Audio/Video, Hardware, Mobile Computing, Reviews, VR World

GoPro Hero4 Black Review: You're Not Ready for It

Video and Photography

For our testing, we mostly focused on 4K video capabilities, however, we did test 1080P 30 FPS as well in order to evaluate a baseline battery life. Obviously, if you want 1080P 30 FPS there are plenty of other, much cheaper alternatives to the GoPro Hero4 Black like the GoPro Hero, which only costs $129 or 1/4 the cost. And frankly, for most people, the Hero and Hero3 will make a lot more sense than the Hero4 Black. The main reason is that most people simply don’t have a way of playing back 4K content or even editing it, which we’ll get to in the next section. But for now, take a look at our footage below as well as some of our photos. We took a lot of low-light video and photos because those are supposed to be the major improvements on the GoPro Hero4 over the previous version in addition to the 4K 30 FPs video capability.

In order to achieve 4K video capabilities at satisfactory quality, GoPro recommends a Class 10 MicroSD card of up to 64GB, but realistically to guarantee a smooth recording and playback of footage, you should be using a UHS Class 3 (UHS-3) memory card like Patriot’s Patriot EP Series 64GB microSDXC card that we used for our testing. This allows for worry free 2 hours of 4K footage and has enough write speed (45 MB/s) to accommodate the 50 Mbps bit-rate of the 4K footage.

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Shooting with the GoPro Hero4 with the new application on an LG G3 was absolutely a breeze and is a much better experience than when we tested out the Hero3+ and the app that came with that. GoPro has made significant improvements to the application and the image preview and it is almost realtime in playback to your phone. As such, this was our preferred method of recording when possible, which unfortunately impacts battery life fairly negatively. The application is a very valuable piece of this camera’s package and will seriously be hard to compete against considering how much it has improved from only last year. This was especially helpful when shooting with the camera attached to the car or some other unreachable point where pressing the buttons on the camera is out of the question.

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Overall, the shooting experience was good but the primary factor that would make it fair or unsatisfactory would be the battery life.

The video below was shot in 4K 30 FPS at night in New York City’s Times Square without the housing, hand held with automatic metering.

For some of our footage, we used the GoPro App via Wi-Fi to control the camera and for other footage we merely trusted that our footage would come out well due to the camera’s position. For our review, we used the GoPro Suction mount for attaching to a car as well as the GoPro Harness mount also known as the ‘chestie’ to mount to the front of a person’s body onto their chest.

The video below was also shot in 4K at a soccer game without the housing and was simply recording in auto mode, but with night time settings.

Here is some 4K car footage, mounted to the front right fender of a Cadillac ATS.

This video was shot with the housing at 1080P 30 FPS and was designed to showcase the capabilities of the camera while being worn as a personal body camera.

Here are some photos taken with the GoPro Hero4 Black as well…

 

The observed maximum battery life of the GoPro Hero4 was no more than an hour and that was only achieved outside of the housing and without  any Wi-Fi or external settings. It would only do that at 1080P at 30 FPS and when recording 4K footage, the longest video was 28 minutes long and pretty much drained the battery completely. This was done via the GoPro application and using Wi-Fi, so the expecation of good battery life was low. However, there is no denying that the battery life of this camera is quite poor and if you use the housing it gets significantly worse unless you are moving quickly in a car or underwater to keep the hosing cool. Once the camera starts to heat up within the housing, the battery life plummets and you will find yourself running out of battery in less than 20 minutes. The problem with this is that replacing the battery requires you to remove the camera from the housing and to have a pre-charged battery available… it is also hard to have continuous recording for periods longer than 30 minutes or so because you will very likely run out of juice, especially at 4K.

Video Editing

In terms of video editing, unless you’ve shot 4k footage before you absolutely have no idea what you are getting yourself into. A 23 minute long video at 4K 30 FPS will be a 50 Mbps video that translates to a nearly 9 GB H.264 file and will, if optimzed for YouTube, be a 8 GB upload, aka hours of uploading without a very fast connection.

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The truth is that the GoPro App itself is actually quite good and is the best way to get rid of fisheye from the camera’s wide angle without having to give up field of view. I actually did this with a video and was amazed by how much compute power it took to be able to take the footage and convert it using GoPro’s own software. At its peak, it took up 60% of my CPU horsepower which is a 3.9 GHz Core i7 3960X 6-core CPU with 32GB of RAM. The RAM usage was not as surprising as the CPU usage, which makes me think that almost anyone with anything less than the latest Fourth Generation Intel Core i7 processors is going to have a hard time editing footage or will have to wait a very long time.

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In fact, when speaking to a friend, he had a hard time playing back the 1080P 120 FPS footage on an Intel Core i5 laptop processor. The reality is that laptops are not well suited for 4K video editing or playback nor high FPS unless they are absolutely top of the line and the latest. Otherwise, expect to stick to a desktop for editing because it will take forever otherwise. Plus, there’s a very good chance that your laptop wont even be able to playback the 4K footage. So don’t immediately assume that if your’re having artifacts and other visual aberrations that it s actually bad footage. It could actually be your computer not coping with the bit rate.

Value

There are two ways to look at the value of the GoPro Hero4, you can look at it as a 4K camera and see that it is without a doubt the cheapest 4K camera on the market capable of 30 FPS video. There are simply no other cameras this cheap that can do 4K30. So, from that perspective, it is a very good deal. You also have to consider that the GoPro Hero4 also comes with a housing, a plethora of mounts and software to support it which includes a very detailed in-depth app that is very capable and works better than the app with the Hero3+.

However, you can also look at it from the consumer perspective, which is very likely going to be the one that matters most. That perspective will be that GoPro has been a company that has made affordable action cameras and they’ve never sold a camera for anything over $399 and now they’re selling the Hero4 Black for $499, a whole 25% more than they’ve ever charged for a camera. This is all because of the new wireless chipset and SoC that are supposedly the reason why it can now do 4K 30 FPS and stream better content to the GoPro App. The only problem is that if any of their competitors come out with a 4K camera (and they will soon) GoPro will very likely be undercut by those companies purely because of GoPro’s relatively high price.

Conclusion

The GoPro Hero4 Black is a fantastic camera for video and photography be it the 12 megapixel photos or the 4K video footage, it all looks great. The camera delivers a great user experience in the new GoPro mobile app for Android and iOS, but falls short in terms of battery life when you want to make use of this great experience. GoPro’s video editing app helps make editing 4K footage easier and to remove fisheye, but it does not do well on slower machines and storage may become an issue for those that shoot 4K videos often as you could be looking at 20 GB+ per hour of footage.

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The GoPro Hero4 is a great camera and it does have some faults, but the truth is that no camera really solves the battery life issue and no other camera really has anywhere near the quality of video (4K) nor the ease of use with the new GoPro app. Shooting with this camera is enjoyable and a definite ugprade over all over previous versions. The only question is, whether or not you think its worth the extra $100 to get 4K capability and whether or not your computer is even capable of handling it. Because, the reality is that most people’s computers aren’t really ready for 4K playback or video editing and you better make sure the person you’re buying it for has a decent computer, otherwise they will never be able to enjoy the 4K footage until they do.