The GoPro HERO 4 Silver and HERO 4 Black both offer significant improvements over their predecessors in the HERO 3 and HERO 3+ lineups. 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 an 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; it also has 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 HERO 4 Black compares with the HERO 4 Silver.
Built-In Touch Display LCD Screen
From the front, they look very similar. The most obvious difference is one you can see when you turn the camera around. The GoPro HERO 4 Silver is the first GoPro to come with a built-in touch display LCD screen. With previous models–and with the HERO 4 Black–you could add a screen on the back as an optional extra accessory. The Silver builds that screen into the camera body itself.
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. For one thing you don’t have the extra size and bulk that comes with adding a separate screen accessory like the LCD Touch Bacpac onto the back of the camera (and the need to change the housing door).
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; it’s the last of the Black editions not to have one. So if you’re using the camera standalone, you point the camera in the direction you want it and hope for the best. Because of the ultra wide-angle lens, that often works well enough.
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.
HERO 4 Black vs HERO 4 Silver: Video Resolutions and Framerates
Both of these cameras shoot 4K. They also have faster framerates at lower resolutions that’s useful for shooting slow-motion footage.
But the Black can do higher quality video at the top end. The Black allows for recording 4K video at 30 frames per second, whereas the maximum framerate on the Silver at 4K is 15fps. At 1080p, the Black can shoot at up to 120fps, while the Silver maxes out at 60fps. And there’s also a difference in the video compression. The Black can record its video up to a 60MB/s bitrate, compared to an upper limit of 45Mb/s with 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: HERO 4 Silver vs HERO 4 Black
Here’s a complete list of all the video modes available on the GoPro HERO 4 Silver and Black editions. Some are only available on the Black edition. A much 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 HERO 4 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|
HERO 4 Silver vs HERO 4 Black: Still Photos
When shooting still photos, both offer the same features and capabilities. Both are using the same sensor that produces up to 12MP images with an aspect ratio of 4:3 with dimensions 4000 by 3000 pixels. They also have 7MP (3000 by 2250px) and 5MP (2560 by 1920px) 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 that exist 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.
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And here’s another example:
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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.
HERO 4 Black vs HERO 4 Silver: Audio & Sound
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 GoPros 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). Both have about the same battery life expectations and use the same batteries (which are different to the batteries in previous and later models).
Recommendations: GoPro HERO 4 Silver vs HERO 4 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.
Where to Find Them
Both of these models are older models now and becoming harder to find in stores and online. GoPro has removed them from their online store, but you still might be able to find new ones at retailers like B&H Photo and Amazon.
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. B&H Photo also has an extensive range of used gear.