GoPro has no shortage of competitors today, each vying for a bigger slice of the action camera pie, but it remains the brand that many associate when they think of capturing any kinds of thrills.
Its wide range of suitable models is no doubt part of why this is: from its tiny budget Hero Session offering to the 360-degree-capturing delights of its Fusion model, there appears to be a camera for everyone.
The company’s Hero models are its most popular, with White, Silver and Black variants typically released at three different price points simultaneously. It’s the Black option that heads the triplet, with more powerful specs and an asking price to match, and the current option is the Hero7 Black. Look hard enough, though, and you can still find some of the older Hero5 Black and Hero6 Black models knocking around.
All three models share many commonalities, such as 4K video, 10m/33ft waterproofing without a case and Voice Control, together with Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, so what exactly do you gain by going for the newer versions? We drill into the spec sheets of all three to find out.
GoPro Hero7 Black vs Hero6 Black vs Hero5 Black: processor
GoPro didn’t give the processing engine inside Hero5 Black any particular name, but the Hero6 Black was notable for being the first to feature a fresh 'GP1' processing engine.
This engine, which also continued to the Hero7 Black, provides additional features, better stabilisation than on the Hero5 Black and superior image quality too, which we'll look at more closely below. It also brought with it Global Tone Mapping for video to deliver up to two extra stops of dynamic range in high-contrast scenes, which, in turn, helped to boost color accuracy.
GoPro Hero7 Black vs Hero6 Black vs Hero5 Black: stabilisation
One thing that has consistently improved with every successive Hero model is image stabilisation.
In the Hero6 Black this came courtesy of the GP1 engine, and we found this to have a noticeable advantages over the system inside the Hero5 Black. The Hero7 Black, meanwhile, ramped things up even further, being the first model to offer HyperSmooth, which the company describes as gimbal-like stabilisation.
As we discovered in our review, this system is very effective at smoothing out bumps and knocks when travelling over rough terrain. It can be called upon when shooting right up to the maximum 4K/60p option, and on some of the other settings where it's not available a more standard stabilisation option is available in its place.
GoPro Hero7 Black vs Hero6 Black vs Hero5 Black: video recording
The biggest change between the Hero 5 Black and Hero 6 Black concerns their respective top frame rates when shooting 4K footage. While the Hero 5 Black tops out at 30fps, the Hero 6 Black powers on to deliver 60fps shooting at 4K. The Hero 5 Black does still offer frame rates beyond 30fps, but this comes at the cost of resolution.
Another difference between the models is down to the compression formats available. The Hero 5 Black only offers the H.264 (MPEG-4) codec, while the Hero 6 Black and Hero 7 Black offer both H.264 and H.265 (HVEC) flavours, thanks to the GP1 engine. H.265 is a newer and more efficient format, which has the result of you being able to squeeze more footage onto your card.
While the Hero 5 Black manages 240fps shooting at 720p, and 120fps capture at 1080p, the Hero 6 Black and Hero 7 Black are capable of 240fps at 1080p resolution. The latter model also adds an 8x Super Slow-mo option that slows down footage captured at these settings when playing it back in camera.
The Hero7 Black adds a handful off extra sweeteners to further separate it from its forebears. TimeWarp video provides stabilised hyperlapse-style results without you needing a tripod, with footage sped up to a maximum 30x, while another extra addition is the Short Clips feature, which restricts footage to either 15- or 30-second clips, disciplining you into capturing only the finest moments of your adventures.
Audio capture is also said to have been improved on the newer Hero 7 Black, partly thanks to a redesigned microphone membrane.
GoPro Hero7 Black vs Hero6 Black vs Hero5 Black: Image capture
Each of the three models is capable of capturing 12MP stills, either in single-shot or 30fps burst modes, and each can also be set to a time-lapse mode. Each can also capture raw files in addition to JPEGs.
Where they differ is with the secondary capture options. The WDR (Wide Dynamic Range) option found on the Hero5 Black transformed into the HDR (High Dynamic Range) option on the Hero6 Black and Hero7 Black, taking advantage of the GP1 engine to better image quality under high-contrast conditions.
The most recent Hero7 Black also combined its HDR option with multi-frame noise reduction and local tone mapping into a single SuperPhoto mode. This uses scene analysis to work out which of these technologies (if any) to deploy when it senses they could be of use, saving you from having to manually call upon individual options.
GoPro Hero7 Black vs Hero6 Black vs Hero5 Black: Wi-Fi
One common criticism of the Hero line has been the time it takes to offload footage wirelessly from camera to smart device, so this is one area where it’s focused. The inclusion of 5GHz Wi-fi on the Hero6 Black delivered a 3x speed advantage over the Hero5 Black, and this was maintained for the newer Hero7 Black.
GoPro Hero7 Black vs Hero6 Black vs Hero5 Black: Touch zoom
The Hero 6 Black and Hero 7 Black each offer a Touch Zoom option, which allows the user to swipe their finger up and down the side of the rear touchscreen to gradually zoom into the scene, whether they're shooting videos or images. While quality suffers as you zoom, it does at least provide a way to frame images at more standard focal lengths when the default option is a little too wide.
Despite being equipped with a touchscreen, Touch Zoom was only came to the line with the Hero 6 Black, although it's still possible to zoom to pre-determined points by touching the screen.
GoPro Hero7 Black vs Hero6 Black vs Hero5 Black: Livestreaming
The Hero 7 Black is alone in offering the option to livestream footage to Facebook, YouTube, Twitch and Vimeo platforms among others, with footage saved onto the camera’s microSDHC/SDXC memory card at the same time.
GoPro Hero7 Black vs Hero6 Black vs Hero5 Black: Vertical shooting
A smaller change on the most recent Hero7 Black is vertical shooting. The camera’s UI flips to portrait orientation when you have the camera positioned that way and saves images vertically, making it easier to embed into Instagram Stories and on other mobile-specific outputs.