GonePro Part 1: Krazy Kraken Cannon

G30 cannon and krazy kraken
In the meantime I've got the Ikelite dive housing delivered fro my video cannon, erm, Canon VIXIA/LEGRIA HF G30. The cannon finally got a krazy kraken as its sidekick.

But how does this new krazy kompany of a cannon and a kraken perform under water in practice? So it's time for some first reports, fresh from a flooded gravel pit...

Kraken Cannon replaces Fallen Heroes

In principle, I was more or less satisfied with my three fixed focus stock cubes. Simply point at a potential motive and press the shutter button ... plain simple with the additional LCD backpack. And with the GoPro HD Hero 3 Black Edition image noise was remarkably low, so shooting in Protune without in-cam denoising became workable ... all this just to switch off the broken automatic white debalancing. Being able to bail out of auto white balance was probably the only really good idea GoPro ever had in all these past years. This made up for most of the sometimes severe other shortcomings of the HD Heros.

After I had suffered several data losses where my GoPro HD Heros destroyed my footage, I took GoPro's brand message finally serious and turned towards much more professional equipment. What good is a 2.7K resolution when your footage gets destroyed by the camera afterwards? What if no memory card you are able to buy on the market satisfies GoPro's requirements ... whatever these are, as they don't specify them?

When my friends heard that I stepped up camera-wise, I got verbal shoulder slapping from several of them. They were all the time sure that I was simply wasting my time on this GoPro toys with plastics optics. I was congratulated for stepping up to serious and high quality equipment, such the Canon HF G30 I went for. Sweet optics with a 20× optical zoom, a combined optical and electronics image stabilizer, and finally a better image sensor with larger pixels.

Polycarbonate Kraken

As I already hinted at in a previous blog post, there isn't so much choice in diving housings for video cameras. When control of white balance is must, there barely is any choice left. Sony allows control only in its expensive pro cameras while consumers and prosumers are not given any chance to correct automatic control when it badly sucks. Panasonic cams are also good cams with their three separate sensors, yet there barely are any diving houses made for these cams. JVC cams also suffer from limited manual control and lack of housings. Sigh.

So I ended up with the Canon VIXIA/LEGRIA HF G30. For a suitable dive housing I turned to Ikelite, which is well known for its high quality; I ordered their model #6086 for HF G30 (also XA20 and XA25). It's the classical dive housing design with the typical completely transparent housing made from polycarbonate. Fortunately, Ikelite provides access to the up and down directions of the joystick the Canon HF G30 comes with, so I can control several camera settings even throughout a dive.

Canon HF G30 with Ikelite #6086 dive housing.
On top you can spot the expensive electronic viewfinder.

Of course, my new video equipment is of a different caliber, not least size-wise. Were the HD Heros small and also cute (but only until they started destroyed my footage), the new equipment does look awfully serious. But it lacks suit and tie, I'm afraid. Yet fish now much more reverently stares into the big bull's eye just in front of them. A real catfish cam, the Canon is.

The larger optical system of the Canon HF G30 results in better quality footage, image-wise. I don't need to search anymore for my motives hidden somewhere within an enormous 2.7K frame. Instead, the Canon's 20× optical zoom and a focal length of 28mm to 570mm allows me to better frame motives ... without having to stick them to the front lens of a GoPro HD Hero first. Of course, stable shoots become more challenging, especially the more so in the tele range. With the GoPro HD Hero action cams you barely can miss any motive, as framing was extremely easy. With the HF G30 this now has changed considerably.

It will be interesting to see how much practice I will need to shot really stable clips despite of having a well-working image stabilisator in the HF G30. Thanks to the large optical zoom range I most probably don't need any macro (close up) lens anyway. My first tests in two different lakes support my assumption. But I need more practice, definitely.

But back to the topic of suitable dove housings for camcorders. Ikelite solely sells dive housings made from polycarbonate. To some, this may look slightly less professional than a fiber or metal housing. In turn, the Ikelite housings have proven to be highly robust, yet easy to handle. You will early notice if there is any problem with even small leaks, which is a clear advantage of the Ikelite design.

Long Shots, and No More Card Issues

The dive housing accommodates up to the largest battery of type BP-828 that Cannon has to offer for the HF G30. The BP-828 is good for three up to four hours of operation, lasting for at least two long dives in cold water. In terms of GoPro, this is equivalent to three up to four GoPro HD Hero 3 Black Edition cams.

Since the Canon HF G30 comes with two memory card slots (albeit without any internal storage) and supports relay recording, simply pop in two SD memory cards. Class 10 is required, yet you should better opt for the better performing memory cards, such as SanDisk Extreme and similar. With two 32GB cards in the two slots, you can shoot more than 10 hours of high bitrate video in full HD at 1080p25 with 25Mbit/s.

The Canon HF G30 shows its superior memory card handling, especially in comparison with GoPro equipment. The HF G30 even works like a charm without any hiccups and crashes even when fed with the SanDisk Ultra SD cards. I've already shot several hours of test footage at 35Mbit/s with these memory cards. The GoPro cams had problems with them (Hero 2 generation). And also the newer Extreme microSD cards work perfectly when used in the HF G30 ... the same cards that GoPro support declares unsuitable and worn out. Go figure, GoPro.

One caveat, however. You need to explicitly enable relay operation with the G30. Only then the HF G30 automatically switches over to the second memory card when the first one gets full. Alternatively, you can store the same footage on both cards simultaneously. Unfortunately, this functionality is limited though. You need to write in exactly the same format and bitrate onto the two cards. So, saving both in AVCHD and MP4 simultaneously does not work at full resolution. You are only allowed to write a low bitrate copy, kind of video stamp as a low resolution copy.

Almost Positive Buoyancy Cast

Simply watching at the product images on Ikelite's product Web site I was wrongly assuming that the rail and handles are made from plastic. Okay, you see this was going to be my first Ikelite dove housing and I had no real clue. Instead, Ikelite users casted rails and handles (not only) for its #6086 dive housings. And there's good reason to deploy cast.

The fully assembled dive housing #6086 weights in at 3kg. With the HF G30 it totals in at 3.9kg. Under water in fresh water the combo has slightly negative buoyancy. There is not much need for added passive buoyancy.

Cast rail and handles  ... as catfish defense?

Ikelite states on its Web site and in its preposition leaflet for the dove housing #6086 that even in salty water the housing including the camera will have slightly negative buoyancy.

This is in line with what I noticed during my dives so far in fresh water in two local lakes. Unfortunately, the system likes to tilt in that the front comes up. The center of gravity seems to be behind the rail. Over time I surely will need to further tweak the housing. The GoPro HD Hero 3 that I'm now using as a kind of electronic view finder isn't sufficient for correct trim...

Electronic Search or View Finder...?

To correctly frame type shots the Canon HF G30 offers both an OLED display as well as an electronic view finder.

The electronic view finder with its 1.6 million pixels is quite useful unser water. It surely is no stopgap toy. Depending on lighting conditions I often prefer the viewer finder over the display, even under water. The back of the Ikelite housing had been designed sich that the electronic view finder can be used under water. When inserting the HF G30 into the housing you need to pull out the electronic viewfinder partly so that it gets activated. If you forget to do so, you are out of luck later under water, as the electronic viewfinder can only be activated by pulling it out. The Ikelite housing comes with a magnifying lens to make using the viewfinder more comfortable.

Unfortunately, the Ikelite die housing allows using the display of the HF G30 only when folded to the side of the camera. The rationale here probably is to allow the manufacturing of thehousing without some big protrusion, and also to reduce buoyancy. In order to still see the display without performing contortions Ikelite sticks a foldable mirror to the side of the dive housing. During transportation you'll fold the mirror to the side to avoid damaging it. For filming you open the mirror to see the mirrored display.

While the foldable mirror is a nice idea in reality it gets hampereddie to the limited space between the show off the housing and the left handle. You still need to place your hand somewhere in order to hold the housing and frame your shots. The mirror gets into your way. In the optimal mirror position the is not enough room for your hand. So you need to live with the mirror showing only parts of the display. Most of the time, it's no big deal. Yet, it is still annoying.

I would prefer for the mirror to be slightly tilted as this would song the display much more comfortably for me. With the current design I need to hold up the housing rather quite high so my eyes are on the same level as the camera.

Another unfortunate property of this design is that the display content gets mirrored horizontally. Unfortunately, Canon's option to mirror the display only works when the display faces forward but not when folded to the show. And even then only the sensor image is mirrored but as soon as you see any information compressed over it, sich as time code, scene program, menus,  et cetera, the mirroring gets switched off. Sigh. This makes this feature useless when under water. Grrrr!

To be fair, I admit that Canon's prime customer camcorder users do not embrace divers. Instead, they focus on the usual suspects, sich as wedding photographers and proud parent baby filmers.

I would really like to have a small separate LCD inside the dive housing, placed in a convenient location. This LCD could be powered from its own small battery. Video then would come via HDMI or the composite socket. Doesn't really need much room but would improve framing so much!

Some Joystick Tuning

The four-way joystick of the Canon HF G30 is really useful ... above the waterline, but not so much under water. Probably due to manufacturing tolerances I couldn't reliably operate the joystick using the Ikelite control.

Some tuning required...

While I could move the cursor up, the opposite direction didn't work. Luckily, tous issue could be solved using two rock lautete of duckt tape. This fix works around the manufacturing tolerances. Now moving the cursor up also works.

Important! Unfortunately, the function menu of the HF G30 has the tabs which only can be navigated to using the cursor left and right directions. Or alternatively using the touch screen. But both means are inaccessible when the camera is in the housing. Thus, make sure that you correctly set up your camera before sealing the dive housing. 

I also miss access to the user-assignable buttons 1 and 2. These buttons are located next to the display and would even be reachable while the display is filed to the side. Sadly, Ikelite does not support them.

Enlightened Kraken

So far, this setup still lacks a important part: good light! Fortunately, I already invested into good lights some time ago for my GoPro equipment. These lights now come in handy with the new camera.

In order to fix my trusty LED Sola 2000F lights ttho the handles the following mounting equipment is required (please remember t you need them twice):
  1. Adapter elements that fit to the Ikelite handles, such as the ones made by H2o-Tools (source). Apropos: when does H2o-Tools finally learns that cast always comes with tolerances? Obviously, someone at this company being extremely fond of micrometer precision. But not of machine engineering and construction theory. So I had to file off a few bits of the adaptor in order to make it work. 
  2. Ball adapter 25mm made by I-Divesite (source). From this point on I then can use my existing mounting.
This gives me the required good light when spring in difficult light conditions. The camera now is ready for some real world experience and tests in open water. Please read on for my first name experience worth the Canon HF G30 and the Ikelite housing in a follow-up post.