There has been an explosion of rugged camcorders over the last few years, and the most famous specialist in the area of consumer action cams is undoubtedly GoPro. In fact, the company is fast becoming the Hoover of camcorders, the generic name for any camcorder aimed at extreme sports. See all camera reviews.
The HERO3 is the latest model, available in three different versions. We looked at the range-topping Black Edition, which itself comes in two variants – regular, and a Surf version that includes surfboard mounts and ties. Read our Contour ROAM 2 review too.
The Black Edition has the highest-resolution sensor of all HERO3 models, and with it the top shooting specification. See also Group test: what's the best digital camcorder?
It sports a 12 megapixel CMOS sensor that can capture motion video well above the usual high-definition 1080p standard, although the latter is still an option when required.
Amazingly, the GoPro will shoot at 4k resolution (4096 x 2160 pixels), but only at up to 15 frames per second, silent-film style. There is a 2.7k mode, too, which can shoot at up to 30 frames per second, as well as 1440p (1920 x 1440) that can run at up to 48 frames per second.
For shooting fast motion there's even a 240-frames-per-second option, albeit at a standard-definition size of 800 x 480 pixels.
GoPro has also joined the current camcorder trend by building in WiFi connectivity. The remote control bundled with the Black Edition uses this wireless link to provide control over a few functions, like switching shoot modes and toggling record on/off.
There’s also a GoPro iPhone app. The GoPro can act as a mini hotspot to which you can connect your iPhone, and then the app lets you configure settings remotely and start recording. There's a mini video preview, too. This is rather handy, as the standard GoPro bundle doesn't include an LCD display, although you can buy an attachable one for £80. This then also provides touchscreen control over settings as well.
Aside from the Black Edition Surf, all three HERO3 models come with essentially the same bundle of accessories, give or take a few fittings. This includes the signature GoPro waterproof housing, which in this case is rated waterproof to a depth of 60m. There are quick-release and J-Hook buckles, the latter for attaching the camera to a vertical surface.
There's a 3-way pivot, curved and flat adhesive mounts, although curiously nothing specifically aimed at helmet attachment. However, the HERO3 is a different size to its predecessors, and isn't compatible with older housings, even if some of the mounts will fit. The LCD panel accessory also comes with extra bits so you can still use the waterproof housing.
Shooting 4k video with a device as tiny as the GoPro seems slightly absurd, although image quality is decent – if a little jerky due to the low frame rate. The 2.7k or lower options will be more realistic for the majority of shooting scenarios.
Image quality is surprisingly good in most conditions. This is a fixed focus camera with no image stabilisation, but low light performance is commendable, and the image has plenty of detail.
Footage is recorded to a microSD card in MP4 format at up to 45Mbits/sec in Protune quality mode, and we had no problems editing footage in Adobe Premiere Pro CS6.
The lens is small, but in Wide mode it provides an extensive field of view which causes a noticeable fisheye appearance, but this is potentially an advantage for action footage where you want to see as much of the surroundings as possible.
We didn't notice any chromatic aberration, and if you enable the Black Edition's Protune option, footage is captured in a less-processed mode, akin to RAW mode in stills images, so even more of the colour is retained.
At 4k resolution, the data rate hits 50Mbits/sec, and compression artefacts are kept low.
Audio is not a strong point. It’s captured in mono only, at 48kHz sample rate, and the housing muffles the pickup considerably.
Overall, though, the GoPro HERO3’s new modes put it well ahead of its HERO2 predecessor. It also compares very well with other action cams such as the JVC ADIXXION, Dogcam MiniDVR HD, Panasonic HX-WA3, Sony bloggie Sport, Dogcam Bullet HD Wide and Samsung W200. The GoPro HERO3 is right at the top for image quality.
Review sample loaned by Scan Computers.