Being a Video Hero Made Simple

Using an Action Cam Filming Under Water?!

On my quest for imagery.
(In Lake Murner, BY/D)
I only lately started filming and filming under water. Before that I opted for learning to dive (at least somehow) safely first. But over time I regularily met those raised, questioning eye brows. You know, those kind of «why should a sane person dive in coldwater?» brows and «really something to see here?» brows. So, one day I decided to get myself a cute and tiny underwater cam. And then the drama began...

For me, it isn't about the best photos, the sharpest images, the best colors ... others can surely do much better than I will ever be able to achieve. Especially with my limited abilities and limited equipment. However, my intentions are different: I simply want to catch moments and impressions for me and my friends.

With this goal in mind I wanted my cam to be small, handy and out of my way as good as possible. What is a cam good for if you don't like to take it with you for all your dives? (With best wishes to «WiCa MiKa», my buddy!)

And what is the best equipment good for when I'm rather limited in my skills? And what about the equipment getting drowned one day, sooner or later? And finally, the best equipment is worthless if it stays at home, because it is too expensive, too fragile, too whatever?

In the end, my assumptions worked out quite nicely as can be seen from my videos taken in Lake Murner: «Murner Pickerel Parade» and «Murner UW Life and Landscape». They only exist because I had my tiny and dead simple cam equipment with me those days when we suddenly spotted fish and good filming conditions. This isn't about the famous CSI:Nowhere artifical «artifical picture style» with best 4k equipment and enormous post processing efforts. This is about the people enjoying and getting fascinated when they see for their first time why divers are diving in their surroundings.

Video Heros

After some inquiries I opted for a GoPro HD Hero. As the original housing, while being waterproof down to 60m, is unsuitable for filming under water nevertheless (wrong focus), I had to additionally purchase a modified cam housing made by sub zero (Stefan Wiessmeyer). For the first dives with a cam I simply strapped the GoPro to my head. That way I could concentrate on (safely) diving. I'm still astonished as to what quality was already achievable this way: HD 1080p (1080 lines, non-interlaces, 1920 pixels per line) at 25 frames per second. And yet, even in our filthy tarns things were (still) recognizable.

At the moment I'm using two GoPro HD Hero 3 Black Edition cams. These now finally come with a flat lens suitable for diving on the stock housing. No more need to buy a separate diving housing.
My experience: After the mixed results from the GoPro HD Hero 2, the footage coming out of my two GoPro HD Hero 3 Black Edition cams is really exciting! In terms of light sensitivity, the new generation is again a real step forward. And since color noise is much less compared to previous Hero 2, I can actually make use of Protune without the hassle of only limited denoising. Moreover, the untrusty white balance can now be switched off in Protune mode, so I get neutral footage when filming under water. This is perfect for grading in post processing. Then add the new 2700×1520 mode and this Hero 3 Black Edition cam is simply amazing! The only real drawback is the absurdly inadequate battery that barely lasts an hour with the LCD bacpac on.
After some weeks of diving and filming I wanted to have some (simple) lighting and a dedicated bracket in order to better balance the cam. Again, I didn't opted for an impressive solution but rather for easy, compact, and price-aware equipment. You know, the Dräger full face mask was in planning already for a future equipment stage...

Good Light & Handling

Good light for better video shoting.
After filming for some time with a Searay 1040 LED video lamp I finally upgraded my system to Light and Motion Sola Video 2000F LED lights. The Sola lights give really good and homogeneous light beams, ideal for filming with a wide-angle cam, such as the GoPro HD Hero 3.

No more problems with the single and inhomogeneous beam of the Searay that caused me bad footage on several occasions due to overexposure in the image center. The Solas have no noticeable beam (hot) spots, so image quality has improved. Also, colors become better visible as they don't get overexposed in the center area.

I'm using a tray system made from parts I got from uw-partner.com, which also have an English web shop. The Heros are sitting in the middle of the tray. Two floating handles give a good grip as well as offer some weight compensation during a dive.

The Solas are then fixed to the handles using a ball photo mount and the corresponding clamps.


For me, this cheap and simple solution works quite well, because my focus is on getting interesting video footage at all instead of getting the best possible footage. In the end, I've achieved my goal and was able to produce several dive and instruction videos, which are finding their audience.

PS: Again I have to thank Axel Eisele for his shot of me and my cam-and-lamp system in Lake Murner (BY/D). And yes, the backup reg hose is really flashy, it may well glow in the dark. Also many thanks to Jörg Lucinski for his photo of the «Dräger catalog» type, also shot in Lake Murner.