When it comes to sharing our lives online, our cell phone is the obvious choice. But when it comes to sharing our action packed adventures, GoPro is the only go-to device.
Those who have not experienced the GoPro for themselves look at the tiny camera that has a handful of buttons, no LCD, no viewfinder and wonder what the heck all the fuss is about.
So this hands-on review with the GoPro Hero 3+ is not about how it differs from its predecessors but rather a beginners look at GoPro. If you haven’t gotten into the GoPro fad as yet, this will tempt you. I warn you.
Look and Feel
Lets start at the camera itself. It is has only three buttons which in todays day of lets-have-more world seems strange at first. The front facing button switches the camera on and is used to navigate the menus, the top button starts/ stops the recording and the button on the side activates the wireless (more on that later).
There is lens that faces the front and on the right is a cover that exposes the micro HDMI, microSD slot and the Mini USB charging slot. Note this is not the same Micro USB that is the standard on most cell phone devices today.
There is a rubberised grip around the edges of the device allowing you to handle it even when wearing gloves.
That is all.
No LCD and no viewfinder.
What ? Why ?
The root of the GoPro thinking is that once you set it, you should be focusing on the activity at hand and not adjusting and fiddling with the recording device. The GoPro has many different mountings for all sort of activities. Set the camera down, start the action and forget about the GoPro recording. An LCD will simply distract you. When you shoot a clip with your cell phone, you tend to focus on the LCD and not on what you are doing. This is fine for taking pics in the park, but not focusing when free-hand climbing is simply not an option !
When you insert the camera into the casing is where you instantly recognise the GoPro with the familiar shape that you constantly see in outdoor shops, retail stores and strapped to the helmets of cyclists. The casing is slim and fits the camera snugly. It has a special locking/ unlocking clip at the top that allows for the case to be opened and closed and make it air-tight and hence waterproof. Initially there was a concern that this clip is not powerful enough to keep the case close, but after several Wakeskating sessions behind a boat out on the Vaal river, I can attest that the case remained nice and tight.
The mounting on the case is the same mounting that was on previous cases and therefore any accessories already purchased will continue to work if you upgrade from previous versions of GoPro cameras. A great move which will not alienate loyal customers.
Look no Wires
People would want to have some way to ensure that their camera is pointing in the right direction and aligned correctly before the action begins. No point in having a magnificent paragliding flight over Cape Town only to realise that the camera was pointing upwards and all you got was some blue sky. Therefore the GoPro Hero 3+ has a wireless facility that allows the cell phone to act as the view finder. Simply download the GoPro app on your Android or iOS device, switch on your phone’s Wi-Fi, switch on the GoPro and its Wi-Fi (button on the left). The phone app now connects to the camera and is not only able to view exactly what the camera can see but it allows you to change settings directly from the app. This is a great win as you tend to mount the camera and then control the rest from the phone – simply genius.
Taking it one step further, there is a wireless remote too for the Hero 3+. It allows you to start and stop the shoot with a touch of a button and is great when the camera is mounted on a wall or a bridge and just as you skate under it you press the button to take those magic shots. It is also handy to mount the remote in an easy to reach for spot such as the bike handle or on a glove and whenever you want to start shooting, just tap the button and the camera records.
Getting Going Already
The one thing that makes the GoPro stand out is the lack of complication. You focus on your action and let the camera focus on capturing it. Yes you can change the frame rate, field of view, resolutions etc. but these are simply drop-down and select options on the app. The manual that comes with the GoPro explains various settings that you can customise depending on the TV and required outputs but frankly leaving it on the default setting gets superb results and more than enough for 90% of people’s requirements and YouTube uploads.
On that note, when you change the video to the higher resolution then the preview on the app does not work. Nothing wrong with your app, it just needs to dedicate the processing power of the camera to shooting.
There is an Auto Low Light option that allows for more light to enter each frame. This means that shooting night scenes results in nice quality video without the need for external flashes or lights. Just perfect for capturing a night game drive in the Kruger as you trail lions on a hunt.
The other option worth noting is the Protune option which enhances the camera’s ability to produce even better results. There is a serious explanation of this feature in the manual for more info (yes do read that) which talks about natural colour and frame rate. It comes turned off by default so I suggest shoot a clip with it off and one with it on and see which one you prefer.
The first image has the Protune on and the second has it off. There is a colour difference and the video resolution changes too.
As with everything on the GoPro, have a play and see what works for you. You can’t break it and no setting you set will self-destruct. I looked for a setting that didn’t chew up the media card and still produced cool YouTube results.
Shot the movie – now what ?
But wait there is more. Not only is GoPro easy to use and gives superb quality, now you can become a master editor too. GoPro has made available their GoPro Studio software for free which allows you to import your video clips and drop them into pre-set templates complete with audio and text and produce a professionally looking masterpiece. You can also add special effects, slow down the action or speed it up. The software comes with default templates and you can go online and download more. Some are short edits and other are longer and the results are impressive.
I used the GoPro Studio to edit three very different clips. One was for Halloween, the other was for a car I was reviewing and the other clip was for a Wake skating video. That is how versatile the software is.
The Downside of GoPro:
There are three items that I found slightly frustrating.
The first is that the rubberised small cover that protect the various slots and microSD card is not attached to the body of the camera. This means that every time you take out the MircoSD card to move clips onto the computer, or every time you charge the camera, you run the risk of loosing that cover. I landed up putting it inside the camera case so I knew where it was in the morning.
If you use the app to connect to the camera remember that the phone can only connect to one WiFi at a time. So if your app says that it cant find the camera it probably means that the phone has connected to the home wifi.
Finally, the charging port is still mini USB and not the now-standard Micro USB as the cell phones have. This means that you need to remember to take the mini USB cable with you on a shoot and can’t rely on the same cable that every other device seems to have. I really hope this will change in the future.
So in Summary:
If you think that only adrelinine junkies need this camera you are so wrong. This is a camera for everyone. Let the kids skate around the house, put the camera on the dog and see life from his point of view, strap the camera onto the car and tape your Kruger National Park animal sightings. There is so much you can do with this camera and forever end the boring “come look at my holiday pics” scene that your friends have to endure.
I would describe the in one sentence: “GoPro adds spice to life”. Whenever the GoPro is around everyone tends to act for the camera and just have fun – it really does bring out the kid in you as you lie awake at night planning your next GoPro shoot.