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Small Goes Big: The GoPro HERO3 Camera in Action

2/20/2013 11:54 AM Eastern

For those digital shooters whose visions of Christmas sugarplums included asking Santa for a six-figure mega-multipixel digital cinema camera, the HERO3 released by GoPro at the end of 2012 may seem like a mere stocking stuffer. But this remarkably flexible, matchbox-size camera is probably already shooting more action scenes on location than all other digital video cameras combined—with the exception of the hundreds of thousands of earlier models of GoPro HERO sports cameras covering excitement all around the world since the company’s first digital model hit the street four years ago.

Andy Casagrande sets up a multi-GoPro camera rig.

Although the HERO3 officially started shipping on October 21, according to David Newman, senior director of software engineering at GoPro, you may have trouble finding one on the shelf at Best Buy. “We can’t keep them in the store,” Newman says. “We even have a backlog on our web site. If you think of what we have done since the first digital HERO1 was released in 2009, this new HERO3 is building on that promise.”

If you have been following their story closely, the company’s “heroic” numerology can be a bit confusing. There actually was a “Digital HERO5” that came out in December of 2008 with a 5 megapixel sensor, an “HD HERO 960 in the summer of 2012 that shot 960p video, and even a celluloid-based HERO 35mm (model #001) that started the line in 2005 and shipped with a 24 exposure roll of Kodak 400 film.

GoPro’s latest wave of heroics starts at $199.99 with the HERO3: White Edition, which uses the same 5 megapixel sensor as the HD HERO and shoots the same 1080p/30 or 720p/60 fps rates as the original. Next comes the HERO3: Silver Edition, which sports an 11 MP sensor and built-in Wi-Fi for $299.99.

GoPro’s HERO3 Black Edition

At the top of the line is the HERO3: Black Edition, which ships in the same 30 percent smaller form factor as its White and Silver siblings but boasts a 12 MP sensor that is capable of capturing ultra-wide-angle HD video at 1080p/60 fps, 1440p/48 fps and 720p/120 fps.

This is where the HERO3: Black Edition gets really interesting. In addition to HD resolutions, it can shoot 2.7K at up to 30 fps and an impressive 4K resolution, even if it is only 15 fps.

“That 2.7K/30 fps recording is derived from the 4K image, giving you an oversampled, full HD image to manipulate in post,” Newman explains.
The engineers at GoPro parent company Woodman Labs have come up with a clever way to get the best out of both the HD and 4K worlds through a combo shooting mode. The Black HERO3 can shoot 1080p/30 fps motion video and simultaneously snap 4K stills at a predetermined interval, say two seconds apart. This feature would enable you to shoot your HD footage and associated 4K production stills in the same take.

In addition, those 4K stills can be animated to produce a time lapse effect within the moving video. GoPro’s sample reel for the Black Edition camera (below) shows several examples.

GoPro has introduced a feature on the HERO3 Black and Silver editions that enables their images to be more easily intercut with the output of other cameras. It’s a tuning mode called GoPro Protune. Turning it on allows for high-quality capture (increases the data rate from 15 Mb/s to 35 Mb/s), neutral color and 24 fps video recording.

“We employ a log curve with Protune instead of contrast added to Rec. 709 with 2.2 gamma,” Newman adds. “That way pros can get the most out of the HERO3’s 11 stops of dynamic range.”

Casagrande and great white shark face off

And here’s something for the future. Remember that built-in Wi-Fi capability on the HERO3? Newman tells us his engineers are working on multicam streaming capabilities that would let you see the proxy mode output of three or four cameras on a single handheld device.

Pros have embraced GoPro HEROs for projects ranging from TV docs to scientific expeditions, with more than nine million of these little cameras sold already. Newman even calls the Discovery Channel “the GoPro channel,” since you can see GoPros mounted even in the background of many shots.

Andy Casagrande
Emmy Award-winning filmmaker/cinematographer Andy Casagrande (2010’s Great Migrations) has shot everything from grizzly bears to killer cobras with GoPro cameras since before they had rechargeable batteries. “These cameras have revolutionized the way we film wildlife and the world in general,” Casagrande begins. “I always set mine to the highest resolution available, use the Protune settings, adjust white balance with the Cam Raw feature, and then treat it like a mainstream Hollywood camera.”

Casagrande prefers the 2.7K resolution, shooting in Cinema Mode 24p, and relies on Protune to let him establish the final color correction in post. “Or I’ll switch to the 1080p/60 fps mode, which gives me the option of converting to 1080p/30 slow-mo if I need it,” he says. “Don’t overlook 720p, which can go up to 120 fps for really smooth image movement. Most of the principal photography of the Planet Earth series was shot at 720p.”
He appreciates the GoPro’s reliability, so he often straps one on top of the Big Time Hollywood Digital Cinema Camera he’s using. “You only get one chance at the shark breaching the water, so I’ll simultaneously shoot with whatever cameras I can,” he tells us. “After all, the HERO3 battery can shoot 4K stills for five hours.”

Karsten “Crash” Gopinath

Karsten “Crash” Gopinath used RED EPIC, ARRI Alexa, Canon EOS 5D and GoPro HERO3 cameras on a multi-day shoot for Ford. He notes that the footage from all cameras intercut seamlessly.

Karsten Gopinath, who goes by the name of “Crash,” was DP on Scott Speer’s 2012 feature Step Up Revolution. He was also one of the first to get his hands on a HERO3, but it wasn’t in time to shoot a recent Justin Bieber music video, directed by Jon Chu, on which he had to employ HERO2s. “I’ve tested the HERO3 at night, and it is much better in low-light conditions,” Gopinath says, “but what really impressed me was seeing a preview of the image it is shooting on my cell phone thanks to the HERO3’s Wi-Fi capability.”

He says that it’s easy to scroll through the camera’s menu settings on the remote phone’s screen. “It’s a lot easier than pushing all the buttons on the camera itself, like you had to do on earlier models,” he says, “and you can, of course, also line up your shot by using the phone as a viewfinder. That way you don’t need to strap the larger backpack camera housing on the HERO3 that does include a monitor.”

The best advice Gopinath has for new HERO3 users is to “get creative. You learn by using it. You can stick a HERO3 almost anywhere, and with its resolution capability, you still come back with awesomely great images.”

The GoPro HERO story is just beginning. With the current capability of 4K at 15 fps, you can just imagine what the next upgrade will be. Multicam preview streaming over Wi-Fi and the potential of 4K at 30 fps? The best is yet to come.   

Watch the director’s cut of Shark Riders, which was shot by Andy Casagrande with a GoPro HERO2 Outdoor Edition.

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