Last year, in addition to all my other video shenanigans, I became a bit obsessed with VR and utilizing it to tell a more immersive story about the underwater world of our precious Emerald Sea. There were some hold ups, though, technology is still kind of on the bleeding edge, both from a content production aspect and a consuming point of view. YouTube enabled 360 viewing which is great, you can watch 4K 360 video, interact with it, but no SBS (Side by Side) viewing option as of yet for headsets such as Homido or Google Cardboard. A seamless integration between YouTube and SBS 360 VR is what will really be the fuel for the 360VR rocket that is sitting on the launch pad. A few are doing things really well, Mobile VR Station, and Jaunt. Others have potential, Homido (with Vuse.camera) and the assorted KOLOR and 360heros viewers, but they all deliver somewhat low resolution and you have to download for better viewing. Some videos are coming through as an ‘app’ which I find a bit silly, because the last thing I want on my phone is more darn apps. SO, again, YOUTUBE are you listening!?!?!?
Puget Sound is facing several environmental issues that are made more readily understandable with video. When I got my first look at reasonable 360vr footage I realized it might be exactly what I needed to really SHARE with the viewer what it feels like to swim up to a big pipe billowing polluted stormwater runoff into Puget sound. The ability to look around and see not just what I was showing them via the camera eye, but the capacity to look at the drain, turn around and look at the decaying black debris trail, look to the sides and see the healthy marine life getting covered in whatever rains down from the stormwater column (dirt, tire rubber, break pad dust, anything that is on our streets and can fit through a storm drain grate). To me 360VR video could be the most powerful compelling media format for environmental issues yet.
Upon being bit by the bug, I immediately reached out to 360heros.com as they seemed to have the most viable underwater option. They have been encredibly generous with offer for equipment but still… Way expensive for tech that is not quite ready for prime time. Their UW housing is great and possibly the best on the market currently, but the actually post production work with GoPro generated footage is clunky and very time consuming at best.
Scubaboard to the rescue:
I posted on FB my intent to start documenting the Puget Sound and environmental issues with 360VR and Elena from Scubaboard stepped right up. Scubaboard is the #1 recreational diving forum in the world, and they were able to leverage that for a V1 system to review and produce some videos with. After some test flights in Florida it procured a parking spot on the shelf, not surprising in the slightest because of the time consuming nature 360vr video production. Elena graciously offered it up to me to in return for documenting this journey.
I was lucky enough to meet a kind gentleman by the name of Chad Copeland (Copelandred.com) who has far more experience in this space than myself, and he’s been insanely generous with information and even let me give his cameras a try. The first flight was a moderate success, I realized I have so much to learn and really needed my own set of cameras so that I could go shoot anytime anywhere, and practice without worrying about tying up or flooding someone else’s gear.
Fast forward six months:
I’ve been watching eBay like a hawk, noting factory refurbished gopro’s, listening to the experts, reading post and articles galore. Gopro’s hold their value pretty well so I figured a compromise was in order. Per a number of articles I read that h264 only really exports in 4K, so as much as I’d love 2.7 or 1440 resolution all around, I learned that 960 would work just fine, it’s 4:3 (so it utilizes the full sensor and won’t need cropping) and when stitched, supposedly it comes in at juuuuust under 4K. What does this mean in plain engrish? It means that GoPro Hero Silver 3+ would do the job. You can find the 3+ silver models on eBay, factory refurbished for around $150 USD. With a lot of patience and persistence I was also able to find a couple GoPro Hero 3+ Black cameras to add to the one I already have, 3 silver, 3 black, this allows the option for higher resolution down the road if I decide it’s worth upgrading, but will get me started.
I read a Wista article (in the comments section) that you can mix cameras (apparently the KOLOR program has option for ‘mixed lens’) obviously not ideal as the different cameras can have differences, but since I already had a GoPro hero 3 black and a 3+ black and a 4 black, it was kind of the optimistic view/kick in seat of pants I needed. Unfortunately that poster was either way better/more confident in hacking firmware or just never actually tried mixing and matching because it quickly became apparent that it’s not really a viable option. Yes, there is 960p available, but FRAME RATE matters. For syncing it’s great to have matching frame rates, otherwise videos slowly fall out of sync. This is problem for long running videos with talking or, you guessed it, 360vr stitching.
Why I went ahead anyway.
I have something that a lot of folks tinkering in this space do not have. A LOT of experience and moderate expertise in high resolution multicam video work. 6,7,8 + cameras, matching sometimes 4-5 different camera models/brands. So the concept of working with the GoPro footage in post to grade and a more exacting sync was not at all daunting.
Where we are at now:
H3scubaH6 dive housing v1.0 is what I will be using, it’s the one that has the waterproof housings attached to a centralizer and little snap on optical domes to return the FOV to stitchable (parallax underwater reduces the wide angle view to unusable) But before anyone disses this too much you can see the videos from Taiwan and see that it is a very viable option in patient and skilled hands, and with good visibility, something we don’t necessarily have.
I’ve fabricated (ok, fancy word for bought some PVC pipe and drilled a hole in the cap for 3/8 -16″ bolt) a 2 part sand stake for static shots. Additionally I modified a scooter mount for lights so I can do mobile surveys with DPV (I use the SUEX XJoy 37 which offers fantastic range, near perfect size and infinitely variable speed control which makes for amazing underwater shooting opportunities). Ideally I’d like to have a nose cam option but still tinkering in that department.