GoPro Hero 3: An In-Depth Review
By now you’ve probably heard the tweets and read the links on Facebook. Yes it’s true! Almost one year to the day after releasing their HERO 2 in 2011, GoPro has announced the release of their triad of Hero 3 cameras.
Raising money for his compact camera idea by selling shell belts out of his VW van, GoPro founder and California surfer Nick Woodman announced the release of the HERO 3 less than 8 years since the release of his 35mm film model in 2004. In the years since, GoPro has morphed from a plastic toy, into an annoying fixture on the nose of kooks boards and glory seekers (including myself). I can remember sheepishly taking one down to the beach the first few times stuffed inside the cuff of my wetsuit. But whether it was filming my feet walking on my log or looking out of a perfect sunrise tube, the images I got from this little slick silver brick always fueled my guilty pleasure. Soon my bulky 16mm Bolex and DSLR housing began to collect dust.
While this new release has elevated this cute little camera into the big leagues of professional film production, it didn’t happen last night with the announcement of the HERO 3. Instead, it took place earlier this summer with the quiet release of their free ProTune firmware update, the fruit of their recent acquisition of the software company CineForm, whose codec was used in the production of Slumdog Millionaire. This new firmware is available for free on Go Pro’s website and turns your GoPro 2 into a low contrast, 35 megabyte per second action capturing machine, virtually eliminating all blocking and pixelation that had plagued all POV cameras for years, including to a lesser the HERO HD & 2.
The megabyte per second rate is the nuts and bolts of a camera’s image quality and is often overlooked by consumers but obsessed over by hollywood DP’s. And while efficient codecs are milking smaller and smaller data streams, a lot of what you pay for is your camera’s data stream. It separates the consumer cams from the professional ones, and with ProTune’s 35MB per second stream and low contrast output which preserves a fuller dynamic range of your image (the highlights and shadows), the resulting footage is hard to differentiate from a full sized DSLR or professional video camera.
Is It Worth It?
So if GoPro has given away its most dramatic advancement, is it worth ponying up the $400 for the new guy? Yes and no..
This new release is the real deal. And this is coming from a guy who thinks that 95% of the new camera releases in the past 5 years are just a BS marketing treadmill aimed at repackaging the same old technology to gullible electronics addicts.
Here’s what the HERO 3′s Black Edition is holding. I’m only highlighting the Black Edition because it’s the only one of GoPro’s three new Hero editions (yes, technically there are 3 new versions of the HERO 3) that in my opinion is worth the upgrade from the HERO 2 or Sony Action Cam. If you don’t have either of these cameras and aren’t adept at media production, consider all 3 and decide which best suits your need. I just alluded to the fact that Sony’s Action Cam was inferior to the HERO 3. And it is, sporting roughly half the data stream volume, producing a comparably messy and blown out image – especially at 120 frames per second video.
- It’s smaller by 30%, lighter by 25% and thinner. While the HERO HD bulked its package up considerably, making it almost unusable as a head camera, this model as gone dramatically in the other direction opening up a whole new world of mounting possibilities on the rider as well as cheaper drones. It also features the flat dive port which is tack sharp underwater.
- It sports a compact, water-proof WiFi remote (think luxury car key-size), meaning you can remotely trigger a photo burst or video recording at the perfect time on the wave. God, I wish I had this whilst trying to get my $15,000 super 16mm tail cam to trigger remotely off the distant island chain in Indo with Rasta in 2005! Times sure have changed.
- It has an app that allows you to control and view what the camera sees from your iPhone (and soon Android), meaning you can see what your camera-tethered drone or remotely positioned angle sees from mission control. Plus with a WiFi Micro SD card, you’ll be in Instagram heaven.
- For photos it changes the game considerably with a touted factor of three performance increase featuring a whopping 12 megapixel (beyond spread-worthy), 30 frames in one second burst. This means when something gets critical, push the button and you WILL get the shot if it’s pointed in remotely the right direction (thanks to the ultra wide lens).
- For video it is the answer to my prayers. Literally, I’ve fallen asleep whispering out for a compact camera to shoot 120 frames per second. The HERO 3 does this at 720p, which is what we output all of our High Def video to at Korduroy. But it also records 100 frames per second at 960p and 60 frames per second at 1080p. The later two offer punch-in options with the newly improved lens.
- The lens… This is where I give it up to GoPro and highly suggest this camera to anyone looking to produce professional quality, or water-based video. Probably spurred by the Sony Action Cam’s Carl Zeiss lens, the Hero 3′s ƒ/2.8 6-element lens is perhaps its biggest improvement from my perspective. It largely alleviates the problem with the GoPros of years past with their annoying bubble distortion. Their reduced distortion lens, plus levelly composed shots and a touch of anti-bubbling filtration in After Effects and voila, you have a crazy good image.
- One more thing, aside from the new card format (Micro SD) and housing shape, I like that all of the previous mounts still work as well as the back LCD screen… good stuff.
This camera is markedly better than anything similar on the market, and if you’re perpetually unsatisfied with what you have or are just looking to step up the level of your action video production, the HERO 3 is a must have.
It ships November 14th, you check it out and pre-order here.
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