There are several types of housings available for GoPros, with each having its strengths and weaknesses. Here's a rundown of what's available and what each is best (and worst) for.
The ones I'm focusing on here are compatible with the HERO4 Silver and Black. Most of these housings are also compatible with the HERO3+ and HERO3 Silver and Black, but not all of them are. If you're buying for those models it's worth checking when you go to buy it that they're listed as compatible, especially when buying third-party housings.
These housings will not work with the HERO4 Session. That camera is a completely different shape. And it's body is itself waterproof. So housings for the Session are quite different. And models like the HERO and HERO+ LCD have the housing integrated into the camera.
GoPro Standard Housing
As the name suggests, this is the housing that most likely came with your GoPro (unless you got a dedicated music bundle). It's the latest version of what allowed GoPros to go where few cameras had gone before, the rugged housing is waterproof down to 131 feet (40m). It also offers very good protection against bumps and knocks.
If you're looking for the best all-around option for general shooting, this is it.
It's not indestructible, though, and there are times you might have to replace it. In particular, it's possible for the lens port to become scratched and interfere with the image quality.
One of several nice touches with the GoPro housing is that the back door simply clicks off. That means that you can replace it with different backdoors. The most obvious reason you'd want to do that is to add one of the accessories that clip onto the back of the camera, like the LCD Bacpac, the Backpack battery, or a third-party battery like the Brunton All-Day 2.0 Extended Waterproof Battery. You can also replace it with a backdoor that is still waterproof but that is flexible and allows you to use the touchscreen on a HERO4 Silver.
Good For: This is the all-purpose GoPro housing. It offers excellent protection while still maintaining easy access to the controls and features a flat glass lens portal that offers the best compromise for shooting above and below water.
Not Good For: If you're using an external microphone or power supply. It's also not very good for using the onboard microphones.
If you've every been Scuba diving, you'll know that most recreational dives don't go anywhere near the 131-foot (40m) depth that the standard housing is rated for. But in case you are going deep, you can still be covered with the Dive Housing.
It's rated down to 197 feet (60m). If you're going deeper than that you're likely going to need something very specialized or an expensive remote vehicle that has its own built-in cameras.
Aside from being a bit stronger, it looks and acts just like the standard housing.
Good For: Scuba diving at depth or underwater remote vehicles. It will work as standard housing replacement for regular shooting, but won't offer any real benefit for the extra price.
Not Good For: If you're using an external microphone or power supply.
I'd also recommend the dedicated Red Dive Filter for the Dive Housing to help with color balance.
If you really want to avoid attracting attention to your camera, the Blackout Housing is what you want. It's the stealth option. It covers all the lights and is covered in matte black plastic to minimize reflections. They even come with a black sticker that you can put over the small LCD screen on the front if you really want to fly under the radar.
The protection offered by these rivals the standard GoPro Standard Housing and are rated as waterproof down to the same depth: 131 feet (40m).
It comes with an all-black back door, a skeleton back door, and a touch backdoor that lets you access the touchscreen on the back of the Silver.
There is still a GoPro logo on the front, but it's very subtle. And you can cover it over with some gaffer tape if you like.
Good For: Why would you want to go so low-key? Sure, maybe you just like the look of it. But it's mostly to film discretely. There's minimal branding and, crucially, it blocks all the lights on the outside of the camera that are giveaways that it is filming. So it's especially good in places where you don't want to attract attention to the facts a) you're using a GoPro and b) you're filming.
Not Good For: If you need access to the side cable plugs for attaching external devices such as microphones or external power supplies.
GoPro Camo Housing
There are two flavors of the camo pattern. One is the Realtree Xtra pattern designed for year-round general woodland use. The other is something called Realtree MAX-5, which apparently is perfect for waterfowl habitats.
They come with a QuickClip, which is a pressure clip designed to attach to a baseball cap or something else that's between 3mm and 10mm thick and flat.
Like the Standard Housing, they're rated as being waterproof down to 131 feet (40m).
Good For: Hunting and wildlife or anywhere you might otherwise use the Standard Housing. Or maybe you just like the looks of it.
Not Good For: It's functionally similar to the Standard Housing, so it's not good for external connections and sub-par for sound from the onboard microphone.
The point of the skeleton housings is to provide access for cable connections while shooting. So they have cutouts for the buttons, screens, and, crucially, the USB and HDMI connections.
That means they're an excellent option when you want to connect external microphones or power supplies, especially indoors or in dry conditions.
Good For: Anytime you need to connect external power or devices via cables. That might be using external microphones, connecting an external power supply, or connecting to a TV or monitor.
Not Good For: Around or under water. With gaping holes in them, they're not at all waterproof.
This minimalist housing doesn't provide much in the way of protection. In many respects, they're just like using the camera naked, with one important added convenience: they add the mounting connection on the bottom so that you can use any of the endless variety of GoPro-style mounts.
Crucially, they offer access to the side plugs so that you can use them with external microphones or USB power supplies. And there's nothing over the lens, so there's less chance of lens flare when shooting in direct, bright light.
Good For: Music performances or if you're just looking to go minimalist while retaining the convenience of GoPro mounting accessories.
Not Good For: Around water. These offer no protection against water or dust.
There are also good third-party options that are much cheaper, like this one.
These are a type of skeleton housing.
I use these are a housing when using GoPro's for general shooting or for travel. They're strong and light, and with threaded bolt sockets strategically placed around them, they're especially useful for different kinds of mounting options like bolting to something solid or using with a standard tripod connection. They also offer full access to the camera's controls and do not obstruct the lens in any way. I also like that they offer a bit more to hold onto for hand-held shooting.
The downside is that, like the regular skeleton housings, they're not at all waterproof.
Many of them have threaded lens portals that are designed for adding screw-in filters. Be aware, though, that because of the extreme wide-angle lens in the GoPros, with some settings, especially with still photos, you can end up with vignetting in the corners of the frame when adding filters.
Good For: Any time you might want to use a skeleton housing. General shooting in dry conditions. If you want to get maximum image quality and reduce the risk of light flares from a housing's lens port. If you want to mount directly on a tripod without using the usual GoPro-to-tripod connector adapter.
Not Good For: Again, these are not at all waterproof, so you don't want to be using this in wet conditions.
This is similar to the Blackout Housing but without the same level of protection. It offers a slim rubberized cover while retaining full access to the ports and buttons.
It gives a little extra grip and a slight improvement in shock protection. It also gives you the chance to dress up your GoPro in a different color or, if you go with the plain black, offer a similar discrete look to the Blackout Housing.
Good For: If you wish your GoPro were more colorful. You want a little more grip.
Not Good For: If you want to attach the camera to anything else. There's no attachment on the base. And no, this will not fit inside a Standard Housing.
This specialized option is actually more about the lens portal than the housing itself, but they come with their own housing attached.
It's specifically designed to take those split photos where part of the image is under the water and part above (here's an example shot with a different camera). They're fun, and I've gotten some of my favorite photos of the kids swimming with them, but you have to be after a very specific type of shot.
In theory, you can do it without the big dome port, but in practice, it's impossible to get reliable results because even very small undulations in the water will move a long way relative to the size of the original lens portal. But vastly increasing the size of the lens portal as well as moving it away from the camera, it makes it much easier to get these shots.
They're compatible with the HERO4 Black, but they're much easier to use with the Silver so that you can better compose your shot with the back screen.
These housings and dome lens ports feature a couple of customized modifications. Because you can't reach the front power button on the GoPro--it's blocked by the port--there's a mechanism that allows you to use a button on the back of the port. There's also a short string loop that allows you to unlock the housing's locking cover--otherwise, you can't get a good grip to unlatch it.
I've used these successfully for some really fun shots, but before diving in there are some things to watch out for. Most importantly, check for leaks beforehand. These are typically third-party housings, and quality control can be patchy, and parts can be cheaply made. Because of the way these are designed, they don't work with the standard GoPro housing but have their own built-in, and the quality isn't as good as the GoPro-branded housings. Another thing to watch is that it's very easy to scratch the dome. You will likely want a cover for protection when you're not using it.
Good For: Split level, underwater / over water shots.
Not Good For: Just about anything else.
These aren't really housings, as such. They don't offer any protection from water or bumps. They're designed solely to reduce wind noise when using the onboard microphone.
They can generally be used by itself on the naked camera if you're shooting handheld. But doing it that way doesn't let you attach the camera to anything--there's no attachment on the bottom of the windscreen. So if you're looking to attach it to something you'll want to use it in conjunction with a frame housing.
Note that they're generally not compatible with any housings except for The Frame.
Good For: Dry, windy environments where sound recording with the onboard microphone is important.
Not Good For: Basically any use other than the specialized use it's designed for.
Recommendations by Type of Use
Everyday shooting: The GoPro Standard Housing.
With external microphones or external USB power supply: A minimalist frame.
For the beach: The GoPro Standard Housing.
On the slopes / snowboarding / skiing: GoPro Standard Housing.
Deep Scuba Diving: The GoPro Dive Housing with a Red Dive Filter and anti-fog inserts (note that the filter is dedicated for this housing and is slightly different than the one for the Standard Housing).
Stealth Mode: The Blackout Housing if you're after a housing that offers the same protection at the Standard Housing, or a silicone skin if you don't need the protection or mount points and want something cheaper.
Cycling / Riding / Skating / or just about any other action sport: GoPro Standard Housing.
Hunting / Wildlife: One of the two designs of Camo Housing.
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.