The Newest GoPro Models Are More Approachable Than Ever

GoPro Hero4 Silver

Today, GoPro is launching a new lineup of its durable cameras that promises to be the most approachable the now-public camera and lifestyle company has produced.

This generation brings two tiers of camera to GoPro’s lineup. At the high end, there’s the $499 Hero4 Black and  the $399 Hero4 Silver, most notable for being capable of 4K  video capture and (for the first time) sporting a built-in touch screen, respectively. Each of these devices retains the simple, durable industrial design of previous generations, with few slight modifications to the overall look.

At the low end, there’s now an entry-level model known simply as the Hero. Starting at $129, it serves a few markets very well despite its slightly-less impressive spec sheet: those who aren’t yet sure how a GoPro would fit into their life and simply want to try it out, and those who know how to use GoPro in awesome ways but want something that can be totally destroyed without feeling like too much of a loss.

Last week, GoPro took myself and a bunch of other tech journalists on a trip around San Francisco to try out the Hero4 models in a variety of situations in which a durable, versatile camera lets you capture footage that might be tricky to grab otherwise.

We saw professional skydivers jump from a helicopter and land on a strip of grass by the bay. We went to a trampoline gym where we got to see a Gold Medalist Olympian do flips and tricks, drove around San Francisco in those yellow scooter-derived go-karts, and went out on the Bay in a boat.

In this varied testing climate, I realized that my lifestyle really doesn’t demand one of these cameras. I simply don’t go out and do enough cool stuff on a regular basis — for me, the iPhone camera is good enough for most uses, and my DSLR is all I need for professional use.

But for those actually do cool stuff? I only used one mount the entire time — the three-sectioned grip — and was able to come up with some really usable footage with very little effort in terms of positioning the camera. Here’s what I was able to get with the Hero4 Black without setting up a shot using the new iPhone app:

From a usability standpoint, GoPro has made efforts to make the devices themselves easier to use, re-organizing settings to put things like resolution and framerate front and center. With that said, some of the defaults just didn’t work that well in my use: for instance, taking 30 burst photos in one second just doesn’t make much sense for capturing most moments without significant blur. GoPro product team members gave me better settings to use, but it seemed odd that their recommendations aren’t the company’s go-to settings.

In addition, the GoPro studio software could use some simplification. While the app is for those who aren’t experts in apps like Premiere or Final Cut Pro, the interface still requires conversion and choosing settings before you get to edit anything, and the commands to actually start get videos to go to standard settings aren’t immediately obvious.

GoPro Studio

Still, I can’t help but feel that this generation of GoPro cameras is going to convert more sports-and-adventure-types than ever before. The Hero4 Silver (the one with the touch screen) seems to be the sweet spot in terms of interfaces that make sense for regular folk: being able to swipe around and see settings in big, touchable interface elements makes everything easier to understand.

Seeing 4K footage — or even 2.7K, really — from the Hero4 Black is incredibly impressive, though it doesn’t really feel practical for most people yet. For one thing, there’s the lack of 4K displays in most people’s homes and the fact that my MacBook Air seemed to consider catching on fire when I tried to make it edit video at that high of a resolution. Someone with a $600 Windows PC would probably get rather frustrated with seeing the conversion times for that kind of content creep into the *hours* time frame.

With that said, those willing to buy into the highest-end model will find that their footage will be ready for the eventual arrival of that technology. So maybe it’s fair to say that the average person doesn’t really seam to be the target customer for that model — if you’re the kind of person who could really take advantage of the Hero4 Black, you’ve probably been preparing your wallet for a 4K-capable GoPro since last year’s Hero3 lineup.