FSN’s ‘Seasons on the Fly’ Shot With Panasonic P2 HD Cameras

Veteran outdoors filmmaker Greg Heister is shooting the second season of Seasons on the Fly, with Panasonic’s AG-HPX500 P2 HD camcorders. Seasons on the Fly is a documentary-style fly-fishing show that airs on Fox Sports Net (FSN) Northwest. Heister is capturing the beauty of many fishing waters for the show using P2 cameras including Montana’s Smith and Missouri Rivers, Alaska’s Stikine River, Bradfield Canal and Katmai National Park.
With the HPX500 2/3-in. P2 HD shoulder mount as his primary camera for the series, Heister is also using the HVX200 P2 HD handheld camcorder for underwater work. He is about to take delivery of the new AG-HPX170 fully solid-state P2 HD handheld, which will likewise support production of the show.
Seasons on the Fly
is produced by Heister’s company, Green Highlander Productions (Spokane, WA). He serves as writer, narrator and editor for the series and, during the first season, shared hosting duties with Mark Few, head basketball coach at Gonzaga University.
Crrently in production, season two of Seasons on the Fly, premiering in November, will comprise up to 20 30-minute episodes airing twice weekly on FSN Northwest. Show segments can be viewed on the show’s Website, www.seasonsonthefly.com, where Blu-Ray DVDs of episodes can be purchased. Heister characterizes the show “with its narrative style, extensive underwater work, and historical approach to the rivers, flies, and fish” as a departure from traditional catch-and release television.
Heister was introduced to Panasonic’s P2 format through his 10-year affiliation with the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race, for which he has overseen video operations for three years. The production works in association with Versus and the Discovery Channel. For the past two years, the entire Iditarod has been recorded in high-definition with P2 HD camcorders.
“I now own several Panasonic solid-state cameras, but I was a vocal skeptic when the idea of using P2 at the Iditarod was first introduced,” Heister says. “In previous years, I’d seen every conceivable video format fail there. You’re working the cameras 24 hours a day, it’s 50 below zero, and you can’t warm the gear up. It’s so cold that the snow blows around like sand. The Iditarod is the worst possible place to be testing gear.
“Luckily, my objections were overruled, and P2 became the race’s official recording format; in the two years since, I never saw a hiccup or a frozen camera,” he continues. “When it came to choosing equipment for Seasons on the Fly, I didn’t think of anything but P2.”
“Incredible as it may sound, I consider the location work for Seasons consistently more challenging than the Iditarod, because water is worse than cold and snow,” Heister said. “Southeastern Alaska’s Stikine River travels through a rainforest, where it’s all about liquids and moisture that never dry out. When we were on the Smith River, we woke up one morning to 4 inches of snow, followed by torrential sleet and rain. I never encountered a single issue with the cameras with all that dampness.”
Heister’s crew consists of himself and one shooter, traveling with the cameras, computer plus hard drive, tent and 1,000-watt generator. Heister purchased eight P2 cards (four 32 GB and four 16 GB), and outfitted the HPX500 with a Fujinon HA23x7.6BE HD lens.
“We typically fish for the day, until dark, and come back to camp with four to five hours of footage,” Heister says. “The cinematographer operates the HPX500, which follows me; I handle the underwater work and occasionally do some top-side shooting with the HVX200. We shoot at 720pN and do a considerable amount of off-speed shooting. Ultimately, given the incredible image quality and high production values, it looks like we shoot with four top-side cameras versus one or two.”
In the camp, Heister fires up his generator, which powers his MacBook Pro. He offloads P2 footage direct from the HPX500 via IEEE 1394 (FireWire) to the laptop and stores it on a WeibeTech hard drive. Heister edits in HD on Final Cut Pro 6. As Seasons on the Fly currently airs in standard-definition, Heister’s deliverable to FSN is on DVCPRO tape. “In time,” he notes, “we’ll air in HD, and we’re ready.
“The HPX500 is an awesome piece of machinery,” Heister says. “It performs so well in low light, which is critical as we shoot exclusively with natural lighting. At 8 lbs., it’s highly portable, which really matters when we’re hiking in waders four to five miles up a river. The HPX500 is a beautiful camera, and I’d recommend it to anyone.”