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Shooting Stills and Video on the Same Dive?

Written by Kevin Palmer

DSLRs have been shooting high quality video since circa 2008, but in most situations, the underwater photographer likely decided in advance if the next dive was going to be video or stills oriented.  This was particularly true for DSLR shooters who dealt with substantially different camera settings for each mode, often underpowered (or very bulky) video lights and a shift in exposure mindset that comes with the two different approaches.

In the last couple of years, we have been fortunate to see changes that are making switching from stills to video on the same dive easier than ever.  On a recent trip with the Nikon D810 in a Nauticam housing, I got to find out just how easy it had become.

What’s changed?  For starters, improvements to the camera:  With the pro body D4s, Nikon introduced a feature that allowed automatic ISO exposure while in manual mode when shooting video.  Since that time, the Nikon D810 and D750 also share that feature and Canon just introduced its 7D MkII with it.  Shooting quality video in manual is essential as shutter speed is critical and tied to frame rate.  Aperture is also very important to pre-select for the lenses best performance and to know you have a predictable depth of field.  So we are only left with ISO to control our exposure.  Now, in a perfect world, the camera can select the ISO and smoothly change it according to changes in the environment while we are shooting.  But what if we aren’t quite happy with the camera’s choices for exposure?  No problem, exposure compensation is fully functional and allows fine tuning that is a predictable preset.

Add to this that increasingly, cameras are able to “remember” your settings in Photo and Video mode separately.  This means you can literally preset all your video settings before you even enter the water and then tackle the greater number of variables in your still shooting once you go down and do some metering to keep your ISO locked appropriately for your stills.

The other huge progress has been in the size, quality and efficiency of video lights.  Today one can readily purchase a 6,000 - 10,000 lumen light that is the size a 1,000 lumen light was just four or five years ago.  Not only are the lights more powerful, but high quality manufacturers are providing better color rendering, much better angle of coverage, more even lighting and surprisingly good runtime and value.  This more compact form factor allows for carrying powerful, yet compact strobes and video lighting in a far easier fashion than you might think.

So what can you expect?  Here are some examples of stills and video taken on the same dive with a Nikon D810 – remember no manual adjustments for video – just switch over to video mode, hit Live View and record.  The strobes are Inon Z-240s and the video lights are Keldan Luna 4X.


About the Author

Reef Photo equipment expert Kevin Palmer has 25 years of underwater photography experience and has worked with numerous publications