Herography in perfection?
While one and the other diver turns away from his/her GoPro HD Hero or HD Hero 2 in total frustration, I probably need to be counted to those die-hards that stick to the style of (underwater) «Herography» ... much in the sense of Lomography.

Why else on earth should someone accept this discoloring feature of the HD Hero2 that has been sailing under the misnomer of «white balancing» after all? Why buying another Hero model after all the adventures in GoPro firmware regression land? Die hard? Unconvinceable? Is there something interessting with the new «HD Hero 3 Black Edition»? My first glimpse...

In another blog article, I already explained my rationale for not parting from my HD Hero cams even if they are limited in many ways. In my opinion, the resulting videos are worth the hassle, despite all the GoPro and Hero problems. Since you need to do post processing in any case, the Heros are no way worse than other, much more expensive cameras. And since I'm not aimining at posing as a (wannabe) professional videonista I just stay with my Heros. That's Herography, probably.

Of course, not least these are main problems that are plaguing the HD Hero 2 model:
  • unusable white balance under water in almost all lighting conditions that are not truly excellent. Even what GoPro calls their «neutral color profile» in the Protune modes cannot earn a nickel in terms of quality.
  • Cucumber firmware that even resists to ripen in the users' hands. That's right: cucumber, not banana, because the latter may actually ripen after the buy, but the former won't at all.

The 3 Heros

When introducing the Hero 3 models it stopped the existing HD Hero and Hero 2 products. However, the new Hero 3 product line does not completely supersede the old models and rather replaces them, so there are now three different Hero 3 models. All under the same moniker. That may be the reason for calling it «Hero 3», after all. Despite sharing the same family name, these models are differing wildly in their capabilities:
  • HD Hero 3 Black Edition: this is the only model that really got a new sensor and that is interesting to divers. More about it in a few seconds.
  • HD Hero 3 Silver Edition: an upgraded Hero 2, but still with the old sensor. It now got integrated Wi-Fi, that is a real bon under water. Not. But the real bon is that it now allows to control and switch off the white balancing. However, if you already own a Hero 2, the silver model is no upgrade path.
  • HD Hero 3 White Edition: again an upgraded cam, but this time, the trusty old Hero 1, still with the old sensor, but now processor. Also features Wi-Fi capability, above water. It's not worth upgrading as for some more bucks you get much more bang. This one seems to fill in a budget niche in order to attract customers to the GoPro brand.

HD Hero 3 Black Edition

For divers, only the HD Hero 3 Black Edition is of any interest. After all: white balancing that you switch off. Sweet irony: a non-feature feature! Also really useful: some of the improved video modes, either resolution or frame-rate wise. Of real use to divers are:
  • 1080p now with 50 fps (frames per second), and this even in wide, medium and narrow field of view (FOV). Caveat: Protune currently does not support narrow POV.
  • 2700x1520 with 25 fps, but only with wide FOV. Marketing tries to sell this as 2.7K instead of the honest 1520p. Now, that's the usual marketeers from the master of bullshit ass-ministration universities.
When it comes to the advantages and disadvantages of the many video modes, the fine blog article «Understanding Your New GoPro» from Abe Kislevitz is a must-read. This brilliant article confirms my suspicion: 1080p with either 25 or 50 fps, or alternatively 1520p/25fps are those modes well-suited to diving. But we will see...

Unfortunately, GoPro could not resist in designing also the Hero 3 series with a light front. Thank you for reflecting on my motives. So I'm really luck that I'm diving in cold, filthy waters, so there are no reflexions, as there is no light after all.

At a Glance

What I like:
  • (+) white balancing can be switched off.
  • (+) you can switch off the white balancing. Yes, I'm repeating myself, but this here is really important.
  • (+) did I mention that you can...?
  • (+) Protune raw footage has much less color noise compared to the Hero HD 2 in low light conditions, thanks to the better sensor.
  • (+) 1080p now in 50fps: albeit my diving style is really calm and slow, sometimes 50fps would be good to have. For instance, for that story about the pearch and the crab...
  • (+) new 1520p resolution. Albeit only with 25fps, it gives me much for room in post processing to properly frame and stablize. And that without loosing resolution. Due to the technical design, you have to live with wide FOV only, as this resolution uses the complete sensor area.
  • (+) no more separate dive housing to buy and pay for. There is only one type of housing again, it has a flat front «lens», and it is approved for 60m as before. And all this right out of the box.
  • (+) the standard flat front plate is more compact compared to the after-design that the Hero 1&2 dive housing was. It is not only neat to look at, but also much more usable, as it doesn't conflict with the front button and displays anymore.
  • (+) the new improved housing lock mechanism. While I never had any problems with the old and simpler one opening under water (at least not down to 40 meters), this surely is an improvement. However, it comes at the cost that it is almost impossible to operate with your dry gloves don.
What I dislike:
  • (-) the even smaller capacity of the battery: only 1050mAh. Thus, the Hero 3 Black Edition doesn't even last an hour under water with the LCD bacpac.
  • (-) taking pictures while filming ... would have been a great feature, but unfortunately it doesn't work with Protune enabled. Since you need to switch off white balancing in order to get proper imagery, and you can do this only in Protune mode which disables taking pictures simultaneously ... this is of no value to divers in the end. Unless you like the color green extensively!
  • (-) integrated wireless network (Wi-Fi) and a Wi-Fi remote control. This is of no use at all under water. So I'm paying for something I never wanted.
  • (-) the brand-new touch LCD bacpac: again, an additional feature of no use at all under water. While it is great above water as it really eases configuring the Hero 3, it is too expensive just for that purpose.

First Video Impression

My first tests of the HD Hero 3 Black Edition were only above water so far. However, despite the current cloudy and overcast winter weather the results were promising. At least for me as a diver. Even with Protune enabled overall color noise levels were satisfyingly low. Seems like the raw material might be usable without much post processing. In contrast, I never managed to get usable Protune raw material from the Hero 2, because it had color noise like totally drunken.

Hopefully I can find even better setting for those difficult low-light conditions. Reducing color noise is something where the Heros really excel, unfortunately for me, Protune disables this feature. If GoPro only would give us no white balancing in standard modes!

MicroSD Cards, Class 10/U1 and 45Mbit/s

Sandisk and Co will like the GoPro Hero 3 series much, as it helps them selling new microSD cards alot. The Hero 1 and 2 both swallowed ordinary SD cards, but now you need to miniaturize for whatever reason. But since my SD cards were almost all only slow class 4 cards I have to buy new cards anyway in order to use Protune for switching off white balancing. Funny how others make much money from a feature that you want to switch off.

With Protune enabled, video bitrates jump up to new heights: instead of 15MBit/s we're now facing up to 45MBit/s with the Hero 3 Black Edition. And unfortunately, the whole writing process is rather picky when it comes to real time properties.

While «class 10» guarantees a certain reading performance, write performance actually is much lower. And on top of that, there are no ratings for continuous writing performance. So there may be short stalls with some memory controllers when they need to open another page into the flash memory. All this can cause Heros to hickup very badly, sometimes even freezing completely. My Hero 2 was notorious in this respect, so I had another reason to avoid Protune at all.

However, so far I had no problems with SanDisk Ultra 16GB Class U1 cards in my HD Hero 3 Black Edition. No hickups, no freezes so far. Hopefully this will also be the case under water in low temperatures ... but the Hero 3 rather fries memory cards then letting them getting cold.

Firmware Updating

After the total fiasco with updating cam firmware through the totally crappy Cinedoohickey software there is now relief again. Maybe GoPro learnt its lesson that you should not believe in your customers being complete idiots. Never extrapolate from your marketing to customers.

When getting your new GoPro HD Hero 3 out of its box you need to upgrade its firmware first. Oh well. Luckily, just ignore the Java security nightmare that they installed on the GoPro website and choose the manual and well-described way to successful update. Some clicks later you get a simple ZIP file download that you need to unpack and copy the files contained therein to a microSD card. Put this card into the Hero 3 and switch it on. It will recognize the update automatically and tuck on. No need for a difficult finger dance any more, like it was necessary with the Hero 2. Good to see that GoPro comes back to its technical senses, if only slow.

If you ever watched the forums you already knew the complete disaster that the update path using Cinedoohickey was. Combined with a utterly broken Windows USB system, heroic fail was imminent. Also, it was like pissing in the faces of Linux users. But maybe, err, let us better put this image aside...


It's currently a little difficult to understand what existing add-ons still work with the new Hero 3. In principle:
  • the new housing of the Hero 3 has less depth, so you can't use existing housings. You can use existing backdoors, however. The geometry of the flat front lens has also changed, so existing filters don't fit anymore.
  • mechanical add-ons, such as various adaptors, will usually still fit. Existing backdoors are also reuable (and have to be used in some cases).
  • LCD bacpac: works also with the HD Hero 3 series. However, small image regions at the borders will be cut off on the display. But this should not be of any problem, as menus can still be read and for framing while filming it is almost perfect.
  • Hero 1&2 batteries: nope, cannot be used directly, as the battery changed with the Hero 3 models.
  • However, you can still use them with the old battery bacpac that is still superior to the new black and sealed one. If only GoPro would do an integrated LCD and battery bacpac, that would actually make most sense to us divers.

To Buy or Not To Buy?

Tricky to answer. The laughable battery operating time of the HD Hero 3 Black Edition surely is a big con. And if you count the bucks you will spend on all the necessary add-ons you can quickly reach regions of classic underwater cameras. However, often you also need to bleed through the nose with those classic cams. And they are no guarantee to good footage.

If you like it small, compact and nifty, go for the GoPro HD Heros. You probably need to be a real friend of this concept as you need to live with all their glitches and many shortcomings. Heros are not for macro photography. There's only one focus and it is fixed. For newbies this thus may be the wrong cam to start with. You have to be clear about what you will be dealing with.

In the end, it may actually be better to immediately start with not one, but two HD Hero 3 Blacks. One for filming in 1080p/50fps/medium or narrow. A second one for filming at the same time in 1520p/25fps/wide FOV... hmm...