Here to replace the Hero2, the new GoPro Hero3 Black Edition (the high-end edition with Wi-Fi) adds a slew of new features and improved performance. With a trimmed down design, improved photo and audio rendering and better image quality (it's got a 12-Mpx sensor), GoPro is promising better everything, naturally, for this edition of the extreme sports lovers' favourite mini-cam. But how much does it really live up to? Is this really a step up? Is it worth paying the extra price for the Black Edition? Answers and more below...
The Hero3 is smaller and lighter than the Hero2, and a bit more stylish. There are still the two basic buttons, one to turn the camera on and one to start filming, plus a third on the side to activate the Wi-Fi. While this minimalist approach is just as practical as before, making the GoPro super-easy to use when it comes to the most basic functions (start shooting, stop shooting...), it tends to complicate things once you get into the menu. The interface isn't necessarily the most intuitive; if you've never used a GoPro before, it takes a little getting used to. The little screen is still there. We would have preferred to be a bit more legible.
This edition still comes with the protective see-through housing. It's waterproof and shockproof, but not easy to figure out the first few times you use it. The Black Edition comes with a remote control that you can attach to your wrist to start and stop filming more quickly. As always, for an extra fee you can add an LCD screen on the back of the camera.
The 1,050 mAh (3.7 V) Li-ion battery can film for 1 hour and 15 minutes in 1080p at 25 fps. That's not very long, especially when you're out getting into sporting shenanigans miles away from an outlet. And the battery life drops rapidly once you start using Wi-Fi.
GoPro doesn't give any technical details about the sensor. We're lucky they even mention the aperture (f/2.8) and angle of view (170° ultra wide / 120° wide). In 1080p the image quality is excellent: there's tons of detail, with respectable dynamics. However, the GoPro Hero3 Black Edition tends to expose more for bright lighting, making darker areas look a bit overly dense. When it comes to that, the Hero3 Black Edition clearly outperforms the Sony HDR-AS15, as seen in these images.
One cool thing about the GoPro Hero3 Black Edition is that it offers a number of different frame rates (50, 48, 25, 24 fps), which makes it easier to integrate your videos into other projects. It's one of the rare action cams that have a 50p mode to make fast movements look more fluid. In 720p it offers up to 120 fps, allowing you to take some nice 4x slow motion shots. As there's no optical or digital image stabiliser, the 2.7K (2704 x 1524 pixels) and 2K CIN (2704 x 1440 pixels) modes also come in handy for stabilising the image digitally in post-production, all the while keeping the 1080p resolution. Another neat feature for budding videographers who don't mind spending hours working on their movies: Protune.
Protune provides a very flat, neutral rendering with far less contrast, making it easier to redo the colours after-the-fact. And the saving speed is much higher, at 36 MB/s, compared to barely even 20 MB/s in the other 1080p modes. The Hero3 Black Edition comes with CineForm, GoPro's software for editing videos and quickly adjusting white balance, sharpness and contrast. While it's nice of GoPro to have included the software, it's a pretty limited programme. It has no curve adjustment function, for instance. Also, Protune can make importing, converting, editing and exporting videos rather long and fastidious... for a result that isn't necessarily any better. As you may have understood by now, Protune is for people with time on their hands.