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  • Writer's pictureEvan Ruffell

Cheaper Gear, Better Results

Updated: Aug 9, 2022

I recently spent two amazing weeks on a liveaboard dive ship at Tiger Beach. Myself and 17 other divers went out into the middle of the ocean and dove with tiger sharks, reef sharks, lemons, nurse sharks, and even a great hammerhead. Given this was a once-in-a-lifetime type of trip, nearly every diver was using a camera to capture the moment.


One thing that immediately jumped out was that the majority of cameras being used were GoPro. This is a big shift from even 5 -10 years ago when normal cameras in underwater housing were the standard. Honestly, this makes a lot of sense. I personally use a GoPro for these trips. They are easy to pack, use, and dive with while also providing high-quality footage.

The new underwater king (Padraig Treanor - Unsplash)

What did surprise me were the accessories being used. Over half the GoPros being used were mounted on trays with underwater strobe lights. This is not exactly a cheap upgrade. Just a lower tier light is going to run you $400 dollars. Some people use two and everybody needs to buy a frame to mount everything together as well. Sure in the dark waters of British Columbia these are essential but at Tiger Beach, we were diving in shallow, good visibility, water with strong light penetration. That’s a lot of money to introduce just a little bit more light into an already bright scene.


Ultimately, there’s no problem here. There are always going to be people willing to pay extra for even marginal improvements. Nothing wrong with that. However, I was the only person using a red filter. I was confused by this. Below are two unedited images taken moments apart. The one on the right is using the filter and the one on the left without.



The results are undeniable. The difference in colour contrast, how much more the subject “pops” out. This is not a simple trick of white balancing and certainly not something that can be fixed easily in editing. There is a colour separation embedded in the raw image providing a completely different base photo. Even after editing attempts to improve the unfiltered image, it's still not close. I’m not spending hundreds for this change, it's a $30 piece of plastic.

Wrong camera, right idea (Nathan Mullet - Unsplash)

I was curious how or why people planning out their trip would overlook this easy piece of kit. A quick google of “how to take good underwater GoPro photos” and “underwater camera red filters” turned up something interesting. Most of these results are downright dismissive of filters. There was plenty of advice like “some small improvements, but don't expect miracles” or “After GoPro 6 they’ve improved the Auto White Balance to the point where most GoPro experts suggest not using a filter with them”. Really? Looking at the images above I wouldn’t say the Auto White Balance is even close. I certainly wouldn’t call the change only a small improvement.


Why would these sites largely ignore the filter benefit? Is it because they use affiliate links and selling you $900 worth of strobes is wildly more profitable than a $30 filter? Who can say for sure.


Lessons for the day

  1. More gear isn’t always better.

  2. A little extra time considering shooting conditions could save you big money while producing better images.

  3. Talk to a photographer about potential gear purchases, don’t just rely on websites that have their own profitability bias.

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