Ah, the much anticipated review of the GoPro HERO3+ Black Edition! And while I’m sure I’m the only person who was ‘anticipating’ this (let’s face it- you’ve probably forgotten that I even bought this camera in the first place), I’ve come to my conclusions after around two months (including one trip) of using the camera. Click on any of the following images to discover the GoPro at-a-glance, and see the full review below.
It. Is. Small. And that’s a good thing- I noticed it once I opened the GoPro’s packaging. It’s incredibly compact and lightweight, making it perfect for taking anywhere. I could also tell that this camera wasn’t just for casual videography- the plethora of mounts and paraphernalia made me realize that you can do some seriously amazing things with this camera: from surfing a curl to mountain biking to skydiving. It’s crazy how they can make a camera so incredibly versatile.
In the HERO3+ Black package, you get:
- The GoPro Itself
- Waterproof Housing: rated to 131 feet- plenty for divers and overkill if all you plan to do is dunk the camera in the pool. While the clamp to open and close the housing is a bit tough, those used to using normal underwater cameras won’t find it too hard at all. Overall, it’s a much lower-maintenance housing than most other underwater cameras- just soak it, dry the rubber seal, and you’re good to go. Definitely a plus.
- Extra Non-Waterproof Door: you can switch out the back door of the waterproof housing for this other door, which has holes that allow the camera to capture better sound.
- Battery: your standard Lithium-Ion battery; the charge varies depending on what type of shooting mode you’re in. For example, full HD (1080p) at 30 frames per second will get you two hours- leaves a bit to be desired, but nothing that can’t be solved with the purchase of an extra battery.
- Standard Buckle: this is the general interface of the GoPro system. You screw the camera onto the buckle, which can then be clipped into any compatible mount. And it’s not going anywhere.
- Vertical Buckle: same idea here as the standard counterpart, except when you screw the camera into this buckle you can move the camera within the buckle to attain a vertical angle- if you want to stick the GoPro to a wall to do some time lapse, for example.
- Adhesive Mounts: able to be stuck onto any hard surface, through the use of 3M tape, on the bottoms of the mounts. You get one curved mount and one flat mount. Beware, however, that the tape is NOT very sticky- I tried to use it on a kayak and the camera almost tipped over at the slightest rock of the boat. That might just be the surface on which I used it, but know that these mounts aren’t for intense situations.
- 3-Way Pivot Arm: to be attached between the camera and buckle- allows the GoPro to pivot in, well 3 ways. Simple enough if you want to get a certain angle.
- USB Charging Cable: standard deal here. Note that no power brick is included- you’ll have to plug the cable into your iPhone charging block or something else with a USB port in order to charge the GoPro.
- WiFi Remote: exclusive to the Black Edition, this nifty little remote allows you to control your GoPro from up to 600 feet away. You can switch between modes as well as start, stop, and power on/off the camera. Don’t be worried by the “WiFi” moniker- the camera and remote don’t actually connect to a WiFi network- they work only with each other through, essentially, Bluetooth. So you don’t need to have WiFi access for the remote to work. N.B. the remote is not waterproof like the camera (don’t take it diving), but it is water-resistant up to around 6 feet (so don’t freak out if it gets splashed a little or falls into the pool).
- WiFi Remote Charger: an odd-looking little hook that you insert into the bottom of the remote. The GoPro does use up more battery when you’re on WiFi than when you’re not.
Ease of Use
I was able to get the hang of the GoPro very quickly, and have had no problems using it thus far. There’s a tiny screen on the front of the camera that displays important information like battery life, storage space, and capture mode. There’s a power button below the screen that doubles as a ‘mode’ button, to switch between capture modes. On the top of the camera is a record button, and the only other button on the camera is on the bottom left: the WiFi button (that activates/deactivates connection between the GoPro and the WiFi Remote or smartphone app). Using only two buttons to navigate through all the setting menus does take some getting used to, but overall it’s a no-fuss operation that’s simple to understand.
On the camera’s right side is a removable flap that allows access to the mini HDMI port (to connect to your TV- cable not included) and Micro USB port (for data transfer + charging). Beware that it detaches completely from the camera when it comes off, so you have to keep track of it when charging transferring files.
GoPro has its own free editing software (available for download off their website) that may work well for a quick edit. It has some good trimming features and can convert your videos into a more shareable format for you, but it’s overall a very basic platform. There’s not much by way of ‘theatrics,’ i.e. there are few options for titles, sound enhancement, video effects, and transitions. iMovie (for Macs) would certainly be better if you want to make a refined, beautified video.
You can also capture photos and videos using GoPro’s Remote App (downloadable on the major App stores), which is nice for being able to see what the GoPro sees in real time, as well as remotely controlling the camera if you don’t get the WiFi Remote.
Capture Quality & Modes
This, in my opinion, is really where the GoPro HERO3+ Black really shines. It’s the best-quality video camera I’ve ever used, hands down (although, my experience might not be the best frame of reference). There’s a plethora of options for shooting modes.
The most popular mode is Full 1080p HD resolution, with 30 frames per second (fps). This is a flexible, general mode for all-around subjects. It takes incredibly clear video, and something about watching it on a computer or TV connotes an adventurous feel for me.
You can turn the quality in the camera settings all the way down to WVGA quality, which has a 480p resolution. This might be good if you want to save battery or edit the raw footage really quickly, but it won’t look very fantastic. You can also bump it up to 4K quality (the best video quality available today, if I remember correctly), which is INSANE for a camera this size! Keep in mind, however, that those files will be massive and few devices will be able to play them back to full resolution. But still, props to GoPro. You can film basically anywhere between 480p and 4K, with a few more frame rate options.
On 1080p resolution, you can set the camera at 60 fps, which makes the footage as smooth as a Kenny G song with a side of butter. You can slow it way down and you’ll still achieve that professional-quality fluidity. This is incredible for action shots, and is the mode I usually stick with when filming my more adventurous pursuits. 30 fps should work fine for anything that you’re not going to focus on slowing down.
The Black Edition also features an auto low-light mode that’s applied for certain frame rates, which is very helpful if you’re moving between light and dark areas, because the camera’s exposure will adjust automatically to make your videos look perfect.
Another amazing feature is SuperView, GoPro’s ultra-wide angle setting, available only on the Black Edition’s 720p and 1080p resolutions. This extends what the camera lens captures to an unbelievably wide range, giving it almost a fisheye look (which can sometimes be a cool addition to adventure footage). SuperView’s applications are endless, but it works best when you’re trying to film yourself doing something- as it can get both you and most of the background you want to achieve a fantastic sweeping vista.
The GoPro does take photos, but I wouldn’t purchase it just for that reason. It’s a nice little extra feature to have, but the fact that you can’t see your field of view doesn’t make it very practical for any serious picture taking. It’s got some pretty great specs (like a 2.8 aperture for great low-light pictures, up to 12 megapixels of resolution, and an ultra-wide angle lens view), but here is when its dimensions limit its functionality: the quality of an image owes itself to a number of factors that should be controlled manually by the photographer. Unfortunately, due to the GoPro’s size, it doesn’t offer this flexibility as far as pictures go. Therefore, it shouldn’t be used to take pictures if you’re able to use a DSLR or something similar. However if you are in a situation where you require the ‘adventurous’ component, the GoPro will take great photos (even while shooting video simultaneously).
But there is one exception: time lapse photos. The GoPro has a mode where it will take a picture every unit of time (which you can set) to get some stunning time lapse photography. You can have it take a picture every second, every 10 seconds, every minute, etc for a prolonged period of time to film a night sky, a blooming flower, or road trip, to name a few. It’s a really cool application and it works very well. Conversely, you can also take photos in burst mode: you can choose a number of photos that the camera will take when you press the shutter (record) button once, from 30 photos to 3 photos per second- for when you want to catch something really quick (like me exercising, for example) in action.
The Verdict: Travel or Not?
Travel- a resounding travel! If you’re skiing, bring the GoPro. If you’re surfing, bring the GoPro. If you’re skydiving, bring the GoPro. If you’re biking, bring the GoPro. If you’re walking around a city, bring the GoPro. If you’re eating pickled fish heads, bring the GoPro. If you’re going anywhere, bring the GoPro.
For extreme sports and other rugged pursuits, the GoPro will capture them effortlessly- all you have to do is figure out where to put it. GoPro sells various mounts that allow you to affix the tiny camera to your chest, your head, your tripod, your surfboard, your car, your dog, your cat, your congressman, etc. And the best thing is, because you don’t have to handle the camera after you press the shutter button, you’re free to explore and imbibe without being distracted by taking video or even pictures.
I’m also impressed with how the GoPro can make even your more everyday activities seem extraordinary- I took it to the pool and was able to make a really cool-looking 45 second video after editing it for an hour or so.
Because the GoPro & Co. all fit into a small package (depending on what other mounts you’ve purchased), it can go almost anywhere with you and doesn’t need to be monitored 24/7 like an expensive camera. It’s, in my opinion, the perfect solution for ultra-amateurs who just want to take a video or two of their travels. And that’s exactly what I’ve done with it.