MOST OF THE PRODUCTS WE TEST these days are improved versions of existing products, and if they’re not, there’s usually a good reason why nobody has brought them to market before.
Not so the Humaneyes Vuze+ 3D VR camera, which offers divers and underwater film-makers a genuinely different option. It’s that rarest of beasts, something new.
Seen from above, the Vuze camera is a rough square, a bit bigger than a beermat. Seen from the side, it’s about 3cm thick. Think a decent-sized bacon butty in a breadcake and you’ve pretty much got the idea, only heavier and with a lot less grease.
On each face of the square is a stereo camera using two fisheye lenses set roughly the same distance apart as your eyes.
Each camera records two images of the same scene, and with a pair of viewing lenses or a VR headset you will see one image per eye, and your brain will put it all together as a 3D scene.
Stereo pairs of pictures and viewers have been around almost as long as photography itself. However, by using four stereo cameras set at 90° to each other and stitching the footage together in software, the Vuze can record a set of 3D overlapping images that allow you to turn your head to look left or right, up or down and even turn right round and look behind you, just as you might do in real life.
The underwater package includes camera, housing with handles, 64Gb micro SD card, two spare sets of dome-ports, charger, a pair of small glasses to view 3D footage on your phone, a cross-head screwdriver and spare O-rings, all packed in a Pelican hardshell case.
Housing control buttons and top latch.
For use under water, you screw a baseplate to the camera and then use the baseplate to ensure that the camera is correctly orientated, as you load it into a 40m housing fitted with eight dome-ports.
Just looking at those ports made me nervous – they’re made of thin plastic and look really easy to scratch. However, you do get spares in the kit, and if you need to buy more replacements they’re nowhere near as costly as the dome-ports used on other camera housings, so I started breathing again.
Sliding the camera into the housing is easy. The housing is held shut by a substantial pair of latches that really aren’t going to come undone unless you make an effort.
Next, you fit a metal bridge-type handle top and bottom and use this to carry the camera on the dive. Or you can choose to screw a short broomstick-type handle into either mount, to hold the camera out in front of you like a giant lollipop, either over or under your hand.
You turn the camera on using the right of the two buttons on top of the housing, and start and stop recording using the other button.
A blue light shows that the camera is on, and a red light indicates that it’s recording.
Battery life is good for a couple of hours of shooting, with a recharge taking four or five hours, as far as I could tell. Footage is recorded to a micro SD card and, as you’d expect, you’ll need a fast, high-quality card. Vuze supplies an appropriate 64Gb one with the camera.
Time to get it all wet, and the first job was to stuff a couple of dry tissues into the otherwise empty housing, and immerse it in sea water for an hour or two. That was easier said than done. The empty housing wasn’t sufficiently negative to overcome a very gentle Red Sea run that kept pushing it back to the surface on the end of my piece of string!
Unprocessed images from the Vuze+ camera.
Two kilos of lead sorted it out. The housing, by the way, is rated to 40m, but there’s a video accessible from the Vuze website suggesting that it’s good for more than that, if you’re braver than me.
Tissue test completed successfully, I slid the camera into the housing and took it for a dive.
I was looking for somewhere a bit different – somewhere the 3D VR could turn in really striking footage, and I figured wreck penetration was the way to go. So dear old Thistlegorm it was.
Pre-dive, I’d thought the size of the unit and the lollipop handle might make the whole contraption feel clumsy, but the buoyancy was such that it was easy to swim with, and it didn’t feel heavy, even toward the end of an hour’s immersion.
Shooting with the Vuze was as simple as it gets. There are no options to set and no controls to fiddle with. You just turn the camera on, press the record button when you’re ready to record, and press the same button to stop recording when you’ve got your shot.
The camera is filming 360° continuously, so you don’t need to think about pointing it at anything in particular, and you don’t even need to worry too much about keeping it level.
Sloping horizons on land look awful, but under water we don’t notice.
Which brings us to the footage I recorded on Thistlegorm. I’ll be honest and say that I’ve seen better vis on the old girl, but nevertheless the Vuze footage was stunning. Even when viewed on a phone, using the set of glasses provided with the camera-kit, you get a fantastic 3D immersive experience, and viewed through a proper VR headset all you’d need to add are a couple of Martinis to simulate narcosis, and you’re there.