Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute
Marine Operations
ROV User's Checklist for Recording Video

We recommend printing out the following checklist to take with you on the ship. Notebook-size handouts for this checklist as well as for critical camera setup information are also available in .pdf.

Before going to sea

  • Pick up blank video tapes. Sony Digital Betacam format and Panasonic D-5 format are available from the MBARI Video Lab (Room 140, Building A), which is open from 7:30 AM to 5:00 PM Monday through every other Friday.

    Ventana: Digital Betacam tape must be used for the entire mission and remains the property of MBARI. Panansonic D-5 HD tape may be used for highlights. We have included preprinted tape labels with fields required for tape archiving in each box of videotapes.

    Doc Ricketts: Panasonic D-5 HD tape is used for all missions and remains the property of MBARI. DVDs are available in the Video Lab and a DVD recorder is available on the ship for recording DVDs if you would like to take recordings of your dive with you after your cruise (otherwise a video copy can be mailed to you upon request). Doc Ricketts labels are in the drawer below the shipboard annotation station.


  • Basic Video Annotation and Reference System (VARS) training should be arranged with the Video Lab staff prior to your dives. This system is used for a) tracking samples collected with MBARI ROVs  b) creating frame grabs that can be used as visual summary of your dive and provide images for a variety of uses, and c) annotating the entire dive (this is done post-cruise by MBARI’s Video Lab)

While at sea - Video Recordings and VARS

  • If you have an underwater ROV dive, always record the mission on video tape. Continuously record your video and refrain from stopping and starting while recording. Start a new tape at the beginning of each dive and avoid putting multiple dives onto one tape.
  • Set the time code to 00:00:00:00 at the beginning of each dive on both the Digital Betacam and HD decks (see instructions attached to deck). Watch the time code as the dive progresses and report any discontinuity to the pilots immediately. When the end of the tape is reached, the recording deck will automatically rewind; eject the tape and insert a new tape (tape lengths are noted on the tape case).
  • Important: Re-zero the decks at the beginning of each dive, NOT each tape (even when you have multiple dives in one year day).

  • Check both the High Definition and Digital Betacam confidence monitors to ensure appropriate source is being recorded. Note, a 'composite' input selection will result in low-quality recordings. Ventana only: Ensure 'SIF' for standard definition digital video from the high-definition camera is chosen.
  • "Check if High Definition" in VARS dive/tape # dialogue box. Ventana: Do NOT check this box (unchecked is the default setting). Doc Ricketts: DO check this box ( checked is the default setting).
  • Label your tapes with the following information (included as fields on the blank labels):
  • i. Date and year-date (as YYYY-DDD)
    ii. Dive Number
    iii. Tape Number
    iv. Chief Scientist or Principal Investigator
    v. Dive Site(s) or Expedition mission
    vi. Camera (Ikegami is the primary HD camera; if backup is used, note type)

  • Use the Annotation System (VARS) to track samples and capture images. For full instructions on using VARS see
  • Doc Ricketts users: Rewind 4 HD tapes at the end of each dive to activate the deck cleaning mechanism.

While at Sea - ROV Camera Use

To acquire highest quality video for preservation of our scientific record, please adhere to the following.

Technical considerations

  • Black and especially, white balances should be performed on every dive and if possible, at major scene changes (e.g., benthic to midwater) to ensure proper color casting. See separate pdf document for camera calibration.
  • Continuously monitor the video signal that is being recorded and adjust the camera settings, as necessary. It is especially important to be sure exposure/contrast (iris/gain controls) are properly set for exposure of the subject (not background) and neither too dark or too light for the scene. The waveform is the proper way to validate these levels, NOT your video monitor. See separate instruction card for camera calibration (available soon).
  • Important: Do not adjust any of the settings on the video monitors in the control rooms. Doing so has no effect on the video signal being recorded and will only give you an inaccurate representation of your image quality. If you believe your monitor is not properly adjusted, ask the ROV pilot to check the settings with the colorbars signal.

  • Zoom and focus should be adjusted as slowly and steadily as possible. Minimize distance changes from subject.
  • Note that the still camera (Coolpix) flash will be obvious in the video recording and its use should be minimized while attempting to capture good video.

Aesthetic considerations

  • Once the subject is framed, hold your shot as long as possible (at least 10 seconds, preferably up to 1 minute)) without adjusting zoom, iris, or focus.If possible, establish wide, medium, and close-up shots to give context.
  • Ensure extraneous equipment is not in the frame. Turn lasers and overlay off if you do not want them in your shot.
  • Film unusual items that aren't necessarily in your area of interest and ensure that you get a good, well-lit, well-framed shot, if possible.

After the Dive

  • Log off VARS
  • Return all Digital Betacam videotapes to the Video Lab ASAP for archiving. Also return any unused tapes and labels. If you used the Backup Box of videotapes in the control room, please inform the Video Lab so we can replace it before the next dive.
  • See the procedures for Obtaining ROV Dive Data to request video, frame grabs and related data from your dive(s).


Ask an ROV Pilot, call the MBARI Video Lab: (831) 775-1829 or email


Last updated: Apr. 25, 20131/18/2008