GoPro offers a wide variety of models these days, so choosing the right GoPro action camera can be a difficult decision. What you need to know is that across their various product lines, there are three main models of GoPro (with a couple variations off of those, which can be a bit confusing at first). Here’s our GoPro buyers guide for 2016 to help you choose which GoPro is right for you.
If you want the cheapest GoPro available:
If you’re concerned about getting the most affordable GoPro on the market, the choice is clear: the GoPro for you is the GoPro Hero.
The GoPro Hero is the cheapest GoPro in their lineup and the good news is, it shoots great video at impressive specs that were top-of-the-line not too long ago. The GoPro Hero shoots 1080p video at up to 30 frames per second, or 720p video at 60 frames per second (which can be converted to some pretty slick slow motion footage using their bundled software). Although this model of entry-level GoPro Hero doesn’t come with a screen, its sister model which is a bit more expensive does have a color LCD screen on the rear of the unit.
If you want the smallest and lightest GoPro available:
Some applications call for a really small camera, and for those uses, the GoPro Session is perfect. It’s small and comes in a nifty new square design. It’s also easy to use and works with the GoPro app on your cell phone for simple controls. It’s also waterproof up to 33 feet and shoots up to 1440p HD video.
Another benefit of the GoPro session is that it may also be easier to mount in some smaller cramped spaces, depending on what your needs are. It’s also a bit lighter than a normal GoPro, so if you’re attaching two of these to a helmet for instance, you’ll be able to tell the difference.
If you want the highest quality GoPro available:
The GoPro Hero 4 Black is the undisputed quality champion when it comes to HD action camera quality. The GoPro Hero 4 Black sits atop the GoPro lineup and beats just about every other compact video camera on the market today. What makes the Hero 4 Black so special? Well for starters it has a more advanced sensor than the other GoPro cameras (and those of their competitors too). Another thing that sets the GoPro Hero 4 apart is that it shoots ultra high definition 4K video. One cool advantage of 4k HD video is that you can stabilize it using software after your video has been shot so it turns out glossy-smooth.
If you want the best all-around value:
The GoPro Hero 4 Silver is a fantastic all around action sports camera. It shoots in 2.7K resolution (higher than HD though not quite 4K like the GoPro Hero 4 Black Edition), and its footage looks gorgeous. Plus it offers a color LCD touch screen which can help with menu navigation and shot framing, which even the Black Edition doesn’t offer. The LCD screen is also especially useful when you want to review footage after you’ve shot it to make sure that you got the right shot. Nothing is worse than thinking you got the shot, passing up the opportunity to reshoot it, and then getting back to a computer and reviewing it only to realize you had water on the lens or it was angled incorrectly.
While the GoPro Hero Silver isn’t quite as pricey as the Hero 4 Black, its footage is often comparable when shooting in HD modes. Like the Black Edition, the Silver GoPro version also features the ability to shoot in ProTune, an advanced color mode which can allow for more extensive tweaking once you’ve loaded it on to your computer (a feature not available in cheaper GoPros). And like all GoPros it can shoot videos as well as pictures and time-lapse photos in a variety of extreme wide angle and normal shooting modes.
Factors to consider when choosing which GoPro model to get
How much do I value quality vs price? The GoPro capable of shooting the highest quality footage is, as you might imagine, the most expensive. We would argue that unless you have specific high quality needs (like shooting in 4K), the GoPro Silver is the highest quality GoPro that normal folks should consider getting.
Will the GoPro I choose need certain types of accessories? The GoPro Session is newer and a slightly different form factor than the other GoPros so there are less accessories that exist for it made by both the GoPro company as well as third party equipment manufacturers. So make sure that if you want a specific type of mount that it exists for the GoPro Session before you purchase it.
Do I want a screen on the rear of my GoPro? The GoPro Silver features a high quality color LCD touchscreen on its rear which allows you to easily navigate the menus to choose recording modes as well as preview and review shots without hooking your action camera up to a computer. That’s a nice plus, but you probably won’t be using the screen while you’re recording because the camera will most likely be mounted somewhere– either on a helmet mount, a motorcycle mount or maybe a selfie stick or bicycle mount. The basic GoPro Hero also offers a screen on the reverse side for an upgrade of about $70. The GoPro Hero 4 Black model does not offer a screen because it’s meant for professional usage.
How important are size and weight? The traditionally shaped rectangular GoPros all weigh about the same amount (between 4 and 5 ounces), but the GoPro Session weighs only about half that, at a shockingly light 2.6 ounces and it’s also a bit smaller and cube shaped instead of rectangular. If size and weight are extremely important for your action camera uses, consider getting the Session instead of the full sized GoPro.