Tips on Scuba Diving with the GoPro HERO3

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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.

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Did you have any trouble with the LCD backpac at depth?  We are looking to use it at 50 to 70 feet, and weren't sure how it would hold up.  Also, some reviews have said that the LCD monitor turns off if you don't use it for a while- does touching a button turn it back on easily?

 Love the ad-on info.  Very helpful.  

#diveon

Teisha wrote:

Did you have any trouble with the LCD backpac at depth?  We are looking to use it at 50 to 70 feet, and weren't sure how it would hold up.  Also, some reviews have said that the LCD monitor turns off if you don't use it for a while- does touching a button turn it back on easily?

 Love the ad-on info.  Very helpful.  

#diveon

Reply from Larry Cohen:

"We used the LCD backpac as deep as 120’ without any problems. I never left the GoPro on without recording. So I am not sure about your second question. I found the battery life to be about 40 minutes. Since I was doing long rebreather dives I always turned the GoPro off to save battery power for recording."

I have purchased the GoPro Hero3 and used it recently whilst diving in the Red Sea. I found it performed well and I managed to capture some great stills and video footage. I know some users have experienced some problems with these cameras, but I wonder how many are down to user error?

I made a point of reading the user manual and watching free video tutorials I found on youtube. When you use any action camera the footage is only going to be as good as the camera users skill is at recording footage.

If you are planning a special trip or holiday away, don't expect to be able to grab great shots or video if you have not put in some practice with the camera beforehand.

i dive in the coasts of chile very much, and the problem that i have is that when filming underwater, because of the low light and monotone colors of the sea bed, the picture once i take a look at it has a fluorecent green color that overpowers everything and the image is basically ruined. its not a probkem with the camer, since when using it in oter waters or or outside the water, it has no problem at all. do you by any chance have a solution, or a tip?

Filters - I've ordered a red filter for my gopro 3+ as most of my diving is in the Caribbean. What colour filter would you suggest for the Red Sea as I have a holiday booked there in May?

For blue water try the red filter for green water try magenta

Thanks for the info. I have been using other camera systems underwater for many years. Some are very bulky to carry with the strobes etc. now I have added a go pro hero 3 system with a big blue 900 lumens light and tray to take on a Mexico dive trip. I will be utilizing the unit in both the ceynotes and on the reef. Later this year I'll be in Greenland on an expedition to recover a B17 from WWII. I will be filming some of the trip along the way.

Ricky  Whitmire from Baltimore, Maryland

I have a Go Pro and had a case flood.  I was lucky and saved the camera.  Since the case was over a year old, it was out of warranty.  I thought, no problem, I’ll just have the seals replaced.  Go Pro does not do that.  I thought, no problem, I’ll purchase a new housing and extended dive back door.  I have the LCD screen on the Go Pro.  Failed again, Go Pro will not sell the underwater extended door alone.  You have to purchase a new LCD screen to get the extended door. 

STAY AWAY from Go Pro, they don’t take care of you after you have spent $300-$400-$500.

want to buy gopro to film under water

I just got my frist go pro 3+ black i am a diver,  I see i have a lot to buy,  but i wonder in this set up what happens if you drop it underwater?

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.

For my frist outting,  I am going to use the lcd screen and i don't think putting the float back on makes sense, then i can not see the lcd.  do you have another suggestion?

Whatever kind of rig you use for the gopro there a number of different extendable coil cords that you can attach to the rig and to your BCD. So if you drop it, no worries it is attached to you.

Instead of using a float strap it is best to use a lanyard to tether any camera system to your BCD. Generic lanyards can be purchased in many dive stores. If you use one of the Beneath the Surface GoPro tray systems we have the Beneath the Surface Lanyard for GoPro Tray System.

Have you had any experience with the GOBE lights?  If you have how do they compare to the lighs in your articel above?

We are not a Light & Motion dealer and I have not used the Light & Motion GoBe. But the specs don't look as good. I have used the Light & Motion Sola 1200. In many cases you need the bright 1600 Lumens that the Fantasea Line BlueRay Radiant produces. I found the 1200 Lumens of the Sola 1200 just not to be enough light. Since the GoBe is only 700 lumens it will be even worse. You actually need more power when shooting under bright conditions. This is because you need to over-power the available light or your footage will go off-color.

The Fantasea Line BlueRay Radiant has a wide 110 degree beam angle and the Light & Motion Sola has a 90 degree beam. Since the lens on the GoPro can be as wide as 170 degrees you need a wide beam light to cover the image area. The GoBe has a 60 degree beam angle. So even with two lights it will be difficult to cover the full image.

All of these lights have about an hour run time at full power. I understand that Light & Motion seals their lights so you cannot flood them. But I prefer to have a light that I could open up and change the batteries. Usually we completely drain the batteries on a dive. We put them in the charger during the surface interval and do the second dive with spare batteries. You cannot do that with any of these Light & Motion Lights. On the Sola that we used, the charging contacts are exposed to salt water. Even with rinsing we have problems with corrosion and had trouble getting the light to charge.

Heads up:  the housing on the GoPro Hero3+ has changed relative to Hero3, and the Polar Pro red filter linked to on this webpage does not fit this new model (as I discovered today, to my chagrin).  For the Hero3+,  this filter should work:

http://www.bhphotovideo.com/c/product/1014994-REG/polar_pro_p1001_red_fi...

I read that the LCD backpac comes with a dive housing. Is this the same dive housing that you can buy separately for $60? This doesn´t make sense to me since the backpac is $80 and the dive housing is $60 on its own. Or did I misread that somewhere? Do I need to purchase the dive housing and the backpac separately?

Hi Sung -

The LCD Touch BacPac does not include a dive Housing.  The GoPro Dive Housing for Hero 3 and Hero 3+ includes:

  • Housing Lens Cover
  • Standard Backdoor
  • Skeleton Backdoor
  • Standard BacPac Backdoor
  • Skeleton BacPac Backdoor
  • Limited 1-Year Warranty
  •  

Please contact us via e-mail if you have additional questions:  AskBH@BandH.com

Can any of the tray/flex arm systems be attached to the GoPole Reach ( waterproof telescopic pole)?

Unfortunately, I’m not aware of any trays that would be compatible with the GoPole.  Beneath the Sea makes some poles that can be attached to their Trays/Flex arms.  If you send an email letting us know roughly how long of a pole you are looking for and if you are looking for a dual or single tray, we would be happy to assist you with this.  *Christina*   askbh@bandh.com

I used a GoPro Hero3 Black scuba diving to depths ranging from 20 - 80 feet. Also used a BackScatter Dive filter. I did not use lights and only took still photos. This was in Bonaire and it seemed that it was fairly bright. A fair number of the photos were blurred. I assume that this was due to long exposure times and simply having the camera attached to my mask. Wondering about using the GoPro for still photography and whether or not you've had experience with such. Thanks!

In general the GoPro is not great for stills due to it using a slow shutter speed. Using a color correction filter will cut more light making it even worse.  If you mount it on a tray, it would be better than mounting it on your head, and using lights will show some improvement. But, it still won’t be great for still photography.  You would be better off looking at a still camera.  We carry quite a few point and shoot cameras that have housings available.  If you send an email letting us know what you might be looking for, we would be happy to make some suggestions.  askbh@bandh.com

I want to attach my gopro to a down rigger set up for lake michigan trolling. The speed will be around 3mph. Any suggestions?

You might check out the GoPro Suction Cup Mount.  That mount is proven at speeds in excess of 150mph, so should be more than fine to be mounted on a down rigger where the speed is roughly 3mph.

It sounds as though the 3 MPH referenced was actually in the water. I'm not completely certain I'd trust my camera to a suction cup in that situation.

I am buying the GoPro Hero3+Black for underwater diving.

The Photoshop says I do not need an dive housing because the standard casing is now flat not domed.

Will I get better video with the dive casing?

Thanks

Nigel CORNFIELD

The housing that comes with the GoPro HEOR3+ has a flat port that will focus underwater, so you would not need to purchase a separate housing for diving.  You will get great video results with the GoPro underwater with the included housing.

Hi Christina

I just purcsaheda  second-hand Hero 3+ black edition, with the standard housing. Having had no experience with these cameras, how can I tell if the port is flat and not curved, ie is the difference quite obvious? I'm going snorkelling and don't want to spend NZD$120 on a dive housing if the one I have will produce sharp images in relatively shallow water. Thanks very much

The curved port was a ‘feature’ of the earliest GoPro housings.  All of the Hero3+ housings would have a flat port.  So, you don’t need to purchase a separate housing for snorkeling or diving (unless going below 131’). There won't be focus issues with the current housings provided by GoPro.

I just got the new GoPro Hero3+ Black Edition and we also purchased the Dive Housing for the Hero3 because it had better reviews. 

The problem I'm having is that the camera doesn't fit in the housing. The lens doesn't line up and the buttons are unable to be used because the housing is too big. 

Am I missing something? Or is this the wrong housing? Or what? 

The GoPro Dive Housing for HERO3 and HERO3+ (MFR # AHDEH-301) is larger than the housing that comes with the GoPro camera, but according to GoPro, both the Hero3 and the Hero3+ will fit in the housing. You could call GoPro at 1 (888) 600 4659 and they will be happy to walk you through the process.

Keep in mind that both housings have the flat port. The only difference is the stock housing is rated to 130', while the dive housing is rated to 200'. So unless you are a technical diver diving over the recreational limits, you do not need the dive housing