Top critical review
306 people found this helpful
Superb quality when it works, unfortunately it frequently goes wrong
on 31 May 2013
The GoPro Hero 3 Black is my first GoPro product which I was drawn for its high resolution video capabilities and as I was getting into mountain biking I quite fancied trying to record some of the trails. The Gopro cameras have a great reputation for this sort of use and the professional reviews of the camera were extremely positive at the time of launch so I was pleased to get the camera shortly after.
Quick edit - there's a fairly serious bug with the timelapse option at the moment, if you use the 0.5 or 1 second interval then auto-exposure doesn't work which makes it completely unusable, I found this out when checking footage I'd taken and many shots were almost completely black due to severe underexposure. GoPro confirmed this is a bug in the current firmware and advise using intervals of two seconds or more until it's fixed, I've put this up at the top in the off chance others might avoid this bug before it ruins their footage.
The contents of the box are a bit disappointing as there's no quick start guide giving you a hand to get started, there's no full manual either but I don't mind not having a hard copy as it's easy enough to download and browse when needed. There's no charger either which I can partially understand as many people now have USB chargers although strangely the Gopro's USB connection is the older mini USB type (possibly because it stays in better) so standard micro USB chargers are no good (ones that won't split apart) plus it's recommended to use a higher current adapter which rules out standard USB chargers and normal USB ports.
As you'd expect there's no memory card in the box nor is there onboard memory, the camera needs a quick memory card and with the higher resolution video settings quickly chewing through memory I'd recommend the Sandisk 32GB microSDHC Ultra class 10 card or something similar. I did initially try a Sandisk 32GB class 4 microSD card I had available but it was too slow as the resulting video suffered bad stuttering.
The interface on the camera is a little tricky to get to grips with as it's very similar to old hardware systems in the 80's and 90's where you have a very basic screen and just two buttons, one is used to select and one is used to change option. Thankfully GoPro provide an excellent app for Android (and I assume IOS) so if you've a suitable device you can directly connect to the GoPro over wifi and configure the settings in a very userfriendly method and then you only really have to choose mode and hit record on the camera which is easy enough. The GoPro app also shows a live preview of what the GoPro is seeing making it easy to adjust the fitting although it's delayed by a few seconds so may not be any use for live purposes. There's a wide array of settings allowing you to set resolution, framerate, field of view (super wide or normal), burst speed, timelapse speed, camera orientation etc. allowing you to set up the camera pretty much exactly as you want. The onboard wifi and being able to get a live feed from the camera saves having to buy an addon screen or wifi as I believe you have to on some of the previous models.
Video quality as you'd expect is generally extremely good with sharp, colourful video and great coverage thanks to the extremely wide field of view the camera offers. Sound is disappointing even with the smaller door, there's two with the camera one of which is for lighter conditions and one is for tougher conditions with the latter trading sound quality for durability. I didn't find the sound particularly great with either so I tend to just stick with the tougher door and add in my own audio afterwards.
The Gopro Hero 3 is compatible with the same mounts as previous cameras which is extremely useful as there's a good range of them offering a wide range of flexibility. The pricing is a bit high for what you get particularly with the helmet mount which is genuinely no more than one small bit of plastic and two straps but on the other hand it works well so I'd rather that than a cheap one which didn't work very well. I've been using the camera while mountain biking over proper rough stuff and there's never been a hint of the camera coming off. On putting the helmet on with the GoPro camera it does feel a bit heavy initially as the camera needs to be in its casing to use the mount but I find once I get going I don't normally notice it.
Unfortunately it's now onto the bad which is the camera's unreliability, I've been pleased with the results when the camera has worked properly but it lets me down on a regular basis which I might accept on a £50 camera but on a near £400 one it's completely unacceptable. I initially thought it was just me and I needed time to get used to the camera but I wasn't making any progress so I assumed I had a faulty unit only to find many other user reviews with exactly the same issues as me. I should note my camera does have the latest firmware (released in April I think) and when I initially bought it at Christmas time I also ensured I'd immediately updated it as a bit of paper in the box recommended.
I've tried a variety of different chargers but performance is inconsistent, sometimes I'll take the camera off the charger and it won't power up at all even though it registered it had power and was able to charge. Sometimes a battery pull will fix this, sometimes not which in the latter case means back on the charger and not being able to use the camera. I haven't tested if they've improved this yet as I don't trust the camera but originally if you took the camera off the charger and left it aside ready for use which is reasonable given li-ion batteries can last a good few months with their small amount of discharge, the battery would discharge very quickly and be dead within a couple of days. I now always leave it on the charger to avoid this happening.
The wifi is a great idea both for configuring the camera and using the little remote control (about the size of a keyfob, has the same buttons and screen as the camera itself) that comes in the box. It does seem a bit better with the latest firmware update but I find the wifi unreliable, sometimes the camera refuses to switch it on claiming it has done so in the settings but the blue light which indicates wifi is on doesn't light up and it can't be seen by wifi devices. The other issue is that it really hammers the batterylife to the degree I never leave it on instead only having it briefly powered up to check or configure settings then straight back off. This makes the remote control useless which is a shame as it feels well designed and would be very useful if you could leave wifi on. Batterylife is around two hours which is pretty usable particularly when the batteries are small and the camera gives an audible set of beeps when the battery is approaching empty but with wifi on I've had as little as half an hour out of it which is no use.
I've had other odd issues where the camera has ignored the settings and reset itself back to default and when the autoexposure has defaulted to far too fast a shutter speed and left with near dark photos as if I was in darkness rather than sunlight. I'm waiting to hear back from GoPro about the latter issue.
Edit - GoPro have replied confirming there is a bug in the firmware which means if you use the 0.5 or 1 second intervals with the timelapse mode, auto-exposure doesn't work which makes these settings unusable as over the longer period of time a timelapse is likely to take there's going to be variances in exposure. Until they fix the firmware, they advise using an interval of two seconds or more.
Firmware updates are surprisingly clumsy as they seem to rely on custom information being added such as the camera's serial number and the wifi settings to produce a custom firmware file to put onto the camera. The website allows you to do this automatically using java but my main PC systems wouldn't let it proceed as they were adamant the site was malware, the manual process is a bit clumsier but it does eventually work.
The obvious question is why not return it which in hindsight I wish I had, at the time I'd bought a couple of mounts for it which I couldn't return and given GoPro's reputation I thought it was just a rough launch with teething issues and given a few months they'd sort out the camera. However in its current state I personally think its unreliability just isn't acceptable, there's obviously differing views on how well the camera works with quite a few positive reviews so I'd recommend more so than usual to have a good look round at a range of reviews of this device to get a good feel for it. For the cost and a company which calls itself GoPro I find it unbelievable how poor the functionality of the camera is, I have used cheap £100 cameras that have worked reliably never mind something approaching £400. What's the most frustrating part is that when the camera does work it can produce some superb footage but it's extremely annoying when you either can't start recording because the camera has screwed up or you get home to find it's completely screwed it up. Since reviving the camera to try the new firmware, I've had it out for three runs - the first it did well on which was encouraging, the second it went completely wrong and reset itself at the start to completely different and unusable settings and on the third run something has gone wrong with the auto-exposure which has completely ruined large sections of the video.
I should perhaps also point out that I feel I'm experienced with imaging products, I currently have a micro 4/3 setup for video, an NEX setup for stills/video and a Nikon FX setup for stills. The issues with the GoPro3 I've had are all very basic ones rather than more complex issues with codecs or similar resulting from inexperience.
I've been looking into alternatives and the Sony Action Camera seems to be an obvious one but while the camera looks pretty good, the mounting options seem poor even just for mounting to a helmet which is unfortunate. They do have a bike mount but watching footage back from the GoPro you realise how much your body acts as suspension so footage from the handlebars would likely be unusably shaky.