In 2006, GoPro introduced its first Hero digital camera, which changed the way people approached photography and videography when shooting in extreme or harsh conditions. Due to the small size and durability of these cameras, they could be mounted on the camera operator’s body or equipment, and captured photos or video from a first- or third-person perspective. Prior to the first GoPro Hero camera, capturing similar shots or video footage required extremely high-end and expensive equipment that was not readily available to consumers.
GoPro Camera Evolution
In just a few years, the GoPro Hero digital cameras have evolved a lot from a technological standpoint. The latest versions of these cameras are smaller, more durable, and can shoot video at up to 4K resolution (at up to 30 frames per second), and capture still digital images at up to 12-megapixel resolution. Most GoPro cameras are also equipped with multiple shooting modes, allowing users to capture amazing shots, above or below water, in a wide range of lighting and shooting conditions.
For people who enjoy action-oriented sports and activities, which often take place in harsh conditions, the GoPro Hero cameras enable them to capture and share their experiences from multiple perspectives. The latest GoPro Hero cameras offer an ever-growing lineup of camera housings and mounts, allowing them to be mounted securely on people or equipment. The camera can be controlled wirelessly via an optional remote control device, or from any smartphone or tablet running the free GoPro mobile app. The cameras can also be controlled using buttons built into the camera’s own body/housing.
Today, GoPro offers a complete lineup of GoPro Hero digital camera models, ranging in price from $129.99 to $499.99, depending on the camera features and functions you want. In addition to the camera itself, you might need additional housings, mounts, and accessories, based on shooting conditions.
Features of the GoPro Cameras
As of October 2015, the GoPro Hero camera lineup includes six core models:
- Hero ($129.99)
- Hero+ ($199.99)
- Hero+ LCD ($299.99)
- HERO4 Session ($299.99)
- HERO4 Silver ($399.99)
- HERO4 Black ($499.99)
Other now-discontinued models, such as the HERO3+, continue to be sold. Different camera configurations and accessory bundles are also readily available.
With the exception of the new HERO4 Session, what distinguishes the various GoPro Hero cameras is the built-in options for user-selectable shooting resolutions and modes. All of the higher-end models have built-in WiFi capabilities (and Bluetooth, in some cases), allowing you to control the camera remotely, plus send photos or videos wirelessly to a nearby smartphone or tablet for viewing, editing, and sharing.
All of the GoPro camera models have a built-in micro-USB port that allows the camera to be connected to a computer (via a supplied cable), in order to transfer photos and/or video from the camera’s microSD memory card—without having to first remove the memory card from the camera.
Another differentiator is that some GoPro Hero camera models have a built-in LCD display that can serve as a viewfinder while shooting, as well as previewing photos or videos that you’ve already shot. Because this is a touchscreen, it’s also possible to access camera menus; for example, to change settings for the display. Some models offer a separate LCD display that attaches to the camera body; this display is sold as an optional accessory.
GoPro’s Latest Offerings
Released in 2014, the GoPro HERO4 Black is currently the company’s top-of-the-line and most versatile digital camera. It offers the most user-selectable shooting modes, features, and functions. In addition to the HERO4 Black, the company’s latest offerings include the HERO4 Session, Hero+ LCD, and Hero+.
Unlike all of the other GoPro Hero cameras released to date, the HERO4 Session is square. It’s also 50% smaller and 40% lighter than the GoPro HERO4. Yet it offers many of the same shooting modes, available shooting resolutions, and built-in features.
The smaller size and weight of the HERO4 Session make it easier to mount the camera on a person or specialized equipment, plus it allows the camera to shoot from tight areas, or at specific angles that other cameras simply can’t achieve.
From a video resolution standpoint, the smaller HERO4 Session can capture video in a variety of resolutions. For example:
- WVGA at 100 or 120 frames per second / Ultra Wide field of view
- 720p SuperView at 25, 30, 50, or 60 frames per second / Ultra Wide field of view
- 720p at 25, 30, 50, 60, or 100 frames per second / Ultra Wide or Medium field of view
- 960p at 25, 30, 50, or 60 frames per second / Ultra Wide field of view
- 1080p SuperView at 25, 30, or 48 frames per second / Ultra Wide field of view
- 1080p at 25, 30, 50, or 60 frames per second / Ultra Wide or Medium field of view
- 1440p at 25 or 40 frames per second / Ultra Wide field of view
The GoPro HERO4 Session lacks the ability to shoot at the 2.7K, 2.7K SuperView, 4K, or 4K SuperView video resolutions offered by the HERO4, but that disadvantage might be offset for you by the HERO4 Session’s smaller size and lighter weight.
As a digital camera for capturing still images, the HERO4 Session can shoot at either 5 megapixels (Medium field of view) or 8 megapixels (Wide field of view). Built-in shooting modes include Auto Low Light, ProTune, and Spot Meter for photos or video, as well as Burst and Time Lapse for shooting photos.
Both waterproof and non-waterproof housings are available for the HERO4 Session, but the selection is not as extensive as what’s available for the HERO4. All of the same mounts and most other accessories work with both cameras. Both models offer wireless capabilities via WiFi or Bluetooth, which makes them compatible with the optional GoPro Smart Remote ($79.99), or the free GoPro mobile app that runs on most smartphones or tablets.
Entry-Level GoPro Models
The entry-level GoPro Hero+ and Hero+ LCD have a few key differentiators, such as the $100 price difference. The Hero+ LCD offers a built-in LCD touchscreen display, although a similar display is available as an optional accessory for the Hero+ (for an extra $79.99).
Both the Hero+ and Hero+ LCD are considered to be among GoPro’s entry-level cameras, although both are slightly more versatile than the lowest-end and least expensive Hero, which lacks certain popular shooting modes, features, and functions.
For example, both the Hero+ and Hero+ LCD shoot at only the Ultra Wide field of view, and their highest HD video resolution is 1080p (at 25, 30, 50, or 60 frames per second). Additional available video shooting resolutions include 720p (at 50 or 60 frames per second) and 720p SuperView (at 50 or 60 frames per second).
Both cameras can shoot digital images at 8-megapixel resolution, but lack popular features like ProTune, Night Photo, and Time Lapse. These entry-level cameras also cannot shoot photos and video simultaneously, and it’s not possible to connect an external microphone to these cameras (in order to capture higher-quality audio while shooting video). Most other GoPro Hero models have a built-in 3.5 mm stereo microphone jack, and all models have a built-in microphone.
Which Camera Should You Choose?
When you’re trying to decide which GoPro Hero camera model to purchase, consider issues like these:
- What will you primarily be using the camera to do?
- To what conditions will the camera be exposed?
- At what resolution(s) do you want to capture photos and/or video?
- Do you need the camera to have built-in wireless capability? This feature is important to control the camera remotely and to use the screen of your smartphone or tablet as a remote viewfinder.
- Will you need a built-in LCD screen on the camera to serve as a viewfinder or to preview what you’ve captured?
- Do you need the Night Photo shooting mode for shooting in low-light situations?
- Do you want to capture professional-quality content using GoPro’s proprietary ProTune shooting mode (which is only available on certain camera models)?
- What optional camera housings and accessories will you need to achieve the desired shooting results?
- If budget is a factor, keep in mind that in addition to the camera itself, you’ll probably need optional housings, mounts, and accessories; at least one (required) microSD memory card; and extra rechargeable batteries.
For a feature-by-feature comparison between the current GoPro Hero camera models, visit the company’s website.
Each camera model comes with most of the core equipment needed to start shooting photos or video right out of the box, such as one camera housing and one battery. However, the required microSD memory card is not included, and most users wind up needing additional camera batteries, as well as optional housings and mounts designed for specific shooting situations.
Go to GoPro’s website for information about all of the specialized mounts and accessories for the various GoPro Hero models, as well as details about the various housings, some of which offer waterproof protection down to 197 feet underwater.
Many other companies also offer compatible mounts and accessories for specialized shooting situations. To protect your camera investment, it’s best to use official GoPro camera housings with your camera. However, these housings can easily be used with GoPro’s optional mounts and accessories, or those offered by third parties.
Learning from Other GoPro Camera Users
Whether you invest in the lowest-end Hero, the highest-end HERO4 Black, or something in between, you’ll find that all GoPro Hero camera models are extremely versatile to shoot in a wide range of situations—particularly places where you’d never consider using a traditional point-and-shoot camera, or the cameras built into your smartphone or tablet.
In fact, GoPro users are constantly devising new and interesting ways to capture photos or video while they’re engaged in a wide range of activities, mounting these cameras onto their bodies, equipment, or even their pets. To learn from the shooting experiences of other people and discover the best camera, housing, mount, accessories, and shooting mode to use in specific situations, check out the GoPro website’s useful Shop By Activity feature.
Want to see the camera in action? Check out video from users! Go to YouTube, for example, and enter a phrase like “Underwater photography using a GoPro” in the Search box. You can easily find a wide range of GoPro-related tutorials for shooting while engaged in specific activities, or in various harsh climates such as snow (skiing, snowmobiling, ice fishing), ice (figure skating, hockey), underwater (swimming, scuba diving, snorkeling)—even in mid-air (skydiving)!
With the appropriate housing and mount, GoPro cameras can be used effectively for a wide range of activities on land, in the air, or above/under water: biking, surfing, boating, rock climbing, kayaking, skating/skateboarding, fishing, hunting, performing on stage, and more. GoPros also make ideal vacation cameras for everyone, because they’re small, lightweight, and you can take and use them safely almost anywhere.
GoPro cameras are sold at many retail stores around the world, and many third-party companies support these cameras with optional mounts, batteries, memory cards, and other useful accessories.
Whichever GoPro camera you select, prior to shooting you should get at least one or two extra microSD memory cards (with a maximum capacity of 64GB) and extra rechargeable batteries, so you can continue shooting without having to stop and transfer content from a full memory card to a mobile device or computer, or wait for a drained camera battery to recharge.
Jason R. Rich (www.jasonrich.com) is the author of Que’s iPad and iPhone Tips and Tricks, Fifth Edition, which covers how to use iOS 9 on all of the various iPhone and iPad models, including the iPhone 6s, iPhone 6s Plus, iPad Air 2, iPad mini 4, and iPad Pro. He is also the author of many other Que books, including My Digital Photography for Seniors, My GoPro Hero Camera, and Apple Watch and iPhone Fitness Tips and Tricks. Follow Jason R. Rich on Twitter or Instagram at @JasonRich7.