Tuesday, October 15, 2013

GoPro HERO 3+ First look

I have been using GoPro cameras for a long time. I used - but didn't own - the Standard definition version that ran on a single AA battery. It was fun, but really it was a toy. When I heard there was an HD version coming out, I knew that would be something worth shooting with a lot. I used my hero one to make films, and shoot the videos for this website and my first book.

I skipped the HERO 2. For no real reason except that it wasn't offering anything I really needed. But when I saw the HERO 3 was coming, I knew it was time to upgrade. I sold my HERO 1 and all the accessories I knew wouldn't work with the 3. I owned a HERO 3 Black a few weeks after it was released. Since working with my original HERO I knew that it made sense to have multiple cameras, but I never found the extra money lying around, but shortly after I got my 3 Black, I happened to be sitting on some cash. I was ready to buy a second camera but I stopped myself. I realized that GoPro is on a one year product cycle, and if I waited a little longer, chances are I would have a new HERO to choose from. When the HERO 3+ was announced I jumped on it, and had one a little over a week after it was released.

From the outside, it looked like what the computer industry calls a 'point' upgrade. Meaning minor revisions, and bug fixes. That is what I thought I was getting. I was wrong. The 3+ arrived hours before heading to the beach with my kayak so it was a perfect time to get to know it. I shot a lot of imagery, both stills and video side by side with my HERO 3 Black. I used this rig to make it as close as possible.

You can see immediately that the 3+ on the left looks a lot smaller than the 3 on the right. But guess what, it isn't. The camera is the same size, it is just the housing that is smaller. Which means you could put your 3+ in any HERO 3 housing. So your skeleton or frame mount will still work. But if you do that you will be missing something really nice. GoPro has continued to refine the controls of the camera, and they did a really nice job on the three buttons on the 3+. They are much larger, and easier to use. There is a new latch for the top of the housing as well - which is good because though I broke the latch on my original HERO HD housing, the latch on the HERO 3 had two sliders that you need to push to release it. I never found it easy to use. The new 3+ latch is similar in function to the original latch, but much burlier.

I started off by having both cameras shoot stills at 5 second intervals. Ill be honest, I cant quite determine what is happening, it is like there is a pause in the counting for the 3+ but it definitely counts slower than the 3. I know that sounds crazy, but when I turned them both off, at the same time, the 3 had taken a 3 more photos than the 3+. They both ran for the same time, but the 3+ had 18 photos to the 3's 21. This isn't a big deal unless you are fanatical about planning the number of still photos for a time lapse. That number is also going to be much higher if you do an hour of shooting.

It also takes 4 seconds for the HERO 3+ to power on a boot up vs. 3 seconds for the HERO 3. That is a little nit picky, but since I had the cameras on the same rig it was very noticeable.

All of these things are pretty minimal. It is nice that the camera is smaller, but really, the HERO 3 is so small to begin with that it is getting a little crazy that 'smaller size' is a selling point. But then I looked at the photos.....

This is a different camera.

I made no corrections to the image above, all I did was cut half of the image from the 3+ and lay it over the image of the 3. You will also see that I aligned the horizon line, because the frame of the 3+ is a little different. There is also a bit less distortion. But wow, the color! The 3+ is far more neutral. It is hard to believe these two photos were taken on the same day.

I saw the same color shift with video - I will have video up soon, but I haven't had time to do much besides preview the video - and with superview I am getting a wider view with far less distortion. I am literally going to have to re-learn how to shoot with this camera. It is that different. The next thing I am wondering about is whether I will be able to cut back and forth between the two cameras in post without the color change looking odd. Actually, as I type this, I think I will, but I will have to do some color correction.

here is a quick screen cap of 1080 video:

On the top, is the 3+ shooting 1080 superwide. The bottom is 3 shooting standard 1080. Again you see the color difference, but look at the difference in framing! I like the superwide shot, it looks like it shows less distortion in the middle of the frame, but there is an odd curve in the sides of my hull as they get closer to the bottom of the frame. Again, I am going to have to play with it to see what suits me the best. 

People are already complaining about the change of depth of field, with the actual complaint being things in the distance are soft, and I am truly not seeing it. So that is one less thing to worry about.

My biggest complaint with the 3 was battery life. All I wanted was better battery life. It was literally half the shooting time of my original HD HERO. So the first thing I did was turn on both cameras and record until they ran out of juice. My HERO 3 ran for 1 hour and 15 minutes, my 3+ ran for 1 hour and 45 minutes. I was hoping for 2 hours, but I will take what I can get. My bigger concern on the battery front is when will I be able to buy additional batteries, and will I get the same 1:45 out of my 3? Time will tell.

A couple of other odd things I noticed. After 17 minutes and 26 seconds the 3+ saves the clip and starts recording again in a new file. But the 3 just keeps on going until the 26 minute mark, then it starts a new clip. This must be a limitation of file size as they were both right at 4 GB. But that means the 3+ in superwide is using more data.

For my first experiences I have to say I am very happy with the 3+ and looking forward to shooting my first real projects with it soon. I will be using both of these cameras - as well as my DSLR in Alaska next summer.