Saturday, April 6, 2013

My Experience with the GoPro Hero 3 Black Edition -- Frustrating Camera, but Good Customer Service

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I bought a GoPro Hero 3 Black Edition camera (from my favorite retailer for any kind of underwater camera gear, Reef Photo in Fort Lauderdale, FL) after reading some of its specifications and abilities, all of which are good if not ideal.  Great, buttery-smooth slomo footage possible (it can shoot at 720p at 120 fps, for instance).  The ability to shoot 12MP photos at a rate of 30 photos per second.  They finally fixed the housing so that it can shoot sharp images topside -- and also underwater.  Finally!  I don't know why it took them so long to get this done -- all it took was replacing their dome port with a flat port so that the camera could focus underwater.

Like many early adopters, I got a camera that did not work as it should.  I spent HOURS trying to get this camera working like it should.  I spent HOURS downloading and updating the firmware.  I could never get the wifi working.  Even worse, once I gave up on the wifi, I took the camera to a test shoot in Maui and Oahu, to try to shoot waves at my favorite surfing shots.

The camera was frustrating as hell to use even in its most basic mode (eg no wifi, just manual presses of the buttons).  It would work fine on land, once secured inside its housing.  I could turn the camera on and off, and I could turn the video on and off.

 I'd swim out all the way to a site, through surf, then get set up.  This process would take up to an hour and involve a lot of work.  I would then turn it on, and it would get stuck on a mode showing the video camera.  I could not turn it on or off.  From there, I could not turn the camera on  or off, or take a picture or video.  There was nothing left to do but swim all the way back to shore, find someone's towel to borrow, wipe everything off, and take off the Battery Bacpac, the battery door on the camera, and then finally pull the battery out of the housing to reset the thing.  Reverse the process, put all batteries back, seal the camera.  Test that it turns on and that you can turn the video on and off.  Turn the camera off to save battery power (with the Battery Bacpac and internal battery in the camera, the power would last about 45 minutes maximum if left on rather than being turned on and off).  Swim out to the surf spot.  Get set up.  Turn the camera on.  About half the time, ARGGH!  the camera was stuck again. 

I got so tired of having to go back to shore and borrow someone's towel to take the battery out, that the last time this happened, I just swam out beyond the surf line and opened the housing, took out the camera, took off the Battery Bacpac, took off the battery door on the camera itself, and took out the battery in the camera.  I had to juggle all these pieces while treading water and trying not to drip in the housing or on the camera, or having a wave drown the whole thing.  Talk about a pisser.

However, when the camera actually worked -- it was GREAT!  It takes buttery-smooth slomo at 120fps at 720.  The GoPro site actually has a decent explanation of how to process the footage using software.  I attach an example of a video that I took.  I've dreamed of getting a classic shots of a  surfer/boogie boarder in a tube, then having the camera slide to an underwater view of the wave with the surfer visible from underwater.  This kind of shot is too easy to take with the Hero camera now. 


I contacted GoPro before leaving, asking about the problems I was having with the wifi turning on, and I was pleasantly surprised by their quick response and good communications.  They took 24 hours to reply to my initial email contact, and gave me a textbook "you are a newbie and you should read the instructions" reply.  But after that, I was able to talk with a real live person at GoPro who has promised that he will handle the replacement camera upon my return from Hawaii.  I'll report on those communications when and if I get the camera replaced. 

I hope to get a replacement when I get back that works, and from now on, I only have to travel with a small carryon!  No more huge giant cameras and housings!


For those of you with Hero 3 cameras, I have a separate blog entry below that describes my problems.  Hopefully this will save you some time.  It's obvious to me that I have a defective camera that does not have proper working wifi. 

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