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Three Cameras in California: Sony PXW-Z100, DJI Phantom 2 Vision+, GoPro Hero3

After almost 8 years pushing my beloved HVX200 around the world’s oceans, we’ve bit the bullet and made the significant upgrade to the Sony PXW-Z100.

The HVX is still going strong in its battered but unbruised Gates Housing, and happily belting out 1080p juicy lines of resolution at around 1GB per minute (full HD). Our little GoPro HERO3 has proved to be a spicy little addition over the past year, and does a spectacular job in its own limited way.

But we’ve been looking for something more. So there has been loads of waiting and watching and careful consideration. We nearly went RED, then nearly went Sony F55, but neither really met my needs—in particular, the ability to film a pygmygoby and a reefscape on the same dive.

Along came the Sony Z100, together with the nod from Gates that it is a camera worth housing, and another nod from Fathoms Imaging that it is compatible with their new SWP44C port… and hey presto, Undersea Productions now films in Ultra HD, better known as 4K.

Such a momentous leap forward called for a full blown mission, and so it was. BNE–LAX–Santa Cruz, via San Diego twice, and plenty of time around and under Monterey Bay. There were heroes all along the way that made the trip a breeze—I had forgotten how well Americans do service and hospitality.

Carrying the Gates Z100 housing

Carrying the Gates Z100 housing

From the LAX pickup to the drop off at my rental car 8 days later, Doug was Captain Hero (I hope the Spice Road supply is hanging in there).

I was super impressed with Oren and the rest of the team at Diving Unlimited International (DUI). The factory tour was a treat, and my custom DUI TLS350 drysuit is almost ready to ship. I was lucky to find a DUI rental suit that fit well enough to keep me bone dry for this California adventure. Thanks to Bill and Billy at Hollywood Divers for looking after me in that department.

For those curious about dry suit diving and filming, I found it pretty easy to control all of my Gates knobs and dials with DUI’s dry gloves. I chose the Maximum Dexterity gloves with the fleece liners. Because the water vacuum packs your hands into them, you still have pretty good dexterity. I used them without the fleece liners for the kayaking. In the water it was brutally cold, while it was a bit sweaty on the yak, but the gloves are easy to swap for the regular wrist seals if the water is warmer.

Scuba diving in Anacapa, California

Anacapa, California

Just up the road from DUI, quite miraculously, is the home of the world’s best underwater video housing makers and my good friends at Gates Underwater Products. This was the primary purpose of my visit and after the amazing factory tour, we had a squizz at the new underwater video lights currently in development (if you are considering the need for more light underwater, you definitely want to wait for these things). John treated us to a sneak peak of the working guts and the computer simulation of the shell. The light that one of these heads threw out lit up the conference room with the most beautifully uniform, retina-blowing light imaginable, with no edge to it. I have already put in my order, and although there was no commitment date from Gates, I’m hoping to light up something big underwater during our November expedition. You can do it guys…

As she does best, Pam at Gates took care of the details, made sure we had all our bits and pieces, including some loaner lights from the previous generation of prototypes—that I am still in love with, BTW.

Armed with new rig, it was off to the nearest shed to do some tinkering. Jeannene’s garage, via Home Depot and a nearby neighbour’s salt water pool, did the trick. By late afternoon, we had a fully functional custom built tripod and the Gates ballast weights positioned for perfect trim. We were ready to dive. Off to Ventura via Hollywood Divers.

Waking up in beautiful Ventura, Doug and I joined Captain Chris and DM Bob aboard Raptor for a private charter to Anacapa to give the new rig its maiden dive. Surface: glass. Underwater: soup, and ripping. With the previous week of rough-as-guts weather and the full moon the night before our trip, the day’s conditions were expected. But Bob and Chris did get us into some out-of-the-current places. Not the best sites, but the best that were do-able; to test a new camera and rental dive suit, we couldn’t have asked for more.

Underwater cameraman paddling a kayak in Elkhorn Slough

Elkhorn Slough

A surface interval filled with Jim’s (owner of Ventura Dive & Sport) home-made chicken noodle soup and sandwiches was blissful, as was having the boat to ourselves for battery recharging, camera tinkering and re-kitting. We did it all again, then headed home. A very smooth day, well run by pros.

We headed north the following day. We reached Point Lobos in time for an afternoon dive among the kelp, which was a good 10F colder than we had the previous day. Still soupy, and seriously cold, but wearing a woolly bear onesie, it is an amazingly beautiful place to glide through. The poor vis makes it especially eerie, and easy to lose your buddy… which I managed to do a couple of times.

We then based ourselves at Doug’s horse farm in Royal Oaks to visit and dive Monterey. First the Monterey Bay Aquarium where we checked out the new cephalopod exhibit and filmed them and some jellies through the glass. The brewery that doesn’t brew was a worthy end to that dry filming day.

Scuba divers in a zodiac boat in Monterey Harbor, California

Monterey Harbor

On top the target list were sea otters, so we tried our luck at Elkhorn Slough. Again visibility thwarted the underwater possibilities, but I got to feel what it’s like to dive without thermal undergarments. I was out of the water within two minutes, and hurting.

Then north again to Santa Cruz to catch up with Chard and Jan, and to pick up the Zodiac kindly loaned to us by Bruce and Annette, friends of Doug.

Back to Monterey to dive the bay and give the Undersea Productions new aerial wing its maiden over-water flight. The “Albatross” as we’ve named it is Doug’s new DJI Phantom Quadcopter and it shoots HD footage on an incredible gimbal that smooths out even the bumpiest flight manoeuvres. While I did a couple of dives in the clearest water we could find on the edge of the bay, Doug mastered a few key aerial angles with the quadcopter.

Zodiac tied to kelp in Monterey Bay, California

View from the quadcopter

So ended the diving adventure, and I drove back to LAX via San Diego and South Pasadena—some of which was done on the wrong side of the road, keeping the adventure theme alive.

Success all round I’d say, and to summarise: California diving is hard, I am soft, but with the finest gear as I now have, I am ready and up for anything.

Home now, and into planning some local diving and cracking footage in 4K.

—Josh

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Adam Gallagher

Sounds like an amazing trip Josh. Be good to see the new equipment and catch up above and below the waterline soon.

Ashley Hauck

Your footage is beautiful! That’s definitely the green soupy water we know and love here in California, but your film definitely made the best of it 🙂

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