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.
There's a brand new model, the GoPro Hero. Plus, you can still buy older GoPro models from many retailers, which adds to the confusion.
In this article, we explain the differences between all the GoPro models to help you decide which is the best action camera to buy. We 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 the money.
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 and turn on and off. Don't underestimate the importance of this, since once the camera is mounted, it's often in a place where you can't easily see it. Plus, the Hero 5 and 6 cameras have voice control so you don't have to be able to reach the camera, or touch it.
We’ve yet to see a clone with the same features, 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.
Some allow remote control but apps 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!
One GoPro that's not included below is the Fusion, which is now on sale in the UK, Europe and the US. This is GoPro's 360-degree camera and at £699.99 from GoPro, it's possibly too expensive to buy for the odd bit of kayaking, sky diving or mountain biking.
It has two lenses - one on the front and one on the back - and captures fully spherical video so you can choose where to look when you play it back (YouTube also supports this). Plus, you can use a VR headset to watch the footage, or choose the view as you're editing it before saving a standard video.
Live streaming action cams
Some 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 6 Black
It's one of the most expensive action cams ever, but although it looks exactly like the Hero 5, the new Hero 6 is very different inside.
Essentially, GoPro has for the first time used a custom-designed processor rather than using an off-the-shelf Ambarella like most action cams do. What this means is that it has been able to give the Hero 6 a raft of improvements beyond the highlight 4K at 60fps and 1080p at 240fps.
For example, there's much better low-light quality and also better dynamic range. Plus, there's three-axis stabilisation including in 4K (although not at 60fps).
For photos there's a proper HDR mode which combines three shots and there's 5GHz Wi-Fi which halves the transfer time sending videos to your phone for editing and sharing with the Quik app.
The touchscreen is faster and more responsive and voice control is improved: you can now turn on the Hero 6 with just by talking to it.
Ultimately, it's a lot of money but the Hero 6 Black delivers better quality video - and photos.
GoPro Hero 5 Black
The Hero 5 Black is 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 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 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? Another price cut means it's even cheaper!
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 the Hero 5 version has a lot of the features you get with its bigger brother, the Hero 5 Black.
That means it records in 4K, and it also has the same stabilisation. You also get faster frame rates as with the Hero 5 Black, and the same 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.
Technically the Session is now discontinued but it's still available to buy at sensible prices.
GoPro Hero Session
This is the cheapest GoPro you can buy from the current range. It looks the same as the Hero 5 and 6, but it doesn't shoot in 4K: it's limited to 1080p or a strange, squashed version of 1440p.
There are some other cut-down specs – it has a 10Mp sensor instead of 12, has just 2.4GHz Wi-Fi, no ProTune mode and no support for external microphones.
Nothing there is a problem for most people, especially those looking for a more affordable action camera that's easy to use.
It’s waterproof without a case, which will make it far more appealing to some people than one of the cheap GoPro clones, partly because that means you get better sound. It even has three microphones and automatically switches if one is picking up lots of wind noise.
Handily, it works with GoPro's QuikStories app which does a fine job of editing your clips, and you can remotely control it from the GoPro app on your phone.
Read our full Hero 2018 review.
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 SJ7 Star
The SJ7 is SJCAM’s first proper 4K camera. It isn't as refined as a GoPro (neither is the companion app) but you can forgive these when you realise it costs well under £200 - closer to £120 if you buy from GearBest - and shoots video that's just as good as a Hero 4 Black.
Plus, you get a heap of mounts in the box which makes it even better value. It has a touchscreen and built-in Wi-Fi.
Read our full SJCAM SJ7 Star review