GoPro are refreshing their lineup of action sports cameras in revolutionary fashion. If you're in the market for your first GoPro, or just looking to upgrade, the decision should be a little easier for you this time around.
Three new cameras have been announced, the Hero 4 Black edition, Hero 4 Silver edition and the budget friendly GoPro Hero. This last option at sub £100 ($130) is the value proposition and priced to compete with the cheap and nasty GoPro clones we have seen flooding the market from Asia.
The specifications of the various different cameras can be a bit overwhelming for the average prospective GoPro user so we've produced a handy reference table of the key features:
The table is split into three sections, video, photo and connectivity, we'll break down how you'll use the camera in each area and where the benefits lie for surfers so you can more easily figure out your best option.
The video breakdown
Most of the guys in the office use their GoPros for video over stills. A frame grab from a 1080p video has ample resolution for a Facebook snap and they can easily be printed out in small sizes. Video is also a lot more forgiving in low light and will be the main focus for most surfers.
A frame grab from a 1080p video has ample resolution for a Facebook profile picture
Resolution and frame rate are the two key elements to consider: the bigger the resolution the better the final image looks and the more you can zoom into the image without losing full HD quality.
A higher frame rate allows you to slow the footage down in software for smoother slow-motion playback and gives you more choices for the best frame grab, this can be critical when going for that all important barrel shot.
The wide angle of the GoPro's fisheye lens means you have to be close to the action to get good video, so it's perfect for mounting to your board or holding in your hand or mouth whilst you surf. If you are mostly going to be using it to film someone else surfing then the higher end models have a couple of benefits, the higher resolution means you can zoom into the image after you've filmed it and still have enough resolution to play back at full high definition quality on your TV or computer screen. They also have extra options for shooting in a narrower field of view which is useful when you're shooting video from a channel and it's not possible to get as close to the action.
Slowing down footage though is something that users will be able to do easily with the free, intuitive GoPro editing software, so whilst a huge 4K resolution on the higher end cameras might not seem like a killer feature, it's worth considering the Hero 4 Black edition's full HD 1080p video at 120 frames per second option if you plan to grab stills or analyse your footage in detail. Perfect for checking out your technique and learning from your (many) mistakes.
What about photography?
Taking still photos with a GoPro has always been secondary to the headline grabbing video resolutions and frame rates, but it can be a really useful feature for non action sports situations. I rarely take photos in the sea with my GoPro, but the time-lapse feature is easy to use and gives you stunning results, even the basic GoPro Hero camera offers the time-lapse feature at a very usable 5MP resolution, this will allow you to easily create a full HD video of your photos.
If still photos are going to be your priority then there's not as much of an advantage to going for the Hero 4 Black edition, the stills modes are identical in resolution and features, you do get a slew of extras in both cameras like the all new long exposure night modes and the ProTune mode which was previously only available for video.
As a surfer the stills mode is likely to be secondary for you, it's great to have the ability to take stills there, and it will certainly allow you to make more use of the camera outside of the surf (which can give you an important advantage in getting a purchase approved by other members of your household), but it's unlikely to be your main focus.
How about connectivity?
The WiFi connectivity is a fantastic feature, allowing you to view and edit photos and control the cameras settings on your mobile device or dedicated waterproof WiFi remote whilst on the road. This is going to be critical for some users but people who use their GoPro every time they surf will prefer the extra speed of plugging in. The new Bluetooth option could end up opening up a lot of additional options in the future but it's not a killer feature just yet.
The Hero 4 Silver edition's main advantage is the built in LCD touch screen
More important for most surfers will be the availability of an LCD screen on the camera. The Hero 4 Silver edition's main advantage is the built in LCD touch screen, allowing you to use the GoPro like a regular point and shoot camera, as well as offering a simple way to review footage once it's been shot, this is going to be useful in all the modes, especially video, and is something that a lot of people have been wanting to see for a while now.
One other factor to consider is the ability to use the GoPro BacPac accessories, both the Hero 4 Black edition and Silver edition allow you to plug them in, but obviously any BacPac is going to completely obscure the LCD touch screen on the Silver camera. So you lose one of the best features if you need to use the battery BacPac to extend the battery life. There is however an LCD touch screen BacPac which perfectly compliments the Black edition and gives it the same functionality as the Silver, meaning you can have the best of both worlds if you go for the top end option.
What are we going to buy?
At the Magicseaweed Store we are expecting to have our first batch of the new cameras available for the launch date on the 5th of October, and there are a few of us here at HQ that are keen to grab a new one as soon as they arrive.
I'm personally going to be upgrading my current Hero 3+ Black edition to the new Hero 4 Silver edition. The new manual Protune controls, long exposure night modes and the LCD screen are big enough advantages to convince me to make the trade up, and I think surfers who want the best bang for their buck will get the most out of the Silver edition. It's going to give you all the video resolutions and frame rates you need to capture surfing with enough extras to make it a more versatile, useful camera for everyday photography.
The new sub £100 ($130) GoPro Hero is also going to earn a place in my surf bag, I had a GoPro HD Hero 1, which this camera mirrors in terms of specifications, and I shot some of my favourite footage with that camera. This cheap and cheerful updated version can shoot time lapses and full HD video, which is what I use my GoPro for most of the time and it will be the camera I don't mind leaving out to get a time lapse of a storm passing, or lending to curious friends and family.
If you're not sure how much you're going to use a GoPro but you want to get in on the fun, the GoPro Hero is the one for you, if you find yourself reaching the limit of its features after a few months then it's a simple upgrade to one of the higher end models. All your mounts will be compatible and you'll instantly know how to use the camera, there's just a few more options in the menu. It's also going to be a popular Christmas present this year, offering full HD video and very handy stills modes in an affordable package.
The Hero 4 Black edition remains the pinnacle of action sports cameras. If you are going to be shooting professionally, doing some 4K aerial video, need the 120 frames per second in full HD or just want the best of the best then you'll be going for the Black edition – video quality is jaw dropping – simply the best available in this size of camera and compares well to more costly options.