GoPro remains at the pinnacle of sports-oriented compact video cameras.
Watch any broadcast of a daredevil stunts show or extreme sport and you will doubtless spot a little box attached to an appendage or vehicle. GoPro is the go-to guy of sports cameras.
GoPro’s 2012 line up of HERO3 cameras has been split into three: the White, Silver and Black editions all sport different megapixel counts and frame rates. The Black Edition is the top dog with a twelve-megapixel sensor capable of shooting larger images and with enough processing power to snap bursts of 11MP images at 30 frames per second.
All HERO3s come with Wi-Fi built-in, plus a redesigned casing with a flat lens which has led to two improvements over its predecessor, the HERO2.
Firstly, fogging inside the case has been reduced. In a quick head-to-head using a helmet-mounted camera on a chilly mountain bike trail we found the HERO2 misted up after 10 minutes’ hard pedalling, whilst the HERO3 showed no misting at all.
- Sensor: 12-megapixel
- Lens: f/2.8 6-element aspherical glass lens
- Memory : Micro SD class 10 or higher, supports up to 64GB
- Viewfinder: No
- LCD Screen: Optional LCD Touch BacPac £79.99, 3.5mm headphone jack
- Video resolution: WVGA, 720p, 960p, 1080p, 1440p, 2.7K, 2.7K Cin, 4K, 4K Cin
- ISO range ISO x-xx expandable to: Not stated
- Focus modes: Auto
- Max burst rate: 30fps at 11MP
- Shutter speeds: Up to 240 fps (848 x 480 pixels)
- Weight: 73g
- Dimensions: 1.7 x 1.5 x 2.2 cm
- Power supply: Li-ion 3.7V 1050mAh 3.885Wh. Charge via USB
The other benefit of the new case is that you can take the camera underwater without having to buy a separate dive housing. Once inside it will produce good quality images with decent colour reproduction, even in the relatively dim light of a two-metre deep pool where we took ours for a splash.
The HERO3 is also smaller and lighter by 25 grams. The weight reduction is very welcome for anyone that’s ridden with one atop their head.
Also down in size, but not capacity, are the battery and memory card slot, which now utilises microSD cards.
As with the previous models you have the option of recording video in PAL or NTSC. Shooting modes go from WVGA (848 x 480 pixels) at 240 frames per second through to the more common 720p and 1080p, up to 120fps and 60fps respectively.
From there we go into more exotic high-definition sizes of 1440p, 2.7K, 4K and 4K Cin (4096 x 1260 pixels), with the largest resolution being captured at 12fps.
Build quality & handling
The plastic housing, like the previous version, is robust enough to be knocked, dropped, drenched and thrown about.
There’s an extra lock on the top hinge which can be fiddly with cold or gloved hands, but will guard against accidental leverage of the hinge, although we did find the hinge assembly coming off from time to time.
The mount attachment is the same as previous models so you can reuse your existing mounts without buying new ones, or take advantage of the many Third Party options out there such as the K-Edge GO BIG mounts.
The only things about the camera that have got bigger are the operational buttons for the menu and shutter activation: an improvement over the previous model, as it makes operating the camera inside and outside the housing easier.
The menu system is unchanged although, as with previous HERO cameras, you can find yourself pressing the same button over and over to cycle through the menus when you’ve clicked past the option you wanted to change.
The metering functions cope very well across a range of light conditions and rapidly changing light conditions.
The sensor and compression improvements, in terms of quality over the HERO2, are obvious when looking at 100% crops of identical photos with a reduction in artefacts.
There is a tiny improvement in resolution and chromatic aberration is still present, but less so than with previous models.
The white balance, which can be adjusted in nerd-friendly Kelvin, isn’t always right in auto mode, returning magenta-tinged blues at times, but nothing that a little post production couldn’t fix.
One marked improvement is the ability to retain details in highlights. On the previous model bright areas were easily blown out, but there’s a lot more detail now.
There is a sacrifice to be made in detail in dark areas, which we found when shooting into low autumnal light. But then this camera comes from California, where they love the sun.
LCD touchscreen performance
The optional touchscreen is a great addition, if only for navigating the menus. Whilst only 5cm across the diagonal it eliminates the guess work from lining up shots, and provides an opportunity to check back footage quickly and easily.
The unit doesn’t have its own power supply so it is a drain on your camera’s battery. There’s no setting to change the brightness and the screen isn’t visible in bright sunlight.
Why they chose to use white graphics on light grey backgrounds is a puzzler, when more contrasted icons would make for easier viewing.
It can be a little slow to respond to presses in video playback.
When shooting underwater, the touch functions won’t work so you’ll be relying on the regular buttons for menu selection.
Compared to the competition, such as the £100 ($150) cheaper Sony HDR-AS15, which already has Wi-Fi built in for live streaming, identical frame rates at 1080p and 720p plus a stereo microphone and speaker compared to the GoPro’s mono and no speaker; and the £160 ($250) cheaper Drift HD which has a built in colour screen and more buttons for menu navigation, is the GoPro worth the extra money?
Especially if you’re a professional videographer, because of the wide range of resolutions and frame rates it offers.
And yes again, if you want a small, light camera that is capable across a wide range of environmental conditions.
If you’re not that worried about weight or size and are looking for a cheaper alternative, then the Sony offers a great picture for less money and does pretty much the same job.
Depending where you want to use it, the GoPro already has a mature range of mounting accessories. They’re still a little flimsy and overpriced, and difficult to attach with cold or gloved hands, but it does mean that you can attach the camera to pretty much anything that moves.
With the HERO3 the main takeaway in terms of image quality was the improved detail in highlighted areas, but when shooting into the light you can lose a lot of information in the dark areas of the image.
The menu system is still a frustration too, but the LCD touchscreen negated this annoyance and we hope the free GoPro App, which becomes compatible in December for the Black Edition, will do the same job as the touchscreen, as well as making framing of shots and shooting a more controlled affair.
A wider variety of high-end resolutions and frame rates give you incredibly flexibility. The flat-lens case is a great improvement over the previous version, and the weight difference is most welcome.
Overly high contrast video in front-lit harsh light conditions can lead to a loss of detail in dark areas of the image.
An amazing and robust camera that can go all the places you can, and some places you can’t. Better, faster, and now with higher-end video modes more suited to the pro market, it’s a serious little piece of kit.
By Anthony Grimley, TechRadar