GoPro Hero 3 Black Edition Equipment

After having collected some more experience with my two GoPro HD Hero Black Edition cams also under water, it think that it is time for a first summary. You could already read some early impressions in my blog articles about ice diving and my (self-ironic) disposition towards Herography. But what is now the state of affairs after a few dives?

The Big Picture: What Equipment Do I Need?

It is probably the most easiest to explain the situation using the following picture. It should give you an overview and orientation about the individual parts of what I consider to be more or less essential Hero 3 equipment when filming under water.

The principle is as follows: green equipment is the basic equipment you get from GoPro in their box. But without the yellow parts it's no fun filming under water and without the really essential red gear you will really have a dead cam most of the time due to lack of portable energy at site. Interestingly, this essential gear is not available from GoPro itself but only from independent vendors.

Green: GoPro HD Hero 3 Black Edition;
but without essential additional equipment (red and yellow) not really useful to us divers.

Green: The Basic Equipment from the Box

The green equipment is what you will find inside the GoPro HD Hero 3 Black Edition box. First, you should check that you've got the newest firmware and update otherwise or just to be sure. Luckily, the days of the totally useless Widnows-based update trash software is gone and GoPro very clearly explains how to do a manual update. They learned me thinks.

The important basic stuff:
  • Black Beauty: the GoPro HD Hero 3 Black Edition is the only edition interesting to underwater filming: it has a better sensor now with reduced color noise and better low-light sensitivity, compared to the Hero 2 and Hero 3 Silver Edition. And you can switch off white balancing, albeit GoPro euphemistically call this to set white balancing to «raw». I'm only filming in this WB raw mode.
  • Diving housing: all GoPro HD Hero 3 editions now always come with the dive housing. Under normal circumstances, there is no separate dive housing anymore you need to buy extra. As before, it is rated for 60m (but better don't think about dynamic pressure resistance, that's quite a different beast, but yet I hadn't any problems with my GoPro Hero housings down to 40m).
  • MicroSD cards: wish you much fun finger wrestling these tiny things of plastic. For added sadism, GoPro placed the microSD card slot as close as possible to the mini USB and mini HDMI connectors. The cover for these connectors is loose so it can get loose any time.
  • For your tiny fingers:
    doors galore.
    • Card speed: for diving, the interesting video resolutions together with Protune (you know, «WB raw») crank up write speeds to above 40 Mbit/s. This causes all kinds of problems with many microSD cards, often only intermittent and thus difficult to diagnose. Either filming just stops or the firmware hangs completely. Which is really convenient when on a dive where you can't simply pull the battery.
    • For diving you will thus need class 10 rated microSD cards, also more and more rated as U1 (with a digit 1 within an enclosing U).
    • I have good experiences so far with Sandisk Ultra microSD cards. But beware, as there seem to be two variants in the market and both are rated as class 10/U1. However, on variant is slightly cheaper and Sandisk doesn't promise uncompromised full HD compatibility.
    • Format your microSD cards solely in your GoPro HD Hero 3. This gets you a fresh and unfragmented file system which in turn reduces the danger of unwanted write access delays. These irregulary write delays can cause havoc to the Hero 3 such as filming stops or the firmware hangs. For this reason, please never delete single files from the microSD card, always format the card completely.
    • At this time, a sensible card capacity is 32GB: such cards are sold at acceptable prices and allow 1h40m filming time at a resolution of 2700×1520 pixels with 25 frames per second. This is more than a single battery pack lasts. 64GB cards currently seem to be a constant source of problems; for some they work great, but there is many quarrel in the forums, so in general they don't seem to have the same level of robustness and interoperability as the 32GBit ones. In addition, you need to use the ExFAT file system with 64GBit cards which causes all kinds of additional trouble in itself. Thanks, Microsoft for your Intellectural Poverty.
  • And yes, the GoPro HD Hero 3s have a mini USB connector, not a micro USB connector as most mobile phones nowadays have. GoPro packs a short USB cable into the box; it's best you throw it away immediately. Subject to proper green disposal, of course. There are many reports in the forums about cable problems and I also had them myself. Albeit GoPro writes in its manual to charge the battery in the cam via USB and use USB also to access the contents of the microSD card. But not only in my own experience but also many other users report in the forums: never use the USB connector of the GoPro HD Hero 3 Black Edition. It's your entry to hell.
    • To read 32GB from the card inside the HD Hero 3 via USB is much too slow.
    • Charging batteries in the camera may work or not. In the end, you need the essential red add-ons in order to get reliable power source and charging.
  • A Wifi-based remote control with the enormous range of 30cm below the water surface. Also this electronics trash should be disposed of cleanly immediately, as it is of no use to divers. The only use I found so far is to put the Hero in the rear of my car and since then I had no more problems with notorious tailgaters.
  • A laughably small 1050mAh battery. When using the Touch LCD bacpac you get an hour operation time at best. For me diving in cold water for typically more than one hour and up to 90 minutes this limited operating time is utterly shit. With the GoPro HD Hero 1 and 2 I typically got around 90 minutes, so that was fair. But since the LCD is essential for proper framing under water I cannot use the addition (old) battery bacpac. Why doesn't GoPro make an LCD bacpac with integrated battery for four hours operation?
  • The battery door has been especially designed for tiny hands playing micro pianos on small mobile phone screens. There is no spring mechanism and you need to operate the release lever as well as try to get something into the gap between the door and housing in order to open the battery door. Totally impossible if you are still in your diving gear with your dry gloves on. That was never a problem with the Hero 1 and 2.
  • Mounting accessories: the box now contains a few more parts, just as the 90° angle pieces.

Yellow: What You Will Need Also

Very useful and recommendable:
  • Spare doors and protective caps: there's now an extra pack sold by GoPro which contains protective caps for the front lens of the Hero 3 as well as for the front glass of the housing. The front glass cap also cover the on/off button which is very nifty as it avoids inadvertently switching on the cam in a bag. If they now only would glue the dreaded Wifi switch which is a constant annoyance.
  • Touch LCD bacpac: if you still have the first generation non-touch LCD bacpac then you're fine and probably don't need to buy the new one. The old display works on the GoPro HD Hero 3. However, there is a small frame that got cut off so you don't see the full picture. However, you can still operate the cam as before. If you don't have the LCD when planning to film under water, please get yourself one. Albeit the touch functionality is of no use under water it still comes in handy above surface as it makes operating the cam and setting modes so much easier. The official price for the new touch LCD is still the same as for the old LCD. Both LCD bacpacs share the same size, so you don't need to think about which backdoor requires which LCD.
  • Defogging inserts: the old inserts for the Heros 1&2 don't fit as they are too long. You have to buy anew (again).

Red: Essential Add-Ons

Extremely simply put: you need these two things in any case...
  • a lot of spare batteries, the more, the betters. With barely one hour operating time of a GoPro HD Hero 3 Black Edition with LCD bacpac you need hands full of spare batteries at your dive site. Often you can't recharge in between dives, just during the night.
    • You may purchase the original GoPro batteries, that are costing €25 here in Germany and are even more expensive than printer ink.
    • Or you buy replacement batteries from other suppliers. For instance, the Wasabi brand seems to be quite okay and is available from several sellers. These batteries have a nominal larger capacity of 1200mAh in contrast to 1050mAh (GoPro), albeit I personally couldn't see this difference so far under my diving conditions. However, as Wasabi batteries are even including VAT and taxes much cheaper than the GoPro batteries and you even get a really useful wall charge thrown in, they are a real deal.
  • at least one stand-alone wall charger, not a USB charger. Trying to charge batteries in your GoPro HD Hero3 Black Edition is like Casino Royale ... one of my H3BEs crashes regularly when attaching any of the many USB chargers I have. Bottom line: avoid USB charging at all. Get a wall charger.
    • There are many very similar wall charges for GoPro Hero 3 batteries. They partly differ in their maximum charging currents and the power supply options. For instance, Wasabi charges the LiOn Poly batteries with 500mA at 4.2V, which is rather conservative.
    • supply from normal mains, if possible, anything between 110V and 240V, regardless of 50Hz or 60Hz.
    • 5V or 12V via a car cigarette lighter connector,
    • 5V via USB ... which seems to be rather pointless to me because you end up again with the charging via USB problems, albeit with yet another set of equipment.
  • You can perfectly charge both original GoPro batteries as well as the replacement ones without any problems.