My Notes on the GoPro Hero 3 Black Camera

If you’ve read my blog recently, you’ve probably noticed that I’ve been using a GoPro camera quite a lot lately. Everything from aerial photos, to recording presentations, to recording apps on my devices, to time-lapse videos.

I think this camera is awesome! It’s really pretty amazing… While it might seem “bare bones” without a view finder or zoom capabilities, it is very rugged, it takes great still photos (12MP), and even better video (WVGA at 240 FPS all the way to 4K at 15 FPS). It excels in bright light and action shots, and is a very versatile and impressive camera. You can also use the GoPro app on your iOS, Android, or Windows Phone device as a remote viewfinder and controller, which is very cool. Though the GoPro is not without its quirks/annoyances.
h3_inhousing_45_black

Bottom Line:

Awesome camera. I want multiple of them. For video, either 1080p or 720p video is more than adequate for most circumstances. Audio capture is okay, but it’s better if you have an external mic and can sync audio in post-production. While 4K video is seriously awesome, it kills the battery very quickly, has HUGE file sizes, and isn’t my primary need. Still images look great, although there is significant fisheye distortion from the 170 degree lens. While this looks fantastic in a lot of cases, sometimes we don’t want it… Luckily we can get rid of the fisheye distortion with Photoshop!

The camera has some learning curve, but the output is very good, and it is very portable and compact (though, you may end up with more accessories that take up more space).

Notes:

Here are some notes about the camera, mostly focused on using it as a lightweight travel camera:

Images & Videos Produced:

  • Very good quality
  • Images and videos look great in decent light, but the camera doesn’t function well in very low-light situations.
  • Videos Must be edited – output files are broken into multiple .mp4 files that are uncompressed (HUGE)
  • Must be converted to H.264 or other codec before you can upload them to YouTube successfully, otherwise they “fail in processing”.
  • You can do all the editing and conversion in Adobe Premiere and After Effects. GoPro has their own Cineform video editing software, but I prefer Premiere.

Pros:

  • Amazing video & image quality
  • Wide angle lens – great for capturing landscapes or presentation stage/projector (You only need the camera to be about 6-10 feet away for a decent stage coverage area)
  • Great in both indoor and outdoor environments
  • Small, very portable

Cons:

  • No view finder/lcd screen, though you can use a mobile device as a viewfinder
  • No wall charger included, however you can charge it by plugging the USB adapter into an iPad (or other USB) power supply
  • Relatively short battery life when capturing video
  • Video files are huge (though it is because they are such high quality video)

Quirks & Annoyances:

  • If you unplug it from your computer without ejecting, it will lock up the camera. You have to remove the memory card, then remove the battery and reinstall both before the camera will reboot.
  • You can record video while plugged into a power source – However, you MUST start recording before you plug it in, otherwise it won’t let you record while plugged into computer or wall.
  • If you improperly shut down the camera, the most recently recorded video may be corrupt. This can happen if the camera is dropped or jarred from a crash. If this happens, just re-insert the memory card, then reboot the camera. It will go into recover mode, and fix the corrupted file. If auto-recover doesn’t restore your video, you *might* be able to recover the video from the memory card, but there is no guarantee… this has happened to me.
  • The camera does not automatically turn off. You must manually power off the camera when not in use. This can kill your battery unexpectedly if you don’t power off, however you can also change this behavior in the GoPro settings.
  • With the battery pack connected and the “frame” mount connected, you might get a “hum” in the audio – you can reduce this in Adobe Audition, but if you have an external mic, then you don’t have to worry. I’m still not 100% sure if it was the camera/backpack, or something else in the room that caused the audio interference.
  • Let the camera finish whatever it is doing when you are done recording. Don’t force a power-off, otherwise you might lose whatever is in memory buffer on the camera – I know this from experience & recently lost about 20 minutes of video.
  • Opening the waterproof case for the first time is trickier than you might imagine. Once you know how to do it, it’s really easy.
  • Although the camera is supposed to support 64 Gig memory cards, I strongly advise not using anything greater than 32 Gigs. I ran into some issues where the GoPro corrupted a 64 Gig Sandisk memory card to the point that it was unrecognizable by a computer or by the camera. After scouring the web and contacting technical support, I had to replace the card. It turns out the particular camera firmware version was not compatible with the file format for my memory card. Since switching to 32 Gig cards, I haven’t had any problems.

Charge Time:

  • Approximately 2 hours for a full charge from completely dead. This will take longer with battery BacPac – yes, this was very unscientific, as were my battery tests

Battery Tests:

  • 720p, 60FPS, WiFi Disabled: Approx 1 hour (2 iterations)
  • 720p, 60FPS, WiFi Disabled, with battery BacPac: Approx 90 mins (though the BacPac was not fully charged) – it is advertised to double battery life.

These are more than sufficient battery times for my normal circumstances.

Essential Accessories:

  • Micro SD Memory Card – Required, it does not come with one. I reccommend 32 Gig cards, and get multiple cards so you can quickly swap them in and out.
  • Tripod mount – (if you want it on a tripod.) There is only the custom GoPro mount in the package, however you can use part of the package display as an inexpensive stand)
  • “The Frame” mount - The only mounting option that comes with it is the waterproof enclosure. This isn’t great for presentations b/c you get better audio quality by just having the camera exposed. This also comes with a much needed lens cap.
  • Battery BacPac - Extend the life of the GoPro with a secondary battery, although if you use this, you can’t attach the LCD back.
  • Some sort of bag to put everying in. There are a lot of parts and accessories, although not all of them are essential to carry around with you.

Non-essential accessories:

These would be nice to have, but you can get by without them:

  • Wall Charger – I use an iPad power supply… just plug in the USB adapter to the iPad “wall wart”.
  • LCD Back Panel – I did not get one of these, I was fine just pointing it and shooting. However, you cannot use this with the battery BacPac.

Side by Side Comparison:

Here is a sample where I was recording one of Raymond Camden’s presentations. Compared with a Sony Bloggie (at exact same distance). Bloggie feels “closer”, but has worse video quality, worse in poor lighting, and doesn’t capture the full experience of the presentation. This is without any color correction or post processing other than resizing the image:

gopro_comparison

Other Sample Images:

original

DCIM103GOPRO DCIM103GOPRO DCIM103GOPRO

Conclusion:

My wishlist for the GoPro is that I wish it took higher than 12 MP photos.  12 MP is actually great, but *I NEEDZ MOAR P1XELS*. I also wish there was a way to interchange the lens with a non-fisheye lens, but otherwise I love this camera. Yes, I would buy another one in a hearbeat!

  • Axel Schreiner

    There is a LCD back panel with touch screen for the GoPro Hero 3.

  • Jen

    Hey – thanks for a great review. Just bought one and looking forward to trying it out – just wondering how much video you get for your 32GB card. What runs out first – battery or memory??

    • http://tricedesigns.com/ Andrew Trice

      Battery will definitely die before the memory card. I don’t remember exact numbers, but I think an hour of 1080p video is about 10 gigs.

  • Jeff Marshall

    I have an LCD bakpac from the previous model Gopro, but it gets warm and kills the Gopro3 Silver battery fast. Any ideas why? Do I need to upgrade my LCD? It isn’t a touch screen as far as I know.

  • Johan Fechter

    Hi there, my GoPro Hero3 has sound but no video, I don’t know what I did wrong but cannot fix it. Could you please advice!

    • http://tricedesigns.com/ Andrew Trice

      Sorry, I’ve never seen that happen. Have you tried playing the video back on another computer? It could be a computer related issue.

  • Tim Waldron

    Thanks for the info Andrew. One question, what Frame Rate, Resolution and Wide/medium/narrow do you use when filming your presentations?

    • http://tricedesigns.com/ Andrew Trice

      1080p @ 30 fps is usually sufficient. 1080 gives you high enough resolution. I wouldn’t go over 30 fps b/c file sizes become massive. It’s not for action sports, so that’s OK.

      • http://blogs.netapp.com/tim Tim Waldron

        Thanks Andrew.

  • Harrison Earl

    Hi Andrew :) I was just wondering as I’m going on a trip to Switzerland soon and doing loads of activities with my Gopro what the best battery saving option is? Gopro recomend 1080p 30fps but I was wondering weather it was better to keep the camera turned on and just film in short burst, film in short bursts but turn camera off in between bursts or just keep the camera rolling the whole time ? Thank you :)

    • http://tricedesigns.com/ Andrew Trice

      Get extra batteries. If the camera is running, it is eating battery life, regardless of whether you’re actually recording. It will eat the battery faster if you’re capturing either images or video. I have 4 batteries for mine, so I can easily swap them out when one dies. AT 1080p, you’ll only get from 60-90 minutes of video. It will definitely last longer if you cut it off when you’re not using it, but I would spend the extra little bit of money to have both backup batteries and memory cards for redundancy.

      • Harrison Earl

        Thank you :3 the only thing I’m scared of os it running out while I’m rafting or cannyon like in the water and not being able to change battery, any tips ? Or is this just a just go for it and see how long it lasts lol hahha

        • http://tricedesigns.com/ Andrew Trice

          Just go for it! :) I have used this surfing, and I only recorded when I was actually paddling for or riding a wave, I turned it off in between to save battery, and it lasted a few hours. If you’re rafting, you can record when you’re going through rapids, and stop recording in the calm areas. Bring some backups in a waterproof bag/case though, so you can swap out while you’re taking a break from rafting.

          • Harrison Earl

            Thank you very much ! I’m looking forward to it :D

  • Bhavik

    Hi Andrew,

    For a rafting trip would you recommend shooting video at 1080P, 30 fps or 1080P 60 fps? I know the file size for 60 fps will be larger…but is the battery life also affected when shooting at 60 fps? I read that 60 fps might be good when editing the video and making slow motion videos…but I am not really sure if it will make a big difference for me when I am rafting.

    Also, have you tried the simulataneous video and photo mode. Does that eat more battery too when compared to just video?

    • http://tricedesigns.com/ Andrew Trice

      60 FPS will eat the battery faster, but the footage will be better for action shots – smoother and you can slow it down without it feeling unnatural. If you’re just going to post on facebook or save it for yourself, 60 fps will be fine. If you want pro-quality results and editing, I would go for 60 fps. I do not use the video + photo mode at the same time. My assumption is that it would eat the battery faster, but I have not thoroughly tested it. I have heard that when using video+photo mode the photos don’t look quite as good as they do normally.

  • Jasmine McKeever

    Great explanations…I experienced my videos deleting just like you said so they’re possibly corrupted? I lost half of my footage from today and am extremely disappointed so could you tell me what to do to try to get it back?

    • http://tricedesigns.com/ Andrew Trice

      Google “GoPro footage recovery” – there are a bunch of articles out there. There are 2 approaches, the first is to reboot the gopro into recovery mode (doesn’t always work), and the second is to use recovery software to extract the un-indexed footage data from the memory card. I used a free/open source program to do it, but unfortunately I don’t remember the name of it.

  • Lord Haw Haw

    I know this is late but in response to your request for MOAR P1XELS – there’s a reason for that. Video and stills have different output needs. If you do the calculations, 12MP is 4000×3000. 4000 is very close to 4K, the maximum resolution of the video and that’s no co-incidence, 4K Gopro video is effectively 24/25/30 still photos every second with the top and bottom chopped off. Of course, a camera can always take a higher bunch of pixels and reduce them, giving mega mega pixels for stills and matching standards for video. The Canon DSLRs do this, for example, but this reduction needs a lot of processing power to not look terrible, with aliasing and moire and all those horrible artifacts. The early Canons (and current prosumer models), before they had better processors and realised that a significant number of their DSLR cameras were being sold to video dudes, had awful aliasing and moire. The filmmaker had to make sure nobody was wearing a checked shirt at a particular distance, had to make sure they didn’t film brick walls and had to put up with glistening aliased awfulness on distant leaves. In fact, in some video resolutions put out by the Gopro you can see this – where the Gopro has reduced this 4kx3k image sensor output to a smaller resolution. It actually looks worse in resolutions, even lower ones, that for whatever reason (high frame rates) require more processing power. So, I’d rather have the Gopro working optimally for video with photos being a nice bonus. Your mileage may differ. On the bright side, Moore’s law means we will have more processing power for our buck (and it’s sometimes easy to forget a Gopro costs in the low hundreds as compared to the thousands for a half-decent semi pro video setup) so Gopro boffins may help out here. On the other hand, I’d personally prefer it if they put more of the processing, design and hardware budget into improved video, providing a larger sensor, better low-light performance, less rolling shutter (that wobbling effect that’s always there but most noticable on certain fast moving subjects/camera positions in certain light levels (shutter speeds, which are not user adjustable) and slower frame rates. Or a better interface. Although the interface has improved a lot from 3 to 4, it would be nice to be able to read it in anything other than full sunlight and an 18 year olds 20/20 vision…

  • Lord Haw Haw

    Oh, in case anyone is wondering about Bhavik’s question below, 60 FPS at 1080p usually looks better, sometimes even if you edit it back to 30FPS. This isn’t always true, and can seem counter intuitive, but the rolling shutter/jello effect is less (plus you always have the option of half speed slomo – just about anything looks better in slomo :-)). This distortion effect is awful when it appears. You can see it in videos taken whilst driving, if the Gopro is being jostled or isn’t stabilised and the cliche rolling shutter look is when you record telephone poles going past a train window. They will look slanted forward (or is is backward on a gopro?) and is caused because the sensor is not read all at once, the top of the pole (or is the bottom? I don’t remember as I have this on a couple of my cameras) is read first so it’s at one position when recorded, where the bottom has moved on by the time it’s image is captured. I can live with the telephone pole thing most of the time (although I hate it) but rolling shutter can really ruin footage, making the image look like it’s wobbling. I realise I possibly do this more than many people (it’s my job) but I try to sort out some sort of stabilisation or at least a solid mount for any Gopro footage. It’s also responsible for making the propellors on aircraft look like they’re melting when the speed of the prop and the shutter speed combine with the sensor readout in a particular way. Of course, as the Gopro has a relatively small sensor (which is one of the reasons you don’t have to bother with focus – combined with the wide angle lens – but I won’t get into that) so it would be much worse if the sensor was made larger and everything else remained the same – the distance between the top and the bottom of the bit of silicon and chemicals that captures the image is comparitively small, compared to pro cameras.
    It might seem strange for me to be using Gopros when there are so many (more expensive) cameras I can use but, despite my whining over the last couple of posts, they are amazing. Especially for the price. And because they are so cheap they are easier to risk. Plus the waterproof housing, small size (good for 360/VR stuff), lack of attention seeking, high resolutions etc.

  • Jacob Thompson

    Get good footage in low light conditions with the Sidekick – the perfect GoPro Light

    http://www.lightandmotion.com/landing/sidekick/