Small, cheap and virtually indestructible, the name GoPro has entered our language as a verb and a noun as a way of shooting film that would have been almost impossible previously. While the ubiquitous selfie might leave you cold (and if it does you are not alone…) the GoPro phenomenon – which is, after all, generally nothing more than a video selfie – is a genuinely interesting and useful way to transform the way you shoot holiday and hobby video.
Here’s our guide to the GoPro range – and some alternatives.
What is a GoPro?
GoPro is to video cameras what Hoover is to vacuum cleaners and Biro is to disposable pens; it’s a brand name that is now sometimes used to describe any cheap, tough action camera.
A GoPro is simply a small, wearable video camera that is rugged enough to be used to shoot first-person views under almost any circumstances. It gives a very wide field-of-view and so you’ll see them strapped to the side of cars, on top of surf boards, on the front of paragliders’ helmets, inside the cockpit of a fighter jet and even strapped to a dog’s collar. Their use is limited only by the imagination of the user.
Why are they so popular?
The key to their success is their versatility, something made possible due to an unfeasibly wide selection of accessories that enable you to mount them to almost anything. They are also relatively cheap, meaning that many extreme sports enthusiasts see them as almost disposable in their quest to shot the next viral video.
So, if you’ve ever wondered what your dog gets up to in the park or how an egg is poached, a GoPro lets you find out.
How do I use them?
In essence, you attach them to an object and shoot a stream of film onto a memory card that is later downloaded and edited into the finished film.
GoPro’s editing software is free and easy to use and saves you having to buy a third-party editing suite, the price of which can easily run into the mid-hundreds.
What are the differences between the various GoPro models?
As a rough guide, the more you pay the greater the features. Having said that, all of them are easily good enough to shoot home videos for use on social media and YouTube.
The smallest GoPro is the Session. Costing around £150, it’s a tiny 38mm cube that shoots high-resolution video and is completely waterproof. It also shoots photos – single, high-speed burst, or time-lapse – and records sound via a twin-microphone system. It’s ideal for the first-time user thanks to single-button operation, although you can also control via an optional remote control or the free Smartphone app.
The HERO (£100), HERO+ (£150), HERO+ LCD (3250), HERO4 Silver (£280), and HERO4 Black (£380) models ramp up the features and complexity and are well worth the extra cost for the seasoned professional.
Me? I’ll stick to the Session as it does everything I need it to do for the time being, and I’m happy to sacrifice some features to have such a small video camera in my travel kit.
Are there any alternatives to GoPro?
Yes, of course. Many other brands exist, with almost every video camera manufacturer looking to steal a slice of this lucrative market, so whenever I’ve written ‘GoPro’ you can substitute your favourite brand instead.
Some of the better models include the TomTom Bandit, Garmin Virb XE, and the Sony FDR-X1000V.
What should I look for in an action camera?
Some of the key areas to look for are:
- Battery life – how long does the battery last? Can it be removed to fit a new one or do you have to stop filming to recharge the integral battery?
- Waterproofing – is it waterproof or do you need to buy a separate case to keep the water out?
- Compatibility - can it be used with generic accessories? In reality this means using the GoPro style of mount, which is widely available from GoPro itself as well as thousands of aftermarket manufacturers.
Please don’t get too hung-up on specifications, though. Almost every single action camera from a £20 eBay special all the way up to a £500 professional model is capable of shooting amazing videos.