Pros: Availability, Mounting Options, Video Quality, Ruggedness
Cons: Battery life, Software Stability, User interface, Price,
Owning a GoPro is the best way to experience the perfect dichotomy. It’s Jekyll and Hyde, incompatible with it own purpose at times, and demonstrates an opposite duality in a negative sense.
GoPro’s overly simplistic interface is at odds with it’s illogical menu layout and cumbersome interface. The rugged construction masks inconsistent software bugs causing crashes or glitches. Battery life at times can be ridiculously short and re-charging lacks flexibilty.
Even the first “Out of Box” experience is somewhat sour, as the camera needs to be updated immediately via the internet before use.
But, it gets the job done. For now….
This review is for the White Edition GoPro Hero3, the poor man’s GoPro. I’ve had this unit for nearly six months now.
The GoPro comes in a large package that displays the product prominently in a mounted position. The overly expensive packaging, provides a premium feel to the product over its competitors’ blister packs and simple cardboard boxes. Kudos to the luxury feel, but it feels a little over the top, although some folks might view it as a bonus. But quality packaging doesn’t always mean a quality product….
As you unpack the GoPro, the excitement builds, you envisage yourself jumping out of airplanes, swimming with whales, and doing the impossible – just like the videos. The hype machine has been implanted in your head and it’s steaming ahead, but, and a big but…
You find this black card in the box with a large exclamation mark on it, that says; “Before using your HERO3 camera, a product update is required. Please visit gopro.com/update”.
Whoa, good thing I wasn’t expecting to use this on Christmas morning at Grandma’s, or prep it in a foreign country on a trip, or in the parking lot at the Sporting goods store where I bought it. Whew, thank goodness all extreme sports folks are internet nerds and connected – and the first thing they do with any product is sit down at the computer and update the firmware via internet!
The Hero3 is akin to those frozen breads (dough) that you buy, and then take home and bake in the oven. You take home an unfinished product, and then have to “finish” it. The only difference is that the frozen bread manufacturer is actually honest, and tells you this on their packaging.
And the update process isn’t that simple either… It’s a pain. You’ll have to follow the instructions carefully. Those that aren’t computer savy, need not apply. Obviously, it’s assumed that since you make your own digital videos, you already know this. Beginners, go elsewhere. I’ve looked over the outer box packaging closely, and I still can’t find anything that alludes to “Internet required for use”. Good thing the Hero3 isn’t a food product…. You’d have starved to death.
It’s the year 2013. We have tablets that run for 10 hours or more, phones that stay charged for 30, SLR’s that shoot HD for hours on end. But, the GoPro comes with a pathetic single watt hour battery – and no external charger!
Once again, you’re expected to provide your own tech support and come up with a method of charging the device. The box sort of alludes to this, as it says “Charge via USB”. If you don’t have a USB port nearby, you’ll have to buy the optional charger or an aftermarket one. At least Pillsbury told you it needed an oven to bake with.
To make matters worse, the battery can only be charged while in the camera. Want to carry some spare batteries on a trip and top them off while using the camera? No can-do. It’s ridiculous that you can’t charge batteries externally out of the GoPro. Batteries must be charged, one at a time, sequentially inside the camera. Nearly every modern DSLR, or mainstream digital camera comes with an external battery charger. At the time of writing this review, GoPro still did not have an external charger available. This is the single worst compromise of the Hero3 -the inability to batch charge.
Battery life varies considerably with mode and operating temperature. If the camera is used in warm conditions, around 25 degrees celsius, then expect as much as 6 plus hours of recording time at 1080p. Inversely, if you like snow sports, then you’re in for a shock. While snowboarding, at temps of negative 5 degrees celsius, battery life drops to a mere 45 minutes. You’ll want to take the Hero3 off its mount and keep next to your body while going up the lift. Keeping it warm with your body will extend life to around 75 minutes.
The optional add on battery pack is a must for snow sports, as it doubles filming time, but also increases weight and cost.
The interface is obviously evolutionary from simpler times, and not revolutionary. The engineering constraints of creating a robust case with waterproof buttons is challenging, and GoPro has pulled off an adequate job. The buttons are of a proven design and have been retained from previous models. Unfortunately, each button is a momentary single switch, which allows for minimal input options. There is a third button for turning on wi-fi, but it is not mapped for in-menu use. What a waste.
Re-engineering for a single two way or four way button would open up easier menu transition possibilities. I haven’t met a single GoPro user that hasn’t had to scroll through menus over and over because they hit the wrong button too many times. The layout of the menus is also somewhat illogical, as sometimes you must access submenus for items that are changed often, and then go back out of them. Either way, it’s a mess and a throwback to those classic early 1990’s interfaces.
The touchscreen add-on, which is pricey, seems to alleviate this issue – but at a cost! The touchscreen will increase weight and size, and reduce your already pathetic battery life in half. There has to be a better way.
Wow, this is a huge slap in the face to Hero3 buyers. After you’ve had to endure a firmware update before first use (which you assumed fixed any issues), you’ll discover there are still glitches to be found.
At least a dozen times, while snowboarding my Hero3 would lock up, and require battery removal to reset. Total PITA. I finally discovered that it was caused by me not waiting for the camera to fully boot up (like 3 seconds), even though it said it was ready. If you press the record button before the battery icon appears, then sometimes it will lock up or put you into a different mode, or shut down the unit, etc.
The extra add-on battery pack sometimes confuses the GoPro’s battery management software. In theory, the add-on battery is drained first, then the internal one – at least that’s what GoPro claims. Sometimes, the external battery gets drained, but the GoPro gets confused and believes the internal one is also dead, forcing automatic shutdown. Removing the external battery, and resetting the internal one seems to fix this. Once again, you have to completely re-boot the camera while in the field. Is this software? Hardware? Who knows?
Just troll the net for other reviews and forum conversations. I’m not alone here. Software concerns are common across the entire Hero3 lineup; white, silver, & black.
Wi-fi is a mixed bag. The software is rudimentary and in functionality doesn’t come close to replacing the add-on screen. It’s great for setting up a shot, determining angles, or turning on the camera. But that’s about it. GoPro missed a huge opportunity here, as you can’t view videos, delete them, edit them etc. But maybe that was the point…
The Wi-fi also increases drain on battery life, it’s easy to turn on (side button), but a pain to shut down as you have to access the menus. Feels like an afterthought.
Interfacing with your Android or Apple device is hit and miss for folks. I’ve had no problems using a Nexus 7, although you will have to follow instructions carefully. Pairing is not for the technophobe and requires experimentation.
The greatest single asset of the GoPro system are the mounting options. Mister Woodman has done his homework and has realized that it’s about what the camera sees and not the actual camera (no kidding). Being able to “get” the picture is more important than all else. GoPro has a good presence in Best Buy and many sporting goods chains. Their accessories are more readily available than all others. Being the common denominator for action cameras is GoPro single biggest asset. Some stores are excellent at maintaining a decent accessories selection, some are horrible. Either way, expect to spend another couple hundred dollars on mounts, poles, doo dads, etc. for capturing those rare moments. Males in particular love this aspect, as it’s like a grown-up tinker toy. He who has the most “pieces” wins.
Many of the components on the system are expendable, and replacements available. This includes; seals, doors, lenses, and anything else that might break – excluding the actual camera itself. Being able to scratch or smash the front casing lens – and then replace it for $15 is something one must consider. Other camera systems will require you to buy an entirely new case for $50. GoPros biggest advantage should be lower long term operating costs for those that use it often (50hrs+ per year).
Most folks will purchase the tripod adapter and use the many aftermarket accessories available. Personally I like to use the quick attach mounts (GoPro proprietary) as they make changing angles a snap.
Unlike the silver or black editions, the white edition does not have Protune mode. Protune provides a little bit more video info for post processing. This supposedly puts it at a disadvantage for serious videophiles. Regardless, 99% of the videos that I create are uploaded to Youtube or the Cloud. Since Youtube will butcher the quality anyways, I see no real advantage to Protune unless you’re creating semi commercial work for private or controlled viewing. For the average Joe, the video quality is decent, and can be tweaked quite a bit with a decent video editor. The quality of the action on screen and subject material is far more important than pixel peeping.
Field of view (FOV) is a bit disappointing, as the 1080p setting feels almost like a zoom lens compared to the 720p setting. This is another reason to upgrade to the Black model if you’ve got the cash.
Either way, the GoPro is meant for catching action video in rugged scenarios. Don’t expect to create artistic scenes with shallow FOV. Get a DSLR with a fast prime lens for that.
The Hero3 uses micro SD cards, which are no longer premium priced. It’s best to get a 32gb or at least 16gb card for capturing those rare memories as 1080p bandwidth will gobble up space.
GoPro advises to use high speed class 10 cards. Take this advice seriously. I’ve found that using cheaper off brand class 4 cards in cold weather causes problems. In snowy weather conditions, the slower cards had far more file errors than class 10 cards. Don’t go generic either, stick with a trusted brand.
The GoPro Hero3 white and silver editions exist merely to occupy a lower price-point category. If you’ve got the cash, I would suggest opting for the Black edition. Be prepared to spend an extra $200 or so for extra accessories to actually make the cameras practicable. This $200 figure includes the cost of extra SD cards, spare batteries, and mounting hardware.
As it stands today, the GoPro is the de-facto consumer action camera. Nick Woodman has worked hard to bring his vision to reality, and has also ridden to riches while piggybacking on the social media wave (YouTube, Facebook, etc.). GoPro cameras have allowed folks to share experiences like never before over the internet. Woodman Labs promotes strongly which is evident with the GoPro logo plastered everywhere at sporting events.
But, I fear the days of GoPro are numbered. There are more and more alternative choices appearing on the market – which are cheaper, easier to use, and offer the same or better video quality. It’s only a matter of time when the large cell phone manufacturers decide to branch away from making pocket glass big screen TV’s and turn their attention to the still growing action camera market. We’ve reached saturation in touchscreen smartphones, the next step is the action market. I’m sure we’ll see smaller cell phones that are as rugged, with better battery life, and light years ahead in functionality than the GoPro.
Yes, it sounds like I’m ranting – and I am. But it’s only a matter of time before the competition will catch up and surpass GoPro. The very niche that Mr. Woodman created, and dominated, will be stolen out from under his feet. Mr. Woodman, you have been warned.