Hands-on Review: GoPro Hero3 (part 2)

Side-by-side comparison of the Hero2 and Hero3 cameras.
Jeff Foster
By Jeff Foster 11.05.12

H3 H2 Main 450

This is the second part of my hands-on review of the new GoPro Hero3 camera, where I've managed a series of side-by-side tests with the Hero2 camera in various scenarios - from multiple frame rates, resolutions and lighting conditions, in both video/still shots, raw and processed with the CineForm Studio software.

If you haven't already seen Part 1 of my hands-on review of the GoPro Hero3 camera, please check it out before continuing. I've not going to cover the same materials or give many specs of the new Hero3 camera here - only provide examples of my comparison testing witht he Hero2* and the resulting info.
*Note that the Hero2 camera I've used in these comparisons were with the newly-updated firmware that I shared last month.

The Showdown: GoPro Hero2 vs Hero3

H2 H3 Side By Side 600
The GoPro Hero2 (left) and the new Hero3 (right) go head-to-head

At first glance, the physical differences are obvious, especially the thinner profile and larger buttons (see Hands-on with the GoPro Hero3: part 1 more for info & specs). But the real differences are what's inside the Hero3 - the new sensor, glass lens (Hero3 Black Edition) and higher resolution/frame rates sets it apart as a professional addition to your production kit.

I did some tests with individual mounts but primarily most were done with a handheld frame (which was also mounted on a tripod at times). In the shot below, you can see the difference in the LCD screens of each GoPro - the Hero3 on the left and the Hero2 on the right:

Twin Cam Mount
The LCDs compared between the Hero2 (right) and Hero3 (left) mounted on a handheld frame

Test #1: Road Test

My first test the day I got home with my new Hero3 was to do a straight side-by-side comparison with roof mounted cameras on a local stretch of road to see how things like resolution, auto white balance, dynamic range and lens distortion looked between the two.

H3 H2 550
Both the GoPro Hero2 (left) and Hero3 (right) mounted to the top of my Toyota FJ

Here are a few stills from the comparison (all test results are raw & unprocessed and straight out of the cameras). This test was with both cameras set with Protune=ON, AWB=ON, 29.97fps, 1080p (stills resized to 600px wide for posting on PVC)

Driving 1 H2 600
Driving test 1: Hero2

Driving 1 H3 600
Driving test 1: Hero3

Driving 1 H2 Detail
Driving test 1: Hero2 Detail (100%)

Driving 1 H3 Detail
Driving test 1: Hero3 Detail (100%)

Notice the increased resolution in details and wider dynamic range in the sky and the foreground elements. The Hero2 shows a warmer tone and more color saturation in most cases, but also more contrast and less dynamic range and resolution.

Also quite noticeable is the improvement on the barrel distortion of the lens. I have the Hero3 Black Edition which has a glass lens so I have not been able to compare with the Hero3 Silver or White Edition cameras - but a colleague has done measurements for distortion with the Black and Silver and said the FOV of the optics are nearly identical in both cameras.

Driving 2 H2 600
Driving test 1: Hero2 - FOV/distortion

Driving 2 H3 600
Driving test 1: Hero3 - FOV/distortion

Test #2: Handheld Walk Test

I took some footage one day/evening around downtown Berkeley and got a range of examples with both the Hero2 & Hero3 mounted side-by-side on a handheld rig. The results were actually surprising, since it was also the first time I really put the Hero2 to the test after updating the firmware, which produced a wider dynamic range than previously, but still, no comparison to the Hero3. I shot afternoon with diverse building shadows and hot reflections, twilight with a mix of ambient light and artificial lights and later at night with all artificial lights, where the GoPro has been notoriously noisy. The results are still not at DSLR level, of course, but definitely "usable" if some filtering is applied.

Here are a few stills from the comparison (all test results are raw & unprocessed and straight out of the cameras). This test was with both cameras set with Protune=ON, AWB=ON, 29.97fps, 1080p (stills resized to 600px wide for posting on PVC)

Walk 1 Day H2 600
Handheld test 2: Hero2 - afternoon

Handheld test 2: Hero3 - afternoon

H2 Twilight Frame 600
Handheld test 2: Hero2 - twilight

Handheld test 2: Hero3 - twilight

Handheld test 2: Hero2 - night

Handheld test 2: Hero3 - night

Continued on next page...

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