swapping it for a new one and it definitely hurts audio quality.

The Hero is so limiting I wouldn’t bother with it, at least not unless you can find it for. There are too many options that are just as good or better, such as the Activeon CX or Yi Action Camera.

Recommended for: If you want a simple, inexpensive waterproof camera that says GoPro on it and your video-quality needs are just “good enough.” 

Read the full review.

Hero+

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Joshua Goldman/CNET

The Hero+ wasn’t much more money than the base Hero, but it was a solid upgrade in features. For starters it can capture video in full-HD resolution, but at up to 60 frames per second. That makes moving subjects look smoother, or you can use it to playback at 30fps for a slight slow-motion effect.  

Photo resolution is better than the Hero’s, too, at 8 megapixels. If you want continuous-shooting options for time-lapse videos or just hands-free photo capture, you can set it to snap off a shot every 0.5, 1, 2, 5, 10, 30 and 60 seconds. The camera also gets GoPro’s HiLight tagging feature, letting you flag a section for easier editing later, and loop recording that starts overwriting old clips once you’re microSD card is full (handy if you want to use this as a dash cam).

But perhaps the most important difference is the built-in Wi-Fi so you can directly connect wirelessly to your phone or tablet or GoPro’s Smart Remote to remotely control the camera or transfer clips to do on-the-go uploads to sharing sites. More importantly, it lets you see what you’re shooting.

Perhaps the biggest downsides here are that, like the Hero, the Hero+ is built into its case and has a non-removable battery. At least the housing keeps it waterproof to 131 feet (40 meters).

Recommended for: With better video quality and more shooting options than the basic Hero and wireless built in for easier use and sharing, it’s worth spending the extra money. Available at Amazon.com.

Read my first impressions.

Hero+ LCD

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Joshua Goldman/CNET

The Hero+ LCD is the same camera as the Hero+ but, as the name implies, it has a touchscreen for preview and playback and changing settings and shooting modes. You can even use the built-in screen to trim clips right on the camera.

You get all the same shooting options, maxing out at 1080p at 60fps for video and 8-megapixel stills. There’s Wi-Fi if you want to pair the camera with a smartphone or tablet. And it, too, has a nonremovable battery and is trapped in the same waterproof housing.

Recommended for: If you want a GoPro with good video quality, a streamlined no-muss, no-fuss shooting experience and easier use thanks to a touchscreen and wireless. Available at Amazon.com.

Read the full review.

Hero4 Silver

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Sarah Tew/CNET

The Hero4 Silver earned our Editors’ Choice Award for being the right balance of features and performance. It records video at up to 4K at 15fps, a more useful 2.7K resolution at 30fps, and perhaps most importantly 1080p at 60fps and 720p at 120fps. With its excellent image sensor and processor, the video was (and really still is) some of the best you’ll find on a camera this size and stands up to being viewed on larger displays and TVs. That said, there are better options from Sony and Yi that do more for less. 

Recommend for: For those who want better video and a lot of shooting options, stop here. Basically, the Silver gives you almost all of the features of the higher-end Hero4 Black, but with a touchscreen and for less money. It’s tough to beat. Available at Amazon.com.

Read the full review.

Hero4 Black

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Joshua Goldman/CNET

Put simply, the Hero4 Black offered the best video quality available from a GoPro camera and the most expansive shooting options. At least it did until the Hero5 Black showed up. While the Silver does record at 4K resolution, the Black actually does it at a usable frame rate for moving subjects, recording at 30fps. Moreover, it does 1080p at up to 120fps for full HD slow-motion videos or 720p at 240fps so you can slow down clips even more.To get that kind of performance, though, you sacrifice the touchscreen found on the Silver.

Recommended for: Despite all the upgrades the Hero5 Black offers, the Hero4 Black is still an excellent camera when it comes to video and photo quality. Available at Amazon.com.

Read the full review.

First published July 29, 2015 and has since been updated.
Update June 3, 2017, 5 a.m. PT: Adds the Session and Hero5 cameras.



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