With the HD Hero2, GoPro established itself as the go-to name for action cameras. The GoPro Hero3 Black Edition ($399.99 direct) is an impressive upgrade for an already excellent product, slimming down the dimensions and adding features like 4K (or Ultra HD) video recording capability. There are some problems with the Wi-Fi implementation—namely issues with battery life—but the superb video quality, ease of use, and plentitude of mounting options keep the GoPro Hero3 Black Edition at the top of the pack. It’s an easy pick for our Editors’ Choice award for action cameras.
Design and Features
The Hero3 is basically a slimmed-down Hero2, measuring 1.6 by 2.3 by 0.8 inches (HWD) and 2.6 ounces versus 1.6 by 2.4 by 1.2 inches (HWD) and 3.3 ounces. You get the same silver cuboid design, with two control buttons, a monochrome LCD, and a wide-angle lens. Competitors, like the Sony Action Cam or Drift Innovation HD Ghost, have more bullet-like designs, which make them more suitable for side-mounting on helmets and goggle straps.
All of the controls basically run through the two main buttons; one located on the front and one on top. The front button acts as a power toggle and mode selector; tapping it cycles through video recording, still capture, burst still capture, and the settings menu. The top button is used to start recording, grab a photo, and navigate through the menu system. It can be a bit cumbersome to dig into menus and settings, but that’s been true of all GoPros. The two button setup, along with the LED indicators and loud audible beep, makes it easy to trigger recordings even when the camera is mounted on helmets.
Along the left edge are micro HDMI and mini USB ports, as well as a microSD card slot that supports cards up to 64GB. There are also two LED indicators on the face of the Hero3; a red one indicates recording status while a blue one indicates Wi-Fi status. On the right edge is a small Wi-Fi On/Off button, with three small drilled holes for the microphone above it. The back houses the battery compartment and another small red LED to indicate recording status.
There are a ton of accessories available for the Hero3, ranging from various mounts to attachable BacPacs that add things like an LCD screen. The Black Edition comes with the camera, a waterproof housing (submergible to 197 feet), a Wi-Fi remote, rechargeable battery, 3-way pivot arm, curved adhesive mount, flat adhesive mount, and a USB charging cable. The Wi-Fi remote is waterproof and lets you trigger recording wirelessly, but during testing we found it cumbersome to pair and a bit unnecessary unless you have a multi-camera shoot (the Wi-Fi remote can control up to 50 GoPros). On top of that, during testing, the Wi-Fi feature was a huge draw on battery life. You can set up an ad-hoc network between the Hero3 and a smartphone, and use the free iOS or Android app to control recording, use your smartphone as a viewfinder, and transfer files for uploading to the Web.
Video Quality and Conclusions
The GoPro Hero3 Black Edition is easily the most versatile action camera available. Where most cameras can do 720p60 and 1080p30, the Hero3 can also do 720p at 120 frames per second, 1080p60, and even 4K video at 15 frames per second. Sony’s Action Cam recently added 1080p60 with a firmware update and the Drift HD Ghost tops out at 1080p30 and 720p60, but neither support 4K.
For testing, we sent the Hero3, Sony Action Cam, and Drift HD Ghost out with our photographer on his most recent ski trip. Video quality at 1080p60 on the Hero3 was excellent, with crisp details, true-to-life colors, and smooth frame rates. Even with challenging lighting conditions, the Hero3 captured video that was full of detail and low on image noise. The Sony Action Cam, on the other hand, was unable to match the Hero3 in clarity or crispness, with video that was noticeably grainier and lacked the same level of sharp details that the Hero3 captured. The Drift HD Ghost’s video lies somewhere between the two, with sharp details and pleasantly saturated, if not completely accurate colors. More demanding video enthusiasts will also be thrilled with GoPro’s inclusion of Protune firmware, which allows far greater control over color correction.
We also tested out the Hero3′s 4K shooting mode, which you won’t find in any other action camera, or even most high-end consumer camcorders for that matter. The footage is limited to 15 frames per second, making it pretty choppy, but you just won’t be able to find this level of detail in any other competitor.
Still image quality is good, as long as you can live with the distortion introduced by such a wide angle lens. The Hero3 can shoot 12-, 7-, or 5-megapixel stills, and has a number of burst or time-lapse photo modes. Burst shooting can capture 30 shots in a second, while continuous shooting mode can capture 3, 5, or 10 photos per second. Time-lapse mode offers 0.5-, 1-, 2-, 5-, 10-, 30-, and 60-second intervals for shots. Images shot at 12MP are sharp and full of detail, but still no match for a good point-and-shoot with a zoom lens.
If you’re looking for an action camera that can keep up with all of your extreme exploits, the GoPro Hero3 Black Edition should be at the top of your list. It’s brimming with features and shooting modes, including the unrivaled ability to capture 4K video, and delivers some of the crispest video footage we’ve seen in the category. It’s eminently easy to use and there’s also a huge diversity of mounting options available. Our only gripe is the huge battery drain brought on by the built-in Wi-Fi, but you also don’t ever have to use that feature. That said, the Hero3 Black Edition is packing enough goods to handily nab our Editors’ Choice.
|Mic Input Jack||No|
|Interface Ports||micro USB, mini HDMI|
|Waterproof Depth (Mfr. Rated)||197 feet|
|Video Resolution||720p, 1080p|
|Video Recording Format||Secure Digital|
|Sensor Size||6.2 x 4.6 mm|
|Still Image Recording Format||Secure Digital|
|CCD Resolution||12 megapixels|
|Dimensions||1.55 x 2.3 x 0.82 inches|
Copyright © 2012 Ziff Davis, Inc