Monday, March 7, 2011

Pro Video Gear for Underwater Shooting

Lots of folks have seen me shooting recently with a Canon EOS 7D in a Nauticam housing and asked me the same question: should I buy one of these systems to shoot professional underwater video? Here's my attempt to answer the question.

These are both great pieces of gear. The 7D camera is capable of shooting nice 1080p video at a few frame rates. I've been using it at 1080p at 30fps and 24fps, and the results are pretty nice. Stunning, really, for such a small and relatively inexpensive package. Being able to use my Tokina and Canon wide-angle lenses underwater for really wide views, behind a decent port such as the Zen glass port, is astounding for both the ease and the price. In the past, I had to buy a $5500 Fathom lens for my Gates HVX200 housing, or a $30,000 Fujinon lens behind the dome of a custom-built Cranston Sony HDCAM housing, which cost $40,000. The Sony HDCAM camera cost $90,000 when it first came out, and the entire system weighed 70 lb and was a huge unit compared to the 7D and Nauticam housing.

I am now able to put together a still camera housing, swim around with it shooting stills, and then switch to get crisp HD video anytime I want. It is a dream come true.

That said, I am not planning on shooting a film with this setup or running to National Geographic Television or the BBC Natural History Unit to tout myself as a cameraman with this gear. I will still have to use my HDCAM and $50,000 camera packages, unfortunately.

The Canon 7D and any HDSLR simply does not give me professional video quality. If you compare the footage on a technical basis with the footage from my old Sony HDCAM F900 and the new RED One cameras that most professional shooters are using now, the difference in quality is very large. If I got a shot of a sperm whale eating a giant squid with 7D footage, I could probably get it used. But shooting an entire film with this camera is simply not professional enough.

The links below are a few months old, but can help answer questions about why I am saying the above, and what video cameras besides the RED One might be acceptable to NGTV and the BBC these days.

If I were starting out fresh today, I'd buy one of these instead of what I see many newbie cameramen are trying to do to break in. Or be a real pro and buy a RED. I've seen some shooters' RED footage and it is astounding when sued correctly.

Here's a great website about BBC's judgment and tests on video cameras:

Hope this helps.

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