Sunday, 15 December 2013

GoPro Hero 3+ Black Review Part 1

Nowadays, the most selling camera unit is an action camera, the GoPro Hero 3+. This can be commented in many ways:

  • The compact camera and consumer camcorder markets are shrinking. This is due to competition from below with smart phones, and competition from above with compact, but advanced mirrorless system cameras. Why buy a compact camera, if your smart phone can do just as well? Due to the shrinking traditional camera market, this action camera has become dominating.
  • There is little competition in the action camera market. In test after test, the GoPro Hero 3+ Black Edition is crowned the king. Even as Sony and Panasonic launches competing cameras at a lower price and with interesting additional function, e.g., optical image stabilization, they cannot dethrone the GoPro Hero.

Here is the GoPro Hero 3+ Black Edition camera unit, with the waterproof housing.



In the picture above, I have used an optional tripod mount adapter, which allows you to put the camera on a normal tripod with a 1/4'' stud.



The three metallic buttons on the picture above are the only way to operate the camera. This can be quite awkward, so I would certainly advice to operate the camera by Wifi using a smart phone. That is much easier.

Physical


The camera unit is impressively small and light, even with the waterproof housing mounted. Here it is seen next to the Panasonic GH3 with the Samyang/Rokinon 7.5mm f/3.5 fisheye lens mounted:



The camera unit itself has a black, textured, rubbery surface, very good for gripping:



Behind a rubber door, there are the usual ports for HDMI and USB connection, as well as the MicroSD memory card port. The lens protrudes a bit from the house, so be careful when handling the camera. You can easily rub the lens against something:



The battery is also behind an unhinged door. Unlike most other cameras, this one has no LCD viewfinder on the rear side. You cannot preview your images and videos at all, except if you use a Wifi connected smart phone.



Image quality


This is primarily a video camera, but you can use the camera to take 12MP images as well. I have compared the images with the Panasonic GH3 with the Samyang 7.5mm f/3.5 fisheye lens, since they give a quite similar field of view. Here are example images:

GoPro Hero 3+, f/2.8, ISO 100, 1/161sGH3 and Samyang 7.5mm, f/5.6, ISO 200, 1/60s

Some 100% crops from the images make it easier to see the difference. In the top right corner, the image quality using the Panasonic GH3 with the Samyang 7.5mm f/3.5 fisheye lens is vastly better, as one would expect:



The Samyang 7.5mm f/3.5 fisheye lens also handles flare a lot better:



Removing the waterproof housing improves the flare handling a bit. But this is of little practical use: Without the waterproof housing, the camera becomes quite fragile, and there is no way to connect it to a tripod or anything else.

Distortion


The GoPro Hero 3+ has a wide angle fisheye lens. This means that you will see excessive barrel distortion. This is a common compromise with action cameras: To allow some barrel distortion makes it possible to design a smaller and lighter lens.

I have compared the distortion characteristics by photographing a rectangular pattern with both cameras:

GoPro Hero 3+GH3 and Samyang 7.5mm

We see that the geometric distortion characteristics are quite similar.

Video quality


To compare the video quality, I have recorded the same footage using both the GoPro Hero 3+ (left frame) and GH3 and Samyang 7.5mm (right frame). The video was done near dusk, so the lightning is rather dull:



On both cameras, I used the 1920x1080 resolution, and 50fps.

We see that the GoPro Hero 3+ does not exhibit any significant rolling shutter artefacts. The Hero 3+ has somewhat more pleasing colours. It is fair to remark that I could have gotten the same effect with the GH3 by pushing the colour saturation setting, though.

Conclusion (so far)


It is perhaps a bit unfair to compare the GoPro Hero 3+ with the Panasonic GH3, as the GH3 is currently still considered one of the very best consumer video cameras. Also, the Samyang/Rokinon 7.5mm f/3.5 fisheye lens is a bargain of a lens: Quite reasonably priced, and having very good sharpness, handles flare very well.

Still, I think the GoPro Hero 3+ Black Edition does perform quite well, considering the size. However, the price is a bit steep, especially considering that the camera does not have any optical image stabilization, found on competing cameras from Sony and Panasonic.





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