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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

March 2011

One of television’s most experienced and intrepid cameramen, Phil Coates, is putting two of Canon’s latest HD camcorders through their paces – in the Arctic, in extreme temperatures that fall as low as -40ºC – and is reporting back on his progress for CPN. You can click on the window above to watch Phil Coates’ first video blog from the Arctic.

Phil Coates is now battling the Arctic’s elements to shoot a documentary on the inside story of the 2011 Catlin Arctic Survey using two Canon XF100 professional HD camcorders and the ultra-compact XA10 HD camcorder. The Catlin Arctic Survey is 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.

The Survey has two key teams – a travelling ‘Explorer Team’, that includes Phil Coates, and a static ‘Ice Base’ team of scientists that’s based just off the western coast of Ellef Ringnes Island in the territory of Nunavut, Canada. Both teams headed off to the Arctic at the end of February.

On 14 March Phil Coates and the rest of the Explorer Team – polar explorers Ann Daniels and Tyler Fish, and scientist Adrian McCallum – were dropped off on sea ice, off the eastern shore of Borden Island, to begin phase one of a 10-week, two-phase expedition at the top of the world. Phase two of the expedition will later see the team dropped off near to the North Geographic Pole to begin a much longer transect towards the coast of Greenland. 

Coates revealed: "The production will be the first time an embedded ‘Location Director Cameraman’ can shoot full 50Mbs HD on such an expedition, and in such extreme conditions. To be able to shoot at such a high quality on such a light and compact camcorder would be impossible without the Canon XF100.”

The extreme Arctic conditions provide a number of unique challenges – big and small. For example, conditions mean that removing your gloves to alter camera settings just isn’t possible, so Coates had to programme the camera settings in Resolute Bay, in the Canadian High Arctic, before being deployed onto Prince Gustav Adolf Sea for the first phase of the expedition.

There are broader challenges, as Phil Coates revealed: “Making a television documentary is quite different to shooting an expedition film. The planning process is much more rigorous; it requires greater input and collaboration from the whole Explorer Team, and I have to think creatively about many production elements.”

On the frozen Arctic Ocean Coates is operating the cameras wearing two pairs of gloves, glove liners and thick outer windproof fleece gloves. When the going gets really cold, he will warm up his hands in a pair of sledging plunge mitts: “At -40°C, I will literally pick the camera up, press record and get going. But as the expedition progresses I’ll have more opportunity for creative control.”

The fact that the XF100 and XA10 camcorders are solid-state cameras, recording footage to memory cards, is invaluable as they contain no internal moving parts. This removes the chance of moisture freezing tapes and disks within the camera. The risk of freezing water or thawing ice has led Phil Coates to put aside one camera for use in warmer temperatures inside the tent and another for cold outdoor temperatures.

Coates has also taken dozens of Canon batteries with him as it’s impossible to recharge them at such low Arctic temperatures. He explained: “I need this equipment to work in temperatures that are twice as cold as your average freezer. Little things – like being very careful I don’t breathe on a camera as I’m moving it around and avoiding exposing the cameras to significant changes in temperature – become very important.”

Despite the numerous challenges, Coates admitted that the Catlin Arctic Survey is a unique opportunity to be embedded within an expedition team: “I know this expedition will push me to my limits. And that despite all our effort, time, energy and money preparing and troubleshooting, it’s very likely my equipment will break down at some point. But what will keep me going during the inevitable hard days is the thought of an audience watching our Arctic journey on a film that I’ve shot.”

* Please keep an eye out on CPN website in the coming weeks as, weather permitting, Phil Coates will continue to document his progress and filming with the XF100 and XA10 from the Catlin Arctic Survey. 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


Biografia: 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.