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I’ll let you in on a secret. I often use GoPro cameras where I used to use “real” cameras. That’s because the GoPro is a very versatile camera. And now that is doubly true. The new Hero 3 Black edition does just about everything but the dishes.

Let’s cover some simple basics that many of you might know (but people new to GoPro won’t.) The camera comes with a water-proof case and a variety of mounts. The Black edition comes with built-in Wi-Fi and the ability to make 4K video – sort of.

Each camera in the HERO3 lineup features built-in Wi-Fi and is 30 percent smaller, 25 percent lighter and two times more powerful than previous GoPro models. The HERO3: Black Edition ($399) is capable of capturing ultra-wide angle HD video at 1080p-60 frames per second (fps), 1440p-48 fps, 720p-120 fps, 2.7Kp-30 fps and 4Kp-15 fps. The HERO3: Black Edition can also capture 12MP photos at a staggering rate of 30 photos per second. As part of the HERO3 line GoPro also introduced Silver ($299) and White ($199) editions to give consumers more opportunities to select the camera with the capabilities and price point that is right for them.

Right off the bat let me address the 4K claim that GoPro makes with this camera. It’s at 15 frames per second. So it’s not a 4K camera in the way that the new Red camera is. But you can use the 4K mode for things like stop-motion or time-lapse.

The first thing you should know about the Hero3 is that it is smaller than the previous versions. It’s also 20 percent lighter. Personally, I always thought the existing Hero cameras were small enough but apparently the folks at GoPro have received a ton of feedback saying “We want an even smaller camera.” Hence the model 3 series.

You can control the angle of view. Your choices are narrow and normal. I am not sure what the effective focal lengths of these two views are but I’d guess it’s about 20mm and 50mm. In my tests it appears that the camera merely crops the image to get to the narrow view. If I am wrong, someone please help me out here.

The new model is smaller so the battery is smaller . That part is not good news. In continuous shooting I got just about 45 minutes before the battery went south. You can buy additional batteries and an optional battery pack that extends time but makes the camera about the size of the original Hero. That’s the way to go if size isn’t your main issue.

Paired with the BacPac, you even get a touchscreen LCD that helps you understand what you are actually shooting. The buttons are easier to deal with but there are more nested menus than ever.

Speaking of the BacPac, it’s one of about 50 accessories that you can buy for the GoPro cameras. You can by mounts for almost anything you can think of from surf boards to motorcycles. It’s almost overwhelming.

You can use the Wi-Fi controller that ships with the Model 3 black, but you can also control the camera with an app for iPads or iPhones (yes Android versions are coming.)

All this data can easily confuse you. But the thing to know is the image-quality from this camera is astounding. I watched sample footage on very large screens at SEMA (The big auto show in Vegas) and I have to say I was blown away. I don’t know if you or I can get footage that looks that good from the Hero 3, but the samples show it can be done.

One point I have learned is that the quality improves dramatically if you take the Hero out of it’s waterproof/airtight case. The images look much sharper and there are mounts both from GoPro and third parties that make this possible. If you don’t need to weather/water proof the GoPro Hero – take it out of that damn case.

The operation of the Model 3 is similar to past models. The auto features work well, including exposure and white balance. Everything is pretty much the same with the exception of wi-fi. (Tip – turn off the camera to save the battery. But also turn off the wi-fi. They are two different switches and if you don’t turn them both off, the Hero 3 will run out of juice in a matter of hours.)

Because there is no free lunch you might be wondering what’s the catch. Why is the footage from a tiny camera that is smaller than the palm of your hand? There are two catches. One – these cameras and their accessories are expensive. Second – they require good light. If you’re of the religion of low-light, buy a Canon 5D MK III and brag about your low-light performance.

While this camera is mostly used for video, it can make a decent 12 mp still and in time-lapse mode is a formidable camera. If you do shoot video, you will be interested in the Pro Tune software that takes the raw footage from the new GoPro cameras and makes it look like broadcast footage. But you have to know what you’re doing to get that result.

CONCLUSION

The GoPro cameras have come a long way. Major motion picture producers use them. Hobbyists use them. They can be put places “regular” cameras cannot, yet they can do the same job as almost any other camera. I’ve used up to four GoPros when recording myself racing a car, but I’ve also used them to shoot BTS (Behind the scenes) for training purposes. They are what I like to call “set it and forget it” cameras. But with the addition of the GoPro Hero3 Black edition, there is now the opportunity to get near broadcast quality, and to add more interesting stop motion, time lapse and stills to the mix.

With a wide array of accessories, and wide availability (you can get GoPro stuff online, at any big camera store or even at Best Buy) there’s no doubt in my mind that GoPro will continue to dominate the market. It does have competitors, but none of them have the traction or loyalty that GoPro has.

The new GoPro Hero3 series is a revolutionary step for these cameras and if you can afford the black edition, you get everything you need to create some amazing stuff. Highly recommended.

(NOTE: Wi-Fi is also available for owners of the older GoPro2 cameras via the Wi-Fi BacPac which is an additional accessory that not only gives the older cameras Wi-Fi capability, but an LCD screen as well. One GoPro Wi-Fi remote can control up to 60 different GoPro cameras.)

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