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Slow Your Roll

by Chase Darnell

For the last 4 years of my life, I have put myself into the environment that I wish to experience and document as much as I can. Currently residing in Grand Cayman and surrounded by some of the clearest water in the Caribbean Sea, I must say it’s not hard to wake up and do it every day. With a camera in hand and some type of aquatic environment to explore, I cannot help but have this feeling deep in my soul, that something amazing, something rare, or something life changing might happen at any given moment in front of my lens.

Of course as the dives, days and years pass, it becomes evident that these moments or experiences don’t happen all the time. Even if they may be few and far between, these moments continue to fuel my desire to be out there with a camera in hand to document, and thus translate the experience into still and moving imagery with hopes that others will be able to see and feel what I see and feel, that has me so stoked on life.

You Can Do This

One of my favorite ways to show these encounters is with the use of high-frame rate video recording, which becomes a slower than real-time way of re-experiencing each wave, turtle, or school of fish that I find myself filming. This type of cinematography was formerly only obtainable with large and expensive equipment, but new cameras make this style of shooting compact, affordable and available just about everyone.

I am currently shooting the Sony RX100 IV. It’s an extremely powerful imaging machine in an extremely compact package. The camera’s HFR Shooting mode offers frame rates of 240 fps, 480 fps, and a whopping 960 fps. This would be the equivalent of 10, 20 and 40 times the speed of how our own eyes would view a scene.

Why Shoot High Frame Rate

So why would I want to slow down what is going on in front of my camera? Most of my shooting is underwater. The ocean is a powerful place with many strong and fast-moving animals that simply exist at a different pace than what we are able to observe. Likewise, a breaking wave moves with purpose and can happen in the blink of an eye. Think about how much detail can be gained by a viewer if they can re-live this fast-paced world in a smooth and graceful manner. On a shooting technique note, high frame rate shooting also helps with stability and fluidity of your shots and in my opinion gives you a final product with a seemingly poetic appearance.

The Gear

First things first, the Sony RX100 IV is not waterproof. I keep my RX100 dry with a Fantasea Line Housing. It’s durable, functional and most importantly, extremely reliable. With a double O-ring seal and a built in leak alarm, I always feel at ease, even out in the waves, knowing my equipment will stay dry and continue performing.

I also use Fantasea accessories to enhance my shooting capabilities. I use their wide-angle lens attachment, as well as an external red filter if I am going to be more than 20 ft. deep in the water column (see Getting Colors Right sidebar below).

Cameras Settings

When shooting in HFR mode, there are a couple of decisions to be made before you start hitting the record button. In the camera’s Menu, you will find an HFR Settings option. Here you will be able to choose exactly what file types and frame rates the RX will be outputting to your memory card.

I always have my camera set to output at 24p for a couple of reasons. The first being, this will achieve the greatest amount of slow motion in your shot from whichever frame rate you choose to shoot in. Secondly, because this is the frame rate in which I do most of my final edits and projects in my video editing software.

Choosing your frame rate is highly dependent on your subject material. I do the majority of my shooting at 240 fps. One major benefit to this setting is that it’s the best resolution for my final footage. As you increase your frame rate with the RX100, the final resolution of the footage is impacted; so more extreme you want to slow-motion effect to be, the fewer pixels you will have in your final output. Another reason I stick with 240fps for a lot of my shooting is because it works well with the speed of my subjects. Turtles, rays and sharks are without a doubt faster and more maneuverable than humans underwater, but shooting them at 960fps doesn’t show much movement.

So the actual frame rate, in my opinion, should be based on the speed of the subject. When I’m filming breaking waves, I’ll do some shooting at both 480fps and 960 fps. The increased speed of the subject matter can be harnessed with these higher frame rates, showing details that would be missed in real time.

When choosing your Priority Setting you are caught in a balancing act. In Quality Priority, you are able to record 2-second instances at the best resolution possible for that frame rate. You can extend your recording time to 4 seconds with Shoot Time Priority, but this does come with a loss in resolution of your final files. I always shoot in Quality Priority in order to get the best resolution possible in my footage.

Shooting Technique

When it comes to shooting the RX100 in HFR mode, there is a slight difference compared to recording in movie mode. In regular movie mode, you can record clips lasting minutes in length, and then trim them down in editing software. While shooting in HFR mode, set on Quality Priority mode, the camera records just 2 seconds of action once the record button has been pressed. This is followed by a buffering period as it processes the footage to your chosen frame rates. The old adage ‘patience is a virtue’, really comes into play.

As a subject approaches, you must wait for your desired composition before pressing record. This takes some getting practice, but in my opinion it helps your shooting. Since the camera only records a few seconds, it forces you to visualize both what you are looking to get in the shot, as well as what the subject is going to do. You become a real student of animal behavior!

Another point worth mentioning about the RX100’s style of slow-motion recording is the time saved in post processing. Once you finish a shoot and plug your memory card into the computer, you will be pulling files that have already been converted into their slow motion form. There is no need for conversion of frame rates, because you have already told the RX what your final editing frame rate is going to be.

There are many shooting techniques for all types of video recording, but with slow motion, there is a huge increase in fluidity and stability of your shots. The RX100 is recording 2 or 4 second clips depending on your HFR settings and it’s a lot easier to keep your camera still for such a short period of time which will add a cinematic smoothness to your footage.

Bringing It All Together

Using slow motion, you can create footage that’s not possible with the human eye. You are able to take these larger than life encounters or moments and expand them. You’ll see details that would not have been visible otherwise. You give strong, fast-moving animals gentle and calming motion. I love shooting aquatic environments in slow motion because this is how I envision these animals in my head, but these same techniques apply to life on dry land as well. By bringing both 4K and slow motion capabilities in their cameras, even the compact cameras like my RX100 IV, Sony has made it possible for everyone to go out and shoot in a smooth, poetic, and cinematic slow motion style.

SIDEBAR: Getting Colors Right

A great thing about many marine environments is the abundance of color. Schools of fish, healthy corals, and vibrant sponges all tend to have bright full colors. However, in any type of aquatic environment, as the sunlight travels through water, colors get filtered out. To capture the colors for what they truly are, color adjustment is necessary.

Being prepared for different lighting conditions is easy with the RX100’s custom white balance presets. So as conditions change, or even my shooting direction changes, I keep these presets ready and waiting to make quick adjustments and nail the shot.

While shooting video on scuba I always use the Fantasea external red filter, especially since many dive sites here in Cayman are at least 50 ft. deep. This is a crucial piece of equipment to return the color of the scene.

Even with the addition of the external red filter, generally speaking, there is still a need to use an in-camera white balance adjustment. This is especially helpful on a wall dive (80 ft. and below) for example, because so much of the ambient light produced from the sun has been absorbed by the time it reaches you at these depths. In order to achieve a good color scheme, we must further adjust our color using the external filter, as well as employing an internal filter to fine-tune the final shot.

For my internal presets, I have three standards that I switch between depending on the environment, depth, and amount of ambient light present.

Preset 1 – 9800K White Balance Adjustment of A5 - M5
Preset 2 – 5500K White Balance Adjustment of A7 – M7
Preset 3 – 5500K White Balance Adjustment of A3 – M3

Color Correction for use of RX While Scuba Diving (Depths greater than 20ft.)

• Preset 1
External red filter in use.
Works well for any shooting below the 40ft range.
Especially helpful if the subject is below you, or you have a downward shooting angle.
On overcast days, there is also a possibility of having to further adjust your white balance color shot. If your shot is still being taken over by a green or blue hue, bump amber and magenta to 7 to fight the lack of ambient light.

• Preset 2
External red filter in use.
Works well for shooting above the 40ft range.
Great for eye level shots, but not recommended for upward shooting angles. It can give the blue water a red tint if you are aiming your lens toward the surface.

• Preset 3
External red filter in use.
Great for shallow shooting 40ft and above especially if you have an upward shooting angle.

Color Correction for use of RX While Snorkeling or Shallow Water Shooting (Depths less than 20ft.)

• Preset 1:
No external filter
Works well at depths above 20 ft.
Best when the sun is positioned behind your shooting direction, or not shining into then lens of your camera.

• Preset 2: 
No External Filter
Works well for shallow water shooting, depths no greater than 10ft.
Best for downward or eye level shooting angles.

• Preset 3: 
No external filter
Works well for shallow water shooting, depths no greater than 10ft.
Best for upward shooting angles.

The RX keeps it easy and simple to change between the different presets, making on the fly adjustments a breeze. This is crucial in the fast moving, action packed environment of the ocean. Once you have created these presets, they are saved internally on your camera. So in the future, there is no need to reset your white balance from shot to shot-you just have to choose a different preset if your scenario calls for it.





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