Migration from Stills to Video: DSLR to RED

Migration from Stills to Video: DSLR to RED

A few years back the appearance of DSLR´s capable of capturing high quality video made a lot of underwater photographers as myself explore the world of motion picture. For me this journey started with a Canon Eos 7D and exploring its video capabilities in between photo shoots using available light. From the beginning I was hooked by the prospect of being able to switch from stills to video on the push of a button… as where most underwater photographers out there.

Text by Nuno Sa

On the next year I started taking video seriously and stopped constantly switching from stills to video during a dive and rather chose what I was going for and preparing the equipment and settings accordingly. I changed to a Full frame 5DMKIII and added a couple of lights and an external monitor as well as starting to use low compression picture styles such as the cinestlye. Trying to get stabile shoots and neutral buoyancy on a underwater housing created for capturing stills was probably the biggest challenge for me and most UW DSLR video shooters out there. As many others I would search on forums looking for solutions and do a lot of experiences such as attaching buoys and adding side wings on the housing with some moderate success.

And then a new revolution started with RED introducing the RED Scarlet and a Canon lens mount as well as dropping prices on the Epic. Suddenly all forums where talking about these high end 4K cinema cameras and how they where now only a small fortune instead of a big one. The problem was there seamed to be no information out there of DSLR UW shooters making the change to RED. But when you watch footage of videographers such as Howard Hall shooting amazing footage with these cameras one could start dreaming on taking the next big step.

In my case the decision to go for RED came from meeting two well known videographers in a summer in the Azores, curiously they had pretty different feelings about working with cinema cameras. I first met Rafa Herrero, a well-known Spanish videographer in Santa Maria Island and he was nice enough to show me the inside of the beast and the results and logistics using it involved. As a many year user of Run n Gun cameras producing documentaries Rafa did warn me a lot about the logistics backing up huge RAW files involved as well as the whole post production of getting nice imagery out of RAW flat images. But I must say I was immediately drawn to this camera and its potential.

The final choice came when a couple of months latter a close friend of mine, Mauricio Handler, came to shoot sperm whales with me in the Azores. I then had a chance to try his camera UW and hear the opinion of someone that was coming from the same place as me… from DSLR to RED. Meanwhile I have bought two Run n Gun cameras for top shoots and to use as B cameras (Canon XA20 and Sony FS7) and I must say that for someone coming from the world of DSLR the RED is actually easier to use than smaller handheld cameras. In essence the RED is pretty much a DSLR on steroids as you will be doing basically the same adjustment UW using manual exposure and focus, as well as choosing basic parameters as aperture, shutter speed, frame rate and ISO as well as a low depth of field to work with (especially in macro shoots). Perhaps the biggest differences will be logistics wise, as you will be carrying a substantially heavier system as well as accumulating very large files (a good day of shooting in 5K RAW with a 7:1 compression and 50 fps can easily bring home 1 TB of footage and that is for little over 60 min of footage).

Perhaps one of the most significant aspects that one has to seriously look into before making the decision to chance systems would be exactly how much it will cost you. So far RED has kept the “modular camera” concept witch was one of the main reasons that made me go for this camera. In short this means you buy a brain and then attach several accessories needed to make the camera work (Side SSD for media, lens mount to attach lens, LCD for live view etc.…). So far the brain is “upgradable” so this means if you want to upgrade from Epic X to Epic Dragon you just send in the brain and now have a different camera but the same accessories and above all… the same housing. So of course for UW works this brings a big advantage as for example Gates has the same housing for the Scarlet, Epic X and Dragon. The downside is many people think the price of the camera is the price of the brain, however you can expect to about double the price (or at least add another 10 000$) just for a basic package. Another aspect to keep in mind regarding upgrades is that if you miss one you may be left out of the loop indefinitely (for instance if you don´t upgrade from Epic X to Dragon until a certain date you will then not be able to make the next upgrade, in this case the Dragon to Weapon upgrade).

As for Pros and Cons I would point out:

Pros:

  • The housing – Oh the housing!!!… Perhaps more than everything else having a perfectly balanced video housing that just floats horizontally in front of you with a nice 5” or 7” screen is going to bring beautifully stable imagery, with perfect pans, even when swimming like crazy after a whale.
  • Future proof concept – The RED is pretty much as future proof as it gets (shooting in 5K or 6k for Epic X and epic Dragon) but if you add the fact that is upgradable to the equation you have a camera and housing for the next decade (at least).
  • Frame rates – Choosing anything from 1 fps to 180 fps in 5K (in the Epic X) and even more than this if you upgrade brings you the chance to capture pretty much anything from time-lapse to verrrry slow-motion.
  • Shooting RAW – The amount of information you get in a clip for post production is simply amazing, but of course backing this up is a challenge and post-production is demanding. Also keep in mind RED cameras use RED media period.
  • From web to BBC – Going for a cinema camera does, of course, make you equipped to pretty much work for any kind of client from web based to full broadcast and cinema.
  • UW OLPF – Red has just developed an interchangeable OLPF (Optical Low Pass-Filter) system for specific uses such as low light or skin tone-highlight. The good news is they have just developed a H2O OLPF for underwater use that should deliver new color science in the blue channel.

The cons:

  • The price – This is the big one and does make the other cons pretty irrelevant. A good housing, nice pro lights (15 000 lumens each or so) and a fully functional camera should go for around 50 000$ – 60 000$. Keep in mind this is for UW use only without a nice tripod, grips, cage etc.… for surface work.
  • Upgrades – This is pretty much the same as above. Upgradable cameras make them future proof but they are, unfortunately, expensive. At around 10 000$ per upgrade and you might need to make an upgrade until a certain date to keep your camera eligible for the next upgrade.
  • File size – Just like the upgrades one of the Red’s main advantages is also a bit of a downfall as you will, of course, spend a lot of time and money backing up your files. Fortunately the price per TB is dropping by the day and working in favor of RED owners. You can check online what a card will go for at http://www.red.com/tools/recording-time, but each of my 512 GB cards will go for around 30 min with my most common settings.
  • Post production – You can forget about using Red files without considerable post production work. That is what shooting in RAW is all about, taking a flat image with no contrast, sharpening, saturation etc.… and having the freedom to deliver the final image just like you want it.

In conclusion I would say that DSLR´s do make beautiful imagery and are good enough for many clients and uses. They are very light weight, handle low light conditions very well and can deliver amazing – ready to use – images with the right color profiles. I must say however that since I started with the RED system my 7D´s and 5D´s have been on the shelf.

Bellow you can check a couple of links and compare for yourself, the top one is the first production I made with the 7D and the second my first reel with Red Epic.

Using Canon 7D

Using RED

The oceanic archipelago of Madeira

The oceanic archipelago of Madeira

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The oceanic archipelago of Madeira lies approximately 1,000 km southwest of Lisbon, right in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. Located between latitude 30° and 33° N, close to the Straits of Gibraltar and almost on the same latitude as Casablanca in Morocco. Seven islands form the archipelago but only the biggest two, Madeira and Porto Santo, are inhabited, and both have a harbour and airport. The remaining islands and islets are clustered in two small groups, the Desertas and the Selvagens and are natural reserve parks due to their immense biological wealth.

Text and images by Nuno Sa

Geographically located in a subtropical region and influenced by the southerly branches of the Gulf Stream, the archipelago has a moderate climate all year round. Average air temperatures range from a maximum of 23 °C to a minimum of 15 °C, and water temperature hovers around 22 °C in summer, gradually lowering to 18 °C at the end of the winter.

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As in most oceanic archipelagos, the sea topography lacks a continental shelf, reaching great depths at relatively short distances from the shore. These characteristics create the opportunity for sighting ocean specimens such as large pelagic fish, manta ray, turtles and marine mammals in diving spots close to the shore.

The archipelago of Madeira has deep blue waters, with excellent visibility (20 to 35m on a typical summer dive) and is home to some 360 marine plant species, together with 550 marine fish, 21 marine mammals and an enormous amount of invertebrates. The biodiversity of species that inhabit the waters of Madeira is unique worldwide. Being an oceanic archipelago, Madeira is not only visited by Atlantic species, such as large pelagic fish, but also a wide-range of species from the North Sea to the Mediterranean, as well as some tropical species that have Madeira Island as their northernmost distribution limit.

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Diving Madeira

Madeira Island offers a wide range of diving sites including several wrecks, cave and coastal dives. However the top dives on this island are concentrated in a small area called Garajau Natural Reserve. This protected area was the first exclusively Marine Reserve created in Portugal, 23 years ago, and since then the area has become populated by a wealth of fauna and flora.

This 376 ha (929 acres), Natural reserve is located on the south coast of Madeira, not too far from Madeira’s capital – Funchal, and has several diving sites, marked by yellow marker buoys. Some of these dives can be made directly from the shore, with some diving centres offering direct access to the dive sites from hotel bathing areas.

Dives in the reserve include several cave dives, including a 35m long cave (Gruta da Ponta da Oliveira) with a large air pocket inside which divers can surface into, and which is often visited by one of the world’s most endangered sea mammals – the monk seal (Monachus monachus).

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However, the Garajau Dive site is by far the most visited of them all, and definitely the top dive site on the island. The reef starts at about 15m but quickly descends to about 30m. During summertime, the Reserve comes alive with shoals of pelagic fish that pass through the archipelago following the Gulf Stream. During this time you can expect to see fish such as the white trevally/guelly jack (Pseudocaranx dentex), yellowmouth barracuda (Sphyraena viridensis), almaco jack and greater amberjack (Seriola rivoliana and Seriola dumerili) and bastard grunt (Pomadasys incisus). Towards the end of the summer, the graceful and elegant mobula rays (Mobula sp.) can sometimes be seen slowly gliding over divers.

Here you can also encounter large specimens of barred hogfish (Bodianus scrofa) and comb grouper (Mycteroperca fusca), several species of moray eels and colorful anemones and other species that are abundantly present. However, a particular species captures the special attention of most divers – the dusky grouper (Epinephelus marginatus), considered the symbol of the Garajau Reserve.

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Dusky groupers at Garajau are very large (they can weigh up to 60 kg) but are extremely playful and curious, usually following divers for the duration of the dive. Due to their longevity (they live up to 50 years) and curious nature regular visitors recognize particular individuals year after year, such as “Malhado” (spotty), Garajau’s oldest, largest and most famous grouper. 3 or 4 dusky groupers can be seen on a typical dive at this site, often competing for the divers’ attention and usually swimming beside the dive masters that have known them for several years.

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Also fun to observe are the large colonies of brown garden eels (Heteroconger longissimus) that, in some places, cover the sand bottom looking at divers and then quickly vanishing in the sand as they approach.

Diving Porto Santo

Just 27 miles off the high rocky cliffs of Madeira is the small island of Porto Santo. Although situated relatively close together, the landscape of the two islands are vastly different. Porto Santo is a small island with a large coastal plane that boasts 5 miles of golden sandy beaches.

Less of a tourism attraction than Madeira, Porto Santo has a calm and easy-going way to it and is also home to some of the archipelago’s best dives and most pristine waters. With daily boat (3-4 hour trip) and airplane connections, visiting both islands on a 1-week dive trip is certainly possible and recommended.

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Porto Santo also has a large marine protected area, with several dive sites within its boundaries. Distances to dive sites are, however greater and a short boat trip to the main dive sites is necessary.

Porto Santo is home to a huge biodiversity of marine species. Expect to see; dusky grouper (Epinephelus marginatus), comb grouper (Mycteroperca fusca), morays (Muraena sp.) large common and round sting rays (Dasyatis pastinaca and Taeniura grabata), shoals of yellowmouth barracuda (Sphyraena viridensis) swimming in circles, white trevally/guelly jacks (Pseudocaranx dentex), almaco jack (Seriola rivoliana) and skipjack tuna (Katsuwonus pelamis).

The best and most well known dive site in Porto Santo is without doubt the the wreck of the Madeirense – this dive alone makes a trip to this Island worthwhile. The ship Madeirense – a ship used for decades to connect Madeira to Porto Santo – was purposely sunk for diving on, in the year 2000. Nowadays it is filled with a range of diverse species from resident dusky groupers to large shoals of other fish. As in Garajau Reserve these groupers are very playful and enjoy the company of divers. The wreck lies vertically on the sandy bottom at a depth of 34m and large schools of fish can be sighted as soon as divers start their descent. “Big lips” – the wrecks most curios grouper – usually leaves the wreck to meet the divers as they descend.

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When approaching the top of the ship, usual sights are large shoals of almaco jack (Seriola rivoliana), white trevally/guelly jack (Pseudocaranx dentex) and yellowmouth barracuda (Sphyraena viridensis) all feeding on small bogue (Boops boops) that school in thousands around the wreck. Exploring the inner areas of the ship’s bow, are found other, less curious, dusky and comb groupers and it is advised to always keeping an eye on the sandy bottom where resting common stingray (Dasyatis pastinaca) and spiny butterfly ray (Gymnura altavela) are usually sighted.

 Diving Desertas and Selvagens Islands

These islands are a group of three major islets located 22 nautical miles from Funchal, and were proclaimed a Natural Reserve in 1995. Visiting these islands is possible with some dive centers and a 3-hour trip from Madeira Island.

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The protection of the Desertas islands and the launching of its Natural Reserve was caused by the need to create conservation measures for monk seal (Monachus monachus), whose population was in danger of extinction in Madeira. This species, classified as threatened (in critical danger) by IUCN, is the rarest seal in the world but can still be sighted on these islands. The population of monk seals in the archipelago of Madeira seems to be recovering now, and is currently estimated at around 25–35 specimens. Happily the seals appear to be increasing their range to now include some spots on Madeira Island.

Divers may only visit half of the reserve, as the area most visited by monk seals is completely forbidden to navigation, bathing or diving.

The coastal area of Desertas is mostly characterized by steep cliffs only accessible through some rolled gravel beaches in some coastal spots. Its landscape is sculptured by constant sea and wind erosion, including below the sea where the rocky formations are true works of art from Mother Nature.

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Diving in Desertas can mean a chance to witness large shoals of yellowmouth barracuda, white trevally/guelly jack, almaco jack and great lumberjack (Seriola rivoliana and Seriola dumerili), manta ray (Manta birostris) with the added bonus of sometimes an encounter with a sea wolf!

The Selvagens Islands, on the other hand, are located 163 miles south of Madeira and also comprise three major islets. However, diving activities are subject to permission issued by the Madeira Natural Park, but the distance from the other islands in the archipelago is enormous and limits ecotourism activities in these islands.

Altogether this group of islands has something to offer to every diver, from beautiful wrecks, cave dives, pristine waters, a healthy sea life and very reasonable weather year round, and is just a 2-3 hour flight from many European capitals. Together with beautiful landscapes, hundreds of kilometers of walking trails, excellent bathing areas and the opportunity to see several species of whales and dolphins on a whale-watching trip, Madeira is definitely a destination for keeping in touch with nature.

Hyperbaric Chamber

There is one hyperbaric chamber available for the whole archipelago, located on the Island of Madeira.

Desertas: 22 nautical miles from Funchal.

Porto Santo:  42 nautical miles from Funchal.

Getting there – SATA and TAP, are the Portuguese airlines with daily connections to Madeira. Lufthansa, Spanair, Transavia, Continental, Easy Jet and several European airlines have regular direct flights to Madeira and Porto Santo.

Getting around – Connections from Madeira to Porto Santo:

By boat – Porto Santo Line

By Plane – SATA

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