Review: Go Pro Digital Hero 3

Who:
From Go Pro Camera’s website:

GoPro is a Northern California-based manufacturer of digital cameras and accessories for sports. Since 2004, GoPro has been dedicated to making it easy for people to shoot digital photos and video during their favorite sports and activities. Whether surfing or skiing with friends, paddling your favorite river or simply hiking your favorite trail, GoPro is designing and building digital cameras and accessories that make it easy for you to capture photos and video that make you and your friends look like HEROES.

Product Tested:
Go Pro Digital Hero 3

Website’s MSRP:
$ 139.99

Specs:
Sensor 3 Megapixel (2048 x 1536)
Lens Glass f2.8
Exposure Auto
Internal Memory 16mb. Expandable to 2GB SD card
Video 640×480 (54 mins. – 2GB SD)
Self Timer 10s
PC Connector USB/RCA TV cable
Power 2xAAA (included)
Operating System WINME/2000/XP and Mac OS 9.1/10.2 and later
– 3x sequence photo burst
– Programmable power off settings
– Always on mode lasts 3+ hours
– Mode lock for easy shooting
– 100’depth glass lens waterhousing
– 4.5oz flyweight
– 1 year warranty

About Me:
6’0� 210lbs, 27 year old male. I’m a mountain biking enthusiast who enjoys rocking the big 29er wheels. I also am an amateur photographer.

Testing Grounds:
Fullerton Loop, Powder Canyon, Peters Canyon, various other trails in Southern California, swimming pools

First Impression:
We first saw this product at the Sea Otter Classic 2007. Go Pro had set up a booth and was demonstrating the Digital Hero 3 (DH3). The booth was pretty impressive: a few nice plasma screens and a nice looking gal demoing the camera. I was instantly hooked mainly because I was toting around my Nikon Digital SLR on the trails and I wanted something smaller (although the plasmas showing some video that the camera took helped too).

Strengths:
The DH3 is a very versatile camera. It can take pictures, video and has a self timer for group shots. It can also take pictures while out on the trail or underwater. It’s small size is conducive for taking anywhere.


Camera

The design for the wrist strap for the DH3 is excellent. The materials used are surprisingly comfortable. I’m a sweaty guy but I never felt that the wrist straps were uncomfortableand they also never bothered me while riding. I thought the camera strapped to my arm would be a pain but I never noticed it at all.

The two buttons on the camera perform a surprisingly large number of functions all without being too complicated. The interface was very simple to learn and use. After a couple of minutes of reading the manual, I never reached for it again.


Two buttons & Easy Interface

Weaknesses:
Alright, you know something is wrong when a camera is reviewed and picture quality is not mentioned as a strength. The Digital Hero 3 does not take sharp pictures. Actually of all the pictures I took, only one came out sharp. All the rest were barely suitable for posting on the web.

I also found the DH3 difficult to take pictures with. The viewfinder is small and taking pictures while it is still attached to the wrist is awkward. It’s not easy to put your face to your wrist, find the tiny viewfinder and take a picture. A couple of times I missed the shot because I was still looking for the viewfinder!


Wrist shot

Another weakness with the viewfinder is that it doesn’t indicate what is being exposed. An example of this is the image below. This picture was originally much larger. The DH3 underexposed because of the some sunlight which in turn made the rider very dark. After cropping for just the rider and the slope, I readjusted the “fill light” to make the rider show up. But even then this picture is not something I’d consider printing. This exposure problem came up in about 80% of the pictures I took. I could remedy this by having even lighting all the time, but how often does that happen on the trail?


Picture was overexposed requiring cropping and fill light

Another weakness is the lack of an LCD screen to review images taken. The tradeoff for having a small camera like this is that there is no LCD screen. The question becomes: am I willing to accept this tradeoff for the smaller size (how did I ever get by with just a 35mm)? The answer is “no” at least not when you factor in all the other weaknesses this camera has.

With an LCD, I can take a quick glance down and I know if I got the shot. Without an LCD, I’ll go home and realize the DH3 either took the picture with the wrong exposure or there was some dirtiness/fogginess on the clear camera case. This is frustrating.


Didn’t know it had a foggy screen

Lastly, a tooth broke. The tooth is from where the locking mechanism clamps onto the case. This broken tooth made the case not water tight which means I can’t use it for underwater photos. I’d also constantly worry that under hard riding conditions the case will open up and the camera will fall out. I’m pretty sure that the one year warranty would cover something like this, but there seems to be a flaw in the design if this happened under normal use.

Summary:
The DH3 is a versatile camera. It can take pictures & video while out on the trail without worrying about damaging the camera if you fall. It can even take pictures and video while underwater. But sadly, the Digital Hero 3 does not take good pictures. It does not live up to the Sea Otter hype and I have NO idea how it took the great shots it has on the website and on the packaging it came in.

If I were in the market for a budget underwater pool camera and I was willing to live with a 10% success rate, then I’d buy this camera. But for mountain biking, I’ll take my digicam or dSLR.

For more info about the Digital Hero 3, click here.

Miscellaneous pictures taken by the Digital Hero 3:

Dahon on the trail


After ride shot


Long climb…


Another after ride shot


Singletrack riding

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