GoPro Hero4 Black review: Smooth 4K video that's still the best in the category

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The Good The GoPro Hero4 Black delivers best-in-class video at resolutions up to 4K at 30fps or 1080p at 120fps. Wide assortment of mounting options from GoPro and third-party manufacturers.

The Bad Battery life can feel painfully short and due to a redesign you can't use older batteries with the Hero4. No option for in-camera digital image stabilization and it still needs a housing to be waterproof.

The Bottom Line The GoPro Hero4 Silver is still our top choice for most people, but if you need the best video quality with the most shooting options, the Hero4 Black is it.

8.2 Overall
  • Design 8
  • Features 8
  • Performance 8
  • Image quality 9

GoPro has taken a tiny box roughly the size of a Zippo lighter and turned it into something truly remarkable.

The Hero4 Black is the company's flagship camera targeted at pros and anyone who wants the best damn video you can get from an action cam (more on that later) and is willing to pay for it. It costs $500 in the US, £370 in the UK and AU$649 for the folks in Australia.

The camera's processor is twice as powerful as its predecessor's, allowing you to record at up to 4K resolution at 30 frames per second. It can also capture 1080p at 120fps, which can make for some very smooth video when shooting fast-moving scenes, as well as cool slow-motion clips. (Neither option does battery life any favors, though.) Add in its high 60Mbps recording bitrate and you've got one powerful tiny camera.

The thing is, there isn't a huge gap in performance or features between the Black and the excellent Hero4 Silver , which is $100 less and has a built-in touchscreen (part of the reason it received our Editors' Choice Award). The Black certainly has advantages, but unless you must have the best of the best from GoPro, you're probably better off with the Silver or a camera from Sony, iOn, Contour, Drift or others.

Joshua Goldman/CNET

Design and features

Owners of the Hero3/3+ Black will notice some subtle but important changes with the Hero4, the biggest being the new battery compartment design. It no longer slides in the back, but drops into the bottom, which works just fine and makes swapping them out easier. However, this required a battery redesign as well, which means you can't use batteries from previous models.

The conspiracy theorist in me says GoPro did this to force you to buy new batteries at $20, £16 or AU$34 a pop and a new external charger (though Blue Nook has its non-OEM Wasabi packs ready to buy).

Another key change -- this time for the better -- is to the camera's buttons. The layout remains the same, but what was the Wi-Fi power button on the right side is now a "Hilight Tag." Going through hours of video looking for that one cool moment can be tedious.

Joshua Goldman/CNET

While recording with the Hero4, you hit the button immediately after that cool moment happens and it's tagged so you can find it fast later when viewing in GoPro's free mobile app or desktop Studio software. It's not the first action cam to have a feature like this , but it's a useful addition.

When not recording, this same button accesses your settings menus. The menus on past models were a mess, but GoPro made things a bit easier by making everything sensitive to which mode you're in. That means if you're in video-capture mode and press the settings button, you'll only get the settings options for video.

Given that there are so many resolution, frame rate and other shooting options, this cuts down significantly on the menu hunting. Plus, now that you have to go into a separate settings mode to turn on Wi-Fi, it won't accidentally kick on in your bag and kill your battery.

Joshua Goldman/CNET

On the left side is a removable easy-to-lose cover protecting Micro-HDMI and Mini-USB ports and the microSD slot supporting cards up to 64GB. The Mini-USB port is used for charging and transferring content off your microSD card, but can also be used with an optional 3.5mm stereo mic cable so you can attach a studio-quality external mic.

Though it doesn't have a built-in touchscreen, a Hero port is on back, which lets you attach GoPro's LCD Touch BacPac or the Battery BacPac.

The front activity lights have moved from next to the lens to along side the tiny monochrome display (that really needs to be backlit, but isn't), but otherwise the camera is the same size as the Hero3/3+ so you can use housings and mounts for those with the Hero4.

Joshua Goldman/CNET

For your money, you'll get the camera, a waterproof housing that's good down to 131 feet (40 meters), a skeleton door for better audio when full water protection isn't needed, two adhesive mounts (one flat and one curved), horizontal and vertical quick-release buckles that attach to the bottom of the camera's housing and a three-way pivot arm, so you can mount the camera on the top, front or side of a helmet.

A small locking plug (also included) can be used to help prevent the buckles from accidentally releasing from the mount from force or vibration. There is no charger in the box for the camera, just a Mini-USB cable for charging via computer or USB wall adapter if you have one. There is also no microSD card included for storage, so plan on getting at least one of those.

Compared to the Hero3+ Black, it's the same package with one exception: the GoPro Wi-Fi Smart Remote isn't included. The remote was redesigned to take advantage for the new HiLight/Settings button, too, so while an old one will work, you'll have to spend $80, £60 or AU$119 for the updated version.