GoPro Hero3+ Black Edition
GoPro Hero cameras are among the hottest selling products in most camera and electronics stores. With the image quality reportedly improving significantly with the new generation models, I thought it’s time to try one and see whether it’s capable of capturing serious photos or if it’s just a fun toy.
GoPro Hero cameras were designed primarily as compact, action video cameras that could be easily attached to people, places or things where traditional video cameras couldn’t be used; they’re also referred to as point-of-view (POV) cameras. In addition, they have the ability to capture still images. Their overall image quality has been steadily increasing with each new generation and the newest, top-of-the line model, the Hero3+ Black Edition, is the best to date. Although I occasionally shoot video, this review isn’t about its video capabilities. What I want to concentrate on is its still photographic capabilities. I chose the GoPro Hero3+ Black Edition to review because it has the most features and supposedly the best image quality of the three current models.
Because of its small size (58 x 39 x 20 mm – 74 g) there aren’t any control knobs or dials, just three buttons, including the shutter release button and four little LCD lights. There’s a very small (13 x 17 mm) black and white LCD screen on the front of the camera for viewing the settings. Almost all of the camera’s settings are menu-driven, using the shutter release button on the top and the Power/Mode button on the front to scroll though the menu on the small LCD screen. The third button on the side operates the camera’s Wi-Fi capabilities, which is really handy for remote control of the camera, via the GoPro Wi-Fi Remote (included with the Hero3+ Black Edition, or a $99.99 accessory with the other models) or with the free GoPro App and either a tablet or smart phone (both iOS and Android versions). On the left side is a Mini-USB port, Micro HDMI port and a MicroSD card slot; all three protected by a single plastic cover.
In Photo mode there’s a choice of three resolutions that still photos can be captured with: 12MP, 7MP and 5 MP. Any of the three resolutions can also be used in Photo Burst and Time Lapse modes as well. In Photo mode the camera can be set to take a single photo or continuous photos, either 3, 5 or 10 photos per second. The Burst mode allows for the capture of up to 30 photos in one second. The Time Lapse mode has several time interval options, including 0.5, 1, 2, 5, 10, 30 and 60 seconds, that allow the capture of a series of photos that can later be processed into a time lapse video.
The Hero3+ Black Edition has a six-element aspherical lens with a fixed f/2.8 aperture. When in Photo mode there’s a choice of two fields of view (FOV), either Ultra Wide/Wide (149.2° or approximately equivalent to a 14mm lens) or Medium (115.7° or approximately equivalent to a 21mm lens), but your selection is partially determined by the image resolution that’s chosen; Ultra Wide only with 12MP and 7MP and Medium with only 7MP or 5MP. Since the lens has a fixed aperture of f/2.8, there isn’t a lot of depth-of-field in the images, which limits its versatility. There’s definitely barrel distortion when using the Ultra Wide FOV, but when using Medium FOV the barrel distortion is greatly reduced. Overall image sharpness is very good in the centre of the image, but falls off as you go to the edges of the frame, less so with the Medium FOV than the Ultra Wide FOV.
Other than setting the photo resolution and choosing the FOV, there isn’t much else that the photographer can control on the Hero3+ Black Edition – it pretty much is Auto everything. By default it takes an overall average exposure meter reading, but you can switch to a spot meter if the situation calls for that. Since the aperture is fixed at f/2.8, the camera automatically chooses the shutter speed and ISO. The camera’s auto focus only and the photographer has no control over the auto focus point. Even composing the picture can be an issue, since the camera has no rear LCD screen or viewfinder. If you want to see what your composition will be or review your images immediately after taking them, then you need to either purchase the LCD Touch Bac Pac ($99.99) or download the GoPro App and use a tablet or smart phone (the GoPro Wi-Fi Remote won’t work for this). The LCD Touch BacPac is a removable LCD touch screen that attaches to the back of the GoPro. It makes it easy to frame your shots and play back content, and allows for convenient touch-screen control of all camera settings. The GoPro app works well and has all the features of the LCD Touch BacPac, but it does mean carrying around another piece of gear.
The GoPro Hero3+ Black Edition camera itself isn’t waterproof, but it does come with a waterproof housing that offers protection to depths of 40 m (131’). This housing is essential to the versatility of the GoPro system and one of the reasons why it’s so popular; you can use it just about anywhere, under any conditions. There are a number of other accessories, like mounts and an articulating arm, that come with the camera and a huge array of optional accessories available, both from GoPro and other third-party companies. One optional accessory that I feel is pretty much a necessity is GoPro’s Tripod Mounts kit ($11.99); it will allow you to mount your GoPro camera to a tripod (it should come standard with the camera).
Although the GoPro Hero3+ Black Edition has a lot of limitations, I was impressed with its overall image quality and versatility. It definitely is not going to be your everyday still photography camera, but in certain situations and locations it might mean the difference between getting the photos or not. It’s not a toy camera, but it is sure fun to use.