Less than a year ago, there were no GoPros with built in screens – the only way to add that capability was to buy the optional LCD BacPac, which cost $80 and increased the size and weight of the camera, as well as making it somewhat difficult to use with certain mountings. While there are certainly good arguments to be made that you don’t really need a screen to use a GoPro (particularly now all but the entry level GoPro Hero will connect to GoPro’s excellent smartphone app) it can undeniably be very helpful to have a built-in screen, as much as to enable quick and easy access to the settings menus as to ensuring that you have the correct framing for a shot.
GoPro first introduced a built in screen on the $400 GoPro Hero 4 Silver, which was introduced in October 2014 alongside its screen-less but truly 4K capable brother, the Hero 4 Black (see our detailed comparison of this pair here), and the entry-level GoPro Hero. In a somewhat surprising move, GoPro then followed this up in June 2015 with the $300 Hero+ LCD, which featured the same built in screen as the Hero 4 Silver. As such there are now two built-in screen cameras in the range, with $100 in price between them. So, If you’re in the market for a GoPro with a screen, which one should you buy?
What is the same?
The first thing to deal with this what elements are the same between the Hero+ LCD and the Hero 4 Silver. The cameras are the same size and a similar weight – 4.5 oz (127g) for the Hero+ LCD vs 5.2 oz (174g) for the Hero 4 Silver. The Hero+ LCD has a matt black finish while the Silver is, well. Silver! Both have built in wifi and so can work with the GoPro smartphone app and the optional GoPro smart remote. One minor difference in the arrangement of LEDs on the camera – the Hero 4 Silver has two slim ones on the front down the edge of the front screen, plus one on the bottom and one on the back, while the Hero+ LCD has a single larger LED on the front (like the earlier Hero 3 range of cameras) and one on the back.
Both cameras ship with 3 interchangeable rear doors – a fully waterproof door down to 131 feet (40m) which does not allow the user to operate the touch LCD screen, a touch screen compatible door which allows the screen to be operated through the case and is waterproof to 10 feet (3m) and a skeleton back door which is features a cut out around the screen and this therefore not waterproof at all, but allows the camera’s microphone to capture sounds more clearly.
The LCD touch screen on the rear is the same on both cameras – GoPro don’t specify a resolution for the screen and while it is perfectly reasonable for its intended purpose, it doesn’t have the same resolution or sharpness as a “retina” display on an iPhone or similar. Someone oddly, only the Hero 4 Silver features a button to the lower left of the screen which can be used to toggle it on or off to save battery power, though note that this cannot be accessed without opening the rear door (even when using the skeleton or touch screen door).
Differences between the GoPro Hero+ LCD and the Hero 4 Silver
The most notable physical difference between the Hero+ LCD and the Hero 4 Silver is how the camera itself fits into to the waterproof case. In the Hero+ LCD the two are fused together, so that the camera unit cannot be removed from the casing. The main consequence of this is that the battery in the Hero+ LCD is non-replaceable – once it is out of juice you have to plug the entire camera into a charger for a couple of hours to recharge the battery. In contrast, the Hero 4 Silver battery is replaceable, so if you purchase a charger and some spare batteries you can keep filming beyond the life of a single battery (which, particularly when using the screen, may be little more than an hour). The other consequence is that it is not possible to use the Hero+ LCD “naked” and without any housing – for example using GoPro’s frame mount.
The other key difference is as to the resolution of the sensor. The Hero+ LCD features a 8 megapixel sensor and can shoot video at a maximum of 1080p60. Meanwhile the Hero 4 Silver has a 12 megapixel sensor, and can shoot at up to 4K at 15 fps, or at 2.7K at 30 fps. While its maximum frame rate at 1080p is 60 fps, the the same as the Hero+ LCD , its more powerful processor means that at 720p it can step up to 120 fps. The Hero 4 Silver can also shoot in the SuperView mode at both 1080p60 and 720p100, whereas on the Hero+ LCD SuperView is only available at the 720p resolution.
Aside from the headline differences in resolution and framerate, the higher megapixel sensor in the Hero 4 Silver also improves the performance of the camera when comparisons are made at the same resolution as the Hero+ LCD. This is particularly the case in low light conditions. As such, even if you have no particular need at the moment for the greater-than-HD video resolutions offered by the Hero 4 Silver, there is nevertheless a reason for choosing it for video quality reasons alone.
The Hero 4 Silver also features GoPro’s ProTune settings, allowing more control over the ISO, sharpness and color settings of photos and videos. While this is primarily intending for more those users who will be doing significant work on the footage in post production, it is also useful to give more control over the exposure of photographs (particularly when experimenting with the night photography options) so it is by no means the sole preserve of the professional. That said, for most users, and particularly for video rather than photographs, the best straight-off-the-camera results will be achieved by leaving ProTune turned off and using the standard settings.
Which GoPro with a screen to buy?
So, if you’ve decided you want a GoPro with a screen, should you buy the GoPro Hero+ LCD or the Hero 4 Silver? Clearly, if budget is a real issue, then the Hero+ LCD offers of the same core functionality at a price point which is $100 less than the Hero 4 Silver. If you’re not interested in resolutions greater than 1080p, or in shooting for more than the life of one battery, then the Hero+ LCD will do the job for you just fine.
However, if you can find the extra $100, in our view the additional features of the Hero 4 Silver are worth the cash. The ability to swap out the battery can be a real bonus when taking the camera on an all-day (or even multi-day) trip where there is no opportunity to stop shooting and recharge the whole camera. The higher-than-HD resolutions and greater framerates are also nice to have, and as noted above, the camera also performs better in low light at the HD resolutions than the Hero +. Indeed, in our opinion, the Hero 4 Silver is arguably the sweet spot of the entire range currently, providing almost the quality of the GoPro Hero 4 Black but with the added benefits of featuring a screen, being $100 cheaper and having a better battery life. Unless you really need proper 4K ability (and see our discussion here on that!) then it’s our pick of the current range.