GoPro Hero4 Black Edition Camcorder Review
The best gets even better with GoPro's new Hero4 Black Edition.
By the Numbers
GoPro's cameras have come a long way in terms of quality that they offer. Early on they were all about making the most compact and durable camera on the market, but with that reputation more or less in the bag, the company has turned its attention to improving video quality.
With a new 4K/30p video mode as well as 1080/120fps and a host of other upgrades, we have plenty to talk about with the Hero4 Black Edition. Here's a full breakdown of everything we found in our test labs.
Sharpness is something that GoPro has been constantly increasing even with the same sensor size. They are doing this by improving processing of images in the camera, unlocking higher bitrates and resolutions. Sharpness on the Hero4 Black is quite an improvement over the Hero3+ Black.
On the older Hero3+ Black, we saw 700 lp/ph (line pairs per picture height) horizontal and 800 lp/ph vertically. The new processor on the Hero4 Black raised these numbers to 1000 lp/ph both horizontally and vertically–a significant increase in sharpness. This is mostly due to the jump to 4K/30p, compared to the 1080p modes on last year's model.
Also worth noting: Just as the Hero3+ Black before it, the camera’s extra-wide angle "SuperView" mode causes a loss of resolution. So if you want the sharpest output possible you’ll want to keep that option turned off.
Low Light Performance
Small sensors have always had trouble in low-light situations, as the smaller pixel sites can only gather so much light at a time. Last year, however, the Hero3+ Black impressed us with outstanding low-light performance on an extremely small sensor. After seeing the Hero3+ Black produce a usably bright image with a light level as low as 3 lux, we were hoping for even better results with the Hero4's new processor.
Unfortunately, the Hero4 Black actually took a minor step back in low-light performance, requiring 5 lux to produce an similarly bright image. That makes it more comparable to the Hero3 in this category, though functionally all three will perform about the same. ProTune will give you better low-light results and more control over ISO, but with higher ISO speeds comes much more noise that will have to be taken care of in post-production.
Motion & Detail
GoPro added even more resolutions to shoot in with this year's model. You can shoot video at just about any typical framerate you can think of from 24fps up to 60fps at most shooting resolutions, with 120fps at 1080p video. If you want higher resolution you can even opt for 4K/30fps, a usable framerate that we're glad to see replaces the juttery 4K/15fps that GoPro teased us with last time around.
Though the 4K mode is, by far, the sharpest of the lot, if you want smooth motion we highly recommend the 1080/120fps mode. Most cameras can barely do 1080/60p, so doubling the frame rate is an excellent addition. In the lab we noticed very little trailing and nearly no visible artifacts.
1080/120fps is especially useful if you plan to put the GoPro video through post-production. With 120 individual frames every second you can slow it down by 5x and get a very nice slow motion played back at a filmic 24 frames per second. It's especially nice when you want to highlight a cool sequence in your video later.
One thing everyone that uses GoPro cameras knows is you have to have spare batteries. They are little cameras with little batteries, but remarkably huge appetites for power. That hasn't changed at all with the new Hero4 Black. In fact, with 4K/30p this camera is an endless void of power consumption.
Shooting at 4K/30p we were able to capture about an hour and a half of footage before needing to stop and charge or swap batteries. That is without WiFi enabled or the use of a remote control, both of which will drain the battery even faster. GoPro also went with a 1160 mAh battery instead of the 1180 mAh battery of the Hero3+. It's a minor change in terms of capacity, but a major change for one reason: older batteries are no longer compatible.
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