We have a new GoPro. In fact, we have three. Like many of you, I have been waiting for these new action cameras to drop. Now that they have, let’s take a look at what each offers, where it might fit in in your kit and what the new entries might signal about the future of the line.
Three New Options
- Key Feature: Accessible Entry Level Model
- Price: $130
The Hero replaces the Hero 3 White Edition as the entry level model. At $130, the Hero puts the power of the Hero 3 White into the hands of everyone. This mix of power and price point does come with come sacrifices. The Hero no longer includes an HDMI port or WiFi remote control.
The new Hero also marks the first significant change in form factor for GoPro. While roughly the size of previous models, the camera does not come out of the housing. Instead, the entire unit, including the battery is integrated into the housing.
At first glance, the Hero’s integrated design might seem a step backwards. But, the move makes sense for an entry-level model as it simplifies the use of the device and greatly reduces the chances of camera damage in rough conditions as it forces the user to seal the camera when in use. For new users, this should mean longer useful life for the unit.
Think of the Hero as the GoPro with “training wheels”.
Hero 4 Silver
- Key Feature: Built-In Touch Display
- Price: $400
Technically, the “guts” of the Hero 4 Silver does not seem much different than those of the Hero 3+ Black. So, I would not expect the overall quality of the content it produces to be better because the hardware platform is significantly better. But, that does not mean one should expect better results.
The Hero 4 platform does add significant software improvements (more on that in a moment). And, the Hero 4 Silver adds a built-in touchscreen. This addition is significant for two reasons. First, it makes the unit considerably more user-friendly which should mean folks can switch modes and settings much more easily. Second, and perhaps most important, the touchscreen allows the user to better frame shots and review content without adding the size, weight and power drain of an LCD backpack.
Think of the Hero 4 Silver as the GoPro we’ve all wanted from the beginning.
Hero 4 Black
- Key Feature: 4K video at 30fps
- Price: $500
Here, we find the sizzle in the form of 4K video at 30fps. The Hero 3+ had 4K at 15fps which made it an interesting toy, but not a serious tool for the emerging 4K acquisition standard. 4K30, as GoPro calls it, provides more than enough frames for the standard film look (24fps) and a technique called “30 for 24”, in which 30fps footage is played back at 24fps in post. This technique subtly slows the footage to add a cinematic or dream-like quality to the end product. The 4K frame, coupled with improved ProTune tools, gives one more control over the camera which should allow the footage to better pair with other cameras on a set.
This unit lacks the touchscreen of its sibling, the Hero 4 Silver. Likely, the touchscreen was dropped to keep the unit cost accessible while adding 4K30, which brings us to pricing. The Hero 4 Black debuts at $100 premium (25%) to previous upgrades and no longer includes the WiFi remote, an $80 value. So, the true price increase is 45% ($180). Is 4K30 worth this premium? With an included touchscreen, pricing would not be part of the conversation. Without it, some will consider the price bump a significant stretch.
Pricing aside, I don’t think the lack of the touchscreen will be an issue for many of the folks who want the Hero 4 Black. Initially, this camera will have two primary professional applications: aerial drone photography and capturing unique camera angles on a film set. In both of these use cases, the operators will likely have other means to check framing and composition remotely and will not need an on-camera EVF.
Think of the Hero 4 Black as the first real attempt at a professional cinematography tool in a form factor this small.
The Hero 4 Platform
The Hero 4 platform adds several new features to both the Silver and Black editions. Each improvement falls somewhere between simply interesting and very useful. Here they are:
- Low Light Performance
- The Hero 4 adds three new low-light tools, Auto Low Light, Night Photo and Night Lapse. Auto Low Light dynamically adjusts the camera settings as one moves in and out of low-light environments, which should make for much more useful footage in highly dynamic shooting situations. Night Photo and Night Lapse both tune the camera to maximize performance in low-light settings.
- Low light has, in many ways, always been the GoPro’s Achilles’s heel. As a scuba diver, this in the one enhancement, after 4K30, I am most excited to try in the field.
- The ProTune format was introduced with the Hero 3 and has been expanded in the Hero 4 to provide the operator with greater control over common camera settings like ISO, Exposure and Color. Hero 3 offered Protune for video. Hero 4 adds these controls for still images as well. While ProTune does offer more control over the image, it is should not be considered RAW. GoPro very specifically refers to ProTune as a “less compressed” format; not an uncompressed format.
- Improved Audio
- GoPro claims the Hero 4 offers twice the dynamic audio range of its forbears. Improved electronics also allow a wider range of microphones to work with the Hero 4. While both improvements are great for hobbyists, I doubt many professionals will rely on GoPro audio for more than a reference track.
- Remote control has been around, via WiFi, since the Hero 2. While great for firing off multiple cameras, WiFi has always felt a bit clunky and over engineered as a single camera remote control. Adding Bluetooth should solve that problem.
- Likely added to take full advantage of the 4K sensor, SuperView is simply a larger, wide-angle frame. For first person shooters, this translates into more immersive video “selfies”. For the rest of us, it adds more usable footage to the frame in wide angle mode.
- HiLight, QuickCapture and the Multi-Use Button
- Each of these additions improve usability for the platform. HiLight lets one tag shots when recording for quicker access in review/post. QuickCapture allows the unit to power on and begin recording with a single button press. The Multi-Use Button moves camera settings to a dedicated button, which should make the interface less confusing for the average user.
I don’t yet have the camera in hand, so it is hard to definitive. Overall, I like what I see. GoPro made clear design choices which define each model for specific segments of their market. In the past, the differences between models were much more incremental, which always felt odd and somewhat forced. This is no longer the case. The Hero is clearly the consumer camera. The Hero 4s target prosumers and professionals.
I would still like to see the changes I outlined last January. In particular, the pro market could use a model like Backbone’s RibCage that enables interchangeable lenses. And, while addition of the Music edition is interesting, I still want a cheaper, “naked” option that does not further swell my already considerable grab bag of GoPro bits and bobs.
I do have one serious grumble though … the battery. The Hero 4 marks the third battery configuration in four model lines. Granted, each change has helped make the camera smaller and easier to position in odd places. Still, battery life on these cameras is not great to begin with, so everyone who uses them heavily carries a lot of spares. The Hero 3 just forced us to repurchase spares. Now, the Hero 4 is forcing this additional upgrade expense once again. It is aggravating and smacks a bit of planned obsolescence.
Where Is The Hero Headed?
Over the summer, GoPro went public. Yesterday afternoon, I caught an interview with Nick Woodman, GoPro’s Founder and CEO, on CNBC. Listening to Woodman, it was clear that GoPro is investing the money they raised over the summer into their product, particularly into engineering. This release tells me they are also spending a lot of time getting to know their market better and, in the process, finding ways to better serve it through more diverse products.
In the long run, that should mean good things for all of us once they settle on a final form factor for their battery.