Welcome to the third and last part of the GoPro Hero3 Black Edition review.
We are about to deal with the GoPro Photo modes, white balance, metering, lens distortion, audio, fogging, battery life and the Action Cam issues if any, so sit back, relax and enjoy the review.
GoPro Hero 3 Black Edition Photo Modes
In Photo Mode, the BE provides three resolutions: 12, 7, 5 Mp. As we have seen in the previous parts of this review, the BE can take an impressive 30 fps burst per second even at full resolution but this frame rate is NOT allowed in continuous mode. At full resolution the GoPro pics have a 4:3 aspect ratio (precisely 4000 X 3000 px, 72 dpi, 24 bit color). Click on the image below for the full res, straight from the camera image (4.5 MB).
And speaking of the latter, the Black Edition can take 3, 5 and 10 pictures per second regardless of the resolution. There are still two very interesting options: Time-Lapse and Simultaneous Photo + Video. The first feature allows nice Time-Lapse videos by shooting pictures at intervals that can be set from 0.5 to 60 seconds (0.5, 1, 2, 5, 10, 30, 60 sec.). The Photo + Video option is not supported by all video settings. In short, it possible to take pictures while shooting a video according to the specs below:
- 1440p 24 fps -> 12 Mp Pics allowed
- 1080p 30 fps -> 8 Mp Pics
- 720p 60 fps -> 8 Mp Pics
The photo captured by the BE in photo mode at full resolutions are nothing short of outstanding in terms of details with the auto exposure doing an excellent and consistent job under many light conditions. That being said, the frame rate of 10 fps (at full resolution) is pretty good but let’s not forget that the picture quality provided by the BE set at 4K is still great. In this mode you get 12 to 15 fps and it’s by far easier and less time consuming choosing and saving a single video frame than browsing through an entire card full of snapshots. That’s why we prefer shooting videos at 4K in spite of using the GoPro in photo mode. The Time – Lapse functionality is nice though. For long Time-Lapses we do recommend using a 60 sec interval but you’ll need the Battery Bacpac (more about that below). Finally, a word about the Photo + Video mode that might be useful in some circumstances. Needless to say, in such a case operating the GoPro with the bundled remote control is mandatory. Check the very brief Time-Lapse below.
The audio capabilities of the BE have been vastly improved with respect to its predecessors. Furthermore, a long awaited 3.5 mm Stereo Mic Adapter is present, even though – for obvious reasons, it cannot be used for watersports -. Notice that natively the BE supports mono-aural sound. If you want to record audio in stereo with the BE you must use a microphone, so forget about it on the water.
White balance and exposure
While it is possible to manually set white balance, we found the Auto setting reliable for the most part aside from a little tendency towards magenta tinged blues. Nothing that cannot be fixed in post production though. As far as the exposure is concerned, the GoPro allows the use to choose from two metering modes: center-weighted average and spot. Leaving the metering mode at its default setting (center-weighted average), the GoPro is able to successfully deal with a wide range of light conditions. Indeed, we also tried spot metering with mixed results so we decided to stick with the center-weighted average default mode. It should be noted, however, that the BE tends to underexpose a bit. That’s why the odd GoPro 2 behavior of washing out the highlights is gone. In terms of low light performance, the GoPro Hero 3 Black Edition turned out to be impressive, at least compared to its predecessors. We took a few clips well after dawn and we were very pleased with the results.
So far so good, right? Well, here comes the biggest downside of the BE, battery life, significantly shorter than we had hoped. On average we were able to shoot from one hour to one hour and half, and that was a big letdown, considering that with the GoPro I and II we usually hit the 2 hours and 20 minutes mark. As you can imagine, turning on the Wi-Fi remote drains the battery even more, as well as using higher bitrate / resolutions. That’s why we strongly recommend buying the Battery Backpac (http://gopro.com/hd-hero-accessories/hero3-battery-bacpac) or at least a spare battery. On a side note, recharging a fully discharged battery usually takes more than three hours!
As you have might known, fogging has been the worst nightmare for the GoPro I and (even more) II users. The good news is that the BE seems apparently fogging-free!! As a matter of fact, the sample that we tested never fogged out. We suspect that the smallest case along with its flat lens are behind this improvement but we are just speculating here.
Sharpness and lens distortion
Lens distortion is another issue that plagued the old GoPro models. The good news is that not only the new lens resolves far more details than the old but fares much better in terms of distortion. Not to mention, the housing is equipped with the better flat lens that was released as an option for the GoPro Hero 2. In short, the distortion is noticeably reduced in wide modes and almost absent in narrow ones.
Flare is there but is kept to a minimum thanks to the new lens. In that regards there’s still room for improvements though.
With tons of settings the GoPro Hero 3 Black Edition features a more complex menu structure compared to its predecessors. On the other hand, the items are logically arranged and can be found easily. Remember that the BE can be configured via the GoPro App on your tablet and Smartphone. This way, navigating through the items is way easier with the added benefit that you can check most of the settings by previewing the video on the mobile unit.
Conclusions & Verdict
The GoPro Hero 3 Black Edition provides quite simply breathtaking performance in terms of sharpness, reduced distrortion, low light capabilities, audio, reliable metering and white balance, improving on its predecessors in nearly every way except – regrettably – battery life. Also, it provides a huge array of features targeted both to the enthusiasts and pro filmmakers, including 4K, 2.7K and slow motion settings. It’s also significantly smaller and lighter. In terms of bundled accessories, the remote control is included but – oddly enough – not the wrist strap, mandatory for water sports use. At $ 400 the GoPro Hero 3 Black Edition is not cheap but it’s worth every penny. Disappointingly, the same camera is available in Europe at a significantly higher price: € 440!!
The GoPro Hero 3 Black Edition is by far the best action cam in terms of sheer performance.
Outstanding video and photo performance, small factor, reliable white balance and metering, reduced distortion, impressive sharpness at nearly all settings, the only budget camera to support 4K 2.7K and 1440P, remote control included, price higher in Europe
Short battery life, where's the damn remote control's wrist strap??