Author Archives: daveabbottunderwater
I tend to use POV cameras quite a bit on my filming assignments and they are a tool I really enjoy playing with. They are not the right ‘tool’ to use for every job – and they are certainly not a replacement for your main camera, but they are great for adding cool and interesting viewpoints…hence the label POV or ‘point of view’ camera…on doco’ and reality shoots.
I have attached POV cameras to kayaks, windsurfers, dogsleds, snow machines, mountain bikes horses, cars, planes and RC helicopters…not to mention my head, chest and wrists… the possibilities are endless. They are great for adding immediacy to reality sequences and providing ‘impact’; – they save risking your main camera and won’t break the bank.
I use a couple of different types of POV cameras, – the ubiquitous Gopro Hero HD2, a tiny but tough ‘go anywhere’ POV camera that has revolutionised camera placement possibilities right out of the box. They shoot 1080P, have a 1700 field of view and give great results – as long as the light is good.
I also use a Sony HRX-MC1, an awesome little camera consisting of a small HD camera head cabled back to a compact recording deck with full controls and a 2.7-inch LCD monitor. It gives a great quality 1920 x 1080 image, has a 10x optical zoom and built-in mic’. It’s not as tough or as cheap as the GoPro but it is well suited to situations where you want to be able to monitor your shot and change focal length or exposure.
The bottom line is that POV cam’s are heaps of fun and can turn out some wicked footage….you just have to not get distracted and not shoot too much of it!
I love timelapse sequences –although they are not something I have the time to include in every shoot, they are a great way to evoke atmosphere and showcase a beautiful landscape or spectacular sky. As the name suggests, this technique can also be used to imply the passing of time, and makes a great transitional shot.
Timelapse is a great tool in natural history doco’s for slow moving subjects such as metamorphosing insects or growing plants … and when time and budget allow [as in the BBC documentary Planet Earth with its $40 million budget], they can even show changing seasons across an entire year!
Such long duration timelapse can be very technical and complex to set up, – especially if combined with panning and tracking motion, but at its most basic, timelapse is as easy as setting the camera up on tripod, hitting record and letting it roll.
Check out this example of morning mist clearing from the hills that I shot a little while ago; https://vimeo.com/46796258 :- later in the year I will post my first experiments with panning and tracking timelapse!
I recently started using a new lighting setup on my underwater shoots; a 6 LED light-head that despite being relatively compact and lightweight, cranks out a massively bright, very white 6000 Lumens! Being an LED light it has a fantastic burn time, and the tubular design provides a very wide even spread of light – essential when filming underwater. I have been really impressed with the colour rendition these lights give, – much better than my old tungsten halogen light heads which were a bit ‘warm’. The colour temperature of this new light gives very true colour and there is no visible ‘edge’ to the coverage – I’m looking forward to seeing two of them cranking out a combined 12000 lumens!
For a couple of years now I have had my eyes peeled for a new camera and it’s a frustrating search; all the individual features I am looking for in a camera are out there, but unfortunately not in one package!
What am I looking for? … full HD, a 50- 100 Mbps, 422 codec, 60P, ½ “ sensors with good low light capability, SDHC/CF card or SSD recording, either interchangeable lenses or a decent focal range of around 28mm – 500 – [ 14-18x] and good ergonomics for handheld shooting. I’d also love to have the option of high frame rates for shooting slo’mo’ … say 100+ fps. It’s got to be tough and reliable, able to function in hot and cold conditions [last year I was filming in the Arctic at -35C], not be overly susceptible to dust or drizzle, and be a reasonably ‘portable’ size and weight for overseas shoots.
There are heaps of excellent in-depth camera reviews on the ‘Net from people far more knowledgeable than me, so this just a roundup of a few camera that I like the look of or am considering as potential replacements.
Sony’s EX1 is a favourite with broadcasters here in NZ and has 3 x ½ inch sensors, good low light capability but only 35mbps bitrate and 420 colour space.
Their new PMW100 has a nice 50mbps XD codec, but has only one CMOS sensor, no ND filters, a shared focus/zoom wheel, no proper iris, and only a 10x zoom, so to my mind would be more of a ‘backup’ camera.
Canon’s XF100 is another great little camera, also with a 50mbps 422 codec but only one sensor – again a great backup camera.
Until a few days ago my first choice of available cameras was its big brother, the Canon XF300, which has 3 x 1/3 “ sensors, the same 50mbps 422 codec, 18x zoom range, nice ergonomics, and acceptance by the BBC for longform HD doco use.
Sony’s FS700 is also pretty exciting camera with an incredible frame rate capability – when shooting at 25p you can go up to 250 FPS at full HD; 300 FPS in 30p, and higher frame rates of 400/800 and 960 fps at reduced resolution!
I am still in two minds about large single sensor shallow depth of field cameras though, – they can achieve a beautiful bokeh effect and are great if you can always set up your shots, but with ‘run and gun’ shooting of adventure sports – and in difficult situations where you have fast-moving subjects and rapidly changing focal lengths, a shallow DoF can mean missing focus on crucial shots…for me at least.
A few days ago though I got word of a new camera release from Sony, the PMW200! This is a 3 x ½ “ sensor camera based on the EX1R but with a 50mbps, 422 codec: – close to perfect by the sound of it, and will probably be my next camera.
My last consideration in camera choice is whether there is a good professional quality underwater housing available; – the housing manufacturers don’t cater to every camera that comes out obviously, and as a lot of my filming is underwater this is a major consideration. Unfortunately a housing more than doubles the cost of getting set up again for me, so I always look for a model that will stay ‘current’ with broadcasters as long as possible!
One of our latest equipment additions has been a remote control quadcopter [scaled down helicopter with 4 props], a brilliant tool for achieving aerial footage and POV’s in locations where a full-sized helicopter cant operate…or when the budget doesn’t allow for it!
Our heli-system can pack down into a couple of Pelican cases for transport and is quickly set up; – it is quiet, extremely manoeuvrable, stable, hovers well, and will be ideal for remote location aerial filming or acquiring footage in built up areas.
I’m still learning to fly it at the moment, but I’m sure it won’t be long before we are regularly using this cool [-if slightly ugly!] filming tool on our location shoots!
I finally had to retire my well-worn Hitec ‘Altitude’ boots a few weeks ago, and it wasn’t easy to part with them as they have shared hundreds of tough miles on trips around New Zealand, Alaska and Arctic Norway. Unfortunately 2-weeks of 10-hour days hiking the steep rock and sharp scree of Alaska’s Wrangell Mountains on my last filming assignment really finished them off!
The silver lining to retiring my well-thrashed boots though was getting to buy a new pair of boots, and given that a lot of my filming assignments are to remote wilderness locations around the world where beating the feet is the only way to get around, boots are an important purchase!
I have been using Hi Tec boots now for nearly 20 years, first in adventure races like the Southern Traverse, and later on filming assignments around the world from Canada and Alaska to Africa and Outback Australia…not to mention all over NZ.
In that time I’ve only been through 4 pairs, so they are pretty damn hard-wearing, and in my opinion the best value boot around. They are also incredibly comfortable right off the shelf so don’t need ‘breaking in’, and the Hi Tec range cover everything from lightweight adventure-racing shoes through to quality leather boots suitable for tough bush and alpine use. I loved my ‘Altitudes’ which were Hi Tec’s top of the range boot when I bought them, so I checked out Hi Tec’s latest flagship boot; the ‘Rainer Event Ion Mask’, liked them, and bought a pair.
These are a waterproof, full-grain leather boot with a breathable membrane, grippy Vibram sole, protective rubber toe and heel rands, rust-free brass eyelets, well cushioned foot bed and sock-liner, and are bloody comfortable right away; in fact a couple of days after getting my new boots I flew to northern Turkey for 3-weeks [in winter] and spent half that time tramping around in thigh deep snow chasing wild boar. The temperature was between -5 and -17C, but I had warm dry feet the whole time, which I was pretty happy about!
I know it may seem a bit weird talking about boots on a filming and production web-blog, but when your assignments frequently involve getting dropped off by bush plane in the middle of nowhere for a couple of weeks, and you know you’re going to be packing everything you need on your back 10 hours a day, what you wear on your feet can become as vital to getting the job done as your camera equipment!
I’ve been trying this technique out for the first time while on assignment in northern Turkey – attempting to film wild boar at night, – the special IR spotlight throws out a beam of infrared light that is invisible to the naked eye but which can be picked up by the ‘Nightshot’ function of single-chip Sony camcorders. It is quite amazing how even when viewed straight on, the only indication the light is switched on is a small, unobtrusive red filament glowing through the nearly black lens cover!
The Nightshot setting on the camcorder sees this infrared light very well though, and it extends the night time range of the camera hugely. The main limitation seems to be the ability of camcorder to focus at longer zoom settings, even when using manual focus [I have been using a Sony A1]. The effective ‘useful’ range of my particular IR light [75W] seems to be about 40M. It also takes a little while to find your subject with IR light as it takes coordination to align the beam and the limited FOV [field of view] of the camera when unable to rely on peripheral vision, then still more time to focus on the subject. Offsetting this however is the fact that this setup allows you to film ‘light-shy’ creatures in complete darkness…pretty damn cool! Now I’m looking forward to trying it out on other nocturnal critters!
The next step after this is to try and get hold of a ‘Starlight’ camera, even better!
Turkey a very cool place! Cold in fact, ..was -17C last night while we were out in the forest wading through knee deep snow trying to film wild boar with infrared light and nightshot cam! Wish I’d brushed up on my Turkish, our local guide doesnt speak any English and he’s not that great at sign language either. Very strong coffee here….still trying to unstick my cheeks from the cup I had an hour ago!
heading off tonight on my first overseas film assignment for this year, – Hongkong – London – Instanbul/ Turkey, -then up into the mountains near the Black Sea filming Russian Wild boar. Back to Instanbul afterward, so should be able to squeeze in some kebabs, turkish coffee, turkish delight, turkish wrestling and maybe some turkish turkey…