I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: taking an action camera like a GoPro underwater is one of my favorite parts of snorkeling and scuba diving.
I really dig being able to easily capture those incredible memories and unique moments, and then do all sorts of things with them (share them with friends and family on social media, make prints for the wall, put together cinematic videos — whatever), so I’m always testing out the latest action cameras myself for my very specific in-water purposes since so many reviews on the internet aren’t geared towards things like snorkeling and scuba diving.
Most years, it’s a GoPro whose underwater capabilities end up being my favorite among the action cameras out there, and I stick by its side until the next model is released, then test out what’s new all over again.
This year’s new GoPro that is (at least partially) built for snorkeling and scuba diving is the GoPro Hero 12 Black (here on Amazon), so I’ll be asking the same question of it that I do for each model each year: is the GoPro Hero 12 Black the best underwater action camera for snorkeling and scuba diving?
The new Hero 12 Black is much more of an incremental upgrade over last year’s GoPro Hero 11 Black (Amazon), with incremental upgrades more or less being the case each year since the Hero 9 Black (which was much more of a generational leap forward).
[If you’re interested in how things looked last year, you can check out our guide to the GoPro Hero 11 Black, or our rundown on the GoPro Hero 9 Black from a few years ago to learn why that model really revolutionized using a GoPro underwater.]
But, despite the modest upgrades over last year, there’s still a lot to love and whether or not you should make the Hero 12 Black your underwater GoPro very much depends on your current action camera situation. We’ll get into that along with what’s new this year and what remains the same to make this model a candidate for my go-to underwater GoPro. Let’s go!
Yes, the GoPro Hero 12 Black is natively waterproof to a depth of 10 meters or 33 feet, or to a depth of 60 meters or 196 feet if you add the GoPro Protective Housing.
If you’re sticking to snorkeling, the Protective Housing probably isn’t an absolute necessity (unless you also want to snorkel with red filters for your GoPro) since you won’t be maxing out the waterproof depth pretty much ever, but you should definitely add the housing if you’re using your GoPro for scuba diving.
You can find the GoPro Protective Housing on Amazon.
As I mentioned, there isn’t a whole lot that’s fully new in the GoPro Hero 12 Black since last year’s version for most snorkelers and scuba divers. Honestly, the most noticeable difference might be the new speckled paint job on the exterior of the camera itself.
But, that isn’t necessarily as negative as it may sound.
Instead, the novel parts of the Hero 12 Black represent further improvements and refinements of already-great features as well as more capability for power users (i.e., those with higher technical ability or filmmaking prowess) while still remaining easily-accessible for new users.
(The Hero 12 Black also has the same dimensions as the Hero 11 Black and feels almost identical in your hand. This is great, though, because any GoPro underwater accessories that you may have for anything since the Hero 9 Black should work just fine with this new version.)
Since there isn’t as much to talk about which hasn’t been seen before in some fashion, let’s not spend too much time on it. Here’s what you’ll find in the GoPro Hero 12 Black that we haven’t seen before:
- Native Tripod Connection — There is now a native tripod port for a 1/4-20 standard tripod connection built into the bottom of the camera itself (previously an adapter was needed). This isn’t hugely impactful for snorkeling or scuba diving (though some floating handgrips will almost certainly utilize this connection now), but it’s really nice elsewhere. You probably aren’t using a full-on tripod with your GoPro in general, but something like a Gorillapod 1K flexible tripod (Amazon) can be really useful in a lot of situations.
- Bluetooth Audio Support — Bluetooth audio support has been added so that you can both listen to your captured audio through a bluetooth device during video playback on your GoPro, but also use the microphones on something like the Apple AirPods Pro (Amazon) to narrate your video and/or use the GoPro’s voice controls. This is cool, but not useful for snorkeling or scuba diving because you’re, well, underwater.
- GP-Log and LUT Support — Both of these items will apply to more advanced users. GP-Log is an improvement on the Protune flat profile which captures video with a higher dynamic range that is still easily color graded in post-production for video editing, while LUT support allows you add what are called Look-Up Tables to your footage which alter its colors in a set way. Both of these can be very useful for underwater footage since colors behave so differently underwater and both are really helpful if you dabble in video editing. Note, though, that you don’t need to know anything about advanced features like these to get great video out of your GoPro.
Most of what you’ll find in the GoPro Hero 12 Black you can find in the Hero 11 Black. But, like I said, that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
The key features which GoPro has added and steadily refined since the Hero9 Black that make using a GoPro underwater so excellent are still here and better than ever. Let’s look at the core of what exactly that means.
HyperSmooth 6.0 with AutoBoost
You might not realize it — and it doesn’t always feel like it — but you move around a lot when you’re snorkeling and scuba diving. Even when your body is still, the ocean is jostling you around a lot more than you might think.
This means that default underwater video out of a GoPro is a nausea-inducing, shaky mess. Really — it’s bad.
That’s why when you use a GoPro underwater while snorkeling or scuba diving, you need to have video stabilization enabled. Always, always, always.
And, one of the best video stabilization protocols in the biz has always been GoPro’s HyperSmooth, which is now it its sixth iteration and better than ever for something like snorkeling or scuba diving.
When enabled, HyperSmooth (along with an extra feature called AutoBoost which will take care of automatically zooming and framing your stabilized video) will automatically adjust your captured footage so that it’s smooth and stable. It makes an enormous difference in your ultimate video quality and watchability.
360-Degree Horizon Lock
Speaking of smooth video, one of the features that GoPro introduced with the Hero 9 Black which I absolutely love for snorkeling and scuba diving is Horizon Lock, which is kind of an extreme version of video stabilization.
Horizon Lock will stabilize your video perfectly with the horizon such that you can even do a 360-degree barrel roll and your video will remain perfectly upright, level and focused on whatever you’re recording.
This feature takes HyperSmooth to another level and in my experience can have your underwater GoPro videos looking more like something out of the Blue Planet series. It really does make a big difference.
Another feature previously new with the Hero 9 that I love for snorkeling and scuba diving is Hindsight which puts your GoPro in a constant-recording mode, but it will then only actually save the footage (in a 15- or 30-second lookback period) and begin recording normally going forward if you hit the normal record button on top of the camera. Otherwise, the recorded footage is discarded.
Previous to this, the tradeoff while using a GoPro underwater was to either end up with a ton of relatively uneventful footage or risk missing a spectacular event (like some unique marine life swimming by, etc.) because I couldn’t get the camera to start recording quickly enough.
Now, I can start recording with Hindsight and if something scenic or especially cool happens, I can just hit the record button and the previous video will be saved to my memory card. If not, I don’t worry about it and the unwanted footage gets discarded. No more gigabytes-worth of unneeded footage or missing out on epic moments underwater!
Hydrophobic Lens Cover
The addition of a hydrophobic lens cover has been a welcome addition for me in recent versions of the GoPro Hero Black.
Before the lens cover was hydrophobic (i.e., naturally repelling water), any time I wanted to take my camera out of the water to continue a shot (swimming with sea turtles and looking to capture them taking a breath above the waterline comes to mind), there was a pretty good chance that my video was going to have big water streaks from the lens cover that distort the image, often to the point of it being unusable.
Now, water quickly runs off of the lens cover and I no longer have this problem.
Longer Battery Run Time
One of the legitimate beefs with the Hero 11 Black was that, in cases where you were recording for a long time (like when using Hindsight), the camera would get warm and drain the battery fairly quickly. This was tempered a bit when using the GoPro underwater since the water would act as a bit of a heatsink, but it could still be noticeable.
Fortunately, GoPro has made a lot of improvements with how the Hero 12 Black handles long recording sessions to minimize camera heating and improve efficient battery use.
GoPro claims that from a fully-charged battery, you can record for about 1.5 hours at 5.3K @ 30fps and over 2.5 hours at 1080p @ 30fps with the Hero 12 Black, and in my testing it’s pretty dang close to that and it works out as being able to record for slightly more than double the amount of time that I was able to record with the Hero 11 Black.
This is huge for using a GoPro underwater with snorkeling and scuba diving (especially since I use Hindsight so much), and an upgrade from the Hero 11 to the Hero 12 Black might be worthwhile even for this massive improvement alone.
Versatile High-Resolution Photos & Video
Similar 5.3K @ 60fps, 4K @ 120fps and 2.7K @ 240fps video resolutions are in play for the newest model of the Hero Black, along with 27-megapixel photos and 24.7-megapixel video stills (with stills being my preferred way to get photos since taking regular photos in a rapidly-changing environment is just too tough).
If all of that sounds like alien-speak to you — no worries. Just know that the Hero 12 Black produces high-resolution photos and video at a variety of framerates which can dial all the way down to very detailed slow motion.
And that’s all great, but one of the more interesting things in play regarding photo and video with the addition of the uniquely-sized image sensor put in place in the Hero 11 Black is way more flexibility to switch between standard landscape-oriented video and taller portrait-oriented video. Landscape video (and photos) will work best in the majority of cases, but if you’re interested in making videos for TikTok or Instagram, the portrait video mode will be hugely useful to you.
Dual LCD Screens
New since the Hero 9 Black, the GoPro Hero 12 Black continues the form factor of having both a large LCD screen on the back of the camera so you can see how you’re framing your video in front of you, as well as a smaller LCD screen on the front so you can see what you’re filming/photographing if you want to point the camera toward you.
Both screens are useful when using your GoPro underwater for snorkeling or scuba diving and I personally couldn’t go back to an action camera that doesn’t have dual screens.
Automatic Highlight Videos
If you aren’t big on editing your own videos (or wouldn’t even know where to start), this is for you.
New with the Hero 11 Black (and continued in the Hero 12 Black), you can set your camera so that once you return to your home base after your snorkel or scuba trip and plug in your GoPro, the camera will upload your footage via WiFi to GoPro’s video cloud processing servers. From there, GoPro will automatically edit your footage and stitch it together into a highlight video, pinging your phone when it finishes so you can download it.
If you’re more of a pro editor, these cuts will probably leave plenty to be desired for you. But if not, the highlight videos are admirable in my experience. Overall, GoPro does a good job with these (especially if you can keep your footage limited to the more interesting parts of your swim, like you can with Hindsight) and they’re plenty worthy of sharing on Instagram or elsewhere.
If you want to try your hand at editing your own videos (or editing the ones that GoPro automatically makes for you), their free Quik software is actually really fantastic for newer editors and you can definitely turn out some nice edits with a little practice.
The manufacturer-suggested retail price of the GoPro Hero 12 Black is $399.
However, several times a year GoPro often runs sales where it’s possible to see savings of $50 or more.
The Hero 12 Black’s MSRP is actually down $100 from the Hero 11 Black’s original MSRP of $499 (it’s now down to $349 with the release of the Hero 12 Black), which is a welcome sight. This is likely at least partially due to there not being as much new in terms of features and hardware in the Hero 12 Black, and partially due to the semiconductor supply chain crunch which all tech manufacturers have been dealing with over the last few years easing a bit.
If you’re brand new to action cameras for snorkeling or scuba diving, there are a few extra costs to consider (like picking up a floating handgrip, memory card, etc.), so be sure to read up on everything at our article on how much a GoPro costs (along with everything else you’ll need).
In my experience, despite the modest step forward with the Hero 12 Black, it’s still the best underwater GoPro (and action camera in general) to use for snorkeling and scuba diving. No question in my mind.
But, should you buy the GoPro Hero 12 Black? Everyone’s situation (and needs, wants, etc.) is different, but the way I would think about it for myself breaks down into three categories: if this would be my first underwater GoPro for snorkeling/scuba, if I already have the last version (the Hero 11 Black), or if I have an older version.
Here’s what I think about all three:
If this is my first underwater GoPro and I don’t mind paying a few extra bucks, I would absolutely buy the GoPro Hero 12 Black (Amazon). To me, it represents the best option for using a GoPro underwater for snorkeling and scuba diving with the best hardware, features and capabilities. Pretty simple!
Or, if I don’t yet have a GoPro and am feeling like I need to save a few bucks, I would look into the GoPro Hero 11 Black (Amazon) which should save me at least $50. The Hero 11 will get you a very, very similar camera to the Hero 12, but the heavy trade-off for saving that $50 for me is the battery life.
If I didn’t think I was going to be engaging in recording sessions for more than about 35 minutes at a time (though note that it’s very easy to exceed this while snorkeling or scuba diving, especially when utilizing Hindsight), then the Hero 11 Black shouldn’t cause me any issues. I could also buy an extra GoPro Enduro Battery (Amazon) to mitigate the impact and still officially save money, but at that point I’m not saving quite as much as I would have wanted and would probably circle back to the Hero 12 Black.
If I really needed to save as much money as possible, I would also consider the GoPro Hero 10 Black (Amazon). Though a couple of versions old, it’s still a very solid camera with most of the same features that make for an excellent underwater GoPro (check out our overview of the GoPro Hero 10 Black here). Some of the resolution specs will be lower and I’ll be lacking the landscape/portrait video flexibility, but I’ll still get good bang for my buck here.
Beyond that, I could also read up on GoPro alternatives (and other types of GoPro cameras, like those for 3D video) with our guide on the best underwater action cameras. It’s all great information to have, but, spoiler alert: I keep coming back to the GoPro Hero Black as my go-to.
If I already have the GoPro Hero 11 Black, I have a more difficult decision.
If in my use of my Hero 11 Black I haven’t bumped up against any battery capacity issues, then I probably wouldn’t upgrade to the Hero 12 Black. Instead, I would look at picking up some of our best GoPro underwater accessories that would decidedly cost much less money than a new camera and would serve to really up the quality of my underwater photos and videos.
Though, if I was experiencing running out of battery at inopportune times, I would have to reconsider. If my battery issues were just a general problem throughout a day of snorkeling or scuba diving where I would be back on the boat several times and could swap in a fresh battery, then I would probably pick up a GoPro Enduro Battery (Amazon) (or two, with a charger) and be all set.
However, if I find myself running out of battery while in the water, I would seriously look at the Hero 12 Black since there’s no way to change batteries while snorkeling or scuba diving.
If I already have a GoPro but it’s older than the Hero 10 (even if it’s the Hero 9 Black — which was a generational leap — but especially if it’s the Hero 8 Black or older), I would treat my situation as if I don’t have a GoPro and run through the scenarios in the first section above.
Ultimately, the specs will just be too out of date and the features lacking compared to what’s available now that it really would make sense to upgrade.
The Deep Dive
Even though the new GoPro Hero 12 Black represents more of a hop rather than a skip, jump, leap or bound forward over the previous Hero 11 Black, it’s still the best underwater GoPro for snorkeling and scuba diving in my experience.
Whether or not it makes sense for you to pick one up right now depends on your current budget and action camera situation, but by learning about the capabilities of the Hero 12 Black and following the guide above, you should be well on your way to making the best decision for you.
First, here are the Amazon links for more information on the Hero Black cameras (and accessories) discussed above:
- GoPro Hero 12 Black
- GoPro Hero 11 Black
- GoPro Hero 10 Black
- GoPro Enduro Battery
- GoPro Enduro Battery 2-Pack with Charger
- GoPro Protective Housing
Once you figure out which GoPro is right for you, read some of our other guides on getting started with action cameras for snorkeling and scuba diving, getting the most out of them, and what else you might need (floating handgrips so you don’t lose your camera in the water, the right speed of microSD memory cards, etc.) to get going.