Several critics, from Engadget to Stuff.tv to CNET, have all complimented just how small and portable the Hero 3 is while still maintaining the form necessary to be compatible with older accessories like the BakPak add-ons. Plus, even though the Hero 3 already stands out for being able to shoot at 1080p 60fps, it can slow down to shoot slow motion video at 720p 120fps, as well. Brent notes the flexibility of the Hero 3 that really puts it over the top, “There are so many resolution/frame-rate combinations, you could get lost in them.”
The Hero 3 is marketed as having the ability to shoot “4K Cinema” at a maximum of 15fps. That’s a neat feature and that frame rate is useless to anyone trying to surf and shoot, but its a great way to get high res still frame grabs. Think of it as an extended burst mode. Also, the battery life seems to be an issue. Brent points out all of Hero 3’s competitors have a longer lasting battery. “Yes, you can buy spare batteries and a Battery BakPak, and you’ll need them for longer shoots, but it shouldn’t be that way.” (Ed note: I disagree with Brent, as the option is there, and I’ve never had a GoPro run out on any of my longer sessions.–B.Lam)
Sony has a contender in the action sports camera game, the HDR-AS10 and HDR-AS15. It has image stabilization, a carl zeiss lens, and up to 120fps for slow motion. It has a 60 meter housing and costs $200, or $280 with Wi-Fi, roughly $120 less than the GoPro Hero 3 Black Edition, although on par with the still great GoPro Hero 2. It has straps for helmets, surfboards, etc, but mounts are nowhere near as sturdy or available as on the GoPro. It also doesn’t have is the jaw-dropping image quality we’ve come to expect from recent Sony products packing “Exmor R” branded sensors. Brent Rose from Gizmodo writes, “Low-light images just aren’t nearly what we expected from a Sony Exmor R sensor. They are better than images from the Hero 2, and brighter than images from the Contour+2, but there is a lot of noise.” And the Hero 3 is much better.
As for the much-touted image stabilization, “It’s digital image stabilization, which sucks. It does make the shot smoother, but you can’t use image stabilization when it’s at 170-degrees, because it has to crop your shot in order to work. This spreads pixels thinner, resulting in a degraded image.” The Action Cam does have 120FPS 720P slow-motion recording mode, and Brent did say it’s impressive, but the Hero 3 has it as well and boasts a larger range. All this isn’t to say that Sony’s made a bad camera, it’s just not the game changer everyone expected it to be. Its current 3-star Amazon review average accurately reflects this sentiment.
Let’s talk about the Contour. There’s a low end model that is 1080p, and then a middle of the road model that adds GPS and a bluetooth video monitor that you can watch using an Apple or Android smartphone with an extra adapter. The top of the line Contour+ 2 camera includes that adapter in addition to sharper image quality. All of these cameras are narrow so they work well on helmets. The mid line camera is comparable to the GoPro Hero3 in price at $300.
But if you want to go Contour, you’re going to want the top of the line, $400 Contour+ model. Everyone from CNet to Engadget to Gizmodo is raving about its sharp and clear image quality. It was enough to earn it an “Outstanding” 4.5 star review from CNet and the title of “best consumer helmet camera on the market” from Engadget. But Gizmodo only gave it 3.5 stars. You should listen to Gizmodo in this case. Although most of the time, CNet and Engadget provide pretty thorough testing and reviews, Michael Hession from Gizmodo appears to be the only person who actually tested the camera in the way it was meant to be used: doing action sports.
GoPro’s camera mounts are notoriously tough. They’ve even been known to withstand high-speed car crashes and all pro athletes seem to use them. They’re also used, with stock board mounts, at Maverick’s big wave surf contest with no problem. Meanwhile, the Contour’s fell apart while stuck to Hession’s skateboard (where it also experienced massive jello effect). They also tested it mountain biking in the woods and strapped to a speedboat.
CNet and Engadget on the other hand, just used it like a normal camera. And when the going gets tough, you want to worry about nailing your lines or sticking that landing, not about whether your camera mount will explode.
And isn’t getting the shot reliably the bottom line on these things? I say, yes.
There are three editions of the GoPro Hero 3–White, Silver and Black.
Black costs $400. It has better low light capability and includes a Wi-Fi remote. It also has the 4k video capability, 800×600 (WVGA) capability at 240frames per second, and faster burst speeds of 30fps at 12MP. Crazy.
Silver has a step down sensor that does 1080 resolution at 30fps or 720 at 60fps with a 960 res in between. It includes no remote but is app and remote compatible, and can do burst photography at 11MP at 10 frames per second. Still Crazy
White has the same video capabilities as Silver, also does not include a remote, but has only a 5MP 3fps burst. The burst mode is kind of sucky. But the price is crazy at $200.
I’d say the white is good enough for most people with the Silver being a sweet spot for people who want to focus on burst photography stills. The black is for hardcore outdoor athletes looking to blow cash on something really important to them.
By the way, look at how broad the company’s mounts are. And the housing is now flat, and so will focus well underwater, unlike the previous generation’s stock housing.