The incremental update brings better Wi-Fi and battery life, a new lens, and a couple added shooting features, and keeps its predecessor's great video performance.
Depending on whom you ask, GoPro's action cameras are the best available or they're all marketing.
Regardless of where you fall -- or if you're still undecided -- it's impossible to ignore GoPro's position in the category. The release of 2012's Hero3 models seemed to propel them far in front of competitors and the 2013 Hero3+ models aim to keep them there.
The Hero3+ Black Edition is the top of the GoPro lineup, followed by the Hero3+ Silver Edition, and the Hero3 White Edition, with the White being the only one unchanged from 2012. (Oh, and despite the colorful names, the cameras are all silver and black with just the "3" on front in the corresponding color.)
As the highest-end model, the Black Edition has the most shooting options including a Protune mode for high-bit-rate video with neutral color and 24 frames per second recording for professional video production, the highest resolution capabilities up to 4K at 15fps, and includes a Wi-Fi remote.
Compared to the Hero3, the Hero3+ has a lighter, smaller housing, longer battery life, faster Wi-Fi for use with the GoPro app, a SuperView mode for more immersive wide-angle video, an Auto Low-Light mode, and updated lens for sharper video.
Yes, at $399.99 it's expensive, but, for the category, the video quality is excellent and if you want the best video you can get from an action cam, what you want is the GoPro Hero3+ Black Edition. That said, other aspects might turn you off and there are certainly other cameras with very good video quality that might be a better fit for your needs and your wallet.
In the box
GoPro doesn't exactly shortchange you on accessories for your $400, but at the very least you'll need to get a microSD card up to 64GB. That's really the only thing that you'll need in addition to what's in the box to get you shooting.
The camera's waterproof housing is good to depths of 131 feet (40 meters); the Hero3's dive housing was good to 197 feet (60 meters). If you don't need the camera to be dust- or waterproof and would like a bit more audio to reach the built-in mono mic, you can swap out the standard backdoor for the skeleton backdoor.
The housing is smaller and lighter than past versions and has a new lens surround, so if you've invested in any sort of lens filters or replacements for the Hero3 housing, they likely won't work with the Hero3+ housing. Also, the latching mechanism has been changed and now no longer has a locking switch on top. The housing is still difficult to open, though, which is for the best in this case.
Two adhesive mounts are included -- one flat and one curved -- so you can slap one on a helmet and go. The mounts work with GoPro's quick-release buckles that attach to the bottom of the camera's housing. You'll find a horizontal as well as a vertical buckle and a three-way pivot arm, so you can mount the camera on the top, front, or side of a helmet.
Once you've put the mount on your helmet, just slide your buckle of choice into it and it's securely attached. A small locking plug (also included) can be used to help prevent the buckles from accidentally releasing from the mount from force or vibration.
There is no charger in the box for the camera, just a Mini-USB cable for charging via computer or USB wall adapter if you have one. GoPro offers a two-battery external charger, but again, you'll need a USB wall adapter or a computer to supply the power. Otherwise, since you're charging in camera, you'll need to plan ahead if you want to carry additional batteries.
Lastly, there's a Wi-Fi remote that comes with the Black Edition. It requires a special charging cable, which is included, but also means if you lose it, it'll cost you $20 to replace. It is nice to have, though, for the those times when you don't want to whip out your smartphone to remotely start and stop recordings. It's waterproof to 10 feet and can control up to 50 cameras at once from up to 600 feet away.
Design and features
There are some differences between the bodies of the Hero3 and Hero3+, but you'd pretty much have to have it side by side to see them. The Hero3+ remains a little box that is not rugged without its housing, unlike competitors from iON, Garmin, and Drift. Don't get me wrong, the camera feels very well constructed and might survive a minor tumble, but its GoPro's housing that keeps the camera dry and safe.
The camera can sit up on its own, but without an integrated tripod mount there's no way to easily attach the camera to anything without using a housing. Being a leader, if not the leader, in action cams, there's no shortage of mounting options available from GoPro and third-party accessory makers. It's certainly an advantage to getting a GoPro, but not a big one since other action cams either have tripod mounts or available adapters to use with GoPro mounts.
As with the Hero3, the camera's left side has Micro-HDMI and Mini-USB ports and a microSD card slot that supports capacities up to 64GB. On back is a panel covering its removable battery (the same used for the Hero3) and an input for use with GoPro's LCD Touch BacPac or Battery BacPac. There is no 3.5mm audio-in for an external mic, but a Mini-USB-to-3.5mm-audio-in cable is available.
As for actually shooting with the camera, like its predecessor, the 3+ is loaded down with resolution options and frame rate settings. Yes, it shoots in 4K, but at 15fps, it's not good for much. Dropping down to 2.7K, you get 30fps and 24fps settings. Even if you don't have anything to view that one, the extra resolution gives you editing flexibility. For the most part, though, you'll probably want to stick to 1080p or 720p resolutions for battery life reasons alone.
The Hero3+ still has the Protune mode for professionals or hobbyists looking for more control over results. There are burst and continuous photo shooting options, too. And, there's the capability to shoot video and time lapse photos simultaneously. There is a lot here to play with (click on the chart above to see the full list on GoPro's site).
The camera's built-in Wi-Fi is used for two things: Connecting to mobile devices via the GoPro app for iOS, Android, and Windows Phone 8, and for use with the included Wi-Fi remote. The remote gives you the same menu interface, screen, and buttons as on the camera. It's fine for starting and stopping recordings or changing shooting modes, but can be frustrating for changing settings -- just as it is on the actual camera. For that, you're better off connecting to the app.
The GoPro app gives you a live preview of your shot and, with the camera's faster Wi-Fi performance, there is only a one or two second delay between camera movement and what's on screen. The app also lets you start and stop recordings, change all of the camera's settings, and play and download clips from the camera onto your device. However, not all resolutions are supported for playback and download.
When you're done shooting and ready to edit, the free GoPro Studio 2.0 software for Windows and Mac is actually pretty powerful and easy to use. The latest version has drag-and-drop templates along with several other new features to make your videos look more professional.
There are a lot of features in both, so if you want to know more about what they can do, here are videos explaining the app and Studio software.
The Hero3+ Black Edition produces some of the best quality video I've seen from an action cam. With few exceptions, bit rates on action cameras tend to be around 15Mbps or lower. The Black Edition passes double that amount of data, giving you nice detail -- even when you're moving fast.