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Besides boating, kayaking, skiing, surfing and skydiving, the GoPro HERO3 is also popular for capturing footage while scuba diving. This tiny camera has revolutionized the way people shoot video when participating in action sports. It's so popular, that some ski resorts have public editing stations, which allow guests to download and edit their footage before heading home. Likewise, it's now impossible to go on a dive boat anywhere in the world without seeing the GoPro being strapped to divers, along with their fins and tanks.
Editor's Note: This is a guest blog post by Larry Cohen
Part of the appeal is the camera's simplicity. It's the ultimate point-and-shoot camcorder; however, it doesn't come with an LCD screen or a viewfinder. It does include an underwater housing that's rated to 200', and it has a lens with a 170º angle-of-view. The idea is to just wear the camera and capture everything in its path.
Unfortunately, swimming along a reef with a GoPro attached to one's head tends to produce jerky, uneven footage. Plus, we often get the displeasure of seeing muted blue or green footage, instead of the true vibrant colors of the underwater world. However, by adding a few accessories and learning some simple techniques, the GoPro can capture video that will show our non-diving friends why we go underwater.
With any imaging device, seeing what you are capturing will improve the quality of the footage. So adding the GoPro LCD Touch BacPac is a must. The BacPac seamlessly attaches to the GoPro HERO3, enabling you to see what you're shooting, as well as allowing you to watch the playback of footage and still photos. Adding the BacPac makes the GoPro a little larger, so it includes a standard "backdoor" that attaches to the rear of the housing, so that the camera will still fit. When not being used in the water, you can add the included "touch backdoor" or the "skeleton backdoor," both of which allow you to utilize the touch screen on the GoPro.
Now that we can see what we're doing, we need a tray or a handle so that we can hold the tiny camcorder steady. A company called Beneath the Surface manufacturers a number of trays, handles, arms, poles and mounts for the GoPro. If you're not adding lights, the Beneath the Surface Multigrip is a convenient way to hold and shoot with the GoPro HERO3. The camera mounts directly on top of this Delrin handle, and a wrist lanyard is included so that you do not lose your gear.
The deeper we go underwater, the more we lose the warm colors of the spectrum. The easiest way to bring them back is to shoot with a color-correction filter. Polar Pro makes a number of correction filters for the GoPro. These filters snap right on to the GoPro’s lens port. For the GoPro HERO3, you could get a Polar Pro red filter to correct blue water, or a Polar Pro magenta filter to correct green water. These filters will balance the green or blue cast, so that the images and footage will have a more natural look. These filters are effective down to about 70’.
Using underwater video lights will give you better color when diving deeper than 70’. Lights will improve your footage even when you're diving in shallow water. Thanks to advancements in LED technology, we now have small, powerful lights with wide beam angles. This is exactly what we need when shooting video. There are a number of companies that manufacture lights that are appropriate for use with the GoPro, such as Fantasea Line, Nocturnal Lights, Beneath the Surface, Bigblue, and Ikelite. We recently worked underwater with the Nocturnal Lights M700I and the Fantasea Line BlueRay Radiant.
The Nocturnal Lights M700I produces 700 lumens of light at full power, and has an 80º beam angle. At the low setting, the light is reduced by 40%, which increases the burn time. This is bright enough to enhance the GoPro footage. The 80º beam angle is just wide enough to work with. Since the GoPro lens has an angle of view of 170º, it's hard to cover the full area even with two lights. But with careful light positioning, it can be done. Overall, we liked the compact size and long burn time of this light.
The Fantasea Line BlueRay Radiant is a little larger; however, it produces 1500 lumens and has a 110º beam angle. This light has three power settings. It can be extremely bright, which makes it possible to capture footage inside shipwrecks. The 110º beam angle allowed us to cover the wide angle of the GoPro easily with two lights. The light is soft, but I would still like to try adding a diffuser. This should make the transition between available light and the LED a bit smoother.
The Fantasea Line BlueRay Radiant only has a 50-minute burn time at full power. The GoPro’s battery life is also limited. Many people start recording when they enter the water, and stop recording when they exit (or when the battery dies). A better method is to capture short clips, rather than just letting the GoPro run. This way you conserve battery life, so that you still have power for the interesting parts of the dive. This also makes editing a lot easier.
The Beneath the Surface CL-01 LED is the ultimate underwater video light. It provides a very bright 3200 lumens. It's small enough to use with the GoPro, since it is 2.6 x 6.2”, and weighs 22 oz. with the battery. (The GoPro's dimensions are 2.3 x 1.5 x 0.8") The beam angle is 120º, and the burn time is 90 minutes at full power. You can control the power by setting how many lumens you want, or by using a percentage. You can also adjust the color temperature from 3500K to 8000K.
A tray with arms is required to hold the lights. Beneath the Surface makes a number of GoPro tray systems that include arms for different video lights. Their single-light systems are designed with a handle under the tray. As I mentioned earlier, because of the GoPro’s wide angle-of-view, using two lights is a better bet. However, Beneath the Surface's single trays are configured so the light goes over the top of the GoPro. With this configuration, the action cam and light could be used in very tight crevices.
We used the Beneath the Surface Dual GoPro Tray and Flex Arm system for YS Mount Lights. The dual handles allowed for better handling. It was easy to keep the camera steady. The 12” flex arms are long enough to position the lights off to the side. The camera adapter on the tray allowed us to snap the GoPro on and off quickly. This tray/arm package really tied the GoPro and lights together into a single easy-to-handle unit.
Our first experience with this equipment was diving in North Carolina. Large shipwrecks and dozens of sand tiger sharks were the prefect subjects. Using the GoPro was fun, and we were not disappointed in the results. When diving in the 100 to 120’ range, we found that using the filter and the lights together produced good results.