GoPro now has four cameras in its current range: the HERO, the HERO+ LCD, the HERO4 Silver, and the HERO4 Black. I have another post if you're looking to compare the Silver and Black editions. This post is aimed at trying to help you decide between the HERO and the HERO4 Silver.
I have all four cameras, and each has its virtues. Both the HERO and Silver are capable of capturing great video footage and stills photos. Whether you’re riding the largest wave ever surfed or shooting memories of a family vacation in the snow, both cameras can perform.
But there are some key differences between them. Here's a rundown of where they're similar and how they're different.
These cameras aren’t even close in price. The GoPro HERO has a recommended retail price that is a third of the price of the Silver, with the recommended retail of the HERO at $129.99 and the Silver at $399.99.
Inexpensive can certainly be a virtue. If you’re putting your camera in harms way where it could easily get broken or lost, losing a $130 camera is a lot easier to swallow than losing a $400 one.
But you probably already knew that and were more interested in finding out whether the extra features of the Silver are ones you need or would use. So here goes . . .
When you put these cameras side-by-side, there’s no mistaking that they’re both GoPros. Both have that distinctive GoPro look. They’re the same basic shape and design. The GoPro HERO 4 Silver and Black are, oddly enough, both silver-colored, but the HERO is a dark gray.
Both have LCD screens on the front that serve as the menu screens. Both have a settings/menu button on the front and a shutter on the top. The Silver has a button on the side to move through the settings.
There are some other subtle differences. The HERO uses the older style of LCD red light on the front that previous models used, while the Silver uses narrow lights next to the LCD screen.
Both have microSD memory card slot and a micro-USB socket. The Silver has an HDMI slot, but the HERO doesn’t.
At 3.9 oz with its integrated housing, the HERO is about 25 percent lighter than the Silver in its waterproof housing.
LCD Live View Screen
If you’ve never used a GoPro before you might be surprised to find that most of them don’t have an LCD screen on the back or a viewfinder. With many of the models you can buy an optional extra LCD screen that plugs into the back or use a live view through the remote smartphone app. But neither of those work in the HERO model. It doesn’t have a screen, a viewfinder, or ability to connect to the smartphone app. So how do you know frame the shot? You point the camera in the direction you want and hope for the best. The saving grace is that GoPros have a very wide-angle lens, so it captures a very wide view. That makes the chances of you getting the action you want in the frame pretty good. The Superview mode is helpful because it also adds extra coverage vertically that gives you some wiggle room to crop in post.
The one camera that comes with a built-in LCD touchscreen is the GoPro HERO 4 Silver edition. It gives you a live view of what the camera sees through the lens and can be used for the setting menus.
Both cameras come with a waterproof housing that’s rated down to 131’ depth. That’s much deeper than most recreational scuba divers will ever go and is more than enough for snorkeling, surfing, boating, or kayaking.
But while the housings off the same protection, there’s a key difference in how they work. With both the GoPro HERO 4 Silver and Black, as well as most earlier models, the camera and housing are separate. So if you want to shoot without a housing or a different kind of housing, you could just take the camera out and swap it out.
With the GoPro HERO, the housing is fused with the camera itself, so you can’t take it off. You can open the backdoor to access the memory card slot and the USB connection, and if you need to swap the back door out with a different kind you can, but you can’t pull the camera out of the housing completely.
One result is that you can’t shoot the camera naked, that is, without any housing at all. Another is that if you’re going to use filters like a red filter for underwater, you’ll need one that clips on the outside. There’s no way to use a filter gel that slides between the camera lens and the housing lens.
The primary method of adjusting settings on both cameras is a small monochrome LCD screen on the front of the camera. The HERO's menu system is similar to that on the HERO3+ and HERO3 cameras (and some earlier models). The HERO4 uses a new menu system that is more detailed and, in my opinion, easier to use. Both rely heavily on graphical icons.
Both cameras have glass lenses with a fixed f/2.8 aperture and an ultra-wide field of view.
As you can see in the side-by-side photos above, the lens port on the HERO is a bit smaller than that on the Silver. So while it still has a wide-angle view and superview and the camera does have a low-light shooting mode, the lens itself is not exactly the same as the one on the more expensive models. Which makes sense since the HERO doesn’t have to work with the extra-high resolution video modes and larger photo sizes of the Silver and Black editions.
The GoPro HERO 4 Silver and Black have a huge range of video modes—too many to list here. You can find a full list of them here.
The HERO, by contrast, has only a handful, but they’re probably the most widely useful modes. There’s 1080p at 30fps and 25fps and 720p (and 720p Superview) at 60fps and 50fps. All use an Ultra Wide view.
Here's a visualization of the video resolutions that GoPro cameras produce.
Of course, just because you have 4K available doesn't necessarily mean that you should or want to shoot 4K. The file sizes are much larger and they're more computer-intensive to edit. So, for many uses, 1080p is more than adequate. If you’re posting to the web, 720p looks great for HD video and is quicker and even less cumbersome to edit (there’s a reason places like Vimeo use 720p as their default HD mode). If you want some extra resolution, 1080p is still the standard for HD video. The much larger video modes offered by the Silver and Black are nice to have and will one day become more widely adopted, but for now their practical uses are a bit limited.
They both use H.264 compression, which is the de facto standard these days. The HERO does not have Protune modes.
GoPros are best known for capturing video footage, and things like their shutter lag can make them less than ideal for stills. But their photo modes have also been getting better in recent models. In this case, the photo modes of the Silver are quite a lot better than those offered on the HERO.
Both cameras use an aperture of f/2.8 with a declared focal length of 5mm. Both adjust the ISO speed based on its autoexposure.
The HERO’s photos are all 5MP, which produces images that are 2592 x 1944 pixels. That’s plenty for a decent print up to at least 8x10 inches or for full-screen on most current 27-inch monitors. There’s also a burst mode where you can shoot photos at 5 frames per second.
The Silver and Black have offer much higher resolution photos up to 12MP. That creates an image that is 4000 x 3000 pixels. The result is much better detail. The sensor is also better, so it also creates clearer photos, particularly in low-light conditions.
Here's how the image sizes compare:
As far as other options go, the Silver and Black also let you dial in exposure compensation. It lets you choose 12 MP Wide view, 7 MP Wide view, 7 MP medium vide, and 5 MP medium view (the Silver and Black 5MP has slightly different dimensions than that of the HERO: 2560x1920). In many cases, the 12 MP gives the best quality, but the lower resolution versions can come in handy if you're dealing with large numbers of photos such as with timelapse capture. The Silver and Black also offer Protune and Night Photo modes, 30 photos per second burst mode, as well as letting you specify things like an upper auto-ISO speed rating and level of sharpness.
The HERO has a timelapse mode, but you can’t choose the interval. The available interval is to take a photo every 0.5 seconds. And this is a timelapse photo mode—it’s not compiled in the camera, so you have to import the still images into some software on your computer and compile the timelapse video there.
With the Silver and Black models, you have a choice of 0.5, 1, 2, 5, 10, 30, and 60 second intervals. And since a recent firmware update, the Silver and Black have new timelapse video modes where the video compilation is all compiled in-camera to create a single video file.
The two cameras can share a huge number of GoPro accessories. Anything related to mounting the camera on something else will work just fine because they use the same attachment system. So bobbers, poles, helmet clips, suction cup mounts, chest harnesses, or even attaching it to a drone will work just fine.1 So you can use the same mounts on your surfboard, snowboard, or bike's handlebars. If you’re looking to give your accessory collection a jumpstart, something like this large but surprisingly inexpensive kit is a safe option.
They can also use exactly the same cases.
But not every accessory will work. Because it lacks wireless capabilities, the wifi and Bluetooth remotes won’t work. Nor will the smartphone apps. The BacPac LCD screen and the BacPack extended batteries won’t work.
All GoPros suffer from what is at best mediocre battery life. Keeping it charged is just one of those things that is par for the course.
All of the GoPros come with a rechargeable lithium battery. With most of the models, you can pull the battery out. That means you can charge it outside of the camera using a charger cradle, and it also means you can swap out the battery with a spare and go right on shooting.
The HERO’s battery is enclosed within the camera and there’s no way to remove it. So when your battery dies, your only option is to plug it in via the USB cable and wait for it to charge or to use a different camera. So, with the HERO, you can’t use spares or external cradle chargers. With the Silver and Black, you use spare batteries.
Both cameras use a microSD memory card. But the HERO doesn’t have the same demands of high-end video that the Silver and Black editions do, so you can get away with a slower and less expensive card. (Here are some memory card recommendations for the Silver and Black).
On the HERO, in general, any class 10 microSD card up to 32GB will work well. The HERO will NOT work with cards 64GB and above. They use a different kind of formatting on their card that the HERO can’t use (but the Silver and Black can).
There are also some new, fast cards that are not recommended specifically for the GoPro HERO. For more details, check out my page on the best memory cards for the GoPro HERO.
What's in the Box
The basic version of both cameras comes with a waterproof housing (integrated, in the case of the HERO), a battery (built-in, in the case of the HERO), a skeleton backdoor that offers better performance when recording audio but makes the housing not waterproof, a quick-release buckle, flat and curved adhesive mount for putting it on things like helmets, and a USB cable.
What's Not in the Box
The basic package of each camera doesn't come with a memory card, although it can often be bought as retail bundle with a memory card or other accessories.
And while both come with a USB cable for charging, you'll need to plug that cable into something. If you already have a USB charger or car charger, you can use that. Or you can plug it into a computer or compatible external battery.
I have all of GoPro's current cameras (as well as a decent collection of their previous models). For all-around general use, I tend to find myself reaching for the Silver a little more than the others mainly because of the built-in live view screen. If I need the high-end video modes of the Black for a client or personal project, I'll of course reach for that. But I also like having the HERO available for when I just need to throw one in a bag on the go or I don't want to have to worry about it going missing while I'm traveling. I can buy another 2 replacements before getting up to the price of a single Silver, let alone Black. That no-fuss, no-stress aspect of the HERO is a definite virtue.
The HERO is considerably cheaper than its siblings. It has fewer bells and whistles. But it's still a very capable camera whether you're trying to capture your extreme sports adventures of recording memories of family vacations.
If price is your primary decider, there's no real contest. The HERO is much less expensive than the Silver or Black.
If you want a screen to be able to see what you're shooting, go with the Silver. There's no way to add a screen to the HERO.
If you're shooting a lot of stills or timelapse, the Silver is much better for both.
But if you just want an action camera that you can take anywhere without any fuss and don't need the high-end video modes, the HERO is a great option.
|GoPro HERO4 Black||GoPro HERO4 Silver||GoPro HERO4 Session||GoPro HERO+ LCD||GoPro HERO+||GoPro HERO||GoPro HERO3+ Silver|
|Waterproof Housing||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes (integrated)||Yes (integrated)||Yes (integrated)||Yes|
|Dimensions||41x59x30 mm||41x59x30 mm||41x59x30 mm|
|Weight|| 88g (3.1oz)|
152g (5.4oz) (with housing)
147g (5.2oz) (with housing)
|2.6oz (74g)||127g (4.5oz)||123g (4.3oz)||111g (3.9 oz)||74g (2.6oz) |
136g (4.8oz) (with housing)
|Video size / Max fps||4K / 30fps|
2.7K / 60fps
1440p / 80fps
1080p / 120fps
960p / 120fps
720p / 240fps
WVGA / 240fps
|4K / 15fps|
2.7K / 30fps
1440p / 30fps
1080p / 60fps
960p / 100fps
720p / 120fps
WVGA / 240fps
|1440p / 30fps|
1080p / 60fps
960p / 60fps
720p / 100fps
WVGA / 120fps
|1080p / 60fps|
720p / 60fps
720p SuperView / 60fps
|1080p / 60fps|
720p / 60fps
720p SuperView / 60fps
|1080p / 30fps|
720p / 60fps
|1080p / 60fps|
960p / 60fps
720p / 120fps
WVGA / 120fps
|Video File Format (Codec)||MP4 (H.264)||MP4 (H.264)||MP4 (H.264)||MP4 (H.264)||MP4 (H.264)||MP4 (H.264)||MP4 (H.264)|
|Max Photo Size||12 MP / 4000x3000px||12 MP / 4000x3000px||8 MP / 3264x2448px||8 MP / 3264x2448px||8 MP / 3264x2448px||5 MP / 2592x1944px||10 MP / 3680x2760px|
|High Bitrate||60 Mb/s (7.5 MB/s)||45 Mb/s (5.7 MB/s)||35 Mb/s (4.4 MB/s)|
|Protune||Video + Stills||Video + Stills||Video||No||No||No||No|
|Burst Mode||30 / 1s||30 / 1s||10 / 1s||10 / 2s||10 / 2s||10 / 2s||10|
|Timelapse Photo Mode||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|Timelapse Video Mode||Yes||Yes||No||No||No||No||No|
|Night Photo Mode||Yes||Yes||No||No||No||No||No|
|Audio Format||48kHz AAC||48kHz AAC||32kHz AAC||48kHz AAC||48kHz AAC||48kHz AAC||48kHz AAC|
|External Mic Compatibility||Yes||Yes||No||No||No||No||Yes|
|Battery Type||1160mAh||1160mAh||1030mAh (internal)||1160mAh (internal)||1160mAh (internal)||1180mAh (internal)||1180mAh|
GoPro exerts pretty tight control over retail prices. So if you see a deal that seems too good to be true, be sure you're getting what you think you're getting. And, as with all camera gear, it's worth buying from a reputable retailer to avoid gray markets goods or counterfeits.
- The GoPro HERO will attach to a drone just fine. But do be aware that it lacks any wireless capabilities, so you can’t control the shooting with a remote or use the smartphone app to see what the camera sees. ↩
Common GoPro Questions
Here are some common questions I get from GoPro users.
How to Maximize a GoPro's battery life
There are several factors that influence how long the GoPro's battery life lasts. Among them include what mode you're recording in (4K uses more power than 1080p30, for instance), the health of the battery, and even the environmental temperature (lithium batteries don't perform well in very cold temperatures). But there are some things you can do to maximize battery life. Not every GoPro has all of these features, but start with these:
- Minimize use of the back screen
- Turn off wireless
- Turn off voice commands
- Turn off GPS
- Turn off Protune
- Use QuickCapture mode
Is it normal for GoPro cameras to get hot?
Yes. Depending on the model and the shooting mode you're using, it's normal for GoPros to get quite warm while shooting. They can get hot enough to be uncomfortable to touch. It's especially noticeable when shooting high-resolution and high-framerate video. Some newer models have an overheating protection mechanism that will shut the camera down if it gets too hot. I have more details on GoPros getting hot, here.
How can I control a GoPro remotely?
GoPro makes a range of wireless remote controls. They don't all work with all GoPros--for example, the HERO (2018) isn't compatible with this type of remote control. Many of the newer models also work with the GoPro mobile app. Not every model can be controlled remotely, but most of the newer models have wireless compatibility that can be used for at least some methods of remote control.
Can you take pictures with a GoPro?
If you've been using a GoPro for a while, this might seem pretty obvious, but if you've never used one, it's not quite so self-evident. GoPros are best known for dramatic action videos, but they can most certainly take still photos too. In fact, they can be a very interesting alternative to a traditional camera so long as you work within its limitations. I have more more details here.
Do GoPro wireless controls work underwater?
No. You can't use the mobile app or a wireless remote control if the camera is fully submerged in water. They will normally work just fine in rain and spray--just not submerged. I have a more detailed explanation here.
Do GoPro touchscreens work underwater?
No. If they're just wet above water, they can work to some extent, although often less reliably. But the touchscreens won't work underwater.