Although the idea of a wearable POV camera dates back several decades, the first action camera to be offered on the consumer market was a GoPro.
The Story Behind GoPro
A young man was off on a surfing trip somewhere far off, and wanted to capture quality photos of all the action, but found there was no way to get close-up angles. This same young man also very badly wanted to invent something. That was in 2002, and that same year, Nicholas “Nick” Woodman founded GoPro. Two years of work later, the first GoPro was introduced, the HERO 35mm. It was a photo camera, small, wrist-wearable, and waterproof down to 15', and it shot film!
A few years later, in 2006, GoPro followed up with the Digital HERO 1. This one was digital, and shot photo and video. With subsequent follow-ups, now-standard features were added, such as an immersive, 170-degree ultra-wide-angle lens. Alongside the progress, the cameras also kept getting smaller and smaller. Then came the HERO4 line, bringing with it 4K video recording at real-time 30 fps. And now GoPro is offering the HERO5 line, with its leading model, the HERO5 Black, being perhaps the best action camera ever made.
Action Cameras Get Popular
This first action camera was designed for action-sports enthusiasts, but with releases of successive GoPro models, action cameras gained popularity among all types of users, from those within the general population to the most serious professionals. Many other brands have since jumped on the action-camera wagon, but GoPro has maintained itself at the forefront of them all. GoPros are used by the dozens in many blockbuster films, such as Captain Phillips, starring Tom Hanks. They’re even used in operating rooms to record surgeries. And don’t be surprised to find one strapped on the head of a father playing with his kids in a swimming pool.
If you’re interested in getting an action camera, whether for yourself or as a gift, a GoPro is likely at or near the top of your list. With this GoPro Guide, we hope to present to you all the GoPros currently available, compare one against the other, explain what accessories are needed for different activities, and enable you to make a clear decision.
Which GoPro Is Right for You?
There are five GoPros you can choose from at B&H: the HERO5 Black, HERO5 Session, HERO4 Black, HERO4 Silver, and HERO Session.
GoPro HERO5 Black
The GoPro HERO5 Black is the most powerful GoPro yet. It features a 12MP image sensor and captures Ultra HD 4K resolution video (3840 x 2160) at real-time 30/25 fps and cinematic 24 fps. It also records 2.7K, Full HD 1080p, and other resolutions. In 1080p, you can set the frame rate to up to 120 fps, which allows for slow-motion playback. If 120 fps isn’t slow enough for you, then you can set recording to 720p at 240 fps. The camera also shoots 12MP still images and offers burst rates of up to 30 fps. However, it’s the combination of this capture capability with a collection of sophisticated, new features that makes the HERO5 Black a very special action camera, as follows.
The HERO5 Black is waterproof to depths of 33' without any external housing required. This provides convenience and allows for slightly better image and audio capture because there are fewer layers between the camera and subject. (However, there is a separate housing that allows for use 196' down underwater—more on this later.) The camera also has voice control. Instead of pressing the record button, you can now speak commands such as “GoPro, start recording” or “GoPro, take a photo.” You may not be able to use this feature while flying down a ski slope, since it requires several conditions to be met, but in more normal conditions you’ll be fine; and perhaps with future firmware updates the feature will work on the slopes, as well.
The HERO5 Black is capable of capturing raw still images (as .GPR files). Instead of getting a fully processed, ready-to-go image, you can have all the data captured by the sensor, minimally processed, so you can do as much as possible with the image in editing software like Adobe Photoshop or Lightroom. The camera also has a WDR feature (Wide Dynamic Range) for still-image capture. Depending on your environment, with WDR turned on, you’ll have fewer clipped highlights and fewer black shadows in your photos.
Another new feature is a Linear Field of View, in addition to the common fields of view to choose from, such as Wide, Medium, and Narrow. With Linear FOV selected, the camera automatically corrects fish-eye distortion, which is when people, buildings, and other objects look oval in an image. Because action cameras capture very wide angles, they are prone to fish-eye distortion in certain conditions, like when shooting aerial footage. Normally, this can be fixed in editing, but the HERO5 Black can take care of it automatically. Linear FOV mode is limited to 2.7K and 1080p recording.
The HERO5 Black also adds more features to Protune. Protune is a mode you can select to access a store of features and manual settings that will ultimately let you perform more advanced post-production. For example, images shot in Protune mode can be color-corrected in greater detail than otherwise. One of the key new additions to Protune in the HERO5 Black is separate raw audio capture capability. You can have a raw audio track tied to the video file but totally separate from it, so that you can work on it separately in post-production and get the most out of it. All the existing Protune features were also carried over—white balance, color, ISO limit, sharpness, shutter, and exposure value compensation.
The HERO5 Black also offers internal video stabilization, designed to provide you with smoother video. This is a digital type of stabilization, like the kind you can achieve in editing software, so, if you’re not planning on applying stabilization in post-production, this feature may save the day for you. Another convenient feature is Location Capture, which allows you to automatically tag your GPS location to any image or video you capture. This features enables you to sort through your files by location, as well as simply determine where a particular shot was taken. The HERO5 Black also has an upgraded touchscreen display over previous models, with higher resolution, brightness, and sharpness, and a more user-friendly menu.
GoPro HERO5 Session
The best way to describe the HERO5 Session is the “little brother” of the HERO5 Black. Why? It incorporates some of the new features of the HERO5 Black, like video stabilization and raw audio, but it has a smaller sensor and less frame rates to choose from. The HERO5 Session can record 4K video at 30 fps just like the HERO5 Black, but because it has a smaller, 10MP sensor, there will be a difference in low-light sensitivity, video noise, and slightly in depth of field. Also, it captures 10MP still images in contrast to 12MP. So who’s it for? Just about anybody! Although 12MP is better, 10MP is highly advanced, too. Considering the image quality and all the features, the HERO5 Black is for the professional, while the HERO5 Session is for the professionally oriented. (The HERO5 Session is also waterproof to 33' without a housing, but doesn’t support a dive housing.)
|HERO5 Black||HERO5 Session|
GoPro HERO4 Black
Take the HERO5 Black, subtract all the special new features, and an LCD, and you’ve basically got yourself the HERO4 Black (which isn’t black, by the way). Not too long ago, the HERO4 Black was the cream of the crop of GoPro. As far as image quality, it’s right up there with the HERO5 Black. It has the same sensor size, same recording resolutions and frame rates, and all of the same Protune features except for the new raw audio feature. So, the HERO4 Black is still the professional’s choice, but without all the extra features.
The HERO4 Black is not waterproof as is, but it comes with a 131' waterproof housing. With the release of the HERO5 Black, a firmware update was also released that adds Linear FOV to the HERO4 Black.
GoPro HERO4 Silver
The HERO4 Silver is not your 4K camera. It shoots 4K at up to only 15 fps. With 30 fps being the real-time frame rate, 15 fps will deliver choppy video. You can select this option for 4K frame grabs, 4K time-lapse capture, and other off-beat reasons, but for normal video capture, the HERO4 Silver is a 2.7K camera, and 2.7K is still a very high resolution. The HERO4 Silver also has a 12MP sensor and captures 12MP still images.
If you’re going to compare the HERO4 Silver to any other camera here, compare it to the HERO4 Black. 4K versus 2.7K is the main difference between the two. The other big differences are that the HERO4 Silver does have a display on the rear, and in frame-rate options. Otherwise, they have same key features. So, in a give-and-take, with the HERO4 Silver you get fewer recording options but at the same time you get an LCD. With the release of the HERO5 Black, a firmware update was also released that adds Linear FOV to the HERO4 Silver.
|HERO5 Black||HERO4 Black||HERO4 Silver|
GoPro HERO Session
Lastly, we have the HERO Session. This is the GoPro for the enthusiast and the beginner. This one is the “littlest” brother of them all. The HERO Session is exactly like the HERO5 Session in design, and is also waterproof to 33' without any housing required. It shoots up to Full HD 1080p resolution video and 8MP still images. The HERO Session is the one that you simply turn on and let capture all your adventures in HD. It’s sleek, compact, and user friendly.
The HERO5 Black is currently the most advanced action camera to come from GoPro. It is the professional’s choice. It shoots the maximum image quality offered by GoPro, and is loaded with special features. The HERO5 Session offers slightly lower image quality than the HERO5 Black, but incorporates some of its special features. It is for the professionally oriented user. The HERO4 Black is also the professional’s choice, but minus many of the special features. The HERO4 Silver is very similar to the HERO4 Black, but shoots up to 2.7K resolution video instead of 4K. And the HERO Session is the sleek, user-friendly starter camera that shoots up to Full HD 1080p resolution. All these cameras have built-in Wi-Fi and Bluetooth that allow you to pair them with the GoPro App for remote monitoring, control, playback, and sharing. They all have built-in mics, and, except for the HERO Session, all support external mics via optional adapters, described below.
A GoPro is nothing unless it can be worn or attached as necessary. There are thousands of accessories for GoPro from many different brands, but there are enough from GoPro themselves, all very well made and very stylish. Let’s cover the key ones.
Housings A housing is almost always a must with a GoPro. Pretty much all GoPro mounts and supports have either a standard GoPro 3-prong mount or GoPro quick-release buckle adapter. So, in most cases, the camera must have a matching 2-prong interface or buckle. The cameras themselves don’t have any of these, but their compatible housings do.
The HERO5 Black doesn’t come with a housing, but supports a housing called The Frame for HERO5 Black. This housing does nothing other than provide a 2-prong interface and mounting buckle. The 2-prong interface is a part of it, while the buckle can be attached and removed. The HERO5 Session and HERO Session come with a similar housing called The Standard Frame for HERO Session Cameras. This one also simply provides a 2-prong interface and mounting buckle.
The HERO5 Black also supports the Super Suit Dive Housing for HERO5 Black, which allows the camera to be used in up to 196' of water. This housing comes with waterproof and skeleton backdoors, so when you’re not using the camera underwater, instead of removing the entire housing, you can just switch backdoors and get full access to the camera’s touchscreen display.
The HERO4 Black and HERO4 Silver come with a waterproof housing called a Standard Housing. It provides a 2-prong interface and mounting buckle, and allows the camera to be used in up to 131' of water. There are also alternatives to the Standard Housing available for the HERO4 models. They are exactly same but have different finishes. One is the Blackout Housing, for those who prefer a matte black finish. Another alternative is the Camo Housing, which has a camouflage graphic. The Camo Housing comes in two versions, the Camo Housing Realtree MAX-5, ideal for waterfowl habitats, such as open fields and flooded marshes, and the Camo Housing Realtree Xtra, designed for woodland environments.
Another housing for the HERO4 models is the Skeleton Housing for HERO4, which has open sides that provide access to the camera’s ports. This housing is designed for live-feed applications, charging the camera while recording, and capturing better audio when the camera is static (when it’s in motion, wind becomes an issue). The HERO4 models also support the Dive Housing for HERO4, which has a 196' depth rating.
Adhesive Mounts and More Now let’s cover accessories that you can mount onto using the above housings.
GoPro Tripod Mounts allow you to mount your GoPro on a tripod, monopod, or selfie stick. The set includes a standard 3-prong adapter and standard buckle adapter to which you can secure your GoPro. Each has a 1/4"-20 threaded hole on the bottom for attaching to a matching 1/4"-20 screw on a tripod, monopod, or selfie stick.
GoPro Flat + Curved Adhesive Mounts can be used to attach your GoPro to pretty much anything with a flat or curved surface, such as a motorcycle helmet or a wall. They simply stick on and offer a buckle adapter. They’re industrial strength and waterproof, and can be used without risk of falling off (especially considering how lightweight GoPros are), but at the same time they can be easily removed with heat from a hairdryer.
Similarly, the GoPro Removable Instrument Mount is an adhesive designed to attach to musical instruments, such as drums and guitars, so you can capture your jam sessions. And whereas the Flat & Curved Adhesive Mounts require a hairdryer to be removed, the Instrument Mount simply peels off when you pull on a protruding tab.
The following two accessories can help you get the most out of your adhesive mounts. The GoPro Gooseneck is a flexible arm that lets you point the camera exactly where you want it. Featuring a mounting buckle on the bottom, it simply clips right into the adhesive mounts. The GoPro Ball Joint Buckle works the same way, but instead of adjusting like a goose-neck, it swivels into different positions.
GoPro Surfboard Mounts work the same exact way as adhesive mounts but are designed to better withstand water, and can be used not only on surfboards, but also boat decks, kayaks, and other water gear. They also come with camera anchors and tethers to ensure your camera won’t fall into the water in the event of an accident.
The GoPro Suction Cup Mount can be used to secure your GoPro to car doors and windows, motorcycles, boats, and most other smooth surfaces. It’s very compact at only 3.4" in diameter, and has been tested successfully at speeds of 150+ mph.
Clamp Mounts The GoPro Jaws: Flex Clamp is like a pair of compact pliers. It can grip any object up to 2" thick, and it offers a quick-release buckle adapter. It comes with an adjustable gooseneck that can be attached into it, so you can either secure your GoPro directly or into it or into the gooseneck.
The Jam is similar to the Flex Clamp, but has an articulating arm integrated into it. It’s designed particularly for musical instruments. It’s meant to be gripped onto guitars, drums, mic stands, and other instruments and be adjusted to capture unique angles, such as a musician’s fingers plucking guitar strings.
For attaching to handlebars, seat posts, ski poles, and pretty much any other poles or tubes, GoPro offers the Handlebar / Seatpost / Pole Mount and the Large Tube Mount, supporting from 0.9 to 2.5" between them. Both have a compact and minimalistic design and are capable of fitting in tight spaces. Those looking for just a seat mount can use the Pro Seat Rail Mount, which attaches specifically to the rear of two-rail saddle seats.
For rifles, GoPro has designed a more tailored clamp mount, the Sportsman Mount. This one allows you to attach two cameras back-to-back, one pointing forward and one backward. You can capture yourself and the target at the same time. The Sportsman Mount can also be used with shotguns, revolvers, paintball guns, fishing rods, bows, and similar items with a mounting space of 0.4 – 0.9" in diameter.
Helmet Mounts The GoPro Helmet Front + Side Mount is an adhesive mount that attaches to your helmet, and it comes with a swivel adapter that lets you adjust your camera. The GoPro Helmet Strap Mount is designed for vented helmets. It secures to the helmet by strapping into its vents. For military and police helmets, GoPro has the NVG Mount, designed to attach into standard NVG (night vision goggle) mounting plates, which are found on many military/police helmets. There’s also a helmet mount specifically for the Session cameras—the GoPro Low Profile Helmet Swivel Mount for HERO Session. It’s an adhesive mount meant to be attached to the side of a helmet, and it’s called “Low Profile” because it hugs the helmet, staying close to it.
Strap Mounts For wearing the camera on your person, GoPro offers a variety of strap mounts. One of the more universal ones is The Strap, which is a set of three separate straps, for the hand, wrist, and arm/leg. Use the one most appropriate, and capture your adventures in rock-climbing, moto-cross, snowboarding, surfing, and just about any other activity, hands-free. All three can also be used underwater. Featuring the same concept is the Head Strap. What’s convenient about it is that you can wear it under a hat or helmet if you want. Then there’s the Chesty, which secures around your upper body. The Chesty is a nice option for applications like bike riding. And if perhaps you’re taking a kid along for the ride, there’s a Junior Chesty for him or her. And if you also take your dog along, there’s a Chesty-like Fetch for it.
If you want to capture images underwater, there are a few GoPro filters available that will allow you to capture proper images. Underwater environments come with their own color casts, and these filters provide the necessary color correction. The Red Dive Filter for HERO5 Black Dive Housing, Red Dive Filter for HERO4 Standard Housing, and Red Dive Filter for HERO4 Dive Housing are for blue saltwater or clear fresh water; the Magenta Dive Filter for HERO5 Black Dive Housing, Magenta Dive Filter for HERO4 Standard Housing, and Magenta Dive Filter for HERO4 Dive and Wrist Housings are for green waters. There’s also a Red Snorkel Filter for HERO5 Black for snorkeling. Currently, all these filters are available only for the HERO5 Black and HERO4 Black and Silver, but there are options available for the Session cameras from third parties. You may also want to take along some Anti-Fog Inserts. They drop into the sides of the housing to prevent fogging underwater, as well as in cold-weather environments, such as ski resorts.
For kayaking, surfboarding, and similar activities, you might want to take along a Floaty. The Floaty is a flotation device that keeps your GoPro afloat in the water, and it is bright orange so it’s easy to spot. It’s designed to be used with the camera housing, and is compatible with The Frame and Dive Housings for the HERO5 Black, and the Standard and Dive Housings of the HERO4 models. It attaches to the backdoor of the housing using an adhesive anchor, and it comes with spare backdoors for The Frame and Standard Housings so you can have one backdoor for regular use and one for the Floaty. This way you won’t have to take everything apart every time. There’s also a Floaty for HERO Session Cameras.
Every GoPro has a built-in mic, but if you want higher-quality audio, you need to connect an external mic. For this GoPro offers special adapters that allow you to connect an external mic into the camera’s USB port. There’s the Pro 3.5mm Mic Adapter for the HERO5 Black and HERO5 Session, which have USB-C ports, and the 3.5mm Mic Adapter for the HERO4 Black and Silver, which have micro-USB ports. The HERO Session does not support external audio.
360 Spherical VR
360-degree video capture became very popular in 2016. More and more VR glasses, such as the Samsung Gear VR, were developed for viewing 360 videos; 360 venues, like GoPro VR and YouTube 360, got bigger and bigger; and many 360 rigs were released by various brands. The 360 rigs hold multiple GoPros together at different angles, so that each one captures a different part of the location. The recordings are then stitched together in a 360-stitching software, to be viewed with VR glasses or on 360 venues.
GoPro has everything you need for a 360 workflow—the GoPro VR venue, Kolor Autopano Video Pro 2 stitching software, and the sleek Omni 360 rig. The Omni is compatible specifically with the HERO4 Black. It houses six of these cameras in a compact form factor. It also offers multiple 1/4"-20 threaded mounting holes, so the Omni can be used mounted on numerous support accessories, such as handgrips and clamps. But the Omni is more than just stylish rig. It also has an advanced sync mechanism that allows the six cameras to act as one, providing for efficient setup and reduced motion artifacts and this, in turn, allows for more efficient stitching.
Aerial and Gimbal Video
The GoPro Karma Quadcopter made big waves when it was released in late 2016. Karma is compact, folds up even more compact, and has many special features. What’s also great about this is that the stabilizer component can be removed and combined with an included Karma Handle into a complete 3-axis handheld stabilizer, the Karma Grip, which can also be purchased separately.
The Karma Grip facilitates smooth video capture. It reduces vibrations when you run, walk, and even just stand still with the camera. As part of the copter or sold separately, the Karma Grip comes with a harness for the HERO5 Black, but it also supports harnesses for the HERO4 line and HERO Session models.
One of the handiest GoPro accessories is The Handler, which is simply a comfortable handgrip. Then there’s the more elaborate GoPro 3-Way, which extends from a handgrip to a selfie stick to a tripod. And if you want just a small, desktop tripod, check out the GoPro Mini Tripod.
The GoPro Remo is a voice-activated remote control for the HERO5 Black and HERO5 Session. It allows you to relay voice commands to the camera from up to 33' away. It can also be used up to 16' underwater with a button. The GoPro Smart Remote is a 600-footrange remote control, compatible with all five cameras, and it can control up to 50 cameras at once. It’s also waterproof down to 32'.
The GoPro WindSlayer is a foam windscreen for the HERO4 cameras. When you use the camera’s built-in mic, the WindSlayer will reduces wind noise and provide you with better audio. It’s meant for use in high-speed activities or windy environments.
For extra battery power with the HERO4 models, you can pick up spare batteries or attach the Battery BacPac to the rear of the camera. Another variation of the BacPac is the LCD Touch BacPac, compatible with the HERO4 Black. It’s the same as the original but features a touchscreen LCD, which is perfect for the HERO4 Black because it doesn’t have an LCD. The touchscreen LCD can be used for setting up, monitoring, and playing back your recordings, as well as accessing all of the camera settings. The LCD Touch BacPac also has a speaker and headphone jack.
When you have too much GoPro stuff to keep in your regular bag, check out the GoPro Seeker, a stylish, weather-resistant backpack that fits five GoPros, the Karma Quadcopter, GoPro 3-Way, accessories, personal gear, and hydration bladder. It also features integrated chest and shoulder mounts.
That’s it for the main accessories. Feel free to also check out the many third-party accessories for GoPro, such as the snorkeling masks from H2O Ninja.
On a final note, one of the things people enjoy about their GoPro is the GoPro app, which syncs up with your GoPro over Wi-Fi. The app enables remote control, monitoring, and playback right from your phone or tablet; and depending on what GoPro you use, it also allows you to get more creative. For example, with the HERO5 Black, your recordings can be transferred to your phone within seconds over Wi-Fi, and then you can perform minor editing tasks in a very user-friendly interface.
What are your thoughts on GoPro cameras and accessories? Do you have any questions? Post them in the Comments section, below.