Trying to decide whether to get the GoPro HERO4 Black or Silver? Here’s how they’re different and how they’re similar.
Whether you’re looking to upgrade from an earlier version of GoPro cameras like the 3+ or 3 or looking to get your first GoPro, here’s a breakdown of the key differences between the two new GoPro HERO4 cameras, the HERO4 Silver and HERO4 Black.
The latest models offer significant improvements over their predecessors, with better video quality, more video and photo modes, and extra features like Bluetooth connectivity. One thing that hasn’t improved is the relatively short battery life, which, even in a best case scenario, is going to come in under 2 hours of shooting without adding external batteries.
There’s a lot of overlap between the two models, but there are also some key differences. With one important exception, the Black has all the features of the Silver, and more.
I have both models and find that each has its advantages that make me reach for one over another depending on what I’m shooting.
Built-In Touch Display LCD Screen
The most obvious difference is one you can see when you turn the camera around. The GoPro HERO4 Silver is the first GoPro to come with a built-in touch display LCD screen. Like most cameras that have an LCD screen on the back, it gives you a live view of what the camera sees as well as provides touch controls for controlling the camera’s menu items. It’s very handy for framing your shots and for playing back and reviewing your video footage and photos.
The downside of an LCD screen is that it drains the battery more quickly. So if you want to maximize battery life you’ll want to turn the LCD screen off or use it sparingly.
The Black, on the other hand, doesn’t come with a built-in LCD screen. By itself, you point the camera in the direction you want it and hope for the best. Because of the wide-angle lens, that often works well enough. And you can’t play back videos or photos on the camera itself.
But you also have other options with the Black if you want to compose the shot more precisely or add playback capabilities. You can use the free GoPro mobile app to get a live view wirelessly on your phone or tablet (this also works for the Silver, as well as the 3 and 3+ series). You can also buy an LCD screen as an optional accessory that attaches on the back of the camera and provides the same functionality as the touchscreen on the Silver edition (it’s known as the GoPro LCD BacPac. If you decide to buy the extra screen, it’ll set you back $79.99 (MSRP), it won’t fit in the standard waterproof housing because it creates a bulkier package, so you’ll need to use an extended back (they just clip on and off), and it’s going to drain your battery while using it.
So the built-in screen on the Silver edition is convenient for shooting but comes with a cost in terms of reduced battery life while you’re using it.
Both cameras have impressive video modes. You can shoot full HD on both, slow motion on both, and all the way up to 4K on both.
But the Black can do higher quality video at the top end. Because it can record video at 60Mb/s, compared to an upper limit of 45Mb/s with the Silver, the Black allows for recording 4K video at 30fps (compared to 15fps on the Silver) and 1080p at up to 120fps (compared to 60fps on the Silver). It’s also important to note that these high-end video modes are demanding on memory cards. Only a handful of cards are fast enough to keep up. Here are some recommendations on the best memory cards for the GoPro HERO4 Black and Silver.
Here’s a split-screen from both cameras shot simultaneously with the same settings (1080p30, Protune off). There’s a slight misalignment in the original footage due to the mounting frame. But the examples illustrate that because the cameras are using the same sensor, there’s no functional difference in the results when using the video modes they have in common.
In uploading to Youtube the file is compressed. If you’d like to download the original raw footage as it came out of the camera, here it is: Black | Silver (right-click to download).
For still photos, they’re the same. Both are using the same sensor and both produce up to 12MP at 4000x3000px. They also have 7MP (3000x2250px) and 5MP (2560x1920px) modes. The 12MP and 7MP resolutions offer the Wide FOV, while the 7MP and the 5MP resolutions offer medium resolution.
The lens is rated as a 3mm lens, equivalent to 15mm in the 35mm/full-frame format. The light meter reacts identically, producing identical photos in each. Both handle shadows and highlights the same.
As you can see in these side-by-side photos, there’s no difference (aside from the minor misalignment made more noticeable thanks to the ultra-wide field of view). In both, the image to the left of the slider (the Before image) is from the GoPro HERO4 Black, while the left is the GoPro HERO4 Silver. For this first one I’ve deliberately chosen a scene that’s tricky for cameras to deal with so that any differences will be more obvious. It has both very bright highlights (the sun) as well as dark shadows. And the white balance is tricky, because the camera has to try to decide whether to choose the warm light of the sun or the cooler light in the shadows.
In most respects, the Black and Silver have the same specs when it comes to audio. Both record at 48kHz with AAC compression. Both have automatic gain control and use an internal multi-band compressor to improve the sound. Both have a mono internal microphone (which of course works best when not sealed inside the standard waterproof housing). And you can plug an external stereo microphone into both, although to do so you’ll need to buy a separate 3.5mm to mini USB adapter.
There is a key difference for high-end audio, though. The Black has a a high-quality analog to digital convertor (ADC) built-in, which allows you to use high-end, studio-quality microphones that won’t work on the Silver. If you need this feature, you’ll probably already know you need it; it’s most commonly needed for broadcast recordings or live music recordings, although those users will often use separate, dedicated sound gear.
Weight & Size
Both are exactly the same dimensions. Both fit inside the same standard waterproof housing. The Black edition is marginally heavier, but there’s very little in it–5 grams, to be precise, or under 0.2 of an ounce.
Both models shoot still photos, can do timelapse, have night photo and night timelapse modes, have Protune mode (now available for both video and still photos), can shoot bursts of still photos at 30 shots a second, shoot 12 megapixel still photos, and have built-in wifi and Bluetooth capabilities. Both take the same kinds of MicroSD cards (see recommendations here). Both have about the same battery life expectations and use the same batteries (which are different to the ones in previous models).
Overall, there are a lot of similarities between the two models. Both are capable of shooting great footage and taking great photos.
If you want a built-in live view screen, go with the Silver. It adds convenience, although it sucks battery power.
If you want the top end video modes like 4K at 30fps or 1080p at 120fps, go with the Black.
If cost is a deciding factor, the Silver provides excellent quality and features for $100 (or 20%) less than the Black.
If you’re buying one for a gift, the Silver is probably the safer bet–especially with a gift receipt as backup.
And if both of these models are out of your price range, there are two less expensive models below these, the entry-level GoPro HERO and the HERO+ LCD, both of which are also very capable cameras. You can also find some good deals on the previous models, the GoPro HERO3+ Black and HERO3+ Silver.
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