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GoPro HERO3 Black Edition: Super Hero…

By Ben Boswell - Thursday, July 18, 2013

Mobile Review
Introduction | GoPro HERO3 Features and Specifications | GoPro HERO3: The highest DxOMark Mobile score in Video | GoPro HERO3 versus iPhone 5 | Conclusion

The camera has a DxOMark mobile video score of 75, whereas Apple’s iPhone 5 scores 70, despite the fact that the smartphone has both autofocus and image stabilization.

The comparison with a smartphone is especially appropriate when you look at the way that smartphones are commonly being used now to capture video footage of events, and manufacturers are beginning to make accessories to feed this market, such as rugged housings with wide lenses built in. The GoPro HERO3 has a massive advantage here in that it does not have to fulfill all the other functions that a smartphone needs to. This specialization allows it to be much more focused on its principal task without the need for compromise.

The key to understanding the GoPro results is the extremely wide angle of its lens (170°) compared to that of a typical smartphone camera (70°).This wide angle is very important for an action camera that can be helmet-mounted. It may record an entire event before the user can look at the video. However, it makes some specifications easier to achieve, and some much more difficult, which explains some of the differences between the GoPro and the smartphone cameras we have tested:

  •  Specifications which are helped by a wide angle:
    • Autofocus: the ultra-wide angle gives a fantastic “natural” autofocus with its very large depth of field; no need to adjust the lens to get sharp images between 30cm and infinity.
    • Stabilization: a measured amount of vibration will produce much smaller motion-blur in the image of a wider-field camera, achieving better results without stabilization than certain smartphone cameras.
  • Specifications which are much more challenging with a wide angle:
    • Distortion: it would be impossible to design a reasonably-sized lens with a 170° field of view without distortion.
    • Lateral chromatic aberration increases with field angle, so it would be very difficult to optically control on such a wide angle lens.
    • Exposure: the wider field usually means more sky, so the dynamic range in the scene is likely to be higher.
    • Flash: uniform and powerful flash illumination on such a wide angle would be a real challenge, way beyond the performance capacity of a typical mobile device camera flash.

There were two additional low scores recorded for things unrelated to the large depth of field:

  • Lack of color saturation
  • White balance yellow bias in photo
comp-iphone5

Two images taken from the same point of view at the same moment

The GoPro HERO3 manages to score well even for these measures because of its very wide lens. Having a lens with a field of view up to 170º means the depth of field is immense: everything from 30cm to infinity appears sharp, especially in the middle part of the image, and the wide angle means that the camera is not prone to camera shake. The lens is not perfect, though: distortion is huge in comparison to that for mobile phones; in fact, the GoPro’s lens is effectively a full-frame fish-eye.

GoPro_Hero3_distortion

Fisheye distortion typical for ultra-wide angle

There are also noticeable amounts of lateral chromatic aberration, which contributes to significant color fringes at the margins of the frame.

GoPro_Hero3_chromatic

This detail from the edge of an image shows clear lateral chromatic aberration from the GoPro HERO3’s lens

GoPro_Hero3_comparison

In the chart, the GoPro HERO3 is shown in blue and the iPhone 5 in red: The iPhone 5 cannot compete for video, even though it is one of the better-scoring smartphones

The GoPro HERO3 is the best video recording device tested with the DxOMark Mobile protocol. If you compare it to a mobile phone, given we tested it using mobile phone protocols, then it is strictly speaking 7th in the overall rankings. However, the comparison is flawed because the GoPro and mobile phones are such different devices.

There are several other action cameras on the market: the Contour Roam 2, the Sony Action Cam HDR-AS15, the Drift HD170, and many others. DxOMark has not yet tested these so we cannot pass judgment on their merits. What we can say is that for the purpose for which it was designed, the GoPro HERO3 produces very good video footage: Sharp in the middle where it is most important, well exposed, and significantly better than you are likely to get out of a smartphone.