For over ten years now GoPro has been manufacturing extreme spots and adventure cams and is considered the industry leader when it comes to capturing high-flying, death defying, outdoor action that would no doubt destroy a regular camera.
The GoPro Hero 3 is the flagship product in the Hero3 range, alongside stablemates Silver Edition and the entry-level White Edition. We spent some time reviewing the regular GoPro Hero3 Black Edition, and there's also a Surf Edition that is tailored towards water babies, with a special adhesive mount designed specifically for surfboards.
As the flagship product in the GoPro range, the GoPro Hero3 Black Edition has a number of upgrades over its cheaper siblings. First and foremost, the big addition for the Black Edition package is the supplied Wi-Fi remote control that lets you control the camera - handy if the camera itself is attached to a helmet or anywhere else that might make reaching the buttons tricky. We'll deal with the set-up and operation of the remote in more depth later on, but for adventurous souls looking to mount their camera somewhere they cannot physically reach it, the Wi-Fi remote is sure to appeal.
In addition to the supplied Wi-Fi remote, the Black Edition also has a beefed-up, higher resolution 12MP camera. By way of comparison, the Silver Edition gets an 11MP snapper, while the entry-level White Edition only gets a 5MP sensor. In addition to the full 12MP, the Black Edition also shoots at 7MP and 5MP if needed.
Perhaps more useful to the camera's target audience is the Black Edition's 30fps maximum burst rate. This is considerably higher than both the Silver Edition's 10fps and the White Edition's 3fps. It's a useful advantage because, in the fast-moving world of adrenaline sports, the ability to fire off 30 consecutive shots is much more likely to bag you exactly the shot you want.
For those who don't require quite so much speed, the Black Edition has 3fps, 5fps and 10fps continuous shooting speeds, too. Last but not least the GoPro Hero3 Black Edition has a time-lapse mode, where the camera can be set to shoot at 0.5, 1, 2, 5, 10, 30 and 60-second intervals. It all adds up to plenty of scope and flexibility.
Of course, the majority of people looking to purchase a Hero3 will probably be much more interested in its video capabilities than its still image prowess, and here again the Black Edition enjoys a distinct advantage over its two supporting models. While the Silver and White editions support a maximum resolution of 1080p at 25fps, the Black Edition can capture 1080p Full HD video at 50/48/25fps in PAL mode (60/48/30fps for NTSC capture). Furthermore 720p recording can be captured at 100/50fps (120/60fps for NTSC), which enables smooth slow-motion playback of high-def movies - something neither the Silver or White editions are capable of.
The Black Edition also supports 4K capture at 15fps, or 4K Cinema at 12fps.
Alternative video settings include:
1440p at 48/25/24fps (48/30/24fps for NTSC)
2.7K at 25fps (30fps for NTSC)
2.7K Cinema at 24fps
960p at 100/48fps
WVGA capture at 240fps.
You really are spoilt for choice when it comes to video recording options.
Given that it's specifically designed to be used outdoors in the kind of conditions that would wreck regular cameras, it comes as no surprise to find that the overall Hero3 Black Edition package is tougher than Chuck Norris. The camera itself is tiny though, measuring just 60mm wide by 40mm tall and 20mm deep. Indeed, GoPro claims the Hero3 is 30% smaller than its predecessor. At just 74 grams, it's also 20% lighter than the Hero2.
Housed within a tough polycarbonate shell, the camera gets three buttons: a Mode button, a shutter release button and a Wi-Fi pairing button. The camera's rechargeable 1,050mAh Li-ion battery resides in the back of the camera, hidden behind a protective cover that's unclicked via a quick-release switch. Also on the back is the Hero Port, which is used to connect the optional Touch BacPac LCD display (around $100-$130) that relays live images of what the camera can see.
On the front of the Hero3 you'll find the LCD status screen, which displays all the important shooting information as well as menu navigation when setting the camera up or adjusting its settings. Below this is the Mode button that doubles up as the On/Off button. To the right of this are two indicator lights - a blue Wi-Fi pairing light and a red status indicator. On the top of the camera is one further button, which acts as the shutter release and movie-record button.
Connectivity and memory storage is found on the side of the camera behind a piece of protective plastic. You get a micro HDMI for playback and a Micro USB port for charging and file transfer, plus a slot for microSD cards. The Hero3 Black Edition can accommodate cards of up to 64GB, and given the amount of data that requires processing and storing it's strongly recommended that you use at least a Class 10 card or better.
Of course, the camera itself isn't waterproof, which is where the polycarbonate housing comes in. This is waterproof to a depth of 60 metres and also guards against bumps, scrapes and accidental drops. The camera slots into the back of its protective case, where it's held firmly in place via a secure latch on the top of the camera.
Getting the camera in and out is fairly straightforward too - with the camera lens facing away from, you simply slide the latch on the top of the case in the direction of the arrow and then lift/peel back the latch.
While it's inside its protective housing, you operate the camera via three spring-loaded buttons on the outer of the case. There's one for the shutter/movie record button, one for the mode/power button and one for the Wi-Fi connect button. You need to apply a reasonable amount of force to press them, but this is preferable as it lessens the chance of accidental button presses.
Supplied is a range of mounts, fasteners and adhesive pads. Our's came with the 'Adventure Kit' intended for use on dry land. Go for the Surf Edition if you're in and around water a lot.
There are a number of ways to operate the Hero3 Black Edition: from the camera itself, via the supplied remote control, or via the free GoPro app that's available for iOS and Android smartphones and tablets.
Pairing the Hero3 Black Edition to the supplied Wi-Fi remote control gives you added flexibility over where you mount the camera - GoPro claims a working Wi-Fi range of 100 metres.
You use a combination of the Mode and shutter release buttons to navigate menus, which is easy enough once you've mastered it. You'll have to download the user manual from GoPro's website, however, as it's not included - either printed or digitally - in the box.
This much is the same as the rest of the Hero3, but it's the supplied remote that sets the GoPro Hero3 apart. Once you've paired the remote with the camera, the two buttons on the remote act exactly the same as the Mode button and Shutter Release button on the camera, meaning you can access all of the camera's various settings and options from the remote. Better still, the charging port on the remote also accommodates a keyring attachment that lets you securely attach the remote to your person, so that you won't accidentally lose it.
The GoPro App for Android and iOS allows you to control the camera from your tablet/smartphone, with a time-delayed preview window showing you what the camera can see.
Unless you spend the additional $100-$130 on the optional GoPro Touch BacPac display, there's no way to see what the camera can see in real-time. There is a cheaper way around this, though, which is the GoPro app that's free in the Google Play and Apple iOS app stores.
Pairing your smartphone/tablet to the camera is simple, if a little fussy, as you have to input the Hero3's default Wi-Fi password ('goprohero') into your mobile, switch the camera's internal Wi-Fi on and then use the Wireless Setup menu on the camera to put the camera into GoPro App pairing mode.
Once you're up and running you can activate the app on your phone/tablet and press 'Connect and Control'. This takes you to the main app screen from where you can exercise all manner of control over the camera (from basic still image/movie quality settings, to time-lapse settings and even more advanced settings) via the settings menu, which is accessed via the cogwheel icon.
The GoPro app also gives you direct control over when to start and stop recording, or when to take a still image. There's even a small preview window that shows you what the camera is seeing in (almost) real-time.
We say 'almost' because there's actually a two-second delay involved. If you're operating the camera this way, then you'll need to hit the 'record' button slightly in advance of the moment/video sequence you want to capture.
Even with this delay, it's a neat app that lets one person control the recording from a distance (GoPro quotes an operable Wi-Fi distance of up to 100m) while the camera wearer focuses on whatever it is that they're doing.
GoPro's own CineForm Studio software can be downloaded for free from the company's website and, although you can't stitch individual clips together, you can convert snippets ready for post-processing.
The GoPro Black Edition doesn't come with any supplied software in the box, however you can download the company's own CineForm Studio software from the GoPro website. It's not the most advanced piece of film editing software we've seen, however it does let you to apply a range of effects to your movies, including the ProTune filter that enhances the colour and detail of captured movies.
While CineForm Studio can convert raw movie footage from the camera, and apply effects or slow movies down, it can't join individual fragments of footage together - you'll need to use something like Final Cut Pro or Apple iMovie for this.
Still Image and Video Quality
Still image quality isn't too bad, but the wideangle nature of the Hero3's lens does result in lots of barrel distortion, which makes still images look like they've been captured with a fisheye lens. Colour and white balance are both pretty accurate though, and can of course be tweaked at the post-processing stage. Detail is pretty good too.
Movie quality is, on the whole, very good, though. As mentioned at the start of this review, the Black Edition greatly benefits from much wider range of movie quality settings than its cheaper siblings. Of course, it's up to you to decide which setting is optimal for your purposes and this will differ according to the situation in that the camera is being used.
For testing purposes we stuck primarily with 1080p Full HD capture at 50fps. The main reasons we opted to record at this particular setting is that going any higher would be lost on the vast majority of computer screens, but also because at 50fps we could slow down some of the action to half-speed while maintaining a relatively healthy 25fps at Full HD resolution.
Post-processing options of the CineForm Studio include a number of digital filter effects - including the contrast/saturation/sharpness-boosting ProTune option - along with more standard editing controls.
One feature of the Black Edition that more advanced users will certainly benefit from is the ability to employ GoPro's proprietary Protune technology. This is activated on the camera via the Settings menu and, once engaged, records movie footage in Camera Raw mode with less compression for enhanced editing potential, along with a more neutral colour palate. You can, of course, boost saturation and tweak sharpness using the CineForm Studio software as well.
During our time with our review sample we used the GoPro Hero3 Black Edition in a variety of conditions - on the day we captured some kitesurfing (with the camera mounted inside the kite for a top-down view of the action), the skies were especially grey and the sea a pale green. The raw footage of this did look a little flat, however the ProTune option did a good job of brightening things up a bit.
On another day we strapped the camera to the front windscreen of our car on a particularly bright and sunny day to see how well it handled fast motion and high-contrast lighting conditions. The camera performed well on both counts, but the built-in microphone didn't do a great job of capturing our specially chosen soundtrack on the in-car stereo system despite it being turned up to urban petrolhead levels of loudness.
Used in other situations, however, such as sitting on the open water while surfing, the microphone did do a good job of picking up conversation between the surfers.
If you're into extreme sports and are looking for a camcorder/still image camera that you can strap to your person to capture the action with, irrespective of whether it's in the water or on dry land, then the GoPro Hero3 Black Edition is currently best option on the market.
The remote control, along with the GoPro smartphone/tablet app for Android and iOS, only adds to the overall versatility of the Black Edition, making it a fantastic piece of kit at a very reasonable price. For the camera in its most naked form it will cost you just under $500 from leading retailers such as JB Hi-Fi, Bing Lee and others.