Backround to the Shoot
A couple of weeks ago we completed an underwater shoot on the Sony NEX-FS700, to produce high speed shots of underwater artists for inclusion in a music video.
A brief synopsis of the equipment used is as follows:
- Camera equipment : Sony NEX-FS700 with Sony Zeiss F4 16-70mm lens
- Underwater housing : Amphibico Genesis 700 Housing, fitted with
- 9.25” glass port
- Ninja 2 monitor/recorder housed in a Nautica NA2 housing
- Vacuum Leak Detector
- 100ft SDI Cable for top side live feed
- Top side monitor/recorder : Convergent Odyssey 7Q with 512 GByte SSD drive
- Lighting : 2 x 4 bank underwater keeno flow, 1 x 2.5 par for top side hot shaft/back light, 1 x 2.5 fresnal for bounce light/top side ambient
The aim of the shoot was to film two in water models at high frame rate, 100 frames per second in 2k raw, performing a number of set pieces.
All in all, the shoot went well, as challenging as can be expected when combining HFR with underwater, all on new kit. I ended up spending a total of 6 hours underwater during filming, so a long and tiring but fruitful day.
The results are now in the edit and being worked on to create the end piece, I’ll put up a link once that’s been completed and release. What follows is a review of some of the equipment used – many of it is has only just been released to market, I’m reasonably confident that we are the first to shoot this combination of equipment (i.e. to gain HFR from the Sony NEX-FS700 to Odyssey 7Q from underwater). Hopefully you’ll find my musings useful!
Amphibico Genesis Housing
The housing itself is very well designed. It’s an aluminium build, a relatively compact size and at just under 14 kilos dry weight, a fraction of the weight compared to other pro systems. With a pressure rating of 90 metres depth, it’s suitable for any dive the majority of people will undertake.
Camera control is electronic via a LANC cable on the camera tray, you are then provided with buttons, triggers and jog wheel on either handle that allow you to access all the features of the camera, including white balance, manual focus, full menu access, picture profile selection and modification.
A nice bonus with the electronic manual focus is that it will also work with Canon EF glass fitted via metabones adapter. Whilst the metabones will get in the way of a zoom gear, it does mean that we can use canon prime lenses, e.g the Canon L F2.8 100mm macro… an apparent focal length of 150mm once you’ve added in the 1.5 crop factor the super 35mm sensor introduces, I’m looking forward to an opportunity to try that out!
The unit has numerous ¼” and 3/8” UNC threaded holes to allow you to attach lights and the like, there are also 6 bulk head ports allowing you to attach adapters for off board options (e.g monitor, SDI feed for live link etc).
Using the camera in water is a dream. It is well balanced, the controls are easy to get to and don’t necessitate letting go of the handles.
The design also allows you to use the on board monitor, by providing a viewing window from the top. It’s functional, although not particularly a great position, so I would suggest using an external monitor as well (see below).
We opted for the new Sony Zeiss 16-70mm lens for underwater use, whilst we would have liked it to be a little bit faster (especially at the price!), it provides a good focal range for underwater work with a minimum focus of 35cm throughout, which allows it to focus on the virtual image created by the dome port without any diopters (under and over type shots, or shooting from the water to topside are also therefore available). Amphibico don’t currently have a zoom gear to fit, so we’ve had to go with a slightly larger size and then added padding to the zoom dial to bulk the lens out.
Nauticam Housing for Atomos Ninja 2 Recorder
This option has provided two benefits: first of all, as above, we get a far more useful external monitor for framing and general display information, e.g. peaking/focus assist, zebras and false colours. The unit also allows us to record standard frame rate (i.e 25/30p) to broadcast quality specification. With a combined price of circa £1,500, I think that’s a bit of a bargain, considering a Gates HD monitor for underwater use would set you back over £2200!!
The build of the housing is as you would expect from Nauticam: strong, well designed and very simple. Controls is via physical buttons, which hit the touch screen in the appropriate place to work the monitor
The Atomos Ninja 2 is a great little work horse, with the latest edition of the firmware it also links in seamlessly with the Sony NEX-FS700, triggering on record. The battery life is insane, I’ve yet to manage to get through even one of the two on a full days shoot, so easily adequate to cope with an sane dive duration.
I’m not that impressed with the display, the colours aren’t great and I tend to find it a bit washed out, but for framing it does just fine, IMHO shooting by numbers (i.e. using histogram and zebras, custom or preset white balance to a known reference) is a far safer way of judging exposure and colours anyway, especially when underwater.
The one downside of the Atomos is that it isn’t 3g-sdi enabled, and so won’t accept a 50p/60p input. This means you lose the display when shooting HFR in standard HD mode, unless you change the display output to interlaced.
However as a combination, I’d say they are a good option for anyone looking for an external monitor for their underwater rig.
Vacuum Leak Tester (Housing Vacuum System by DiveLife - DiveLife)
This is a really nifty and affordable device that can be retro fitted to any camera housing that has a spare bulkhead port available. There’s a wide range of adapter sizes available, if yours isn’t on the list then they can also arrange to have special sizes custom made.
The workings of the unit are all integral, so it doesn’t require any wiring or take up any space inside your housing.
The system provides two benefits:
Tests the seals on your housing, by reducing the pressure inside the housing (by sucking out air) and then monitoring the internal pressure for changes.
Activates the o-rings on your housing, and so makes your housing less likely to flood. The most likely place to experience a flood on a camera housing is at or near to the water’s surface. This is where the water pressure is at its lowest, and it’s the water pressure pushing against the housing that helps to generate a good seal. By sucking air out of the housing, you are producing the same effect (in terms of pressure) as submerging the housing a few metres under the surface.
Once fitted to your housing, operation is very simple.
- Fully assemble your rig and then close the housing
- Remove the protective cap on adapter
- Press the button inside to activate the pressure tester, you will then see a red light flashing through the side of the adapter
- Attach the supplied vacuum hand pump, give a few pumps to suck some of the air out, you will then see the light change to red and green flashing. Keep pumping until the light starts flashing green only then give a few more pumps to give it margin over the threshold.
- Remove the pump and then replace the protective cap and then monitor for ten minutes or so. If the light remains green then the housing is sealing OK. If the light turns back to red and green then the pressure inside is rising again, the housing therefore has a leak.
Once you are happy with the integrity of your housing, you can then take it in the water. The instructions suggest you should leave the unit activated and monitor the light during the dive. If you see it go Red and Green, then you know that the pressure inside is increasing which could indicate that you have a leak.
At the end of the dive, you then remove the protective cap, give the button a little wiggle to break the seal and allow the housing to return to ambient pressure (if you didn’t do this, you wouldn’t be able to open the housing!)
In practice, with our housing at least, this didn’t work so well. The temperature in the pool was 30 degrees (10 degrees above ambient), in addition the camera was working at 2k 200 fps pretty much continually. This caused the air inside the housing to heat up and expand, pressure therefore reduced and the red and green light started flashing.
My view on that: in future, I will simply switch off the control unit once I have completed my top side pressure test and satisfied myself with the integrity of the housing, that I haven’t made a mistake during assembly or allowed any dirt to get on the o-rings. If the housing was to develop a leak during the dive, it would have to be from a physical failure of some description, which would probably lead to a pretty serious flood… it doesn’t really matter how bright your flashing lights are at that stage, it’s going to be a bad day!
Convergent Design Odyssey 7Q
The Convergent Design Odyssey 7Q is a new monitor/recorder recently released by Convergent Design. We managed to get our hands on one a little early, as far as I know we still have one of only two that units have made it as far as Europe. The monitor provides a 7.25" oled display, the on board recorder, when paired with a Sony NEX-FS700 with firmware revision 3.0 level or above, allows for recording at 2k raw at up to 200 fps per second (continuous) or 4k compressed (highest frame rate to be confirmed).
I'll address my thoughts on the unit in two stages:
Convergent Design Odyssey 7Q : General Use
As a monitor, the Odyssey 7Q is stunning, crystal clear, as would be expected from a 7.25” oled display. I’ve used it since, filming a Le Mans moving at speed on a track, the detail allows focusing and tracking with confidence, FS700 on board monitor is paltry by comparison, my usual configuration of Alphatron EVF-035 also now feels like a poor second best. It’s magnesium built, so surprisingly light given the size, although the physical dimensions are perhaps a bit much for any shoulder mount run and gun work (although that’s not going to stop me trying to work it in whenever possible!). All in all, I think it’s worth its money purely as a monitor, I can see the Odyssey 7, when it’s released, setting a very high bench mark for other manufacturers.
The top of the monitor provides basic information about what is currently being done, e.g operating voltage and temperature, input signal and recording format, trigger method, SSD useage etc, as well as access to the main configuration menu. The bottom of the screen then provides monitor control, e.g focus assist, LUT (when shooting raw), zebras, histogram, waveform, false colours etc. The information is clear, decent sized writing, but remains discrete and unobtrusive when shooting.
The operation of the unit is very simple, there are only a few layers to the menu, I managed to navigate my way around it within minutes of opening the box… although we can expect the complexity to increase along with functionality in future firmware releases. The touch screen interface is very responsive, didn’t miss a trick in use.
Operation temperature seems fairly good, we’ve run an extended record test for a few hours, and didn’t see the unit move beyond 43 degrees, (23 degrees above ambient). It will be interesting to see what happens as ambient levels increase, however we’ll have to wait a few months for that!
We’ve run the unit alongside the FS700 in a number of ways:
- Standard HD, 25p
- 200 fps HD
- 2k raw at 25p
- 2k raw at 100 fps
- 2k raw at 200 fps
We did find that 2k raw 200fps is a very efficient way of testing the quality of your SDI cables, the unit will very quickly show its displeasure if you plug in a cable that has seen its day! However given a quality cable, the camera trigger worked without fail in all modes (even crossing a right angle connector, an intermediary barrel connector and an 100ft SDI cable, required to get the live feed from underwater to topside).
An unexpected bonus for us, the unit also picked up the record trigger when shooting HFR in normal HD (e.g when pressing end trigger to dump the internal buffer to card). This also therefore allows recording standard high speed to broadcast quality if required.
(To expand a bit on how this works, the Sony NEX-FS700 will send an uncompressed 50p/60p signal out of the SDI port when the trigger button is pushed to dump the buffer, time code is starts running as the buffer is cleared, the recorder recognises the change in time code and starts recording).
Another very nice surprise, when shooting in 2k/4k raw, camera information is not sent down the cable to the monitor/recorder, even if you have Output set to all on the camera. This gives you the option of plugging an EVF into the HDMI port on the camera to get full camera information whilst shooting, and still record a clean feed on the Odyssey 7Q.
One thing to be aware of is how the SSD drives are currently used. For anything up to 2k raw 100/120fps 2k raw, the unit will record to one drive at a time, once full it will then move on to the next drive (if available). Once you push up to 2k raw 200/240 fps the unit needs to stripe the data across two drives using RAID in order to cope with the volume of data. Both drives need to be identical to be configured an used as RAID, this means it’s currently impossible to use the drive for 2k raw 200/240 fps once it has been used in other shooting modes… so be very careful not to hit the record button by mistake when on lower frame rates if 200/240fps is your goal.
If you are on a shoot that requires moving between top end frame rates and lower modes, then you will need to swap out drives to accommodate. Both removing and ejecting drives takes a bit of time, so plan your shoot accordingly (e.g try and box the high end stuff together as much as possible) or allow yourself a bit of slack to move between modes. Although with that said, what you may lose in time will soon be outweighed by what you gain with the ability to shoot continuous HFR – having to wait for the camera to dump the buffer to card is so last year!
(NB Convergent Design have indicated that the limitation on SSDs, RAID for 200/240, non RAID for lower, will be addressed in a future firmware release)
The physical build feels securely strong, although only the vigours of time will tell how well that holds up.
There’s really not much else I can add…. So far at least, it works to expectations and beyond and without glitch, what more you can you ask!
Convergent Design Odyssey 7Q : Results
It took a while for me to get to grips with the 2k raw work flow, however once I discovered that the issue was with the interface between the keyboard and the chair, and reverted back to re-reading (and actually following) the work flow document provided by Convergent Design, the results so far have been fantastic.
For anyone used to working with raw on stills, you can expect the same latitude with the 7Qs output, i.e you can change colour balance and saturation levels to your hearts content without seeing any degradation or noise.
You will also have some latitude to increase exposure within a channel, however push that too much and noise will start to creep in….. Don’t be fooled into thinking that raw will get you out of trouble for a poorly exposed shot.
I did feel that there was less pixilation in the shadows, although I also noticed some odd noise when zooming in on detail within resolve… strangely that same noise wasn’t apparent in Adobe raw, so results may improve further once they (Adobe) sort their act out and add support for Convergent Design (and others) dng raw files.
The attached pics give a simple example, all taken from the same frame - have a look around the nose of the orange fish to see what I mean about the noise:
raw with no adjustment
raw, pushed to 100% saturation
raw, no adjustment, taken from Adobe RAW
There's a few things we'd like to see added in, e.g:
- mix 200 fps and non 200 fps recording to the same drive
- transport control and delete option when playing back
- record hfr on some sort of end trigger basis
- compressed recording from HD, 2k and 4k
All in all, so far we are very happy with our new addition, it's extended the quality and functionality of the Sony NEX-FS700, which in turn will hopefully also extend it's longevity - what has proved to be a great investment for us in 2012 will hopefully be even more so now.
The whole production, from development through to post, was pulled together through generosity (i.e. none of the people or companies named below charged a bean), to both give a new singer (Louise Cunnane) a bit of a boost, and to get involved with something a little different, so there are quite a few thanks in order:
- Exposure Films, Production
- Alex Estralla (Exposure Films), Producer and Director
- Jack Daniel-Dempsey, (Exposure Films), Line Producer
- Black Flag TV Ltd, Underwater Filming
- Stuart Keasley (Black Flag TV Ltd), DoP Underwater Cameraman
- Neil Blackman, Underwater Gaffer
- Emma Critchley, In Water Safety, In Water Stills
- Jenny Stock, Top Side Camera Assistant
- Lily Ryan, In Water Performer
- Ashley Franklin, In Water Performer
- Nicola Ryan, transport and wardrobe for Lily
- London School of Diving, pool facilities
Edited by bottlefish, 17 December 2013 - 08:46 AM.