Review: GoPro HERO3 Black Edition

Cameras Pro Reviews

Video Resolutions
The HERO3 Black can shoot in High Definition, in six video resolutions and multiple frame rates, which are all recorded at 12MP. It can shoot in widescreen 1080p at 60, 48, 30 or 24 fps (frames per second), full frame 960p at 100 or 48 fps, widescreen 720p at 120 or 60 fps, and SD at 240 fps. The faster frame rates allow for slow motion playback, which gives more interesting footage. It has new professional resolutions of 4K at 15 fps, 4K Cinema at 12 fps, 2.7K at 30 fps, 2.7K Cinema at 24 fps, and 1440p at 48, 30 or 24 fps. These higher resolutions are meant for professional videographers, as these settings allow more leeway in post production editing that will eventually be downrezzed. They also added a Protune mode, which offers high data rate captures with less compression, a neutral color profile and optional 24 fps which give the ability to intercut with other sources without a frame rate conversion. In the video mode, two new interesting features are the Looping Video which records a continuously looping video that overwrites itself within a selectable time window, until you press the stop button, and the Simultaneous Video and Photo mode, which allows simultaneously capturing of both videos and photos. Each of the video resolutions is captured at different bit rates, which entails varying recording times and storage requirements, meaning greater resources are needed for the higher usage formats. The resolution settings are done within the camera’s menu system, which is managed by its two buttons, the remote or a mobile device. In fact, any of the programmable features and settings can be done through the menus, allowing for in the field changes as required. The camera records in different viewing angles or FOV (field of view), including an ultra wide 170º, a wide 127º, and a narrow 90º FOV, and each of them is unique to specific video resolutions. The 1080p has three FOVs, 170º, 127º and 90º, the 720p has 170º and 90º, while the 4K, 2.7K, 1440p, 960p and SD only use 170º. It uses the H.264 video codec, AAC audio compression, and a .mp4 file type. Everything defaults to the NTSC standard, but it can optionally record PAL video.

The HERO3 Black can shoot still pictures in Manual, Continuous, Photo Burst and Time Lapse modes, with resolutions of 5, 7 or 12MP. In the Manual mode, it shoots a single photo, in Continuous it shoots 3, 5 or 10 shots per second, while in Time Lapse, it continuously captures a series of photos at 0.5, 1, 2, 5, 10, 30 or 60-second intervals until stopped. In Photo Burst, it takes multiple photos over an allocated time interval; 3 photos in 1 second, 5 photos in 1s, 10 photos in 1s, 10 photos in 2s, 30 photos in 1s, 30 photos in 2s or 30 photos in 3 seconds. The ability to do some sports specific action shots in the Continuous and Time Lapse and Photo Burst mode, should provide for some interesting shots and more versatility.

Camera Features
On the front of the HERO3 is the power/mode button, which turns the camera on and off, and makes changes for its recording modes and setting’s menu. It works in conjunction with the top located shutter/select button, and together they perform all the cameras modal and setting changes. The shutter/select button starts and stops the video recording, initiates picture taking and does selections in the menu system. There are three LED recording lights, located on the front, top and bottom, which quickly flash when turning the camera or recording on and off, and they’ll slowly pulse during actual recording. On the back is the connection port for their optional BacPac’s, and a latched door for accessing the battery. The front LCD status screen displays a variety of icons, numbers and language-based data, which gives mode information, menu items and camera configuration settings. There is a small speaker located on the right side, which beeps during shutter and power initiation, and a microphone on each side that picks up audio. On the left-hand side, there’s the microSD card slot, a mini HDMI video and USB port.

The remote control unit communicates to the camera via Wi-Fi and has a 600-foot range, and can operate up to 50 cameras at a time. The Wi-Fi remote has an LCD screen which mirrors the camera’s LCD status screen, and two buttons that emulate the cameras, so you can change settings, resolutions and modes, and start and stop recording. It uses an internal 5V 5o0mAH rechargeable Li-Ion battery for power. It’s waterproof to 10 feet, and attaches to clothing, packs, wrist and more, using various optional accessories. The remote simplified resolution and mode changes, and stopping and starting recording, and the indicator light gave great feedback that recording was occurring.

Memory and Battery
The camera can use up to a 64GB microSD card, and a class 10 or higher is required due to the fast and higher-level modes. The camera uses an internal rechargeable Lithium Ion 3.7V 1050mAh battery, which is charged via a USB cable. The battery lasts 1-2 hours per charge, but its life varies depending on the ambient air temperature, chosen resolution, whether Wi-Fi is enabled, if interfacing through the remote or mobile App, and if a LCD BacPac is used. There is an optional battery BacPac, which gives twice the battery life, but I haven’t tested it for verification of any statistics. I try to carry a spare battery on any rides, just in case of any unforeseen issues. The new battery has an extremely useful pull tab on its back, so it’s easier to extract from the compartment, though the door can be stubborn on occasion, and it requires a slight tap of the camera to get it to pop off.

Battery time vs. resolutions (measured): 1080p/60fps @ 1.3 hours, 960p/48fps @ 1.5 hours, 720p/120 fps @ 1.3 hours.

The clear plastic housing is a nice unit, that is rugged, durable, resists contamination and is waterproof to 60 meters/197 feet. The housing is made of polycarbonate and has a replaceable front lens, and a door that swings on stainless steel hinge pins. The back door has a tough waterproof gasket and is removable, so that the optional slotted skeleton door can be installed for better sound quality, with an obvious loss of waterproofness. Once the camera is placed in the housing, close the door and hook the latch on it, and clamp it down tight. They improved the latch system, and it’s no longer temperamental, and it won’t be accidentally opened. I have used the camera kayaking, and biking in the rain and mud, and can attest to its tight seals and the protection it affords. On the bottom of the housing is a two toothed or slotted connector, which attaches up to their mounting system or quick-release buckle via a thumb screw. The housing has three springs loaded buttons, which interface to the camera’s shutter/select and power/mode and Wi-Fi buttons, so all camera functions can be accomplished from the outside.

They have a new optional mount called the Frame ($39.99), which is sort of a naked housing. The Frame is sleek, low profile, and lets in fuller sound and the clearest picture since the lens is unencumbered, though it’s not optimized for extreme conditions, as it leaves the camera exposed. It does come with a rubber lens cap for protection when the camera isn’t being used, and remember to remove when recording (did that once).

About the author: Brian Mullin

Brian likes to push the limits in all the sports he obsesses in, whether it's mountain biking, whitewater kayaking, skiing, or sport climbing. He takes those same strengths and a good dose of insanity to his reviewing and writing on mountain biking products, creating technical, in-depth articles. Whenever he's not on the bike, he might be found watching MotoGP racing, otherwise look for him out on the trail.

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  • Brandt says:

    Gave up on the Black after 2 weeks. 1080p @30fps in 30 degree temps won’t last more than an hour. Also jammed up countless times. Super disappointed in the reliability despite following all the tips online. Swapped out for Silver and much more stable and battery also last much longer. Still recommend the bacpac though to last same duration as GP2. Great pics and video but battery life the issue. Good thing it will be warming up soon. Check out the boards/online reviews and you’ll see I’m not alone with the results.

  • Dabberdog says:

    I spent a lot of time comparing different brands and models, ultimately deciding between the contour roam+2 and this unit. Ultimately I saved a lot of money by going with the Contour Roam2. I didn’t need the GPS, or the remote viewing, or any of the other extra features. I just wanted a higher frame rate than 30 fps. The Roam2 has 60 fps at 720p. It isn’t quite the outstanding image quality of this unit, but its close, and I only paid $175.

  • Barry says:

    Interesting to read there are issues with it. I had the original GoPro (used AAA batteries) and the videos were exceptional. I sold it to get the new one mainly so I have a rechargeable battery. I have all the mounts so was just going to get the White Edition. Will do more research, thanks for the review MTBR.

  • Jerry Hazard says:

    Its funny with all the different resolution settings, you’d think there is a constant level of quality between them. Not true, there are favorable settings to use, see here:

    Still, imo, the most versatile cam on the market…

  • ReductiMat says:

    After 40 days on the hill with a Black this year, I can state with certainty that the video quality of this thing in certain modes is simply amazing.

    I can also say that these things are completely half-baked. Of those 40+ days, I’ve had less than ten days where I DIDN’T have corrupt video files or hard-freezes that required the removal of the battery to get it going again.

    I’ve tried many different flavours of SD cards including the SanDisk ones they suggest and nothing makes a difference.

    This includes an RMA replacement that is only slightly better than the original. Even though they know they have major issues with these things, they still strung me along for over a month before they set up an RA number for me.

  • Tony says:

    Nice you get the remote with Black version, but GP has totally cheezed on mounts vs what you got with the Hero2. The velcro strap for the remote isn’t even included! Of course, true to GP form, they have an “additional” remote pack you can purchase, go figure. So far I’m happy with operations, but peeved at the company nickle & diming me at every opportunity.

  • Armando Gomes says:

    At the moment i am happy with the GOPRO 3 Black Edition, but sometimes it jams a little bit if i play the movie directly from the gopro (ON) connected to the laptop by the USB cable (exploring and playing the movies on the laptop, but running on the SD card inside de gopro).

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