Until this year, I never wanted to own a GoPro. I had shot them countless times on advertising and film projects and often had great results, but I never bought one because I didn't think I would use it regularly because the application was so specialized. This was mainly because the camera always felt (and was) aimed at the action sports community. It was an amazingly functional camera that was great for POV action shots, but that wasn't the kind of work I was involved in. And further – while you could use it in a narrative film if necessary (as a crash cam or something similar), I was always worried that the one or two shots I could use it for would lack the cinematic feel of another camera than our A-Cam.
Thanks to the GoPro Hero3 (a generous gift from my friend Jen!) I have now been converted. Earlier this year I wrote a blog about the Sony Action Cam. It seemed to do what I was looking for in a small camera. 120 fps at 720p, nice, clean design, built-in WiFi, great price etc. But after buying it, I quickly realized that the quality simply did not meet my standards. It was returned the next day and only with the Hero3 did I consider giving another action camera a chance.
This article is by no means a full review of the product since I haven't had enough time yet. But it's a review based on my first thoughts and impressions of the camera that it used in test scenarios as well as in a music video from last weekend.
First, let me say this: Overall, this is the best action camera I have ever used. It is also the most professional "feel" action camera as it offers many functions and modes that are extremely useful in a professional production environment.
Here are some of the highlights:
Resolution and frame rates
This camera outperforms any other action camera in terms of resolution – in fact, it shoots up to 4K! (Although 4K is only 12 FPS), but still useful for time-lapse purposes or for pulling still pictures. Other notable resolutions are 2.7 KB at up to 30 fps, 1080 / 60p and 720 / 120p.
Not only do you have a lot of options in terms of resolutions and frame rates, they are all exceptionally detailed. I've shot with all four modes listed above and they all look fantastic. Of course, the higher resolution videos are sharper with increasing resolution, but I will say that this camera holds very well even at 720p. And around 1080 (which I've used the most so far). It looks absolutely amazing.
For those of you who are familiar with previous versions of GoPro, this has a very similar build, although it has been refined in many ways. If you are not in the case, you can quickly see how much smaller it is than the previous models. I would guess that it is about two thirds the size of the previous model. It also has a WiFi button on the side (which we'll talk about soon).
This is simply an amazing feature of the GoPro. If there's a reason for me to buy this camera, it's ProTune. In ProTune mode, you can record at significantly higher bit rates (with less compression). It also records in a log curve that allows you to have plenty of space in the post to do color corrections. Since a large part of my daily work involves color corrections, this function is almost always set to "On" on my GoPro.
Still, there are some minor restrictions. Certain fields of view or frame rates are deactivated in ProTune mode. I would assume that this is because there is too much information to process at this data rate. Even so, all the modes I've ever had to use were available in ProTune.
If you don't want to color correct your footage in the post much, you should stay away from this feature. It's an amazing option, but it also means that the pictures coming from the camera look muddy. Similar to Cinestyle on a Canon DSLR or Log-C on the ARRI Alexa. I would imagine that some people might get confused when they see the muddy picture for the first time and do not realize that it is for a reason! Still, it may be better for many people to turn off ProTune depending on its specific use.
This is another way to take your ProTune footage to the next level. In ProTune mode, you can activate the Cam RAW setting to enable an even less processed image. Essentially, your white balance is recorded in a compressed "raw" format (type) and thus allows more flexibility in the mail.
I've always shot with this feature, so I can't compare myself to using ProTune without Cam Raw, but anything that gives me more options in the editing suite is always a good thing, so I can't see myself without shots !
Wireless Internet access
The built-in Wi-Fi capability of this camera is remarkable. Essentially, you have the option of either using the Wi-Fi remote control that comes with the camera (which is also waterproof) (which is very easy to sync), or you can control the camera remotely from your smartphone or tablet. As of December 14th, GoPro updated the firmware of its cameras to enable seamless integration into the GoPro app. This means that with one click you can send your GoPro video signal wirelessly to your smartphone to use it as a monitor or to control the camera.
You can even change camera settings such as resolution and frame rates directly in the app. This is great news because one of the big challenges for many with the GoPro is the difficulty navigating and changing menu items. The menu itself (like the old versions) is a bit rigid, but being able to change settings on your smartphone more easily is a lifesaver, especially when the camera is in a confined space.
Wi-Fi is also a great way to save money if you have to invest in an LCD backpack for your Gopro. Now you can just use your iPhone!
The ability of this camera in low light conditions is better than other action cameras, but not essential. At the end of the day, the sensor size is still very small, so your pictures look noisy without much light. This is particularly noticeable when recording in ProTune Raw mode, since these are not processed with noise reduction and therefore the grain is more visible.
This is not a deal breaker for me as I would not expect a camera of this size to be used in very low light conditions. By the way, when I refer to dim light, I mean very dim light. Like shooting under a lamp on the street. The camera works very well in sunset / sunrise or other scenarios with poor lighting conditions. And the added performance boost over the previous version and other action cams is palpable and appreciated, although I would have loved it if it had just been a bit cleaner!
I haven't taken any still pictures with the GoPro yet, but the specs are impressive. It records still images at up to 12 MP and can run a burst mode at up to 30 still images per second. I am sure that this is good news for many!
Below is a recording I used the GoPro in a music video last weekend. The camera was attached to a shower head with three rubber bands and directed straight down, as you can see here:
This clip was shot in 1080 / 60p with a medium field of view and obviously already has a black and white color class with an electrical window:
This is hands down the best action camera. Nothing else on the market comes close to that. Those with similar specifications don't deliver the actual quality, and competitors seem to be trying to catch up with the Hero2 rather than the Hero3. Other competing products are innovative and push the boundaries like GoPro, so I really respect what they do.
This is also the first GoPro that feels really professional. It has all kinds of professional functions and modes that you can use or disable, but there is a reason for professionals to use this camera over all competitors.
I'm looking forward to 2013 in anticipation of what these guys will bring next.
Noam Kroll is an award-winning filmmaker from Los Angeles and founder of the boutique production house Creative Rebellion. His work can be seen at international film festivals, on network television and in various publications around the world. Follow Noam on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook for more content like this!