GoPro’s HD HERO2 was widely praised by critics as one of the best action cameras for 2011. The HERO2 even came in different accessory packages to suit different users. This time around, GoPro is taking a tiered approach with the GoPro HERO3 Black Edition serving as the crown jewel of bunch. Priced at $399, the HERO3 Black Edition is a highly ambitious attempt in convincing enthusiasts in getting the most premium package with some pretty killer specifications.
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The design of the GoPro HERO3 Black Edition is not trendsetting by any stretch keeping the same appearance as the HERO2. It resembles small and boxy compact point-and-shoot cameras and it even has a monochromatic LCD display that looked like it came from the 90s. But it is a good decision for GoPro to include this display because it lets you tinker with the various modes and settings available. Wearable cameras that don’t have screens normally require a connection to a smartphone, tablet or PC. With just a combination mode/power button and shutter release to work with, navigating the interface on the small display is a bit clunky and you have to get used to the way the menus are laid out.
Compared to the HERO2, the HERO3 Black Edition is actually smaller and lighter which is nice considering the fact that the HERO3 has superior specs. But once you examine the rest of the Black Edition package, you will understand that the HERO3 really isn’t about the sleek looks. Add the included waterproof housing and attach it with one of the several included mounts and the GoPro HERO3 Black Edition looks a lot more rugged. It has far more mounts than cheaper bundles like GoPro’s own HERO3 White Edition which is good if need to use mounts like the J-Hook Buckle, QR Buckle, 3-Way Pivot Arm and the standard adhesive mounts.
The GoPro HERO3 Black Edition may share the same HERO3 name as other editions but the Black Edition clearly means power with far more advanced recording modes and improved hardware. On the surface, the new 6-element aspherical lens provides reduced distortion and better image sharpness. This allows you to freely choose the best field of view without sacrificing quality. The Black Edition is also the camera to get if you want better low light performance.
The HERO3 Black Edition is the only HERO3 camera in the series that lets you record 1080p video at a smooth 60 frames per second. GoPro even doubled the max frame rate of the 720p recording mode so you can still record in conservative HD at 120 fps. For slow motion video, the WVGA option still remains at 240 fps and the 960p option maxes out at 100 fps. Perhaps the most impressive addition is the ability to record 1440p at 48 fps making this the best option if you have an Ultra HD 4K display or higher resolution monitor.
Photo performance is no slouch either as the GoPro HERO3 Black Edition can capture beautiful 12-megapixel stills. You can switch to the Time-lapse Photo mode if you need to take still images at a specified interval but if you have the space, you can even use the new Continuous Photo mode to capture multiple shots every second.
The HERO2 did not include a built-in Wi-Fi component although you can get a special BacPac accessory to equip the camera with Wi-Fi capabilities. With the HERO3 Black Edition and other HERO3 models, this accessory is obsolete as the functionality is baked in. This means that you can immediately connect the camera to a smartphone or tablet and enjoy the remote control features. The GoPro App for Android and iOS provides the touch interface and it serves as a remote viewfinder which should help you properly align the camera. It is easy to change modes and it is possible to retrieve stored media on the camera so you can share it on Facebook, Instagram or send it via email.
The GoPro HERO3 Black Edition might still seem like an expensive package but the deal is more than reasonable thanks to the included Wi-Fi remote. This remote is valued at $79 if you purchase it separately and it is a more reliable companion than the mobile GoPro app. It doesn’t give you the remote viewfinder functionality but it does offer the physical buttons that let you control the camera separately. You can safely keep your smartphone in your pocket while you connect the HERO3 Black Edition to the remote via Wi-Fi instead. The remote is more rugged and it is easier to mount to places such as the handlebar of a bicycle. The remote even comes with a key ring so it is easy to take with you.
The GoPro HERO3 White Edition and HERO3 Silver Edition are both compelling packages if you are contented with 1080p resolution and don’t really need the extra additions like the Wi-Fi remote and 60p modes outside 720p. But the GoPro HERO3 Black Edition is more of a solid futureproof package that should still be able to compete with future wearable cameras. By the time those cameras are released, the HERO3 Black Edition could even be priced less to further sweeten the deal. Finally, if you think you will need the Wi-Fi remote in the future, it would be better to purchase the Black Edition as a packaged deal rather than purchase the Wi-Fi remote separately and get an entry-level or midrange HERO3 product.
Update: There is a newer model > GoPro HERO5 Black