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Article - Recording Underwater Videos - Part 1

Page history last edited by Jerome Moisand 8 years, 9 months ago




A few years ago, I started to publish on the Internet underwater videos centered on carp fishing. A search on Google Video and on YouTube will allow you to easily find such material:




I also maintain a Web page providing links to all my videos, with a short description, whether they are edited videos for a more enjoyable display or (more recently) the unabridged material for the hard core carpers who want to see it all. If you’re interested, you will also find various carp fishing stories (in English though; I am French but I lived in the US for 12 years, so I’m a tad contaminated by the local culture and language). Here is the link to the videos page:



To my surprise, aside from the well-known underwater videos from Korda, I didn’t see other people publishing similar videos although my first material was made available in 2005. There is a high level of interest by the carp fishing community though, a video recorded early 2008 was visualized more than 400,000 times on YouTube (as of Oct 2009), with users watching it from very diverse countries, including South Korea! Not too bad for such a specialized topic. 



It is certainly easy to buy an underwater camera and lower it in the water, but recording interesting material on a regular basis is another story, which kept me busy for quite a few hours (I dare not count!). So I’ll try to share many practical aspects with you guys in this article.


My first underwater camera


Let’s start by the beginning. I’d like to make clear that I have no relationship with sponsors or any commercial entity. Actually, I’m not quite a big fan of sponsoring or advertisement, and I am very keen on keeping full freedom to say whatever I think! Therefore, the following references to brands are just practical considerations, and nothing else.


Early 2005, I bought my first underwater camera on the www.aquavu.com Web site. Aqua-Vu is actually a brand, and the manufacturer is Nature Vision. This was a Scout XL, a now obsolete equipment with a 7 inches wide black & white display, a 30 feet long cable, and a funny camera at the end of the cable, shaped as a colorful fish. 



Let me sidetrack a little bit before coming back to the main topic. Somebody asked me once what is the primary reason for which I fish so passionately. I started to answer lining up plenty of reasons (an outdoors activity, a certain willingness to be alone, the adrenaline shot coming with a sudden run, the fight with a powerful fish, etc), but the question was really to think to the PRIMARY reason, the one deep in my guts. This made me think for a few minutes. I finally remembered my first fishing experiences when I was a teenager, fishing a pond in Enghien les Bains (in France, close to Paris), then my feelings when I resumed fishing 20 years later in the US, and I found the answer. I am very fascinated by the mystery of what’s below water, which is so close and yet so remote. Every time I see a piece of water (known or now), I wonder what’s in there. Every time I cast, every time I get a run, I wonder what I’ll get out of there. Our senses are so weak that we can’t really go through the air/water boundary. I travel a lot for professional reasons, so I know a bit about being out of your normal environment, but how to not be intrigued by the fact that I feel more familiar with cities in remote foreign countries than the bottom of local ponds and rivers a few miles from my home?


The first time I lowered the camera under water, I was thinking to this fascinating mystery and I was nearly shaking with anticipation. I was there with my friend Dominic and we had chosen a spot where carp congregate near a wall, so it’s easy to lower the camera along the wall and adjust the position of the camera by rotating or moving the cable. Within seconds, the first carp swam by, then another one and another one! While watching then idly swimming, sometimes extending their vacuum cleaner mouth to check something on the sandy bottom, we simply completely forgot our fishing rods for an hour or so and just kept watching. Sure, we all have seen carp in shallow water from a bridge or a wall, but seeing them “face to face” (manner of speaking!), this was just so different. Dominic finally emerged from our dreamy state, and had the interesting idea of attaching a PVA bag full of goodies right in front of the camera, lower the whole thing and see what happens. And they started to feed. And we stayed glued to the Aqua-Vu display until the battery died!




Recording videos


Very soon, I had in mind to record this type of video material. To get started (and this is how my 2005 videos were created), I bought an analog/digital video converter, some gizmo from Pinnacle dubbed Dazzle DVC90. On the Aqua-Vu display, there is a “video out” VGA connector, which allows to send the analog video signal to the converter, and a digital video signal goes out in the AVI format, via a USB cable. With a laptop and some software allowing a “live” video capture (Pinnacle Studio or Microsoft Movie Maker or something similar), we can create video files on a hard disk, edit it as you wish later on, and if you’re keen on sharing your findings on the Internet, upload it on a video sharing Web site like YouTube, Veoh, Vimeo or equivalent. 


Seems pretty straightforward ? Yeah, right. Bringing a laptop (if you have one) to a  fishing location isn’t ideal. I never dropped my wife’s laptop in the water, but I wasn’t exactly trusted. Go land a fish 20 yards downstream while leaving my laptop unwatched didn’t seem the best idea in the world. Even more troublesome, laptops’ screens are not designed to be used outdoors, and the sun glare is a royal pain, I could barely see the display and spent minutes to find the cursor which I had ‘lost’ somewhere on the screen. Finally, capturing and recording a video involves a lot of disk activity, so the laptop’s battery didn’t last long. So… it’s feasible if you have a recent & powerful laptop (with USB 2.0 jacks), but this isn’t the easiest way for sure. 


Later on, I was lucky enough to win a prize from Nature Vision as an award for one of my videos. The prize was a small “Digital Video Recorder” (DVR), rather poorly documented on their Web site. Just connect it on the video cable between the underwater camera and the display, and you can directly record on a Smart Disk (SD) memory card. THAT is so much easier than the laptop set-up! Afterwards, you just have to to transfer the (ASF) files from the memory card to your computer, and this is exactly the same thing as pics or videos recorded thanks to a digital camera. And here you go, ready to edit the video material.



Sounds real easy ? Yeah, right. Nothing is simple with Microsoft. Because of a weird patent story, Microsoft Vista doesn’t recognize ASF files any more (while Windows XP did). Also Pinnacle Studio 11 (the editing video software I use – fairly simple and powerful, albeit a tad buggy) doesn’t recognize this format either. Don’t even try Microsoft Movie Maker (which is a very basic –too basic- software, by the way). Arumph. So we need something else, a video converter software allowing you to translate this ASF format into something else (e.g. MP4) and be careful to minimize quality loss in the process. I used AVS Video Converter for a while, then got better results with Need4 Video Converter. It’s easy to find such software on the Internet, for a modicum fee. Be careful to not change the number of pixels (resolution) or the frame rate while converting. 


If this is the ideal solution ? Well, depends. If you use an Aqua-Vu camera, this is a really nice way of doing it, and reasonably cheap too. But if your underwater camera comes from another manufacturer, then you’re back to square 1. Also the Aqua-Vu DVR resolution is a tad on the weak side (320x240 pixels, 15 frames per second) – a new model is under study but not available last time I checked. 


In 2008, being eager to move to a color camera (the Marcum VS 825C), I was looking for another approach. I didn’t want to come back to the laptop scheme, and I thought that finding some general-purpose gizmo with VGA as an input and recording in digital format on a memory card should now be easy to find. Well, not really, most products along those lines are designed for your living room (e.g. Pinnacle Video Transfer) and require external power from an outlet, and well, it’s usually hard to find a power outlet close to fishing spots! Actually, such products do exist, bundled with a micro camera intended for security applications (general idea being to spy on your spouse if you’re of the jealous type; sure enough, he or she can get quite bored at home while you’re spending so much time fishing!). Also corresponding Web sites provide little details on gear coming straight from Taiwan. I ended up spending way too much money on a CV1002DVR from SVAT, which works ok, but records files… in the ASF format. And using a strange 704x240 resolution at 30 frames per second. Then converting to 640x480 without distorting the display is fun. Actually I should probably have purchased the PV-700 from Pimall.com but the $500 price tag made me rethink. I am sure that better solutions will be available, but end of 2008, I couldn’t find anything else worth it.



Now, what about the color camera from Marcum ? Well, don’t ask. I waited 6 months to get it, it was out of stock. I shelled out $600 for this thing, and 3 hours after finally receiving it, it was back on its way to the unlucky reseller, and I was ordering an Explorer 7 (for $400) from Aqua-Vu. With the Marcum, I couldn’t see a thing – all right, the Charles River in Boston isn’t super clean, but guess what, carp are rarely found in crystal-clear water. Also, we can’t stabilize the camera on the bottom without it falling on its side, the display has no hood to protect against sun glare, I can go on for long, this is just a piece of s***. Don’t believe one word of the Internet reviews, they were obviously written by fairly unscrupulous people.


Before moving to the next topic, I have to say that it is probably not quite easy to get an Aqua-Vu camera outside the US, and I am not aware of any competitor aside from Marcum. Nature Vision is located in Minnesota, and international delivery would be rather pricey! I told them several times to try to find a reseller in Europe, but I am not aware of any such arrangement.


Recording flowing water


All right, maybe this isn’t really your goal. You want to see fish, preferably carp. And see how your best rig behaves. And show that your home boilies are so much better than commercial products. Etc.


Now that you know how to record hours of videos, do you think you’re all set ? Yeah, right. Let’s be practical. You need to lower the camera along a vertical plane. You need to stabilize the underwater camera on a flat and uncluttered bottom. Which makes me think that if you find a way to order an Aqua-Vu, do order the ballasts too, very useful. You need to be able to very easily adjust the camera’s position and put your rig right in front of it – not that easy, I often spend minutes trying to find where this darn rig fell in the water. And you need carp. Plenty of them. Which will be there often enough, and which aren’t shy. Because you’re going to lower your camera in the water several times, and your rig will go up and down tens of times. Finally, the water can’t be too dirty, or too deep, or moving too fast, or you will not see anything.


I’ve been searching for a few years now, and I just can’t find another suitable spot except the one where I got started. This is actually a wall along a fairly wide river, and there is sewage outflow coming from the city nearby slowly flowing under the wall (see the pic). This makes it great for winter fishing as the sewage outflow brings slightly warmer water. In all likelihood, one should be able to record good videos from a bridge, or in small canals, but I couldn’t find anything workable near home. Sure enough, one could try from a boat, but once you used two anchors to stabilize your boat, carp might not come back for a while. Plus one gets cramped quite fast on a small boat. If you have a yacht in a harbor, this sounds good, please send me an invite! Last possibility: ice fishing. This sounds really interesting as one could go everywhere and make holes to lower the camera in many places. Trouble is, if you catch a carp, good luck landing it through a 6 inches wide ice hole!


Speaking of winter time, my best videos have been recorded in February or March. I sometimes had to break a thin layer of ice before throwing chum and lowering my camera! Carp congregate in the winter, and are all too happy to find unexpected food falling from the sky, and quickly get very active feeding. Plus the water is really clear in the winter, underwater visibility is greatly improved. Admittedly not easy to find such a spot though.



One more thing. I had a hard time recording enough video material with carp being hooked up (or not!) with a given rig. Fact is seeing a carp take or reject a given rig once doesn’t tell you much about the rig’s properties. You need much more occurrences to start picking a trend. And you will probably discover that your favorite rig & bait aren’t as successful as you might think. But that’s ok, failures are the best way to learn. So bottomline is that you need to be able to repeat the experiment many times in a row.


The way I do it is first to pre-bait the venue with a full bucket of maize the evening before I plan to do some recording. Then when I arrive the day after, I start to chum with some corn and pellets and let carp feed for at least 15 minutes before lowering a rig in the water. By then they are active enough and excited enough so that the noise of a sinker hitting the water or a sudden panicked run from one of them doesn’t frighten the others. Then I chum again every now and then, but fairly lightly, to make them competitive. If you succeed to find the right rhythm (pre-baiting, chum again), then you’ll succeed to record useful videos. Otherwise, you will get very frustrated and not get much out of your experiment. Well, to be honest, you will be frustrated in any case, but it feels good to be able to succeed from time to time!


Next time


Part 2 will include some thoughts about my underwater observations, and some special stories which happened while I was recording & experimenting. To make you wait, here is a slideshow of a carp being hooked and starting to run. 30 frames per second, one frame at a time... You can see the same sequence in my "Slow Motion" video. Stay tuned for more!



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