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Gopro HERO 3 Black Edition SURF CHDSX-301 Action Camera
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- Designed lighter and stronger
- Faster video performance
- Ultra high resolution
- Features continuous photo mode
- Powerful image capture solutions
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GoPro HERO3 Black Surf Edition - Action Camera
Wearable, mountable design
Immersive, wide angle capture of your favorite activities
Professional quality HD video & 12MP photos
Built-in Wi-Fi enables remote control via included Wi-Fi Remote or video preview and remote control on smartphones and tablets running the free GoPro app.
Rugged housing is waterproof to 197'/60M and captures sharp images above and below water
Compatible with all GoPro mounts for attaching to gear, body, helmets, vehicles and more
Compatible with LCD Touch BacPac and second generation Battery BacPac
Backwards compatible with older generation BacPacs
New advanced camera settings: Looping video, Continuous Photo, Manual White Balance control, Protune Mode, allows to shoot photos while recording video and more.
Professional 4K Cinema 15 fps / 2.7K cinema 30 fps / 1440p 48 fps / 1080p 60 fps / 960p 100 fps /720p 120 fps and more video capture
12MP photo capture with 30 fps burst
Wi-Fi Remote Compatible (included)
GoPro App Compatible (FREE)
197'/ 60m Waterproof Housing
Assorted mounts and hardware included for attaching to helmets, gear and more
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Most helpful customer reviews on Amazon.com
The first thing you must do is update the firmware manually. After several attempts with the automatic process, my Gopro -and many others I suspect- failed to update, and it was never at all apparent that the process failed. After several days of use, the camera began to malfunction. If you don't get your firmware updated successfully, you are guaranteed to have major problems.
Here is a quick guide on how to manually update your firmware: (If you have a Mac, or are not computer-savvy, check online for more detailed instructions. Lawrence M. Friedman posted a comprehensive how-to on Gethypoxic.)
1. Jot down your serial number (both lines) from inside the battery port. Insert a Class 10 micro SD, battery, and take a picture to ensure your card is good. Ensure WiFi is off, and charge your camera to 2 bars if necessary. (Steps 1-5 on the update instructions at GoPro.com.) At this point, do not connect your Gopro to your PC.
2. Instead, download the update files from Gopro.com onto your PC. To do this, follow the prompts for 'manual update.' Complete the registration fields.
3. Connect the camera to your PC & power up. Open your Gopro drive, then move the update files from your PC onto your Gopro. DO NOT put the files into either folder (DCIM or Misc), just place the files next to those folders (root).
4. Disconnect your GoPro from your PC, then turn it back on. This should initiate the update process.
IMPORTANT: Now pay attention to your Gopro LCD display. During the process, look for the message on your LCD that reads 'updating.' Your front LED light will flash intermittently. You will soon see a progress percentage on your LCD and the blue WiFi light will turn on. Make sure your progress climbs to 100%, then your camera will shut itself off.
If you do not observe your camera behaving as I described, the update did not work and you will have to try again. If the process fails, do not expect to receive an 'Update Failed' message as Gopro claims. The firmware issue is causing huge problems for many users; largely because they believe that they successfully installed the new firmware, but the process actually failed.
After my firmware was updated successfully, I have not experienced any of the major failures that many users have reported. My battery does not drain overnight when turned off as some people have reported. My camera never fails to read its SD card. I started & stopped recording via WiFi repeatedly, and everything worked great. Freezing is the major catastrophic problem common in the negative reviews. I shot video for 45 minutes continuously and never had any lock-up issues during use. I function-tested every option in the menu and never experienced any malfunction, but for one exception.
My camera froze a few times when powering on, requiring a battery rip. I'm not sure what causes this, and it happened only a few times over the past 2 weeks, while I have turned the camera on & off hundreds of times with no issues. Some have theorized that it is related to using the USB charger, or moving files off of the SD card, but I have been unable to determine a common condition that will cause the problem consistently. You can expect to experience this glitch too; it is a very common report on the Gopro forums, and I have friends that have had the same experiences. We are hoping that Gopro will solve this issue with another firmware update. Note: If you are forced to pull the battery, leave it out for at least 60 seconds. Update 7-3-13: After 4 months of heavy use, my Gopro Black is working flawlessly. It has not frozen during use or startup after the latest firmware update (Version 2.39). Some of my friends have experienced occasional freezing, but it's very rare; note: we use our Gopro H3B's on a daily basis.
If you're going to buy a Hero 3, update the firmware manually right out of the box. After that, if you have freezing issues, a defective battery, or buttons that do not work as they should, just take it back to the store for an exchange or refund. Best Buy gives you 15 days. I can't imagine dealing with any customer service trying to fix a lemon. I don't get why anyone even tries. That being said, my remaining criticisms are relatively petty, and are being made against a functional Hero 3 Black. The bottom line is that I love this camera so far. It earns 4 stars.
Be prepared for a fast-draining battery. The 45-minute video I mentioned earlier took my battery from 100% to no bars. However, after the 45-min recording, I was able to shoot an additional 28 minutes on fumes (with no bars showing on my battery gauge) before it died. This battery test was made on the 1080/60 setting, without WiFi or Protune in use.
You will likely need a backup battery plan, such as spares with a wall charger. There is a great kit on Amazon for $29 made by Wasabi, Wasabi Power Battery (2-Pack) and Charger for GoPro HD HERO3 and GoPro AHDBT-201, AHDBT-301 or the Gopro battery Bacpac (which I have never tried). Note: You can swap batteries and your settings will not return to factory defaults. I left my battery out for 5 minutes and it still retained my settings. This is a huge positive for Gopro since I routinely swap out batteries. It would be a real pain to reset my resolution & preferences every time, not to mention the date/clock. I use my Gopro for skydiving, which means my videos are short, and I am never far from an A/C outlet. The battery life on the Hero 3 could pose a challenge for those who venture into the wilderness...or the water. Something to think about. I used a Hero 2 for a year, and the difference in the battery life is noticeable. Note: It took 140 minutes to charge my battery from totally drained to 100%. From the point of no bars to 100%, it took 100 minutes to fully charge. These tests were done with the included USB cable connected to a PC.
My other minor complaints include the lack of a printed manual. I downloaded it from online, then printed the PDF, so I have a 66-page 8.5x11" book. A pocket-sized manual that I can fit in my camera case should be standard issue with a $400 package. This is not too big of a deal because once you learn the system, there are only 6 to 8 pages from the manual that are actually useful.
The panel that covers the charging port is not tethered, so I already know that this little door (14 x 21mm) will eventually get lost. Another issue is that the unit gets hot while recording; but as long as it doesn't do any damage or cause a breakdown, I guess that's just the way it is. A Gopro will not allow itself to overheat; it will shut down automatically if it gets too hot.
When you open up your DCIM folder after recording, you may notice several blank-icon files (type LRV & THM) scattered among your video/picture files. Some computer people call these "mouse droppings." The LRV files can be changed to MP4 and are functional as a mini clip. This is useful for efficient editing projects on slower computers. After setting up your edit, you then replace the LRV with your original HD file. The THM files can be changed to JPG and serve as thumbnails to your photographs. But I just delete all the droppings. I don't fully understand how to exploit them, and they only show up once in a while.
The greatest improvement over the Hero 2 is the new video options available. The 1080p/60fps is my favorite setting. This feature alone is the reason I bought the H3B. The Hero 2 would only shoot 30FPS on 1080. And to my delight, once I selected 1080/60 on my H3B, I found that I can then adjust the FOV within that setting. On the hero 2, your FOV options were very limited depending on your resolution setting. The H3B gives incredible freedom to customize the look of your recordings. Note: The recording versatility on the Black edition is better than on the White or Silver models. The premium price is not just for the remote.
The 4k cinema mode is essentially useless to me. It offers a maximum frame rate of 15 FPS, which resembles a slideshow. The 2.7k offers 30 FPS, and renders incredibly impressive resolution, but you'll be lucky if your computer can play it smoothly. After seeing the excellent results of the 1080p/60FPS videos, I doubt I will ever change that setting except to do super slow-motion, for which I would use 120FPS-- which is only available on 720p resolution. Apparently, there is a plan from GoPro for an upcoming software update that will expand the FOV options on the 720/120FPS mode. Right now it's Wide only. UPDATE 5-7-13: The new firmware update gives more FOV options.
The WiFi remote is definitely cool and handy. It makes it a snap to control your camera after it's mounted. It is simple to set up and operate. But like the camera, the remote battery drains quickly; and the charging cable is proprietary, so you will have to take it with you to charge the remote during downtime. I also installed the GoPro app on my Android smartphone. This allows you to use your phone as a remote. You can see on your phone what the camera sees, even while it's not recording; lots of fun possibilities there.
The camera is noticeably thinner and lighter than the H2. The buttons are easier to activate; they are larger and more sensitive. It also uses a Micro SD card, not the standard SD used by the Hero 2. Because the height & width are unchanged, the casing doors are interchangeable with the Hero 2, and the LCD Bacpac from my H2 is fully functional on the 3; that made my day!
The firmware situation is unfortunate, and Gopro owes a lot of customers a big apology. I myself grew quite frustrated until I was advised to use the manual process. This review was going to be a 1-star profanity-fest, until I figured out the firmware debacle. If you disregarded all reviews of the Hero 3 in which the user failed to update the firmware, I'm sure the overall feedback would be much more positive. Even after my initial troubles, I am still a fan of Gopro. I can live with the power-up freezing glitch for now. For skydiving and short trips, the Hero 3 Black is a great camera. Blue skies!
Compared to the Hero2, the Hero3 is about half the thickness of the Hero2, but more importantly the Hero3 is noticeably lighter, both in hand and when mounted to things like helmets or handlebars. The reduced body thickness also makes the camera easier to position and get to the perfect angle - especially when using the Chesty harness mount or the handlebar mount.
The new sealed splash-proof case is obviously thinner like the camera, but features the same spring-loaded buttons just like the Hero2 has. If you have a large selection of Hero2 mounts and accessories, they will still work with the Hero3, including the LCD BacPac (though the newer version is in black to match the Hero3 color scheme), the Battery BacPac (newer version gets the same color treatment) and the redundant WiFi BacPac (which you won't need since WiFi is built into the Hero3). The new lens cover is rectangular, and the replaceable lens piece is now recessed behind the frame - much better than the bubble-eye Hero2 lens piece that was easily prone to getting scuffed or scratched because it stuck out. One little "improvement" that is actually a little annoying is the new 2-step release clamp at the top. Whereas with the Hero2 case you had to tug at a tight-fitting latch, on the Hero3 case you have to slide a small tab with one hand, then you can lift the latch open with the other hand. One good thing about it though is that it's nowhere near as tight to release as the old version; I guess you can say that the Hero3 case latch is more "finger-friendly" since the release tension not as stiff as HD Hero2
Control-wise the redesigned "Mode" and "Set" buttons have a softer touch and are much easier to use (even with full-finger MTB gloves) but the inset WiFi button sits flush and is very small. The on-screen menus are the same as the Hero2, and now the Hero3 features both red "recoding" LED lights (4 total like the Hero2) and new blue "WiFi" LED lights to make it easy to know at a glance if you're recording and if the WiFi mode is on or not.
As for ports, there are three located underneath a small removable door: a mini-USB for charging and data transfer, a micro HDMI for video hookup, and the spring-loaded slot for the microSD memory card. A short USB to mini-USB cable is included in the box, but that's about it. The 3.5mm external mic and video output plugs are no longer present (both replaced by the micro HDMI). By the way, the separate port cover is cumbersome, as it isn't attached to the camera case and can be easily misplaced or lost. If you're using the fully sealed case you can just leave the cover off and be done with it. I'm glad they stuck with a standard, "easy to find a cable at any electronics store" mini-USB port for charging instead of some proprietary port. I do wish that they included some small AC-to-USB charger in the box, but you can buy these easily on Amazon (I use an extra iPhone 5w AC cube charger).
With the built-in WiFi you can use the optional GoPro Wi-Fi Remote or the free GoPro App your iOS/Android phone or tablet to have full control over the camera remotely. (see below regarding the app). This is an improvement over the HD Hero 2 in that the Hero 2 required a separate purchase of the LCD BacPac to have WiFi capability; not only was this an extra $80, but the WiFi BacPac also added bulk and weight to the HD Hero 2's size. With the WiFi built-in to the HD Hero 3, the Hero3 retains it's smaller, lighter profile. Please note that you don't actually need an iPhone (cell phone) to use the GoPro App... you can use an iPod Touch or a WiFi iPad; As long as it is on iOS6+ and has WiFi it can connect to the GoPro WiFi BacPac - a cellular signal is not required. I've tried the App with my iPhone 5, iPhone 4S, and iPad Mini WiFi and all three are fully functional; I can adjust camera settings, start and stop video recording, snap still photos, and power the GoPro on/off - plus with the screen preview I can see what the camera is seeing - a feature that the GoPro $80 remote does NOT have.
The GoPro App
With the GoPro app on your iOS6/Android Wi-Fi enabled device you can adjust video resolution, camera burst speed, and even the beep volume - basically anything you can adjust with the two buttons on the camera can be done with the app. There's also a basic video preview on your phone/tablet to see exactly what the camera is seeing - great for eating up static camera shots or odd angles where seeing what the camera sees isn't easy. Granted, in my review of the GoPro Wi-Fi BacPac + Wi-Fi Remote Combo Kit I had mentioned that there is a 5 second lag between what the camera is seeing and what you see in the video preview on the app. The lag is very noticeable and not something you'd want to use in real-time.
Recently GoPro updated the firmware, finally adding in a host of features that were originally promised with version 1.0 of the app. These new features include the ability to watch any recorded footage through the app, view photos taken by the camera, copying GoPro footage to mobile devices, and social media sharing.
I was very happy with the video performance of my previous Hero2, and after using the Hero3 extensively in 2012-now, the Hero3 has produced video that looks much better than the Hero2. At 1080p/30fps setting, white balance set to "Auto", and wide FOV, video was smooth and crisp when viewed on my 55" HDTV. At 960p/48fps, the video quality was similar to 1080p, but with the added bonus of clear, crisp slow-motion footage just like you see in the various GoPro promo videos. (WVGA supposedly gives even better slow-motion footage, but only at a resolution of 800x480.) The Hero3 allows you to optionally set the white balance as well as activate the "spot meter" for certain types of filming, but I left these at their default settings and I still came up with nice video footage, many times a step above the quality of the old Hero2.
The Hero3 can be used as a regular 11mp digital camera, with point and shoot, burst, and time-lapse functionality. I took a few pics of random stuff around the house just to try it out; I found that there was a slight lag between when you click the button and when the camera actually takes the shot. Later on I also noticed that even when in "narrow" POV, the GoPro still has a wide field of view; noticeably wider than what I'd see at the same distance with my iPhone 5 camera or even a regular point-and-shoot digital camera. At first you'd think to yourself, "great - that just means I can capture more stuff in the photo!" but to take a photo with the GoPro that would have the same amount of info you would have to stand really REALLY close to the subject. Like uncomfortably close. And having no viewfinder (unless you spend another $80 for the LCD BacPac) makes it difficult to get your distance right. Sure, you can use the GoPro app to see what the camera sees, but that's redundantly pointless; for one, the "app lag" I mentioned earlier. Second, you're now holding TWO devices just to see what you're going to take a photo with. And third - at that point you might as well have just used your Phone camera to take the photo in the first place!
Also, the GoPro HD Hero3 has burst and time-lapse modes. It adds to the feature list, but honestly? Leave that to DSLRs; if anything, the Hero3's camera mode could have been more useful if it had a timer function - say, if you wanted to take a self-shot with a nice background in the middle of a trail ride. Honestly - the Hero3 is first and foremost a VIDEO camera; if you want to take still digital photos, use a dedicated point-and-shoot or DSLR instead.
Firmware Update - It's Not That Bad Really
When you open the box, the first thing you'll see is a note from GoPro telling you that you need to update the camera firmware to the latest version. Unfortunately the actual process of updating the camera firmware isn't a double-click,10 second thing; it takes multiple steps just to get the camera firmware up to date. But it's not complicated - it just takes some time and lots of steps. I've listed the entire firmware update process at the bottom of this review, step by step, exactly how I did it.
For people who "tinker" with things (like me) it's not that big of a deal, but there are some people who make this a deal breaker. Personally I'd rather spend a few minutes to have the latest firmware on my camera than to use it "as is" and miss out on any features/improvements. Consider it "some assembly required" - there are things you buy that need to be assembled before they can be used, and (for now) the Hero3's "assembly required" is a firmware update.
Sure there may be smaller "action cameras" out there, but there's a good reason why GoPro cameras are the most popular - they work well and are tough little machines. I was very happy with the HD Hero2, and the new HD Hero3 upped the performance. The Hero3 is smaller, lighter, easier to use (well, the only exception is the new latch mechanism), and records excellent video. The still camera function is ok, but the built-in WiFi is the best feature - no add-on BacPac required, keeping the camera weight and bulk at a minimum. There are a few complaints I have that keep it from getting a 5-star rating. The first is the new locking mechanism for the waterproof case - the small release slider is a pain to move to open the case. The second is that, although I personally have no problem with it, most people will cringe at the whole firmware update process, mainly because not only should it be easier to get (you have to enter camera serial numbers and name/email info just to get the firmware update) but there's some manual file moving to do when performing the update. Oh - and if you want to change your WiFi password for the camera in the future, the only way to do it is to re-update the firmware by doing the entire update process again on the website - definitely inconvenient.
Which "Edition" Should You Buy?
At the initial release of the HD Hero3, a lot of people were having problems with the Black Edition Hero 3; everything from random crashing, to having to remove the battery just to unfreeze and reset the camera; a friend of mine got the Black Edition last Christmas, tried it out, and his unit was also plagued with the same issues. Meanwhile, I personally never saw any of the same issues with the Silver Edition, and my Hero3 has been performing flawlessly since I started using it (even after a 7 hour mountain bike ride). After the latest firmware update, there were no more reported problems from my friend, so here's my updated recommendations:
"White Edition" GoPro HD HERO3: White Edition
- At $100 less than the Silver Edition, the "White Edition" is the lowest-priced Hero3. It is basically just the original Hero (1) camera with built-in WiFi - skip this version, it's not worth it.
"Silver Edition" (This model)
- Unless you're a specialist (see "Black Edition"), the Silver Edition is most likely the way to go for the majority of users out there looking for a versatile action camera, and is priced at the same $299 that the last model HD Hero2 was selling for. My review is based on this model.
"Black Edition" GoPro HD HERO3: Black Edition
- For $100 more over the Silver Edition you can get the Black Edition. You get the GoPro WiFi Remote in the package (Which sells for about $80) and the Black Edition has some unique features that you may or may not really need, such as:
- Capability to shoot video and stills at the same time - can be useful, but not a must-haves if your main purpose is to shoot personal action sports videos.
- Higher burst photo mode, and a unique "Continuous Photo Mode." Honestly, Honestly, after using a GoPro camera for the last 3 years (starting with the original GoPro Hero) I've never really had a need to have these specific features in a single device. For one, if I wanted high-quality still action photos I'd rather use a DSLR with interchangeable lenses and more settings than the GoPro has. Second, taking still photos with a GoPro is a "guess and shoot" affair since there's no viewfinder built-in to the camera - unless I spend another $80 for the LCD BacPac just so I can see what the lens sees. Or I can use the GoPro App on my iPhone, but at that point when I pull my iPhone out I usually just use the iPhone's 8MP camera, which is pretty crisp on its own.
- Black Edition does 1440p48/2.7kp30 and 4kp15 resolutions, but most people don't have HDTVs that can do that yet. Plus, the way I see it, by the time 1440p/2.7kp30/4.5kp15-capable HDTVs are mainstream and in most people's homes, I'm sure there will be a newer version of the Hero camera by then.
When all is said and done, I believe that normal everyday people who want an "action sports camera" to use during activities (not in a specialized field such as filmmaking) can get a lot out of the Silver Edition. Having the capability to do 1080p/60 and 720p/120 are nice to have but I don't think they are essential for the everyday normal buyer, especially when you take into consideration the fact that a majority of the footage recorded by GoPro's will be uploaded to the internet on YouTube or Vimeo. So in the end I still feel that the Silver Edition is the way to go for a majority of the people out there looking for an action camera. If you just want a GoPro HD Hero3 to capture your adventures on a mountain bike, or a surfboard, or in a car, and you want to make your own action videos to share online, go with the "Silver."
UPDATING YOUR GOPRO HD HERO 3 FIRMWARE
When you receive your new HD Hero3 camera, chances are that a firmware update is immediately required. I STRONGLY suggest that you do this as soon as you receive your camera, because it takes some time to do, and you might as well get it over with right away. I've posted instructions on how to do the firmware update to an Amazon Guide, the URL is below: