GoPro’s range of action cams has been slimmed-down over the past few years, but it can still be confusing to decide which one to buy and there are lots of cheaper alternatives that are worth a look. We compare GoPro cameras and alternatives.
Plus, you can still buy older GoPro models from many retailers, which adds to the confusion even further.
In this article, we explain the differences between GoPro models, to help you decide which is the best action camera to buy. We’ll also outline the alternatives, including some of the clones, as well as some of the other action cams you can buy right now in the UK.
You’ll find our detailed comparison of the GoPro cameras below, but let’s look first at why you should – and shouldn’t – consider the alternatives.
Best GoPro alternatives
The real-deal GoPro cameras may be pricey, but they’re generally worth more than many of the clones.
As well as being reliable and rugged with good-quality mounts, they also have loud beeps which tell you when they start and stop recording, plus turn on and off, even inside their waterproof housings.
We’ve yet to see a clone with the same feature, which means you’ve no idea if you successfully started recording when the camera is mounted on your bike helmet: you have to start recording, then put on the helmet to be sure.
Apps also tend to be flakey and not nearly as slick and reliable as GoPro’s, while battery life can be worse.
However, these drawbacks aren’t always deal-breakers and are worth trading off for the amazingly low prices. One of the better clone manufacturers is SJCAM, but you have to be careful not to buy a fake as there are also SJCAM clones.
Live streaming action cams
The latest batch of action cams include models with SIM cards that allow you to stream action live to YouTube and other video sites.
You’ll have to really need the ability to live stream video as these cameras are typically sold by mobile operators just like a smartphone: you pay a monthly contract or opt for a pay-as-you-go package, so they work out much more expensive than a normal action cam.
One is EE’s 4GEE action cam, ‘free’ if you pay £12 per month and share the data from your 4GEE phone data plan, but can cost as much as £399.99 if you want to pay everything up front and get a whopping 24GB allowance. It takes 13Mp photos and full HD video.
GoPro Hero 5 Black
The Hero 5 Black is the best GoPro you can buy right now. It’s a major upgrade from the Hero 4, although not in image quality: it still records 4K at 30fps.
The difference is that it can record at higher frame rates at lower resolutions and now has video stabilisation which makes video significantly less jerky. But as it’s done electronically, it works only up to 2.7K and even then reduces the field of view by 10 percent.
But that’s not the only improvement. It’s now waterproof without an additional housing (down to 10m), and it feels a lot tougher than the delicate Hero 4 (and 3) models. There’s now a touchscreen so you can see what the camera is seeing and easily adjust menu options.
Two other highlights are built-in GPS and the ability to control recording (and other things) using your voice, a bit like the Amazon Echo or Siri.
And the best part? It’s cheaper than a Hero 4 Black!
GoPro Hero Session
This is now the cheapest model in the range, which you can buy for £149 at Currys. It’s the first GoPro that isn’t rectangular: it’s a cube. It’s much smaller than the Hero4: 50 percent smaller in the included frame, in fact. It’s also 35 percent lighter at 74g.
It originally cost £329, but poor sales forced GoPro to slash the price, so you’re getting a good deal if you’re about to buy an action camera right now.
As well as being smaller, the Session also has cut-down specs – just one of the reasons not many people could stomach paying the same price as a Hero4 Silver.
Its video tops out at 1440p, so doesn’t support 2.7K or 4K recording. You do get the option of 60fps at 1080p, or a weird 100fps at 720p (rather than the 120fps of the Hero4 Silver). One missing feature is time-lapse video, but there is support for time-lapse photos.
It can take 8Mp photos, rather than 12Mp of the more expensive Heros, and can shoot a burst of 10 frames in one second (but has no continuous shooting mode).
It’s waterproof without a case, which will make it far more appealing to some people than a Silver or Black, partly because that means you get better sound. It even has two microphones and automatically switches if one is picking up lots of wind noise.
However, there are a few negatives, such as the lack of a viewfinder screen, a non-removable battery and poorer overall video quality than its pricier siblings. (You get the option of enabling the high-bitrate ProTune mode for videos only, but not the same range of options as you get with the Silver or Black models. The bitrate isn’t really that high at 25Mb/s.)
At least you can use the tiny LCD screen to change settings such as resolution, frame rate and field of view without having to resort to the app – one of the bug bears with cameras such as the JooVoo X.
You can also change settings via the optional Smart Remote, although this costs a hefty £60.
The included frame is compatible with all GoPro mounts, and you can rotate the camera to any one of four orientations in the mount, and it can face backwards or forwards too.
Handily, you can tag highlights while recording which makes it much easier to find those clips when it comes to editing.
Read our full Hero Session review
GoPro Hero 5 Session
We love the Session, and it’s even better in Hero 5 guise. The original was already waterproof and the same size, but it now has a lot of the features you get with its bigger brother, the Hero 5 Black.
That means it can now record in 4K, and it also has the same stabilisation. You also get faster frame rates as with the Hero 5 Black, and the same new timelapse video function which compiles photos taken at intervals into a video ready to play.
It also supports voice commands for taking photos and starting / stopping video recording.
There’s no GPS and, as with the original Session, the battery isn’t removable and must be charged via USB-C in the camera. And unlike the Hero 5 Black, the 5 Session isn’t cheaper than its predecessor: it’s significantly more expensive at £299 (you can buy it from Currys).
GoPro Hero4 Silver
There’s a big jump in price to the Silver, which costs £329 (£299 on Amazon). For this, you get 12Mp photos and 2.7K video at up to 30fps. 1440p footage can be recorded at up to 48fps (that’s double the 24fps mode) or 60fps in 1080p. If you drop to 720p, you can shoot slo-mo at 120fps.
Technically, the Silver can record 4K, but at a maximum of 15fps it isn’t a mode we imagine anyone wanting to use.
Like the Session, it has built-in Bluetooth and Wi-Fi, but also has a touchscreen display for framing your shots and changing settings. It supports external mics via a special cable and has better video quality (including better dynamic range) than the Session.
You get most of the features of the Hero4 Black, but the highest bitrate is 45Mb/s, and the Silver doesn’t support “Studio quality external microphones”. Unless you need 4K recording, the Hero4 Silver is perfectly good for most people.
You get a choice of three versions: standard, surf and music. Surf comes with appropriate mounts, and music swaps the waterproof housing for a frame (much like the Session’s) that offers better quality audio since you’re not sealing off the microphone.
GoPro Hero4 Black
- RRP: £409 ($499.99), US$499.99
Before the Hero 5 arrived, this was the best camera GoPro made. You would often see them used for TV shows where a tiny waterproof camera is required, or where it’s mounted on the outside of a car.
The Black offers excellent quality video, including at 4K up to 30fps, but it does come at a steep price.
It’s important to note that unlike the Silver, the Black doesn’t have a screen on the back: only a small LCD on the front.
Like the Silver, the Black comes in three versions: standard, surf and music. The only difference is the mounts you get in the box – they all cost the same.
Yi 4K Action Camera
The Yi 4K Action Camera is a genuinely good GoPro alternative with a nice design, touchscreen and plenty of features.
It’s not cheaper than some of the GoPro offering, but it can shoot in 4K and has a good, large touchscreen.
You’ll also find that you can record a whopping 120 minutes continuously, although you’ll need a pretty large memory card to facilitate this, and a fully charged battery too.
SJCAM SJ5000X Elite
SJCAM’s clone of the GoPro Hero4 Silver is the SJ5000. We’ve reviewed the SJ5000X Elite and found it to be impressive for around £100. Plus, you get a heap of mounts in the box which makes it even better value. It lacks a touchscreen, but it does have a colour screen and built-in Wi-Fi.
It claims to shoot in 4K, but this is interpolated so it’s misleading. As long as you only need 1080p at 60fps, or 2.7K at 30fps, it’s a decent choice.
Read our full SJCAM SJ5000X review