GoPro offers three versions of the Hero3 camcorder. For $199 there’s the Hero3: White Edition, which is essentially the original HD Hero camcorder in a new body. The Hero3: Silver Edition is available for $299, and—you guessed it—it’s more or less the HD Hero2 in a new body. The Hero3: Black Edition, the model reviewed here, is an entirely new camcorder with all new features and specs. At $399 it is the priciest of the bunch, but if you’re looking to upgrade over the Hero2, then it's the only option worth considering.

The Hero3 looks like a Hero2 that went on a diet.

Smaller is better, right? At least that’s GoPro’s thinking with the Hero3. The camcorder is 30% smaller and 25% lighter than its predecessors, but since all of the size reduction came by making the new camcorder thinner, you won’t see much difference if you stare at the Hero3 head-on. At least part of the size reduction comes from the Hero3’s new battery design, which takes up far less space than the long, thin battery that powered the Hero2.

If you have tons of mounts and grips from an earlier Hero camcorder, they should all still work fine with the Hero3.

The Hero3’s waterproof housing got a few design changes as well. The new case is smaller (so the Hero3 fits snugly), has an improved locking mechanism, and it features a flat-lens enclosure. By switching to a cover, rather than the convex one the Hero2’s waterproof case featured, the Hero3 is able to produce sharper video with less distortion underwater. As for the durability of the waterproof case, it has the same specs as the case from the Hero2: it can travel up to 197 feet underwater and it uses the same mount system. So, if you have tons of mounts and grips from an earlier Hero camcorder, they should all still work fine with the Hero3.

Great in low light and excellent at capturing motion, the Hero3: Black Edition is the leader when it comes to adventure-cam performance.

Thanks to its multiple frame rate options, the Hero3 was able to capture a variety of different aesthetics.

Adventure cams improved across the board this year, but GoPro’s top-of-the-line Hero3 is the best of them all. The Hero3: Black Edition recorded sharp video with smooth motion and very good low light performance—all three being areas that the Hero2 struggled with. The camcorder also kept noise levels low and handled colors decently, although some may prefer the more accurate tones captured by the Contour+2.

Motion and sharpness were the camcorder's true areas of excellence. Thanks to its multiple frame rate options, the Hero3 was able to capture a variety of different aesthetics. There’s a 60p mode that’s great for fast-paced action shots (which is probably what most GoPros are used for), and there’s even a 24p mode that gives you a more cinematic look. The camcorder’s high-res 4K an d 2.7K record modes may steal the headlines, but neither mode produced physically sharper or more detailed video than the Hero3's regular HD options. These recording options are more hype than useful.

Built-in WiFi and new record modes—including the ability to shoot 4K video—make the Hero3: Black Edition the most loaded adventure cam on the market.

Unfortunately, the Hero3: Black Edition's 4K video mode isn't as impressive as it sounds. Video shot in 4K is limited to a 15fps frame rate, which results in choppy motion capture that isn't useful for action sequences. The camcorder's 2.7K setting—still twice the size of 1080p HD content—is a bit smoother, but it still left us unimpressed overall. Video shot with the high-res modes didn't show any improvement in sharpness or detail, so we recommend sticking with the regular HD settings with the Hero3. They'll do you just fine.

Video shot with the high-res modes didn't show any improvement in sharpness or detail, so we recommend sticking with the regular HD settings with the Hero3

Even without the 4K and 2.7K record modes, the Hero3: Black Edition is loaded with a freakish amount of frame rate options and resolution settings. You can shoot 1080p with four different frame rates (60, 48, 30, or 24fps), and you can also shoot video at 720p, 1440p, or 960p with a variety of frame rates. A 240fps high-speed frame rate is available, but only records standard definition video, and the camcorder does not slow this video down in-camera. You need to do that yourself in post production in order to get a sleek slow-mo shot.

Let’s not forget all of the Hero3’s photo options. The camcorder can shoot 12-megapixel still images, and you can easily set it up to shoot time-lapse videos or a burst of shots to capture action sequences. Like the previous Hero2, the Hero3 has three different field of view options (wide, medium, and narrow), but for some record modes only the widest setting is available. The new ProTune setting on the Hero3: Black Edition makes use of higher recording bitrates and a neutral white balance setting, and the mode is clearly in place for pros. The idea is simple: if you’re a pro who will be editing your footage, you should consider using the ProTune mode. If you’re just shooting video and immediately uploading it to YouTube, then leave ProTune off.

Built-in WiFi and new record modes—including the ability to shoot 4K video—make the Hero3: Black Edition the most loaded adventure cam on the market.

The wireless remote control that ships with the Black Edition camcorder can also be helpful for changing settings, but even it is not nearly as good as using your smartphone.

Built-in WiFi is a must-have feature for all adventure cams these days, so it’s great GoPro included it on all versions of the Hero3. Still, I wasn't blown away by the way the system worked in conjunction with my iPhone 4S. The pairing process of connecting the Hero3 to my phone was easy, but GoPro's free iPhone app was slow to load and even crashed a few times while I worked with it. Worst of all, the remote viewfinder function suffers from a terrible delay—often two or three seconds—which means framing your shot with a smartphone won't happen in real time.

The GoPro app's saving grace is that it gives you quick access to the Hero3's settings, and that makes changing record modes very easy. If you can pair the Hero3 to your smartphone you'll probably never want to change settings using the physical buttons on the camcorder itself. The app is far better suited for this purpose. The wireless remote control that ships with the Black Edition camcorder can also be helpful for changing settings, but even it is not nearly as good as using your smartphone.

While reducing the size of the Hero3, GoPro did strike a few connectivity options from the camcorder. Gone is the 3.5mm mic jack that was found on the Hero2, and in it's place are two lonely ports: USB and Micro HDMI. If you want to record audio with an external mic you can buy a USB mic adapter from GoPro for an extra $20. If you’re used to using your GoPro for interviews where audio is very important, this change is not something you'll like.
If you’re looking to upgrade from your HD Hero2, the Hero3: Black Edition should give you plenty to be excited about. The enhanced video performance means your videos will be sharper, have more detail in low light, and moving subjects will look smoother than anything you shot with the Hero2. In addition to being both smaller and lighter than its predecessor, the Hero3’s built-in WiFi functions make it an easier camcorder to use, especially if you have a smartphone to pair it with.

Unfortunately, the smaller size of the Hero3 also means GoPro had to change a few connectivity options. There’s no mic jack on the Hero3, which is something we loved having on the Hero2, and the camcorder makes use of MicroSD cards rather than regular SD memory cards. Battery life on the Hero3: Black Edition was also severely diminished, especially when the WiFi feature was turned on.

The battery on the Hero3: Black Edition drained very quickly, especially when the WiFi feature was turned on.

Even with its otherworldly specs the Hero3: Black Edition does have some stiff competition in the adventure cam space. With its hard shell and water-resistant body, the Contour+2 is a more durable camcorder than the Hero3, and the tripod mount on the base of the camcorder, as well as its rotatable lens and laser sight, makes it an easier product to mount. The Contour+2 is a bulkier camcorder than the Hero3, and it has far less video and photo functions, but the camcorder still put up good numbers in our tests. But the Contour+2 has just enough flair and unique capabilities for it to be an attractive alternative.

The Hero3: Black Edition holds an unquestionable edge over the competition when it comes to video quality, particularly in low light, and this excellent performance alone makes it the best adventure cam we’ve reviewed so far.

Sharper video than the Hero2, but the 4K and 2.7K record modes didn’t look much better than regular HD.

The Hero3: Black Edition has a completely new sensor compared to what GoPro included on the Hero2, so it’s not surprising that the camcorder was able to improve the sharpness of its videos. What’s truly interesting, though, is that the Hero3’s high-res options—the 4K and 2.7K record modes—didn’t really enhance sharpness levels. Those modes simply produced videos that were larger in size than a traditional 1920 × 1080 full HD image.

For regular 1920 × 1080 video, the Black Edition of the Hero3 managed a horizontal sharpness of 700 lw/ph and a vertical sharpness of 750 lw/ph. Both of these numbers represent a significant increase over the Hero2 (600 lw/ph horizontal, 575 lw/ph vertical). In the 2.7K record mode the sharpness levels barely budged, increasing to around 725 lw/ph horizontal and 800 lw/ph vertical. The 4K record mode showed the same sharpness levels as the 2.7K mode. So, it’s not like these modes are capturing clearer images than the 1080p setting. But the 2.7K and 4K settings are recording physically larger videos than the 1080p mode. This lets you crop out portions of the 4K and 2.7K videos in order to create a 1080p video that has no loss in quality.

GoPro put its energy in improving low light performance on the Hero3, and the excellent results speak for themselves.

We’ve seen plenty of impressive low light sensitivity scores from adventure cams, but the Hero3: Black Edition is one of the best. The camcorder offers a special setting called ProTune that is designed for professionals who want to harness the full power of the camcorder’s capabilities. Shooting in low light, the ProTune setting makes a huge difference in sensitivity. The Hero3: Black Edition needed just two lux of light to record a usable image with ProTune engaged. Without ProTune, the camcorder still got by with ease, requiring just six lux of light to record an image with the same brightness levels.

Using ProTune does add more noise to your image, though, and it kind of drains the color from the recording by using a neutral white balance setting. The idea is you can get rid of some of this noise and enhance the colors in post production, so ProTune is really only recommended for people who are planning to edit their footage later. Either way, we like this bit of extra control that gives the user the ability to boost low light performance if needed.

In order to get a better idea of the Hero3’s overall color performance, we ran the camcorder’s low light color tests using a variety of different shooting modes. The basic 1080/30p mode without ProTune turned on did the best: 3.99 color error with 92% color saturation. Those numbers are a bit better than the competition, so they’re very good for an adventure cam.

For those who are curious, the Hero3’s color error went up to 4.24 with ProTune turned on while recording 1080/30p video. The saturation level also dropped down to 83% using that mode. Shooting 2.7K and 4K video, both with ProTune, resulted in similar numbers as the 1080/30p ProTune recording. Basically, using ProTune mutes the colors a bit, but that’s all by design. The mode is meant for you to make color changes in post production, so accuracy and saturation levels aren’t that important here.

The Hero3 is better than its predecessors, but it's battery didn't last nearly as long.

The Hero3 has a completely different battery pack than earlier Hero camcorders, and it seems like GoPro forgot to infuse this new battery with an extra jolt of power. The camcorder lasted for just 92 minutes of continuous recording in our test—and that was with the WiFi feature turned off. With WiFi engaged, or whenever we adjusted settings a lot, the camcorder drained its battery with extreme prejudice. In comparison, the Sony Action Cam lasted for more than 160 minutes in our battery life test, and the Hero2 lasted for around 140 minutes.

On a more positive note, the Hero3's lens has less distortion than the Hero2, so you don't get nearly as much of a fish-eye effect with the camcorder. The angle of view is still extremely wide, and we measured the recording angle at 124 degrees in our test. Going across the center of the screen, that field of view is the same as what the Hero2 was capable of, but since the Hero3 warps less at the edges, there is a significant difference in what video from the two camcorders will look like.

Meet the testers

Jeremy Stamas

Jeremy Stamas

Managing Editor, Video

@nematode9

Jeremy is the video expert of our imaging team and Reviewed.com's head of video production. Originally from Pennsylvania and upstate NY, he graduated from Bard college with a degree in film and electronic media. He has been living and working in New England since 2005.

See all of Jeremy Stamas's reviews
Jeremy Stamas

Jeremy Stamas

Managing Editor, Video

@nematode9

Jeremy is the video expert of our imaging team and Reviewed.com's head of video production. Originally from Pennsylvania and upstate NY, he graduated from Bard college with a degree in film and electronic media. He has been living and working in New England since 2005.

See all of Jeremy Stamas's reviews

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