We received a Black Edition Hero3 for this review, which is GoPro's top-of-the-line camera packing an f/2.8 wide-angle lens in front of a 12-megapixel sensor and built-in WiFi. That lens / sensor combo lets you shoot in 4K at 12 fps, 2.7K at 30 fps, 1440p at 48 fps, 1080p at 60 fps, 960p at 100 fps, 720p at 120 fps and WVGA resolution at an incredible 240 fps. So, no matter how you like to get your video gnar -- via super-hi-res or super-slow-mo footage -- the Hero3 Black Edition can give it to you.
GoPro hasn't changed the look of its cameras much since the introduction of the original HD Hero. Prior Heroes are silver boxes with stubby fisheye lenses jutting out next to a 2-centimeter monochrome LCD display on the front. The Hero3 measures 58 x 40 x 21mm (2.28 x 1.57 x 0.82 inches) , while the Hero2 checks in at 60 x 42 x 30mm (2.36 x 1.65 x 1.18 inches). Aside from being thinner than its predecessors, however, the Hero3 is no longer clad in all silver. Instead, it's coated in smooth soft-touch black plastic on the back and a textured version of the stuff on its sides. Not only does this make the camera easier to hold, but it also provides a nice visual contrast -- not to mention it's a finish that'll hold up better to the rough and tumble lifestyle most Hero3's will lead.
Additionally, the power / mode switch on the front and record button up top have grown to roughly twice the size of those found on elder GoPros, a welcome change, especially for those with stubby fingers. A pair of LED indicators -- one red to serve as a power / shooting indicator and one blue to tell you the WiFi's on -- and Hero3 branding take up the rest of the space on the camera's front. Smaller secondary LEDs doing double duty as both power / record and WiFi indicators are on the top, bottom and back as well, so extreme auteurs can keep abreast of the camera's doings from any viewing angle.
Located on the right side are micro-HDMI and mini-USB ports along with a microSD slot. On the left resides a small WiFi key, the microphone and a trio of pinholes that serve as an outlet for audio alerts. The beeps emanating from there tell you when the Hero3 is powered up and inform you when you've started eating up space on your memory card with photos or video recordings. There's also a trough for latching on an external battery or LCD touchscreen BacPac.
The rear is where you'll find the battery door, which, should you manage to pry it open with your fingernails or a business card, reveals a 1,050mAh rechargeable cell. Next to the door is the company's proprietary 30-pin Hero port for connecting the camera to either of the aforementioned BacPacs.
Overall, the Hero3's build quality is exemplary.
Overall, the Hero3's build quality is exemplary. All of its components are well-fitted, with no unsightly seams or blemishes to be found. What's more, the WiFi, power and record buttons all have a nice, deep travel and engage with a satisfying snick. Such solid construction imbues a sense of confidence that it can take the abuse it'll doubtlessly receive when in the field. Our only complaints with the design are the size of the WiFi key (gloved or ham-handed users may find it difficult to press) and the lack of some sort of tab, notch or spring to help open the battery door. The latter issue is particularly vexing as the camera's meager battery life had us swapping cells during lengthy shoots, a shortcoming discussed in more detail below.
Every Hero3 also comes with GoPro's venerable waterproof housing. It's like the old model, except the lens window is flat and square (for reduced image distortion) instead of domed and round, while the latch that holds it closed is a dual-hinge articulating design that's more secure than the previous model. Naturally, the case is also thinner to accommodate the svelte profile of the Hero3, though it has the same interchangeable backplate design as its precursors. Swapping backplates isn't terribly difficult once you get the hang of it, but the amount of torque required to pop them in and out is somewhat disconcerting -- it's foreseeable that one could snap off a plastic mounting clip in the process.
A pair of adhesive mounts, assorted mounting hardware and a three-way pivot arm -- all backwards compatible with old GoPro hardware -- are included with the Black Edition, as is a WiFi remote capable of controlling up to 50 GoPros at a time. GoPro says the remote works up to 600 feet away in "optimal conditions" but in our clearly less-than-optimal neighborhood, range was limited to about 120 feet. Should the $400 price tag of the premier Hero3 model prove too much, silver ($300) and white ($200) editions are also available. These lower-priced models don't come with the WiFi remote, which costs $80 on its own, and also have downgraded lenses and sensors. Both top out at 1080p recording at 30fps, with lesser frame rate recording at lower resolutions than the Black. Stills are also limited to a max of 11 megapixels in the Silver Edition and 5 megapixels in the White Edition.
In addition to the standard Black Edition kit, we also got to use GoPro's $40 wall charger, $40 Frame mount and $80 LCD touchscreen BacPac. While the 5V Wall Charger's a nice luxury for world travelers with its selection of international plug attachments and dual USB output, it's hardly necessary given that the majority of us already own a USB charger or two. The Frame mount is similarly superfluous, as it leaves the Hero3 susceptible to the destructive powers of the great outdoors in exchange for a thinner and lighter profile than the bombproof case the camera comes with. The LCD BacPac is quite the useful add-on, however, as it lets you change camera settings more easily than using the cam's buttons. Plus, it enables users to immediately review images, video and even audio using its tiny built-in speaker or 3.5mm headphone jack.
GoPro provides rudimentary editing software, called Cineform Studio, as a free download on its website. The program provides basic tools to trim clip length, rotate clip orientation, adjust white balance, contrast, sharpness, exposure and saturation. Its main purpose is to create 3D videos should users have two older Heroes and a 3D Hero System housing. We didn't have the dual shooters needed to create a 3D video, but we did find the software quite easy to use for trimming and adjusting our clips. That said, it currently lacks the ability to string together multiple clips and transition between them -- though GoPro has pledged to add more editing features to the software in the future -- so you're best served sticking with your existing video editing program of choice.