The HERO3+ Black Edition Camera - A Kino-Eye for Today
The Hero3+ is a unique kind of product. Marketed as an action camera, it is in fact a whole new type of personal device as it enables a different set of possibilities in terms of the relationship of person to their environment, Wi-Fi and all.
These cameras are marvelous additions to everyday life and provide hours of footage that can be turned into professional film productions. You can also shoot stills - 12MP stills at up to 30 frames per second—for fast-action sequences. There is also a time lapse mode that enables automatic photo capture at 0.5, 1, 2, 5, 10, 30 or 60 second intervals. The "Continuous Photo" mode lets you capture full-resolution stills at a regular 3, 5 or 10 frames per second by holding the shutter button down continuously.
The first thing that strikes you about it when you open it up is the elegant and solid packaging. The camera comes mounted on a hinge-based platform that is also its display and packaging case. This transparent box can itself be used as a weatherproof housing for outdoor shoots. Thus an air of pragmatism, practicality and 'action' accompanies the device from the minute you unbox it. Inside there is a small remote control, ruggedized with rubber and a nifty lanyard for use when doing sports that lets you turn the camera on and off should it be mounted where you cannot easily get at it. This is charged as is the camera with supplied USB cables.
Footage is recorded directly onto microUSB flash cards which are inserted under a removable panel in the side, where a standard USB socket lives. This panel, being removable would be easy to lose, which is probably why a replacement is provided. Why not make it a sliding panel instead? Just a thought. The footage itself, due to the screen resolution involved is often of high frame weight, so the transfer times can be lengthier than I had expected. A 2 hour concert performance at 1280p took almost as long to transfer from flash memory to computer hard drive as it did to film, and some kind of hardware acceleration device to assist this would be useful.
The lens can be capped, and probably should be most of the time. A fixed ultra-wide angle, virtually fish-eye affair, the field of view favors the intended market's 'selfie' video-while-doing-extreme-sports shot. The wider the angle the better for any moving shot, but should you need to un-widen a sequence, a downloadable software package for mac or PC allows you to do just that, though some loss of the frame information inevitably results from the width and height frame transformation - the image has to be stretched from something that looks like it covers a ball to something that covers the side of a shoebox, so some bits are lost, but the GoPro software is very easy to use and works well.
What makes the Go Pro camera so elegant from my point of view as a film maker is its very high-quality construction, its ease of use, and its beautiful but simple user interface based around a basic LCD display. A camera this small cannot have realistically have a display bigger than that supplied which is reminiscent of a small LCD watch. The menu-based interface is navigated by both the 'choose' and 'record' buttons on the front and top of the camera respectively. Evocative of the navigation of the menus of pre-smart phones, this process becomes surprisingly easy to master after a while, where actions such as setting still or video, video resolution, sound effects on or off etc become second nature. I like this aspect of the Go Pro the best, as it has enabled the camera to be no bigger than a matchbox, yet obtain shots that could quite literally be shown in an IMAX theater.
In the 1928 the Russian film maker Dziga Vertov made a film called 'The Man with a Movie Camera' about the new possibilities opened up by cinema. Cinema, he argued was not only for the world of entertainment and science but for life and society itself. He even wrote a manifesto called 'Kino Eye' in which the very act of recording life was the same as creating it. His movie shows he and his brother carrying a large camera everywhere they can carry it. To the top of massive chimneys, under trains, on motorcycles, on airplanes. If Vertov were around today, he'd ditch his hand-cranked 35mm cameras for a suitcase full of Go Pro Hero3+ cameras for sure.
Using the Go Pro Hero for several months has shown me the possibilities as a film maker of using sports action cameras as adjuncts to everyday life. I've used a lot of cameras since the late 1970s, and have developed a sense of which cameras work best for films about everyday life. Thirty years ago I carried a battery operated Canon super8 camera small enough to carry everywhere in my pocket. I could shoot short bursts, and this was my style of film at the time. More recently I've been using clip on cameras, 808 type keyfob cameras, iPhones, generic mp4 cameras from China that also let you play games. The rise of the H264 compression system and .mp4 has meant a massive increase in chipsets that record amazingly high quality video. What you pay for is the lenses and the CMOS, and the GoPro configuration is among the best, not the least due to the state-of-the-art battery technology and housing and mount system.
High-resolution, high-frame rate 1440p48, 1080p60, 960p100 and 720p120 video modes result in professional quality footage and allow for liquid-smooth slow motion playback. 4Kp15 and 2.7Kp30 enable ultra high-resolution, cinema quality capture.
Some technical specifications on video capture:
H.264 codec, .mp4 file format
Advanced Video Capture Settings
Video mode that captures the world's most immersive wide angle perspective. Allows you to capture more of yourself and your surroundings in the shot, and provides full widescreen playback.
SuperView Mode Video Resolution
1080 SuperView 1920 x 1080
720 SuperView 1280 x 720
The Go Pro device is also sold (thankfully) with a waterproof housing. You can drop the camera in the water and it will record you & others swimming, surfing etc. The same housing is a rugged case that protects the camera from impact as well. The Go Pro is not just a camera but a whole family of brackets, mounts, and interlocking hinge based mounts and clips that enable the user to attach the camera onto any smooth surface for filming on the go.
The main market for the Go Pro is of course the extreme sport set but using it as a kind of regular video camera I have found that it makes a solid device for everyday use. If you treat it like a point and shoot, it will work in the same way, you can un-stretch those shots later; if indeed you want them un-stretched - the fish-eye shots take on a certain appeal of their own after a while.The lenses unscrew and are interchangable but this is by no mans a trivial or straightforward process, and lenses are often not sold along with the brackets and mounts in most of the stores I've visited and need to be ordered online.
The extreme wide angle lens that the camera comes with out of the box which is fine for surfboard shots or skateboard action or skydiving when you want to be sure that you are included in the free-fall sequence along with the surrounding environment. A Wi-Fi connection enables video preview as well as photo and video sharing with the downloadable GoPro App and also enables communication with the supplied remote control.
Jake Read flies quadrocopters and mounts Go Pro cameras on them and the greatest advantage for him of the Go Pro is the size and scale. The devices are small and lightweight enough to be mounted onto most flying platforms, the heaviest element being the (thankfully) removable rechargeable battery.
The screen resolution and frame rate options are very considerable for a device so small, and if anything possibly rather daunting to the newcomer, and in particular the availability of cinema-quality 4K resolution is welcome, enabling footage to hold up well on the big screen should it need to.
GoPro Hero3+ Black Edition is not only a camera. It is a whole personal video production family - mounts, extensions, lenses, housings.. It is a system of sports visualization tools and it currently dominates this one section of the market. It can be used in more ways than it is being sold for and it pays to think of it as more than simply a helmet camera for the adventurous, but a kind of mini-camera for everyday use. A kino-eye for today.