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GoPros are becoming increasingly better options for underwater videography as their quality improves with each new generation. I’ve seen many scuba videos shot with GoPros that have outstanding quality, so I think GoPros are great options for scuba divers who aren’t quite ready to drop several grand on underwater camera equipment. But they do have their limitations.
How depth and wavelengths affect colors underwater
The issue with GoPros (or any camera) is that they will fail to capture colors at certain depths. This is because water absorbs wavelengths of light at different depths. The longest wavelengths, such as red, are absorbed first, followed by orange & yellow. The color loss can begin at depths as shallow as five feet but really come into play at the following depths:
- Red: ~15 feet
- Orange: ~25 feet
- Yellow: ~40 feet
- Green: ~70 feet
This means that taking photographs or video at these depths will result in signifiant color loss unless you use some type of corrective device (filter, adaptive setting, video edits, etc.). Many times the color loss is so great that the video looks a lot less interesting and inspiring than what you were able to experience while diving underwater (our brains compensate for color loss to a degree). To combat color loss, I prefer to use filters. My favorite filters to use are Flip5 filters.
Flip offers a number of different types of filters that can be used on many different types of GoPros. I go with the Flip5 series which can be used with the GoPro 5, 4, 3+, 3 (although you have to use the included liner/adapter for the GoPro 5).
The most commonly used filters are probably the three filters for ordinary diving. They come designed for three different types of diving:
- Shallow depths (5 to 20 feet)
- Dive depths (20 to 50 feet)
- Deep” depths (50 feet plus).
The great thing about the frame used for these filters is that the design allows you to quickly “flip” between two different types of filters based on your depth. The filters easily flip in or out of place and remain securely in place once set, making it very easy to maintain the best color at varying depths.
*Flip5 also offers filters specifically for green water (temperate waters) and for night diving as well.
You can watch my recent scuba diving video below where I used the dive and deep filters along with Sola 2000 dual video lights to capture all of the shots. Most of the shots from the beginning are from the GoPro Hero 5 using the dive filter + the Sola 2000 dual video lights and you can see how good some of the colors came out. The very deep blue shots found later in the video are from a GoPro Hero 4 with the deep filter on but no lighting. Also, no video editing was done to enhance saturation or anything so those colors are very true to what was captured by the GoPro.
Difference between filter and no filter
Take a look at the video below which shows the difference between using the “Dive” filter and not using a dive filter at about 70 feet (this filter is designed for max depths of 50 feet). I was using the Sola 2000 dual video lights so there’s still some color present in the immediate areas getting hit with the lights when I take off the filter, but there’s a dramatic loss of color in the entire picture and it just doesn’t look as good.
I have been very surprised by how good the color preservation has been deep filters, as it’s a very dramatic difference. Below is a “still” from a video that isn’t great photo quality but it does show deep the blue and bright the yellows are at about 80 feet. I don’t have a before and after photo but without the deep filter, the colors would look nothing like that.
Here’s another shot where you can make out some more yellow and white which normally would not look so colorful.
If you’re using lights, I don’t recommend using them in conjunction with the deep filter. The reason is that the reds are just too bright and overpowering. Sometimes my light got into the subject that Brad was filming with the deep filter and it just blew out the colors as seen in the photo below. The lights are fine to use with the dive filter, however, as shown by the YouTube video above.
The complete package
Another thing that I really liked about the frame and filter is that it feels very high quality. The frames are heavier than I thought they were and they feel like they will last a long time. They also come in a nice little zipper-case along with the tools needed to adjust them. The Allen wrench tools are very intuitive and it’s simply a matter of tightening and loosening the frame and screws that connect the filters to get going. Nothing too time consuming.
The three filter kit (with shallow, dive, and deep filters) comes out to $99, which I don’t think is bad at all considering how much these filters improve the quality of your video. You can find that package here.
Flip also offers lenses for macro shots. The package I got came with the +15 MacroMate Mini Lens which fits on the Flip frame just like one of the filters would. These lenses allow you to get fantastic macro shots of wildlife and coral but you need to be very close to make this work. I ruined some of my footage from my latest dive by not realizing how close I needed to be in order to properly focus with the lens.
So if you decide to go this route, I suggest that you practice a lot with the macro lens so that you know exactly how close you need to get to your subject in order to capture the best quality video.
Getting decent GoPro footage while scuba diving depends a lot on capturing the beautiful colors of the wildlife and coral reef and if you don’t have a way to make that happen, your videos are going to look less inspiring. However, filters easily address this issue, making it easier and cheaper than ever to capture good underwater video. The Flip series filters have been tried and true and are definitely worth the money, in my opinion.
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Daniel Gillaspia is the Founder of UponArriving.com and creator of the credit card app, WalletFlo. He is a former attorney turned full-time credit card rewards/travel expert and has earned and redeemed millions of miles to travel the globe. His content has been featured in major publications such as National Geographic, Smithsonian Magazine, Forbes, CNBC, US News, and Business Insider. Find his full bio here.