GoPro cameras are small, cheap and easy to mount, which has made them invaluable in the marine sciences. However, working in this changeable environment is challenging, and a "set and forget" mentality to camera settings can leave you disappointed with the results. Here are a few simple, but underutilised tips you can use to really get the most out of these cameras for your research.
1. USE THE STILLS + VIDEO MODE
Most GoPro models (Hero 3/3+/4) have a mode to record video, while also taking a still image at scheduled times throughout the recording (every 5, 10, 30, or 60 secs). For GoPro 3 and 3+ cameras, you select this mode from the Capture Settings menu. For GoPro 4 users, you select this mode using the side settings button whilst in Video mode.
This mode is great for getting high quality stills of something you might see on your video, without having to take a messy frame grab from the video footage. The quality images you'll have for that report more than makes up for the slight increase in card space required.
2. USE THE RIGHT FPS SETTING
FPS (frames per second) affects the amount of light hitting the sensor; a low FPS (eg 24 FPS) will let in lots of light per frame, since the shutter is open for longer periods during each frame capture. However, for fast moving objects or changing light conditions, a slow FPS can make the footage stutter. Fifty or sixty FPS is going to give you a much smoother video, but with less light for each frame, so is limited to fairly bright conditions.
A good method is to try 50 FPS first (60 FPS if you are using NTSC format); if your video is too dark or grainy (indication of too fast FPS) you can add some lights (ideally), or reduce the frame rate until you're happy with the quality. A few minutes of testing to local conditions can really improve the quality of your day's footage.
3. USE SUPPLEMENTARY LIGHTING
As alluded to above, the addition of lights allows you to run a higher FPS (therefore smoother video), as well as helps to bring out the colours of your subjects. Make sure you use a video light with a wide field of view, and an even distribution of light. Avoid using a standard dive torch, which tends to have a narrow field of view and a "hotspot" of light.
4. CONSIDER MEDIUM OR NARROW FIELD OF VIEW (FOV)
The wide angle view typically shown from GoPro footage is so ubiquitous, that we sometimes forget that other views are possible. Depending on the goals of your work, you may be better off using a medium or narrow FOV to get a more close-up perspective. For example, you're going to get a much better survey of corals/ fish or seagrass in narrow mode than the expansive FOV on wide setting. For any topside videos, where a boat or other straight lines are present, use the medium or narrow FOV to reduce the extreme curves introduced by the fish eye lens.
5. PROTUNE- DON'T USE IT!
Some users mistakenly, and perhaps understandably, activate this setting believing it will give them "Pro" results straight off the memory card. However, unedited ProTune footage will look bland, flat, and less sharp than regular footage. The files also take up more room on your card and drain the battery. So, why is it there? The value of the ProTune setting is in post-production where this format gives you a lot more flexibility for colour correction, ISO, white balance and easier intercuts with professional broadcast cameras. However, if you don't want to spend time in post-production to make a video pretty (which is probably most marine science professionals) then it's best not to use this function.
GoPros really have raised the bar for what researchers expect to accomplish in the field, and what clients expect to see in an output. With a little bit of extra attention to your camera's settings, you can surpass both yours and your clients expectations.
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