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Tiny GoPro Hero 3 Black Edition captures 4K video

GoPro packs a lot of new features into the smallest camera that it has ever offered.

Antuan Goodwin/CNET

SAN FRANCISCO--GoPro pulled the wraps off of a new generation of its line of Hero sports camera packages built around the smallest, most powerful camera that it has ever offered: the GoPro Hero3.

The GoPro Hero3 Black Edition is the flagship model that will retail for $399.99. This new model features a chassis that is 30 percent smaller and 25 percent lighter than the outgoing Hero2 model and is only 20mm thick when removed from its plastic shell. The plastic shell itself is also smaller (obviously) and features a new flat lens. The case also features a double lock that ensures that the rear plastic door isn't going anywhere once it's sealed, unless you want it to -- even then, it's sort of tricky to deal with.

Where the rubber meets the metaphorical road, you'll find a new lens that captures images that are 2x sharper than the Hero2's, offers 2x better low-light performance, and reduces distortion. (GoPro tells us that a bit of the trademark ultrawide angle distortion has been left in the Hero3 to maintain the "signature GoPro look.")

Behind that lens, you'll find a new video processor that is twice as fast as the Hero2's, which gives it the capability to capture some serious resolution. The Hero3 is able to capture up to 4K video at up to 15 frames per second, a new 2.7K video resolution at up to 30fps, and an oddball 4:3 aspect ratio 1440p video at up to 48fps. Of course the standard HD resolutions also make return appearances. The Hero3 Black Edition fleshes out its list of formats with 1080p full HD at 60fps, 960p tall HD at 100fps, 720p HD at up to 120fps, and WVGA 480p at up to 240fps. You may think that 4K video is overkill, particularly at the low 15fps frame rate, but being able to capture more-conventional HD video resolutions at ridiculously high frame rates can make for some sweet slow-motion video.

Still photos can be captured at 12 megapixels at up to a 30fps burst and in time-lapse intervals ranging from 0.5 to 60 seconds. The Hero3 uses the improved LCD that debuted on the Hero2 and the same two-button interface for power/mode and shutter release of every GoPro model that's come before it, but there's a new Wi-Fi button on one side that betrays the fact that every new GoPro Hero3 features built-in Wi-Fi connectivity. Out of the box, you get compatibility with the GoPro app for smartphones and the GoPro Wi-Fi remote. In fact, the Black Edition even comes with that Wi-Fi remote in the box.

The bank of connections and ports has been simplified. You only get Micro-HDMI for video output, Mini-USB for charge and sync (it also works for USB audio out and analog video out with optional adapters), a microSD card slot (as opposed to the full-size SD cards of the previous generations), and the proprietary BacPac connection for adding additional hardware such as extended batteries and the new LCD Touch BacPac. Alongside the new Hero3, GoPro is launching a new Battery BacPac and an LCD Touch BacPac that offers brighter video, clearer sound, and touch sensitivity over the previous generation LCD BacPac.

In addition to the Black Edition, GoPro will also offer the GoPro Hero3 Silver edition for $299.99, which offers the same small form factor as the Black Edition, but loses the capability to capture 4K, 2.7K, or 1440p video. The Silver also has lower frame rate caps on the 1080p, 960p, 720p, and 480p video capture modes and a lower maximum still photo resolution of 11 megapixels. Finally, there's the entry-level GoPro Hero3 White Edition for $199.99, which has even lower frame rate caps on the video modes and a maximum of 5 megapixels for its still photos.

All Hero3 models feature a new smaller waterproof housing to accommodate the smaller Hero3 chassis; the flat lens cover offers better underwater image quality with lower levels of distortion. The GoPro Hero3 Black Edition, Silver Edition, and White Edition, along with a new range of accessories and BacPacs, go on sale October 22. Stay tuned for video samples sometime after the sun comes up.