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GoPro HERO3+ Black Edition Review

Image of GoPro HERO3+ Black Edition

The GoPro HERO3+ Black Edition features several refinements over last year’s HERO3 and they all add up to a solid action camera that captures the awesome shots you want, regardless of the activity, location, or weather.

Not so long ago, if you wanted to film an athlete speeding down a hill on a motorcycle or a surfer taking on the biggest waves around, it would have probably involved a lot of money and risk, both to the equipment, the athlete and the videographer involved. Thankfully, through advancement and miniaturization of technology over the years, GoPro has been working hard to help solve this problem and they have released their newest action camera, the HERO3+ Black Edition.

For a lot of videographers, GoPro has practically become a household name in the action camera business and its line of HERO cameras has been praised by amateurs and professionals alike for their durability, small size, and great image quality. The HERO3+ Black Edition has several refinements over 2012’s HERO3 model that all add up to a fantastic tool for active videographers to capture all of life’s excitement and danger without breaking the bank - or the camera.

Prepare for Liftoff

The HERO3+ Black Edition comes packaged in style in GoPro’s crystal clear display case, showing off the biggest thing that makes the HERO3+ Black Edition so impressive: its size. Even when the HERO3+ is inside the included housing, it weighs 4.8oz and can easily fit in a pocket or bag. Hidden underneath the camera mounting plate is a small box that contains all the included accessories, and there are a lot of them! Besides the mount used to display the HERO3+ in the packaging, you also get one curved and one flat adhesive mount, a pivoting arm, two quick release buckles, a battery, and charging cables for both the camera and the Wi-Fi Remote.

Close up shot of Power/Mode button and display
The HERO3+ features the same overall design as it’s predecessor with the large shutter/select and power/mode buttons and the wireless button on the right side. The front features a small, but easy-to-read LCD panel where the current settings are displayed and configured. Also on the front are two status lights; the red one for camera status and the blue one for Wi-Fi status. In addition to the one on the front, the top, bottom, and back sides all feature camera status lights so you can easily see if you are recording from all angles.
Close up shot of side ports
On the left side, there is a small removable panel that reveals a USB port for charging and file transfer, the micro HDMI port for HD playback, and the microSD card slot. The battery is installed under a small cover on the back and there is also an expansion port for connecting GoPro BacPac accessories including the LCD BacPac and Battery BacPac, both of which are sold separately.

Even with the small form factor, the HERO3+ manages to provide a user friendly interface that can be as simple or as complex as you need. The buttons are easy to press and the mounts are easy to install and manipulate. The menu system on the LCD display is also quick and responsive for changing settings between shots.

Hold on tight!

Shooting with the HERO3+ is a real treat, especially if you have not been exposed to the unique advantages of small action cameras. The HERO3+ Black Edition features a larger 12MP sensor than the Silver and HERO3 White Editions, which allows it to capture resolutions up to 4k. The HERO3+ Black Edition does includes the Wi-Fi Remote accessory for wirelessly changing settings and controlling recording. All three HERO3+ models feature a sharp ultra wide lens that can cover as much as a 170-degree viewing angle.

After turning on the HERO3+, you can immediately press the Shutter button to start recording or press the Power/Mode button to switch camera modes and enter the menus. The HERO3+ has several layers of settings that can be configured to match your particular needs for each shot. Matching the right settings along with the right framing can produce some really exciting footage that you can not capture any other way. The available camera modes are Video, Photo, Burst Photo, and Time Lapse.

The Video mode can be set to a variety of resolutions and frame rates all the way from 240fps at 480p to 15fps at 4k.  Most of your time will probably be spent in the 1080p modes which offer framerates of 24fps, 30fps, 48fps, and 60fps. Depending on each resolution setting, the viewing angle may sometimes be adjusted to medium or narrow settings which are approximately 127-degrees and 90-degrees respectively. Video is recorded in H.264 MP4 files in one of two bitrates: standard or ProTune. Something new to the HERO3+ are the ultra wide SuperView modes which increase the viewing angle in both height and width over the standard video modes. The SuperView setting is available in both 1080p and 720p. We found that we really favor the SuperView over the standard viewing angles as the added height and width creates footage that is more engaging and immersive, although the maximum framerates are slightly reduced in these modes. We also discovered that the video was much more exciting when using higher frame rates than the typical 24fps used in most films today. The GoPro was meant to capture life as it happens and we are used to seeing life in fluid motion, so keeping the framerate at 48fps or 60fps added realism and exhilaration to the footage.

New to the HERO3+ is the ultra wide SuperView modes, increasing viewing angles in both height and width.

There are several ways that the photo mode can be used to capture still images. By default, the GoPro HERO3+ can capture single photos in 5MP, 7MP and 12MP resolutions and the viewing angle can be reduced to the Medium setting on the two lower resolutions. The Burst Photo mode can capture three, five, 10, or even 30 photos per second for capturing fast paced action. The Continuous Photo mode can capture three, five, or 10 photos per second as long as the shutter button is being held for a maximum of 30 seconds. Finally, there is a time-lapse mode that can be set to take still pictures at even time intervals ranging from 0.5 to 60 seconds. The still images produced by the HERO3+, while high resolution, lack in detail compared to dedicated still cameras. Enlarging the images to 100 percent reveals some smearing and lack of sharpness, but it probably wouldn’t be noticeable if the pictures were sized down to fit into an HD video, especially when using them for timelapses.

The HERO3+ boasts a new 6-element lens that provides sharper video with more detail than the HERO3, and after comparing footage between the two cameras we did see a marked improvement, especially in objects that are close to the lens. The lens has no focus adjustment, but the ultra wide angle provides for a fairly large depth of field and shouldn’t be an issue for most shots. The CMOS sensor on the HERO3+ uses a rolling shutter, so fast pans and heavy vibration still produce the dreaded Jell-O effect, but it is less noticeable when using the wider viewing angle settings. For instance, some of the narrow field of view footage we shot using the DJI Phantom quadcopter was very distracting with lots of waves and artifacts, but these effects were not nearly as apparent when set to the wide viewing angle. Noise in the video was only apparent in very low light levels, but was not distracting in the least while shooting outdoors. Audio on the HERO3+ has also been improved with sound that is a little crisper and less boomy than the previous model. Wind noise continues to be an issue while moving at high speeds, but you can definitely hear the improvement in noise reduction from previous HERO cameras.

One of the other improvements on the HERO3+ is the stronger and faster Wi-Fi system that is built into the camera. The black edition comes with the GoPro Wi-Fi Remote which can be used to start and stop recording up to 50 GoPro cameras at once. There is also an LCD panel on the remote which duplicates the display from the HERO3+ so you can change settings remotely as well. If you want to have an even easier time changing settings, GoPro also makes a GoPro app for Android and iOS devices that is free to download. After a brief setup on the camera and in the app, you can control and even monitor the image of the GoPro HERO3+ on your smart device. The video monitoring feature is fantastic for framing shots before recording, but the video feed is delayed by as much as 1.5 seconds, so it doesn’t always work in cases in which monitoring your video needs to be instantaneous. Besides the delay, if you are using the ProTune setting which uses a higher bitrate and provides better quality video than the standard modes, the live video feed stops as soon as you start recording. Both the Wi-Fi Remote and the GoPro app have an advertised range up to 600-feet, but we found it to work reliably at only up to half of that distance in a wide open area. For us, anything over 300-feet caused the Wi-Fi Remote and GoPro app to disconnect from the HERO3+ and we no longer had control. The Wi-Fi features also have a large impact on battery life, especially when using the GoPro app. Even with the slightly larger battery in the HERO3+, be prepared to lose as much as 10-30 percent when using Wi-Fi accessories.

Along with the new GoPro HERO3+ itself, GoPro also released quite a few new mounting accessories as well as new versions of old classics like the suction cup and head strap. One of the most useful new accessories is the Jaws Flex Clamp Mount which is a large grip clamp with a flexible 7-inch neck which allows you to attach the HERO3+ just about anywhere. The HERO3+ uses the same mount system as all the HERO cameras before it so you can utilize GoPro’s existing mounting accessories, including mounts for your tripod, bicycle, car, head, chest, wrist, or even a surfboard!

Coming in for a Landing

After a day of filming with the GoPro HERO3+ Black Edition, it was time to bring the captured footage onto the computer and see how it edits together. While the footage can be easily imported into any major editing suite, GoPro provides a free piece of software to all GoPro owners called GoPro Studio that helps users import and convert their captured footage, edit it together using pre-built templates, and export a final edit using various presets for video sharing and social media websites. We are pleased to report that GoPro Studio is a great tool for helping beginning video editors get started using modern video editing software. After importing the clips you would like to use, GoPro Studio uses a basic editing timeline with support for one video track, two titles tracks, and stereo audio tracks. This keeps things simple for beginners, but there are lots of settings that can be used to change the video and audio to customize the look and feel of your footage. There are even some more advanced features, including settings for framing, white balance, color correction, and the ability to use keyframes on all of these settings. After editing your clips together, you can move on to the export step where you can select from several presets for various video sharing services or you can specify exactly what settings you’d like to use if one of the presets doesn’t suit your needs.

Final Thoughts

The HERO3+ Black Edition fills an interesting role in the world of videography. It is a perfect starting camera for a beginning videographer, but it would also be a highly appropriate purchase for a long-time professional. It fills a niche that few other cameras can, conquering land, air, and sea while also breaking two of the biggest barriers to entry: cost and complexity. When you are ready to capture your next action-filled adventure, the GoPro HERO3+ Black Edition won’t let you down.

GoPro
www.gopro.com
$400

 

Tech Specs

Format: H.264 codec, .mp4
Video Effective Pixels: 12MP
Focus: Auto
Frame Rate: 12-240fps
Maximum Frame Rates: 720p 120fps, 480p 240fps
Minimum Frame Rate: 12fps
Lens: f/2.8 6-element aspherical glass
Program Exposure Modes: Auto
Focal Length: Fixed
Image Stabilization: No
White Balance: Auto, 3000K, 5500K, 6500K
Display: GoPro App via iOS or Android (free), (optional) LCD Touch BacPac (79.99)
Progressive Scan: Yes
Resolutions: 4096x2160, 3840x2160, 2704x1524, 2704x1440, 1920x1440, 1920x1080, 1280x960, 1280x720, 840x480
Video Out: Micro HDMI
Audio Recording: On camera mic, Mono, 48kHz AAC with AGC
Microphone In: (sold separately) (3.5mm) stereo mic adapter
Manual Audio Level Controls: No
Headphone Jack: No
Speaker: No
Media: microSD class 10 or higher required, up to 64GB capacity supported.
Wireless Remote: Yes
External Battery Charger Provided: No
Battery Type: 1180mAh rechargeable lithium-ion
Field of View: Narrow (90°), Medium (127°), and Ultra Wide (170°)
Still Resolutions: 12MP, 7MP, 5MP
Burst: 30 photos per second
Continuous Photo: 3, 5, 10 photos per second
Time-lapse: 0.5, 1, 2, 5, 10, 30, 60 second intervals
Simultaneous Photo + Video: 12MP + 1440p 24 fps, 8MP + 1080p 24/25/30 fps, 8MP + 720p 50/60 fps
Weight: Camera: 2.6oz (74g), Camera with housing: 4.8oz. (136g)

Strengths

  • Extremely durable
  • Low cost
  • Very compact
  • Lots of accessories

Weaknesses

  • Limited Wi-Fi strength
  • Short battery life


Adam Vesely is a Videographer/Director of Photography and Still Photographer in Northern California.

Tags:  February 2014
Adam
Vesely
Thu, 12/19/2013 - 10:02am