ROV users checklist for recording video


Video Annotation and Reference System (VARS) interface.

Handouts to bring on your cruise

Before going to sea

Pick up blank video tapes. D-5 HD format tapes are available from the MBARI Video Lab (Room 140, Building A), which is open from 8:30 AM to 4:00 PM weekdays.

ROV Ventana: Panasonic D-5 HD tape is used for all missions and remains the property of MBARI. We have included preprinted tape labels with fields required for tape archiving in each box of videotapes.

ROV Doc Ricketts: Panasonic D-5 HD tape is used for all missions and remains the property of MBARI. 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 ROV 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

All ROV dives are to be recorded onto D5 HD 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 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 the High Definition confidence monitors to ensure appropriate source is being recorded. Note, a ‘composite’ input selection will result in low-quality recordings.

Select the ‘High Definition’ checkbox in VARS dive/tape # dialogue box.

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 Video Annotation System (VARS) to track samples and capture images.

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

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