Setup time? Less than five minutes. Weight? Less than the body of my DSLR. Ease of shooting? There’s only three buttons.
The GoPro opened up underwater imaging for a lot of people with its ease of use, price and portability. Unfortunately those didn’t necessarily translate into stellar results underwater. Over the last several years, improvements in the camera itself along with the development of more dedicated underwater accessories such as color correction filters and LED lights mean the GoPro is becoming a more capable underwater camera.
With so many of our clients asking for help using their GoPros we decided to leave the D810 on the boat and do one of our back-to-back Raja Ampat trips shooting a GoPro Hero 4 Silver. We paired the GoPro with the Flip 4 filter system from Backscatter, their aluminum handle and tray combo, as well as a set of Keldan Luna 8 and FIX Neo 2000 LED video lights.
We put together a five minute film of the results below and in the rest of this article you’ll find some tips and tricks for getting the most out of your GoPro system including recommended settings as well as using filters & lights in concert to get good color rendition.
The Final Product:
With the Hero 4, GoPro has improved the ProTune options, turning the camera’s customization capabilities up a notch allowing for more control over white balance and ISO, two essential functions when taking a GoPro underwater.
After playing with various combinations for the first two days, relying heavily on tutorials provided by Backscatter’s Jen and Joel Penner, we managed to bend the GoPro to our will.
Getting good consistent color:
One of the main issues we experienced in the first few dives was the GoPro shifting white balance during a scene when set to ‘Auto’. We’d start with perfect Raja Ampat blue water and end up with Fjordland green as the subject shifted. Not good and not easy to fix in post either without cutting up the scene.
Lights, filter, cue the nature…
The first step in correcting this is to lock-out the GoPro’s white balance by changing it from ‘Auto’ to ‘3000K’ in ProTune options. This takes care of the color shifting and also adds an overall blue tone to any image. By adding either the ‘Shallow’ or ‘Dive’ Backscatter Flip 4 color-correction filter based on depth adds back a certain amount of red to the image. Combining this fixed white balance, the Flip 4 filter AND a good set of LED lights such as the Keldan’s Luna 8 helps to add back the missing colors of the reefscape while ensuring a nice blue background.
Flip 4 Filter + 3000K White Balance Setting + LED lights = Awesome!
The power of the lights will determine how much color and contrast you will get in the image. With less powerful lights it may be necessary to add back more contrast and saturation in postproduction. Thanks to the relatively small sensor size and constant fixed aperture of F/2.8 the GoPro does not require as many lumens of light as a DSLR or MFT camera would to achieve good results. That being said, the more lumens provided by the LED lights the better the camera can overcome the ambient light and the lower an ISO it will choose, both of which will result in a better image.
It is absolutely possible to shoot your GoPro underwater using only natural light and still get good color using a color-correction filter system such as the Backscatter Flip-4 and we’ll be posting some natural light footage in a another video. However, this article and the accompanying video focuses primarily on the technique of using a combination of filters and LED lights.
Locking the ISO to 400 (this is setting the maximum the camera can use, obviously it will decide based on the amount of available light for the exposure and probably uses a lower ISO for most shots) minimizes noise in the footage.
Focus & Exposure:
The camera’s auto exposure does a pretty fantastic job of seamlessly adjusting exposure throughout a scene. You can fine-tune the camera’s exposure as well. We set the Exposure Compensation to -0.5EV for normal scenes, -1.0EV for shallow scenes and disabled Spot Metering to minimize damage to the highlights.
The hyperfocal lens keeps everything from ~10” to infinity fairly sharp as long as you don’t get too close! This is especially important to remember when using the ‘Medium’ and ‘Narrow’ field of view settings as these do not change the closest focus distance.
One of the most impressive aspects was how well the camera handled shooting directly into the sun and how quickly it could adjust exposure without gross overcompensation.
The battery life of the Silver edition is impressive, especially if Quick Capture is enabled. We prefer to have the camera on continuously but some shooters may prefer Quick Capture which turns on the camera and activates recording with the press of the record button, shutting down after recording stops. We still recommend changing the battery after every dive, but we did manage to make it last two dives when needed.
Field of View and Resolution:
When shooting 1080p at 30fps it is possible to use the full range of field of view options, SuperView, Wide, Medium and Narrow. The SuperView mode will cause corner distortion if the camera is moved such as when panning or trucking. The wide mode is essentially distortion free and has a great field of view for most wide angle scenes.
The silver model only allows for 4K UHD at 15fps so we stuck to 1080p HD.
When using the Backcatter Macro Mate Mini +15 diopter the ‘Narrow’ or ‘Medium’ modes will allow for capturing a good variety of macro subjects. It is imperative, due to the fixed focus nature of the lens, to use the provided framer until you get the hang of the working distance as focus is difficult to judge accurately from the LCD. It’s best to shoot the subject at a variety of angles and with small variations in distance to ensure sharp video. We’ll be posting some macro video soon but below is a still frame shot using the Macro Mate Mini and the ‘Narrow’ field of view.
The camera does not have optical or digital stabilization so using a good tray and tripod combination such as the Backscatter tray/handle with tripod mount and a Joby Gorillapod will help achieve steady shooting and less need for post processing. Nobody wants to watch shaky video. Strapping the GoPro to a body part such as your head or chest is only going to result in giving your viewers motion sickness and capturing hours of exhaled bubbles and seafloor footage. Keeping the camera stable is key to producing good footage and seeing what you are shooting is crucial. The Silver edition has a built-in touch LCD display but if you are using the Black edition, the LCD Touch BacPac accessory is a must.
Other Recommended Settings:
- Low Light: Disable Auto Low Light
- Spot Meter: Disable Spot Meter
- Wireless: Turn Off while diving to save battery
- Monitor Brightness: High
- Beeps: Turn It OFF or you will quickly become very unpopular!
- Video Format: NTSC (for USA) or PAL (Europe)
- OSD: Keep it On, I like to see the information
- LED: Up to you, I prefer 2 instead of the default 4
- Auto Off: Disable, just change the battery between every dive anyway
- ProTune Color: GoPro Color
- Sharpness: High
With no need to continuously adjust exposure settings you can focus on capturing and lighting the scene, meaning you are more likely to get something you’ll be happy with. The current incarnations of the GoPro have come a long way, especially when it comes to usability underwater. However, as with any underwater camera, it still has to overcome the same obstacles caused by taking a camera underwater, loss of light and color. To get the best results the camera must really be paired with the proper accessories discussed in this article to add back that light & color.
If weight and price are an issue, a setup including a GoPro Hero 4, tray and handles, a good set of LED lights and a set of Backscatter’s Flip 4 Filters will get you excellent results with something that will fit in your carry on and your budget.
ALL EQUIPMENT KINDLY PROVIDED BY BACKSCATTER