After several gagillion leaks over the last few days, they're finally here: GoPro's 2014 line of action cameras. As rumored, there are in fact three models. There's the Hero, GoPro's new entry-level camera that comes in super cheap; the Hero4 Silver, which is basically last year's best action camera plus an LCD touchscreen; and last but certainly not least, there's the Hero4 Black, which seems to demolish every other action camera out there.
We've been spending some time with the Black and the Silver editions this past weekend. Here are all the details you need to know, along with our initial impressions.
Let's start with the flagship. For starters, the Hero4 Black looks almost identical to the Hero 3+ Black from last year. The recording indictor buttons are in a slightly different place, the button on the side is slightly larger, and the battery door is now on the bottom instead of on the back. Other than that, only tiny aesthetic details separate them. But, as they say, it's what's inside that counts.
Frame Rate Heaven
GoPro's 2014 flagship camera finally brings a lot of the features professionals have been begging for, most significantly: 4K video at 30 frames per second, and 1080p video at a mouth-watering 120 frames per second. The GoPro Hero 3 Black could manage 4K at 15fps, but that wasn't useful for, well, much of anything really. 30fps is the industry standard, and as such, your action cam can now shoot footage that will look awesome should you happen to own a 4K TV or monitor, and future-proofs you for when you do. GoPro's new promo video was shot in 4K, and I got to see it on a large UHD TV. Indeed it is impressive. You can see my significantly less impressive 4K test-footage here:
4K will become increasingly important, but until more people have sets that support it, the best new feature on the Black Edition is 1080p at 120fps. This allows you to shoot in full HD and then slow it way the hell down and have the footage still look buttery smooth. If your final export is going to be a standard 30fps, that means you can slow your video down to 1/4 speed. Personally, I like the more cinematic look of 24fps, which means I can slow that 120fps video all the way down to 1/5 speed. For action shots, this is absolutely killer. You can see my 120fps test footage here:
You'll notice that some of the indoor and/or low-light shots don't play back as smoothly. That's because I accidentally had the Lowlight option enabled which automatically slows your frame-rate down to let more light in. I'll make sure that's disabled when we do our full review.<
You can also now shoot 2.7K video in speeds up to 50fps, up from 30 on last year's Hero 3+ Black. SuperView—which takes a taller 4:3 ratio image and squishes it down to a 16:9, so you get more into the shot—is now available in more modes, including 2.7K at 30fps, and 1080p at 80fps. Not bad. The only major disappointment is that 720p shooting stays at 120fps, where it was last year. We were really hoping to see 720p at 240fps, which would have been nuts for slow motion. We asked about it and were told that while the new processor could support it, the image sensor couldn't. Bummer.
We're going to take some more time to do some in-depth comparisons, but from what we can tell so far, image quality looks phenomenal across all of the available frame-rates. It's at least as sharp as last year's Hero 3+ Black Edition, it has pretty natural colors, and solid dynamic range.
Normal photo vs night photo on auto mode.
Night Photo and Night Lapse
When I first saw the promo video for the Hero4 Black, what jumped out at me the most were these incredible time-lapse sequences that happened at night. I thought there was no way those shots came out of a GoPro with its wee image sensor, but yep. Both versions of the Hero4 have Night Photo and Night Lapse modes. These essentially give you manual control over how long the shutter stays open, up to 30 seconds for an exposure. When coupled with time-lapse, it's capable of some pretty amazing things.
My own experimentation with this didn't turn out as well as GoPro's did (shocker), but had I taken a little more time to dial in the right exposure time (and been able to get to a scenic, remote location) I think I could have gotten there. It's not 100 percent idiot-proof, in other words, but it's certainly a welcome addition.
This is something we've been complaining about for a long time, and it's great to see it finally get addressed. GoPro's two-button menu navigation system had gotten worse and worse as more and more options were added to it over the years; there was just way too much to sort through. While no physical buttons have been added for the Hero4, the ones it has have been remapped slightly. What was formerly the Wi-Fi button on the side of the camera now brings up a contextually-aware menu for whatever shooting mode you're in.
For example, if you're in video mode, you don't have to flip through a ton of irrelevant options just so you can change your frame rate or flip Protune on/off. You just hit the button on the side, and the options relevant for video mode are right there. Same with Photo mode or Multishot mode (which includes Burst, Time-lapse, and Night Lapse). It's a small adjustment, but it makes a huge difference in overall usability.
That side button serves another purpose, too. While you're recording, if something awesome happens, you just tap that button and it adds a Highlight tag to that portion of your footage. If you're using the new version of the GoPro Studio editing software, you can filter by bits that have the Highlight tag, which should theoretically get you to your best moments without having to wade through as much garbage. The new version of Studio wasn't ready during our initial testing, but GoPro says it will be rolling out right around the same time as the Hero4.
While the biggest improvements are those we mentioned above there are a handful of other new goodies. For one, the camera now not only offers Wi-Fi connectivity, but Bluetooth, too. It doesn't really serve much of a purpose at the moment, but imagine pairing it with a smartwatch so you could adjust settings from your wrist. Or perhaps you could pair it with the Garmin Fenix 2, which can track your snowboard runs, and the data and videos could sync together. Who knows?
GoPro claims the new audio system on the Hero4 (both editions) has two times the dynamic range of previous systems. We haven't yet had a chance to do some audiophile-grade comparisons against the Hero 3+ or the Sony Action Cam AS100V, which had the best audio of any of this year's action cams, but take a listen to the 4K sample video above. Generally speaking, it sounds really good. More testing to come.