After several years working with underwater video cameras I could not make the consumer Sony CX550V perform with the Light and Motion Bluefin housing. But after two weeks of testing we were finally able to achieve the results we were looking for.
So if you’re having problems with color on your video camera, below are some tips and recommendations that will help you get quality moving images from your Sony system.
We assume you’ve already done a dive with an empty housing leaving your camera safely locked in your room. Any new camera system that has never seen water needs a pressure check down to 60’, 18m for leaks. It is also recommended that if you only use your camera housing a couple times a year, you take it for a dive without the camera when you do the first dive of your trip. You’ve been planning for this all year. If there is a flood, you may lose your housing which can be repaired but not your camera. A systems pressure check dive is always recommended.
Before sliding your camera inside the housing you need to make several menu changes. But first, make sure the L&M electronics is set correctly for your camera, for either the Sony CX550V/CX560V or the Canon S10-S21. This should come preset from Light and Motion when you purchased the housing. But sometimes things happen. If in question contact L&M and they will walk you through the setup.
It gets down to the details. We used the Sony CX550V. These recommendations should also work for the new CX560V. While the camera performs well on land and focuses quickly underwater our biggest challenge was getting the correct color with the ½ inch “Exmor R” CMOS sensor and AVCHD codec. The color capabilities of this Sony camera are very sensitive, so having the correct white balance is of utmost importance. After testing different settings, this is what worked best for us.
Next, open the LCD viewer to the menu settings. Scroll through the menu and make the following adjustments.
Make sure you’re in the right record mode. We used the HD HQ (the default setting) most of the time. The HD FH setting also works.
WHITE BALANCE: White balance is a method of color correction in your camera. Manual white balance is whereby you tell the camera what the color temperature is. Without getting into the finer details of color temperature we found that the auto white balance will only work in very shallow water above 15’/3 meters depending on water visibility. The camera will not AUTO WHITE BALANCE with the red correction filter flipped on. The Light and Motion Bluefin is made for manual white balance adjustment. We’ll have more on setting the white balance in a minute but for now, make sure the camera is set to ONE PUSH.
AE SHIFT: Auto Exposure Shift controls the amount of light coming through the lens. We found that it was easy to over expose underwater footage due to the camera’s large censor and wide angle lens. Set the AUTO EXPOSURE SHIFT to -3.
WB SHIFT: The White Balance Shift is a function that lets you universally apply a slight touch of color correction over all your settings. We found with the Sony CX550V our footage was constantly over saturated and our highlights where blown out. By also turning the WB SHIFT to -3 this helped alleviate the problem. The camera memory should store the WB SHIFT and AE SHIFT when the camera is turned off and the battery is removed. There is no need to reset it once you’ve got it calibrated.
Once these settings are selected, flip the LCD screen so that it’s facing out, leave the camera on and carefully slide camera and tray back into the housing making sure the o-rings are clean.
The color correction filter is located at the front of the housing and should be flipped on when shooting in ambient light. Once again it should be flipped off in shallow water less than 15’, 5 meters when using the auto white balance. The camera will not auto white balance with the filter on. When using lights, flip the filter off and manually white balance. This works best when shooting at night, lighting close-ups and macro shots.
Before getting in the water, you will need to decide which method of manually white balancing is going to work best for you. We found that after trying three different color variations of white balance slates that a light gray slate worked the best for us. An all white slate tended to blow-out the highlights while a darker gray slate over saturated the colors. So we used the light gray slate made by PADI. Porta Brace also makes a white balance slate for underwater. I’ve seen some videographers also use a slate attached to their arm or white tape wrapped around a fin.
Setting your white balance manually underwater will take some practice. Try working with the controls on land first (without the underwater correction filter flipped on). While diving, manually white balance every 1 meter, 3 to 5 feet as your depth changes. Using a white balance card, hold it at approximately arms length away in bright light. Zoom in slightly. It is important to get a full frame shot of the card or you will get an erroneous reading and your colors may be slightly off. Do not hold the ONE PUSH White Balance Button on the L&M handle down for more than one second or it will default to auto white balance. Quickly push the ONE PUSH white balance button and release it while holding the camera focused on the slate. We found this may take anywhere from 12 to 15 seconds for the camera to scroll through the menu settings before the camera manually sets the correct white balance to the slate.
We repeated this step all the way down to a depth of 40’. Past this, there was little color change until we once again manually white balanced at 80’. But due to changing water and light conditions, always manually white balance for best results.
We hope these suggestions help. By using proper buoyancy and not touching the corals, your skills will help preserve coral reefs for future generations. With proper maintenance, the Sony CX550V and CX560V should give you high quality underwater video images for years to come.
Special thanks to Tim Peters at Fish-Eye Photo and Bori Olla for contributing to this post.
Rubik’s Cube Light Lamp by Eric Pautz.