User Interface/LCD Status Screen
The LCD screen is where you see the current status, such as the battery level, video or photo resolution settings, shooting mode (video, photo, burst, time lapse), picture or video count, etc. As you navigate through the menu system, using the power/mode and shutter/select buttons, various icons, numbers and language are highlighted on the LCD screen, allowing multiple camera options and parameters to be set.
The power/mode button moves you linearly through the camera mode screens, which include the video, photo, burst, time lapse, and finally settings, which allows entrance to the menu system to change the camera’s configurations. Within the setting’s menu, you use the power/mode to move through the main screens, and use the shutter/select to go into a subscreen, and use the power/mode to move through the parameters in the subscreen, and shutter/select to accept the change. Using the combination of the two buttons in that manner, any allowable configuration permutation can be obtained.
The UI is really nice, and makes it easy to make changes without having to resort to the user manual. It’s still a bit cumbersome and too linear in its usage, and isn’t quite up to the UIs of normal cameras. I think what you see on the main mode screens when not in the configuration system is the handiest, it’s easy to read and provides very pertinent information, such as an actual numeric video mode value and its fps, recording mode icons, along with a remaining battery count and microSD card resources.
Before using the camera, insert a microSD card in the camera’s slot, and charge the battery and update the firmware. To turn the camera on, just push the front power button, and it announces itself with three beeps and LED flashes. After choosing the desired resolution and recording mode from the menu system, you push the top shutter button to start the recording. The camera beeps once, and the indicator lights begin to pulse or blink. To stop the recording, push the shutter button again, and it beeps three times, and the lights stop blinking. I did appreciate the increased volume level of the beeps compared to the pre-HERO2, as they are now loud enough to hear over environmental background noise (though still not loud enough). To turn the camera off, press and hold the power button for 2 seconds, and it will shut down, ending with seven quick LED flashes and beeps.
When you’re using the helmet mount, it was difficult to know if it was actually recording, and the only method to verify its operation was to remove your helmet and see the recording lights or status screen, ask a compatriot, or stop and restart footage. When using the remote, it does show recording status. When mounted anywhere else, the top and bottom indicator lights assist with ascertaining its operational mode. Cameras with a more mechanical on/off lever alleviate that issue.
Depending on where the camera is mounted, you can use the LCD BacPac to align the viewpoint or record a short video, and play it back to check what you were capturing, and then make any tuning alterations, or use the mobile App preview screen for live action interfacing. I found the additions of the new louder modal beeps and two led indicator lights to be highly beneficial to the usage factor of the unit, and greatly assisted knowing its current operational status.
Interface to Computer/TV Viewing
To download or view the videos or pictures you recorded, take the HERO3 out of the housing, and using the supplied USB cable, connect the mini USB to the camera and the other end of the connector to a computer USB port, and turn on the camera. The unit will appear as a Removable Disk, and just navigate down to the appropriate directory (example: F:\Removable Disk\DCIM\100GOPRO) and either download or view the video straight from the camera. For faster downloads, use a standalone microSD card reader, and bypass the camera as the downloading interface.
The recorded footage can also be viewed on a TV by using the HDMI or USB (composite video) ports of the camera, using the buttons to tab through, and start each of the videos stored on the microSD card. The controls are very rudimentary, but the results are quite impressive on a larger screen.
In the grand scheme of things, GoPro has the best mounting system and the largest assortment of mounts of the sport POV camera manufacturers. They are extremely functional, and allow placement in just about any location desired. The mounts, adapters and swivel arms can be set up to shoot a lot of variations, attachment points and viewpoints, making for some interesting footage. Everything fits together like a small tinker toy set, with clamping and connection done by a plastic ended screw with a nut, which are tightened by hand or screwdriver. The housing or the new Frame mount can be attached directly to the quick-release buckle or the arms, and the assortment of mounts for biking includes a seatpost/handlebar, curved and flat surface, tripod, vented helmet, and others. I predominately tested with helmet placements, which included the vented strap and stick-on surface mounts. It does give the footage a sort of floating in space viewpoint, but that was my preference. I occasionally used the seatpost/handlebar mount and chest mounted harness (aka The Chesty), the latter giving a unique vantage point. The “Chesty” was pretty cool, and was excellent for skiing and kayaking, where it ruled. I didn’t like it as much as most people, since I tend to move around too much, and the saddle and other things got in the way. The handlebar mounts gave an interesting perspective, and it kept the camera out of my way. The seatpost setup was less than ideal for me, as I tended to snag the camera when I hung out over the rear of the bike.
Overall, their quick-release buckle is a well-thought-out unit, and it snaps into any of their mounts, making it universal throughout their product suite, and all it requires is a quick backwards push of the buckle into any of the mounts, though it can be stubborn to get back off. Sometimes this system can be sloppy, allowing the unit to flop vertically on its axis, but it be remedied by using the vibration or locking plug (aka the nose plug) or adding some strips of electrical tape on the mount’s slider surface.
The mounts can also be tough to tighten down properly without resorting to a screwdriver, although roughing up the shiny arm joints with sandpaper can help. Even after doing the workarounds, the camera can creep around during a ride, or get hit accidentally and move out of position, ruining subsequent recorded footage. The toaster shape of the housing means it’s tubby, and not streamlined nor svelte in any manner, so it can get easily caught on things, and it seems to suck tree branches into its vortex!
The back of the camera has an expansion port, that will allow optional expansion packs, or BacPac’s to be connected, which extend the functionality of the camera. The current BacPac list is an LCD screen to view videos/pictures, and a battery extender. The BacPac kits come with the BacPac and an expanded back door, so that the fatter camera (camera with attached BacPac) will fit inside the housing. To install it, just hook one end of the BacPac onto the camera, and insert it into the expansion port. Pop off the housing’s door and replace it with the BacPac’s expanded waterproof or skeleton door, depending on your requirements, and you’re ready to go. I liked the new LCD Touch BacPac ($79.99), which gives touch screen control, to frame shots, set resolutions and modes, and preview recorded footage (even in slow motion). It really adds a lot of versatility to the camera, so it’s extremely easy to make changes, without having to use the normal UI or enabling Wi-Fi for the remote or mobile App.
The camera has built-in Wi-Fi to wirelessly converse with an iOS and Android based mobile devices, and through their GoPro App, you can align the camera, change settings, resolutions and modes, and delete recorded footage. To make use of the mobile app, you’ll need to install the GoPro App on the iOS or Android smartphone or mobile device, and then pair the camera and device via the Wi-Fi connection. To check the vertical alignment for proper video recording orientation, bring up the App on your smartphone or mobile device. Using the preview screen on the mobile device, just point the camera at your desired viewpoint, and rotate the camera body until things line up. The Wi-Fi for viewfinder might lag, but it works fine for the alignment purposes. It’s an icon based menu system until you get to the setting’s screen, and then it emulates the default smartphone setup, wherein lays a deep list of alterable video, photo, capture and system-wide settings and parameters. I do wish you could view already recorded footage in the App, but only their LCD BacPac has that functionality.