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June 15, 2009 ......... Micronesia
Story, Photos & Video by Jean Brigham
Like old world explorers, divers everywhere dream about and labor over the planning of their "trip of a lifetime." I heard this phrase so many times in relation to my Micronesia trip I started to get a little anxious. After 2 years of anticipation and 25 hours of travel I wanted to have the right stuff to capture every moment. So I cut my two-week clothes supply in half and added camera equipment. And once my two bags and two carry-ons were stuffed within their maximum allowances, I sacrificed more clothes. In the end I had four cameras, three housings, six different types of lenses / ports, two strobes, and a video light. Plus all of the minor accessories, spare parts, tools and even some dive gear.
To shoot the great Mantas in Yap I used the Sony HDR-XR500 hi definition camcorder. This camera is just out and has a new Exmor R CMOS sensor for great low light sensitivity. This combined with a great image stabilizer makes the XR500 (or XR520 model with twice the hard drive capacity) perfect for underwater video.
You won't get great video without great optics. When you cross the International Date Line to go diving it seems silly to compromise on image quality. The WP80 Wide Angle Port provides superior resolving power and edge-to-edge sharpness worthy of any HD television. The port's performance is stunning in every situation—for instance when a manta with a 12-foot wingspan glides overhead. At about 55 feet I simply used a UR/Pro color correcting filter and manual white balance to capture their natural beauty.
For that evening's mandarin fish dive I added the Pro Video Lite 3. Its warm 100W flood light brought out every color on the small, rainbow colored fish. That dive was dedicated to macro work but the 100 degree beam angle provides ample coverage for almost any lens. I kept the Pro Video Lite attached to my rig and used it regularly on day dives too. The newer flex arm is so easy to adjust and it packs light for travel. Even on a sunny day not a lot of light makes it down beyond 60 feet (18m). And the sun's rays generally don't sneak around corners into ships' superstructures and cargo holds!
The corals were beautiful, particularly the soft corals on some of the wrecks in Truk. For general reef shots, diver shots, wreck shots et. al. I had my tried and true Nikon D300 DSLR with Tokina 10-17mm lens and dual Substrobe DS160's. Extra 9" arm sections put my strobes waaaay out there for broad, even coverage. The waters of Yap and Truk did not provide the crystal clear visibility I have enjoyed in my travels to the Caribbean. In which case the super-wide fisheye was great for getting closer to the subject and eliminating all of that pesky particulate.
On many dives I attached an ULTRAcompact housing for the Canon Powershot SD880 to my BCD. This camera and its close relative the Canon SD990 are great choices for a small point-and-shoot system. Both feature easy-to-operate manual white balance and the SD990 offers complete manual exposure settings. With the ability to add color correcting filters, wide angle or macro lenses and external strobes these systems can actually be quite powerful.
My back-up to my back-up camera is an Olympus Stylus Tough 6000. This camera seems to be everything-proof so I feel comfortable taking it everywhere. An ULTRAcompact housing and our new line of accessory lens adapters and color filters are available to get you well beyond the camera's 10 foot depth limit.
I had a fabulous time photographing Yap and Truk Lagoon and hope to make it back again someday. Huge thanks to everyone at Manta Ray Bay Resort and Yap Divers in Yap and the Odyssey Adventures crew in Truk Lagoon. Both operations are first class and provided top rate accommodations and diving for our trip. If you have an opportunity do check them out!
Back at home we've still got loads of new projects we're working on for unveiling throughout the balance of 2009. Keep checking back with us whether you're dreaming of, planning or disembarking on your next dive trip.
Click on the short movie below (1:19 runtime) to view a rough edit of sample footage shot with the Sony XR500. Available light examples were shot using the UR/Pro filter and all lighted shots used the Pro Video Lite 3. All footage was manually white balanced. Look for an extended edit on the Video Gallery section of the site sometime in the not-too-distant future (fingers crossed).
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