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With the brand new GoPro HERO4 Black and HERO4 Silver, the challenge isn’t figuring out which GoPro version you need — that’s easy. The challenge isn’t even choosing which action sports camera to buy, no, the challenge is making sure that when you choose a GoPro action camera that you will actually use it.
You know you want one, but you haven’t pulled the trigger yet — here’s how to stop obsessing over the tech specs and make the right decision.
Why You Need a GoPro
As an action sports camera, the GoPro still reigns supreme in overall quality, cost, and accessories — and the HERO4 Black, with its 4K video at 30 frames per second, is astounding in such a small form factor. And the entire line of HERO cameras captures sharks under water and flies with guys falling to Earth in wing suits. It’s great mounted on helmets for skiing, bike riding, and motorcycle adventures, and it hangs under civilian remote-controlled drones. Heck, even the guys at the Fishing with Ladin TV show are using GoPro cameras for first-person perspective video shot from their chest mounts, for underwater trout release clips, and for the occasional pole-mounted motion shot.
If you have kids, the GoPro’s fixed wide-angle lens lets you point the camera with impunity and pretty much capture everything — like an epic backyard water fight or trampoline showoff session. If you’re close to the action, you’ll get some great footage. If you’re trying to film from afar — like a kid’s sporting event — you’ll probably be disappointed by their tiny figures in the resulting video. But a horizon shot of waves crashing on the beach at sunset? Good to go.
As an action camera, the GoPro has few buttons but plenty of settings. You can choose the frame size of video output as well as frames recorded per second, and while all of this isn’t exactly hard to set up, you must read the instructions and practice stepping through the menus before you hit the great outdoors. If you don’t read the instructions, you might take a photo instead of video or take 30 pictures in a one-second burst instead of getting the time-lapse series you intended.
On the flip side, the camera is versatile — you can take photos and selfies and use it with a remote WiFi controller. It’s durable and has an excellent waterproof housing. The video quality is insanely good for the price and size of the GoPro — even the HERO4 Silver and HERO3+ will shoot 4K video that you can play back on the new 4K Ultra HD TVs.
You can mount your GoPro anywhere, and because GoPro is so popular, you can find accessories and extra batteries and specialized mounts all over the place. There’s even the Sportsman Mount, which lets you mount your GoPro to shotguns, rifles, fishing rods, bows, and spearguns. There are chest harnesses and head straps, a ‘Fetch’ harness for mounting a GoPro to your dog. A new 3-Way mount folds down to a camera grip, shape-shifting extension arm, or tripod.
If you can imagine shooting video from some perspective, odds are, you can film it with a GoPro camera.
That is undeniably cool.
Why You Shouldn’t Get a GoPro
If you don’t participate in active sports, the GoPro is overkill. If you have a limited budget and only rarely want to shoot active sports, consider a waterproof rugged camera instead. Most rugged cameras have tripod mounts at the bottom, which means you can screw them into generic mounting harnesses or systems and replicate the basic GoPro experience without actually using a GoPro.
In fact, a rugged waterproof camera might actually be the smartest move for a lot of sportsmen and active outdoor adventurers. Today’s waterproof cameras are super easy to use, and they come with automatic settings to help you take great photos or zoom in to around 5x. The GoPro does not zoom. If you’re trying to video a pair of elk battling it out from 100 yards away, a 5x optical zoom is a big deal. And, in the heat of the moment, shooting video on a rugged waterproof camera is as simple as pushing the video record button, which is also easy for most any buddy to understand without special instruction.
The GoPro Editions: HERO, HERO4 Silver, HERO4 Black
The newest GoPro cameras now come in three core editions: The HERO is $129 (approximately) but only has a 5 megapixel sensor and shoots 1080p at 30 frames per second (it’s not terrible, but the new entry-level HERO is hard to recommend unless your action shots involve slow action).
If you’re really into doing cool stuff, your next choice is the $299 HERO3+ Silver, which has a 10 megapixel sensor and will record video at 1080p at 60 frames per second. It’s pretty good, but if you plan on busting big moves or think you might be in the right place at the right time to see a killer whale jump out of the water in front of your kayak, you might as well shell out around $499 to get the HERO4 Black, which will film up to 4K video at 30 frames per second — or better yet, a respectable 1080p at 120 fps, which means the you’ll be able to show off the killer whale jump in amazingly crisp slo-mo. While you’re at it, it has a 12 megapixel sensor that is smart enough to capture 30 photos in a single one-second burst.
The new wild card in the HERO lineup, though, is the HERO4 Silver. The new HERO4 Silver is the most versatile HERO ever because it is the first-ever GoPro to come with a built-in touch display. This display lets you control the camera, frame shots, and play back content to see if you captured what you had hoped to video. You can view, tap, and swipe the screen. It’s far more intuitive than learning how to manage a bunch of settings with a series of button presses.
The HERO4 Silver comes in at around $399, which is a little more expensive than most rugged point-and-shoot adventure cameras that are also capable of delivering 1080p video at 60 frames per second. Still, the form factor is right for action sports, and the new touch display makes it far more versatile for more people to use. If you’re looking to bust out a slo-mo set piece, you can record at 720p at 120 frames per second — and it’ll look great on YouTube.
For slower shots where you want luscious detail, the HERO4 Silver will record 4K video at 15 frames per second or 2.7K at 30 frames per second. Both the HERO4 Black and Silver editions include newer low-light recording modes for great night shots.
While the HERO4 Black does not have a built-in LCD, you can outfit it with one for another $79.
The LCD Touch BacPac accessory that snaps onto the back of a GoPro and works as an LCD viewfinder. It helps you frame shots, as well as navigate the settings in a more intuitive way. It comes with additional case components so you can still use your GoPro underwater.
Once you’ve shot the awesomeness, GoPro has a free app you can download to your Mac or PC that lets you import the video and makes polished movies. It works pretty well, but again, unless you’re a video expert, you’ll need to watch some GoPro tutorials and read the online directions to use it effectively.
The app, it turns out, is a lot like the GoPro itself — powerful and capable but you have to intentionally pay attention and learn how to use it to make it all become second nature. Time on task? A couple hours. What does this mean? All it means is that your instant gratification faces a short — but real — learning curve.
All-in-all, getting a GoPro is a commitment: If you commit to giving the GoPro some mindshare — commit to finding ways to use it when you head outside — the GoPro will deliver.
GoPro Best Gift Ever?
As a gift, the GoPro is especially great because some people hesitate to buy it themselves because they aren’t riding whitewater kayaks off of waterfalls. They aren’t sure they are cool enough to buy one — once they get one, though, sometimes the GoPro will act like a catalyst to get them seeing their world in new ways. A dad might not start base jumping, but he could film his little kids jumping into a pool in a flurry of underwater bubbles and a moment of stillness. And teenagers? They’ll come up with surprising angles and storyline narratives. So a GoPro as a gift? Hell yeah.
Ultimate GoPro Review Recommendations
For fishing with the family or playing on a beach, boat or river in non-aggressive ways, I’ve got to recommend a rugged waterproof camera — like the excellent Nikon AW120 — instead of a GoPro. Why? Most anyone can pick up a point-and-shoot waterproof camera and take video or photos. This means that you can hand the waterproof point-and-shoot camera to your wife, a buddy, or a kid, and there’s a high likelihood that they’ll be able to turn it on themselves and take photos and video.
If you just hand a GoPro to someone else — even the easier-to-use HERO4 line, odds are they won’t know how to use it, so you’ll have to hand it to them ready to go. Even with the new QuickCapture button feature that turns on a GoPro and starts recording video, a newbie might accidentally press and hold that button too long, which will enable Time Lapse photo capture instead . If you bust a move waterskiing in this situation, can you trust a GoPro newbie to get the shot? Maybe not. It only takes 5 minutes of training, but sometimes you forget to do the training before you need it.
If you really like to get outdoors, though, and you want to do things like jump from rocks 30 feet above a river or lake, you’ll want a GoPro. Most rugged waterproof cameras aren’t set up to handle a sudden high-pressure smash into water and could leak. The GoPro’s case, though, is very strong and you can take down 131 feet underwater. In addition, the size and weight is versatile — you can mount it in more places, more easily than pretty much anything else on the market.
If you turn your mind to the powers of GoPro, GoPro will reward you. That’s the bargain you’re buying into with GoPro.