Travel Photography Gear: Find the Best GoPro for Travel
Updated: May 14, 2020
'What GoPro should I buy for travelling?' is one of the questions I keep hearing over and over again. Another typical question is about getting a GoPro vs DSLR for travel. Due to its small size and ruggedness, a GoPro should definitely be a part of your travel kit whether you are after photos or videos (though not necessarily as a replacement to a DSLR or another traditional camera - read on to learn why), but with so many models on the market, which one should you choose? In this post, I will tell you when it makes sense to choose a GoPro, what I consider to be the best GoPro for travel, why I think so (with sample images) and what the best GoPro travel accessories are.
Update: Honestly, you guys, I am so over GoPro. Pretty much straight after the warranty expired, it died on me. Just froze completely and refused to do anything. And picked the perfect timing for it too - I was at the airport heading off for a three-week stay in Portugal. So much for cool video footage of my yoga teacher training... I thought for a while about buying another GoPro, but decided against it. Whilst I am still impressed by the image quality for such a small camera, I saw so many other comments about GoPros freezing that I couldn't justify spending that much money on something so prone to breaking. I'm leaving this post up for information purposes, but based on my sad experience, I can't recommend a GoPro as a travel camera any longer.
GoPro vs DSLR for Travel
First of all, on the subject of GoPro vs DSLR - these two types of cameras couldn't be more different and I personally use both. Though not all GoPros are the same as you will find out from this post and there are even starker differences between DSLR brands and models, broadly speaking those two camera types have unique strengths and weaknesses and the use cases for each are below:
You should use a GoPro for:
- Selfies - have you ever tried to stretch out your arm whilst holding a DSLR to take a selfie? I have and it didn't really work, the weight and the size combined make it near impossible to hold the camera and take the photo with one hand without the risk of dropping it. A GoPro on the other hand is a mean selfie machine - it is super small and light and its wide angle lens makes sure the shot will have not just your head but quite a lot of background too!
- Poor weather conditions - not all DSLRs are weatherproof and even if you buy a weatherproof body, not all of your lenses may be weatherproof. I never use my DSLR in the rain, but with a GoPro protected by a thick plastic case, I don't have any second thoughts about taking it out. Ok, you might get blurry blobs in your photos/videos if raindrops land on the lens, but that's about the extent of the damage...
- Action-rich activities - horse-riding, zip-lining, parachute jumping etc. where having a bulky and fragile camera is impractical. However, put your GoPro on a selfie stick or onto a body harness, and you are all set to document your travel adventures.
- In- and underwater activities - canoeing, paddle boarding, fun in the pool or at the spa, snorkelling, swimming - all of those are ideal for a GoPro out of the box, whereas to use a DSLR in the water you would need to invest in a very expensive protective case.
- Situations where camera weight/size can be an issue - a GoPro hardly weighs anything, so it's a great companion on a long hike or if your travel bag/suitcase is so stuffed it risks breaching airline hand luggage guidelines. DSLR cameras are bulky, heavy (especially if you are carrying several big lenses) and ideally need a separate protective bag to carry them around. And don't underestimate the extra weight of a DSLR - what may seem ok in the first couple of minutes, will feel progressively heavier the more tired you get.
You should use a DSLR for:
- Versatility of frames - the interchangeable lenses on a DSLR make it possible to go from super zoom to super wide angle and give you the chance to frame your shot perfectly whether you are shooting landscapes, an animal safari or architecture. Even if you only have the kit lens, it will most probably be a zoom lens, giving you a range of different framing options out of the box. GoPro gives you wide angle shots and doesn't have a zoom, so for travel photography scenarios where the subject is in the distance (like whale watching) or portraits it won't be the right choice.
- Versatility of settings - if you want to mess about with aperture, white balance, ISO etc. a DSLR is the perfect choice! Not many settings to change on a GoPro, plus any change you make is quite fiddly due to its minimalist design.
- Picture quality - although that will differ quite a lot depending on the camera and lens that you go for. You can't expect the same results from an entry-level DSLR model with the kit lens as you would from a top-range camera and an expensive lens. My experience with an entry-level DSLR has actually been very disappointing, but now that I have a Nikon D3, the picture quality (I am talking sharpness and colours) is unbeatable. I would actually gladly downsize as lugging around so much extra weight is not my idea of fun, but I just can't find a small camera that delivers the same results the D3 does, so I guess I am stuck with it for now... Photos taken with my GoPro are good for such a small camera and are absolutely usable (you will see some sample shots below), but they don't even come close to what the Nikon takes.
So as you can see, it's not a straightforward either or choice for GoPro vs DSLR for travel, so if your budget can stretch, I would recommend buying both a GoPro and a high-end DSLR to use during your travels. If not, weigh up the use cases for each and decide what you will get more use of. If you are convinced that a GoPro is the travel camera for you, let's move on to part two of this post and choose what model to go for.
What GoPro Model to Choose for Travel?
Now moving on to what GoPro model to choose for travelling. To start with, what are the available options? The GoPro range can be broken into the smaller square Session cams vs the slightly bigger rectangular 'normal' ones which is what they made from the start. Plus there is the all-new and very expensive GoPro Fusion, which is also the largest of the bunch. Apart from Fusion, the models for sale directly from GoPro at the moment (October 2017) are Hero6 Black, Hero5 Black, Hero5 Session and Hero Session, with older models available through other retailers, either new or used. In the past, GoPro used to offer multiple versions of the same model with different specs - this is where the colours in the name came in, e.g. Hero4 Silver, Hero4 Black etc. They seem to have moved away from this strategy and the latest model only came in the 'Black' version, but if you decide to go for an older GoPro, make sure you understand what the difference in the specs is and don't just assume that all Hero3's for example are created equal.
After a lot of research and comparisons I settled on GoPro Hero4 Silver and, having had it for almost a year and in spite of Hero6 and Fusion being launched since then, I am still convinced it's the best one of their range for travel for a number of reasons:
1. It has a screen. The absence of a screen is what put me off buying a GoPro in the past - Hero4 Black, the earlier models as well as the Session cams don't have a built-in screen. Whilst for action sports, where you can't see what you're filming anyway, the lack of screen may not be such a big drawback, for travel photography and video a screen is an absolute must and I find myself relying on it a lot. Just imagine coming back home from an exotic trip and discovering that your photos or video footage have cut off something important - it's not like you can easily go back there and reshoot! An example of my personal failure here was trying to film a frog while wearing the GoPro on my head - I thought I was pointing in the right direction, but when reviewing the video footage at home I discovered that I filmed a bunch of leaves and water and the frog hadn't actually made it into the frame...
Whilst you can combat this issue by viewing the feed through your phone via wifi, it's draining for the already rather lacklustre battery as well as a bit of a faff having to manage two gadgets at once. Here's me putting my GoPro screen to good use in the Azores:
2. GoPro Hero4 Silver comes with a case and several backdoors (including the waterproof one), so it's well protected and ready to go out of the box. While Hero5 and 6 Black are meant to be waterproof on their own, which is why they have not included a case in the pack, some Hero5 reviews complain about the flimsy side door and water getting inside the lens - I much prefer the camera to be kept safe in a protective case while swimming than to learn the hard way that the waterproofing isn't quite up to scratch.
Even outside of the water, I like to keep the case on to make sure the lens isn't going to get scratched and to give it that extra bit of protection in case it gets dropped - and if I do damage the case, replacing it is cheaper than fixing/replacing the whole camera. If you go for Hero5/6 and decide to buy a case as well, getting one from the official GoPro shop will set you back another £50.
3. GoPro Hero4 Silver is not the latest model - some may view that as a drawback, but I view it as an opportunity to save money! A GoPro is not a cheap piece of kit, so I am sure you will appreciate being able to spend a bit less on it. I certainly did, especially since the reason for buying it was taking the first step into the word of filming, which I had not done before and wasn't sure I would get into. I bought my Hero4 Silver certified refurbished on eBay, so that it came checked by the manufacturer and with a 12-month GoPro warranty for a fraction of the new price. If you aren't that bothered about warranty and want to save even more, a big advantage of buying used is that many sellers are throwing in a memory card and some accessories, so you don't have to get them separately - and you will certainly need accessories (more on the must-haves later).
4. The quality of photos and videos is remarkably good for such a small camera. Quite often small size, ruggedness and good quality are mutually exclusive terms, but though of course the output from a GoPro is not as good as photos from my top-of-the-range DSLR, I was positively surprised! As I said before, I bought my Hero4 Silver for videos, but I have found myself taking more and more photos with it as well - it's great for selfies, rainy weather and super-wide-angle shots from close up. The video quality is also good, though low-light conditions sometimes prove to be a bit of a struggle. I will let you judge for yourself though - below are some photos taken with my GoPro as well as a video:
Does this mean that the Hero4 Silver is the perfect travel cam and the solution to all your problems? Well, no, it does have a drawback - lack of video stabilisation, which will mean shaky footage if you are filming while walking/running/cycling on uneven terrain etc. This is only an issue for video, so if your primary use of the GoPro is photos, it's not something you will notice. Hero5 is the first model to have video stabilisation built in - I haven't had a chance to test how good or bad it is, so I can't comment on that from experience (however the fact that GoPro made an external stabilisation device called Karma Grip that is sold with a Hero5 harness makes me think the in-built system is not perfect). It is possible to improve the shaky footage on older models either by applying stabilisation effects when editing your videos (which is what I do) or buying a gimbal (a battery-powered device designed to keep your camera steady) - good ones don't come cheap and a lot of gimbals on offer don't seem to work properly judging by the reviews, so I am yet to invest in one.
So there is that one drawback, but on the whole I strongly believe that the combined benefits of having a screen and a case for a better price outweigh that and that Hero4 Silver is the best GoPro for travel! Was I convincing enough to make you want to buy one? Click here to check out what's on offer on eBay - and do triple check you are buying the Hero4 Silver model and not the Black one (Black has no built-in screen). For manufacturer refurbished options, have a look here.
Best Travel Accessories for GoPro
Now for the accessories. The standard accessories that came with my GoPro Hero4 Silver were:
one rechargeable battery
a plastic case with different interchangeable back doors (including the waterproof one for underwater photography)
a USB cable for charging and photo/video transfer (no plug though)
a few basic mounts/bits of mounting hardware
I can tell you straight away that it wasn't enough to even get me started, so some additional shopping was in order. Some things are fairly obvious and I bought them at once whilst some I have only recently added to my collection, and I certainly bought some stuff that hasn't turned out useful, but here is a list of what you may want to purchase and why - so either make sure these are already included with your used GoPro or click on the items below to go shopping.
Memory card - that's an obvious one whether you travel with your GoPro or not. The GoPro doesn't have any internal memory, so you need to get a microSD card to put your photos/videos on. It needs to be a minimum of Class 10 and you might want to check compatibility against this list provided by GoPro I use a Transcend memory card and haven't had any issues with it. Get this item from eBay
Extra batteries and charger - the battery life on a GoPro is pretty pathetic, so whatever model you go for, I suggest you get a couple of spare batteries and carry them around if you know you will be using the camera a lot. Quite often you can get spare batteries bundled with a charger, which is what I got - saves you having to charge them one by one through the GoPro. I did not fork out for the original GoPro batteries and so far have had no issues with my Telesin kit. It also comes in handy for charging the remote. Get this item from eBay
Floating hand grip - if you intend to go swimming with the GoPro, for peace of mind it's good to know that the camera will stay afloat if you let go of it, plus it's quite a handy way to hold the camera even outside of the water if you don't have a separate selfie stick. The yellow hand grip you saw in the photos above is included in lots of standard accessory sets, but you can also buy it separately - I am very happy with it. Get this item from eBay
Selfie stick/tripod - after my first go at making videos while holding the GoPro, I decided it would be more stable if I could put it on a stick. My first selfie stick came as part of the above-mentioned accessory set and unlike the fab floating grip it was horrendous. It felt flimsy and the top kept rotating freely - not fit for purpose at all. So I had used the floating hand grip as my stick on land until I saw a super affordable selfie stick/tripod combo that looks identical to what GoPro have on their website (for an eye-watering amount of money of course) and so I bought that. It is very variable in functionality, you can unscrew it and only keep the grip part if you don't want a long selfie stick and there is a tripod that comes out of the bottom - I can see myself using this a lot! Get this item from eBay
Remote - since I started to use the GoPro for selfies, my arm takes up a large part of the photo, so I figured I needed to get a remote to be able to take photos either using the selfie stick or with a tripod. The remote is the only original GoPro accessory that I own. With it you get a keychain and a band that you can wear like a bracelet, but there it nothing to attach it to the selfie stick, so if that's what you are after you will need to get a separate attachment. Get this item from eBay
I referred a few times to an accessory set that I bought - there are lots of different one out there, which to me all kind of look the same. Apart from the great floating hand grip and the rubbish selfie stick, my accessory set included lots of other attachments - for the bike, head strap, chest strap etc etc etc. I have tried using the head strap, but not being able to judge what I am filming has resulted in odd shaky footage, so I haven't used it again. I have also discovered that the whole screwing and unscrewing the GoPro to the mounts, while certainly secure is also a bit of a hassle, so I wouldn't really want to be changing between mounts during a hike or a tour. So the only other thing I have ended up using from the set was the case that came with it - it's a good way to transport the GoPro plus a couple of accessories while travelling. Whilst the sets are really quite cheap for the amount of stuff you get, up to you to decide whether you will actually be using enough mounts to warrant a purchase. Get this item from eBay
And that's a wrap! Hope you have fun with your GoPro and bring back some awesome photos and videos from your travels!
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