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


Digital Cameras: SANYO’s HD video range packs serious punch

In my last post on HD video, I made a flippant remark about SANYO’s peculiar shaver-like video camera design approach. Since discovering SANYO’s part in the great consumer HD video race, I’ve since read numerous reviews and spec sheets and I’m starting to take the brand pretty seriously. Definitely much, much more than an average camera with a wacky chassis, SANYO’s packed some serious punch into its Sanyo Xacti VPC-HD2000 . While I’m yet to get my hands on one, they’re hitting stores now, and I for one am excited by the possibilities.

*NOTE: I have since purchased this camera, and have shot several commercial videos with it.

Rather than rehash countless camera reviews, I’m going to cut straight to the features that raised my eyebrows on closer inspection. For starters, it’s a full HD 1920x1080p video camera, and apparently the first of its kind to offer 60 frames-per-second slow motion. For me this gives my old Super8 cameras the jitters, especially since the whole kit even handles like a Super8 (with a pistol grip and trigger action). Beyond that, the camera can shoot ridiculous slow motion speeds at lower resolutions, including 240 frames-per-second at the awkward resolution of 448 x 336, and the real killer: 600 frames-per-second at 192 x 108. This is giving the slow-motion trailblazing Casio Exilim EX-F1 (which steps up the rate one more notch to 1200 fps) a pretty good run for its money!

One review described the camera as producing great footage in low light, another appealing feature for me, as I shoot a lot of footage at dance parties, nightclubs and video installation events. The specs say it rates at ‘2 Lux’ sensitivity, which places it at the front of the pack (most certainly for its price). Apparently the menus are uncluttered (and also uncomplicated) but with a terrific shutter/frame rate range, 10x optical zoom (16x ‘advanced’ zoom) I’m not wanting for extra features. As a B-camera on documentary shoots, this camera looks like the business!

SANYO are really making some noise with their new line, and if you want to see the arsenal and hear from a SANYO rep himself, check out the video below… hot off the recently past 2009 PMA event in the USA. I’m going a little camera crazy here people… these are exciting times.

Cameratown Video – Sanyo HD Video Cameras – PMA 2009 from Ron Risman on Vimeo.


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!