Underwater drones aren’t new, but ones equipped with the tools required for professional cinema use are quite uncommon. That’s what makes the Boxfish Luna so exciting, as it offers professional-level filmmaking control housed in a high-end ROV.
ROVs, or remotely operated vehicles, are used by scientists to capture footage of underwater creatures at various depths. They’re not common on the commercial market, however, and many of the most successful rigs are custom-made. For example, the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute (MBARI) very recently upgraded its underwater ROV-mounted camera system, which was entirely custom-made.
“Designing a deep-water 4K camera required careful consideration about operating under extreme conditions — the deep sea is an unforgiving environment that is cold and under crushing pressure,” MBARI said at the time.
While there are limits, Boxfish’s Luna system appears to be a relatively close match to what MBARI created for its specific uses but integrates more commonly found hardware that is more appealing to cinematographers. It can’t dive as deep — it is limited to 1,000 meters versus MBARI’s unit which can dive 4,000 meters — but what it can do is likely more than enough for many use cases.
The Boxfish Luna is equipped with an Alpha 7S III or Alpha 1 camera and what the company describes as a “precision optical dome” to allow filmmakers to capture underwater environments with “brilliant clarity.” The imaging system is as powerful as the cameras it is equipped with, which means it is capable of shooting up to 8K as well as 4K ProRes RAW video and can shoot 50-megapixel stills from its underwater chassis.
“An optical glass dome gives impeccable image quality at shallower depths, particularly near the surface, or users can opt for a 200-millimeter acrylic dome for image capture up to 1,000 meters deep,” the company explains.
The drone is also equipped with tw 8,500 lumen, high CRI dimmable lights to help it illuminate the depths and the company says there are additional adjustable arms and ball mounts that can provide lighting in all directions.
From the surface, the drone is able to transmit its feed in real-time to a connected 17-inch 4K UHD display console where the filmmaker can also control shutter speed, aperture, zoom, focus, white balance, ISO, and exposure.
“The Boxfish Luna is designed to provide fine control for precise movements to achieve steady shots. With eight 3D-vectored thrusters, the Boxfish Luna offers true six-degrees-of-freedom of movement for orienting itself in any direction,” Boxfish says.
The company says the drone is easy to transport and can deploy within minutes of arriving on site. It’s also not very large and can be deployed by only one or two people.
As is the case with any reliable underwater drone, the Boxfish Luna does require a physically tethered connection to the surface, since wireless connectivity gets unreliable through water. For that, Boxfish provides a durable fiber optic cable that comes in a standard 200-meter length but can be expanded to an optional 3,000-meter length. The company says it is neutrally buoyant in salt water.
What is also impressive is the battery life: Boxfish says the Luna can operate for 15 hours per charge, though that will vary depending on operational conditions. That battery requires five hours to fully recharge.
Recently, Zach Melnick and Yvonne Drebert of Inspired Planet Productions used a Boxfish Luna during the production of a feature-length documentary called “All Too Clear, which focuses on the invasion of the Great Lakes by Quagga mussels.
“Zach and Yvonne investigated the remotely operated vehicles market to meet the challenge of underwater wildlife filmmaking. However, alternatives had inadequate cameras or were large work-class ROVs for scientific expeditions,” BoxFish says.
Instead, they opted for the Luna because of the camera system it could be equipped with (in their case, the Alpha 7S III for low-light filming) and add that the battery life and the ability to control camera settings from the surface made it particularly useful.
“Being able to have this freedom to film underwater has completely changed how we think about what we’re going to do with our work in the future,” Melnick, Director and Cinematographer of All Too Clear, says.
“We have a whole series of projects that we want to do to show people things they’ve never been able to see before using this technology with an initial focus on freshwater. But marine ecosystems are in our future as well.”
For now, underwater ROVs equipped with photography and filmmaking tools still remain out of reach for most enthusiasts. The average person can’t just go to the store and buy a Boxfish Luna, for example. The company says that because they are all built to order and customized to the buyer, it wasn’t able to provide an average price when asked by PetaPixel.
Still, as technology like this improves at the high-end, the likelihood of seeing something tuned more to the masses grows.
Image credits: Boxfish