AT A TALK SCOONES GAVE, I remember him casually explaining how he had dived into the innards of an £80,000 Sony broadcast camera to discard part of the Bayer filter to reduce its sensitivity to green.
In the early 1990s, his quest for perfect underwater optics led him to convert Nikonos lenses, designed for the classic Nikon line of underwater film cameras, to work with broadcast video cameras.
It’s no easy task, but, get it right, and the on-screen results are unbeatable.
Dave Blackham is one of the foremost authorities on underwater optics, and knew Scoones well. His company Esprit Film & Television designs and develops some of the most advanced underwater video equipment there is.
“I’d admired Peter Scoones’ work for many years,” he told me. “He was meticulous in everything he did. I remember talking to Peter and saw that he was accumulating several Nikonos lenses in his workshop which he spoke highly of.
“The problem at the time was that most of the cameras in use for broadcast had much smaller sensors than the Nikonos lenses were intended for. Having adapted several sets of Nikonos lenses myself, I can now better appreciate why Peter was well ahead of the curve in this area.
“To get optics optimised on a standard cinema-grade underwater housing, the addition of a dome or flat port in front of a land lens changes its optical characteristics. Most of the problems crop up with wide lenses, and for the most part that’s usually what the underwater cinematographer wants to use.
“If the dome-port is large enough to accommodate the lens, this usually results in a reasonable-to-well-performing solution. Occasionally it’s excellent.
“But whatever solution you end up with, it will probably be a compromise somewhere along the line. The system will probably be very good, but not stellar.
“In the new world of 6k and 8K Digital Cinema cameras we need better optical solutions for these high-resolution cameras. The Nikonos lenses perform beautifully and are pin-sharp corner to corner. They are used for IMAX productions and also on virtually all of the high-end productions in commission at the moment.
“You can look forward to seeing the results on screen over the next couple of years. They aren’t for everyone and every project, but where they can be used there really isn’t anything to perform quite as well as they do. I think that would make Peter smile.”
Danny Kessler, whose partnership with Doug Perrine resulted in the Megafauna exhibition that premiered at the Dive Show, before travelling to various aquariums around the world, recalls Scoones sharing a deceptively simple piece of technology with him, yet another example of his willingness to help others.
“I was on a trip to photograph pilot whales in the Gibraltar Straits,” says Kessler.” The freeboard of the boat made it very hard to hold the housing below the waterline to photograph the whales bow-riding.
“Everyone was cynical, saying it couldn’t be done, until Peter mounted my Subal housing on a pole so that I could dunk it. The special interlocking tubes made from some exotic material meant it was quite lightweight, but the shutter-release was just a length of fishing line.
“I got some very close angles I’d never have achieved without Peter wanting to fix another challenge. When I saw him afterwards, all he said was: ‘What do we need to do next?’ Scoonesy was a legend. There is no other way to put it.”
Scoones had turned to polecams to enable him to avoid the intrusion even the quietest diver creates which, in turn, can change the natural behaviour of subjects or simply scare them off. Today, polecams are standard equipment for film-makers.