The image quality of the GoPro HERO3+ is remarkably good in a wide range of conditions right out of the box. It’s a huge improvement over previous generations of GoPros. But there might be times you want to tweak the shooting by using filters. And probably the two most useful filters are a polarizing filter and a neutral density filter.
The Fotodiox Pro WonderPana Go H3+ Standard Kit is designed to add regular 52mm screw mount lens filters to a camera housing that isn’t built to take filters.
There are two versions of this kit available. One is for the slimline HERO3+ housing (available here). The other is for the standard HERO3 housing (available here). The difference between them is in the lens mount adapter to accommodate the different shapes of the lens portals on the housings. The review below refers to the kit for the slimline housing that comes as standard with the HERO3+.
What’s in the Box?
- Lens Mount Adapter. This slides onto the outside of the lens portal of the waterproof housing and is locked in place with a single small screw that locks with pressure.
- Circular Polarizer filter. More detail on using this is below.
- ND8 Neutral Density filter. This dark filter cuts the amount of light reaching the sensor by three stops. On a DSLR, there are several potential uses for a neutral density filter, but with the GoPro, there are two main ones. The first is that if you happen to be shooting in ultra bright light, this will bring the levels back to help prevent highlights from blowing out. The second is that it can force the GoPro to use a slower shutter speed. Since you don’t have manual control over the shutter speed, this isn’t as flexible as on a DSLR where you can drag the shutter, but ideally, you could use it to smooth out time-lapse footage.
- UV Filter. This is an optically clear filter designed to cut down UV light. The two most common uses for a UV filter on a DSLR are for cutting through the haze in landscapes and to protect the lens. Neither is especially relevant to how I use a GoPro, so this isn’t a filter I anticipate using.
- Small flat-head jewelers screwdriver.
- Plastic lens cover.
Attaching the Adapter and Filters
The lens mount adapter is machined metal and is shaped specifically for the standard HERO3+ housing (there is another model for the slightly larger housing that comes standard with the HERO3). It slides over the barrel of the lens portal on the waterproof housing. It’s a tight fit–very tight. If you don’t get it all the way on you’ll end up with bad lens vignetting. I found it hard to get all the way on and even harder to get it off again.
Once you have it on, there’s a small screw that locks on by using pressure. A small screwdriver is provided in the kit for this, but any flat-bladed jewelers screwdriver will work. I found that the fit was tight without using the locking screw, but it makes the attachment more secure.
One you have the adapter mounted, the filters screw onto it using a regular filter thread.
The adapter is small enough that you can leave the adapter on full-time. It blocks the front LCD a little, but not much. And it makes it a little harder to get a grip on the top locking clasp of the case when it’s in the locked position.
Using the Polarizer Filter
A polarizer filter helps reduce glare. They can deepen the blues of a blue sky, intensify the color of water, and add detail to snow, sand, or ice. I have more on polarizer filters here.
The polarizer that comes in this kit is a circular polarizer. Regarding image quality, that’s a good thing. A circular polarizer is better than a static single film polarizer because you have control over the angle of the polarizing effect in relation to the light. To get the polarizing effect, you rotate the outer layer against the inner layer. Here are some examples of the effect using the filter from this kit on a GoPro HERO3+:
In practice, there’s a catch in using a circular polarizer on a GoPro. To use the filter effectively, you need to see the effect of the rotation in real time through the lens. On a GoPro, that’s not easy because there’s no viewfinder and no built-in display. There are workarounds, but none is ideal:
- Add an LCD display to the back of the camera, the GoPro LCD Touch BacPac. There are two problems with this. Firstly, in bright sunlight–which is precisely when you’re likely to be using the polarizer–you’ll find it hard to see the detail on the LCD. The second problem is that the GoPro LCD Touch BacPac is not currently supported with the waterproof slimline housing that comes with the HERO3+ camera, although the display itself does work with the camera. There’s more info on that here.
- You can use an external display either wired or through the GoPro WiFi app on your smartphone. I found the GoPro app to be the most convenient, although it does mean having the WiFi on, which I try to avoid when possible to maximize battery life.
- If you have time and a good work area, you can use trial and error by taking photos or recording video and then viewing the results.
There’s another thing to watch out for: in some of the wide-angle shooting modes you end up with bad lens vignetting on the corners. It is possible to get slim polarizers to help alleviate precisely this problem (like this one), but the one in this kit is a regular thickness. (I haven’t tested a slim polarizer on this adapter to see if it fully solves the vignetting issue.)
In still photos, that affects shots in the Wide setting. It also affects video shot in 1440, 1080 Super, and 720 Super modes.
In the 1440 mode, for instance, you end up with this:
In regular 1080 mode you don’t have the same problem:
Because the filters stay outside the waterproof housing, they don’t affect the waterproofness of the camera housing itself. But also because they stay on the outside of the waterproof housing, they are not themselves waterproof. They seal reasonably well using the screw thread, and light spray or light rain shouldn’t present much of a problem, but it’s not a perfect seal and water, and dust can find its way in. The circular polarizer is especially vulnerable because it has an extra rotating layer that water can get in between. The method used for mounting these filters isn’t suitable for adding a red filter for underwater photography.
The filter case adds bulk. We’re not talking a lot, but since the small size is precisely part of the appeal of the GoPros, it’s not irrelevant. The filter kit case is larger than the camera in its housing.
I was most interested in adding a polarizer filter and neutral density filter to the GoPro HERO3+. For both, the optical quality is much better than other options I’ve tried with gels placed inside the housing on the HERO3. It’s also much more convenient than the internal methods.
The main negative for me is the lens vignetting using the circular polarizer in some shooting modes. It’s not a dealbreaker but is something to watch out for.
Overall, while the Fotodiox Pro WonderPana Go H3+ Standard Kit isn’t perfect, it is the best solution I’ve yet found for adding a high-quality polarizer or neutral density filter to a GoPro HERO3 or HERO3+.