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Tuesday, November 11, 2014

GoPro Hero 4 Hands On

I have had an interesting week. The new job I have been working at for the last 4 months has kept me very busy. So busy I have barely been able to update here, not to mention paddle. But there are some perks. I get to work with some amazing people and I have the opportunity to make them amazing instructors. I also get little perks like this, a trip to GoPro headquarters. GoPro has a good working relationship with the company I work for, and when they release a new product, they bring us out to be trained on it.  So that is how I found myself on a plane to San Francisco.

When the Hero 4's were announced I knew I would upgrade, and since I had always bought the highest level camera I assumed it would be Hero 4 Black's I would go to, but this season there is a slight price jump. So I knew I would have to go from two cameras to one. But I wanted to wait until I went to GoPro HQ, learn about the camera and then make my decision.

We only had a day and a half, made worse by the fact that I had to fly directly to Nashville to teach a Wilderness First Aid class, So I spent about 48 hours in beautiful San Mateo California. First I have to say that our GoPro hosts were sensational. They were extremely knowledgable about their products - which isn't always the case, I could tell you stories about certain companies employees who don't know what they are talking about - they kept us on schedule, and most importantly they were fun. A lot of fun. In all, there were about 20 or so of us in the group, including the GoPro employees. After a group dinner Wednesday night, We met at our hotel on Friday morning to head to HQ.


After signing in (and signing a non-disclosure agreement I can't tell you about the Hero 6+ I saw... kidding!) we got started training on the Hero 4's. We spent a fair amount of time going over the training materials we will use to train our staff, learning a ton of details about the cameras, After that it was time to head outside to play. But first we needed cameras. 


What you see there, is a bucket of Hero 4 blacks, and behind it, a bucket of Hero 4 silvers. We were also given a bag of accessories to work with (I say given, but we had to return them) and we headed outside. We went paddling, which I didn't mind. Okay, so some hands on info.

The new cameras have a better sensor, and lens than the 3 and 3+'s. The big jump to the 4 black, gets you 4K video at 30 FPS - which you probably knew. They have changed the buttons on the camera slightly, making it easier to get into the settings for the mode you are in, instead of doing the two button juggle game we have all had to learn - though using the app is still the best way to change settings on the camera.

The camera now uses bluetooth to aid in the pairing process, no more going into the settings menu on your device to find the camera's wifi network. This also saves battery power as bluetooth is low power compared to wifi.

They have added a "highlight" button - which is also the wifi button - which puts a tag on your footage when you press it, to indicate something amazing just happened, making it easier to find that footage in post. At the moment that is only available with the GoPro studio software.

This is important. It used to be that just about any class ten card worked in the camera. I learned this week, that currently only two cards are approved by GoPro to work with the cameras, though more will be approved. They are the Sandisk Extreme and the Lexar 633x.

They updated the one button mode and now call it quick capture, and it works much better with far more versatility, and is also designed to save more battery power.

Speaking of battery, the biggest physical change in the camera is that the battery now loads from the bottom, and the battery door is now connected to the camera. Your 3 and 3+ batteries will not work in the new cameras, but every other accessory from your 3's will work.

There is now an auto low light mode, that automatically lowers your frame rate when you need morel right.

The GoPro Codec - cineform - is now an industry recognized codec, with attached standards, and Adobe Premier will edit it natively.

Here is the big change. The Hero 4 black is really aimed at the Prosumer, or Professional film maker. There are really only three differences between the Black and Silver cameras.

#1 The Black doesn't have the LCD screen. The primary reason is it traps a lot of heat.

#2 The Black shoots at 4k and 30 FPS which produces a lot of heat, see #1

#3 The Black does 1080p at 120 FPS.

So for myself, someone who was thinking about buying a Black, since I have no interest, and no computer capable of dealing with 4K footage, the only thing I get by  buying  black is 1080p at 120FPS. The silver will do 1080 at 60, or 720 at 120FPS. So unless you are shooting in 4K or doing 1080p at 120 all the time, the Silver is now the primary camera for consumers, and it is what I will be getting.

There is one other feature worth mentioning. Actually, there is one other feature, that for me is really a game changer. It used to be that when the sun set you put your GoPro away. It just didn't do a great job in the dark, picking up a ton of noise. And honestly, I never played with protune on my 3+'s because the video looked great right out of the camera.

Now protune is available for still photography, which gives a wide array of control over the camera - which I love! - and more importantly, there is a dedicated Night mode for still photography, and a night mode for time lapse, called appropriately enough Night Lapse.


This was the third photo I took in our evening session. This is a ten second exposure at 100 iso. I didn't even have a tripod, I placed it on the ground. This is simply an incredible result.


This is a 30 second exposure, with a change in color balance, all done in camera. And you can shoot time lapse this way too! Finally, I got a little trippy....


This was a 30 second exposure, hand held. I love the night modes on this camera, and was sold at that moment. Each GoPro camera is a step up from the last generation. This is no different. I will be upgrading as soon as possible.

We spent our last half of the day back at GoPro HQ going over the GoPro studio software. I have been working with this software for a while, I still choose to work with Final Cut, but there are a couple of things I thought were particularly impressive about GoPro Studio. The biggest is how easy it makes it to create a time lapse. When importing media it recognizes a string of photos and automatically makes it a time lapse, that you can drag and drop like any other clip. This will now be my chosen method for making time lapses. They have also created their own version of twixtor, If you don't know what that is, google it, but their version called flux, is free - built into their software - and pretty amazing. Glad I didn't buy twixtor a couple of years ago when I was pricing it. If you are new to GoPro I think it is a great way to get started editing.

One final photo. With all the amazing stuff we saw, and all we learned, I really think this was the most fun thing I saw. Amazing. One of these is in my future. I just have to figure out how to pay for it.




I can't thank the amazing staff at GoPro enough. It was really a wonderful experience. Now. Does anyone want to buy a Hero 3+ or two?

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