Video - GoPro Hero 3 Review

Apr. 12, 2013 By Josh Burns
The GoPro Hero 3 ups the ante with serious high-quality video and image quality.

The GoPro Hero video camera has put the world of sports, specifically extreme sports, on center stage. Primetime commercials laced with dubstep soundtracks highlight motocross, surfing, snowboarding, squirrel-suit flyers and other forms of thrill-seeking recreation.

GoPro launched the Hero 3 at the end of last year, and weíve had a few months to play with the unit and get a real feel for the upgrades made from the original Hero and Hero 2 cameras. GoPro made some major changes to the unit, mainly that it is smaller and more compact with a different housing and lens from compared to previous versions. The Hero 3 is 30% smaller and 25% lighter than the Hero 2, and it is waterproof in its case up to 197 feet. The Hero 3 also no longer works on Compact Flash cards but instead works on MicroSD cards (needing Class 10 or higher), supporting up to a 64GB card.

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With its launch, GoPro created a new classification system for the Hero 3 as well. The naming system has created a slight bit of confusion, but in short the different color names are designed to distinguish the different models (they arenít actually offered in those colors).  For instance, the White Edition (MSRP $199.99, and again, not actually white in color) is the entry-level Hero 3 featuring 1080p capability (at 30 frames per second) with a 5-megepixel file size for images, and it is also Wi-Fi capable. The Silver Edition (MSRP $299.99) is next step up with a larger 11-megepixel photo capability and also 1080p at 30 frames per second (it too is also Wi-Fi equipped and can function with the GoPro Wi-Fi remote).

A new camera means a new housing, and the Hero 3's waterproof housing features a new shape, a new button for Wi-Fi and settings, and a new locking mechanism.

The Black Edition (MSRP $399.99) is the top-of-the-line unit of the Hero 3s. The Black Edition is capable of capturing an ultra-wide 1440p at 48 frames per second, 1080p at 60 frames per second and 720p at 120 frames per second. What has drawn the most headline is that it can also shoot at 4K, a resolution previously only avaible on high-end models. The only catch is that shooting at 4K reduces the number of frames per second to 15. The camera can shoot stills with a file size of 12 megapixles at 30 frames per second. The Black Edition also comes standard with a Wi-Fi Remote as well, making the Black Edition a complete package when purchased.

The GoPro Wi-Fi Controller

The built-in Wi-Fi is a nice touch on the Hero 3, making each Hero 3 capable of pairing with the GoPro Wi-Fi remote or even smart phone apps. The faster images processor (twice as fast as the Hero 2) helps with the speedier video recording and photo-capturing times and is part of the reason the Hero 3 can shoot at 4K. The upgraded LED screen is also a nice touch, showing the settings and camera options on an easy-to-read screen. The power buttons are also larger on the Hero 3 compared to previous version. On one side of the unit is a removable protecting cover that reveals a USB port connection, micro HDMI port and MicroSD card slot. With a new ultra-wide-angle 6-element aspherical glass lens front, GoPro redesigned the cover on the housing, which is now flat instead of the dome-style port found on the Hero and Hero 2 models (itís also still replaceable if damaged).

As is the case with all GoPro products, a great number of accessories are available for the Hero 3. The LCD Touch BacPac is a touch-screen that allows the user to change settings on the camera while also viewing the action thatís recording or reviewing videos already captured. The Battery BacPac can provide up to twice the battery lift of the Hero 3. There is a wide variety of mounting hardware, including sticky mounts, side mounts, roll bar mounts, an updated suction cup mount, surfboard mounts, helmet mounts and more. One of the newer items we found useful is the Floaty Backdoor, which floatation piece attached to keep the unit afloat should if come off a mount or get dropped (we learned a few times that it actually works).

The LCD BackPac offers a view of the action but also allows the user to changes the settings on its touch screen (provided the proper touch-screen backing is on).

When it came time to use the camera, anyone whoís used a previous GoPro camera will find the Hero 3 simple to use, if not easier than previous generations. The larger display and larger buttons make adjusting the settings relatively simple. Wi-Fi pairing seems simpler on this unit as well, though a software update needs downloading for most units when it is first purchased. The smaller design and lighter weight also makes the camera even easier to use as helmet-mounted camera for dirt biking, ATVing, mountain biking or similar activities.

In spite of there being more surface area on the lens cover, we were surprised at its ability to wick away moisture and keep the view clear during a dewy, wet dirt bike ride. The sturdy, waterproof housing also provided its durability during the recent SCORE San Felipe 250, when Justin Davis swung a little wide in a turn and ran over our camera. It maybe have been in a sandy section but we were surprised that other than a few scuffs, the camera was safe and the housing wasnít even compromised Ė the camera kept on rolling.

The video quality is a notable improvement Ė it definitely looks great. We found that we often shot in 1080p at 24 frames per second, which offered great video quality and good range of battery life. The low-level lighting situations really appear better on video than previous versions, which is great since weather conditions can change during your activity and you donít have the option to adjust camera settings as you would on an SLR. The wide-angle option on the Black Edition is great certain conditions, and the ability to shoot 60 frames per second at 1080p means slow motion and screen-grab shots have even greater detail.

Weíve had some time with both the Silver Edition and the Black Edition, and both cameras for the most part have performed really well. Although our Black Edition has had no hang-ups, we did have an issue a few times with the Silver unit when it would stop recording without our input. For instance, we would start the recording function and it would stop after 4 to 6 seconds. It was a small glitch that seemed to come and go. Although the issue occurred a few times weíve since used the unit and it has worked just fine Ė itís just a bummer knowing that great run might not get recorded. With that said, we spoke to GoPro about the issues and it falls under the one-year warranty that covers defects in products.

Weíve perused reviews of the Hero 3 by customers on the GoPro website and elsewhere, noting that a few shared our same issues of it stopping recording occasionally. Other complained of battery life not being as advertising (GoPro states battery life will vary depending upon setting but will range from 1 hour to 1.5 hours of recording time). On a full charge, the camera would last us about three to four hours of riding time. We typically start and stop recording and do not record during that entire time, but we experienced no issues with battery life and felt it was actually better than the previous models. For those looking for more life, the BacPac battery would be a good addition.

A Trophy Truck tire may have caused a few nicks and scratches, but the case and camera were still in proper working order after being run over.

The Wi-Fi remote is also a must-have for most off-roaders, especially if youíre on a trail run on a bike, ATV, UTV, truck or Jeep, as it doesnít require you to get out of the vehicle to turn it on or pull of your helmet to make sure itís recording. Thereís a small red light on the back of the unit that turns on to let you know itís recording. The LCD Touch BacPac is also a cool addition, as itís great to see the action and easily adjust settings.

Although we had a few issues with one of the Hero 3 units we tested, we had another unit that performed perfectly and overall still feel GoPro makes a great product.  The Hero 3 has improved significantly and allows all types the ability to capture the action of their sport firsthand. GoPro is also currently offering a 30-day money back guarantee on its cameras, meaning you can try it out and decided if itís what youíre looking for Ö youíve got 30 days to decide. In our opinion, itís one of those items that you get used to having with you at all times. We have a hard time imagining it not being along for the ride.

For more information on the Hero 3 or any of the many GoPro accessories and products available, visit http://www.gopro.com/.

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