When it comes to high-octane sports, the style of skiing practiced by the RAF ski team (yes, the RAF has a ski team) must count as one of the most terrifying.
As you might imagine, the RAF ski team isn’t really one for dainty, leisurely skis down unassuming slopes – no, when the RAF ski team takes to the slopes, it’s about breakneck speed, hurtling down terrifying gradients.
The RAF team ski down active volcanoes at speeds of 70mph, while turning though gates and hitting jumps sending them 50 metres into the air. To try to capture the energy and enthusiasm of the RAF ski team, watchmaker G-Shock (which sponsors the team) followed the team to a group of active volcanoes in the Andes, Chile. In these “extreme and hostile conditions” they reached speeds up to 70mph as they bombed down the ultra-steep descents.
The aim of the trip was to film a cinema commercial – dubbed ‘Project Chile’ – promoting both the team and G-Shock Aviator watches. While the production team was shooting the commercial, a separate film crew, equipped with a Sony F55, were busy capturing behind-the-scenes footage and on-the-slope interviews with the RAF ski team, creating a mini-documentary of the event.
White out blizzards
The DoP on the documentary shoot was Tom Swindell, who had to battle against sudden drops, icy slopes and white out blizzards in his quest to capture the very best images for the documentary (which was being shot in 1080 HD) on his F55.
Most days of the shoot (which lasted around two weeks) began with a precarious, nerve-wracking trip to the top of the active volcanoes in a helicopter with the crew and kit, ready to shoot the action as it unfolded. “I had the opportunity to use the F55 for the documentary film and jumped at the chance after having used the F5 for music videos quite a few times before,” says Swindell.
“[Hire company] Pro Motion originally suggested the F55 to provide optimal picture quality and to ensure I was able to shoot at high resolutions internally if asked to capture images for the cinema advert as well as the documentary.”
It was a good move, with Swindell becoming immediately aware of the benefits of the F55 on location: “Shooting in such bright environments like the snow covered mountains, over exposure would normally be a concern, but using the S-log and the accurate Peaking function the F55 gave me confidence and control”.
“The G-Shock commercial was being shot in 5K and, on occasions, I was brought into the ad shoot and asked to shoot in 4K on the F55 so my images could be slotted into the ad,” adds Swindell. “It was really simple for me to flip the F55 from 1080 for the documentary to 4K for the cinema advert when required.”
While it’s a relatively modest sized, portable camera, taking the F55 and assorted paraphernalia to the top of a volcano and shooting documentary-style for long periods of time in such punishing conditions was never going to be a walk in the park for Swindell.
He admits he sometimes had to suffer for his art: “We were filming in pretty extreme circumstances, landing in helicopters on top of active volcanoes in very high altitudes in the freezing cold. I had to wear two hoods and a hat, two pairs of trousers and two pairs of gloves.”
“It was quite a struggle with lack of oxygen up at that altitude, trying to film with a broadcast camera. Over time, just holding the F55 and the lens became a bit of a killer. But I loved the camera and thought the images were fantastic, so it was worth the effort.”
Swindell chose a Fujinon zoom lens for the shoot, to make life as simple as possible at the top of the volcano: “I knew using primes wouldn’t be very practical for the bulk of this shoot – fortunately Fujinon had recently brought out a 19-90mm ENG Zoom lens designed for full-frame cameras, which made it possible to capture great looking images without having to do lens swaps. And the servo zoom was easy to operate wearing gloves. You really don’t want to be delving into bags and changing lenses in those circumstances.”
The effort paid off, with the documentary given all the sheen of a top-end drama. Swindell is justifiably pleased with his decision to go down the F55 route for the production: “All the features of the camera were excellent. It was hassle free and solid as a rock. The menu system is perfectly simple to navigate. The 1080 and 4K images it produces are stunning. I don’t think anyone has the experience Sony has when it comes to manufacturing consistently reliable, high-end cameras, and they’ve done it again with the F55.”