Product review GoPro Hero4 Silver Full Spectrum Camera.
GoPro Hero4 Silver Camera (modified to full spectrum)
The modification involves removal of the IR and UV light filters. If this camera is used during normal daylight shooting the colors will be skewed, so don't plan on using it for anything except ghost hunting. However, an aftermarket external lens filter might restore these capabilities.
There are many excellent reviews of the regular version of this camera; this review will emphasize the modified performance to full spectrum and this camera’s usefulness in paranormal research.
Why the GoPro Hero4 Silver and not another camera?
The conversion to full spectrum eliminates its use in day to day shooting, so an expensive DSLR wouldn't be a good candidate.
A point and shoot camera with HD video might be a good choice, but there are problems here too.
1. Still cameras’ focusing systems are notoriously bad for video and even worse under poor lighting. GoPro has fixed focus lenses to infinity -- this is perfect for ghost hunters, no need to focus anything, ever, and one less thing to go wrong with your camera and recording session, like the sounds of your camera re-focusing ruining a potential EVP voice or sound.
2. Lens F stop speed, and field of view.
The GoPro has an F2.8 lens which is reasonably fast, slower lenses on many point and shoot cameras F3 to F5.6 reduce the amount of light to the chip.
And the camera’s field of view in 35-mm format terms, Ultra Wide comes in at approximately 15-mm equivalent, while medium is around 22-mm equivalent, and narrow about 30-mm equivalent. This is excellent for paranormal work. Most point and shoot cameras will provide a much narrower field of view, reducing your chances of capturing anything.
3. Price. If you wanted a lens in a DSLR that would beat the inexpensive GoPro you can buy lenses from Canon or Nikon DSLR's with F1.4 super wide lens, but the lens alone without the body will cost you the equivalent of 4 or 5 GoPro Cameras.
First the camera itself is tiny, and all the controls are simple to use. With the LCD screen, changes in setting even in the dark can be made quickly (this also can be done on the non-back light front LED display as well, but you will need a flashlight to do so.)
A waterproof case is provided, with 3 back door panels. In normal instances I recommend using the supplied fully open back door panel provided, which will allow access to the touch screen on back and much better sound quality for the built in microphone. Another door allows use of the touch screen while still remaining watertight; I recommend this door if you are outdoors and fear a rain storm might occur, but audio quality will suffer.
One thing I don't like is that the memory card and battery access can't be reached without removing the camera from the protective case.
Fortunately the after market for GoPro cameras is extensive, so
you can buy cases with open panels to change the memory cards, or add an external microphone with a 3.5mm adapter without having to remove the camera from the protective case.
On ease of use, when the camera is attached to a Mac computer the I-Photo window pops up with the import button bottom right to import your video footage.
I don't know why I-Photo and not I-Movie, or my free down loaded version of GoPro Studio isn't triggered, but it works just fine.
I did make one mistake -- the images captured had the far corners rounded off in the super wide modes matching the aperture shape of the camera, like looking through a hotel door’s viewing lens.
You don't want to use these settings anyway, even on non-modified GoPro camera's they produce an unplesant (fish eye) effect, stick with the 2.7K medium mode for best image quality.
In your GoPro Studio's software, during step 2 you can set under the Framing options the Zoom button which is set to negative zoom by default. It can be adjusted upward -- just enough to enable the image to fill the screen, if nessary, or a higher zoom if you are trying to enlarge a particular object.
You might be wondering why I chose the Silver and not the more expensive Black model?
The Black’s sole advantage over the Silver is 4K at 30 frames per second instead of the Silver’s 4K 15 frames per second. The cheaper Silver model is a better camera for ghost hunters. The Black version has a problem with the heat generated by running the camera at 30 fps in 4K. You can't run it in this mode continuously or it will overheat (this is the reason no LCD screen is provided on the back, there is just too much heat, and heat equals shorter recording sessions and shorter camera life in the long run.) This isn't only GoPro's fault with the Black version, Canon's Rebel DSLR limits 4K recording sessions to 12 minutes before overheating/ internal timer shuts the camera down. For ghost hunters these limitations are just too great, plus the Silver has strengths that make it a superior camera for ghost hunting, here is why.
The LCD screen on the Silver is wonderful for working in dark conditions, an aftermarket LCD screen ($80) is available for the Black, it attaches to the back of the camera but I wouldn't recommend running it at 4K 30 pfs you would be asking for trouble.
The next Silver advantage is longer battery life, about 25% longer than the Black version. The most important difference is the chip in the Silver is much more light sensitive than the Black. To the outdoor enthusiast shooting on a Hawaiian beach in bright sun this doesn't matter, but to a ghost hunter, light sensitivity is a must!
Side by side comparisons reveal the Silver produces much brighter images in poor light.
Now on to which recording settings are best for the Silver full spectrum. I have been testing the various recording resolutions and frame rates and have reached some conclusions.
These are still image screen shots from video clips recorded at 1080/24fps, 2.7K/30fps and 4K/15fps of a red laser grid commonly used during ghost hunts.
The 1080 setting produces a grain free image, but there are problems, notice the grid lines aren't tight and focused and lots of red color bleeding is taking place. This will set the pattern for all 1080 recordings, wonderfully low grain levels at the expense of image sharpness and clarity.
2.7K reveals much sharper lines and less color bleeding, a much better version.
The 4K shot has some grain in the black areas but it’s not objectionable so long as no other light source other than the laser light is present, and the colors are more vivid and the lines tighter than any of the other settings. The 4K/15fps wins this round, but it will fall on its face in the next test.
All of the following are still photos extracted from video clips recorded in a basement in total darkness with twin Creepy Hallow full spectrum lights. I didn't want to use test pattern charts, I wanted a real world environment to conduct this test. The 1080 shows a clean grain free image that suffers from an overall softness throughout the image.
The 4K version is the worst of the bunch -- there is so much grain in the image some of the overhead rafters seen top left are obscured from view.
The winner is the 2.7K mode hands down! Its image is clear and mostly grain free, yet is much sharper, the lines of the overhead rafters are clearly visible and tight.
One thing I can't figure out is why the colors in the 2.7K mode are recorded in a different color hue from all the other settings using the exact same twin full spectrum lighting? I thought it might be seeing UV light differently, so I recorded footage of a black light in total darkness. The colors all turned out with the exact same purple hue reflecting off a white wall; the bluish cast from the full spectrum light wasn't present. It doesn't really make any difference what color hue your recordings are captured in, I just would like knowing why this is happening. For the majority of shooting the average ghost hunter should stick with the 2.7K mode at 30fps, it’s the way to go. Check out the long distance 2.7K shot, it’s almost 40 feet to the back wall and the image remains bright, sharp, and grain free.
This is the setting I would also recommend for shooting in cemeteries or other outdoor ghost hunting venues.
The purple laser test was the closest, note purple lasers take on different colors when they strike different color objects, in this case a gray concrete wall changes it to a more bluish color. It’s a close call, but the 4K might be the best overall.
The conclusions are obvious: 4K under low light suffers from high grain levels, but when shooting lasers with no other light sources present to reveal the high grain levels in the footage the grain remains hidden in the blackness while the laser colors are bright, sharp, and free from color bleeding.
This is the setting lasers in total darkness look best when mounted on a tri-pod.
For most shooting, with full spectrum lights the 2.7K wins top honors, for both mobile or mounted a tri-pod. It produces bright, sharp low grain images, even at longer distances. The 1080 mode is clearly over optimized to be grain free; too bad its sharpness suffers to this extent.
Do I recommend this camera?
Yes! its an excellent choice for the ghost hunter wanting superior quality over the budget I-R night shot camcorders.
People have contacted me asking the question, if they intend to shoot entirely in 1080P for uploading onto YouTube, Vimeo, or one of the other on line video storage sites, whats the point in 2.7K or 4K recording capabilities?
Even if you intend to upload at 1080P, recording at these higher resolutions has three advantages. First if you need to zoom in on any portion of your video the higher resolutions hold up much better. The second is if you shoot in 2.7K or 4K, and downscale it into 1080P the image quality is superior to video shot at 1080P native resolutions. The third is future proofing your video, in time uploading 2.7K and 4K footage will be common, if you retain a high resolution master copy you will be able to re-upload your video at higher resolutions.
Recommended dealer for this item: Ghost Stop