GoPro Hero 3 Black Edition Review: Yes, It's The Best [Updated]

Yes, it's action cam season. Sony has entered the market, Contour has updated its line with the Contour+2. But what about the latest from the brand that's come to define the category — the Kleenex of action cams, if you will?

We've been putting GoPro's highly anticipated Hero 3 Black edition through some rigorous testing. And it seems pretty safe to say it's still at the top of a very rugged mountain.

Note: When we first reviewed the Hero 3 Black the firmware was not yet final. This review has been rewritten to reflect the updates, which are now live.

What Is It?

GoPro's most feature-packed action camera to date.

Who's It For?

Boarders of all types, skiers, bikers, drivers, divers, base jumpers; you get the picture. Basically anyone who spends time outside and wants to share it with the world.

Design

From the front, the Hero 3 looks a hell of a lot like the old Hero 2, with a larger, slightly higher-up lens. Peep at it from the side, though and you'll see it's way thinner and lighter, with a case that's waterproof to 60m and has a more-secure locking mechanism, a Wi-Fi remote control and several mounting options. The Hero now uses Micro SD cards (up to 64GB) instead of full-sized. There's no built-in 3.5mm mic jack, but there is a mic adapter cable sold separately for $20.

Using It

If you've used a GoPro before, it's very familiar. There are two main buttons: one on top for start/stop/record and one on the front for navigating menus, which display on a tiny (not backlit) LCD screen. Shooting modes include Movie, Still, Timelapse and Burst. There are a million options in the menus. There's also a third button for turning Wi-Fi on and off.

The Best Part

Image quality. The Hero 3 is capable of truly beautiful shots. In daylight and lowlight, it is a head and shoulders above its competitors. Nothing comes close in terms of sharpness.

Tragic Flaw

Battery life. Oh man. Recording at 1080p over 30fps (with all radios off) it came in at a measly 88 minutes. By comparison, the Contour+2 came in at 120 minutes, the Sony Action Cam at 157 minutes, and the Drift 2 at 166 minutes. Yes, you can buy spare batteries and a Battery BakPak, and you'll need them for longer shoots, but it shouldn't be that way. Also, the battery meter uses three bars to tell you how much juice you have left. Not nearly enough info. A percentage reader would be much better.

This Is Weird...

It shoots 4K video at 15 frames per second. Basically nobody (except suuuuuuper rich people) has a 4K TV or monitor yet, so there's nothing you can watch it on in all its glory. Sure you could crop way in and make it 1080p, but they you lose the wide angle. And the footage is gorgeous — until something moves in the frame, then it's unbearably choppy. It's not a flaw, it's just a pointless feature. (If you want to to a timelapse, you can just use the timelapse feature and get 12MP 4:3 images that look great.)

Test Notes

  • The Hero has by far the most mounting options of any action cam. It's hard to imagine an activity you couldn't use it for.
  • There are so. Many. Options. That's good for extremely detailed level of control over how your shot looks. But it also makes navigating deep into the menus (which still are not totally intuitive) a pain in the ass. Using the LCD Touch BakPak helps some, and using the smartphone app will make it easier, but it isn't available until December.
  • You can tilt the Hero 3 up and down when surfing, whereas the Contour+2 and Sony Action Cam were locked in place and shooting too low on my surfboard. The only problem is that you can't truly lock its position; when I duckdived through a big wave it would get pushed down and I'd have to readjust.

  • It has Protune! What the hell is that? The Hero 3 makes a lot of adjustments on the fly for contrast, sharpness, and color when you're shooting in Basic mode. They're prettier, but sometimes the camera makes the wrong call and adjusts for something it shouldn't. Shooting in Protune not only opens up other framerates and resolutions, but it boosts the bitrate and doesn't do any compensation. The resulting footage has a flatter, grainier look. It basically gives you raw video which you can really tweak in editing. Pros and semi-pros will love this feature, but unless you really want to tweak your footage in post, you probably want to avoid it.
  • The Hero 3 isn't compatible with the old waterproof cases because of the slightly different layout, so you have to use the case it comes with. Thankfully, the new case is compatible with all previous mounts (for bikes, boards, helmets, etc).
  • There are mini USB and Micro HDMI ports. If you shoot at 120fps and play back via HDMI to a TV, it will look like regular speed. You have to slow it down with software on a computer. Also, the cover for these ports does not attach, and you will most definitely lose it. But you don't really need it, so whatever.
  • The included, wearable, waterproof (to 3m) Wi-Fi remote can change modes and start/stop recording. It supposedly works from as far as 180m away, but our guess is that you'd need to be on a flat desert plane for that. We got about 25m in NYC, and it didn't like going through floors. By comparison, the smartphone apps for the Contour and Sony which connect via Bluetooth max out at about 4-6m. GoPro claims the remote can control up to 50 cameras at once, though we weren't able to test that.
  • Low-light footage looks really good. It's not nearly as noisy as the Hero 2 was. Sometimes, however, it picks a strange point to meter off of, so footage can end up being too dark if there's a mix of bright light and shadows.
  • Overcranking for slow-motion works really well. Shooting 1080p at 60fps then slowing it down to 24fps (it's 30fps in the video) looks great and you don't lose any detail. Shooting at 720p at 120fps then slowing it to 24fps (again, the video shows 30fps) produces buttery 5x slow motion and it still looks great even on a 1080p TV. There are so many resolution/frame-rate combinations, you could get lost in them.
  • Of the all the action cameras we've tested, it is by far the most comfortable to wear, thanks to its lightness and smaller footprint.
  • You can flip the video if you're mounting the camera upside down, but that's it. A rotating lens, like the Contours have, would be a welcome improvement.
  • You can get various BacPacs for the camera, including the Battery BakPac which should double your battery life, and the LCD Touch BacPac which lets you frame your shots, review your footage, and makes navigating the menus slightly less painful.

Should You Buy It?

Yes. It is handily the best action camera we've ever used. The footage it takes is simply unparalleled. The biggest ding against it is battery life, which is important enough to cost it half a star. If you're not doing long shoots (or if you don't mind buying extra batteries or the Battery BakPak) this is a no-brainer.

The only thing other reason to hesitate is the price; $490 ain't cheap, and you could get the Hero 3 Silver or White editions for less. That said, we think the image quality is worth the money. That said, we think the image quality is worth the $400. It's easily one of our favorite gadgets of the year. [GoPro]

GoPro Hero 3 Black Specs • Field of View: 170° or 120° • Storage: Up to 64GB microSD • Frame Rates: 4K (16:9 and 17:9) @ 12, 12.5, 15fps; 2.7K (16:9 and 17:9) @ 30, 25, 24fps; 1440p (4:3) @ 48, 30, 25, 24fps; 1080p (16:9) @ 60, 50, 48, 25, 24fps; 960p (16:9) @ 100, 48fps; 720p (16:9) @ 120, 100, 60, 50fps; WVGA (16:9) @ 240fps • Price: $489 RRP in Australia


Comments

    The AUD RRP seems wrong? Seems to be $489 through a lot of GoPro dealers in Australia http://www.ja-gps.com.au/GoPro/hero3-black-edition-adventure

    Can you confirm?

      Yep, sorry, that was an error. The RRP's been corrected.

    I was worried about the battery too. Going to buy the Hero 3 Silver edition, plus the old original bacpac (as they are reverse compatible) then ebay the original batteries and buy bulk. They are so much cheaper!

      Maybe they are reverse compatible but is say the new batteries would be better and last longer!
      I've preordered the black edition for $424 inc shipping!

        all of the old bacpacs are reverse compatible !

        Where did you order it from, Jack?

        what was the website you got it off, i desperately want one but dont want to spend a crazy amount of money on it.

      Be careful, the batteries are not reverse compatible and the HD HERO3 ones are significantly more expensive at the moment. I'm sure they will come down, but it's a matter of time.

        That's my issue. They are just so expensive!
        Without seeing the size difference in either the BatteryPac or Batteries, the price is just too good to miss...

    Great review! We're pretty proud of the Action Cam's low light capabilities as well as its wifi. Starting from AU$299 we think it's a great option: http://bit.ly/Sony_ActionCam

      LOL!! Id still prefer GoPro for the quality and well known name.

        Query.. Probably Sony is a better known name than go-pro. (possibly better quality too, just that the consumer lines are affordable, and lower quality.)

        in many peoples minds; go-pro is a one show pony... sticking other peoples electronics in hard-core cases.... (not necessarily how I see it...)

        Go-pro still is nowhere near a professional quality unit... it is good for the money, though a longer battery life would be great. though if that is a problem it is easy enough to rig up a portable external power supply.... to give as much life as you need... power regulator chips are a dime a dozen.

    Cropping the video isn't the only way to get your footage to 1080p. You can also SCALE it.

      Scaling a video down, might reduce digital noise from low light shots as well!

    the gopro website is selling them for $410 delivered, shipping out on 30th nov

      I thought this too, and I was going to use this method, but alas, the shipping price of $10 is US only. To ship here, it's a whopping $85, so you might as well buy domestic like me, as it won't make a difference and probably take less time. I've ordered through NaturalNecessities.com.au, which is $489, but comes with a free $40 16GB micro SD.

    It looks like they used the narrow 1080 setting on the GoPro3 footage. Which is misleading if you want really wide angle camera.

    The GoPro is hard to beat but I get great quality videos from the Sony Action Cam and the image quality in low light is awesome, better than the GoPro. Really happy with my purchase! This link pumps me up for each weekend and capturing more of my escapades on the ActionCam, check it out. http://bit.ly/wkndliveson

      Really? Because the underwater footage on Sony's official YouTube "showoff" video looks rubbish.

    i've said this before but i get the impression that the 4k video (8.3MP i think) is generally intended to capture stills at 15 frames/second

    Ah I want this so bad! I'm doing my Gizmodo CES review on my current favourite gadget, the HD Hero 2.
    The only downside seems to be the battery life. With the HD Hero 2, I get longer battery life and I can buy batteries cheaper.

    What gets me is that the promo footage from GoPro always looks a gazillion times better than what I can get off the camera. I guess I need to learn FCP or Premiere.

    My GoPro just died on me so my girlfriend bought me a Sony action cam and I don't reckon i'll ever go back. It's a much better size and battery life is way better than the GoPro. I was seriously impressed. I think she bought it from here http://www.sony.com.au/productcategory/cam-action-cam

    so what the hell do you do if you cant watch it? since its in 4k does it work on a computer?

    Landed 2X GoPro Heros 2 blacks from the states earlier this week.
    They are insanely small, much faster to navigate the menus than the 2, overall very happy will get them underwater this weekend and see how they compare in low light. You can have your Sony and Contour, they are crap underwater, color is all over the place and the housings are way to big.

      Got the Contour 2+ and it's great. Small and fiddly Go Pro does not suit everyone. The larger housings suit me just fine. Contour looks so much better on my motorcycle than the Go Pro would as well as having great video. Long trips covered with my battery, everyone to their own I guess.

    I was thinking of buying either the go pro hero 3 pr the Panasonic FT4 as my outdoor beach /action camera, does anyone know which would take a better pic?

      Go with the GoPro it's a much more versatile camera then the FT4. You will get much more use out of the GoPro then the FT4 without a doubt. http://www.goprotipsandtricks.com/?p=100

    Using Protune , with no post processing for this comparison is completely unprofessional and makes the gopro looks bad.Why is that?Read in this review what protune does.

    Got a GoPro Hero 3 Black. $700 worth of camera and accessories. The camera Did not work out of the box. Returned back to the camera shop and they are sending back to the distributor. I am now without a camera, $700 hundred dollars and two events have passed where I needed the camera now wasted. I do not recommend this product as it shows they are not tested before the product leaves the factory.

      Doesn't work out of box, very expensive, and hard to get a response from OEM website as they have too many queries (presumably everyone is having issues). Annoying - I wish I had bought Go Amateur, would have been better! Will look to buy a Sony, at least their products work.

    Its a pity that the 'replay' wasnt compared in this test..
    i cant choose between the replay and the go pro black

    It would be great to see a stats comparison sheet too. Size, weight, all other stats of all the cams.

    After beating up Sony so much, I find myself a little shocked to find that Sony is my winner in your other Gizmodo comparison video on Vimeo - see https://vimeo.com/54860841

    The only thing which may sway me now is weight.

    Just need some help. I'm a non techy girl buying for a boy :) Camera will be used for offshore fishing adventures and some storm chasing. I don't know whether to buy GoPro Silver or Black Hero 3 or the Sony? Any suggestions?
    Thanks!

    I'm not an experienced user of action video camcorders but I'm getting a lot out of the
    reviews and this thread.
    One aspect of camera use hasn't been mentioned much at all and that's the ability of the camera to take good action stills. I'm interested in what some of the experienced photographers and action cam people out there think about the still photography ability of the cameras that were reviewed. I'm looking for a versatile camera/camcorder that will take great video footage (mostly indoors) and also great action photos that are really good quality (and not blurry). Any suggestions?

    also interested in stills from the black version if anyone has examples?

    So what is the best setting to put the gopro3 black edition at that will be able to play the best quality on normal computers of a 4 year old macbook pro. The setting i have it on now must be too good, cuz it only comes in as a choppy picture or the sound is delayed or something. HELP

    problem with goPro is that they are incredibly UNRELIABLE due to poor built quality. I've had 2, never worked properly - not once. Sometimes yes, most of the time no. Will never ever use one! The last thing you want when you're about to jump out of a plane or similar is having to fiddle with your ^$* camera! The only thing goPro is good at is MARKETING: Google "GoPro is crap": lots or results. Trying to access them -> 404. What does this mean? It means goPro actively removes all negative comments wherever they can.

      I don't see any reason in paying $700.00 or more for a plastic box that is sub par in picture quality, and terrible battery life. I ditched most of my better Cannon's and kept 1 Fujifilm Digicam and purchased 2 Nikon F4s bodies that shoot up to 7fps and a Nikon F100 or F5 if you will Film 35mm Camera that I develope myself and can blow them up to 16" x 20" using Ilford 100 B&W film or Fujifilm 100 color print film with no noise to speak of using all Nikon prime lenses and in all my gear I have about $550.00. So if I destroy a Nikon Body I can replace it for about$100.00 to $150.00 and with the Fujifilm Digicam S9000 that I paid $125,00 used with 5, 32 gig CF cards and 10 Olympus XD, 2 Gig cards I bought a waterproof case for $200.00 and it is good to 300' below the water but of coures you don't have any color past where the sun shines so you start losing color at about 35' in the ocean but I don't dive salt water I only dive caverns and caves in fresh water where the vis is at least 300' and I use the Ike-lights mounted on my cave helmet plus 2 small ike-lights on my arms that all use the same power pac that will give me about 6 to 10 hours of power depending on my power setting and I get at least 720P color down to about 200' in sink holes and in caves off the Swanee River in Fl. Plus I have hours upon hours of Alligator footage and Otter footage that no GoPro or Sony or Hero 3 could ever get mainly because I had over 4 hour bottom time in 20 feet of water and great lithium batteries in the camcorder with up to a 300mm lens. Although almost all of my gator footage was within 8 to 10 feet and the otter's were swimming all around me for hours on end. New is easy but not very good quality, and old is just the opposite, cheap dependable and replaceable for low cost. Plus I have 3 or 4 underwater water cases for my Nikon F4s and F100 cameras so there is no comparison in quality, just ease. I would rather have a big aluminum underwater camera case than a small plastic box to protect me from gators or sharks any day or night.

Join the discussion!

Trending Stories Right Now