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Boyd Ostroff August 13th, 2008 04:34 PM

The DiveCam
Fascinating article in today's Wall Street Journal; more wizardry from Garrett Brown: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB121856740339434067.html
(note: sometimes these WSJ articles expire... if this link doesn't work, try a Google Search for "Wall St Journal DiveCam" or something similar)


Garrett Brown revolutionized the movie business 38 years ago when he invented the Steadicam, a mechanical arm for cameramen that smooths away the jerkiness of hand-held shots. Much later, he came up with the Skycam, which rides a web of wires above the heads of football players. In between, Mr. Brown, 66 years old, got his one-line brief from NBC: "They wanted a camera," he says, "that stayed with divers, including going underwater with them."

He calls it "one of those lovely problems that keep you up at 4 a.m., building things in your mind." The DiveCam couldn't be big or noisy. And it had to be close enough to the diver to "make you feel like you were in a race car, looking sideways, heading into the water."

The obvious answer: a camera in a tube. "Here's the tube," Mr. Brown said before the Olympics in the workshop at his country house in Pennsylvania. He cleared a space among the nuts and bolts on a benchtop to make room for a sample of custom-extruded aluminum piping. "The DiveCam has 53 feet of this," he said.

The falling camera rides a rail on the inside of the pipe. A glass strip runs along the pipe's full length; the camera takes its picture through the glass. From the diving platform to the water line, the glass is smoky. Below the line, it's clear, so the camera need not adjust its exposure as it streaks into underwater darkness.

Jeff Kolada August 13th, 2008 05:55 PM

I'm really glad you posted this. I've been wondering about that rig since diving came on. Very creative and great engineering.

John Miller August 13th, 2008 06:32 PM

Trivia: my license plate has been DIVE CAM for the past 10 years. Wonder if I can get royalties?!!

Boyd Ostroff August 13th, 2008 06:37 PM

In addition to being an impressive rig, it's also the world's largest ND filter :-)


From the diving platform to the water line, the glass is smoky. Below the line, it's clear, so the camera need not adjust its exposure as it streaks into underwater darkness.

Charles Papert August 13th, 2008 07:33 PM

Watching the aquatic events this year has brought back quite a few memories of my days on the "Garrettcam" crew at the Atlanta Games in '96. I was operating Skycam (making its comeback after the original 80's version) over the pool, while my compatriots were working the Divecam, Mobycam (underwater moving camera) and vertical GoCam, all Garrett Brown inventions. The Divecam was a fascinating piece of gear, well described in that linked article. Garrett's inventions tend to be based around simple mechanical principles--many people still think that the Steadicam uses gyros or electronics stabilizers--and the Divecam is virtually hilarious to see in action. In the diving replays you can sometimes see the gent with the rubber gloves letting go of the rope as the dive commences (you don't see him hauling the camera back to one however). I have some great behind-the-scenes video I shot of the process in Atlanta. Equally amusing was the Mobycam, which is a fabulously sexy little submarine that looks a bit like the original Batmobile, riding invisibly to the swimmers on the bottom of the pool. I'm not positive if it has been motorized at this point, but in '96 it was driven back and forth by a gent hidden under the stands, madly operating bicycle pedals with his hands which drove a chain that snaked out to the pool.

In comparison the Skycam was much more high-tech, being computer-controlled and stabilized but thus it was prone to electronic glitches and needed constant attention. In the intervening years the technology has been streamlined as Skycams are used for many sporting events and have become quite standardized. I will say that it was an absolute blast to operate (from the comfort of our chairs in the stands, much more genteel than our sweaty pals on Divecam and Mobycam manual detail!)

All of these rigs can be further examined at garrettcam.com, by the way.

Frank Simpson August 13th, 2008 08:19 PM

What a great article! Thanks so much for posting it, Boyd!

As soon as I saw the first dive cam shot the other day, I was (sadly?) more impressed with the camera work than the synchronized dives! I figured it had to have had Mr. Brown's hands in it somewhere along the way.

It sure would be fun to take a crack at operating it!

Boyd Ostroff August 13th, 2008 08:24 PM

Thanks for the insights Charles! I sort of thought you might have something to tell us about this.

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