GoPro Hero4 Black: The Hero Complex
Besides creating an intense desire to jump out of airplanes, Aditya Nair finds out what the GoPro Hero4 Black has to offer us mere mortals.
The first thing that hits you when you pick up the GoPro is an insane loss of control. I don’t mean that you start jumping off rooftops, sticking the GoPro in people’s face, or dropping it in washing machines. That comes later. If you are a someone who likes even a smidgen of control, for example, over composition or exposure, you are in for a surprise.
During 1995, the idea of ‘Calm Technology‘ was formulated. It was defined roughly by these parameters: Technology should require the least of our attention; it should easily solve a problem; while remaining in the periphery of user attention. Basically, Mark Weiser and John Seely Brown were conceptualising what the GoPro ultimately did for photography.
A three-button system is all you need to control it’s settings. But, once the GoPro starts recording, your job as a “photographer” is quickly reduced to avoiding the it’s ultra-wide Field of View (the lens is equivalent to about 15mm). You will be surprised by how often stray shadows, fingers, even entire body parts show up.
The biggest improvement to the Hero4 Black is in the video frame rates, including 4k at 30fps. With Full HD and HD, you can go as high as 120fps for those fantastic slow motion action shots. There is also a WVGA (768 x 480px) mode that shoots at 240fps.
Besides this, the camera retains its ability to shoot 12MP images. It also has the same Timelapse and Continuous Shooting (up to 30fps) modes as the Hero 3+ Black.
Welcome additions are the Night Photo and Night Lapse modes which improve the GoPro’s oft-lamented low light abilities. These modes let you shoot at, and control slow shutterspeeds from 2sec–30sec. In the Night Lapse mode, you can set the interval times between 0.5sec and 60sec.
If you intend on using the fast frame rates, the high bitrates or 4k capabilities offered by the Hero4 Black, don’t forget to invest in a fast microSD card.
Numerous accessories let you mount the GoPro in every imaginable way, including a Fetch mount, for dogs! And where there is no mount, you have the flat and curved adhesive strips.
The beauty of the GoPro is that it can be as discreet or attention grabbing as you want it to be. You have the option to turn off all LEDs making this tiny camera a voyeur’s dream. Conversely, if it is attention that you seek, mount it on your head and walk around capturing equal parts amusement and bewilderment of those around you.
Then there is the housing—the reason GoPro has become genre-synonymous with adrenaline driven sports. The standard housing remains waterproof (up to 40m), dustproof and shockproof.
Besides a design change in the Hero4s that make removing the battery easier, the overall dimensions of the camera remain the same, so it is still compatible with all older accessories. However, the battery itself is completely new, thus making your older spare batteries defunct. The new battery tops out at 1160mAh which is about 20mAh lesser than the earlier version. While this is not a huge difference, the GoPro’s poor battery life has always been problematic.
On the video front, pressing the Settings button tags that part as a HiLight. This makes it easier to identify the portion of the clip you want to use, when editing.
Additionally, I wish that the tiny screen on the front (from where you can change settings) was at least back-lit. It would have meant better visibility and less fumbling around. That said, the new menu design is a lot easier to use.
The WiFi-enabled Remote Control, that came as a part of the Hero3+ Black and was capable of triggering multiple GoPros, is no longer a part of the kit. With the Hero4 Black, you need to purchase it as a separate accessory that costs Rs. 7080.
The GoPro Smartphone App
The GoPro’s lack of an LCD or viewfinder that lets you compose your shots has always been an issue. The solution?
A WiFi-enabled app that turns your smartphone into an LCD! There is quite a bit of lag to deal with, which makes it ineffective for shooting. It is still great for framing your shots especially, when the camera is perched at awkward angles. Additionally, you can change settings far more easily. Since it can be used to import media from the GoPro, I found it to be quite handy when I wanted to confirm a shot.
Since most cellphones today are f/2.2, some even faster, I was disappointed to find that the lens still remains fixed at f/2.8. A faster lens would have been welcome and so would image stabilisation. There is also visible fringing in the images.
First introduced in the Hero 3+, for video, Protune is now available for images as well. With Protune, you can change the metering, sharpness, white balance and exposure compensation. It also lets you set an ISO limit (upto 800).
Mostly, it’s advantage is that it improves the image quality through its Colour function. This lets you choose between a ‘GoPro’ option, for images created by the camera’s default algorithms and ‘Flat’, for a more colour neutral look that is better for postprocessing. The latter also captures a bit more shadow and highlight detail, where the camera’s dynamic range is otherwise poor.
While Protune helps, there is no significant improvement in image quality, which is unfortunate. The image quality is acceptable in good light. However, the low light quality left me seriously wanting.
Additionally, instead of letting me set an ISO limit (100–800 for stills), I wish the camera let me choose the ISO. Often, despite choosing a limit of ISO 800, the camera shot images at lower ISOs (sometimes even ISO 100) resulting in slower shutterspeeds and completely blurring all the action.
On the video front, the Hero4 Black captures data up to 60Mbps, which serious video fanatics will welcome. The Superview mode is pretty fun too. It takes the 4:3 aspect ratio and stretches it to 16:9, giving a wider FoV, for more immersive video.
Given the number of recently announced action cameras that are nipping at the heels of GoPro’s market, I assumed that there would be a drop in the Hero4 range’s pricing. That’s not the case. Instead, GoPro has upped its price and changed who its camera segments cater to.
It would appear that the GoPro Hero4 Black (Rs. 43,900) is now being targeted at video professionals. On the other hand, the cheaper Hero4 Silver (Rs. 34,900) has all of the newly added photo functions, which is basically Protune, but 4k is limited to a quirky 15fps and Full HD to 60fps. If you want the slow motion that only 120fps delivers, you will have to drop the resolution to 720p. Additionally, the Silver, has another very important feature, an inbuilt LCD for viewing images and changing settings, which is a first for GoPro.
For me, the Hero4 is a good video upgrade but it isn’t significant enough, in terms of image quality. That said, it still remains the best action camera out there. However, at least, from a photography standpoint, the competition is catching up fast.
Excellent video frame rates, an average f/2.8 lens, new night shooting modes, Superview
Good metering, average image quality, poor in low light, Auto WB isn’t always accurate
Exceptional, waterproof up to 40m, shockproof and dustproof
Compact and lightweight, three function buttons, updated menu system
|Warranty & Support
One year immediate replacement warranty, no camera service centres.
|VALUE FOR MONEY||2/5|
|Who should buy it?||Adventurists and extreme sports photographers whose primary goal is video.|
|Why?||Some great video features, plus a legacy lineup of accessories make it the best go-to action camera for anyone looking to add to their video arsenal.|