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GoPro Underwater Images Quality Improvements Over the Years

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Have you noticed a real improvement in the quality of underwater footage over the upgrades?

The thing about action-cam footage and their clockwork yearly upgrades is that there's a lot of talk about how great the new upgrade is, but when it comes to actual footage produced with it, it's difficult to find more than the odd tests - which abound every time a new model is out -but don't really tell us much, especially for UW video....

People working with action cams to shoot and produce finished underwater clips are rare. Most are tests, side by side comparison and the like, and then you have the odd ungraded clip where it's more about what is shown than image quality, etc. It's not really consistent as a sample base, and difficult to measure image quality upgrades for UW shooting.

The latest demo clips shot by Kay Burn Lim for AOI are nice for instance, but it's difficult to pinpoint the mind-blowing improvements that the new cam / gear / accessories actually allowed.

In my GP user history, the biggest jump was from 4 to 5 - The 4 had no stabilisation, and the colour / light dynamics were poor. However the image was crisp, sharp, really good. And the Medium field of view really pleasing.

Skip to the 5, and we get great stabilisation (well, it started getting really good with the 7 and up), cam was waterproof (saved a lot of stress of checking the 40 m or 60m housing), and colours / dynamics were much better, and you had more shooting modes.

However, the field of view was really not great, more distortion in the new Linear than in Medium fov, and image quality had dropped somehow. The introduction of the touch-screen zoom mode also made things much more difficult for UW macro shooting (compared to just choosing "narrow" fov, especially since the zoom would reset when the cameras was off for example).

Sure, better colours and dynamics on the 5 and up new gens, but also less sharpness/ precision, and more side distortion overall (which i believe is linked to the introduction of stabilisation). The GoPro 6 was not great, buggy and quickly forgotten, as the  7 was much better and stable.
I stopped there, because for the 8 and up an whole housing/battery upgrade was required, and filter solutions lacking.


To illustrate this experience, here are some clips: this was shot on the GoPro 4, with no stabilisation: GP4 - colours / dynamics are lacking, especially at depth, but i like (and still miss) the image quality this cam had.

I hopped straight to the 6, which was clunky -  this is one of the rare clips I shot on the GP6, and from there I quickly hopped to the 7, which was solid, and used that a lot: GP7

All of these are shot in flat profiles, with the same UR-Pro Cyan filter, and white balanced / graded in post. You can see the corner distortion and loss of image quality from the 4 to the new gen, but also the improvements in colour captation and low(er)-light handling.

Not really using a GoPro at the moment, I'm in no hurry to update, I guess I'll probably hop on to the GoPro14 or 15 at some point when they're out....😆

A thread like this one seems to indicate that some users are not finding a massive difference in the quality of UW footage, but YMMV...

In post, I work with Final Cut Pro X - work flow is to first reset the WB point (picking a white balance point in the image, sand, tank, bubbles, white/grey bit of rock) and work from there. I have a preset with color wheels (increase dynamic range, desat the blacks), color board (fine tune WB) then curves.



Edited by bghazzal
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I don't have much experience with gopros a few family vacations apart.

As I said I started using them as video traps for trouts. We have several GP11s a couple of old GP5s.

Well I have to tell you that two GP5/GP11s placed side by side in murky water 1 meter deep on a tripod eventually have less image difference than you would expect between 6 generations of cameras.


We need 50p and so the GP5 films in 2.7K@50p and the GP11 films in 4K @50p with the GoPro Labs FW and bitrate at maximum. Yet once I rescale the 2.7K to 4K with Topaz or Resolve and apply color grading, you struggle to see the difference between the two.

Of course the GP11's stabilization is impressive but for my use on the tripod I keep it off to save battery.

What I find really annoying in water is the distortion/loss of quality at the corners despite using the linear FOV. That's why I was interested in the wet lens.

Don't get me wrong, probably under ideal conditions there is a world of difference but under less than ideal conditions the small sensor struggles even after all these years.

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My first action camera was a basic GoPro (not the black version) and instead of upgrading it to a newer version I went for Yi 4K+, which was really a good contender that time for half price of GoPro, with same or better quality (4K 60 fps was earlier introduced by Yi than GoPro). Xiaomi stopped producing this camera and the sell out price was really good (around 100 Euro) so I have 3 of them. 

2 years ago I purchased a Insta360 One RS and recently a GP12. I even did a recent static comparison:


When I compare these new cameras to my old Yi4k+ footage I can't find too much difference in image quality. I would still use the Yi cameras further but the batteries are getting worse and worse (20-30 mins filming) and even newly ordered after market batteries are produced probably years ago, so they're also not that good. Actually I modified all my Yi cameras (changed lens, modified focus) so I will still use them for specific purposes.

Another reason I wanted to have a new GoPro is the availability of accessories. It was very difficult to find a dome port for Yi and not to mention quality attachment lenses such as INON or AOI wide angle wet lenses.

Stabilisation and WB improved a lot in new generation cameras, but they still perform poor in low light.

I still have to check 10-bit, high bit rate. Hopefully it will solve my banding issues with the old Yi cameras.

In addition, I have just explored GoPro Labs and it's fantastic. I'm planning to create many QR codes with the most important settings, so I can change the camera settings underwater just by showing the codes to the camera.

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Very interesting that based on your respective experiences, both of you seem to concur that image quality improvements hasn't been mindblowing with each generational updates - overall, it's more about new features, some being good for UW use (stabilisation, and didn't know about GoPro Labs and QR codes, interesting!), other more detrimental (reliance on wireless, touch screen, voice activation and other non-UW compatible  ̶b̶e̶l̶l̶s̶ ̶a̶n̶d̶ ̶w̶h̶i̶s̶t̶l̶e̶s̶ features.

What's been very clear to me is that GoPro's product development has been focused on "be-a-hero"  POV action-sports-lifestyle clips to be shared on p̶h̶o̶n̶e̶s̶ social media and also now live-blogging.

The fact that many users have started using their products for different, sometimes more "cinematic" purposes or for scuba UW vids (as opposed to more common surface in-water applications) hasn't had much of an impact, as it has less much weight than viral-compatible footage, and is somewhat less sexy than young-at-heart-dudes-and-dudettes-being heroes, and over the years there hasn't been much done for this marginal (old-fart? cine-nerd?) section of their user market....


This is why I was interested in moving away from GoPros at some point as well, and looked for more "rounded" action-camera type products, but this is difficult.

The DJI Osmo cams looked good, but honestly, I've yet to see a proper diving video shot with one. WePix user Aquatic Images posted a GoPro / Osmo comparison YouTube vid a while back, but again no, actual UW footage (I don't think he ever got the cam) - there's just nothing out there, other than those (slightly-cringe) "GoPro killer" / specs comparison vids.

And yet the fact that brands like AOI and Inon are picking up and expanding on well-designed scuba UW accessory lines is good, (first to do so were Snake River Prototyping / SRP and Backscatter, but SRP no longer exists and Backscatter's line hasn't really been extended over the years), and this is also probably a good reason to return to the GoPro line after all.

One of the main issue for us housing-dependent GoPro users is that any major design update carries the risk of making all accessories unuseable (cam/battery format change = housing size change = accessories no longer compatible)...
Cue in sad-trombone jingle and a frantic online quest for the odd Chinese company making plastic bits and pieces which might or might not somehow make your beloved accessories work with the new line...


It's funny that you mentioned modification of Yi cameras, i just remembered that i had actually changed the lens on my unloved GoPro 6, idea was  to have a wider field of view without the ugly fov distortion.

Lens i got was a 3.37mm lens from MAPIR  Peau Productions, but hardly used it as the cam was left in Japan for luggage trimming reasons.
Company's still around btw, and sell interesting products, see: https://www.peauproductions.com/

If I was to bring out the pipe, puff a little and dream on, ideally, someone out there should work on a more "mature" go pro - no longer really an "action cam", but a rugged, practical waterproof video cam.
A video-centric cross between an action cam, a TG and a compact!


[puff-puff ]


Ladies and Gents, i give you the rugged GoPro Cine line, with its dedicated underwater accessory pack:

- waterproof to 10m (that way no real need for a vaccum system)

- bigger sensor (1" or more), 10bit, 4K 60fps, overheating kept in check, good stabilisation

-  full automatic point and shoot mode, but manual controls knobs for 1. ISO 2. shutterspeed

- dedicated manual white balance button for UW shooting, and a WB preset bank (gasp!)

- a reasonable (non-fisheye) set zoom lens, and an aperture ring (re-gasp! - maybe rename it the "blurry background ring" or the "bokeh-buddy ring"?), and a basic zoom knob.

- a slightly bigger screen, and/or a practical option to mount one to use UW, and re-re-gasp focus peaking display so you can see the focus point

- a polycarbonate double o-ring dive housing, with a flat port with a reinforced threaded mount and space for extended battery pack - third-party makers will be delighted to handle the pricey aluminium housing market, notably with cutting-edge products like the Inon GoCnThX 04-22W and the AOI CineGP WaL2.01b 😉)

- waterproof extended battery solutions

- ok, some sort of ND filter and XLR (?) mic-in option for on-land shooting, and an optional manual focus gear knob-button - gotta give the land-based market something for cinematic-vlogs and all....




In a way, the TG line is already close, but it's really not that great for video...
Compacts are also very close, but not waterproof, stabilisation is not great and UW screen / battery pack options inexistant (logical, since they're not designed for uw use and still have to please the dominant still-shooter market, as always....), and they are on the verge of extinction anyway...





 (image source: StableDiffusion 😇)




Edited by bghazzal
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There would actually be an action cam that on paper was intended for "professionals".
But it was ruined by Sony itself who never believed in it. 
The first version cost 1,000 euros and was worse than a Gopro. With the second version they added features but they are still behind even though they have come down to milder advice with the price. but it still costs more than a GoPro.
I never had a chance to try it out. From the specs it is interesting that it has a small FOV (24 mm) and linear lens and even Autofocus.

Accessories cost like a child in college 😄






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Interesting, but hmm, not quite there yet indeed - specs do mention "custom WB" but I'm guessing this is just setting the kelvins... and no aperture control or zoom (which the TG series does have for instance)

Quick browse for UW content brings.... well, nothing more than some pretty bad footage or spec-compare vids.

And then.... I stumbled onto the Sony Malaysia promotional (?) video which is rather hilarious:



Not super convincing, but hey, sexy-shrimp shot at some point, interesting -  they're pretty small how did they do that with this lens only...


And then looking into the comments, turns out the video is mixed footage shot with a RX0ii and.... the RX100 V....



They even had to edit the title.... Oh my.... Talk about shooting yourself in the foot there....




Screen Shot 2024-01-11 at 19.03.10.png

Edited by bghazzal
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In anticipation of completing filming this winter and (perhaps) capturing the elusive spawning behavior of these increasingly rare Mediterranean trout (Salmo [trutta] macrostigma), my buddy assembled a small video with some of the footage taken last year. Actually we have hours of footage with trouts being trouts 😄
All the footage and interviews will be used to produce a documentary on the population of these trout in the Fibreno, a river south of Rome, Italy.


We are not the BBC natural history Unit, so all the underwater trout clips are a mix of GoPro 5 and 11. As you can see, in these conditions there's no difference between a Gopro 5 and a Gopro 11. Only The final shot of the fry is taken with a GH5 and a Leica 45mm.



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I have more than 300 dives on my hero 11 and I love it. Over the years I've had the Hero 2, 5, 7, 9, and now 11. In my experience the 10,11,12 are all exceptional. biggest upgrades vs the 5 mentioned in previous comments is stabilization, and frame rates. I also think the Auto WB on my Hero 11 is decent most of the time. I wish I could manual WB underwater but I haven't found a way yet. Here are my favorite settings:


5.3K | 60fps | FOV: Linear | Hypersmooth: on | 10-bit | Bit Rate: High | WB: Auto |  Sharpness: Medium | Color: Natural | QuikCapture: on | Screensavers: Never | Beeps: off | Auto cloud upload : On | Auto clear SD card after upload : On

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