GoPro has been leading the field in action cameras for a while now, despite spirited attempts by contenders including Ion Air Pro, Swann Freestyle HD and Contour Roam. The Hero 3 is now split into three different flavours — starting with the budget White Edition, then the Silver Edition, and with the Black Edition at the top of the range. This one is the Silver Edition and, according to the spec sheet, it is essentially the HD Hero 2 slimmed down and with Wi-Fi built in, but there have been further refinements that we’ll cover in a bit.
The new case looks similar to the last version but its flat, square lens window solves the problem that the old version had with focus in underwater footage. It also has a slightly raised surround that means you’re less likely to put scratches in it as we did our Hero 2 when mounted to skis. The catch on top is also vastly improved, now with a much more reassuring action and a sprung locking mechanism to keep the sensitive electronic bits safely inside.
The Silver Edition comes with Wi-Fi capability built in, meaning that you no longer have to buy a separate ‘Wi-Fi BacPac’ unit to bolt on the back. This is turned on via the new button on the side and lets you use it with the Wi-Fi remote (sold separately) or with the GoPro App that turns your smartphone into a remote with viewfinder. However, at the time of testing GoPro hadn’t released the firmware update required to connect with the app.
Out of the housing, the camera unit itself is much improved – it now looks like a proper bit of tech, rather than the plasticcy toy of previous iterations. It has a knurled rubber edge and is equipped with bigger, easier-to-push buttons, translating to easier operation with the case on too. In the name of miniaturisation, the SD card slot has been replaced with a Micro SD card slot. A six-element glass lens with 170 degree field of view produces a wide enough picture to capture all the action.
new video options
The menu system has had an upgrade, with subdivisions making it quicker to find the setting you’re trying to change, whether that’s setting it to record upside down, or changing the frame rate. There is also the new Protune video setting available (this is now available for the Hero 2 via a firmware update). For the more serious ‘mounted videographer’ this records video at a higher bit rate. It produces a flatter image that looks dull upon first inspection, but produces professional results when run through a colour grading process thanks to the extra picture information recorded.
As it’s essentially a revised HD Hero 2, the footage is up to the same standard as its predecessor, producing detailed 1080p footage at 30fps, or 720p at 60fps, if you’re planning to convert to slo-mo. Colours are accurate and changes in exposure are handled well. Its 11MP snaps are full of detail, too. If you want better than this, you’ll have to wait until closer to Christmas for the Black Edition which which produces footage up to a massive 4k resolution, will do 720p at 120fps for even better slo-mo and comes with a WiFi remote control.
The new Hero 3 inherits its predecessors’ mounting system so owners of previous Heros can bolt straight onto their old kit. The new design’s lower bulk brings more benefit than just lower weight – the thinner form means it can be positioned in much tighter corners and has a larger range of motion on top of its mounts. Great for getting creative.
The new, thinner camera still has BacPac accessories, the most notable of which is the LCD Touch BacPac (£80) which lets you use it as a regular touchscreen camera, even with the case on. This lets you line up your shots easily and review the video and photos you’ve taken. It’ll be coming on our next holiday for sure.
The latest iteration of the leading action camera builds on its already rock-solid reputation. Thinner, lighter and with more features it won’t disappoint seasoned users and will delight first time owners. It’s built for action but is even more refined than before – its slim body, improved controls and built-in Wi-Fi make it a must for mid-budget action afficionados, however we suspect GoPro HD Hero 2 owners would do well to hold out for the Black Edition.
Review by Jools Whitehorn