Getting the best colors in your underwater video with the panasonic gh5

There is no doubt that the Panasonic GH5 is a very capable camera and in given conditions the video performance you can get is truly impressive.

Broadly speaking a video clip needs to be:

  1. Sharp
  2. Colorful
  3. Contrasty
  4. Clean

Those 4 characteristics are tightly related to:

  1. Resolution
  2. Color depth
  3. Dynamic range
  4. Low Noise

Resolution

Today everyone shoots 4K and after all resolution is well supported by almost any camera, broadly is unaffected by other factors and unless the noise is really high sharpness of your frame is not going to be a real issue shooting at 4K.

Color depth

In normal conditions and not underwater a camera can resolve many colors. However underwater due to the diffraction of light and selective absorption of colours the starting point is very different from land. So generally is not the camera that cannot resolve the colors but the colors that are missing to start with. This post will focus specifically on this aspect. The Panasonic GH5 can resolve 23.8 bits in RAW and therefore technically has less than 8 bits color depth – do not confuse this with the 8 or 10 bit recording setting.

Dynamic Range

Underwater scenes tend to have limited dynamic range, with the exception of sunbursts or shooting against the light this is going to be an issue only in specific circumstances of very bright scenes with shadows. In all scenes taken with video lights dynamic range is not an issue at all. The GH5 has 13 stops of dynamic range but rarely this is an important consideration.

Noise

Noise is an important consideration as when the noise goes up the camera looses the other characteristics, color, dynamic range and resolution will be affected when the camera is outside the sweet spot. Broadly speaking the Panasonic GH5 does not do well once you pass the ISO 1600 setting and I tend to cap the ISO in video at 800 in most cases.

Diving Conditions

To understand how those variables play we can see how the same set up reacts very differently in scene where there is less light and therefore the camera uses high ISO like this one.

The same camera with exactly the same equipment in brighter water produces this

So the reason for the above is that with less light there are less colours and the clip looks what it is really.

OK moving on to the main subject of this post how do I get the colors right? It is a combination of techniques and the trick is to use the right one in the right conditions.

Generally every site has specific conditions that change depending on weather, time of the day, visibility and other factors. So in broad terms a site will have more or less light and therefore more or less colours. It is therefore impossible to categorically define what to do at a given depth but is more about typical values. With this in mind we have typically 3 scenarios:

  1. Ambient light shots
  2. Artificial light shots
  3. Balanced light shots

Close up Shots

In general close up shots especially of small subject fall within the scenario 2 for which a video light with high color rendering is important as this will define the colours you see. With a lot of power it is possible to extend artificial lighting to larger subjects but eventually you run out of power due to distance or size of the subject.

Wide angle shots and seascapes

True wide angle shots are generally ambient light shots which also means when it gets too dark the colors will be missing and it will look blue not matter the equipment.

In order to make the most of ambient light shots for wide angle it is essential to balance the colours in water even when you use a RAW format on a still image because RAW files are not as RAW as you think and are actually compressed.

Custom White Balance

Using Custom White balance with a grey card it is possible to obtain decent results until the camera hits the maximum color temperature in the case of the Panasonic GH5 this is 9900K. Depending on conditions you may get to 10-12 meters and this still works, in darker water this stops working much sooner.

Chrisoula K Bow
Chrisoula K Ambient Light 5 meters

Color Filters

Color filters push the limit of custom white balance further down. Some add more or less 4 meters others up to 6-8 meters at the expense of an overall loss of light. Filters are useful when there is a lot of light because also help to keep the Panasonic Gh5 in the best aperture range (not smaller than f/11)

Filter in action at 10 meters

Right now there are predominantly 3 filters on the market:

  1. UR PRO
  2. Magic filter
  3. Keldan Spectrum

All those filters will improve the performance and color rendering of your footage, under the conditions that the loss of light is not pushing the camera above reasonable ISO values.

In terms of depth range the magic filter and the Keldan Spectrum -2 version can be pushed to 15 meters depth on a bright day in clear water. The URPRO is capable of getting a few meters more down to around 17-18 meters although it does generate an orange cast (as there is no red left) it is still workable.

FilterLight LossTypical Max Depth
Magic Filter1 2/3 Ev15 meters
Keldan Spectrum -22 stop (WWL)15 meters
URPRO 1 2/3 Ev18 meters

This image gives an idea of the 3 filters as you can see they are very different one from the other.

Keldan top URPRO bottom Magic filter

Balanced Wide Angle Shots

This is an entirely new technique that has started with the Keldan Ambient light filters. I wrote a whole piece on wetpixel

The principle is to use custom white balance with or without filter to obtain color rendering and then put filters on the video light so that the color of the light emulates the ambient light and therefore it only gives texture not color.

Keldan has developed a whole range of filters for various situation that match their light and therefore are not applicable to any other light.

As I do not own a set of Keldan I have done some tests and found that a gel of Cyan filter 2 or 3 stops makes my divepro G18+ practically ambient light in the conditions I dive into.

FilterCyan Strength
Magic Filter2 stops
Keldan Spectrum2 stops
URPRO3 stops

The above value are based on my experience use at your own risk especially with different lights.

Square Cyan 2 stops Round Cyan 3 stops

To give an idea I overlapped the filter to my iPhone lens

This is the shot without any filters

Original Shot

URPRO and Cyan 3 stops (darker)
Magic filter and cyan 2 stops accurate
Keldan and cyan 2 stops accurate

This example shows that the two filters cancel themselves the result is almost daylight with no cast which means in water if you use a video light or a strobe you will not see a red or orange spots on the image.

For those taking pictures the same combination remains true with Inon Z240 and Sea and Sea YS-D2

Example picture here

five in a row
My own filter and Cyan 3 stop note that the light is coming from the other side

One thing to take into account is that you need to find a way to hold the gel on the video light or the strobes. The flat surface strobe diffusers make this process easy, finding something you can use with your video lights is not easy and also the gels may melt after continuous use.

Artificial lights

It comes a point and a depth where filters stop working, this could be as shallow as 8 meters in green water. As the scene is dark using lights is what is required. There is nothing specific about this technique except making sure you don’t get burned highlights or backscatter. As it happens in photography using long arms (maybe not as long as for stills) is key to get good lighting on your subject.

My Camera Settings

I use CineLike D with saturation, sharpness and noise reduction to -5. I shoot at 24/25p AVCI 400 mbps and follow the 180 rules, it is entirely possible to shoot at 1/100 if you like more crisp look.

Clearly there are people out there that do not like filters and think white balance is best etc but I think a good read on magic filters explains it all.

http://www.magic-filters.com/need.html

22 thoughts on “Getting the best colors in your underwater video with the panasonic gh5”

  1. Hi interceptor,
    I am about to upgrade to a GH5 and like the option of shooting wide angle and video often on the one dive. I currently have 2 x 12,000 lumen video lights with ambient light filters, and once I purchase the GH5 will look at a spectrum filter for the lens to get the best possible video . With the wide angle lens and Nauticam dome port I’ve been recommended, the only way to attach a spectrum filter is at the back of the lens, meaning I won’t be able to remove the spectrum filter underwater if I want to ditch shooting video and shoot wide angle stills with my strobes. So my question is: do you know if there are any ambient light filters available that I can use on my sea and sea YSD2J’s to solve the mixed light problem? As I presume that if I do a manual white balance with the spectrum filter and then fire my strobes without an ambient light filter on them that the image will be red?. I’m thinking that taping ambient light filter sheets on my strobes is the only solution? Any advice you have would be appreciated. Many thanks!

    1. Hi Anita. Please subscribe my blog and YouTube channel. Can you please let me know exactly what lens and port have you been recommended and what lights have you got. I make custom ambient filters for your strobes I will put them on sale soon

      1. Thanks. We’ve been recommended the Panasonic 7-14mm f/4 Lumix G Vario Micro 4:3 Lens (which I know we will need to cut the spectrum filter and tape to the lens), the port is the Nauticam N85 6 inch’ Wide Angle Dome Port, our strobes are Sea and Sea YSD2J’s, and our lights are Scubalamp V6 PRO K LED video lights ( We already have ambient light filters for these). Colour temp is 5,600 Kelvin and CRI: 96

        Hope this helps. I would be interested if you do make the strobe ambient filters. Many thanks

      2. Hi Anita. I would not recommend any rectilinear lenses for video on the GH5 for a number of reasons. There is an article on rectilinear lenses that gives you an insight. My recommendation is to get the 14-42 MKII kit lens with the 35 macro port and the Nauticam WWL-1 this will give you access to the Keldan Spectrum -2 for the WWL-1 that can be removed in water. In terms of ambient filters I do not trust anyone on this topic except keldan. I have looked at the scubalamp filters and they look far too blue for real ocean conditions which is not unusual. Blue water does not actually exist except in real open ocean where there are not reef and the bottom is hundred of meters. If you look on the flickr links on the left you can go to my flickr account the albums Great Hammerhead and Red Sea 2019 have ambient filter and keldan combined. On my YouTube channel all videos from hammerhead onwards have filter.

      3. Thanks heaps.

        We have not been happy with the results we’ve been getting so far with the scuba lamp ambient light filters, so it sounds like we need to check if the Keldan ones will fit our lights. We’ve only used them a few times, but they were very blue as you mentioned.

        As for the lens, we were recommended the 14mm f/4 Lumix G Vario Micro 4:3 Lens. by Backscatter for wide angle stills, as this is what we do most of, but given the GH5 also does great video, I’m sure we will shoot lots of video in the future.

        Which lens do you use then for wide angle stills? I’m presuming you use a different lens for video versus wide angle stills, or do you use the 14-42 MKII for both?

        Appreciate your advice.

        Anita

        Anita Verde Director K2 Group Tel: +61 419 015 760 E: anita@k2g.com.au W: http://www.k2g.com.au Think green, keep it on the screen.

        >

      4. Are scubalamp flat or dome head?
        In general wide angle rectilinear lenses are hard to manage underwater due to dome port optics. There is an article on the blog that you should read. I have a variety of ports and different set up for video and stills. If this is your first port I recommend the Panasonic 14-42 MKII + Nauticam WWL-1 you can cover a lot of ground check the hammerhead stills all with that combo. This will serve well for stills and video. If you want to go more in details on still I have now a custom fisheye zoom set up you can read the article this uses a Canon full frame lens and adapters. For rectilinear I use the Panasonic Leica 8-18mm in a glass dome port. Rectilinear shots are only worth when there are people inside or wreck interiors. Definitely not for the faint hearted very expensive something to think about maybe in due course. As first port I cannot recommend the WWL-1 more read the article here and you will see why. It takes a filter that can be removed in water that is another benefit.

      5. Thanks so much. I have had a read of the article on rectilinear lenses, and looked at you photos and video. I’ve also done some other research and what you are recommending does look like a good option for us to start with given we want the flexibility of being able to remove the filter and swap between video and stills on the one dive.

        We’ve been shooting with a wet lens so far, so it’s more familiar for us also.

        The scuba lamp video lights have glass domes, their filters have a collar with a thread, so I’m hoping that maybe the Keldan filters might be the same diameter and work with the collar and thread…. we will see!

        Thanks for your advice. It is really very much appreciated!

        > >

        Anita Verde Director K2 Group Tel: +61 419 015 760 E: anita@k2g.com.au W: http://www.k2g.com.au Think green, keep it on the screen.

        >

      6. Hey, just one last question…..

        Just want to make sure that this is the right lens you’re recommending to go with the Nauticam WWL -1 wet lens.

        https://www.teds.com.au/lumix-14-42mm-ois-mkii

        I’d hate to get the wrong one!

        We are also going to look at the Panasonic 8 – 18 mm lens for use top side as well. So we will have the option to maybe use this lens UW as well in the future with an additional port.

        Thanks for your help.

        Anita Verde Director K2 Group Tel: +61 419 015 760 E: anita@k2g.com.au W: http://www.k2g.com.au Think green, keep it on the screen.

        >>

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