GoPro Hero4 Black review

GoPro Hero4 Black review

GoPro is in the enviable position of being synonymous with action cameras. The diminutive devices are used widely on TV, as well as by professional and amateur sportsmen and women. The latest model can capture 4K video, but is it worth the high price? Here's our GoPro Hero4 Black review. 

For existing Hero3 owners, the Hero4 looks very similar. It's not identical, though. The battery now slides in from the bottom, and old batteries can't be used. That's a pain if you already have a few, but the other change is more welcome: the old Wi-Fi button on the side is now a HiLight button which you can press just after a significant moment. This makes it much easier to find that video gold when you return.

The button also makes it much easier to use the menus. It's context sensitive, so unlike the feverish button pressing (and cursing) you had to do previously, pressing the side button while in video mode will give you all the options relating to video. It's still not totally intuitive, but a good step in the right direction.

At the front, the LEDs have been moved next to the tiny LCD display (which still isn't backlit) possibly in an attempt to avoid them being visible in video shot at night. There are also flashing LEDs on the top and rear faces to let you know the camera is recording.

It may sound like a minor point, but the loud beep sequences when turning the Hero on and off, plus starting and stopping recording are amazingly useful. Until you've tested a rival which lacks these cues you don't quite realise how essential they are. It's all too easy to miss a moment without those beeps. (See also: Keecoo action camera review)

A small cover on the right hand side covers the microSD, mini USB and micro HDMI ports. This doesn't make the camera waterproof: you still need the included housing for underwater shots. As ever, you get a 'skeleton' back door for better audio recording when you don't need complete waterproofing.

GoPro Hero4 Black review

Like the Hero3, there's no minijack port for attaching a mic, but you can buy an optional GoPro micro USB adapter cable for around £20 which gives you the necessary 3.5mm port. You'll need to make a hole in the side of the waterproof housing to connect a mic, or use a different housing when mounting the camera.

You get a couple of adhesive mounts in the box, but note that there's no Wi-Fi remote as you got with the Hero3 Black edition. The old remote will work with the new camera, but there's a new version of the remote which has the extra Highlight button. You can also buy the optional LCD BackPac, because the Hero4 black doesn't have the integrated LCD touchscreen of the Hero4 Silver. Alternatively, the proprietary connector on the rear also works with the Battery BacPac.

The reason to pay more for the Hero4 Black is, of course, because it can shoot 4K video at 30fps (or 25 if you're in PAL mode). This means smooth footage compared to the 15fps 4K mode of the Hero3+.

The Hero4 Black will also capture 120fps in 1080p, 240fps in 720p and there are lots of other resolutions and modes to choose, including super-wide angle, wide angle, medium and narrow.  It will depend on what you're shooting - and the chosen resolution and frame rate - as to whether all angles are available or not.

As well as high framerates for slo-mo sequences, the Hero4 Black also does time-lapse, offering various modes up to 4K. At lower resolutions you can record video and capture photos for time-lapse videos at the same time. Intervals vary from five to 60 seconds.

Experience GoProers will understand the ProTune capture mode, which essentially allows you to get even better quality in the final video when editing with the free GoPro Studio software. With it, you get manual control over colour, ISO limit, exposure and other parameters.

Protune settings are also available for photos, which are captured at 12Mp, and up to 30fps in burst mode.

Video quality is excellent. Obviously you'll need a UHD screen to see the full detail the Hero4 is able to capture, but even on a 1080p TV or PC monitor, there's a noticeable improvement over footage captured at 1080p.

There's still a lack of dynamic range, so skies can end up being blown out but equally, when there's less contrast to deal with, exposure and colours are excellent. Also, changes in exposure - from dark to light or vice versa - are handled swiftly, and low light performance is respectable too.

Of course, there's no zoom or stabilisation, the latter of which is a bit disappointing at this price, but the high resolutions mean you can stabilise footage in an editor afterwards and still end up with detailed videos.

Audio is respectable when the camera isn't in the waterproof case, but it's understandably muffled when it is.

GoPro Hero4 Black review: app

There may be no screen on the Hero4 Black, but if you have an Android, Windows Phone or iPhone the GoPro app solves that niggle as you can see a live, low-res feed on your phone. Despite the low ratings in the App Store, we found the app to be very good. Both Bluetooth and Wi-Fi are now used to communicate and, once paired, you have full control over the camera.

You can start and stop recording, take photos, tag highlights and change settings including resolution, framerate, field of view and more. We particularly like the ability to power off the camera and then power it back on all via the app, so it doesn't matter if it's mounted in an awkward place. It will stay in standby overnight without draining the battery, too.

GoPro Hero4 Black review

Plus, the app lets you review clips remotely which is handy if you want to check you captured the moment without having to take the microSD card out of the Hero4 and put it in a laptop.

Controls and buttons are large and easy to use when you're in a hurry outdoors: compared to a lot of the rubbish you get with Chinese knock-offs, GoPro's app is very slick.

Battery life is decent if you're recording at 1080p30, without Wi-Fi: you'll get about 90 minutes between charges. Recording at 4K severely reduces recording time - roughly 40 minutes in our tests. Recharging takes about an hour, so it's worth buying at least one spare battery and a car charger for on-the-move recharging.

Hero4 Black: Versions

We reviewed the standard version, whose housing is good for up to 40m underwater. However, there are two other models: Surf and Music. The former has a tougher housing which is rated down to 60m, while the Music version comes with a minimal frame that allows access to the micro USB port so you can attach a professional mic (although the built-in mic is much improved over the Hero3). It also comes with microphone and instrument mounts.

 GoPro Hero4 Black review

GoPro Hero4 Black: Specs

  • 12Mp action camera
  • Max video resolution: 3840x2160 at 30fps
  • Records MP4 file (H.264)with AAC audio
  • Max video bitrate: 60Mb/s
  • Built-in Wi-Fi and Bluetooth
  • microSD up to 64GB
  • Micro HDMI output,mini USB
  • 1160mAh (4.4Wh) battery
  • 59x41x30mm
  • 89g (152g with housing)
  • 12Mp action camera
  • Max video resolution: 3840x2160 at 30fps
  • Records MP4 file (H.264)with AAC audio
  • Max video bitrate: 60Mb/s
  • Built-in Wi-Fi and Bluetooth
  • microSD up to 64GB
  • Micro HDMI output,mini USB
  • 1160mAh (4.4Wh) battery
  • 59x41x30mm
  • 89g (152g with housing)

OUR VERDICT

The Hero4 Black is a fantastic action camera that shoots great quality footage. It's expensive, but you get a lot for your money. Other 4K cameras are available, but none are as small, rugged or cheap as the GoPro. This makes it ideal for capturing extreme sports, using attached to a drone such as the DJI Phantom, or strapping to your roll bar (as we did) and recording a spirited drive down the back lanes.

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