By John McCord
Education Programs Coordinator
University of NC Coastal Studies Institute
John McCord with the RED One Digital Cinema Camera. (NOAA)
85 pounds. That's how much the video camera, housing and lighting system weigh that I am using to document the shipwrecks and work performed on this expedition. While the camera system is a bear to lug on land, it handles and shoots like a dream underwater. Through a partnership with the Renaissance Computing Institute (RENCI) and the UNC Coastal Studies Institute, we have been using a RED One Digital Cinema Camera to capture video in 4K resolution. At four times the definition of HD, the RED One can produce amazing imagery. It is however, heavy. In order to take the RED One underwater, we needed an underwater housing. Gates Underwater Products makes some of the best housings in the world and we currently own the DEEP RED, a beast of a housing machined specifically to house the not-so-tiny RED system.
The RED One camera system allows us to bring the stories of these sunken shipwrecks to life through the images that it produces. Not everyone has the ability to easily visit these sites, but video can bring the shipwreck to them in an exciting and engaging medium. In addition to being an excellent education and outreach device, the camera also serves as a valuable tool for both the biologists and archaeologists on board the research vessel. Reviewing footage can aid biologists in identifying the wide variety of marine life that inhabit the wreck and assist archaeologists in the site mapping process.
John McCord uses the RED One Camera to document archaeologists and biologists on the Dixie Arrow. (NOAA)
While deploying the system is easily managed by jumping in with my dive buddy and me each holding one side of the camera, retrieval is a bit more difficult. At 85 pounds, it cannot be easily lifted out of the water and onto the deck with surging waves crashing into the stern of the boat. The recovery of the system requires a coordinated dance of both diver and crew to ensure the camera system makes it safely back on board the boat. A pulley system rigged to the A-frame allows the crew to hoist the camera system out of the water and onto the deck. While the crew has done an amazing job handling the behemoth, I still hold my breath each time I see it lifted from the water and swing onto the rocking boat. Once on deck, I breathe a sigh of relief and can focus on getting myself safely on board the NOAA research vessel.