Sealife - Shooting 4k


Kieron Seth# TV-Bay Magazine
Read ezine online
by Kieron Seth
Issue 98 - February 2015

Since the days of Jacques Cousteau and his Undersea World, marine habitats have fascinated television audiences. From 1972 to 1975 the French explorer and filmmaker brought his excitement and passion for sea life to our screens and have inspired documentary makers since.

The films lay bare the lengths the crew goes to in order to capture the footage, yet despite the obvious dedication and skill of the photographers, their grainy pictures lack the colour saturation, sharpness and image stability we expect today from natural history documentaries. Compared with the multi-disciplinary film crew that accompanies Cousteau, underwater cameramen such as John McIntyre today travel incredibly light yet are able to produce footage and complete programmes at a fraction of the cost.

For his latest shoot for BBC World's Travel Show, McIntyre invested in Panasonic's DMC-GH4, the first DSLR-type camera to shoot 4k internally with 4:2:2 UltraHD output. He comments:
"Producing video for a travel programme is all about the quality and vibrancy of the pictures. This made the GH4 a good choice. The Panasonic Micro Four Thirds camera system is also really very compact making it ideal for an overseas excursion. In some ways, however, its light weight counts against it as an underwater unit - it's easier to handle a camera in the water if it has a little more ballast, so I add a metal tripod plate, lights and batteries to help compensate."

However, notes the DOP, the results are worth it:

"It's an amazing piece of kit that delivers 4k results that are easily good enough for broadcast television. Handling and camera control are all-important underwater - there's no time for searching through menus or struggling to change settings. With the GH4, features like user-configured presets and easy access to aperture settings are just what you need."

As photographers need a large depth of field underwater, McIntyre uses Panasonic's 7-14mm (14-28mm equivalent) lens for the majority of shooting. This also allows users to get close to larger subjects, reduce the problems caused by debris in the water, and also maintain focus. However, in the tropical environment of Cabo Pulmo on Mexico's Baja peninsula, the beauty of the flora, fauna and reef life call for tighter shots. For these the DOP has a Lumix 12-35mm F2.8 and a Leica 45mm macro lens, (paired with a variable neutral density filter for shooting in the sun. Underwater stability is a real issue under the sea so close-up shots require for a modified tripod to ensure sharp results.

With the exception of the NAUTICAM underwater housing which is specifically made for the GH4 and gives access to all the camera's functions underwater, McIntyre uses the same kit for above the surface and interview shots. Here other characteristics of the GH4 come to the fore:
"The ability to match two GH4s with the built-in white balance settings is crucial and the Cine-D look is very nice out of the camera. It's these type of features that make the camera so broadcast-friendly. The 8-bit recordings are perfectly good enough for television and can even stand a certain amount of grading; it's a far better codec than a 35Mb/s broadcast format in that respect."

Working remotely on the shores of the Pacific, the UltraHD codec shows its other advantage:
"It's one of the first to have a progressive interframe format which is great to edit. Grabbing still from the timeline is easy and the individual frames look very photographic. McIntyre edits using the original 4k files, even when the end product is to be broadcast in HD. Being able to zoom in up-to four times proved very useful for editing interviews and producing cut-aways.
Cabo Pulmo is a great success story of marine conservation and McIntyre's documentary-style 4k video is a visual feast which should stand as a record of the nature reserve of years to come.


Tags: iss098 | sealife | shooting 4k | underwater | camera | lens | bbc world travel | Kieron Seth#
Contributing Author Kieron Seth#

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