Digital Cameras: Shooting underwater with Panasonic’s DMC-FT1

Back in May, while touring as video operator on the childrens’ theatre production ‘WOLF’ I was able to take my new point & shoot Panasonic DMC-FT1 camera underwater and put it through its paces. I was so impressed (astonished really) by the quality of both video and stills that Emma Sterling and I decided that it was high time to commence production on a marine conservation documentary. We have wanted to make this film since way back in 2003, and at last, technology has caught up with our demands.

The cost of shooting high-quality video underwater was prohibitive back then, but now not so- as the Panasonic DMC-FT1 can be used ‘out of the box’ in water to 10 feet of depth. Wanting to go deeper, Emma Sterling and I also bought the matching waterproof housing and have since taken the camera to depths around 8 metres with brilliant results. The whole kit (camera and housing together) cost less than AUD$1000. Inside the housing, the camera is able to handle depth and pressure to 40 metres and has a cold shoe on top to mount external lights on, making it a pretty serious instrument. Panasonic was confident enough in the camera’s abilities that they shot their own TVC for the camera on the camera itself. Check out the latest one below.

When shooting in the Southern Ocean, even when the visibility is brilliant, a blue colour cast dominates. This is remedied by the FT1’s ‘underwater’ mode. Comparable to the technique of slipping an orange glass filter behind or in front of your lens in a traditional rig, the setting restores warm palettes of colours to the image in a very satisfying way. There are occasional instances where the colour balance shifts unnaturally during a shot, but these are infrequent- and a small price to pay for such an affordable and powerful 720p HD camera with 12 megapixel stills capacity. For those of you unfamiliar with the camera, it presents itself as a digital point & shoot stills camera, but offers serious punch for still and moving picture making.

Another neat feature of the camera for underwater video use is its constant white LED. Providing pleasing fill during daytime shoots, this can be switched on or off manually or set to ‘auto’ and diffuses remarkably well (despite the reputation of white LEDs for producing very directional and hard-edged beams of light). While this feature works beautifully in up to ten feet of water, the optional deep water housing’s design obscures the light, rendering it useless. The cold shoe will provide external light-mounting options though, for the serious dive photographer or videographer. Metal buttons (while poorly labelled) provide full button control of the cameras features, and a generous viewing screen make it a pleasure to wield below the briney blue.

Giant Cuttlefish camouflage
Giant Cuttlefish camouflage

I can’t disclose too much about the film we’re making at the moment (especially while we’re still in production) but here are a couple of still photographs taken with the camera. The rocky reefs of the upper Spencer Gulf in South Australia provide the setting, and all images are taken with ambient light exclusively. Nominal photoshopping- just a little tweak of the contrast levels. If you want to know more about the camera, scoot over to Panasonic Australia’s Lumix website … there’s currently a competition running where one in five Australian buyers wins a nice widescreen HDTV with an SD card slot- ready to play your videos and photos straight off the disc!


Dan Monceaux

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