A GoPro in your pocket?

A “GoPro in your pocket” is rapidly becoming standard operating procedure for a number of cave divers. The ability to document anything you come across while cave diving is something many of us find increasingly valuable.

This inevitably leads to the question, Which camera? Is it a GoPro, or another brand of action cam? And, if it is a GoPro, which model? As people have been seeing us use the latest GoPro model, the Hero 8 Black, we’ve been getting a lot of questions about it.

Is it worth trading up?

We were able to get our hands on the Hero 8 as soon as it hit the streets. And this was one we paid for, not one GoPro bribed us with. To GoPro’s credit, they shipped a reliable underwater housing for the 8 at the same time as the camera.

This is in contrast to DJI, who took well over a month to offer a housing for their supposed “GoPro Killer,” the OSMO Action. Polar Pro also had a complete set of filters for the Hero 8 available from the onset. Of course, this is only of limited value to cave divers, as we shoot with lights, not filters.

The first thing we did with our spiffy new Hero 8 was shoot a series of side-by-side comparison videos with our GoPro Hero 7 Black. The bottom line? If you already have a recent-model GoPro, it’s probably not worth the expense of trading up. However, if you are looking to make a first-time action camera purchase, the Hero 8 is a good choice.

Not all hearts and flowers

Although the Hero 8 is a solid contender for the title of “best GoPro ever,” it’s not without its drawbacks.

  • As the Hero 8 is bigger than its predecessors, it requires a different housing, filters and batteries. The ones from your Hero 5, 6 or 7 won’t work.
  • The lens cover for the Hero 8 is built in, not removable. While this means you don’t have to remove the lens cover to put it into its housing, if the lens cover breaks, you can’t replace it. This means the camera is totalled.
  • While the Hero 8’s image stabilization is exceptional, it does have some quirks. As you can see in the video above, there are times when the Hero 8 footage suddenly jitters unexplainably, while the 7’s footage does not.

And then there’s that battery door

Among the biggest complaints among Hero 8 users is the poorly-designed battery compartment door. Unless you open it very, very carefully, it will come off in your hand. Although you can snap it back in place, having to do so is a pain in the ass. It’s also easy to drop the battery door and lose it.

Another drawback of the battery door (which we learned the hard way), is that it doesn’t do the best job of keeping out water. Without a housing, the camera is supposed to be waterproof to 10 m/33 ft. We’ve tested this feature on the GoPro 5 and 7, and on the DJI OSMO Action with no ill effects.

However, when we took our “naked” Hero 8 into the Hart Springs basin this past weekend, it flooded. And this was at the surface, not at depth. We’re chalking this up to the fact it’s hard to tell whether the battery compartment door is making a good seal or not.

Admittedly, it’s unlikely a cave diver would take any GoPro in the water without its housing. Still, if you have (or are getting) a Hero 8, do not test its claims of waterproof integrity outside the housing. If you are using it in or around the water, seal it inside its housing rather than risk a flood.

Lesson learned

Following the flood, we debated replacing our now-defunct Hero 8 with another 8 or a Hero 7. In the end, it came down to the fact we already have over US$100 tied up in a housing and filters which only work with the 8. The fact GoPro still offers $100 off the Hero 8 if you trade in any action cam, “working or not,” made the situation slightly less painful.

We still like the Hero 8, despite its limitations. Based on recent experience, however, we’re just going to take the battery compartment door off and always use the camera in the housing…even above water.

After all, we’re cave divers. We adapt.

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