Thursday, May 30, 2013

GoPro Hero3 Review

Meyer Optik 50 1.8 / 60D • Click for full size image

I've had this camera for more than a month now. I've gotten to shoot some tests I've already shared over the last few weeks. Lets take a closer look at the GoPro HERO3 Black edition camera.

First this camera comes in 3 versions. The White, Silver and Black Editions. The main differences :

The White is the most basic model with fewer shooting modes in terms of FPS and resolution, 5MP stills ( and presumably sensor ) 1080p30 / 960p30 / 720p60 and built in WiFi, Wifi Remote MSRP $199.99

The Silver edition has a 11MP stills mode, 1080p30 / 960p48 / 720p60 built in WiFi, includes WiFi remote and has more shooting options than listed here. MSRP 299.99

The Black edition has a 12MP stills mode with an amazing 30FPS burst rate, 4Kp15 and the coveted 2.7Kp30, 1440X1080(4:3 1080)p48, 1080p60, 720p120, improved low light performance, Wifi remote MSRP $399.99

I'm taking a look at the Black Edition simply because its the top of the line unit and I think the most appealing unit for pro's given the small price difference between models.

Meyer Optik 50 1.8 / 60D • Click for full size image

The new camera is physically about 30% smaller. Thats good and bad. It means that it won't fit into your old cases, but your mounts and mounting accessories will still work. Suction cups, body mounts, bar mounts, 3rd party extenders are all good. Your 3rd party flat lens housing for your Hero 1 or 2 won't work. The new camera also has a new bare bones housing that goes around the pretty much only the outside of the camera body which is perfect for indoors shooting.

The next thing is all the connectors have changed except the mini USB port. Thats still the same for charging, powering the camera or using it to dump the internal storage card. The old analog connections are gone in exchange for a multi purpose mini USB breakout cable that can give you : Composite video plus R/L audio out, 1/8" audio input, a combo cable that provides composite out, 1/8" mic input and USB input ( for power presumably, maybe full connection ). There is no component cable or option. The HDMI connection is a micro ( not mini ) connection. None of these cables are provided with the camera which is a bit surprising since the original camera gave you everything. I would of expected the HDMI cable since its really helpful to use a small battery powered monitor for precise aiming of the camera.

The next new thing is the change to a micro SD card. They are tiny ! I went with a SanDisk 64GB microSDXC Memory Card Ultra Class 10 UHS-I with microSD Adapter. You can exceed 32gb with ProTune enabled before the battery gives out during continuos recording. ProTune is the 45mb/sec high quality mode thats available for all Hero's with appropriate firmware update. Back to the micro SD card, don't skimp. ProTune is more demanding than the normal 24mbit mode and so are the higher stills burst rates like 12mp 30FPS for 1 sec. You'll also save lots of time dumping cards provided you have a fast USB 3.0 / FW 800 / PCIe card reader. I got a PCIe34 SD card reader for my laptop and it maxes out the data rate of whatever card I put in and it was under $15.

New battery! its smaller than the old battery but gives about 1.5 hrs of run time provided you aren't using the LCD BackPac or WiFi. Using either one of these will bring battery life down to about 1.25hrs. Use both and you should look at externally powering via the USB port. You could rig up a 12V battery + USB 12V->5V adapter and have several hours of run time or use a wall power USB supply. One thing I have not tried is powering the Hero3 on external USB power in the skeleton case ( full frame housing with access holes ) to see if it overheats. I know the Hero1 was more picky and using the skeleton housing plus open back was a requirement. I had drilled a regular case out for USB and video out access and that would over heat the Hero1 if I didn't use one of the backs with the open slots. I at some point also drilled a few more holes in the top of a Hero1 housing and then all was good.

Note 1 : shooting at higher resolutions may eat the battery faster depending on frame rate. GoPro has a chart on the topic.

Note 2 : Wifi on eats battery faster, about 5 min of total run time

Note 3 : If using the WiFi App to view your footage, expect 15min less run time then no Wifi + App

Meyer Optik 50 1.8 / 60D • Click for full size image

Yet one more thing to note is that the battery door now opens with a thumb nail button you have to slide to get the door to release. Its more tricky than the old battery doors but more secure. Removing the battery takes a pull using a tape tab on the back of the battery. I'm not sure how many change cycles this will survive. You may find yourself grabbing some thin clear tape to replace it in an emergency. I've done a few battery changes and I'm not convinced its terribly durable. Ask me again in a few months if I think the same way.

Given that its easy to eat batteries pretty quick I'd recommend at least one extra battery if you are going to be shooting a lot during a single day. A problem with GoPro's product line is lack of a battery charger. Using the cameras the charge batteries is just not workable at this point. Off to an online retailer and I found Wasabi Power has a charger for these new batteries and 2 spares for about $25. Thats pretty much a no brainer.

The other thing I don't like about the Hero3 is its lack of accessories in the retail package. They provide a couple of sticky mounts and bits, but no suction base. Thats disappointing but I have enough in my case to not to notice. Also don't forget that the plate they give in the packaging is a free bonus - you can tape it down or screw it into stuff so its a free mount. I had one mounted under the bumper of my old van with a couple of screws.

So once you add on a 64gb SD card, battery charger + spare batteries, micro HDMI to regular HDMI cable and a suction mount if you don't have one there's a solid $100 worth of extra bits to have a really shootable setup if you are starting from nothing. Extra bits is the story of Hero cameras. I have an entire case now dedicated to carrying all sorts of mounts, links, extensions, cables, batteries and chargers, solid and open backs for LCD mounted or no LCD mounted, links and extensions. Its a lot of extra stuff to be sure.

A couple of my favorite extra items is a maffer clamp with ball head + 1/4" tripod adapter. I've used this to mount the camera on things like forklifts that are too dirty for the suction cups to work but have plenty of surfaces I can grab with the maffer without worry. Another favorite tool is a mini long nose vise grip. Perfect for grabbing those stubborn cap nuts or stuck bolts. Oh, one more thing to buy, a couple extra 10-32 stainless steel cap nuts in case you loose any, another $1. Oh wait, those nuts I got in the local hardware store don't fit into the  holes in the brackets but the threads work. They used non-standard nut size .... but we got a DEAL on them !

Lets get shooting

Here are a couple of my previous tests. First a test with the Hero 1, 2 and 3 models.



The camera does much better in low light as this test clearly shows. Its quite usable down to some fairly dim light levels. The old cameras would of turned to very globby noise under the same circumstances. Check the end of the low light test when I ride in and out of sodium vapor to mercury vapory and back. The camera clearly likes the 5600K or so mercury light but the sodium lights it doesn't care for at all. Then again show me any camera that does nice under the same all yellow lights. Overall the claims of improved low light performance are here. The Hero3 is usable in many marginal lighting situations the old cameras would not of done well in.



TimeLapse GoPro Hero2 Kayaking Test

Next I tried a time-lapse on a recent kayaking trip. My first reaction was that the images where a bit dark or under exposed. Looking carefully I see the camera retained detail in the sky while holding everything else. With a mid tone boost and a little grading it would like quite nice and its really kind of impressive. This is shooting 4000X3000 pixel image. I have a graded and non graded version running side by side for a better idea. I could of switched to center metering at the risk of blowing out the sky. Overall the image is sharper and with lower noise than the previous Hero's which I thought always made nice still images. The other thing I noted is that the white balance seemed to be rather warm for some reason which was easily fixed these days.

Back to video. The camera has a few goofy quirks in its shooting settings you'll want to know. Probably the most useful mode most folks will use is the 2.7K 16:9 shooting mode except : in "standard" 2.7K mode you can only shoot in 30P ( NTSC ) or 25P (PAL). No 24p. To get that you have to change to 2.7K cine mode and then 23.976 will also be available. Note this is real proper 23.976, not the 24.000 I got with the older Hero2. No idea who messed that one up !

Here is the chart listing all the modes with frame rate, res, codec, Field Of View  on the GoPro site.

Now they want to call the cine mode RAW. Its not. Its fake RAW like people having been trying on DSLR's. It has reduced contrast and lower saturation then standard mode. That means you have to grade it. Does it net you anything extra ? maybe a little bit in the highlights but as I've shown all shooting like this really does is reduce the amount of information available to start with by reducing gradation. When you do grade it bars of emptiness are clearly visible on the waveform. Welcome to 8bit colorspace :(

ProTune is their 45mbit/sec improved codec. I like it. Its much better than 24mbit and pretty much where you should leave the camera set for most shooting unless you are stuck with a 16gb or 32gb card. Since this camera does require you to get a micro SD card, might as well get a 64gb one and never have to think about this. What I wish they'd do is look at a 75-100m/bit setting, ProTune 2 ? I could picture the image quality gets even better at this point. ProTune is available for all modes except the SD / WXVGA mode which is fine.

4K ? well its 15 FPS. I'm sure that might be cool but its not quite a usable 24fps. Even still its a hint that if and when a Hero4 ever shows up its on their radar to get to a usable 4K recording. You might also think of this as a continuos 15FPS stills mode !

Photo Burst mode is new. It lets you fire off a round of shots in ranges such as : 3 photos/1 second, 5 photos/1 second, 10 photos/1 second, 10 photos/2 seconds, 30 photos/1 second, 30 photos/2 seconds or 30 photos/3 seconds.

Photo continuos modes of 3 / 1 sec, 5 / 1 sec, 10 / sec. are available. Shooting at the higher frame rates you can create some cool matrix style effects although from a single view point.

Timelapse mode allows intervals of .5sec, 1,2,5,10,30,60 secs.

New : shooting stills during video. I wish my canon's did this without interrupting video shooting . Imagine shooting a picture while shooting continuous motion video and tripping a still off at the right moment, then being able to do some fx on the high res still. Very handy and I like it. It does require making sure the camera is in the right mode to do this.

Lets talk about the camera body itself. Besides its smaller, and has a nice grippy rubber sides. It also has a redo of the LCD display on the front of the camera. Its a nice matrix type display with better icons. When you change modes they go full screen so its much easier to see what mode you went into. If you have the camera set to upside down shooting, the display inverts. When shooting video there is a min:sec display like the Hero2 so you know you are rolling.

Another very good thing in the Hero3 is that the 2 main buttons are now nice and big. They are easy to press even in the case. This is a huge improvement over the older models.

LEDs are all over the body so you can see if its in record, provided they are turned on. There is also a blue LED for WiFi to indicate its on.


WiFi and the Control App

Read the manual. Its tricky to set up the first time or two but once you do get it set up it works really well. Did I saw read the manual ? well at least the multi step process to get everything talking to each other. Using the WiFi app its vastly faster to setup the camera using the iPhone or iPad then any other way. You can control up 50 cameras at once so the pain of setting them up goes away pretty quickly. I wish I could set up cameras with a USB connection though when I'm not needing to do the full WiFi thing.

Pairing to the WiFi remote is a bit annoying but once you get the hang of it you should only need to do it once. You can setup 50 cameras onto one remote. The WiFi remote which has been around for a while uses an internal rechargeable battery for better or worse. I don't know if you can change it or not. There are also a number of extra mounting accessories for the WiFi remotefor mounting on places like bike handle bars, your wrist or other places so you can trigger your cameras into record at the right time rather than having them just roll. The WiFi Remote has the same display as the camera making for easier set up change if you need to do that. Its pretty well thought out and done once you get it setup. The idea of setting up to 50 cameras into the same setting as once, well... makes me very happy :).

Your next question : why does the WiFi require a password ? well imagine not having a WiFi password and anyone who shows up at your shoot with the WiFi app could take control of your cameras, not a good time at all. Use a reasonable password.

The camera itself has 3 WiFi modes : Off, App, Remote. Easy enough to figure out, but on the camera's front display a bit hard to read. Using the LCD back makes it a lot easier, or external LCD monitor. You have to set the camera(s) to the correct mode : Wifi Remote or App. A new button on the side of the camera directly takes you into this menu to enable WiFi and pick the mode.

When using WiFi video monitoring has about a 5 sec delay. Its pretty annoying but better than nothing. Being able to use your iPhone or iPad to frame the cameras is very worthwhile.


Not yet. No housing for the camera, no sync cable. I"m sure its on their to do list.


The Hero3 is an amazing and very worthwhile upgrade to the previous cameras. The improved low light abilities alone make this a no brainer compared to the older cameras. All the extra features, increased resolution, improved faster lens, more shooting modes just make this an even more versatile camera for getting amazing shots.