GoPro Hero4 Black Camera

Today we're getting back to the best part of the job, cameras!  It's the GoPro Hero4 Black!

GoPro's had a rough run lately.  Their Karma drone has had its ups and downs literally, with DJI sweeping in with the Mavic and seemingly killing GoPro's chances at diversifying, it's been difficult for GoPro to even seem relevant. Not to mention there are so many options for action cameras with similar or (occasionally) better quality features at lower rates.  But that doesn't mean its products are sub-par, in fact they pretty much defined the market when they put the first Hero out.  There was one Hero though that seemed to meet the sweet spot that most people were looking for, the Hero4 Black.  I know what you're thinking: Why not profile the Hero5 Black?  Well, I get into that in the "Bottom Line" section below.  In the meantime, let's look at how the Hero4 stands up. 

 

Single Sentence Summary

An incredible camera, capable of surviving most everyone, but imagine what else you could get for that much money.

Why I Bought It

I shoot so many different things, weddings, military exercises/engagements, family videos, vacations, etc., and a DSLR is sometimes entirely too large, cumbersome, and heavy for what I need.  With accessories that allow me the versatility of mounting it nearly anywhere, 4k recording times that no Nikon DSLR can compare with, the ability to take it underwater easily, and an app that makes controlling it super easy, it was a natural choice.

What I Like

Size.  I love how it can be tucked/hidden just about anywhere easily.  When you're filming wedding videos it can be difficult with DSLR's as they're so big that you have to actively plan angles/arcs to be sure that they aren't in each other's shots.  With a GoPro it's easy to tuck them away, and even if they are right in plain sight they don't draw much attention so there's a good chance that the viewers won't even notice them.  I can literally clamp one to the bible of the pastor and get a great view of the bride and groom and you won't see it because the bride and groom will block the view of it.

I love the possibilities a camera like this offers with its accessories.  Do you want to swim with it?  Give'r.  Do you want to mount it to your baseball cap and go for a run?  They've got a mount for that.  Do you want to suction cup mount it to a car/train/plane?  Yep, it's got you covered too.  I can strap it to my chest, to my kids' chests, to a pew bow, to pretty much anything.  I love it.

Then they package it with a case that can take a real beating.  The hard plastic is sturdy and tough, and I haven't had any issues with scratching or leaking.  I'm sure that it would crack under enough pressure, but I couldn't imagine that normal use, even rough use like a Tough Mudder or something, would put one of these out.  Don't get me wrong, I'm not exactly going to be parking my SUV on it, but I wouldn't be surprised if my wife's car could drive over it.

The menu is very simple and straight forward.  Coming from a Nikon shooter, who understands how complicated menus can get, this menu is incredibly easy to navigate.  As are all the accessories too.  The mounts are universal to GoPro products, so you can often share accessories from generation to generation.  It's a great bonus.  I also love how they've made little details a focus, like being able to turn off the flashing light indicators so that the cameras aren't distracting.

Talk about a bonus when you use that phone app!  I love being able to see exactly what the camera is seeing in real-time, particularly from the distances that it seems to function from.  There have been times where I've been out of range, but if you've tested it a few times before putting it into use then you'll get a rough idea of when you'll need to adjust your plan to suit.

What I Don't

First, let's point out the obvious: it's hard to justify investing such a sizeable amount into a company that's been absolutely tanking lately.  When I bought mine there were obvious threats on the horizon, but I was much more confident that they would weather the storm.  That being said, it was also obvious to me that the Hero4 had basically peaked for features that would satisfy their average customer.  Think about it, it offers 4k, it's conveniently sized, and it has accessories for pretty much any situation.  Sure it has a lot of areas where it could benefit from some refinement (more to come on that) but feature-wise it basically covers the majority of the bases I need it to for my purposes.  Aside from some serious high frame-rate slow-mo I don't know what else I would want from this unit.

Then again, that's not entirely true.  It would DEFINITELY benefit from some extended battery life.  If you plan on using this like I use it, then plan on buying at least 3-4 extra batteries.  In the same way you should plan accordingly.  Realize that it's going to die a little past an hour after recording starts, and that's in optimal conditions.  That doesn't work for times when you're not sure when the action is about to start.

How about memory cards?  Let me tell you how not all Class 10 cards are equal.  I learned this in Seoul, South Korea when I was trying to use a Lexar Class 10 and it kept failing within two minutes.  Brutal.  The following day I had to fly out to Mongolia and hunt down a Sandisk card in their black market.  Talk about some shady deals.  Long story short, research your card options, check the reviews, and test them before using them in something as unforgiving as a wedding.  As a wedding photographer you really operate exclusively in no-fail situations, so be sure you're not going to fail.

Are you allergic to money?  You're going to feel like it once you buy one and then you see all of the accessories that you somehow, "need."  Their marketing is fantastic that way, you start off thinking that all you need is the camera and one or two accessories, but then you see a video, and you start asking yourself how you lived without accessory A, B, or C.  Let me tell you, they're masters of pricing when it comes to accessories too.  It's just high enough for you to realize that their profit margins are pretty outrageous, but it's also just low enough that you don't mind buying one thing at a time, and it's easy to justify to yourself.  Beware!  Walk away, and ask yourself if you ACTUALLY need it.  If you do, you should probably check the off-brand options out, there's a great chance that you'll find the same features for half the price.

Then there's the dreaded GoPro look.  Sure, when it first came out we were enamored, but we all know GoPro footage now.  It's to the point where I almost want to stop using the wide mode entirely, just to avoid it.  But here's the catch, if you want 4k and all of the post-production versatility that comes with it, then you have no choice but to keep it in wide mode.  That's annoying.  I understand that it's a limitation of the design, and that much of what I would like is a pipe-dream presently in that package size, but it's a factor that I wish were different.

There are too many backs/cases to keep track of!  Every time you buy another accessory you get a new backing to match it, and suddenly my life became GoPro backs and cases.  Plus the design of the case actually lets dust accumulate around the lens in the corners of the square housing in such a spot that it's almost impossible to clean effectively without a pipe cleaner.  It's super annoying.

Then there's the microphone.  It sucks.  Expect most of what you're shooting to sound like it's in a tin can or tunnel.  That's not to say it's not useful for most people, but if you're going to be shooting weddings with it then you'll likely need an external recorder, something better quality like a Zoom H6.

Finally there's the screen issue.  The Hero4 Black has no built-in screen.  The Silver has a built in screen, but the Black: no dice.  Yes, it's a fair point that the cellphone app is much better than any screen, but the wifi kills the battery faster, and I don't always carry my phone with me (like when I go swimming).  Then, should you buy the screen, using it actually kills the battery faster.  Fantastic.  That doesn't suck at all.  I don't understand why they didn't bundle the screen with a built-in battery.  Yes it would be larger, but it would offset the drain.

Bottom Line

Many people will wonder why I didn't upgrade to the Hero5.  To be honest it just doesn't make sense to me.  There are ZERO upgrades to video and still shot quality. I might have considered it if they'd done 240 FPS at 1080p, but nope, still 720p.  Further, yes there are a handful of features that make it a nice-to-have, but not a must-have.  Built in waterproof casing doesn't really interest me.  I don't really find the casing THAT inconvenient with the 4, so why drop money into something that I'm not bothered with?  The stabilization wasn't particularly overwhelming, and I haven't really had much an issue with the stabilization as I use it more often for static shots than movement.  Yes, the one thing I liked was that it had better mics.  But that's about all that really spoke to me.

Besides which, I'm already committed.  I have it, I have the accessories, and as long as I treat it well it should last for years to come.  That being said, if you haven't purchased one already then maybe it makes sense to investigate your other options.  Even Nikon has released action cameras now, so be open to theirs.  But, if you insist on having the brand name then be prepared for the costs.  It won't let you down though, it does what it's supposed to, and that's why I gave it the high score it got.  Be wary of the company's future though!  If they tank, there goes the customer service support, you'll be on your own.

Score

8.5/10

I'm not sponsored, and I'm not trying to sell you anything (hence the lack of links that would give me profits) so take this for what you will.

 -Wes.