Photographic Instrumentation Under the Sea

Boston MA
Black & White
Harold E. Edgerton
Film type:
16mm b/w Kinescope on Dupont stock
Run time:
Dave Nolan, E. Harrison Rideout, Harold E. Edgerton, Jacques-Yves Cousteau
Harold E. Edgerton is interviewed in 1959 about underwater photography by the Boston University student chapter of the Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers (SMPTE). Speaking with interviewer E. Harrison Rideout and student representative Dave Nolan, Edgerton explains the mechanics of the cameras, flashes and sonar instruments at the MIT Pool. He then elaborates on the challenges and discoveries made on particular deep-sea expeditions, and comments on several film clips and photographs taken during collaborative expeditions with Jacques-Yves Cousteau and the National Geographic Society.

Tagged: Atlantic, Boston University, camera, Cousteau, deep-sea, flash, National Geographic Society, ocean, Puerto Rico Trench, Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers, sonar, soucoupe, submersible, underwater photography

00:00:01 Introductory information: film title, synopsis, date, run time.
00:00:08 Film begins.
00:00:23 Sound and image starts. A b/w photograph is picked up as the voiceover introduces: “Boston University Television presents ‘Photographic Instrumentation Under The Sea’ by Dr. Harold E. Edgerton. Presented by the program host E. Harrison Rideout [spl?], Chairman of the Boston Section, Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers.”
00:00:59 Harold Edgerton is introduced by Rideout to Dave Nolan, student chairman of the student chapter of Boston University Television.
00:01:16 Rideout (right) with Dave Nolan plan to show and discuss Edgerton’s photographs of recent research trips to the Caribbean.
00:01:31 Edgerton describes a deep-sea camera and the electronic flash lamp that makes deep-sea photography possible: “The camera is designed to fit into a cylinder; it carries 100 ft of film, 35 mm type, pulled by a small motor. It takes three hours to go through. Everything on the back of the camera is out in the open so that it’s easy to get to. A special lens on this particular camera. […] There’s no light around, so there’s no need for a shutter, so we eliminate it. The lens on this camera was designed by Prof. Robert E. Hopkins, Department of Optics, University of Rochester […] it cuts distortion under water.”
00:02:35 Edgerton, seated with host Rideout and student Nolan, explains how the camera’s special lens is designed to work under water without causing distortion. Nolan asks about the need for a very large aperture.
00:02:54 Edgerton explains that the camera aperture is set at f11 and he uses 100 watt-seconds of light. He is shooting the new ASA 160 color film with this lens.
00:03:24 Close-up of cylinder camera. “Film normally runs through the camera at a speed of one image every 10-15 seconds. When the camera is used inside a dive machine [submersible] then it is at the command of a push-button by the man who’s running it. […] This particular camera is of great interest to me [Edgerton] because it’s been to the deepest point in the Mediterranean, 14,000 feet and --”
00:03:56 Focus on Edgerton: “-- down to 25,000 feet in the Atlantic and to shallower places many times.”
00:04:05 Edgerton sits with his two hosts, one of whom asks: “ there’s something ticking in there – is there a bomb about to go off?” Edgerton explains that there is a clock inside camera that can be set for 2 hours, needed because it can take two hours or more to reach the bottom of the sea from the ship at the surface.
00:04:35 Edgerton explains the structure that the camera is mounted on, and shows a photograph of the heavy casing that the camera fits into.
00:04:45 Edgerton describes the casing as a straight cylinder of steel, made thick to withstand great pressures at depth in the deep sea.
00:04:57 View of hosts. Edgerton describes the casing thickness: 3/8 of an inch of hard steel.
00:05:03 Close-up of thick but ordinary stainless steel cylinder sample crushed during a pressure test to 8,600 psi [pound per square inch], equivalent to ca. 17,000 feet depth.
00:05:26 Edgerton faces his host while holding a test sample of a steel cylinder; oceans are twice as deep as the test pressure. He explains that the test sample was developed for a flash tube for the bathyscaphe (submersible). “We built all the cameras and lights for the bathyscaphes […] [They were] very anxious that the equipment would not implode with the men in it. So we tested it to destruction.”
00:05:57 Edgerton sits with his hosts and is asked question about gaskets. Nolan asks, “With camera mounted in a steel tube, isn’t it as weak as the gasket would be? What do you use to seal it?” Edgerton explains the use of steel against steel with an O-ring in the crack [?]. As soon as the pressure comes on to steel, the O-ring serves no function. The O-ring only serves to protect the pressure when at shallow depth. “Frankly the only time we have leaks is when the camera is brought up from great depths, the steel relaxes a bit and the springs don’t completely take up the slack.”
00:06:36 Edgerton explains that some winches are quite slow; it takes time to retrieve a camera from great depths: e.g., during a project at the Puerto Rico Trench the previous summer [1958?] it took the camera 3.5 hours to go down, the camera ran for 3 hours, and it took 7 hours to come back up to the surface.”
00:06:51 Host questions the type of frame that camera is mounted on.
00:06:55 Edgerton show a photograph illustrating one type of steel framework used currently on display at NIRAM [?] Show.
00:07:03 Close-up of the camera and flash mount illustration. Edgerton describes so-called “sled” camera mount used originally with Jacques-Yves Cousteau.
00:07:10 Cousteau wanted to be able to drag the camera across the ocean floor.
00:07:14 Close-up of small model of mount for two cameras (used to take pictures in stereo). Edgerton explains the sonar device on camera mount and the issue of being able to control the location of the camera mount which needs to hover (e.g.) 6 feet from the sea floor so as not to sink into the floor mud, but not too high such that light from the camera lamps is insufficient to light the intended subject.
00:07:52 Edgerton explains sonar (‘pinger’) device that “sends very intense short pulses of sound; it sends one signal up and at the same time another one down. The one that’s reflected off the bottom of the ocean follows the other one up. And at the surface you can hear ‘tic-tic, tic-tic’.” Nolan surmises that the difference between the two sounds can be measured and indicates the depth from the camera to the sea bottom. Edgerton concurs, and describes it as lasting 1/1,000 of a second, making it necessary to use an oscillograph or recorder. Instrumentation helps us to get the pictures. Rideout asks about the type of lighting used on this camera.
00:08:34 Edgerton explains the electronic flash used on the deep-sea camera. “A very short flash stops all motion; it is very efficient, so the battery case doesn’t have to be too large: energy is stored and used only when you need it.” Despite the glass lamp looking fragile, Edgerton says it can withstand 17,000 psi of deepest ocean.
00:09:04 Focus on Edgerton.
00:09:09 Nolan asks about the sturdiness of the glass flash lamp and its specific construction.
00:09:18 Close-up of glass flash lamp. Edgerton explains that the glass is very strong in compression.
00:09:25 Focus on Edgerton.
00:09:32 Nolan asks about new device for looking that he had heard about earlier from Edgerton.
00:09:47 Focus on Edgerton: he shows photographs of the two-man submarine developed by Cousteau in the early 1950s [called SOUCOUPE = French for ‘saucer’], with two portholes for passengers lying inside. Edgerton points out the location of his cameras and electronic flash tube on the exterior of the vehicle. The equipment is operated by a pushbutton by the person inside. He describes taking nine dives on it during preliminary tests, and explains how they achieve precise maneuvering by using jets of water operated by a row of batteries that power an electric pump.
00:11:20 Nolan asks more details about the jet propulsion systems.
00:11:30 Focus on Edgerton: he discusses the vessel’s extreme maneuverability. “This is what you need when you want to study the bottom of the ocean.” Breathing air is supplied by a tank of oxygen [?] with a regulating valve.
00:12:01 “There is an absorbing material in the sphere that cleans out the carbon dioxide as it accumulates, and new oxygen is supplied.”
00:12:17 Focus on Edgerton: he describes the motion picture equipment used on board SOUCOUPE, with a 5,000-watt tungsten lamp, water-cooled, powered by the same batteries. Almost no batteries are inside the vessel; control is by means of electrical wires.
00:12:46 Nolan: comments that the purpose of the submersible is to get closer and have more maneuverability than you can just by lowering a camera and taking shots.
00:12:55 Focus on Edgerton: he explains that with a camera they can take 800 pictures entirely at random – it becomes a matter of chance what is captured on film. With SOUCOUPE a passenger can shoot exactly what is desired at the right moment. “Man can observe and see everything, but the camera enables him to record more than he can remember, and bring it back and show other people.”
00:13:22 Rideout asks how the sub is deployed from the ship’s deck into the water.
00:13:30 Focus on Edgerton: he explains the process of deploying and retrieving the sub, which weighs 3.5 tons and is lifted by a special hydraulic crane, while showing a photograph of SOUCOUPE hanging from a crane on the stern of the vessel.
00:14:02 Nolan asks how long the submarine can stay under water.
00:14:04 Focus on Edgerton: he says he doesn’t know precisely, but the tank of oxygen used when he was working lasted for days and the sub is quite roomy inside. The longest dive he witnessed during preliminary tests was four hours, and when the men came up they said it had seemed like a short dive to them.
00:14:34 Rideout asks if color film had been shot at depth in the Caribbean during his last trip.
00:14:42 Focus on Edgerton: he explains that 16mm color film was used with electronic flash, running at 24 seconds, high-speed film; excellent quality. “Cousteau puts his movie camera on the sled and drags it around at the speed you would walk: it’s fascinating to watch a half-hour of film watching things as you go by – you can run it backwards if you see something particularly interesting and want to take another look.”
00:15:16 Nolan asks about the extent of the viewing range at the sea bottom: 6 or 10 feet?
00:15:25 Focus on Edgerton: he describes how Cousteau uses a very strong light beam to light up the center of field, so it provides good vision.
00:15:49 Rideout asks Edgerton about experimental 3-mill[imeter?] base film [?].
00:16:01 Focus on Edgerton: he describes his successful experimentation with 3-mill base [?] that almost doubles your operating time – so that the chance of getting a good picture is made that much greater.
00:16:28 Rideout asks about photographs that were taken during expeditions.
00:16:37 Focus on Edgerton: his effort was sponsored by the National Geographic Society Research Committee and he notes that a series of articles have appeared in the magazine. The latest is an article by Commandant [Georges] Houot, French captain of the bathyscaphe [FNRS III] that goes down to 13,000 ft. [See: Houot, Georges S. “Four Years of Diving to the Bottom of the Sea,” National Geographic Magazine (May 1958, Vol. 113), 715-731]. Edgerton notes that the previous week the Americans made a dive to 18,000 ft in the Pacific.
00:17:22 Close-up of image in National Geographic Magazine of a bathyscaphe on the ocean surface [TRIESTE]. Edgerton explains one photograph that illustrates the interior of the bathyscaphe and the operator’s work area, operating two cameras with wide-angle lenses on either side of his porthole. He then shows a photo of a tripod fish captured on film for the first time, and explains how that image had revealed the function of previously enigmatic filaments the fish actually used as legs to ‘stand’ on.
00:18:31 Focus on Edgerton: Edgerton flips through more pages of National Geographic Magazine and talks about sharks photographed at depth.
00:18:48 Close-up of a magazine photograph of a shark presumably attracted by the noise and/or lights of the bathyscaphe.
00:19:00 Edgerton sits with Nolan and Rideout and talks about the noise of the bathyscaphe caused by the motor and two propellers. He states, “Noise may scare or attract some subjects – no one really knows; this field is still so new that every time that we go out to try to find some particular thing or learn, we usually find we never find a straight answer and then we always come back with ten other questions.”
00:19:37 Edgerton with hosts: Rideout draws the interview to a close.
00:20:02 Film fades out, and theme music starts.
00:20:56 Out-takes of students disassembling the studio interview area (with SPRC banner in background). Boston University production. A young man makes a statement about “joining Geoff Miles for further discussion on the problems of TV kinescope recording.”
00:22:06 Film fades to gray.
00:22:29 © 2010 MIT credits.

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