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Few action cams can do what GoPro does. This is a camera that was created from the ground-up to be the best all-conditions, mountable-to-anything digital imaging device out there. The latest revision of its Hero line, the Hero3+ Black Edition ($399.99), is an iterative update that makes some meaningful changes to the best action cam around.
Because the updates are all under the hood, the GoPro accessories you already own will continue to work with the Hero3+ Black Edition. If you're a current GoPro Hero user, this will plug into your existing device ecosystem without missing a beat. Of course, unless the updates GoPro promised make a difference, you might as well stick with a Hero3. Fortunately, we found that the Hero3+ Black was sharper, longer lasting, and delivered overall improved image quality in all of our laboratory tests. The GoPro Hero3+ Black Edition beat out the competition this year in our 2013 Best of Year Camcorder awards because other action cams still can't quite match the full-featured experience that GoPro compresses into every tiny camera.
There really isn't much to say about the Hero 3+ Black. It's a compact rectangular box with a small bulge for the camera's wide angle lens. Up front, there's a power/mode button and two indicator lights (one for WiFi, one a recording tally light). On the top you’ll find another recording light and your record start button. The WiFi activation button is on the left side. There's a small door on the back for the battery and GoPro's Hero port for accessories. The three most critical ports remain on the right side—mini USB for charging (and, with an adapter, an external microphone), HDMI, and the microSD card slot.
So, you won’t find any big, noteworthy changes with the camera itself. GoPro seems to have spent its engineering brainpower on the included waterproof case. This clear housing has been completely redesigned, losing weight, bulk, and complexity. GoPro says that this new housing shouldn't get snagged on things quite as easy, and it is smaller in every dimension—even though is isn't rated to the same depth as before. If you dive with a GoPro, keep in mind that even though it's improved, it's only rated to 40 meters instead of 60 meters. The now-standard two-pronged accessory mount hasn't changed a bit and it'll work with the GoPro accessories you already own without having to buy new mounts. In fact, this is the same mount system we’ve seen on GoPros going back to the GoPro Hero HD, and the continuity is greatly appreciated.
The GoPro Hero3+ Black is the most advanced Hero to date, featuring updated optics, a higher resolution sensor and a plethora of frame rates and resolutions that you can choose. The Hero3+ can even shoot 4K, albeit at the barely-even-video frame rates of 15 and 12.5 fps. Furthermore, you have 2.7K (16:9 at 30 and 25 fps, 17:9 at 24 fps), 1440p (4:3 at 48, 30, 25, and 24 fps.) as well as standard 1080p (30 and 60 fps) and 1080p SuperView.
On top of video, you have a long list of still shooting options, too. There are a couple of speedy burst modes and the beloved time-lapse settings. The Hero3+ Black Edition also offers many of these different modes with ProTune, leaving more leeway later on in your production pipeline. Essentially, ProTune records video at a higher bit rate and with a neutral color temperature, so you can match it to footage from a multi-cam setup a bit more easily.
Since this is the flagship GoPro, you get a bunch of goodies included in the box. The marquee feature once again is the waterproof wifi remote, which can be paired with 49 other GoPro cameras as well. It’s a small remote and can easily be clipped to an article of clothing or a wrist strap, and you basically get the same control scheme and LCD as on the video camera itself. WiFi also means you can choose to use your smartphone to control the Hero3+ Black Edition—and it's seen a speedbump in all 3+ generation cameras. The GoPro app works well on iOS and Android, providing live view and a much more comprehensive remote control experience. Unfortunately, at the time of this writing, the Windows Phone app doesn’t support the Hero3+ family.
Across the board, we saw test results that were improved over the Hero3 Black Edition. Bumps in sharpness, noise, and battery life will all make a difference for those who want the best quality footage from their action cam. Even low-light noise and smoothness of video are pretty impressive for such a tiny camera.
By packing in a larger capacity battery, GoPro extended the life of the Hero3+ Black Edition by quite a bit. In the original Hero3, we measured about an hour and a half of continuous shooting. With the Hero3+’s 1180 mAh lithium ion rechargeable battery, we eked out two full hours of shooting. Remember that we don’t turn WiFi on when we test battery life, so your mileage may vary.
If you’re still holding onto a Hero2-generation device, the Hero3+ is a substantial step up. It has the smaller, lighter chassis of the Hero3 Black Edition with enough of a boost in performance to make it definitely worth the wait. If you already own a Hero3-generation camera, you won’t see a day-and-night difference in footage shot with the 3+. Even though we saw higher quality video, this revision isn’t a complete overhaul. In essence, it’s still the same Hero3 that we checked out earlier in the year. That said, the longer run time and slightly boosted sharpness do sweeten the pot quite a bit if you need the absolute best from your action cam.
With rival action cam maker Contour on the rocks, GoPro continues to be the leading force in this segment. The Hero3+ continues to put options from the likes of Sony to shame, offering a complete system of accessories and an impressive feature set. That’s exactly what will keep buyers coming back generation after generation. If its devices continue to be as solid as this little camera, it'll be a while before GoPro's dominance is truly challenged.
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