Backscatter 3.1: Big Pink Hero Eyes

As a self-confessed herograph («aberrations? This is art!») I nevertheless would like to try something new, not just plain fish eye shots. I would like to get closer to some of my photo motives, but the built-in fish eye limits the minimum distance. In several situations I could get closer, yet the GoPro HD Hero 3 lense was the limitating factor. Thus, I would like to experiment with a macro lens. In addition, I want to test green filters: do they give any benefits in the freshwater lakes I'm often diving in?

When it comes to optical equipment for the GoPro HD Heroes up to the newest HD Hero 3+ the third party market for filters and lenses is confusing. Prices and quality vary to great extents. And price and quality do not necessarily correlate to each other. Next, there are solutions on the market where I wouls need to modify the camera ... something I don't want to do. But this restriction still left me with a whooping number of filter and macro add-ons.

However, I want (1st) decent filter and lens quality, then (2nd) decent manufacturing quality, so that the optics and frames withhold many dives. And finally, (3rd) I want to use both a filter and macro lens on the same camera housing. Not necessarily simultaneously, but without any complex replacement under water. This left me with barely any choice then...

Backscatter Flip 3.1

To my knowledge, the filter and optics system Flip 3.1 from Backscatter is the only solution available today that allows me to simultaneously mount a macro lens and filter simultaneously. However, only one of the optical means can be used in front of the camera at any given time. To me, this is no real limitation, as I don't need the green filter when using the macro lens and vice versa.

It seems that the original motivation for the Flip 3.1 systems comes from diving in tropical waters. There, a single red filter isn't really suitable, instead, you need several different filters, adapted to different depths and sun light.

The boon and bane of the Flip 3.1: on one hand, it is flexible and allows me to chsoose the optical lenses and filters I need, on the other hand, it is expensive. I got the impression that Backscatter is asking for compensation of the equipment weight in Gold. Alas, the Flip 3.1 can be mounted to both the real 60m dive housing as well as the messed-up 40m wannabe dive-housing of the HD Hero 3+.

In the end, I opted for the following parts from the Flip 3.1 system kit as can be seen in the following picture below.

Backscatter's system Flip 3.1 with macro lens and filter for GoPro HD Hero 3/3+

  • (1) and (2): these two parts are the basic frame of the Flip 3.1 you'll need in any case to start with. For the 60m dive housing you'll need only the basic frame (1) in itself. You can then directly mount either one filter such as (4) or the 55mm threaded holder (5) to this basic frame. It's difficult to find the plain basic frame on Backscatter's website: bs-flip31-side.
    • In case you absolutely must use the messed-up 40m housing for the HD Hero 3+ then you need to insert also the spacer (2). It comes with the basic frame, but can also be ordered separately. The spacer also comes with a self-adhesive tiny sheet of metal that you need to stick to the handle of the 40m housing. Whoever came up in markwting with this crappy 40m housing should be punished to use it over and over again for all dives.
  • (3) in case you want to use a second filter or lens with the Flip 3.1, as I do, then you need to purchase the top hinge separately: bs-flip31-top. Yet another billed item.
  • (4) as I'm diving mainly in coldwater and freshwater lakes only the green filter bs-flip31-gw is of interest to me. The filter is large enough to not cause any vignette effects in any video mode, especially not in the important 2.7K frame size. It appears to be pink as it lets mainly pass through red and blue light, but reduces the amount of green light. Kind of a «ladies' filter», yikes...
  • (5) in order to use a macro lens, polarization filter, or neutral filter with the HD Hero 3 or 3+ you need yet another item on your ever-growing materials bill: the 55mm threaded adapter bs-flip31-55 from the Flip 3.1 system toolbox. Alternatively, you can buy another LCD bacpac by now, cost-wise...
  • (6) and finally the +10 macro lens bs-flip31-10, with 55mm thread. Since the macro lense possesses two threads, you can stack multiple lenses or threaded filters. The macro lense comes with a low profile, so it doesn't cause any vignette effects. 

First Impressions

Make sure that the bottom part of the frame is properly aligned.
When assembling all the parts into something useful I cannot but notice the manufacturing quality. Make sure to read Backscatter's Quick Guide first. Albeit assembly is almost completely straightforward, there are two important details you really should pay attention to. Luckily, these are explained in the Quick Guide:
  • placw the frame so that it aligns with the front lens of the GoPro housing. Don't push it inwards any further, otherwise the filters won't align later. In particular, don't push the frame until it aligns with the housing front.
  • gently press the Flip 3.1 frame so that it correctly snugs into its position. In particular, make sure the frame flushes with the front lens on all four sides. Only then tighten the screw to fix the Flip 3.1 frame in place.
The frame, the hinges, and the threaded adapter are all made from anodized aluminium. The manufacturing quality looks really decent without any ridges ... but Backscatter asks for enough money so I'm expecting nothing less for this sum. I'm under the impression that the Flip 3.1 really has been developed by divers for divers and that the developers gained much experience with their own products over time.

As the basic frame with its hinges gets safely fixed to the GoPro housing, nothing can get lost. Considering the price of the Backscatter system, this is important. The drawback here is that you cannot quickly switch housings. You always need to carefully unscrew, then remove the Flip 3.1, and then you need to carefully align the basic frame again before you can tighten the fixing screw again. This isn't something you do just on-the-fly.

Mature Details

Mature detail: mounting filters only works in the right orientation.
This is a nice and mature detail: the color filters as well as the 55mm threaded adapter can only be mounted in one correct position. For this, Backscatter designed an asymmetrical filter contour that ensures correct mounting. However, if you don't notice and place the filter in wrong orientation, you will later notice when you can't mount the second screw.

While orientation of color filters should be (in principle) of no concern, it becomes important for the 55mm threaded adapter. Albeit some logical reasoning should already give you the proper orientation, Backscatters construction ensures you can only mount the adapter in one way.

And another mature detail: the hinges automatically locate in their outer positions. Backscatter achieves with with pure mechanical clamping without any need for a locking mechanism. Thinking of thick gloves in cold water you won't want to operate a delicate locking mechanism. Time will tell how good Backscatter's locking will work on the long run. But it looks promising.

Troublesome Hero Lever

Obstructing: modified lever of the
newer 60m housings for GoPro HD Hero 3/3+
After quite some users reporting problems with the original design of the opening lever of the 60m diving housing, GoPro modified the original design. Unfortunately, the new lever now obstructs the top hinge of the Flip 3.1, so it cannot be mounted correctly.

Luckily for me, I still have several of the first generation 60m dive housings for the HD Hero 3. Everyone else without such a housing then needs to shorten the lever a few milimeters. This is really unfortunate.

The Outcome

After some easy assembly, my personal configuration of the Flip 3.1 looks as shown in the photo below: I've chosen a +10 macro lens and a green water filter.
GoPro HD Hero 3 Black Edition with Backscatter Flip 3.1 plus
+10 macro lens and green water filter.

Of course, in the end, the optical properties are counting most. So let's test dive my new rig! More on my results in a separate blog post coming soon. So stay tuned!