As we press the big red and black record button of the new GoPro Hero4, Danny MacAskill, pro trials and stunt cyclist, leaps into action jumping onto a picnic bench in a pub garden before launching himself through the air onto a large concrete pipe. He rolls along it only to hurl himself off it again all with impeccable timing.
It's how the morning starts for the 12 European journalists from different walks of life who have been invited to a secret day of filming with the new GoPro range, and is only a flavour of what we can expect for the rest of the day in East London's Shoreditch.
Still riding high from its first sale of stock to public (IPO) earlier in the summer, GoPro is set to launch three new action cameras in early October - Hero4 Black, Silver and Hero, each with different feature sets - allowing those looking to catch "crazy stuff as it happens" in crystal clear quality video. Up to 4K at 30fps from the top of the range model.
GoPro Hero4 Black
And crystal clear that video is. Sitting at the top of the new range is the new GoPro Hero4 Black, priced at £370.
The camera, which will exist alongside the Hero3 range rather than replace it, comes in the same chassis as previous outings - it means the waterproof housing (also included in the box) all your current accessorie are cross-compatible - but now delivers future-proofed 4K resolution at 30 frames a second (that's up from 4K at a maximum 15fps on the Hero3+ Black).
That maximum 3840 x 2160 resolution does come at a cost though: heat, battery, editing power, and storage. By the time we're done filming MacAskill's trick we can already feel the unit getting warm and the battery meter is showing we have to be careful with what we choose to film. Throughout our day of filming we go through about three to four batteries for the pocketable camera, an ongoing issue with the previous generation model - and as it's the same battery, it's much the same.
Then there is the post-production aspect to take into account. File sizes are large, with a nine minute 4K30 video being over 4GB in size. And you'll need a powerful machine to play it back on or edit. We've struggled with our MacBook Air for example. And that's before you then think about not only whether your editing software will support that footage (iMovie doesn't for example) and your broadband upload speed. So 4K is definitely cool, but there are more factors to think about in the entire workflow process if you're just a casual snapper.
But the bigger sell for the Hero4 Black in our view is its high frame-rate 1080p capture. You can now record 1920 x 1080 at 120fps, making for ace slow-motion possibilities in post-production. There's also 2.7K at 50fps, while stills shooting remains the same 12-megapixels capture with a burst mode of 30 frames per second.
The Hero4 Black, like its predecessors keeps things simple. Promising twice the performance of the Hero3+ Black, the sensor has been improved to deliver more power. Included software and new Protune settings for both photos and video also unlock manual control of colour, ISO sensitivity, exposure and other settings on the fly. It is effectively the same as shooting raw when using a DSLR and for those looking to get the most out of the camera, especially in post-production a welcomed introduction.
The Hero4 range (Black and Silver models) also adds built-in Bluetooth to the already standard Wi-Fi, as well as the ability to mark a key moment in your recording so you can quickly zip back to that bit later rather than having to search for it - you just have to remember to press the button at the right time.
Technical details aside, back in Shoreditch and we've moved on from the pub garden to witness some more fun. In among the sights and sounds of the street art - ranging from Banksy and Stik - MacAskill made London his playground by jumping over things including parked bicycles, bright red post boxes and railings.
MacAskill's efforts to please (even though he isn't on his usual bike which had been stolen from his van the day before) meant we had plenty of chance to put not only the Hero4 Black through its paces but also test the Hero4 Silver.
GoPro Hero4 Silver
The Hero4 Silver isn't as powerful as the Black as it doesn't come with video-standard 4K recording capabilities - it can capture 4K at 15fps, 1080p at 60fps or 720p at 120fps maximum - but is likely to be the more popular option for many.
The reason? It features a new built-in touchscreen display that covers the back of the device allowing you to see what you are recording, playback of what you've recorded, and to quickly change the settings with a swipe or tap without the need to load up the accompanying app as you have to with the Hero4 Black. Of course there is an optional touchscreen back for the Hero range (the Touch BacPak), but the new Silver model is the first time the company has integrated such a feature, plus enhanced the menu system. Good move, we say.
The screen, which is clear and crisp certainly makes things easier to manage, although we noted that both us and others had a tendency to press options by mistake due to an over-sensitive and perhaps overly keen to please menu system. Swiping right to left reveals the modes available, while a swipe from the bottom reveals the settings.
You'll need to use your fingers, rather than a gloved hand, but if you are halfway up a mountain the traditional button-pushing route via the front is still available. The screen being on does eat battery power, as you would expect, but comes with an aggressive auto-off option, or just the ability to turn it off at the press of a physical button - presumably once you've set up your shot. The inclusion of the screen doesn't compromise the ability to swap the battery for a spare, so keep a extra or two available and that's no worries.
Anecdotally we worry with others during the day that by including a screen it can encourage you to be more focused on what's happening on the device rather than the amazing action in front of us, and we have to admit a couple of times we witnessed MacAskill doing amazing things on a small screen rather than in real life in front of us. A bit like the whole smartphone recording at gigs thing.
Those worries aside, using the GoPro Hero4 Silver straight out of the box is certainly a lot easier to handle than the Black model, especially when it comes to framing the scene or, as we found towards the end of the evening, experimenting with the new low-light and Protune features that allow you to manually control many of the camera's settings. Add the optional Touch BacPak accessory to the Black and it's almost like-for-like, of course, minus the swipe control functions, but to do so would mean more cash to spend and a chunkier resulting unit overall.
Although the Silver's top-end 1080p60 will mean excellent half-speed playback in post-production, it's not as super-slow-mo as the quarter speed possibilities of the Black model. Still, the Silver is no slouch at recording great footage given the option of 2.7K30 and 960p100 capture. In the variety of experiences that we put both cameras through, including on the streets of Shoreditch, during some indoor karting, on a rickshaw, a boat, and along the South Bank at night.
The GoPro Hero4 Silver will be priced at £290.
At the bottom of the pile, but still well worthy of a mention for the entry-level market, is the GoPro Hero. We didn't get a chance to try out this Hero on our filming day, but it's the most different of the trio because it's a fixed unit.
By that we mean the Hero doesn't come with a built-in screen, can't be taken out of its waterproof casing, nor can the battery be removed - there's only access for the charger and microSD card. Other cutbacks include no Wi-Fi and Bluetooth (you have to tether to connect it to a screen). But it is still capable of recording 1080p30 and 720p60, snapping 5-megapixel photos at 5fps and is waterproof to 40m deep, which is more than enough for even advanced Padi diving).
An interesting and different prospect that, for its £100 asking price, will suit a certain audience we're sure - although no battery change may be an issue for longer shoots.
The new GoPro Hero4 range is very impressive and offers plenty to those who are already users of the camera as well as to newcomers alike.
In breaking up the range into three distinctive models, the company has made sure the pro set can enjoy using the camera for new 4K tricks, while the more casual user now gets to opt for a screen (the Hero 4 Silver is effectively the Hero3+), and the complete newcomer gets to play without breaking the bank.
There are still some frustrations though; features that we would expect to just be standard but aren't. There's no illumination on front screen, for example, so if you are setting up in the dark you can't see what the settings are. It's also not possible to take still photos while recording without changing the mode.
We also find it disappointing that the iPhone 6 can record 720p at 240fps, which is twice that of the GoPro Hero4 Black, but half the resolution. For mini set-pieces the perception could be that a phone is better than the leading action camera, albeit without the waterproofing and mount possibilities.
READ: iPhone 6 review
Having used the GoPro cameras for a full-on day, previewed our own the footage on the new Samsung curved 4K TV, and enjoyed some of the more advanced footage shot by GoPro we have to say we are really impressed by the new range and what is offered. With prices from £100 to £370 this is GoPro appealing to the existing user, the Hollywood pro and sending a message to its increasing number of competitors at the entry-level too.
Spending time with the GoPro cameras and some of the company's staff, the real beauty in the Hero4 series is not the footage you capture, but that the cameras make you want to escape your day-to-day life and head for the hills. When a gadget can make you do that, regardless of how amazingly it works, that has got to be the real charm.
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