If you’re trying to decide whether to upgrade to the new GoPro HERO 5 Black from the previous model or have found a good deal on the HERO 4 Black and are trying to decide which to get, here’s a rundown of how the two models are different and how they’re similar.
Overall, the HERO 5 takes the best features of the HERO 4 Black and Silver and combines them in a single camera. There’s 4K video recording and fine-grained controls available with Protune settings. There’s also a built-in touchscreen that can be used for live view, changing settings, and navigating the menu system. And it also adds some interesting new features like voice control, video stabilization, a RAW photo format, automatic GPS tagging, and automatic uploading to the new GoPro Plus cloud service. And one of the most significant differences is that the camera itself is now waterproof without the need for an external housing. There are also a lot of smaller tweaks, additions, and improvements that will appeal to certain users.
Size and Weight
The HERO 5 Black’s casing is waterproof on its own, and that extra reinforcement adds some bulk to the basic camera. So the HERO5 Black is slightly larger than a naked HERO 4 Black without a housing. But it’s significantly smaller than a HERO 4 in a Standard waterproof housing. Here are some examples:
It’s also worth noting that if the size is a critical issue, the HERO 5 Session might be worth a look. It’s significantly smaller and cube-shaped. It doesn’t have all the features of the Black, but it is small.
Weight. With a battery and memory card installed, the HERO 5 Black weighs 4.2 oz (118 grams). The HERO 4 Black without a housing weighs 3.1 oz (87 grams) and with the standard housing weighs about 5.3 oz (150 grams).
Dimensions. GoPro doesn’t seem to have published their official measurements for the new model, but my digital calipers measure the main body as 2.4in (61.7mm) wide, 1.7in (44.4mm) tall, and 0.9in (24mm) deep. As you can see from the photos, the lens port protrudes a little from the body, and the depth of that portion is 1.3in (32.3mm).
Built-In Touch Display LCD Screen
A built-in touchscreen display was one of the defining differences between the HERO 4 Black and Silver—the Silver had it, the Black didn’t.
The new HERO 5 Black has a built-in screen on its back panel. And it’s better than the one on the HERO 4 Silver. It’s still small–there’s only so much space on the back of such a small camera, after all–but the resolution is better, and it’s brighter and sharper. The menu system is also improved, and because there’s not the extra layer of a housing’s back door, it’s more responsive and easier to use.
The built-in display is excellent for seeing what you’re shooting, playing back footage, and navigating menus. But it also enables another new feature: exposure control. It replaces the GoPro spot meter that has been a staple on these cameras from the beginning with a new version that gives you control over which part of the image to use to calculate the exposure.
Controls and Interface
The controls for the two models are roughly similar. There are three buttons with which you can change settings and control the camera, all of which can be used with the small monochrome LCD on the front of the camera (which has been improved on the new model).
But the most significant on-camera usability improvement is thanks for the addition of the touchscreen on the back. That’s often a much easier and quicker way to access the camera’s settings and controls. In the same way that the HERO 4 Silver’s settings were easier to navigate on-camera thanks to the screen, I’ve found it to make a big difference in making the HERO 5 Black much more user-friendly. The new voice controls add another element, as well (see below).
GoPro has mostly eliminated the need for the standard housing, the clear case that many of the previous GoPros have had to provide waterproofing and general protection from the elements. The built-in casing on the new models is waterproof down to 33 feet and protects against dust and sand. So for many uses, you no longer have to worry about using a separate housing.
That means two things: it’s one less thing to be hassling with while you’re trying to shoot, and the overall package of the HERO 5 Black comes in smaller than the combination of a HERO 4 Black and the Standard Housing.
So the new model is waterproof without a housing. It’s not a direct replacement, however. The old Standard Housing was rated down to 131 feet (40m). The new cameras are rated down to 33 feet (10m) without a separate housing. So if you’re looking to dive below 33 feet or so you’ll be wanting to add a new and improved version of the dive housing that GoPro is now calling the Super Suit housing.
The new model doesn’t come with a housing, as such, but it does come with a frame that wraps around the sides. It doesn’t provide much in the way of extra protection, but it does add a GoPro mounting point on the bottom.
Pushing the shutter button is simple enough much of the time, but there are many times you mount the camera in a place it’s simply not easy to reach. If you’re hurtling down a mountain on a snowboard with selfie-stick, have your camera mounted on the front of your surfboard, are driving, or any number of other situations where you’re using both hands or don’t otherwise have the camera in easy reach, you don’t want to be fiddling with buttons. So with the two HERO 5 models, you can now control the camera with your voice. The commands are pretty simple–things like “GoPro start recording” or “GoPro take a photo”–but they cover the basics.
The feature works best if you’re close to the camera in a low-noise environment. And some users have found early iterations to be a bit buggy, but some of that might be able to be addressed with future firmware updates. You can find the current list of voice commands that are supported here.
It’s a neat feature, but how useful to you it will be in practice very much depends on your preferences, where you’re shooting, and how inclined you are to talk out loud to your camera. There are certainly situations where it can be a very useful feature.
GoPro is also releasing a new remote that lets you use voice controls from afar, the Remo. It’s not yet available but appears only to be compatible with HERO 5 models.
There’s a lot of overlap between the video modes of the HERO 5 Black and its predecessor. They share top-end video modes of 4K30, 1080p120, and 720p240. There’s no 8K video, 3D video, or 60fps 4K video that some early rumors had suggested. I personally would have liked to see a sensor with better low-light performance and dynamic range, but based on the footage that’s coming out of the cameras, they seem to be using the same sensor.
That’s not to say that the footage out of the new camera isn’t better. But the quality improvements–or potential improvements, since it relies on features that can be turned on or off–have to do with features to enable smoother and less-distorted footage rather than an improved sensor.
Video Stabilization. This is one of the headline features of both the HERO 5 Black and the HERO 5 Session. It’s designed to smooth out the jerkiness you can get with unstabilized footage.
I’ve found it to work pretty well in many cases and very well in others. So long as you’re realistic about it, of course. It’s a software solution that does in-camera something similar to the Stabilization feature in Final Cut Pro or Adobe Premier’s Warp Stabilizer. Which is to say that it’s not going to offer the kind of magically smooth glide a good-quality gyro gimbal can.
Even if the standalone Karma gimbal will undoubtedly offer much better performance, I’ve found that the built-in stabilization function can quite dramatically improve some footage and is a very useful addition.
Here’s one side-by-side example of unstabilized vs stabilized footage from the HERO 5 Black:
I have more examples of the stabilization function here, along with details on which video modes it is and isn’t available (i.e., not 4K or high-FPS modes).
Resolutions. The two models offer the same options for video resolution. These:
Frames per second. There are only minor framerate differences at some resolutions.
Fields of View. Where there are some differences is in the fields of view, or FOV, offered. The most significant difference is that the HERO 5s offer a new Linear FOV that removes fisheye distortion in-camera. I have more on that here. (UPDATE: Linear FOV is now available on the HERO 4 Black and HERO 4 Silver after you update the firmware on those cameras to V.05.00.00.)
Protune. Both offer Protune options for video. The HERO 5 adds three new Protune options that can be very useful:
- manual exposure where you can set the shutter speed
- a raw audio track option that creates a higher-quality WAV file separate to but alongside the video file
- an auto mode option that gives you the option of putting it in a mode that reduces the effects of wind noise
Bitrates. They’re essentially the same between the two models, with the highest bitrate of 60 megabits per second for the high-end video modes.
Video Format. Both shoot in NTSC or PAL formats.
File Format. Both produce H.264 MP4 videos.
Size. Both models have a maximum image size of 12MP (4000 x 3000 pixels).
With the HERO 4 you had a choice of smaller sizes–the HERO 5 only does 12MP, although you can choose different fields of view, with the options being Wide, Medium, and Narrow, as before, with the addition of a new Linear FOV that corrects fisheye distortion in-camera.
Quality. The quality of the JPGs is essentially identical. The images from the new model do seem slightly sharper when viewed at 100%, which could be due to a number of things—perhaps an optically sharper lens or more aggressive sharpening in the in-camera processing. The in-camera processing has also been tweaked to improve the automatic white balance, with the images from the new model being less cool (i.e., not as blue) and more natural-looking.
HDR. The new high dynamic range option is one of two significant new additions to the still photo features. GoPro calls it WDR for Wide Dynamic Range. It aims to capture extra details in shadows and highlights.
RAW. The other is a new RAW image format. It has the file extension GPR. Shooting in RAW mode has both advantages and disadvantages. The main reason to do it is for the potential for better image quality, and for that reason, I’ve been eagerly awaiting the addition of a RAW format to GoPros. But to realize that potential quality improvement you need to be processing the images in something like Lightroom or another RAW processing app. The downside of shooting in the GoPro’s RAW format is that the images need processing and converting to JPG before sharing. Counterintuitively, the GPR images have a smaller file size than the JPGs, but they do take noticeably longer to write to the card (both likely due to the compression algorithm).
Like the previous models, the HERO 5 Black offers two ways of creating a timelapse.
Timelapse Photo. The first is the old-fashioned way of shooting a sequence of still images, downloading those images from the memory card, and stitching them together on your computer using a separate app like GoPro Studio. Like previous models, the available intervals in-camera (without using an external intervalometer) are 0.5, 1, 2, 5, 10, 30, and 60 seconds.
Timelapse Video. You can also have the camera compile the video on the fly to create a finished mp4 timelapse video. This saves a lot of extra steps and time, although you end up with less flexibility. It offers the same intervals as the timelapse photo method. The previous model can output 4K and 2.7K 4:3 resolution timelapse videos. The new model adds a new option, and somewhat counterintuitively it’s a lower resolution: 1080p. The reason for that has been added is to make it easier to share the resulting timelapse video without downsampling or dealing with the massive files from 2.7K or 4K video. With the smaller 1080p video, it’s much easier and quicker to take the footage from your camera directly to your phone and then upload straight to social media.
Night Lapse Photo. Both the old and new models have the Night Lapse Photo mode that provides extra interval and shutter speed options better suited to low-light shooting.
On paper, the new model has several improvements in its audio handling. The HERO 5 can record stereo audio directly. It can also general a separate audio WAV file alongside the video file. It’s a raw audio feature available under the video Protune options, and it potentially offers a significant improvement when the audio is an essential part of what you’re capturing, and you’re planning post-processing in a video editing app.
Like the model it replaces, the HERO 5 Black can also take external microphones, although you’ll need the new USB-C mic adapter.
But–and this is important–the sound quality of the onboard microphones is poor on the HERO 5 compared with the HERO 4 Black–it often comes out muffled. It’s not the only issue with the HERO 5 Black’s sound, and this is one area where the improved feature set of the new model doesn’t make up for the better performance of the old model in real-world shooting.
GoPro’s have never had impressive battery life. But the HERO 5 Black uses a new, slightly higher-capacity battery (1220mAh vs. 1160mAh). Combined with more power-efficient operation, you can get better performance. Not necessarily a lot better, but still an improvement.
Of course, that’s very much relative. Up to two hours of battery life isn’t very impressive at all compared to smartphones or most other cameras, but it’s a good deal better than the one hour or so we’ve become accustomed to with previous models of GoPros.
So the HERO 5 Black has noticeably better battery performance than the models it replaces, even if there’s still a lot of room to improve in this area.
One benefit of the new USB-C connection is that it allows for rapid charging (with a Supercharger that’s sold separately, that is), that GoPro claims will charge the battery 20 to 70% quicker.
Ports and Connections
Both models have USB for power and data transfer, but they use different connectors. The HERO 5 Black uses the new USB-C connector (and a cable is included with the camera) while the HERO 4 Black uses the much older mini-USB connector.
Oddly, though, the new USB-C port isn’t USB 3.0–it still uses the older and much slower USB 2.0 for data transfer.
If you’re using an external microphone, you’ll need a new mic adapter (more details here).
They both also have a micro HDMI (Type D) socket to connect to a TV or display device.
Another change, and one I’m not a big fan of, involves the two trap-doors that go over the ports and the battery compartment. They’re a variation on the one first used on the HERO 4 Session.
Because the casing is designed to be waterproof, the trap-doors have a waterproof seal built on their inner side. But the trap-doors themselves are tedious to open–you push down on a button and slide. They’re also pretty flimsy, which is why GoPro has released replacement doors. They’re ridiculously overpriced at $20, but I’ve grudgingly bought some to carry as spares, because without a properly fitting door the camera isn’t waterproof and I don’t want to be caught out with an unusable camera when out shooting.
GPS & Telemetry
The HERO 5 Black adds GPS location tags to the EXIF metadata of still images and video. That automatic geolocation function will be very useful to anyone trying to place the images on a map or sort by location.
In a post-release update, GoPro also unveiled new capabilities that tap into the GPS data. With the Quik desktop app you can now add graphic overlays that display things like speed, elevation gain, g-force, direction, etc. Like this:
When activated, the GPS function does detract slightly from battery life. The HERO 4 Black doesn’t have the GPS feature.
Some accessories for the HERO 4 will work on the HERO 5 Black, but many won’t. For example, the back data port has been removed, so any accessories that clipped on to that back port won’t work. That includes things like extended batteries, BacPac LCD screens, and some gimbals.
And there’s going to be a bit of a lag as third-party accessory makers get up to speed in releasing their HERO 5-compatible models. I’ve put together a separate post on which HERO 4 accessories will work with the HERO 5.
The Little Things
There are a bunch of smaller things that have been tweaked and improved. They include:
It automatically detects which way is up, so you don’t have to manually set it anymore if you’re mounting the camera upside down.The HERO 5 Black still does this, but a firmware update to the HERO 4 Black has since added the feature to that model too.
- You can turn off the LEDs selectively. If you turn them off (as well as the beeps), you end up with a similar stealth effect as the HERO 4 Black’s Blackout housing. I have a more detailed post specifically on [GoPro stealth modes]https://havecamerawilltravel.com/gopro/gopro-stealth-modes-lights-beeps/).
- Battery level indicator now includes a percentage. It gives a more precise idea than the old three-bars display.
- The longest auto-off setting is now 30 minutes rather than 5 minutes.
Which to Buy?
The HERO 5 Black, then, does everything the HERO 4 Black and HERO 4 Silver do and then quite a lot more. The HERO 4 Black is a very good camera indeed, but in pretty much every respect the new model is a better one. So in many cases, it’s not really a hard decision.
But it seems to me there are two reasons where the HERO 4 Black might be an attractive option:
- Price. Now that newer models are out, there are some good deals to be had on the previous model. Stocks won’t last forever, of course, as the HERO 4s become harder to find. But there are some compelling deals to be had.
- Accessories. For now, third-party accessory support is very limited for the new model. That will improve over time, but it’s going to take quite a while for the pool of third-party accessories to catch up to the enormous pool of accessories available for the previous models.
Price and Availability
One of the best things about the HERO 5 Black is that GoPro reduced the MSRP to $399.99, where the HERO 4 Black’s MSRP started at $499. And that is a pretty compelling feature in itself. The upshot is that you get a better camera for a lower price.
Both now discontinued models, so they’re becoming harder to find new. But 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.