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TV filmmaker Phil Coates is shooting a documentary about the Catlin Arctic Survey with the Canon XF100 and XA10 Full HD camcorders, and is blogging on it for CPN.

Catlin Arctic Survey route map

April 2011

The vastly experienced, and intrepid, TV cameraman Phil Coates is putting Canon’s XF100 and XA10 HD camcorders through their paces – shooting in the Arctic, in extreme temperatures that have fallen as low as -43ºC – and is reporting back for CPN with video blogs on his progress. You can click on the video window above to watch Phil Coates’ latest video blog from the Arctic.

© Phil Coates/courtesy Geo Mission

Phil Coates' self-portrait with the Canon XA10 camcorder that shot at temperatures down to -39°C.

As outlined in Blog 1 cameraman Phil Coates is battling the Arctic’s elements to shoot a documentary on the 2011 Catlin Arctic Survey. It’s an international scientific expedition that’s examining the surface layers of the Arctic Ocean to research how changes within the seawater beneath floating sea ice may be affecting powerful ocean currents that influence prevailing climate and weather patterns worldwide.

Shooting in Arctic conditions for such an extended period was always bound to be a challenge. Such extreme sub-zero weather conditions are well outside the specified operating range for any normal camcorder, but the XF100 and XA10 have proven to be up to the task. Phil Coates revealed his satisfaction with their performance: “Earlier, on the first phase of the expedition, I managed to beat my own personal record for cold weather filming. The pre-production Canon XA10 worked amazingly down to -39ºC, which I can definitely confirm, and even down to -43ºC. It’s the coldest I’ve ever worked in, so I was really pleased with that.”

Phil Coates and the rest of the Explorer Team – polar explorers Ann Daniels and Tyler Fish, and scientist Adrian McCallum – are now on phase two of a 10-week, two-phase expedition at the top of the world. At the end of phase one of the expedition bad weather meant the Explorer team was stuck on the Arctic ice for several days but they eventually came back to the Catlin Arctic Survey's ‘Ice Base’, near the coast of Ellef Ringnes Island, before being flown to as close as possible to the North Geographic Pole.

An ‘eye in the sky’ – in the form of satellite images supplied by MDA Geospatial Services – helped operations staff to determine the location of good ice conditions for landing close to the North Pole, so that a Basler DC-3 plane could drop the team off on the ice. On 4 April, following an overnight stay at a research station in Eureka, the Explorer Team was dropped off near to the North Geographic Pole to begin a 170-mile transect towards the coast of Greenland.

© Phil Coates/courtesy Geo Mission

The Catlin Arctic Survey Explorer Team skiing. From left to right: Ann Daniels, Tyler Fish and Adrian McCallum. Photo shot by Phil Coates with the PowerShot G12 compact.

Each day the team walks or skis between six and eight miles before pitching camp. Phil Coates explained: “Your day is spent dragging the best part of 100kg over rubble and stopping every hour and a half to have a drink and a bite to eat. At the end of that your work really begins; when the scientific surveys are undertaken.”   

Coates added: “The only way to keep the cameras alive and operating is to wrap them up in double dry bags and put them into my sleeping bag. That way I can make sure the imaging sensor still works. It’s quite a confined space for me – as well as two professional camcorders and a little digital compact [the PowerShot G12]. Now and again I get some decent sleep, but I’m looking forward to when everything warms up to -25ºC and the kit behaves properly.”

* Watch out on CPN website in the coming weeks as, Arctic weather permitting, Phil Coates will continue to document his progress filming the 2011 Catlin Arctic Survey with the XF100 and XA10 camcorders. The maps, images and films contained within this article have been provided courtesy of Geo Mission.


Phil Coates' equipment - Catlin Arctic Survey 2011:

2x XF100 camcorder
XA10 camcorder
2x PowerShot G12

24x BP-975 Battery Packs for XF100
12x BP-827 Battery Packs for XA10
20x NB-7L Battery Packs for G12
2x CG-800 Battery Chargers for XA10
2x CA-930 Compact Power Adapters for XF100
2x CB-2LZE Battery Chargers for NB-7L
3x CA-570 Compact Power Adapters for XA10
4x DC-930 DC Cables for XF100
4x DC-920 DC Couplers for XA10
2x SC-DC65A leather cases for PowerShot G12
SanDisk memory cards
Manfrotto tripods


Biography: Phil Coates

Phil Coates

Phil Coates is an experienced producer, director and cameraman with a track record of working in challenging and extreme environments – in temperatures from -40°C to +50°C and altitudes of up to 8,000 metres – for the BBC, ITV, Channel 4, Channel 5, Discovery International and National Geographic Television. Phil worked at both the BBC Natural History Unit and BBC Science & Features and has been on assignment in over 40 countries across a range of genres including documentaries, factual entertainment, reality shows and sponsor-funded expeditions. He has a degree in human physiology, looking specifically at human performance in extreme environments.