Featuring six updates to the GoPro Hero3, the GoPro Hero3+ Black Edition builds on the reputation of the previous model and addresses both feature requests from users and the overall evolution of this extreme sports camera product line.
The actual size, weight and design of the GoPro camera itself remains identical to the previous version, except there is the addition of that + symbol next to the three on the front of the camera. Although the exterior looks identical, the small lens has been updated to an optic that GoPro says will produce sharper video and improved quality. The real change however comes from the protective casing.
The major cosmetic change is the housing that encases the GoPro and this is consistent across the full line-up. This has been simplified compared with the older design, which had a safety switch that needed to be flipped before the lever could be released, giving access to the camera. Now, the Hero3+ just features the top-mounted lever, which for most activities is more than enough security.
This clip might not offer the same underwater protection as the previous model, but it makes accessing the camera much easier, especially with gloves, which was almost impossible with the older housing.
Whilst the case has slimmed-down, the mount design at the base remains the same, so the good news is that all existing accessories can still be used.
As with the previous case there are spaces on the inside of the casing around the camera for moisture patches. These are essential if you plan to take the camera underwater or if you go skiing - they help stop the inner casing from steaming up.
The original casing's larger size and more secure lever design means that GoPro will continue to sell it, but it has been rebranded as the Diver case. As the name suggests, it can be used to a greater depth (maximum 60 metres), compared to the new case's 40 metre limit.
The depth sacrifice is well worth it, as the reduction in both bulk and weight makes the new camera system more versatile and comfortable to wear when using accessories such as the new Quick Clip - a clip that enables fast attachment to belts, caps and straps.
As with the previous case, accessing and changing settings is as easy as ever with just three buttons used to control all of the cameras features. The buttons on the casing are large and easy to use in almost all conditions, part of the reason for the GoPro Hero3's popularity amongst extreme sports enthusiasts.
The front mounted button enables direct access to the modes and settings that, once accessed, can be adjusted using the top button. Once you've selected the required mode, the top button is used to start (and stop) recording footage, take a picture or shoot a burst of images at up to 10 fps.
The third button on the side of the camera activates the Wi-Fi system. Once this is switched on, it works in the same way as the previous version, enabling a straight connection to your computer, wireless remote or to the iOS or Android app.
The menu navigation system remains the same as before, requiring you to use the buttons in combination to swap through the menu items, select and confirm. At first it can be difficult to find the options that you want, but after a short time (and once you find the settings that suit your activity) this stops being an issue.
Internally, the big update is the GoPro Hero3+'s improved Wi-Fi system, which offers up to four times faster transfer and playback speeds to your mobile device.
Setting up the wireless connection is quick and straightforward. Simply select the GoPro in the Wi-Fi settings of your mobile and then launch the GoPro app. On first starting, this prompts you to give the GoPro a name and password. After that, each time you launch the app and switch on the GoPro Wi-Fi system, the connection between the two devices is made quickly.
By default, the app enables you to see a streaming preview of what the camera is seeing. While there is a short delay of about 1-2 seconds, it's a definite improvement over the last model. However, this delay is still a little annoying.
The GoPro offers a huge range of resolutions from WVGA up to 4K 17:9. But if you want to record at resolutions from 2.7K or above, the live view preview cuts out as soon as you start recording. Considering the amount of data involved this isn't really surprising, but it's not ideal.
I found that the GoPro Hero3+'s other Wi-Fi features also work well, with preview and playback of recorded footage and images being almost instantaneous. The quality of the streaming video is good - it's smooth and looks great on an iPhone. There are some small signs of artifacting, but fortunately this wasn't too obtrusive to the image itself.
Another handy feature is the ability to adjust camera settings remotely and control recordings via the mobile app. This interface has been well thought out with a simple select and change approach, which means that you never have to delve too far into the menus to find the setting you need to change.
Flexible video mode and recording
GoPro has always offered a good selection of recording resolutions for video and this Hero3+ edition adds to them with SuperView. This mode captures footage at 1080p, but rather than use a 16:9 aspect ratio, it pushes it to 4:3. It does this by stretching the edges of the footage to 4:3 format, so the center footage retains sharp definition, whilst the edges are usually overlooked due to the wide angled perspective of the lens.
While this may seem an odd move, considering most TVs and devices play back in 16:9 for creative video editing, it actually makes sense. Some as the extra height that you record can be cropped later (in fact it must be) on the computer. This extra height is especially handy when you don't have access to live view, as it helps avoid chopping off feet and heads when you're shooting blind.
This feature actually works well as there is no way to check the composition of your footage (unless you use a Wi-Fi connection to check what you're filming on your phone or use the optional LCD). In many cases the GoPro is an accessory to whatever activity you're doing, so it's not aways possible to check the preview on your phone. The new SuperView gives you extra peace of mind, especially when coupled with the extreme wide angled lens.
To help tackle difficult low light conditions, a new Auto Low Light mode has also been added. This adjusts the frame rate giving each frame longer exposure and helping to reduce grain and improve video playback quality.
I checked this out on a canoe with the GoPro3 and 3+. Footage recorded when paddling under bridges and through different lighting conditions showed a small improvement when it came to light shifts between the GoPro Hero3 and the 3+.
The Hero3+ dealt with the light differences slightly better than the 3, with the change in shutter speed helping to avoid burnt out highlights, especially when moving from shaded areas back into sunlight.
One issue with the Hero3 Black Edition has been poor battery life, but the new model has an improved battery that GoPro claims will give 30% better performance. In tests with the Wi-Fi system switched off the battery life seemed to be extended by almost exactly 30%. In terms of footage, this equates to an extra hour and a half, although switching on the Wi-Fi system naturally reduces this.
GoPro has a massive social network following with adrenaline junkies who like nothing more than showing off their latest extreme stunt. To help them, GoPro has produced a software editing package with quick editing and publishing tools that will enable most users to get started quickly and publish their work online to all the major social outlets.
The software isn't included in the box, but the free download is easily located at GoPro.com. The full file size of the GoPro Studio 2.0 software is only 112MB, so it should be a pretty swift download from most connections.
Once downloaded, getting started with your footage is easy, although unlike iMovie or Premiere Elements (both of which automatically sort and organise your footage from card to computer) GoPro Studio 2.0 requires you to organise your footage manually as the first step. This in itself is not a bad thing, as it allows you to organise your files in a way that you understand.
Once files have been downloaded, a simple import button enables you to select and then browse the clips that you want to edit. These are then added to the Conversion List before being taken through to the editing environment.
Each step of the process is labelled in the interface, so it's extremely easy to follow. Before entering the full edit environment you have the choice of starting with a blank template or a pre-defined one from the GoPro Library. Selecting a blank template enables you to quickly cut clips and arrange your sequences. Although it's not as streamlined and smooth as larger video editing packages, it works and is perfectly adequate for most edits.
If you're not sure what to do, the included Library templates are a good place to start. These typically show an edit that has been produced by the GoPro team and enables you to drop in your own footage in place of the template footage to quickly produce well-paced video with little prior editing experience.
Exporting movies is equally easy once your edit is complete. Simply click Step 3, select the destination, and click Export. Again, unlike paid apps there is no direct upload. Instead, the files are saved to your computer in the correct formats ready for upload to your chosen destination.
GoPro Studio 2.0 is a great place to edit and share your footage and, even though there is a bit of manual input needed for the initial footage download and the final upload to social networks, the overall workflow and output is excellent. It's never going to match up to dedicated packages like iMovie and Premiere Elements, however.
As well as the new Hero3+ series, GoPro has launched three new accessories: the handy Jaws Flex Clamp, which enables you to attach the GoPro quickly to almost anything and features a flexible column to easily adjust its position; a Junior chest harness, which lets you to attach the camera to a child; and finally the new headstrap and Quick Clip, with the Quick Clip part allowing you to attach the camera to your clothing, a cap or anything else that it will grip too.
These three new accessories join the many others available for GoPro devices and fit both the new and old versions of the Hero3.
The GoPro Hero 3+ is by no means the leap that we saw from the GoPro 2 to the GoPro Hero3. While users of the GoPro 1 and 2 will see a massive improvement in usability, there are only a few small adjustments to the actual camera from the Hero3 Black Edition.
The big changes are made to the casing, which is smaller and lighter. There's also the improved battery. Both of these items can be purchased separately and are worthwhile additions for Hero3 owners. Although the lens has been improved too, the quality of footage from the previous Black Edition model was already excellent, so if there is a difference it is only marginal.
GoPro Studio 2.0 offers a good solution for home video editing with no fuss features that let you get stuck into your edits and export video without the thrills of other more complex editors.
Despite being a free download, it features all of the usual tools enabling you to cut, splice and edit footage, overlay titles and sound tracks and export your footage. It even has some basic grading options that enable you to style the footage, increasing/decreasing exposure and adjusting tone/colour. While its editing features are not as refined as the likes of iMovie and Premiere Elements, it a great starting point.
As a versatile action sports camera the GoPro has some stiff competition, and while it might not have the good looks of some of its competitors, when it comes to ease-of-use and functionality, it's simple to use and, most importantly, enables you to capture some incredible footage.