How do you continue to improve on an already class-leading product? That must be the question echoing around the design and engineering halls of GoPro, the company behind the eponymous action camera that created a whole new market of devices.
The Hero3+ is the latest offering that brings a range of important updates to the tried-and-tested formula, all the while keeping the same form factor as the Hero3.
The waterproof housing has been redesigned, reducing the dimensions ever so slightly to make a 20 per cent smaller package than the Hero3 inside its previous casing. It's important to note that the actual camera itself hasn't been made smaller — for all intents and purposes the unit is identical to the previous version. Only the waterproof housing has been made slimmer, which means less bulk for mounting purposes. What's most pleasing about the new casing are the new buttons. Now they are larger and flatter, making for less painful button presses when the camera is in the housing.
No more finger aches: the housing buttons are now nice and flat.
One of the most significant ways in which GoPro has defined the action camera category is through the robust mounting system. There are a couple of new mounts available for users to hook up the Hero3+, which include:
Jaws — a flexible clamp that's backwards compatible with older GoPro cameras and can be attached to a number of different surfaces and objects, like trees
Junior Chesty — a smaller version of the chest harness, specifically designed for children
Head strap and quick clip — used to mount the GoPro to baseball hats, belts or straight on the head.
The frame rates of the Hero3+ remain largely unchanged from the earlier Black Edition, with the camera able to record at 1440/48p, 1080/60p, 960/100p and 720/120p. This also means that the 4K recording feature is also the same, still only able to achieve this resolution at 15p, while 2.7K video is at 30p.
To somewhat make up for the 4K specifications, GoPro has introduced Superview. This recording mode gives you a wider field of view than on the previous camera. It takes the 4:3 image and dynamically stretches it to the 16:9 aspect ratio. This means that you effectively get the same content from a 4:3 frame but made to fit in a wider, more cinematic format. The image stretching occurs at the edges of the frame. Therefore, as long as the main subject is in the centre of the frame, distortion is kept to a minimum. Superview is available in both 1080p and 720p recording and is turned on by default.
Auto low-light mode helps the Hero3+ produce better-looking footage when the ambient lighting conditions change. Generally, it will drop the frame rate automatically, depending on the mode you are currently recording in. For example, if you are shooting at 1440/48p and the camera detects a low-light situation, the frame rate will drop to 1440/24p.
By default, though, this mode is not switched on. To activate it, find it in the frame rate selection menu. The difference between having low-light mode turned on or off is negligible, but it is nice to have it if you know you are shooting exclusively at night.
General operation is the same as the previous Hero 3. Press and hold the power button to turn the camera on, while a single press will cycle through the shooting menu and other options. The record button at the top either starts/stops recording or drills down into the menus to change particular features. The Wi-Fi button at the side does exactly what it says on the tin, while the front LCD panel gives you an overview of what recording mode the Hero 3+ is currently using. There is still no LCD panel on the back to show you what exactly is being captured by the camera. To see this information, you can use the built-in Wi-Fi to connect to the GoPro app and to use a smartphone as a remote viewfinder, or you can attach the optional LCD BacPac.
Still images are captured at 12 megapixels, while there are a number of photo features to play around with, including burst, continuous, time-lapse or simultaneous photo and video capture. Users now get the option of changing the white balance from an automatic value to either 3000K, 5500K or 6500K, depending on the lighting conditions.
Like the Hero3, the 3+ comes with Protune mode. This is GoPro's form of RAW video, producing a file with less compression than the standard MP4 output. The neutral colour profile is designed to give the best results for grading and being interspersed with footage from other cameras.
GoPro claims 30 per cent better battery life on the new camera compared to the previous model. With Wi-Fi switched off, GoPro rates the battery as good for recording two hours of footage at 1080/30p. As you can see in the video above, the battery on the Hero3+ lasted longer than the Hero3, managing to clock up one hour 37 minutes of continuous recording at 1080/50p compared to the one hour 12 minutes on the older camera.
Connectivity options are the same as on the Hero3, including mini USB and micro HDMI, while the camera supports microSD cards up to 64GB. Like before, you can attach a 3.5mm external microphone to the GoPro with an optional extra accessory.
Although the lens specifications remain unchanged from the earlier camera (f/2.8 lens), GoPro says that it's a sharper model than in the previous camera.
The White Edition is the same as before, being the cheapest entry point into the GoPro world.
Image and video quality
The Hero3+ has some marked improvements in still images. In particular, the Hero3+ definitely trumps the Hero3 when it comes to white balance. As seen in the image comparison below, the 3+ photo looks a lot more natural, without the green tinge that affects the frame on the 3.
A side-by-side comparison of still images from the Hero3 and Hero3+. Click here for the full-resolution comparison image.
When using auto low-light mode and comparing it to the regular footage from the Hero 3, the difference is very small. It's nice to have the feature, but it's not reason enough to upgrade from the Hero3. The Hero3+ does a slightly better job of adjusting the exposure when there is a sharp difference between light and dark situations.
Though the lens on the Hero3+ may be sharper than before, you don't actually get to see much evidence of that in terms of increased detail. Unfortunately, the over processing on still images in particular means that perceived sharpness is lost because of digital noise. That said, this is only obvious if you are pixel peeping or inspecting images at 100 per cent magnification. We dare say that most users won't be looking at photos like this, just sharing them in low-resolution forms, which means they won't even notice the issue.
Audio quality from the Hero3+ is vastly improved from before. The repositioning of one of the microphones to the top of the casing makes for much better audio pickup and clearer sound when recording through the waterproof casing.
While the updates to the bestselling Hero camera may not seem like a lot, the Hero3+ is definitely greater than the sum of its parts. It's the small things that make a big difference — faster Wi-Fi, a longer-lasting battery and better white balance mean that the Hero3+ is still the action camera to beat.