Sony XDCAMs Endure High G-Forces to Capture Aerobatics

Sony’s XDCAM HD optical camcorders and the new XDCAM EX solid-state memory camcorder are earning their wings.

So veteran director and cameraman Jody Eldred chose those cameras to endure extreme conditions and capture aerial footage of vintage World War II airplanes and world-class aerobatic.

The event was the “Gathering of Mustangs & Legends” Air Show in Columbus, Ohio, which brought together a collection of more than 50 legendary World War II fighter pilots and likely the largest gathering of P-51 Mustangs since the end of the war. The cameras faced high speeds, extreme gravity pulls, wind, turbulence and tight spaces.

Eldred had four crews shooting throughout the four-day event using the PDW-F350, the new PDW-F355 and the new PMW-EX1 XDCAM EX camcorders. Each camera was chosen for a specific application, according to Eldred, since there was a range of different shots and environments he was trying to capture. Eldred, who has a long track record with nearly every type of camera system available, was impressed with the XDCAM camcorders’ ability to shoot beautiful images and perform under demanding conditions.

He also noted how footage shot with the optical disc cameras and the solid-state SxS Express Card media used in the PMW-EX1 seamlessly matched and cut together beautifully during post-production.

“We used the PDW-F350 and F355 camcorders primarily as the ‘A’ cameras to capture the beauty shots and fly-bys because of the greater creative flexibility they afforded us, as well as being able to swap out lenses for those long and compressed shots, and for some very wide dolly and jib shots. We got some beautiful backlight shots of the early dawn coming through the frosted canopies while still holding detail in the shadow areas; some really gorgeous stuff.

“To capture some of the most dramatic footage, we attached a fisheye lens adaptor to the XDCam-EX1 and mounted it inside the cramped cockpit of [champion stunt pilot] Patty Wagstaff’s plane, literally inches behind her head, for some outstanding POV shots,” Eldred said. “We were able to capture Patty’s entire 12-minute demonstration. You’re not going to find any other camera that could have done this so well. It was a very tight spot and we weren’t going to be able to mount anything too gigantic that would have been able handle the stress of 10 Gs. There is no high-definition camera of this quality that I know of that has ever been able to shoot under those conditions.”

A military C-130 cargo aircraft was basically used as an aerial camera platform for most of the air-to-air footage. Using both XDCAM camcorders, Eldred and his team were shooting footage straight out the back of the plane.

“Once we got up to altitude they lowered the ramp, and we wore harnesses, so we were able to stand and move around back there to get the shots we needed,” Eldred said. “We were able to get shots of the aircraft flying right up to the rear of the plane, I’d say within 75 feet, and we got some really nice tight shots. It was an incredible experience! We ended up shooting handheld with both the PDW-F350 and PMW-EX1 cameras because we found too much plane vibration was being transmitted through the tripod legs. And we discovered that the smaller XDCAM EX camera was actually better suited for this, because you can turn on the SteadyShot feature, which really smoothed out the bumps. That camera is also easier to handle in that rough environment. It was fairly bumpy up there each day we flew, but that’s just the nature of flying.”

When it came time to match footage shot with each camera, Eldred and his crew were unable to distinguish one from the other.

“It was simple to color match the cameras from the get go, so the footage cut together well - very seamless,” he said. “If I wasn’t looking at the timeline in the Final Cut Pro edit to figure out which camera was which, there’s not any way that I would know. In terms of sharpness and contrast, it’s amazing how well the two looked side by side.”