The HERO4 Black and HERO4 Silver both offer significant improvements over their predecessors. They have 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 and a few minor ones, the Black has all the features of the Silver, and quite a lot 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.
So here's a detailed breakdown of how the HERO4 Black compares with the HERO4 Silver.
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. With previous models--and with the HERO4 Black--you could add a screen on the back as an optional extra accessory. The Silver builds that screen in.
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. There's a virtue to the convenience of having the screen built into the camera itself.
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. You can also connect it wirelessly to the GoPro mobile app and use the app's live view to frame the shot. In many situations, that works well, but it also means extra complications.
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 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.
HERO4 Black vs HERO4 Silver: Video Resolutions and Framerates
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).
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.
Here's another test sample. The blank line at the top of the Black is the result of realigning the slightly misaligned footage.
And here are the original raw files: Black | Silver (right-click to download). (In case you're wondering what the event is in the background, it's a group of Army recruits doing their regular dawn training down on the plaza in front of the Lincoln Memorial and on the steps.)
Video Modes: HERO4 Black vs HERO4 Silver
Here's a complete list of all the video modes available on the GoPro HERO4 Black and Silver editions. Some are only available on the Black edition. A smaller number are only available on the Silver edition.
|Mode||FPS||Bitrate (Megabits/s) - Protune / + Protune||Aspect Ratio||Resolution||HERO4 Black||HERO4 Silver|
For comparison, here's a visualization of the video resolutions that the GoPro HERO4 produces. Click on the graphic to open a full-size version.
Protune Video Options
This table shows the various Protune options available when shooting video with these cameras.
|Protune Option||HERO4 Black||HERO4 Silver|
|Shutter / Manual Exposure||Auto|
|Exposure Compensation||-2 to +2||-2 to +2|
HERO4 Silver vs HERO4 Black: Still Photos
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.
[caption id="attachment_12705" align="aligncenter" width="678"] DCIM100GOPROGOPR0248.[/caption]
[caption id="attachment_12706" align="aligncenter" width="678"] DCIM100GOPROGOPR5277.[/caption]
And here's another example:
[caption id="attachment_12707" align="aligncenter" width="678"] DCIM100GOPROGOPR0244.[/caption]
[caption id="attachment_12708" align="aligncenter" width="678"] DCIM100GOPROGOPR5273.[/caption]
While both record exactly the same exposure settings in their EXIF, in my cameras, the Silver tends to expose ever so slightly under the Black, but it's such a tiny difference that it's most likely just natural manufacturing variation.
HERO4 Black vs HERO4 Silver: Audio
In many 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 high-quality analog to digital converter (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.
I have a much more detailed post on external microphones for the HERO4 Silver and Black here.
Design, Dimensions, Weight, and 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 time-lapse, have night photo and night time-lapse 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).
Recommendations: HEOR4 Silver vs HERO4 Black
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 but is priced significantly lower 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 (2014) and the HERO+ LCD, both of which are also very capable cameras. I have a post comparing the HERO (2014) and HERO4 Silver here and comparing the HERO+LCD with the HERO4 Silver here.
Find Them At
Alternatively, there's a good chance of picking up used copies. I buy most of my used gear from KEH; you can check their current GoPro inventory here.
Common GoPro Questions
Here are some common questions I get from GoPro users.
How to Maximize a GoPro's battery life
There are several factors that influence how long the GoPro's battery life lasts. Among them include what mode you're recording in (4K uses more power than 1080p30, for instance), the health of the battery, and even the environmental temperature (lithium batteries don't perform well in very cold temperatures). But there are some things you can do to maximize battery life. Not every GoPro has all of these features, but start with these:
- Minimize use of the back screen
- Turn off wireless
- Turn off voice commands
- Turn off GPS
- Turn off Protune
- Use QuickCapture mode
Is it normal for GoPro cameras to get hot?
Yes. Depending on the model and the shooting mode you're using, it's normal for GoPros to get quite warm while shooting. They can get hot enough to be uncomfortable to touch. It's especially noticeable when shooting high-resolution and high-framerate video. Some newer models have an overheating protection mechanism that will shut the camera down if it gets too hot. I have more details on GoPros getting hot, here.
How can I control a GoPro remotely?
GoPro makes a range of wireless remote controls. They don't all work with all GoPros--for example, the HERO (2018) isn't compatible with this type of remote control. Many of the newer models also work with the GoPro mobile app. Not every model can be controlled remotely, but most of the newer models have wireless compatibility that can be used for at least some methods of remote control.
Can you take pictures with a GoPro?
If you've been using a GoPro for a while, this might seem pretty obvious, but if you've never used one, it's not quite so self-evident. GoPros are best known for dramatic action videos, but they can most certainly take still photos too. In fact, they can be a very interesting alternative to a traditional camera so long as you work within its limitations. I have more more details here.
Do GoPro wireless controls work underwater?
No. You can't use the mobile app or a wireless remote control if the camera is fully submerged in water. They will normally work just fine in rain and spray--just not submerged. I have a more detailed explanation here.
Do GoPro touchscreens work underwater?
No. If they're just wet above water, they can work to some extent, although often less reliably. But the touchscreens won't work underwater.