This blog post reflects my unpacking, setting up and usage of a GoPro Hero3 Black Edition as a front camera on my bicycle. I primarily use the camera for recording my commutes for uploading to YouTube and/or reporting to the WA Police when required. I am expecting the GoPro to improve the image quality of my videos, particularly in low light conditions.
I purchased my GoPro Hero3 Black Edition and a GoPro Hero Battery BacPac from Highly Tuned Athletes in February 2013 for $464.00.
As usual I received excellent service from Highly Tuned Athletes and can highly recommend. Regretfully I can no longer recommend Highly Tuned Athletes, particularly when purchasing a product such as this which may require warranty services. You can read of my experience with Highly Tuned Athletes and my Garmin Oregon 600 or read a review of a Polar HRM owner for another take.
As the manuals for both the camera and the BacPac are not included I downloaded those from GoPro website. There is a card in both retail packages advising to do this. The GoPro Hero3 Black Edition manual and the GoPro Battery BacPac manuals can be downloaded from my Dropbox.
Unpacking the GoPro Battery BacPac
My regular commute is 42 kilometres and being rather slow and often battling into headwinds I can take a couple of hours to complete it, hence I need a battery option to cover such a time frame. Advice from other GoPro Hero3 users suggests that with the GoPro Hero3 Battery BacPac I should have enough battery life. My early rides with the Battery BacPac do confirm this. I use all the Battery BacPac and about 50% of the internal battery with my current setup over about two hours of riding.
The idea of the Battery BacPac is that it attached to the rear of the GoPro Hero3 to “double” battery capacity.
The Battery BacPac comes with two replacement back doors as a deeper backdoor is required to accommodate the battery. A standard (waterproof) backdoor is provided along with a skeleton (non-waterproof) backdoor. Apparently the skeleton backdoor allows for improved audio capture and camera cooling.
The GoPro of uses its standard battery along with the Battery BacPac. The Battery BacPac is used first until depleted and then the camera seamlessly and without interruption to video recording switches to the internal battery.
On the Hero3 the camera’s LCD displays the status of both batteries: the top row for the Battery BacPac and the bottom row for the internal battery.
The status of the Battery BacPac can also be determined via the button on the rear of the BacPac. Pressing the button lights up the little LCD display in the left bottom corner: Three bars means 70 to 100% charge, two bars 40 to 70% charge and one bar 10% to 40% charge. No bars equates to less than 10% charge.
Charging of the Battery BacPac is either via a separate mains charger (separate accessory) or via a USB cable. GoPro supply a GoPro badged cable but I cannot see anything specific about the cable to suggest a non-GoPro would also work. With the Hero3 cameras you are meant to be able to charge both batteries via the BacPac, i.e., there is apparently a pass-through charge flow. The pass-through charging works by charging the internal battery first and then it charges the Battery BacPac. Initially I thought the USB had to be connected to the Battery BacPac for it to work, but I had it around the wrong way. The USB cable needs to be plugged into the camera itself with the Battery BacPac attached. This means the internal battery is charged first then the BacPac. A pretty cool idea in my view if it would work as it saves having to muck around with the batteries to charge.
Whilst I can get a red light indicating a charge with the cable plugged into the Battery BacPac I am not seeing any evidence of the internal battery being charged. So I have to charge the two batteries separately.
The Battery BacPac also comes with an extension arm which allows the BacPac and Hero3 housings to support a full range of privet when attached to some GoPro accessories. There is no mention of this in the manual so I am not sure what accessories need this extension.
Finally a protective case for the BacPac battery is included. I guess it would be handy for storing the battery but you are still left with the backdoors loose so not sure how much value this has.
Using the Battery BacPac on my GoPro Hero3 Black Edition
To use the Battery BacPac one must first removed the Standard backdoor. That was a little scary the first time as I found I needed to apply a fair bit of pressure to have it snap free from the hinge. I wasn’t keen on breaking something on my new camera! Once I had the door off, attaching the deeper Standard backdoor was easy. The BacPac itself easily marries to the back of the camera.
Charging requires opening the backdoor and then plugging in the USB cable to the Battery BacPac. Well that is what the manual suggests.
Update January 1, 2014: I have used the Battery BacPac now for 10 months and initially I found it extended the camera usage by approximately 55 to 60 minutes at 720 x 60 fps. Recently, within the past month the Battery BacPac is discharging rapidly in use, with the battery status indicator indicating the battery is drained after approximately 30 minutes of use. The standard battery is still lasting around one hour 15 minutes and has not notably reduced its discharge rate.
I have now contacted GoPro support for a response to the Battery BacPac shortened life and will update when I get a response.
Initial Charging Problems with the Battery BacPac
Initially Battery BacPac would not charge at all; this was on the camera and off the camera. I wasn’t getting any icon animation or any lights no lights. I could however plug the USB cable into the camera itself and get action.
A little searching around the Internet and I found a suggestion to plug the both USB cables in, one into the camera and one into the Battery BacPac to “jolt” the BacPac into life. This got the BacPac charging and the through-pass charging happening. However, once fully charged I was not getting two battery status icons on the camera as suggested in the manual.
I therefore completed a support ticket and had a response from GoPro within 24 hours advising to upgrade the firmware. It seems that the last firmware upgrade was released on December 15, 2012 and my GoPro Hero3 Black Edition purchased in February didn’t include this update. I guess it was easier to stick a card in the box suggesting to upgrade the firmware and not actually make sure the product sold is current.
Anyway the firmware upgrade went smoothly and I now have two battery icons,
but no through-pass charging. With respect to the firmware upgrade I couldn’t use the GoPro CineForm Studio as it didn’t recognise my camera, rather it was looking for a Hero2. That said I completed a manual upgrade on my MacBook Pro which has OS X 10.6.8 installed (no Java install option either).
Related to the charging, one small positive I have found is that I can charge using a non-GoPro USB cable and/or my XtremeMac Universal Dual USB wall charger. That said the GoPro USB cable is notably heavier duty so I will use this cable.
Moving on now to the GoPro Hero3 Black Edition Itself
The GoPro Hero3 Black edition came with the Wi-Fi Remote and some extra mounts: two curved 3M adhesive mounts, two flat 3M adhesive mounts. I also received some other mounts which I assume are a Horizontal Surface Quick-Release Buckle, 2 x Vertical Surface J-Hook Buckle, and a Pivot Arm Assembly. It seems to be a Grab Bag of Mounts sans a tether which I would really have liked to have. Oh I also got a Quick-Release/Vibration Plug.
I think this is something that GoPro needs to think through a bit more and include at least a Camera Tether and the Quick-Release/Vibration Plug plus the buckles in the standard offering.
GoPro Wi-Fi Remote
The Wi-Fi Remote is something that I cannot see myself using, at least not on the bike at this stage so I am just documenting that it came with the GoPro Hero3 Black Edition and showing what you get. Mind you I am intrigued by the charging cable for the remote. Not something you would want to lose!
GoPro Hero3 Quick-Release/Vibration Plug
This little plug had me stumped for a while. GoPro have a brief explanation as to its purpose and a photo of it installed but it didn’t make sense. A quick Google but brought up this video which shows how it works and what it does.
I will be making use of the Quick-Release/Vibration Plug for sure and hopefully it does remove the clicking sound.
Walking Around the GoPro Hero3 Black Edition Video Camera
In this section I just want to show the various views of the GoPro Hero3.
First of all the internal battery is quite small compared to the Battery BacPac. It does fit nicely into the camera housing, a nice firm fit so hopefully no vibration issues there. It does come with a neat little tab to allow for easy removal. My only worry about the battery is the compartment lid. It is a small piece of plastic which I could see myself easily misplacing if not careful.
As mentioned earlier the GoPro Hero3 has two types of backdoors. The fitted Standard backdoor (waterproof) and a Skeleton Backdoor (not-waterproof). It is recommended to use the Skeleton where sound recording is important. In the manual, GoPro state that the Skeleton Backdoor reduces wind noise at speeds up to 160 km/h when mounted on helmets, motorcycles, bicycles and other fast-moving vehicles. That said, the Skeleton Backdoor should only be used when sand, excessive dirt/dust and water damage is not likely. The Skeleton Backdoor is also recommended for use inside of vehicles.
GoPro Hero3 Black Edition Weights
For the weight weenies here a few weights measured on my Arlec DS102 household digital scales:
- GoPro Hero3 Camera and Battery only (no waterproof case) 72 g
- GoPro Hero3 Black Edition in Standard housing with battery 162 g
- GoPro Hero3 Black Edition in Standard housing with Battery BacPac 205 g
- GoPro Hero3 Battery BacPac battery 34 g
- GoPro Hero3 Standard Skeleton Backdoor 17 g
Setting up the GoPro Hero3 Black Edition on my Bicycle
In light of reports of the GoPro Handlebar/Seatpost mount breaking I decided to not purchase a GoPro mount and instead ordered a K-Edge GoPro GO Big handlebar mount which are generally considered a better option, not a perfect option but better. I have attached a leash tether to the camera as more security. I haven’t used the GoPro Camera Tether but may look into these or use a piece of fishing line with a small quick release carabiner as what I have is not long-enough to tether the camera to the handlebars. Also the GoPro standard housing does not have a tether point so it is a bit messy tying a tether to the housing.
The other advantage with the K-Edge GoPro GO Big handlebar mount is that it allows me to mount the GoPro Hero3 below the handlebars in a more discrete and maybe protected position and a little forward of the cables.
That said on my setup I do need to “fight” the cables a touch to remove the camera whilst it is mounted on the bike. Not a big issue but a little niggle or the same.
Accessing the GoPro Hero3 on the Bike
Mounted on the bike, I have the GoPro Hero3 turned upside down. GoPro have a setting which allows for the camera to record upside down, with the video being flipped on the camera. This also means that the menu on the front of the camera is flipped. Handy if you want to read it whilst the camera is mounted but not so handy when it is off the bike.
As far as turning it on and recording a video this is easy as when the bike is mounted. No issues there in terms of day-to-day usage.
Working with the GoPro Hero3 Settings
The GoPro Hero3 settings can be set via the WiFi/Phone/Tablet apps and I tried this. It worked well but really by the time I had got the WiFi going, switched the iPad over to the camera’s wi-fi I could have easily have made the settings changes on the camera. For me the WiFi is only handy for getting the camera angle right if I change the mounts.
Also given my use I don’t tend to change my camera settings anyway.
All that said I find the settings on the camera intuitive and with the manual all has been easy to set up. The only thing I Googled was suggestions on which video resolution and fps to use on the bike. I have settled on 720p x 60 fps for the moment and will see how that works out in terms of video quality. slow-motion, file size and battery usage.
Update – January 1, 2014: I have reviewed the settings and have stayed with 720p x 60 fps but have changed the Field of View (FOV) from wide to medium to see if that improves the usability of the vision taken from the handlebars of the bike.
Durability and Use of the GoPro Hero3 Black Edition on the Bike
As alluded to early I have mounted my GoPro Hero3 on my commuter bike, a Kinesis Racelight Granfondo Ltd using a K-Edge GoPro GO Big handlebar mount which puts the camera forward and below the bars.
Initial riding suggests that this mounts the camera firmly and without any noise coming from the bike other than road/wind noise. The mount was easy to fit and fits my 31.8 mm bars fine. I have mounted the GoPro Hero3 to the right of the stem. This pretty much centres the camera and hence the video whilst also recording my right-hand shifter/brake. Handy to show reactions in an emergency on the road.
The following videos give a taste of the video quality in a couple of situations.
These videos where recorded on a sunny autumn day (March 6, 2013) in late afternoon (4:30 to 6:30 PM with sunset at around 6:50 PM IIRC).
Twilight into Fremantle
I have noticed with the standard housing that I cannot pick-up my voice easily so may have to check the settings re-sound recording. That is really the only niggle I have so from my usage.
I will add further comments if I have any durability or other issues on the bike which I think are worth noting.
Thoughts on GoPro CineForm Studio
My computing platform is a MacBook Pro so my preference is to use iMovie. That said I have taken a look at GoPro’s CineForm. First up I am not able to use it to upgrade the firmware on my Hero3 Black Edition as it does not recognise its existence; it will however happily upload video from the camera as it finds the card no problems.
The good, the bad, the ugly of the GoPro Hero3 Black Edition
- The size. This is one small camera and by all accounts the video quality is excellent;
- The camera housing is well designed and easy to use.
- Ability to add a battery BacPac and to be able through-charge
(if it would work).
- The packaging, particularly of the GoPro Hero3 is over the top and wasteful. For an adventure outdoors camera GoPro need to show more awareness of the environment and cut the packaging. To much about marketing in my view. Frustrating getting the Battery BacPac charging. Having to search online to get ideas on how to solve the problem of it not charging is not good. There should at least be advice in the manual.
- Lack of a tether point on the standard housing.
The documented through-charge process with the battery BacPac does not work, even with the latest firmware upgrade