GoPro HERO3+: Black Edition Review
UPDATE: 03/26/2014 - GoPro has recently released a firmware update v2.0 for the Hero3+ Black. Quoting the GoPro website:
"Camera software update 2.0 has lots in store for your GoPro. HERO3+ Black Edition cameras will get new SuperView(tm) video modes, new Auto Low Light settings, advanced Protune(tm) controls and more. For HERO3+ Silver Edition cameras, update 2.0 increases the field of view on all photo and video modes for even more immersive, wide-angle footage. And with new wireless camera software updates via the GoPro App, updating your GoPro has never been easier."
UPDATE - 12/9/2013 - I've just updated my video with additional video samples from the Hero3+ compared to the Hero3. I also stuck in a short video of the Sony HDR-AS30V for additional comparison.
Just about a year ago I bought the GoPro Hero3 Black. It was frought with issues and I felt it had been rushed out the door without adequate testing. Fortunately, some 3 firmware updates later, the GoPro Hero3 Black has become a reliable sports cam for me.
I was both happy and frustrated to learn that the GoPro Hero3+ Black was being introduced. With promises of improved battery life and sharper lens, I wished I had waited to buy the Hero3+ instead of the Hero3. But now that I"ve also got the Hero3+ Black, I've learned that it's not that big of an upgrade really and I still use and thoroughly enjoy using the Hero3. In fact for some things the Hero3 Black is superior to the Hero3+ Black. But battery life is definitely better and some people will love the new "super wide" mode that really gives you a stronger fisheye effect.
I have been using the Hero3+ a lot for time lapse phtography and for recording bike rides. I also travel with it and use it for capturing stunning wide-angle still shots. A recent Hot Air Balloon ride enabled me to use the GoPro to caputre some utterly amazing video and stills from 1000 feet above ground.
As for the claimed increased sharpness... well that's a mixed bag. What they've actually done is slightly decreased the depth of field so that you now get increased sharpness for closer objects (like yourself) while the more distant background has become ever so slightly less sharp. I use mine more for photography where I want as sharp a focus as I can get for scenic shots but I have not noticed a very significant decrease in sharpness for distance. This is a non-issue for me. Some people complaining of significant loss of sharpness actually have a defective camera and this has been confirmed by GoPro.
One huge improvement I've noticed is the significantly better color accuracy. There is a pronounced color shift of the Hero3 Black when compared to the Hero3+. The Hero3+ has a much more accurate, neutrual color bias which is more pleasing to me. The Hero3 had a more yellowish bias.
The Hero3+ does much better in bright, snow (and probably sand) situations as can be seen in my video.
The new "super" size setting gives a significantly wider field of view. As such you will notice a marked curvature of the image at the edges. This bending is most noticeable when an edge is present, You notice this much less if you're shooting at sky,,, skydiving, ski jumping etc. This is typical of a super wide angle, nearly fisheye, lens.
▶︎ Battery LIfe:
The Hero3+ comes with a marginally higher capacity battery (AHDBT-302.) It's rated at 1180mAh vs the prior battery which was rated 1050mAh. That's not much of an increase but it is an increase nonetheless. Apparently GoPro has also made some internal tweaks that results in a claimed 30% longer battery life. I generally get no more than slightly 1;15 of recording time with the Hero3 but I'm really happy to discover that the Hero3+ gives me a solid 2 hour recording time. So the battery life has most definitely been improved in the Hero3+.
▶︎ Waterproof Housing:
The housing has seen a significant change. It is much lighter in weight, less bulky and the 2-step latching mechanism has been completely redesigned. It is now just a single latch. It doesn't feel as sturdy to me as the previous latch and I'm not sure I like it or not yet. I'll have to use it a while to see how it holds up and how it works in the field under more extensive use. One good thing is that the Hero3 and Hero3+ will fit and operate in either housing... they are interchangeable. The Hero3+ housing is rated to 30M (131') underwater vs 60M (197') underwater for the Hero3 housing. The best thing about the new housing is the ease with which the buttons now work. In the previous housing pushing the buttons required quite a bit of force and they were very inconvenient to use. This has been improved significantly in the with the new housing. The buttons are a larger diameter and much easier to push.
▶︎ Low Light setting:
The Low Light setting does improve video in lower light situations but there is still visible grain. I have compared video from both my 3 and 3+ and the 3+ allows more definition and brings out a lot more detail in what was just darkness in the conditions when compared to the Hero3 when the lighting level is low. It is a definite improvement but it's still not excellent... just a lot better.
▶︎ Firmware updates:
GoPro has made the process of updating the firmware on the Hero3+ different. On the Hero3 all you needed to do was download the firmware to your computer, unzip it and move the files from the firmware update folder to the top level of a formatted MicroSD card. You then inserted the card into your GoPro and then turned the camera on... the firmware would be installed.
The Hero3+ firmware update process has changed. When on the GoPro website you go through a web-based update process before you can download the firmware. You have to decide whether you want to update the WiFi and the camera firmware or just one or the other. Then you download the update and unzip it, you do not move just the files from the firmware update folder to the MicroSD card, but rather you move the entire firmware update folder to the MicroSD card which you then put into the GoPro Hero3+ and turn on the camera to initiate the firmware upgrade process.
▶︎ Blurry backgrounds:
GoPro has already acknowledged that a random number of cameras are exhibiting the exceedingly blurry background issue. My camera is perfect and has no such issue but others are having the problem and downgrading their review of the camera because of the issue. If you get a camera that has a really bad lack of sharpness, you may have gotten a defective camera and should either immediately exchange it or at least contact GoPro for further guidance.
I like the Hero3+. It's more evolutionary of an update rather than revolutionary. If you are a current Hero3 Black owner, I wouldn't necessarily feel like you are stuck with a dinosaur. The Hero3 is still a very respectable camera in many ways. But there are some definite improvements in color balance and shooting options with the Hero 3+ and the new housing is easier to use but may not actually be as sturdy... that remains to be seen.
I'd also like to mention that I recently got a Sony HDR-AS30V and the short story is that it's not nearly as good as the GoPro Hero3+ Black. It is much more basic in its availabe shooting modes. The Sony has downright lousy battery life. The waterproof enclosure is only good to 16' underwater and the display is pretty poor if you ask me. I find it difficult to read because Sony has chosen a some kind of a segmented font that looks like a 1970's Texas Instruments calculator. It's really really bad.
I'll be updating my review as I use the Hero3+ more and more. But for now I can say that if you are feeling like you are "stuck" with your Hero3, just know that you've still got a great camera. The main improvements that are most significant for me with the Hero3+ are: improved battery life and somewhat better low light image capture.
-review by M. Erb Amazon