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For the past few years, while GoPro was dominating the upper end of the action cam market, it sort of neglected entry-level buyers who wanted the GoPro experience, losing them to other camera makers. That changes to some extent with the Hero.
Priced at a very reasonable $130, £100 or AU$169, it's a stripped-down version of the Hero3 White Edition, capable of recording at 1080p at 30fps, and 720p at 60fps.
It's not a great "bang-for-your-buck" camera with features that are a far cry from the Hero4 Black and Silver models or even the $200 step-up White model. But it is priced well given that it's waterproof with good video quality and with a wide variety of mounts available. If that covers your main needs, it's worth buying, especially if you're looking for an inexpensive way to do multi-camera shoots.
At first glance, the Hero looks like GoPro's other cameras weighing in at 111g (3.9 ounces) with its integrated housing. That's right, unlike GoPro's other cameras the Hero is permanently in its rugged housing. With its standard back panel, the housing is waterproof to 131 feet (40 meters) and there is a skeleton door that lets more sound reach the built-in mic.
However, since you can't pull the camera out entirely, if you damage the housing you're not easily swapping it for a new one. While it can certainly handle a lot of abuse, if you manage to scratch the lens glass, you're stuck.
The Hero has a microSDHC card slot supporting cards up to 32GB and a Mini-USB port. So what's missing? The Hero lacks a Micro-HDMI port and the GoPro accessory port. The former lets you playback directly from the camera to a display or HDTV, which isn't a huge loss.
Without the accessory port, though, there's no way to add Wi-Fi, an LCD or an extra battery with GoPro's BacPac modules. That means there's no way to preview your framing and, because the battery is built in, you have no simple way to extend battery life (you can power it off of the Mini-USB port, if necessary). Also, the Mini-USB doesn't support an external mic cable like the other models.
Shooting options are barebones, too. Video resolutions include 1080p at 30 frames per second and 720p at 60fps. There's also a 720p at 60fps with GoPro's SuperView feature, which basically takes 4:3 video and digitally stretches it at the sides so you get a taller 16:9 video. The 720p settings have GoPro's Auto Low Light feature that drops the shutter speed so your video isn't too dark when shooting in dim light.
You can capture 5-megapixel stills as well, one at time, in bursts of 10 at 5fps and as time-lapse sequences snapping continuously every 0.5 second.
Like its feature set, the bundled accessories are kept to a minimum with the Hero. In the box you'll find the camera with standard and skeleton backdoors; a Mini-USB cable for charging and transfers; two adhesive mounts, one flat and one curved; a quick-release buckle to use with the mounts; and a rubber-locking plug to keep the quick-release buckle from accidentally releasing from a hard impact.
GoPro also has free editing software, GoPro Studio, that's pretty good if not altogether straightforward. And, you know, it's free.
Lastly, battery life is very good at about 2 hours and 30 minutes of continuous recording with a full recharge taking about two hours. The camera's QuikCapture feature, which allows you to turn on the camera and start recording with a press of the record button, helps maximize battery life. However, if you're not careful about how you store the camera, you can easily turn the camera on accidentally and drain your battery.
The default resolution for the Hero is 720p at 60fps SuperView. The 1080p video looks a bit sharper and more detailed than you get from that default, but the difference is negligible. Both resolutions record at around 15Mbps resulting in video that's best viewed at small sizes.
If you look at it closely at larger sizes on a display or HDTV, subjects appear soft and you'll see a lot of artifacts especially with complex scenes or with fast movement. Low-light scenes get slightly softer and noisier, but not unusable. Overall, the results, while not amazing, are very good for its price with better detail and color than other inexpensive action cams.
The GoPro Hero is a good budget-friendly action cam mostly because it actually pumps out nice-looking video for its price. I'm not entirely sure why it needed to be the same size as its other cameras considering the dearth of features and leaving off the BacPac port seems like a mistake. But, otherwise it's a good place to start if you just want a small, mountable waterproof video camera. If, however, you're looking for more than that or simply the ability to swap out a drained battery for a fresh one, you'll have to look elsewhere.