Whether on surf, snow or sand, GoPro cameras have been synonymous with daredevil first-person acrobatics, and the company's latest, the GoPro Hero3, continues that trend. This $299 camera delivers superb video, but with a multitude of challengers, is it still tops?
Unlike most other action cams, the GoPro Hero3 is square-shaped, so, instead of lying flush along the side of a helmet, it sits on top. It looks and feels a lot more awkward than competitors such as the Contour+2 and Drift Innovation Ghost HD. However, the Hero3 has a wide variety of mounting accessories, which makes it just as versatile whether you're filming on a surfboard, in a car or on a bike.
On the front of the Hero3 is its lens, with a small monochrome LCD on the left, below which is a power button. The top houses a record button, while the right side has a plastic cover for its miniUSB and microHDMI ports.
By itself, the Hero3 is quite small, just 2.25 x 1.6 x 1.2 inches, and weighs just 2.7 ounces. However, to mount it, you need to use its case, which makes the camera waterproof up to 197 feet. This add-on makes the whole package more bulky, and increases the weight to 6.2 ounces.
By comparison, the Contour+2 measures 3.8 x 2.4 x 1.3 inches and weighs 5.8 ounces, and that's without its waterproof case. Likewise, the Drift Innovation HD Ghost is an even bulkier 4.1 x 2 x 1.3 inches and 5.9 ounces.
Like the Drift HD Ghost, GoPro's iOS app lets you remotely connect to and control the Hero3 via Wi-Fi (Contour's app uses Bluetooth), which means you can't use Wi-Fi for other purposes when using the camera app. The app was easy to use, and we like that you can link it to more than one camera at a time, and even turn cameras on and off remotely. The app also has a "locate camera" feature, that, when activated, causes the camera to beep intermittently.
GoPro users can also download the free CineForm Studio, which offers some good editing tools. What's missing is a one-click video uploader for social networks.
Among the cameras we tested, the GoPro Hero3's video quality was the best. Colors were true and saturated, details were crisp, and contrast was excellent. We give the GoPro a slight edge over the Contour+2, as well as the Drift HD Ghost. The reds and blues of ski jackets were most lifelike, and the GoPro was better at picking up individual snowflakes as they fell.
Recording video continuously at WVGA resolution and 30 fps, the GoPro lasted 1 hour and 30 minutes on a charge. That's two hours less than the Drift HD Ghost, and an hour less than the Contour+2. To be fair, GoPro sells a battery BacPac for $49 that should double its endurance.
We tested the Silver version of the GoPro Hero3 ($299), the company's midrange model. It can record 1080p video at 30 frames per second, take 11-MP stills at up to 10 frames per second, and has built-in Wi-Fi. The top-end Black edition ($399) can shoot 1080p video at 60 fps as well as 4K video at 15 fps. Additionally, the Black model can take 12-MP photos at up to 30 fps, and has pro low-light performance. The Black edition comes with a Wi-Fi remote (normally a $79 accessory), a small dongle that lets you wirelessly stop and start recordings, as well as see at a glance how much charge is left on the camera.
The GoPro Hero 3's video quality is simply the best among the helmet cameras we tested, and we appreciate its compact design and waterproof case. However, the helmet mount is awkward. More than once, it hit the crossbar on the ski lift. Also, the GoPro's short battery life -- half that of the Contour+2 and a third of the Drift HD Ghost -- is a turnoff. But for those who won't necessarily mount the GoPro on a helmet, such as surfers, bikers or racecar drivers, the video quality alone makes this the action camera to beat.