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GoPro Hero4 Silver review: Hero4 Silver is the best GoPro for the money

It's way more efficient than all the button mashing required when using the buttons and small screen on front, which still isn't lit in any way making changes at night a pain. The touchscreen lights up just fine, though, and as mentioned earlier it can be used for previewing before you shoot and for reviewing after.

You can also change settings, preview and review and transfer content using GoPro's mobile app. Just connect the Silver via Wi-Fi directly to your smartphone and you're set. Bluetooth has been added to the Hero4 to make reconnecting faster and easier. The app can also be used to update the firmware on the camera, which is much easier than the old procedure of loading up a microSD card.

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Joshua Goldman/CNET

The camera's Wi-Fi can also be used to connect to an optional wireless remote that mimics the front LCD and three-button controls on the camera (a new version of the remote supports tagging, too, with the Hero4 cameras).

Wi-Fi, of course, doesn't help battery life any, so if you're not using it, you'll want to shut it off. Battery life in general isn't great, but that's the price you pay for getting a camera this small and powerful. In my tests of continuous recording at 1080p at 60fps in Protune mode with Wi-Fi off, I averaged about 1 hour and 30 minutes, give or take a few minutes.

That's not as good as some competing models like the iOn Air Pro 3 or Drift Ghost-S , but the former has a built-in battery, so no swapping out in the field, and the latter is a chunk.

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Joshua Goldman/CNET

So. Many. Options.

The possible resolution and frame rate combinations seem nearly endless and I'm just talking about straight-up video. Add in stills and time-lapse options and you'll quickly find there's no shortage of things to experiment with. I could list them all out here, but you're better off popping over to GoPro's specs page for the full details.

Again, although you can record at resolutions up to 4K, the most important settings for most people will be the 1080p at 60fps, 960 at 100fps and 720p at 120fps. However, if you're willing to drop down to 30fps for 1080p or 60fps for 720p, you'll be able to record video and capture time-lapse photos simultaneously at intervals of 5, 10, 30 or 60 seconds.

One other important update is the availability of Protune for videos and photos at all resolutions. Along with enabling the camera to record at its highest bit rate of 45Mbps, Protune lets you set color to either GoPro's color profile or Flat, which is a neutral color profile that makes post-production easier; select a white balance for your lighting conditions; pick an ISO sensitivity limit of ISO 400, 1600 and 6400 for video and ISO 100, 200, 400 and 800 for photos; adjust sharpness and exposure compensation (+/-2EV); and control of shutter speed for the new Night Photo and Night Lapse modes.

That's all more control than you get with most action cams, but if you're expecting full manual controls, that's not available. For example, shutter speeds can be set to 2, 5, 10, 15, 20 or 30 seconds, but you can't set it for 1/25th or 1/10th of a second, you can't select a specific ISO sensitivity and you can measure white balance manually.

Video and photo quality

Above is a series of sample videos shot with the Hero4 Silver set to 1080p at 60fps using GoPro's SuperView option that digitally stretches 4:3 video so you end up capturing more of a scene, but still have a 16:9 format. It was edited and exported with the company's free GoPro Studio software.

The bit rate at these settings is about 30Mbps, so it's not the absolute best quality possible from the camera (you'll have to turn on Protune for that), but more likely what you'd use for uploading to YouTube or Vimeo for sharing.

At small screen sizes the video looks great, considering the size of the camera and sensor. The camera adjusts quickly and smoothly to exposure changes and handles fast movement (though extreme highlights will blow out) and vibration relatively well, but it's not without its Jell-O-ey moments. There's no option for digital image stabilization, but you could crop in when editing to help.

Viewed closely at larger sizes, it's easier to see compression artifacts, and fine detail starts to fall apart at high speeds. (Unfortunately, the clips above look worse than the raw files and we're working on a way to make those downloadable.) If you're going to be recording for playback on a large TV or monitor, I suggest using Protune; the higher bit rate improves fine detail and reduces the compression artifacts.

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Joshua Goldman/CNET

Photo quality is good, but as soon as you start to enlarge it, details look painterly and artifacts are readily visible. The sensor is no bigger than your average point-and-shoot camera, after all, so don't expect dSLR quality. (You can click on the image above to take a closer look.)

Conclusion

If you want the GoPro with the best of the best video quality, you'll still want to go with the Hero4 Black. Thanks to an expansive feature set that now includes a built-in touchscreen, the Hero4 Silver is likely the better choice for most people. It's not cheap, though, and if its feature set sounds like overkill for your needs, it's far from the only option out there.

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