Acclaimed underwater cameraman Dan Beecham uses his Sony PMW-F55 in its water-resistant housing to shoot stunning 4K footage beneath the waves. Find out what Dan has to say about sharks, seals, cameras and colorimetry.
F55 Underwater - A First Look from Underwater Video Services SA on Vimeo.
Underwater duo gets deep with F55
Dan Beecham is a cameraman and filmmaker specialising in filming underwater and in remote locations. Based in Cape Town and the UK, he’s internationally renowned for an impressive list of commissions that includes National Geographic, Save Our Seas Foundation and the BBC ‘Natural World’ series.
Together with Dan’s business partner Charles Maxwell – himself an Emmy award-winning cameraman – the pair shoot in 4K with Sony’s acclaimed PMW-F55 Super 35mm CineAlta camera. Searching for their first 4K camera, the F55 presented a very tempting option: “We started looking into the system and liked what we found.”
Camerman and film maker Dan Beecham and his PMW-F55 © James Loudon
Dan and Charles have both been using Sony cameras for several years, and the prospect of maintaining that continuity with 4K appealed to both partners. “There is a real level of comfort in knowing we are working with a camera manufacturer that we have a history with as well as one that has dealers and technicians locally.”
Protecting their investment against the elements is paramount, and for sub-aqua shooting the F55 is nestled safely inside a tough housing by underwater specialists Gates. “I wouldn’t put my beloved F55 in a sub-standard product” says Dan. “Gates’ optics are second-to-none. There’s no point having such a fantastic camera and lens stuck behind sub-standard optics, degrading the image. We can shoot with or without Sony’s R5 RAW recorder, and with larger batteries giving us run times up to three hours.”
4K opens up new world
Dan’s Cape Town base marks the intersection of cold, nutrient-rich water from the Benguela current and warm water from the Mozambique current that provides an amazing natural biodiversity for film-makers. “We can dive with seals, a plethora of sharks – including one of the best places in the world for filming Great White Sharks – kelp forests and many other subjects and ecosystems. Getting the F55 into some of these areas and testing it capabilities has been really exciting, and we’ve not been disappointed by the results.”
Stunning shot of a Blue Shark from Dan's filming off Cape Point , South Africa © Underwater Video Servcies
The duo’s enthusiasm was confirmed right from the very first test shots: “I was astonished by how faithful the F55 colorimetry is underwater. We’ve shot underwater scenes such as kelp forests that I have honestly never seen captured so truthfully in terms of the colour reproduction. As divers, we know what the colours of our subjects should be, and cameras sometimes reproduce them inaccurately. When grading RAW footage from our dives, we can match the colours exactly for completely faithful colour reproduction. The footage has an ethereal, otherworldly quality, which I think comes from the F55’s S-Gamut colour system, which lets it capture a wider spectrum. And we all thought HD looked good!”
More flexibility, better looking pictures
Dan also welcomes the workflow flexibility of being able to shoot either RAW or more storage-efficient XAVC. “We also have the option to shoot 4K in XAVC @ S-Log2 which still retains the great dynamic range of the camera. This could be a feature we end up using on long shoots in remote locations, where storage space can be an issue.”
Dan's F55 in action in the kelp forests of False Bay, South Africa. © Underwater Video Servcies / Paul Menge
“With the F55 it's amazing how much you can pull back in the highlights and lowlights by adjusting your ISO - which of course for underwater is fantastic. So many situations in underwater work have high-contrast, where subjects with white patches such as manta rays are a challenge to expose for. “Another example where dynamic range of older cameras has let me know has been on the sardine run, when gannets dive into the water column leaving a bright white stream of bubbles behind them and whose bright white feather completely overexpose if you’re not careful and expose for the darker sharks, dolphins and baitfish.
“Shooting RAW with the F55 this is no longer a concern – the camera’s 14 stops of dynamic range capture a huge amount of detail in the lowlights and highlights. Charles shot some material in a swimming pool on the F55 for a TV series – backlit of an actress swimming through frame. This footage was shot at about 5000 ISO, and there was hardly any grain. The highlights and lowlights both looked amazing… even straight off the camera.”
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