Innovision Optics DV Probe

Practically the only way to shoot underwater is to immerse the camera or its lens.
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The Innovision Optics DV Probe Lens deployed with the 45 degree module and 3 mm lens. ©Carl Mrozek
What nature-loving photographer hasn't wanted to dip his camera beneath the surface of the pond at the center of a landscape portrait for some underwater cutaway shots of ducks, gulls, beaver or other critters visible in the landscape? Personally, I've had to fight the urge to simply dip my lens into the drink for a few quick peeks without fussing with camera housings or scuba gear. Also, with many shallow waters like creeks, marshes, ditches and tidal pools, scuba isn't even an option. Practically the only way to shoot underwater is to immerse the camera or its lens. There are plenty of other nearly inaccessible places where a long "probe-style" lens could come in handy—from rabbit holes to tight corners, and even situations that demand a periscope.

One lens company, Innovision Optics, has made it their mission to address these critical, yet niche applications with a series of probe-type lenses. I had an opportunity to test their DV Probe, which is essentially a series of lenses at the end of a long tube, and which is also designed to be immersed in water.

FEATURES

The DV Probe kit includes several lenses: three standalone primes, plus a wide angle adaptor. The latter transforms the 3 mm coverage into an ultra wide (nearly 2 mm) lens. The primes include 12.5 mm, 8 mm and 3 mm add-ons which screw onto one of two "relay modules." One of these is straight and the other has a 45 degree bend. This latter unit facilitates both low and high angle shots, and makes it feasible to get an assortment of shots in tight corners and holes, as well as underwater. All such tasks would be difficult or impossible with the straight module only.

The system includes a bracket which attaches to the base of the camera for supporting the more than 16 inch-long lens barrel of the Probe. A lens clamp slips into a permanently attached post which slides back and forth along the length of the rail and provides a key point of support for the four pound lens. A comfortable handle is also permanently attached to the bracket and can be used on either side of it. The handle can be locked at any angle within a 270 degree arc by turning the handle clockwise.

The barrel of the DV Probe is widest at the base, and tapers markedly at the front end, where a relay module and the lenses attach. Its broad bayonet mount further helps ensure solid attachment. In this sense, it's the opposite of most interchangeable lenses that taper towards the mount and are broadest at the outer objective.

All of the prime lenses have precision-milled threaded mounts which readily screw onto either relay module. They are exceptionally tight with a solid feel, as they are designed to be completely submersible when attached to DV Probe. They also have no moving parts for adjusting aperture or focus. The latter is adjustable via a thick grooved ring at the base of DV Probe's lens barrel, while aperture is adjusted via the camera's exposure controls.

DV Probe is designed for use with a variety of HDV and DV cameras including: Canon's XLH1, XH-A1 types, Sony's HVR-Z1U, and HDR-FX1 models, as well as the Panasonic HVX200/A, and others. It uses relay optics to augment the camcorder's own zoom lens, which it attaches to. High-resolution glass elements provide HD sharpness and the depth of field required for extreme close-up shooting. According to Innovision, the DV Probe is capable of "detailing the hairs on a spider's back."

The choice of a straight or 45 degree relay module enables shooting from an ultra-low or ultra-high angle, and everything in between. It's designed for both product and nature applications and has added dramatic effects to a wide range of TV shows.

IN USE

Attaching the lens barrel of a DV Probe to Canon's XH-A1 camcorder was a fairly straightforward and fast process, as it came with the Canon adapter already attached. Just like other bayonet mount lenses, it's largely a matter of load and lock, although there is one exception. Because it's best to use the Probe with its support bracket, it should be noted that it's easier to attach it after the lens barrel is mounted, rather than before. By doing that, you can place the fully-opened lower half of the lens clamp beneath it—cradling the barrel—before you fasten the support bracket to the camcorder. The lens support bracket can be attached first, but that makes mounting the lens onto the camcorder much more difficult, as there's a slight misalignment.

Preparing the Probe for use also involves two more steps. You have to attach a relay module to the lens barrel, and then choose and mount a lens to it. I initially selected the 45 degree module, as I wanted to see what kinds of unusual camera angles it could help me achieve. Completing this process was a bit trickier, as it entails doing something counter-intuitive in terms of working with optics and other semi-delicate pro equipment—the use of excessive force when something doesn't simply pop into place. Until I discovered that I had to push the module firmly in order to seat and seal its o-ring properly on the end of the lens barrel, I wasn't able to finish the job and mate its threads with those of the locking ring.

The tech support folks were consulted and I learned that mounting the 45 degree module was really fast and easy. (In contrast, the 3 mm. lens threaded quickly and easily onto the module.)

With the 3 mm lens I was able to get expansive shots of clusters of flowers that gave an almost 3D feeling of being inside them, as opposed to just being alongside of them. The honeybees hovering around the blossoms seemed to be right in my face. I panned many patches of daisies and other flowers and foliage, pushing the lens ever closer as I discovered how near to the subject I could be without losing focus.

I quickly learned to simulate the sort of tracking shots ordinarily done with a short jib arm by pushing the 3 mm. lens right into the flowers. This effect became even more pronounced when I added the wide angle attachment, resulting in an even wider field of view.

The increasingly close focus, along with the enhanced depth of field, made possible even more dramatic 3D-like tilt and pan shots. I was able to actually brush petals and leaves with the lens while they stayed in focus. This opened a door to a bold new way to explore and highlight micro-landscapes. It also opened up avenues to bolder tracking shots, such as tracking my dog's paws while she was walking.

In all cases the lenses provided the broad angle of view and depth of field, while the elongated design of the Probe, plus the 45 degree angle of the relay, provided a multitude of novel interesting angles for tracking shots, as well as for tilts and pans. The 8 mm. and 12.5 mm. lenses gave a similar range of novel angles, as well as animated camera moves, but with less range in terms of depth of field.

I chiefly used the 45 degree module when using the Probe underwater. This made it much easier to change the angle of view, which was already constrained by the contour of the bottom.

One of my first subjects was a frog resting about a foot below the surface. I was able to nudge the lens (both 12.5 mm and 3 mm) to within less than two feet of the frog. I could actually adjust the focal length slightly with the camera's zoom as well, but I lost light and depth of field quickly, especially when I tried the 12.5 mm unit.

Perhaps the biggest challenge in shooting underwater with DV Probe was in finding a suitable location for setting up my tripod, and yet having sufficient "drop-off" to fully immerse the lens and the 45 degree attachment. This was especially true when I attempted to shoot fish and other subjects more than several feet away and on the same basic plane. Also the lens had to be sufficiently immersed so that there was extra room to adjust the shooting angle without breaking the surface.

Fast Facts Application
EFP environmental documentaries and other such applications involving shooting in water and extreme close-ups.

Key Features
Extremely versatile; opens up possibilities for unique shooting angles.

Price
MSRP $9,000 (basic package-DV Probe, one module and one lens). Extra lenses are $2,000 each. Extra modules are $2,500 each.

Contact
Innovision optics | 310-453-4866 | www.innovision-optics.com The 8 mm unit proved to be a good compromise between adequate focal length for a tight enough shot of small fish, and still providing adequate framing of medium shots with several or more fish. Overall I was impressed by the sharpness and clarity of fish, plants, rocks and other objects underwater with the Probe, and with the sheer ability to have a clear window on this world beneath the waves from the relative dryness of the shore line.

With the 3 mm unit and wide angle attachment used together, I was able to capture the experience of being immersed in the river, as fish and flotsam floated by, and everything staying in sharp focus.

After my last day of testing underwater I did notice some amount of fogging and actual droplets in the 3 mm lens after I had pulled it from my transport bag. Upon removing the unit's outer lens shield, I shook out a few drops of water then placed it on a radiator to dry. After a day it was nearly dried out, but not quite sufficiently so as to use again. I suspect that in my haste to try various combinations of lenses in the fading daylight I may have immersed the Probe without fully battening all the hatches. Of course, this is a big no-no with both submersible lenses and submarines.

SUMMARY

The DV Probe opens a window to a bolder, more visually interesting world than can be seen through a standard zoom lens, even with extreme wide angle adapters. This is due to the phenomenal depth of field at wider angles. Innovision's DV Probe system provides a decent range of lenses with fro capturing the world from a whole new perspective, whether it's just below a pond's surface, or from within the flower garden. The possibilities are limited only by one's visual imagination. Any DV/HDV videographer who really needs to shoot in shallow water, or who needs to combine a topside and underwater shot, should rent the DV Probe. The same applies to anyone who spends a good deal of time in the macro-world or who simply needs to keep coming up with truly unique closeups. In fact, the latter might be better advised to buy one, as I am considering at this moment.

Carl Mrozek operates Eagle Eye Media, based in Buffalo, N.Y., which specializes in wildlife and outdoor subjects. His work regularly appears on the Discovery Channel, The Weather Channel, CBS, PBS and other networks. Contact him ateagleye@localnet.net.