Diving into a new camera system

Diving into a new camera system

By Dan Beecham with contributions from business partner Charles Maxwell

The decision to take the leap into a new camera system is always a daunting one. As an underwater cameraman this is the case even more so, as getting into a new camera system involves a financial commitment that is probably double that of a camera operator shooting on land, due to the costs of specialized underwater housings. Generally speaking underwater housings do not retain their value well at all — with this in mind you can see just how daunting making the decision of which camera to buy can be. When the time came for me to invest in a 4K-camera system myself, the two choices were the RED Epic, or the newcomer — the Sony F55. Others exist today. I was to be purchasing the system with business partner Charles Maxwell, an Emmy award-winning veteran underwater-cameraman.

I had been shooting with the RED Epic for a major client for around a year or so when we decided to partner up and buy a camera system together. At this time I was getting very familiar with the RED system and workflow, I was pretty intent on buying a RED for myself when the time was right. It was to my surprise then that Charles said he was looking at the F55 as an option.

I started looking into the system and I liked what I found. Both Charles and myself have been shooting with Sony cameras for a number of years. Charles’ Emmy award winning footage of the Sardine Run was shot on the PD-150, since then a lot has changed. We have both worked extensively with a plethora of HD cameras; F900, F900R, Z1, EX-1 and EX-3 to name but a few — so I was excited about continuing to work with the Sony gear. There is a real level of comfort in knowing we are working with a camera manufacturer that we have a history with as well as one that has dealers and technicians locally.

Once we took delivery of the camera and started working with the RAW files from test shoots, I really started getting excited about the potential of the system for underwater work. Getting to grips with RAW Viewer was pretty quick and easy, it’s a fantastic free package that Sony has continued to develop and goes from strength to strength. Experimenting with test footage I shot of Table Mountain, with bright white clouds that I intentionally over-exposed and being able to pull the exposure back is such a luxury, this level of flexibility amazed me.

Once we had done our first dives with the camera and started grading the footage, I was astonished by how faithful the F55 colorimetry is underwater. We have shot underwater scenes such as kelp forests that I have honestly never seen captured so truthfully in terms of the color reproduction. As divers, we know what the colors of our subjects should be, and cameras sometimes reproduce them inaccurately. When grading footage from our dives, we can match the colors exactly, getting completely faithful color reproduction. The footage has an ethereal, otherworldly quality, which I think simply comes from the amount of detail it captures. It really feels like now we are showing people the things we get to see on our dives and that we are getting much closer to them actually experiencing it themselves because of the immersive characteristics of the footage…and we all thought HD pictures looked good!

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