A few days ago, I took delivery of a BS Kinetics DuoDive housing, which is designed to house 2 consumer camcorders for use in capturing underwater 3D video. The housing is a carbon fiber + epoxy oval (as opposed to being a rigid cylinder or machined aluminum housing, which is more typical), and features a flat port, red/orange filter, hinged port cap, and rear LCD that toggles between left and right camera display.
The housing is designed to be generic, which means that a variety of cameras can be mounted inside. I’ve decided to use two Sony CX550V AVCHD camcorders with Sony 0.75X wide-angle adapters (removable). Although the CX550V shoots AVCHD (bleh) at 1080i (double bleh), it has a wide lens (~29mm equivalent) and is easily controlled through LANC.
Speaking of LANC, the majority of the camera’s controls are controlled using ste-fra LANC, which was developed for the use of two camera to provide stereoscopic imaging. Werner Bloos of digi-dat integrated ste-frac electronics with the BS Kinetics DuoDive housing.
The rear numeric LED display shows sync information of the two cameras in milliseconds. Through this LANC control, I have access to power, zoom +/-, zoom speed, push autofocus, focus auto/manual toggle, focus +/-, record, mode switch (photo/video), guide frame on/off, and shoot photo. A yellow button switches the LCD view from left to right camera, and two additional buttons kick off infrared macros that blast the menu commands necessary for one-touch white balance and Smooth Slow Motion (a 240fps burst on on the Sony CX550V).
Unfortunately, there is no control for exposure, so I will be forced to shoot in auto (the horror!). I may end up housing the Sony CX550V remote so I can blast infrared menu commands into the housing to control exposure. This would be extremely non-ergonomic, but would at least give me the option to lock down exposure. Also, since so much of the housing relies on custom electronics, I will likely install a vacuum valve so I can pressure test the housing before each dive. A flood would be catastrophic and non-user repairable in the field.
Using the rear control buttons, I find the housing and camera combination to be quite responsive. The buttons are easy to press and there is no lag in camera control. Zoom and focus controls appear to synchronize well, although I’ll have to analyze footage to determine how well the camera actually perform together.
The infrared LED blasters took hours to position correctly. The manual states that “the two IR emitters need to be placed as close as possible to the IR receiver of the camcorders,” and after hours of frustration, I realized that the emitters actually need to be placed further – around 25mm away from the IR receiver – in order to reliably control the camera. I suspect that this is due to a narrow beam angle from the IR-LED emitter. Because the area near the front of the mounting plate is so cramped, I had to place the LEDs in a diagonal position still facing the IR receiver on the camera, but not too close. I tried the configuration as pictured in the manual, but that didn’t work at all. See the last photos in my gallery for how I ended up positioning the LEDs in order to get reliable infrared control.
In any case, I am all ready for my first series of 3D video dives next week (cenotes in the Yucatán followed by whale shark aggregation off of Isla Mujeres). Wish me luck!