GoPro has now embraced the use of its POV cams underwater and the GoPro HD HERO2 can provide amazing results, indeed its footage often seems to be equivalent to that of more traditional cameras and it is being adopted by consumer and professional underwater videographers worldwide.
Often such popularization results in a decline in simple housings in favor of more elitist ones. However, I feel that in GoPro’s case, there is room for all tastes, all budgets, but purists obsessed with technical specifications will undoubtedly remain unsatisfied. I predict that the GoPro is the forerunner of a new category of equipment where the subject and the final result are more important than the camera body, a concept that traditional manufacturers are going to have to address.
Despite this, the camera suffers from the same problem as every other camera when it is immersed under several meters of water in that it produces images so uniformly blue and green that you could die of boredom watching them.
Are there any other colors out there?
As light passes through water, some of its energy is absorbed. The longer wavelengths are affected first, with reds being absorbed in an extremely rapid way (e.g., at a depth of 1 meter, around one-third of reds have already been lost and at 5 meters there is hardly any left). This manifests itself in cameras recording pale blue images. The most “natural” solution to this is to use an artificial light source, typically an underwater light of some form, but their efficiency is proportional to their cost. This makes them a product traditionally more suitable for confirmed videographers or enthusiasts. In addition, in bright ambient light video lights can cause colors in footage to be washed out, especially with GoPros which have no manual exposure adjustments.
Don’t forget that the focus of this review is a small POV camera that is supposed to avoid either needing a huge budget for their acquisition or being hugely bulky in size. The latter is important when you consider the amount of traveling that divers do (once we have unglued ourselves from our computer screens).
With or without filter? What else ?
Filters present a possible alternative to video lights. They have been around for a long time, but their efficiency is often questioned. You can find them in every color, every shape, and at specialist dealers or on eBay. However, the vast majority of them are completely useless.
These filters also need mounting options. GoPro has already imposed a new order on the dive market by bringing out its own make of dive housing. As this is significantly cheaper than other third party housings, filter systems have become the focus of research for accessory manufacturers.
Snake River Prototyping’s Dome.
A new alternative is Snake River Prototyping’s (SRP) “Dome,” This is a slip-over cyan filter adaptable to the GoPro dive housing which restores lost reds and improves contrast underwater. I was lucky enough to participate in prototype trials before the launch and I did a whole battery of tests on the walls and in the lagoon of Tahiti.
The filter is “wet” and is positioned over the GoPro housings’s lens port so doesn’t change the angle of shooting. Its rounded form is designed to bring a better uniformity to color correction. SRP is already known for their range of GoPro accessories. The Dome is produced in conjunction with filter manufacturer URPRO and is made of synthetic material covered by a special coating to make it less vulnerable to scratches.
Assembly is simple, with no screws or tools required. No need for instructions, it’s as simple as putting the lens cover on the dive housing port. Note the little eyelets that will allow you to secure your filter with a leash or a string. I advise doing this as it makes fastening easier underwater and on land.
The camera’s on/off switch also seems to be less accessible with the filter attached. In the dry, this is of no consequence, but this will be a point to check out underwater.
SRP advises that the filter should be prepared prior to the first dive by cleaning it in soapy water in order to clear any residues and to avoid bubbles sticking to it too easily once it’s immersed. I never had any problems with bubbles on any of my dives.
The on/off switch was completely accessible, even with gloves on. During the tests the camera with filter attached was operable with no problems whilst wearing 5 mm gloves. When diving, putting on and taking off the Dome is child’s play. Care needs to be taken if you remove it from the housing, as it can be easily scratched by coral or inside the pocket of your BCD. In common with most other underwater imaging equipment, care also needs to be exercised about where it is put once back on the boat.
SRP’s Dome has an optimal depth range of between 8 and 30 meters. The tests were done in tropical waters (Tahiti, French Polynesia) on sunny days and on fairly flat drop-offs with good light refraction. I found the results to be fascinating and was surprised to find so many colors under water. The filter corrected the color balance, putting an end to blue images, and worked even in places where video lights would have been too difficult to manage or ineffectual.
The Dome proves very effective as soon as there is enough sunlight. The GoPro HD Hero2 camera likes well lit scenes anyway, but the filter generates very pleasant and much warmer images. Contrast is also strongly improved (compared to using without the Dome) but the effect of the filter will depend on the light/depth equation. I noticed that it still had an effect at 30 m if it was limited to subjects that were close. Best results with the Dome will be between 10 and 20m.
The field of view is identical to that of the GoPro dive housing and absolutely no vignetting or blur appeared in any of the camera’s modes. No artificial lighting was used and I felt it was better that way!
The best demonstration is the film itself:
- Performance proven (in dive conditions described).
- Improvement in contrast.
- Wide range of use from 8 to about 30 meters in strong sunlight.
- Easy fastening.
- Well packed by manufacturer.
- The camera’s LCD being obscured, forcing the use of the LCD bacpac.
FTTC Disclosure: The Dome SRP Filter was supplied to the reviewer free of charge by Snake River Prototyping for prototype trials. Subsequent to the review, the reviewer has become the French Distributor for the product. He is also an authorized GoPro dealer.
About the author: Fabrice Charleux is the owner and founder of Plongeur.com, the world’s largest resource for French speaking divers. He lives in Tahiti, French Polynesia. For more information, please feel free to email him.