(Pocket-lint) - With the rise of image stabilisation in smartphones, the importance of the action camera market has reduced somewhat in recent years. After all, your phone is likely water resistant and something you already carry around with you. But that said, there are still situations where an action camera is preferable, particularly if you want to mount it easily to your bike, helmet or chest. And there's one company that does action cameras better than the others: GoPro.
While there's more competition now, GoPro still has arguably the best all-round ecosystem of action cameras. And thanks to some product line refreshing over the past couple of years, the sheer number of options has reduced to make choosing one much easier. So which GoPro should you buy?
What GoPro offers
GoPro's entire lineup has gone through something of a streamlining process and complete refresh over the past couple of years. Whereas prior years saw various models, including a budget, tiny Session, the company now only offers versions of the flagship Hero series and the 360-degree Max.
In 2018, it moved around its product line quite a bit to achieve this streamlining, and further slimmed it down in 2019 with the launch of the Hero 8 and Max. In 2020 and 2021, that process was refined further. Although, older models are available from third party retailers.
GoPro also offers an array of accessories, from small handheld mounts that act as tripods, to floating cases and handles. It also has a great, easy to use mobile app for editing. As an ecosystem goes, it's pretty unbeatable.
Our pick of the best action cameras from GoPro
GoPro Hero 10 Black
After such a drastic redesign in 2020, it didn't make sense for GoPro to completely rip it up and start again. From the outside - apart from the bright blue branding - there's no real difference between the Hero 10 and the Hero 9 that came before it. But the internals have been given an impressive power boost.
The camera is powered by a second generation custom processor called the GP2 and that has enabled a host of improved video capture and stills capabilities. With this additional power, the camera can shoot up to 5.3K at 60fps, 4K up to 120fps or 2.7K up to 240fps, essentially doubling the frame-rate of its predecessor.
That's not all though. Along with a new sensor, the camera has improved low light capabilities so that dim scenery has a lot less noise than before, while also enhancing HyperSmooth stabilisation so that it works in more modes with higher resolutions and frame rates.
It works with all the same Mods as the Hero 10, is built to the same water-resistant (10m) standards and has the mounting feet built into the bottom of the camera for convenience.
GoPro Hero 9 Black
GoPro's 2020 Hero is the culmination of years of improving stabilisation algorithms. HyperSmooth 3.0 builds on the Hero 8's capabilities by automatically stabilising shakes and judders from your footage an making it impossibly smooth. Change direction suddenly and it'll smoothly pan, using a smart algorithm.
There were two key improvements on previous cameras, however, which make it very appealing for any buyer. One of those is undoubtedly the larger battery which lasts much longer than its predecessors. The other is that there's an actually useful screen on the front that you can use to frame yourself when facing the lens. It's no longer just a black and white screen with basic information.
GoPro improved the audio too, putting a better microphone at the front of the camera as well building in a water expelling channel to further improve its waterproofing versus the older models.
Video capabilities include 5K recording at 30fps, 4K up to 60fps, 1080p live-streaming as well as slow motion 240fps and a number of timelapse and hyperlapse capture modes, including a Night Lapse photo option.
It's arguably one of the best value flagship Hero cameras to date as well, with a starting price well below some of its predecessors if you buy it with a GoPro subscription.
GoPro doesn't want you to think of the Max as a reboot of the Fusion, but in a lot of ways it is. Likewise, in a lot of ways it isn't. It's a 360-degree camera, that's true, but its more than that and GoPro has completely changed the way you edit video from it.
You can shoot using either of the two 180-degree cameras on its own, and it features even better stabilisation than the Hero8. As well as using the HyperSmooth technology of the more standard camera, it uses its ultra wide lenses to automatically level the horizons, so not only does it make all your footage smooth, it's also always level.
It has a better mic than the Hero8 too, in fact, offering similar performance to the shotgun mic mod that you can buy for the Hero8. It has six mics in total, offering that 360-degree audio.
Of course, you can shoot in 360 too, using both cameras, and then you simply use the GoPro mobile app to reframe any of the footage you capture in a way that's much more user friendly than the method offered by the Fusion. You can also use a TimeWarp feature that lets you speed up and slow down footage while panning around the 360-degree footage.
Like the Hero, it has built-in mounting arms, so you'll never need a case for it to mount it to any of your handles. What's more, it's only $100 more than the single-camera device.
GoPro Hero 8 Black
GoPro didn't just enhance the action camera's capabilities when it launched the Hero 8 Black, it also brought with it a new, more practical design. It's slightly bigger and heavier than its predecessor, but that extra size and weight means there's now space for built-in mounting arms, and that means no more additional clip-on frame. It'll mount to anything all by itself.
As you'd expect, it's waterproof and can shoot up to 4K resolution, with a huge number of frame rates and resolutions available depending on what kind of footage you're wanting to shoot. The big news in video performance is the enhancement of the company's HyperSmooth stabilisation algorithms. It's called HyperSmooth 2.0 and is available across all resolutions and frame rates, so it doesn't matter what you shoot, it'll be buttery smooth.
- 4K Wide - 60, 30, 24 fps
- 4K SuperView - 30, 24 fps
- 4K Linear - 60, 30, 24fps
- 4K (4:3) Wide - 30, 24 fps
- 2.7K Wide - 120, 60, 30, 24 fps
- 2.7K SuperView - 60, 30, 24 fps
- 2.7K Linear - 60, 30, 24 fps
- 2.7K Narrow - 60, 30, 24 fps
- 2.7K (4:3) Wide - 60, 30, 24 fps
- 2.7K (4:3) Linear - 60, 30, 24 fps
- 2.7K (4:3) Narrow - 60, 30, 24 fps
- 1440p Wide - 120, 60, 30, 24 fps
- 1440p Linear - 60, 30, 24 fps
- 1440p Narrow - 60, 30, 24 fps
- 1080p Wide - 240, 120, 60, 30, 24 fps
- 1080p SuperView + Linear - 120, 60, 30, 24 fps
- 1080p Narrow - 60, 30, 24 fps
One of the biggest enhancements to the Hero 8 Black is down to the redesigned exterior and port layout: mods. GoPro has introduced three new mod add-ons that enable a more professional vlogging experience. Simply: you can now connect a shotgun microphone, LED light and display mod so that you can light yourself in darker environments, get better audio recording and see yourself when shooting to camera.
It's for sure the most accomplished standard GoPro action camera to date. Check out more in our review below.
Read the full review: GoPro Hero 8 Black review
GoPro Hero 7 Black
- 4K video at 60fps
- 1080p at 240fps
- HDR Photos
- HyperSmooth + HyperLapse
- 10m waterproofing
It might have been launched in 2018, but the Hero 7 Black still offers a lot, and is even better value than ever now that its retail price has been reduced.
Stuck on the front is a camera capable of shooting HDR still photos, as well as 4K video up to 60 frames per second and 1080p footage up to 240fps for awesome slow-motion. It's also equipped with some very advanced digital stabilisation, which acts like a 3-axis gimbal to smooth out shakes and vibrations. It's called HyperSmooth and almost completely gets rid of bumps and shakes in the footage.
As well as all that, general image quality is much more natural and better quality too, compared to its predecessor. All this is thanks to the new custom, upgraded GP1 processor, which has enabled these improvements in hardware that's largely the same as the previous model. It offers the following resolutions and FOVs:
- 4K Wide - 60, 50, 30, 25, 24 fps
- 4K SuperView - 30, 25, 24 fps
- 4K (4:3) Wide - 30, 25, 24 fps
- 2.7K Wide - 120, 100, 60, 50, 30, 25, 24 fps
- 2.7K SuperView + Linear - 60, 50, 30, 25, 24 fps
- 2.7K (4:3) Wide + Linear - 60, 50, 30, 25, 24 fps
- 1440p Wide + Linear - 60, 50, 30, 25, 24 fps
- 1080p Wide - 240, 200, 120, 100, 60, 50, 30, 25, 24 fps
- 1080p SuperView + Linear - 120, 100, 60, 50, 30, 25, 24 fps
- 720p Wide + Linear - 60, 50 fps
It's waterproof up to 10 metres, fits all the same accessories and mounts as the Hero 5. It also has the same 1220mAh battery.
What's particularly interesting here is that it was the first GoPro with the built-in ability to analyse telemetry, audio and facial recognition clues and better choose the bits where action is happening. That means when it comes to creating a QuikStory, the camera should be better at choosing the important parts than previous cameras.
You can control Hero 7 using the buttons or touchscreen as normal, or use voice commands to get your camera to take photos, shoot video, just by telling it to.
Read the full review: GoPro Hero 7 Black review
GoPro Hero 7 White
- 1440p video at 60fps
- 10MP stills
If you want a capable action camera without the expense, there's the GoPro Hero 7 White. It's discontinued currently, but even at launch it was half the price of its highest-spec sibling. It was launched in 2018, effectively taking the features from the 6-month-old Hero, and putting it in a new design.
It doesn't have 4K video recording, but it has many of the same features as the old Hero 5 Black. For instance, you get voice control, QuikStories, video stabilisation and waterproofing up to 10 metres. It even has the 3-mic noise reduction system. And, unlike the Session cameras it's replacing, it does have a screen, so you can see what you're filming and interact with the controls using its touch sensitivity. It lacks the small monochrome screen on the front, and the battery isn't removable though.
If you can live without the 4K resolution video, the 60fps 1080p capture from the stabilised Hero should be more than enough to capture your best outdoor exploits. Here are all the resolutions, frame-rates and FOVs available:
- 1440p Wide - 60fps
- 1080p Wide - 60fps
- 15/1 burst rate 10MP stills
It's a much simpler offering from GoPro and one which should prove very easy to use for those thinking about trying out a GoPro camera if you can still find one.
Which GoPro should you buy?
If you want the best of the best, the Hero 9 Black is the easiest recommendation. It doesn't just film 4K resolution at 60fps, it's waterproof, can do 240fps slow-mo at 1080p resolution, and has really impressive digital stabilisation during shooting. Overall image quality is great too.
With that said, the GoPro Max also makes a solid case for itself by not only offering high-end Hero performance, but also more advanced stabilisation and horizon levelling, plus 360-degree capture.
If you want high end recording abilities in as small a package as possible, the Hero 5 Session is a really great option, even if it is discontinued. It's compact, waterproof and can shoot at pretty much the same levels as the Hero 5 Black, and doesn't cost the earth.
Ultimately it comes down to weighing up what's important to you in an action camera. To read up more on GoPro and its products be sure to check out our GoPro Hub.
Writing by Cam Bunton. Originally published on 1 June 2015.