Ah, GoPro: the rugged little camcorder that brought Action Man’s action movies within the grasp of the Ordinary Man.
Sure, it didn't make up for unadventurous lifestyles (shooting the wheelspin on the 7.14 to Paddington won’t make you the next Ken Block), but GoPro’s grasp of great video kit has made for a whole generation of YouTube stuntman sensations and Red Bull-sponsored internet daredevils (and probably a host of bizarre A&E conversations).
Surely, then, with the announcement of the new Hero+, fans of recording all things fast and furious should be rejoicing? Alas, no: the Hero+ is the latest in a lineup of GoPro models which are far from lexically linear, leaving would-be Bear Grylls-es with nothing to record but their utter bewilderment at which one to buy.
But wait! We’re here to decipher the difference between a Hero+ and its LCD-toting brother; to distinguish the Hero4 Silver from the Hero3+ silver; to unravel the perplexing similarities of the Hero4 Black Music (yes, it’s really called that) and the Hero4 Black Motorsports. The list goes on.
Should the confusion of choice be just too complete, the safest selection would be the straight up Hero: not to be confused with the originally-titled Original Hero, the Hero is the most basic model on offer from GoPro.
It has no LCD screen beyond the front panel displaying mode information, it can’t be removed from its case beyond swapping the rear panels, and you can’t change the battery. It shoots in 1080p at 30fps, and 720p at 60fps, and takes stills at 5mp.
Why on Earth would you choose the most basic model? Because it absolutely does what it says on the tin.
If you’re a casual crusader looking to shoot some stunning swimming pool visuals on your next splashing holiday, or a free spirit wanting to record a rebellious road trip, the Hero will do the duty.
It doesn’t have Wi-Fi or a touchscreen, relying instead on good old-fashioned microSD (up to 32GB) and physical buttons – but what it does have in spades is a total focus on what GoPro is all about: forget endlessly positioning shots and remotely recording, just hit the QuikCapture button, dive down to 40m and start having fun.
And at US$130, that fun comes pretty cheap.
That’s a plus
That said, if you’re an avid action adventurer you may just want the ability to control and adjust your shots remotely via the GoPro smartphone App or Smart Remote, and share wirelessly over Wi-Fi and Bluetooth.
Good news! Both the Hero3 and the new Hero+ let you do all of that, whilst still weighing in at a reasonable US$200.
Why the same price? We’re as much in the dark as you, given that the Hero+ packs 1080p at 60fps over the Hero3’s 30fps, and 8MP stills capture over 5MP – all in GoPro’s signature Ultra Wide Angle framing.
Still, whatever the reason for GoPro outpricing (and outnaming) itself, the Hero+ is the intelligent option for anyone wanting hefty quality and enhanced usability over the Hero without taking a huge dent to the wallet.
It delivers everything we’ve come to expect from a GoPro, including time-lapse functionality, ultra-durability and waterproof wizardry, alongside connectivity to suit the 21st Century, all in a package dinky enough to strap to just about anything.
You could upgrade to the Hero3+ Silver, which packs pretty much the same specs as the Hero+, except for a boost to 10MP stills and 10fps burst shooting (up from 5fps) – but given the price hike between the two, we’d happily stick with the Hero+.
Of course, it still lacks slow-mo smarts and an LCD screen, so if you’re an extreme explorer not willing to whip out your smartphone on the slopes of Everest, you might want to look higher up the range…
Four for more
So, you want all the rugged smarts of the Hero+ with video quality to knock you off your ski boots? Then the Hero4 Silver might be the way to go.
The first GoPro to pack a tough-as-nails touch display, the Hero4 Silver is also a serious jump up in the shooting spec stakes: it captures 4K at 15fps, 2.7K at 30fps, 1440p at 48fps, 1080p at 60fps and 720p at 120fps.
What’s more, it’ll happily snap clear-as-crystal 12MP stills at a whopping 30fps, meaning no more worries when selecting your next mugshot for Mountain Man Monthly.
We’re not vouching for the usability of a tiny touchscreen through double-layered thermal mittens, but it sounds a darn sight more usable than a smartphone on the slopes – and there are always those trusty physical buttons should things get just that bit too smeary.
The Hero4 Silver also packs the same Wi-Fi and Bluetooth connectivity as the Hero+, meaning you could (in theory) keep the Silver full hermit and never remove it from its case.
If, then, you’re serious about shooting sports and capping activities and want a wad of change from US$400, the GoPro Hero 4 Silver might just be the one for you.
Back in black
As ever, though, there are those who need the best. Those who will shell out an extra ton to get 4K resolution filming at 30fps, and 1080p captures at 120fps. Those who need to grab 30 12MP stills every single second.
For those people, there is the Hero4 Black. Black, we assume, in reference to the meaninglessness of your high-octane lifestyle without one of these bad boys to capture it.
The Hero4 Black is unquestionably the pinnacle of GoPro performance, packing all the features of the Silver whilst upping the spec levels to such highs you’ll be left wondering what wizadry the Hero-makers have used to cram it all in.
You do, of course, have to pay for all that kit, and for mere mortals (or even part-time cliff jumpers) the Black offers far more quality than you’re ever likely to actually need.
For one thing, 4K at 30fps might sound like the most glorious thing to happen to your retinae since Sony announced it’s Z5 Premium, until you consider the hit your hard drive will take. And you better have fibre optic broadband, otherwise those full-res trail-blazing flicks will take decades to upload.
Still, the Black is twice as fast, twice as powerful, and delivers magnificent video results in almost all situations. It is, in short, a winner.
A Session without compression
What if you’re happy with mid-range mechanics, but want a smaller package? GoPro’s heard you, and given the world the Hero4 Session.
Tantalisingly tiny in comparison to its bulky brethren, the Session shaves 35% off the Hero4’s size and 40% off its weight whilst still packing superb shooting qualifications: 1440p at 30fps should be good enough for most, alongside 8MP stills captures at 10fps.
The Session does take a hit in the rugged stakes, being waterproof only to 10m (compared to 40m for the Hero4 Silver and Black), and gives out just 2 hours of battery juice before going to sleep.
Why elect for the Session, then? Because if you’re all about sizing up shots on the go with an ultra-portable pro-performer it’s ideal.
The Session is completely designed to be used with the GoPro smartphone app or Smart Remote, which, whilst limiting where and when you can use the dinkier device, means you’ll almost always end up with decent framing and be able to have heaps of fun remote recording with your mates.
If the Hero4 Silver were a Range Rover, the Session would be your city car runaround: you wouldn’t take it too far off-road, but you can sure as heck enjoy it round the town.
So, how Pro should you Go?
It would be anything but an overstatement to suggest the GoPro lineup is a little saturated – and with repackaged bundles like the Hero4 Motorsports and Surf options available, things are only getting more confusing.
Which GoPro should you opt for in a range so vast? The simplest option is also the most basic: sure, the standard Hero doesn’t pack the same super-specs as its high-end siblings, but it does give you everything you should expect and need from a rugged recorder.
If you do want to upgrade, stumping up for the Hero4 Silver may just be your best bet: it’s a mega-tough combo of quality, usability and reasonable pricing. Anything more is probably a bit excessive unless you’re a pro.