Which GoPro should you buy?

All GoPro cameras are definitely not created equal. Here's a breakdown of each of the company's models to select the right one for your needs.

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Joshua Goldman/CNET

GoPro's current camera lineup stands at three: the Hero4 Silver, Hero4 Black and the cube-shaped Hero4 Session. In February, the maker of the "world's most versatile camera" announced it was killing off its more budget-friendly offerings -- the Hero, Hero+ and Hero+ LCD -- because having too many options was perhaps causing confusion for potential buyers leading them to buy nothing at all.

Just because GoPro isn't selling them anymore doesn't mean you can't find them elsewhere and at reduced prices, though they're not quite being blown out just yet. That might come in April, which is when GoPro said they would be officially discontinued, or maybe not until the Hero5 arrives.

If you're looking to buy one right now, though, this list breaks down the basic changes from model to model so you can figure out just which one is right for your needs.

Hero

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The GoPro Hero's biggest feature is its price at just less than $120 (£94, AU$210). Its video capabilities include 1080p at 30 frames per second and 720p at 60fps, but can also do 5-megapixel stills -- one at time, in bursts of 10 at 5fps, and as time-lapse sequences snapping continuously every 0.5 second.

The video quality is good for the money, but without a screen or a way to add one, positioning the camera to make sure you're capturing what you want is a bit of a guessing game. There's also no built-in Wi-Fi, so you can't use GoPro's app on a phone or tablet to preview or review your videos or wirelessly transfer them for sharing without going back to a computer.

Two other potential issues: The battery is built in, so no swapping out for a fresh pack to keep recording, and the camera is permanently in its polycarbonate housing. The housing is tough and waterproof to 131 feet (40 meters), but if you damage the housing you're not easily swapping it for a new one and it definitely hurts audio quality.

The Hero is so limiting I wouldn't bother with it, at least not unless the price drops significantly. There are too many options that are just as good or better, such as the Activeon CX, Drift Stealth 2 or Yi.

Recommended for: If you want a simple, inexpensive waterproof camera that says GoPro on it and your video-quality needs are just "good enough." Available at Amazon.com.

Read the full review.

Hero+

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At $160, £159 or AU$269, the Hero+ doesn't cost much more than the base Hero, but it gets a healthy bump up in features. For starters it can capture video in full-HD resolution, but at up to 60 frames per second. That makes moving subjects look smoother, or you can use it to playback at 30fps for a slight slow-motion effect.

Photo resolution is better than the Hero's, too, at 8 megapixels. If you want continuous-shooting options for time-lapse videos or just hands-free photo capture, you can set it to snap off a shot every 0.5, 1, 2, 5, 10, 30 and 60 seconds. The camera also gets GoPro's HiLight tagging feature, letting you flag a section for easier editing later, and loop recording that starts overwriting old clips once you're microSD card is full (handy if you want to use this as a dash cam).

But perhaps the most important difference is the built-in Wi-Fi so you can directly connect wirelessly to your phone or tablet or GoPro's Smart Remote to remotely control the camera or transfer clips to do on-the-go uploads to sharing sites. More importantly, it lets you see what you're shooting.

Video quality is noticeably better than the Hero, but it's still best suited for viewing at smaller sizes on mobile devices rather than blown up huge on a TV or monitor.

Perhaps the biggest downsides here are that, like the Hero, the Hero+ is built into its case and has a non-removable battery. At least the housing keeps it waterproof to 131 feet (40 meters).

Recommended for: With better video quality and more shooting options than the basic Hero and wireless built in for easier use and sharing, it's worth spending the extra money. Available at Amazon.com.

Read my first impressions.

Hero4 Session

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The Session is the smallest, lightest GoPro to date. It is also entirely waterproof to 33 feet (10 meters), so there's no need for a polycarbonate housing. Because of the square body and included accessories it is also the easiest GoPro to mount right-side up while still keeping a low profile. And with one button press it turns on and starts recording in just a few seconds.

However, to achieve these things, the battery is nonremovable; there's no screen except for a tiny status display on top; and you have to use an Android or iOS app or a GoPro Smart Remote (not included) to change its settings.

Its recording capabilities are just slightly better than the Hero+ capturing at up to 1,920x1,440 at 30fps, though it's more likely you'll be using its 1080p at 60fps or 720p at 100fps settings. When it launched in July 2015, it was priced high at $400. Now, however, it costs the same as the Hero+ at $200 (£160, AU$300).

Recommended for: The Session is the point-and-shoot, grab-and-go model. It's the one that you get if you just want a GoPro to use without worrying about housings or settings or weather, or you need to mount a camera somewhere the other Heros won't fit. The Hero+ is the same price and the only advantages to that model are that it's waterproof to 131 feet (40 meters) and has onboard buttons and a screen for changing settings without connecting to a mobile device. Available at Amazon.com.

Read the full review.

Hero+ LCD

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Joshua Goldman/CNET

Priced at $265 (£194, AU$380), the Hero+ LCD is the same camera as the Hero+ but, as the name implies, it has a touchscreen for preview and playback and changing settings and shooting modes. You can even use the built-in screen to trim clips right on the camera.

You get all the same shooting options, maxing out at 1080p at 60fps for video and 8-megapixel stills. There's Wi-Fi if you want to pair the camera with a smartphone or tablet. And it, too, has a nonremovable battery and is trapped in the same waterproof housing.

The Hero+ LCD is an all-around better choice than the entry-level Hero in terms of features and video quality. Save for the display it is the same as the Hero+, though, so if you can live without that, save yourself the $100 and go with the Hero+.

Or, and this is what I would do, you can spend a little more and get the much better Sony AS200V with its Live View Remote that lets you control the camera and see what you're shooting from a display you can wear on your wrist.

Recommended for: It's no bargain (at least not yet), but if you want a GoPro with good video quality, a streamlined no-muss, no-fuss shooting experience and easier use thanks to a touchscreen and wireless, this is the way to go. Available at Amazon.com.

Read the full review.

Hero4 Silver

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Sarah Tew/CNET

The Hero4 Silver earned our Editors' Choice Award for being the right balance of features and performance. For $400, £290 or AU$550, it records video at up to 4K at 15fps, a more useful 2.7K resolution at 30fps, and perhaps most importantly 1080p at 60fps and 720p at 120fps. With its top-notch image sensor and processor, the video is some of the best you'll find on a camera this size and stands up to being viewed on larger displays and TVs.

It is physically identical to the pricier, top-of-the-line Hero4 Black with one very important exception: a built-in touchscreen. As with the Hero+ LCD, the touchscreen allows you to see what you're shooting before you press record, review your clips and photos and change settings without connecting to a second device or messing with the camera's buttons.
Recommend for: For those who want better video and a lot of shooting options, stop here. Basically, the Silver gives you almost all of the features of the higher-end Hero4 Black, but with a touchscreen and its $100 less. It's tough to beat. Available at Amazon.com.

Read the full review.

Hero4 Black

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Put simply, the Hero4 Black offers the best video quality available from a GoPro camera and the most expansive shooting options. While the Silver does record at 4K resolution, the Black actually does it at a usable frame rate for moving subjects, recording at 30fps. Moreover, it does 1080p at up to 120fps for full HD slow-motion videos or 720p at 240fps so you can slow down clips even more.

To get that kind of performance, though, you sacrifice the touchscreen found on the Silver and it's $100 more at $500 (£370, AU$650).

Recommended for: Go for this model if you want access to the additional recording resolutions and frame rates, the best video quality from a GoPro camera and greater control over the end results of your photos and movies. Available at Amazon.com.

Read the full review.

The competition

GoPro might have the lion's share of the POV (point-of-view) camera market, but it's far from the only player. In fact, one of the things that's great about this camera category is the variety of designs available, each with their own pluses and minuses so you can find one that's best for your needs. Here are some of my favorites.

Yi

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It's definitely a funky-looking little camera and it comes with zero accessories and you'll need a tablet or phone to change settings. But the Yi can be found for less than $90 (a waterproof housing will set you back another $15 or less) and has video quality and shooting options that are well above other sub-$100 cameras. The camera was originally available imported from China under the Xiaomi brand, but is now available in the US under the Yi name (the company that actually makes the camera) from Amazon.com.

Read the full review.

TomTom Bandit

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Joshua GoldmanCNET

You might not expect it coming from a company known primarily for its GPS navigation systems, but the the TomTom Bandit is one very clever camera. The body is splashproof, but a quick change of a lens cover makes it waterproof without a housing. Its rechargeable battery, called a Batt-Stick, is removable and also has the camera's microSD card slot and standard USB 3.0 connector: Just remove the whole thing and plug into a computer to charge and transfer your video and photos. It has a unique mounting system, too, to make getting the camera into position quick and easy. Perhaps most importantly, though, is its mobile app that lets you edit highlight clips together simply by shaking your smartphone or tablet. Available at Amazon.com.

Read the full review.

Replay XD Prime X

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Thanks to its lightweight, ultracompact and waterproof body, solid 1080p video quality and pro-centric features, the Prime X is definitely one to check out. To work around the lack of a screen, Replay XD used color LEDs and buttons hidden under a rear cap to let you change shooting modes and resolutions. It even includes a little key inside the cap so you don't have to remember what the lights mean. Available at Amazon.com.

Read the full review .

Sony Action Cam Mini HDR-AZ1

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This is my most recommended non-GoPro action camera. It's supersmall and lightweight; it has a removable battery; built-in Wi-Fi with NFC for easier pairing with an Android device; it has electronic image stabilization; it's splashproof, but comes with a housing to make it waterproof to 5 meters (16 feet); and has a tripod mount, but also works with Sony's collection of mounts. Shooting options rival that of the Hero+ LCD, and for about the same price you can pick up the Mini with a Live-View Remote, which basically puts a small LCD on your wrist to control the camera and get a view from its lens. Available at Amazon.com.

Read the full review .

Sony Action Cam FDR-X1000V

Joshua Goldman/CNET

Like the Mini, the X1000V has a ton of features and shooting options, but this one includes 4K-resolution video capture at 30 frames per second at 100Mbps. If you need high bit rate recording and image stabilization (at 1080p recording only), then this is the camera to go for. Available at Amazon.com.

Read the full review.

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