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> GoPro HERO3: Black Edition
Posted by prox, from Sarasota, on December 25, 2012 at 20:02 local (server) time

I picked up a GoPro HERO3: Black Edition camera a few weeks ago.  I like to do silly things with time lapses and HD video, so I figured this camera would be a good fit for my creative side.

GoPro HERO3: Black Edition

The Good

The camera's got a nice wide-angle lens.  This makes it easy to see at least 170°, which usually includes enough context for the scene to make it enjoyable.

The resolution and frame rate on the camera is great.  I usually shoot things in 720p at 60 FPS since the 1080p mode chews up the MicroSD card too quickly.  The modes that I use to shoot have the following bitrate, according to MPlayer on GNU/Linux:

The encoding is variable bit rate (VBR), so the averages might be slightly different.  This page on Wikipedia shows published bit rates.  The camera also supports a few 4K modes, but at lower frame rates.  It'll also do 848 x 480 at a whopping 240 FPS.  I need to do something creative with this!

A Wi-Fi remote control is included, which is handy when unattended operation of the camera is required.  The small LCD display on the camera is duplicated on the Wi-Fi remote control, too, so no features are lost during remote operation.  That being said, using the remote adds a considerable amount of lag for button presses.

Unlike many newer consumer electronics that don't have removable batteries (I'm looking at you, Apple!), the GoPro cameras all seem to have removable batteries.  Among other things, this allows one to swap out the battery during shooting (although this has some implications that I'll disuss in the next section).

The included water-proof enclosure is nifty.  It works well under water to 200 meters (I haven't tried this) and appears to be fairly shock-absorbant, too.  Unfortunately, audio doesn't penetrate it very well, which is to be expected.  All three buttons are still available when in the enclosure, but to replace the battery and connect USB or HDMI, the camera must be completely removed.

The Bad

Let's start out with the worst feature: the HERO3 will overwrite files if you restart the camera.  As far as I can tell, if you turn on the camera, take video or photos, turn off the camera, then turn it back on, it'll immediately start overwriting the previous files regardless of how much free space is on the MicroSD card.

Normally, the HERO3 will write files to the directory DCIM/100GOPRO files with a format of GOPRxxxx.yyy where xxxx is the file numbers (0001 to 9999) and yyy is the extension (LRV, THM, MP4, or JPG).  This format will switch to Gxxxxxxx.yyy when the number of files hit 10,000, which happens often during the time lapse mode.  Most cameras do something like this, it's nothing out of the odrinary.  However, the difference is that when most cameras are powered off and then powered back on, the file numbering starts off with the last file written (usually the highest numbered one).  The HERO3 just resets the counter and starts writing over prior files.  This can even be seen from the number on the LCD display.

There's a configuration knob labeled "loop" that, according to the manual, causes the camera to treat the MicroSD card as a sort of circular buffer and start to overwrite earlier files when the MicroSD card reaches capacity.  This is disabled by default and seems to have no direct relation to this behavior.

As a result, I lost several videos and time lapse sequences before discovering this behavior.  In my opinion, this makes the software on the HERO3 fundamentally "broken" and not fit for sale.  I probably could have said the same thing about the early releases of JUNOS-ES on Juniper's line of SRX firewalls and J-series routers, though.  They just don't make stuff like they used to.  Hopefully this will be fixed in a software update.  I opened up a support ticket with GoPro about this just to be sure they're aware of it.  If they're not.. ugg.

On December 14, 2012, GoPro released a firmware update (HD3.03.02.00) for the HERO3 that allows it to work with the GoPro iOS application.  This allows for a live view and the ability to control the camera and its various settings from an iPad, iPod, or iPhone.  This sounds neat but.. it just doesn't work for me.

The application works by connecting to the camera over Wi-Fi.  The camera itself becomes an access point (the SSID and pre-shared key are set when you download the firmware, but it's really just a text file) and the iOS device is supposed to connect to it.  The IPv4 network used is and addresses are handed out via DHCPv4.  This method is used by other things (like the Brookestone Rover) and is fairly annoying since it prevents iOS device from simultaneously accessing the Internet while connected to whatever specific device is being used.  Anyway, once the iOS device is connected to the camera's Wi-Fi SSID the application will "find" the camera by just connecting to the default gateway.  This is all well and good but, for me, the camera constantly disassociates my iPad after the GoPro application is open for maybe 15 to 30 seconds.  At first I thought it was our Wi-Fi IPS system at work that sometimes misbehaves since that was the first place I tried it.  However, it did the same thing for me at home.  I am betting the bug is in the HERO3 firmware since the Wi-Fi connectivity on iOS isn't handled at all by the GoPro application.

In the time lapse mode, white balance seems to be evaluated only when the sequence is started.  If the lighting conditions change dramatically into the sequence, the subsequent images will often either look too bright or too dark.  I searched around for a setting to fix this but found nothing.  I opened up a support ticket about this.

When shooting on & off at 720p or 1080p, the battery will last about 90 minutes, then die.  I suppose the camera is made for activities that don't last for several hours.  Things like scuba diving, skiing, and surfing come to mind.  Still, it's annoying.  I assume if the video FPS could be dropped to 30 for 720p this would increase the battery life considerably.  Unfortunately (as seen in the above Wikipedia link), there doesn't seem to be any video format that is "easy" on the encoding process.  Everything is at least 20 Mbps.  This lack of flexibility is a bad move on GoPro's part, in my opinion.

The camera and battery both heat up tremendously when shooting video.  I suspect this is due to the encoding processing required that heats up the CPU and simultaneously drains the battery very quickly.  It becomes uncomfortable to hold at times and probably decreases the overall life of the battery.

Sometimes the MicroSD card becomes unreadable by the camera.  Although this happened just once it was a large pain in the butt because I had to reformat the MicroSD card after backing up everything, first.  I still don't know what was wrong with the MicroSD card since connecting it to a USB reader on GNU/Linux worked fine.  The camera would lock up when starting up, requiring the battery to be pulled.

The HDMI connection is quirky.  I tested this on a Vizio TV (W32L A20, 1366x768) and a Samsung computer monitor(S20B350, 1600x900).  The Samsung monitor worked but the Vizio TV never detected a signal, possibly due to a handshake failure.  Furthermore, when I went to play the videos that were stored on the MicroSD card in my HERO3, none were listed.  After taking a short video when still connected to the monitor I went to play it back and the HERO3 complained that the video format was unsupported.  So, the HDMI feature seems useless unless you want to.. well, just see live video from the camera or change settings on a big screen.

The Odd

The camera came in a fairly annoying package.  It took some considerable work to break it and the Wi-Fi remote free due to some tight and thick wires.  The camera actually sits on a removable plastic base that, upon first glance, is just part of the packaging.  However, I'm not so sure of this, since it is very useful and works great when placing the camera on a smooth or semi-smooth surface.  The rubber "feet" on the base were originally connected to the packaging but still contain some stickiness that serves to keep the base still when placed on, oh.. the dashboard of a moving vehicle:

HERO3 Base from Packaging

I can't seem to find a similar base on the accessory list, so I'm holding onto this thing!  I'll probably have to replace the feet eventually, when the stickness wears off.  I suspect double-sided tape will serve as a decent replacement.

There are some odd "LRV" video files that are created along side of the MP4 files.  Apparently these files are the "Low Resolution Version" of the matching MP4 files.  They're used for quick previews, apparently.  Unfortunately, they eat up some space on the MicroSD card and there's no way to turn them off.

The HERO3 actually runs Linux, apparently:

(orion:10:51)% strings HD3.03-firmware.bin|grep Linux.version 
Linux version (rlim@ubuntu) (gcc version 4.4.1 (Sourcery G++ Lite 2009q3-67) ) #1 PREEMPT Thu Dec 13 00:05:05 PST 2012
Linux version

The boot loader is apparently some "Amboot" loader that starts the Linux kernel.  I'm wondering if we're going to see some alternate (less buggy!) firmwares for the HERO3 in the future.  BusyBox httpd 1.19.3, PHP 5.x, and hostapd all are present in the firmware, from what I can see.


The HERO3 is a nice rugged video camera that probably shouldn't have been released until the software was ready.  At this point, it's too buggy to use seriously because of the file overwriting issue.  That being said, I am still having some fun with it:

I keep telling people that I'm going to get the head mounting kit and swim a few laps in the aquatic center.  Hopefully the software will be improved by the time I do that!

Comment by Lee on December 27, 2012 at 23:18 local (server) time

Interesting comments and points made. I will also keep the packaging and the bracket. I wonder how you can tell what firmware version is currently on the camera? I can see a Version number on the remote when it turns on - is that the same as the camera or just for the wi-fi? Do you know?

Comment by Mark Kamichoff [Website] on December 28, 2012 at 09:38 local (server) time

Hi Lee!  The HERO3 writes a version.txt file in the MISC directory on the MicroSD card.  It's got the version in addition to a few other fields:

"info version":"1.1",
"firmware version":"HD3.03.02.00",
"wifi version":"",
"wifi bootloader version":"0.2.2",
"wifi mac":"d896850caf3c",
"camera type":"Hero3-Black Edition",

Comment by Lee on December 29, 2012 at 06:04 local (server) time

Thanks so much - that is very handy to know.

Appreciate it.


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