Digital Cameras: Shooting underwater HD video on a budget

Em and I have a video shoot coming up in a few months involving a natural history subject, and about 5 metres of salty water. Since our primary video camera is a two-year old Sony HVR-A1P, we’re looking at investing in a new camera that will deliver the best balance of practicality, image quality and economy for the task at hand. It seems that this shoot has surfaced (no pun intended) at a good time for us artistically, and for the current development of HD camera technology.

If you’ve been keeping an eye on the ever-changing digital camera marketplace, you’ll have noticed that there’s a surge of hybrid digital cameras on their way. While well-developed digital still cameras are extending their video capabilities, digital video cameras are expanding the resolution of their still imaging. This is an exciting time to be in the image-making business, as the gap between consumer and professional technologies continues to reduce. In danger of blogging broadly on this matter, I’ve chosen instead to compare the three prime candidates I’m considering shooting HD video underwater with.

Panasonic Lumix FT1 Digital Camera
Panasonic Lumix FT1 Digital Camera

The first camera (and one I soon aim to order) is Panasonic’s Lumix DMC-FT1. This appears to be a rugged little pocket-sized point and shoot, is waterproof, shock-proof and dustproof (with some limitations) and some pretty serious camera specs. Optically, its Leica DC Vario-Elmar lens’ 35mm optical equivalence is a handy 28mm (wide) to 125mm (tele) and shoots at a generous 12.1 megapixels. It records on SDHC cards, and shoots HD video at 720p standard (that’s 1280 x 720 pixels). It uses a compression standard I’ve not heard of before called AVCHD Lite, which apparently allows you to shoot about 10 minutes of video per gigabyte of memory without seriously compromising on video quality. Japan and Europe appear to be the first markets for these, and they retail for £325.62 driect from Panasonic at Ted’s Cameras say they’ll be available here in Australia in late March. My one reservation here is that I haven’t as yet seen video shot with the camera with my own eyes. If you find a clip online, please send me a link! There’s a very thorough examination of the camera here.

Next in line, and also offering 720p standard HD video is Sea & Sea’s DX-1200HD. Comparable to the Panasonic in its 12 megapixel still shot facility, it differs significantly in design, and actually comes as a two part kit: inner camera, and outer housing. The screen is also slightly bigger, and the camera no doubt stands to gain from the Sea & Sea brand’s long-term commitment to underwater photography. To experienced underwater shooters (and serious divers in general) this is probably the best multi-purpose economy kit around, depth rated (and guaranteed) to a whopping 45 metres. The camera is available from Adorama, and retails for USD$600.

The third camera offering 720p HD video in a simple, no mess, no fuss package comes from something of a dark horse. A brand I’d not heard of until today, Bonica’s ‘Snapper’ HDDV camera is primarily an afforable 720p video camera, with an additional 5 megapixel still capability. Its video bias has affected its form, and as such it takes a vertical shape, with a familiar flip-out screen design and silicon casing. Nosing in front of Panasonic on depth rating, the Bonica is guaranteed to 12 feet (3.65 metres) and you can see the camera in action on Bonica’s Vimeo page. Despite appearing like a silcone shrink-wrapped domestic video camera, it’s capable of some nice images, and numerous variations of lighting arms and clamp kits are available to improve the camera’s results. Check out Bonica’s website if you want to learn more about this camera and its possibilities. Strangely I was unable to find a spec sheet for the camera at the Bonica site, though I did find one here.

I should also mention a couple of other contenders that fell just short of my requirements for this shoot. Evidently despite Pentax having been in the underwater digital camera game for some time, their latest offering can only handle 720p video at 15 frames per second (very wierd), while Sanyo (I thought they were all about microwaves and stereos) have stepped up to the plate with a 640 x 480 pixel video camera which also shoots 8 megapixel stills, the Xacti E1. It’s currently selling for USD$220 on and could be a good choice if you’re not chasing HD video but want an affordable all-rounder. Perhaps its most impressive feature, the Sanyo also sports cutting-edge camouflage… it looks just like a men’s electric shaver!

If you found this article useful, you can help support Creativity Base by shopping at Amazon… and rest assured I’ll be blogging the results when I make my underwater HD video camera purchase in the next few weeks!

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7 Replies to “Digital Cameras: Shooting underwater HD video on a budget”

  1. Of course! I took a look at what footage I could find online, and went for the Panasonic DMC-FT1 as my first buy… I’ve had it just a couple of days now. I’ll post some pics on flickr soon and make another blog post.

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