To prepare for an underwater shoot halfway around the world, Los Angeles-based director of photography James Mathers practiced dives close to home, amid the underwater kelp forests of Catalina Island. He used a Canon XL H1 HD camcorder secure in a watertight housing from Gates Underwater Products in San Diego.
A veteran underwater cinematographer, Mathers is experienced in using both film and digital video cameras beneath the waves. His choice for his most recent assignment, however, which eventually took him to Manokwari Bay, in Indonesia, was the Canon XL H1 HD camcorder.
With his watertight XL H1 HD camcorder, Mathers and his fellow divers headed to Catalina to evaluate the HD camcorder’s underwater capabilities.
The XL H1 HD camcorder performed well in the low-light conditions 100ft below the surface of the water, said Mathers. Relying on the one-hour length of the HDV tape cassette inside the XL H1 HD camcorder also minimized the need to reload the camera, thus reducing the number of times the watertight housing had to be opened and closed and the potential for not properly resealing the housing. According to Mathers the “one-hour HDV cassette gives you double the time between reloads compared to other digital formats, and about 12 times the duration you would get from a 400ft roll of 35mm film.”
After the test off Catalina, Mathers and crew took two XL H1 camcorders to Indonesia, where they shot an underwater documentary that’s now in post production.
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