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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

June 2011

The vastly experienced, and intrepid, TV cameraman Phil Coates has put Canon’s XF100 and XA10 HD camcorders through their paces – shooting in the Arctic, in extreme temperatures that fall as low as -43ºC – and is reporting back with video blogs for CPN. You can click on the window above to watch Phil Coates’ latest video blog on how the camcorders performed filming in the hostile Arctic environment.

© Phil Coates/courtesy Geo Mission

The Catlin Arctic Survey Explorer Team co-leader Tyler Fish. Photo shot by Phil Coates using the Canon PowerShot G12 digital compact camera.

As described in his two previous CPN blogs Phil Coates has been battling the Arctic’s elements to shoot a documentary on the 2011 Catlin Arctic Survey. The survey is an international scientific expedition to examine 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.

With the expedition now at an end, in terms of the Explorer Team (a four-person team that Phil Coates was part of) being off the Arctic ice and all location filming completed, Phil Coates has had the chance to assess the overall performance of the XF100 and XA10 camcorders. He revealed: “I filmed extreme science in some of the most hostile conditions I have ever filmed in. It was -39ºC and getting colder – I think the coldest was -43ºC – it was off the scale! I have now broken my low temperature filming record.”

Coates added: ”The XA10 performed brilliantly. I have been shooting on a pre-production Canon XA10 and I believe that, with a few minor upgrades in the camera’s firmware, the XA10 will become the camcorder to have for ‘super-light’ expedition and adventure filmmakers who are looking for a dependable, robust and AVCHD camcorder with professional features. [In addition] having [integrated] XLR mic inputs on such a small unit is also extraordinary!”

Commenting on the XF100 camcorder Coates noted: “The image quality of the XF100 is outstanding – being able to shoot full HD at 50Mbps on such a small camcorder is something I never thought possible. It’s such a high spec camcorder for such a small compact size.”

© Phil Coates/courtesy Geo Mission

A member of the Catlin Arctic Survey Explorer Team crossing the Arctic with a 100kg-plus sledge in tow. Photo shot by Phil Coates using the PowerShot G12.

He explained: “When shooting during the main expedition my sledge weighed well over 100kg – it’s like dragging a fully-grown bloke in a bathtub over sand dunes. Then you have to film while you’re having breakfast, during rest breaks and during the evening when the team are doing science and when I need to eat supper. It was a constant battle and a juggling act coping with the cold and trying to film; making sure I didn’t get frostbite or that the cameras stopped working in the extreme conditions.”

The Explorer Team was eventually picked up off the Arctic sea ice, two days after their full rations ran out and after a three-day search for a safe landing strip amongst Arctic ‘rubble fields’ and thin ice. In total they were on the frozen ocean for 47 days and, during two separate phases of the expedition, trekked for over 500 kilometres across the ice.

After some well earned rest Phil is now preparing for other extreme filming assignments. ”It was really punishing, unrelenting work. However, it’s all part of my job,” he said. ”Towards the end of the expedition, after eating more than 6,000 calories each day, I still found myself scrabbling around in the bottom of my bag for any leftover nuts just to satisfy my hunger. While I initially became stronger and fitter during the expedition, towards the end my body began to weaken and I’d end every day that bit more tired.”

He summed up: “Both the XA10 and the XF100 were able to cope with anything and everything that I threw at them. When I choose cameras I have to trust them and, with these cameras, I did. Without a shadow of a doubt they’ll be coming on some of my next expeditions and extreme filming assignments.”

* The maps, images and films contained within this article are 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.