Finally, the Hero3's new shell features a new, flat lens that is supposed to work better with the new lens' reduced distortion and offer better underwater image quality.
Like every generation of Hero shell before it, the Hero3's clear shell is completely user-serviceable with the ability to replace any component from the lens to the door to the body itself independently. It also retains compatibility with GoPro's entire catalog of mounting options.
Improved video processor
Next, we come to the improved image processor: the component of the Hero3 that most differentiates the Black, White, and Silver editions.
The Black Edition has the newest, fastest processor of the bunch, packing twice the pixel-crunching horsepower of the Hero 2 that we loved so much. In addition to delivering video that is claimed to be twice as sharp as the Hero 2's with improved low-light performance, the Black Edition is able to capture 1080p full-HD video at up to 60fps, 960p Tall HD video (4:3 aspect ratio) at up to 100fps, 720p HD at up to 120fps, and WVGA 480p video at up to 240fps, making it good for slow-motion video.
Users wanting to capture more pixels also have the option of capturing video at 1440p (4:3 aspect ratio) at up to 48fps, 4K Cinema at 12fps, or 2.7K Cinema at up to 30fps. These ultra high resolutions are too pixel dense to be displayed on anything but the most cutting-edge monitors and the 15fps cap of 4K Cinema almost renders it useless for anything but slow, panning establishing shots, but I can see the 2.7K and 1440p resolutions being useful for users who want to have some extra pixels for image stabilization or cropping software to work with.
The Black Edition can also capture still photos at up to 12MP (with 7MP and 5MP modes available) in four different modes: single-shot, time-lapse, burst, and continuous. Time-lapse intervals can be set increments ranging from every half-second to a shot every 60 seconds. Burst modes range from 3fps for one second to 30fps for a 3-second burst, snapping off 90 shots with one button press. The Black Edition also has the unique ability to simultaneously capture still photos while it's recording video with intervals ranging from every 5 to 60 seconds.
The Hero3 Silver Edition uses essentially the same processor as the Hero 2's, so it lacks the Protune mode and its 4K, 2.7K, and 1440p video resolutions. Additionally, its 1080p video caps at 30fps, 960p at 48fps, 720p at 60fps, and WVGA at 120fps. Still photos max out at 11MP with a maximum burst rate of 10fps over 2 seconds. The Silver Edition also lacks the ability to simultaneously capture photos while recording video.
Finally, the White Edition uses an even lower-capped processor. It's HD video caps out at 30fps for 1080p and 960p and 60fps for 720p and WVGA. Still photos are captured at only 5MP with a maximum burst of 3fps over a single second.
Video samples: Black Edition
Note: Be sure to play back the sample in full-screen and in YouTube's HD mode to view the full-resolution video.
The $399.99 flagship GoPro Hero3 Black Edition goes head-to-head and toe-to-toe with the top of line Contour+2, which retails for the same price. Both cameras offer great HD video quality and both cameras ship with waterproof, ruggedized plastic shells to protect your investment. Both feature built-in wireless connectivity with smartphone apps: GoPro uses Wi-Fi; Contour uses Bluetooth. The Contour+2 wins a round with its ability to record and embed GPS elevation and speed data into its videos and the fact that it ships with video editing software, while the GoPro offers neither. I've also noted on many occasions that the Contour is easier for novices to use, with its slide and record control scheme.
However, the Hero3's smaller chassis, on-device display and controls, and superior resolutions and available frame rates make it the obvious winner in a spec battle. If you're a semi-professional or prosumer sports camera enthusiast, taking an extra day to figure out the Hero3's more complex control scheme is totally worth the greater amount of on-device flexibility of shooting modes.
However, at about four Benjamins, the Hero3 Black Edition may be too much camera for your average consumer who only occasionally hits the slopes or is only uploading to YouTube or Facebook. For those who don't need 4K video or want to hold off on buying the Wi-Fi remote, the $299.99 Silver Edition and $199.99 White Edition meet the right price points, but come into competition with the newly announced ContourRoam 2.