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May 17, 2013

Lights, Camera … Action!

How to Choose the Right Camera and Shoot Offshore Video

I’m sure any avid sport fisherman would agree that we spend some of the most exciting days of our lives standing on the deck of a boat several miles out to sea. We get back to the dock and try to communicate these experiences to friends and family, only to be given that look. It’s one of those “you had to be there” things. I tend to put it in the “if I have to explain it to you, you wouldn’t understand” bucket and let it go. After all, how do you explain the sight of a blue marlin crashing the left long, its whole back out of the water, leaving a crater filled milliseconds later by an explosion of white water? How do you describe the colors of a lit-up sail slashing at the squid chain or swimming away from a good release?

Let’s face it. Unless you are Zane Gray or Ernest Hemingway, you don’t. Film cameras with the expensive, low-quality video of a few years ago never did these cockpit battles justice. Unless you had a dedicated photographer on board, you relied on a grainy 4-by-6 glossy print several weeks after the event to prove your catch or, even worse, a TV screen displaying a distorted, interlaced, chromatic aberration, which, when paused for maximum effect, turned into nothing more than a flickering mess of indistinguishable pixels.

I’m here to tell you that times have changed. A sea of high-resolution options at home both above and below the water now lay before you, and some are priced lower than a tank of gas. With all the camera and video options out there, now the problem is choosing which system we need for the type of boat we’re on and the kind of fishing we’re doing. During this basic overview, I’ll add some ideas to the hardware tips to help improve your visuals with simple shooting techniques and explain how, in just a few steps, to transform the raw camera footage into something you can share online, to the amazement of family and friends.

Which Camera Should I Get?

Trying to give advice about camera equipment brings to mind the age-old question “How long is a piece of string?” The answer: It depends. In the space of this article, I won’t be able to answer every possible camera question, but I would like to leave you with several options to film the fishing action on your boat that you can share with your friends and — who knows — maybe a few thousand other couch anglers online.

The biggest revolution in camera technology that affects sport fishermen is the point-of-view, or POV, camera. POV cameras are best described as very small cameras used to capture the view of the person controlling them. One camera in particular has dominated this trend and has been used to capture footage from more angles and in more environments than ever thought possible: the ubiquitous GoPro series (gopro.com). Now in its third iteration, this pocket-size camera produces incredible, high-definition (HD) images. This is a good place to start with the first batch of technical info: What exactly does HD mean?

We first need to understand how an image is created. When you look at any sort of screen, what you are actually seeing is an image made up of thousands of little dots called pixels. Basically, the more dots on the screen, the sharper and clearer the image looks. The number of dots is the image’s resolution. HD has more dots, or a higher resolution, than standard definition (SD). Any image with more than 720 horizontal lines of dots is generally considered HD. The two most common HD formats are 720 and 1080. These can then be interlaced, which saves time by showing only half the number of lines from one frame interlaced with the lines of the next frame. This fools your eye into thinking that you are seeing the whole image, but in fact you are only seeing half the frame at any one time. The better format option is called progressive, which shows one complete frame at a time, producing a better-quality image and giving a different feel to the footage. Interlaced and progressive formats are indicated by either an “i” or a “p” after the lines of resolution (for example, 1080i or 1080p).

Almost all cameras available today are HD, having more than 720 lines of vertical resolution. In fact, most will be 1080, and the best ones are 1080p. It’s important to keep in mind that if you are going to burn your videos to a DVD using a standard burner, the maximum resolution is just 480 vertical lines, which is well below HD. Only a Blue Ray burner will give you true HD, with 1080 lines.