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Polar Caps and P2 Cameras: Documenting Ranulph Fiennes’ Antarctic Expedition

It may be considered the greatest challenge of human endeavour on Earth: to cross the Antarctic in winter. With 24-hour darkness and temperatures plunging below -94° F, this epic 2,000 mile expedition will take the best part of a year to complete. Led by polar explorer Sir Ranulph Fiennes, “The Coldest Journey” expedition set off in December. The expedition is raising funds for Seeing is Believing, the global charitable campaign tackling preventable and treatable blindness.

Ranulph Fiennes with AG-HPX250

Progress of “The Ice Team” is being documented using Panasonic AG-HPX250 handheld cameras. Panasonic constructed a dedicated insulated camera jacket for the expedition that covers everything except the camera’s viewfinder and lens. “There’s a small hole in the bottom where you can put a gloved hand, allowing the main controls to be used,” explains Hugh Bowring, expedition operations deputy manager. “It also has a few pockets which allow us to use heated pouches, the kind you snap and they stay warm for about 10 hours.”

The team also worked closely with Panasonic to develop a trio of presets optimized for shooting conditions. “An Indoors mode has been designed for filming inside the caboose living area under artificial light, an Outdoors preset takes advantage of the light available at the start and end of the expedition, while an Outside Dark mode caters for the period in between,” explains Bowring.

To help shoot in these extreme low-light conditions, the team opted for six Datavision LEDGO-B150 mini LED video lights, which can be mounted on cameras and portable stands. Expedition operations manager Tristam Kaye says, “These lights are a perfect addition to our Panasonic HPX250 handheld camcorders. They are incredibly bright for their size and weight and use the same batteries as the P2 cameras.”

Fiennes with Toughbook CF-31

Panasonic’s CF-53 Toughbook mobile PCs will be used to edit footage from the HPX250s and GoPro cameras, as well as expedition photographs taken with Panasonic Lumix and Lumix G digital cameras. Via an Iridium sat-link, Toughbooks will also facilitate the expedition’s scientific experiments and communications.

Video footage will be edited on site in Grass Valley EDIUS 6.5, then uploaded by satellite connection back to the UK. Kaye explains, “EDIUS was the perfect choice for our Ice Team, as it can handle native P2 files from the broadcast HPX250 cameras as well as footage from Panasonic Lumix cameras and GoPros.”

While the Ice Team members are not professional cameramen, they have received training from the BBC. “They’ve been taught how to capture the type of footage which will be suitable for the BBC to use in news broadcasts,” says Nigel Wilkes, PSCEU group manager at Panasonic.

Richard Payne of Holdan, the distributor for the expedition’s Panasonic, Grass Valley and Datavision equipment, says, “Crossing the continent and surviving the most hostile environment on the planet will be a remarkable test, not just physically and mentally but also technologically.”