Thursday, April 17, 2008

Review - GoPro Hero 3 Camera

I picked up a Go Pro Hero recently. This camera appealed to me, as it has a better waterproof rating than the other cameras I have (usable to 30 feet, versus 5 or 10 feet for the others). It is a relatively simple camera, without a digital view screen and saving all pictures and videos onto a memory card, all in a waterproof box with buttons in the right places.

Summary - Pros
+ Inexpensive (under $150 at Amazon)
+ waterproof and rugged
+ Simple to use
+ Decent battery life
+ Good for basic action videos and photos which don't need high resolution
+ comfortable to wear

Summary - Cons
- no vibration stabilization
- no software to edit/trim videos
- Not high quality video
- microphone is muffled in the box
- helmet mount is expensive if bought separately

My comparison point for this camera is a Pentax Optio W20(though if you are looking for one of these, you may want to instead get the W30 version, which is newer and only a few bucks more than the W20). I have used the Pentax for both still pictures and video for a year or two now, and it does decently at both. But I have been worried about its waterproof qualities in some of the stuff I do (like snorkeling or if I get hit with a wave). The GoPro Hero3 intrigued me as a camera that many even work for some SCUBA diving.

Test - Video Comparison
To test the quality of this camera, I had the GoPro strapped on my wrist and held the Pentax in my hand. I turned them both on at pretty much the same time, holding both and taping the same thing. Started in the darkness of my garage, then stuck them outside in the bright sun, shook them a bit to see how they handled that, then back into the garage. Played back both videos on my computer to compare.

GoPro Digital Hero 3 Video Sample

Pentax Optio W20:

The result on the whole, the Pentax had better video quality. First, the Pentax has image stabilization, where the GoPro does not. And the Pentax tapes at 640x480 at 30fps, where the GoPro is only 512x384 at 30fps. Lastly, the Pentax seems to handle darkness better than the GoPro. But, the quality would be just fine for use on Youtube or similar.

As a plus for the GoPro over the Oregon Scientific ATC-2K, which I reviewed before, is that the GoPro has a optical viewfinder, so you can better aim the camera when holding in your hand for your pictures and videos. But it does not have a digital view screen, so you can't review your pictures/videos on the camera after you take them.

So you can make the comparison yourself, you can download the video clips in un-edited, native form.
- Pentax's Video file (12 Megabytes)
- GoPro Hero3 Video File (9 Megabytes)

Still Photos
I took both cameras up to the roof and took roughly the same picture with each.

GoPro Still:

Pentax Still:

In small picture size, they look about the same. About the only difference was the Pentax was better able to capture pictures in the dark areas.

But the GoPro Hero 3 is only a 3 megapixel camera, where the Pentax is a 7 megapixel camera (though the sample picture was taken in 5 megapixel mode, what I normally use). GoPro's pictures are fine for the web or viewing on a computer, but the resolution is a little low for trying to print.

My GoPro seems to have a small streak on the lens, which I will have to try to clean off. It does seem like it would have a greater chance of getting dirty, as there is both the lens of the camera the lens of the waterproof box which you need to keep clean.

So you can make the comparison yourself, you can download the still photos in un-edited, native form.
- Pentax's Still Picture (2 Megabytes)
- GoPro Hero3 Still Picture (0.5 Megabytes)

Test - Battery Life:
To test the battery life - I turned the camera on and started taping. My goal was to see which would run out first, the 2 gigabyte memory card or the rechargeable AAA (NiMH) batteries. The batteries were the first to die, after about 45 minutes of taping (where the 2 gig SD card can hold about 54 minutes). Perhaps if it was a fresh charge (these same batteries were used for the photos and other video clips used in this review), it may have gone the full 54 minutes, though I think they would still be short.

Last thoughts:
I would pay more for better video quality in the camera. Either a higher resolution, a faster saving speed (so it can get the 30 fps claimed), or some sort of shake stabilization would be good improvements and worth paying some more for. But for an inexpensive camera that is very waterproof, this is a great little camera.

Definitely get an SD card to go with it. Because the photos are small in size, you can probably get away with a smaller SD card (I used a 256mb card I had sitting around at first), unless you take a lot of video clips.

There are different models of the GoPro camera, such as the Helmet Hero and Motorsports Hero. They all use the same camera, but have different quick release attachment mounts so you can attach the camera to helmets, handlebars, flat surfaces, etc. I would be interested in the helmet mounts, but it is a $70 kit (where if I bought the Helmet Hero, it would have been only $30 additional over the price of the regular camera).



At 10:56 AM, Blogger California Kayaker Magazine said...

I also reviewed the Oregon Scientific ATC-2K, an inexpensive waterproof digital video recorder (no still pictures).

At 8:51 AM, Blogger California Kayaker Magazine said...

GoPro has come out with an upgraded model for about the same price. They have upgraded it to put a 5 megapixel sensor in it, replacing the 3 megapixel sensor I have in mine. Unfortunately, it doesn't look like they have made any changes that affect the items I listed in my summary pros and cons.

At 9:45 AM, Blogger California Kayaker Magazine said...

I used the newer unit (5 megapixel) this past weekend, and have some additional comments. I had it mounted to the deck of my kayak during a weekend of playing in rock gardens.

The wide angle is interesting. reduces the need to aim the camera. But, it also makes it such that you can't really shoot anything that is more than 15-20 feet away.

The unit I used had many different mounts, which was nice.

2 of the 4 segments of video shown at used this camera (the ones where you see the deck of my kayak). The "did more pour-overs" segment, the paddler was maybe 20 feet away, but looks much further (due to the wide angle lens).

At 8:27 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I was looking for GoPro raw sample picture to see if it fits my needs. Thank you for posting that image. I think the image quality is amazing for the camera specs.

At 6:59 PM, Blogger California Kayaker Magazine said...

I had the chance to stick my 3 megapixel version into the wide angle case from the current 5 megapixel version, and was pleased to see that they are interchangeable. The buttons line up in the same place.

At 2:18 PM, Blogger California Kayaker Magazine said...

3 megapixel version does not fit into the case of the newest version - the HD versions.

At 7:22 AM, Blogger California Kayaker Magazine said...

I wrote a review on the GoPro HD Hero which was published in the Fall 2011 issue of California Kayaker Magazine. The magazine can be read online for free at


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