Review: GoPro HERO3 Black Edition

Cameras Pro Reviews

After using the camera, you become spoiled by the 12MP sensor and sharper lens, and in comparison to some other manufacturers, the footage has better clarity, colors and sharpness. Sometimes when bumping up the pixel count into an extremely small sensor, the increased pixels per inch (PPI) or pixel density can cause noise and loss of detail issues, and the sharpness drops off, but that doesn’t seem to be the case with the HERO3. It did well in bright light conditions, and never seemed to wash out, keeping a nice uniform contrast level. It also did a great job in variable light, and it didn’t get over-saturated when the footage popped into the bright light from the shade. When the light got lower, such is in the early evening, the clarity seemed to drop slightly, and the footage got shakier, and unfortunately, the camera has no ability to change the exposure and contrast settings. Pixelation was great, with a mild amount of aliasing, and some slight edge artifacts. The framing was smooth, but heavy shocks, and vibrations caused distortion. Although the colors were pleasant, they were sometimes overly warm, and the reds and yellows were especially more vibrant than real.

Note: On a couple of rare occasions, the camera would freeze or hang, and a simple reinserting of the battery alleviated the issue. I have had the same sort of problem on other cameras of this variety, and the same fix resolved it, but the HERO3 seemed this more often.

The improved 12MP sensor and lens also give some really nice photos, and I started to use the photo features more often. You can switch the photo mode to the lower 7MP and 5MP settings, which do have different FOV’s (12 is 170º, 7 is 170º or 127º, 5 is 170º), but you miss out on the stunning pictures at the highest setting. The 1080p video footage had less jellovision and shakiness than earlier models, but I still don’t like its results when recording in average mountain biking conditions and terrain, even when wearing a sturdier helmet. The new 127º and 90º FOV options for the 1080p (and 90º for 720p) offers decreased fisheye and side distortions (default is 170º). When it was static or mounted as solid as possible the 1080p offered excellent FOV and clarity, but that just wasn’t feasible for average riding. My favorite setting was the full frame 960p 100 fps resolution, as the tall viewpoint captures more of the trail, and the addition of the 100 fps really gives it a smoother look, with fewer transitions and choppiness. My secondary pick is the widescreen 720p at 120 fps, which depending on the terrain and trail, offers more peripheral visibility and a panoramic field of view.

The camera’s normal UI based menu system is useful, but it is still convoluted and much too linear for quick changes, especially to switch resolutions, but at least the main mode screens offer excellent information, so you know the exact resolution, FOV, battery and SD card resources. After some usage, you get proficient at making changes, so it speeds up alterations. The status indicator beeps were usually loud enough in typical outdoor conditions to hear what the camera was doing, but when it was windy, it was sometimes difficult to discern, and perhaps a larger speaker might help with perception issues. Along with the louder beeps, the additional recording LEDs greatly benefits the usage factor of the camera, making it much easier to know its status. The wearable Wi-Fi remote was a nice unit, and it allowed simple and quick changes to the camera’s resolutions and modes. It was useful to have the start and stop recording buttons located someplace easy to reach, though I found that the buttons were hard to hit and initiate on the fly, and having the Wi-Fi enabled used up the camera’s battery quicker. The biggest issue I had with the remote was that it’s battery gave up the ghost regularly, so even though it was a very functional tool, it wasn’t always dependable, so I didn’t use it all that much. I found that the smartphone interface was incredibly useful for performing the alignment activity, and then I would turn off the Wi-Fi and go back to normal usage. The App allows you to do any of the typical menus related functions, such as resolution, mode and system changes. Its big downfall is not having the ability to view recorded footage, so the optional LCD BacPac is required. I didn’t find the mobile interface the most useful for starting and stopping recording, since it required that the smartphone was easily accessible, and in addition, the Wi-Fi used up battery resources of both the camera and phone. The battery life for the camera is mediocre at best, and tends to only last around 1.3 to 1.5 hours, and it gets worse with cooler temperatures, so a backup battery is essential.

I liked the handlebars or the helmet mounts myself, which worked the best for my riding style, and also gathered footage that I preferred. With the vast assortment of mounts, you can come up with some unique footage and viewing angles, and perspectives, which make for more pleasurable and interesting videos (meaning less boring). The Chesty harness certainly adds flavor to footage, and I did use it on occasion for variety. I have become quite lazy after countless hours of recording video footage, and I’m not as industrious and inquisitive as I once was in taking and getting unique and varying perspectives. Consider my default helmet approach as plain Jane, lacking ingenuity, but at least conveying the camera’s capabilities and the trails that I am riding technicality and beauty. I still don’t like the tubby form factor of its toaster oven shape, and although the Chesty mount keeps it tightly against the body, all the other mounts leave it out to be hit by trees, branches, bushes and other obstacles. It can be tough to tighten down the thumb screws for the quick-release and pivots, else the housing can creep out of position or can be easily dislodged.

One of my favorite new accessories is the LCD Touch BacPac, which really opens up a world of versatility to the camera. It makes setting resolutions and modes simple and intuitive, and being able to view previously recorded footage is very useful. The new Frame mount (a.k.a. The Naked Housing) was my go-to camera holding system, as I liked its lightness, ease of camera usage, and that the raw camera gave slightly better sound and picture quality (perceived).

Using the HDMI connection, you can stream live or record video to a display (TV) or external capture device. It was nice to be able to watch previously recorded footage on a big-screen TV, seeing things with exceptional clarity, spaciousness and sharpness.

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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