GoPro has become a household name for action cams. The GoPro Hero4 Silver takes a few of the line's faults—like the lack of a screen—and turns it around. The first GoPro with a touchscreen, the Silver also has a more attainable price over the Black, which records 4K at 30 fps. And all of those features are wrapped up in a body that's about the width of a credit card.
But, I've been disappointed before by a camera with a lot of hype—so does the GoPro Hero4 Silver stand up to it's reputation? While certainly not without its faults, the GoPro Hero4 is an ideal video camera for capturing all types of adventures.
GoPro Hero4 Silver Review: Body & Design
The GoPro Hero4 Silver is much smaller than I'd imagined, about the width and height of a business card. Depth-wise, the camera itself is just under an inch and sits at about an inch and half with the included housing. The entire camera weighs less than three ounces and just over five with the housing. I'd debated back and forth between the Silver and the ice-cube sized GoPro Hero4 Session and I'm glad I didn't sacrifice quality for size, since the Hero4 Silver is plenty small enough for me.
The Hero4 Silver is the first GoPro with a touchscreen, but with the waterproof housing, that touchscreen is inaccessible, so the controls are essential to maintaining functionality. Thankfully, the controls are rather simple—three buttons give you access to all the options. The front on/off button will flip through the available recording modes. The side button accesses the menu and the top button will start recording or take a photo.
While recording, the side button will tag a highlight for referencing later. In video + photo mode, the front button will snap a photo while the top button controls the stop/start of the video.
Once in the menu, the buttons will take on different functions to navigate. The front button will move down through the options and the top button will select that option. The side button will exit the menu.
But if you're not taking the GoPro underwater, the touchscreen is a much handier way of accessing all of the options. The GoPro case includes different backs so that you can still access the touchscreen in the housing, though that prevents it from being completely water-sealed. To prevent accidental bumps, the touchscreen is locked, swiping down and holding for five seconds unlocks the screen, where you can touch to navigate and adjust the options.
One of the perks of choosing a GoPro is the wide assortment of different attachments. I tried the Hero4 Silver with the basic tripod attachment and a sportsman's clip. Figuring out how the attachments work together was a bit more complex than actually working the camera, but that's also in part due to the system's flexibility. After a bit of experimenting, it was easy to swap pieces for the different mounts.
The GoPro Hero4 Silver is very small, making it possible to mount in a lot of different ways. While some action cam's like the Ricoh WG-M1 don't need the extra housing to use underwater, the housing offers a range of versatility and still keeps the controls accessible, with the exception being the touchscreen using the waterproof back. Still, the action cam is easy enough to learn and light enough to take anywhere.
GoPro Hero4 Silver Review: User Experience & Performance
For having just three buttons and weighing three ounces, there are quite a few features packed inside the GoPro Hero4 Silver. You can easily swap through video, single photo, burst photo and playback modes with a press of the front button.
Unlike the GoPro Session, which only offers ISO and sharpness, the Hero4 Silver offers a number of different advanced settings dubbed Protune. Switching Protune on allows you to control white balance, color, ISO, sharpness and exposure compensation. In other words, if your footage is turning out too dark or too light, with Protune there's a way to work to correct that without editing.
The 4 Silver also includes a spot metering mode that can be swiped on and off. Under normal settings, the camera reads light from the whole scene. With the spot meter on, the camera only considers what's in the center of the frame. Spot metering is a handy tool, especially for an action cam. If the camera is mounted on your dashboard pointing out the window, for example, spot meter will correctly light what's outside the windshield instead of trying to compensate for the darkness on the inside of the car.
The GoPro Hero4 also offers three different perspectives—the default wide mode, medium and narrow. Unfortunately though, these options are only available in video. Using a narrower perspective for photos would allow users to eliminate the fisheye effect when the wide angle isn't necessary, but that's currently not an option.
Wireless enables the GoPro to pair with a smartphone, tablet, smart watch or GoPro remote. Most cameras have to be turned on manually to access the, with the app, but GoPro allows you to even turn the camera on with the app, a handy feature for an action cam. To enable the remote on, however, the GoPro will continue to send out a wi-fi signal, even when powered off. Sending out that signal will drain the battery pretty quick, so you may turn the battery on after a day of not using the camera and be welcomed with a blinking battery sign. Turning the wi-fi off before powering the camera down solves the battery drain, but you can't remotely turn the camera on with the wi-fi off. When you need to power the GoPro up quickly—like when it's mounted but just waiting for the right moment—leave the wi-fi on, but make sure to turn it off before storage. (You'll see a blinking blue light after powering off if the wi-fi is still on).
The GoPro app is simple to use. On-screen instructions go through the steps of pairing the camera with the phone, though the exact steps are a little different since Hero4 Silver users have a touchscreen to access the wi-fi settings with. Once paired, you can save the camera's data for quick pairs in the future. Besides turning the camera on and off, the app allows you to start and stop recordings, change the recording mode and even adjust the settings like Protune. The one downside? I did notice a slight delay when using the app to start recording over using the GoPro's controls.
Using the controls on the camera though, there's a very short delay between pressing the button and the start of the recording. Start-up takes about five seconds. Loading the videos in playback is fairly quick, though may vary for longer footage, my footage was ready to play in about three seconds.
Unlike a traditional mainstream video camera, the GoPro Hero line uses a lens with a focus fixed at infinity. That means the action you capture is always in focus, unless it gets extremely close to the lens itself, and there's no lag time waiting for the camera to find a focal point. The fixed focus lens is ideal for recording your own action without constantly controlling the camera, but that does mean you won't get any sort of background blur.
But one of the biggest perks of the Hero4 Silver over the Session or Hero + LCD is the quick 30 fps burst mode for stills. That allows the flexibility of capturing the action with video or a still photo—and still timing it right to get the perfect shot. The only issue is that, at that speed, you can only capture 30 shots (or one second of action) at a time. That makes it tough to record yourself, you'll need someone else controlling the start and stop of the burst with the app to get the right moment in the middle of the action. Slowing down to 30 photos over six seconds helps, but you won't get as many images to try to capture the peak of the action.
The camera's biggest downfall though, and one that GoPro users have been complaining about for some time, is the short battery life. That's improved a bit over previous models, but still stands at an hour and forty minutes with the wi-fi off in 1080p HD. Using the app cuts that back to an hour and twenty minutes. With the optional battery BackPack ($50), you can get up to three hours of recording, but since it attaches to the back, you'll loose your view of the screen. Users can pick up a spare battery instead, but you'll have to stop and start the recording again, where the battery back allows for continuous capture.
The GoPro Hero4 Silver has an impressive mix of performance with ease of use, thanks to advanced options like Protune and the simple control set-up. Speed is impressive, particularly the 30 fps burst photo mode. The battery life leaves a bit to be desired though, and the battery pack add-on will block the LCD screen.
GoPro Hero4 Silver Review: Video Quality
One of the reasons GoPro has made a name for themselves is the video quality, and shots from the Hero4 Silver don't disappoint. While the Silver does offer 4K, it's at a slow 15 fps frame rate that will leave footage looking a bit choppy. (If 4K is important to you, look instead at the GoPro Hero4 Black). I primarily used the Silver in 1080p to get that 60 fps frame rate for smooth action, a resolution that's not quite as detailed but plenty sufficient for most.
With the fixed-focus lens, footage is pretty sharp until you try to capture something that's only a foot or two from the camera. Designed to capture sharp action from a wide angle, close-ups aren't quite as sharp. The difference was much more noticeable in still images. While the wide angle fixed lens is ideal for what the camera is designed for (action and POV shooting), that same lens limits its use, preventing close-ups from being very sharp.
The fixed lens is also an ultra-wide angle, which allows you to capture more of the scene. The trade-off is that you'll get a fish-eye effect, where the footage will appear curved towards the edges, which is emphasized the closer objects are to the camera. You can use the narrower view options and loose some detail at the edges, but correct the fish-eye distortion, an adjustment that's only available for video and not still images.
Color reproduces well on the GoPro, even in limited lighting.
The GoPro Hero4 Silver doesn't have optical image stabilization, though I didn't find the footage too shaky. I initially purchased the camera to use with a riffle mount, and the kickback from the shot didn't destroy the footage, which was one of my initial concerns before testing.
The GoPro Hero4 Silver offers excellent video quality for what it's intended for—wide views of action. Even using the lower 1080p resolution offered plenty of detail and reproduced light and color well. It's not designed for capturing objects closer to the camera, and that shows with a lack of sharpness on objects just a foot or two from the camera. Be aware that any camera that captures an extreme wide-angle will have a bit of a fisheye effect, the GoPro included.
GoPro Hero4 Silver Review: Conclusion
The GoPro Hero4 Silver excels at what it's designed to do: capture action. The design is both lightweight and easy to learn how to use, and features like Protune expand the camera's flexibility, though it's still only intended for action and POV recording.
That small body compromises a bit on battery life though, so don't expect to get footage much past an hour and pick up an extra battery (or two) if you plan to do a lot of recording. The wide perspective and fixed lens isn't great close up, and it creates a bit of a fisheye look, something that's universal for wide angles.
The GoPro offers excellent image quality, but it does sit as one of the pricier options. The Sony AS200 is a bit more affordable and uses a lens-based stabilization system, but only offers 30 fps in 1080 resolution. The newer Sony AS20 offers the ability to zoom while shooting and sits at a lower price point, but we haven't had a chance to try out the video quality yet. The Ricoh WG-M1 doesn't require built-in housing, but has a slower frame rate for both video and burst stills.
Compared to the others in the GoPro line, the Black will get you a more usable 30 fps 4K but costs $100 more at list price. Initially, we wouldn't have recommended the Session, but GoPro cut the $399 list price in half, making it a budget-friendly alternative instead of paying a premium for the smaller size. The Session has fewer controls and a slower 10 fps burst rate for stills. The GoPro Hero+ LCD is also an affordable alternative, though doesn't offer the same speed or extra features as the Silver.
Overall, I'm certainly not disappointed with my decision to purchase the GoPro Hero4 Silver. While the battery life leaves a bit to be desired, the image quality is worth paying a bit more for for the right consumer.