SVII Capturing the Earth Underwater

Learn how this custom-made camera system is taking the world virtual diving

SVII piloted by Christophe Bailhache in the Coral Triangle by Aaron SpenceUnderwater Earth

Diver Breath

Introducing SVII, Underwater Earth’s custom-made underwater camera system, designed not only to take the world virtual diving in Google Street View but revolutionise scientific coral reef monitoring.

The SVII camera by Underwater EarthUnderwater Earth

The Revolutionary SVII Camera System

Voted by TIME Magazine amongst the top 100 new scientific discoveries of 2015, the SVII camera system does for underwater what Google’s Street View cameras do for dry land - and so much more! 

SVII straight out of the factory by Underwater EarthUnderwater Earth

The Team Behind the SVII

The SVII was co-invented and built, led by Christophe Bailhache and the team at Underwater Earth, in partnership with Panedia and DiveX.

Concept testing took place in the main tank at Sydney Aquarium. Final testing was done in the US, followed by our first deployment to Heron Island and Lady Elliot Island on the Great Barrier Reef in 2012.

SVII-S in Fernando de Noronha by Lynton BurgerUnderwater Earth

Diver Breath

Virtual Diving

Images captured by the SVII are stitched together and published online in a fashion that allows anyone with a desktop, laptop, tablet or smartphone to self-navigate a ‘virtual dive’ in stunning high-resolution.

This is just one example, captured at the Great Barrier Reef.

[Tap and drag to look around the reef]

Scientists and diver Peter Dalton retrieving the SVII by Christophe BailhacheUnderwater Earth

Visual Record

Recognising the huge potential of the camera system and it’s visual outputs, the SVII was adapted by scientists for game-changing scientific coral reef monitoring. Each image captured represents a moment in time underwater - a visual record of that reef environment.

SVII-S in Fernando de Noronha by Lynton BurgerUnderwater Earth

Scientific Value

The high-resolution imagery of the SVII allows the science community to analyse the visual data in the image to determine an accurate account of the reef’s composition.

These scientific images have been made open-source online at the XL Catlin Global Reef Record for scientists to further their studies of coral reefs.

SVII-S in the Waters of Bali by Francesca TruterUnderwater Earth

The Technology

The SVII head (orb) houses three DSLR cameras with adapted lenses allowing ultra-wide-angle photography, designed to capture full 360-degree environments.

Each camera is controlled by a tablet sitting within a custom-made underwater housing. Special software was developed to control the three cameras, allowing them to simultaneously fire.

Dr Benjamin Neal with the SVII in the Maldives by Christophe BailhacheUnderwater Earth

In automatic mode, the SVII can simultaneously take rapid-fire images every 3 seconds whilst traveling at a speed of approximately 2.5-3 km/h, powered by a military-grade underwater scooter, navigated by a diver.

There's also a manual mode allowing the diver to pick and choose where and when to take images and adjust multiple camera settings.

SVII during a scientific transect in the Maldives by Christophe BailhacheUnderwater Earth


For each image captured, a geo-location is also recorded allowing the Seaview Survey science team to make repeat visits to survey locations and draw comparisons on how each reef system is faring. 

Given the open-source nature of this data, members of the scientific community can also do their own repeat surveys and make their own comparisons over time. The positive implications for long term monitoring of reefs are huge.

Dr Anjani Ganase handling the fragile SVII's orb during a boat launch by Underwater EarthUnderwater Earth

Each camera weighs roughly 65kg and ideally needs a lifting arm on a boat, a team on the research vessel and a team in the water to deploy it safely into the water.

SVII pre-check by Christophe Bailhache in the water of Curacao by Underwater EarthUnderwater Earth

The camera build was funded by sponsorship from XL Catlin (now AXA XL) as part of the XL Catlin Seaview Survey.

Christophe Bailhache with the SVII-S in the very remote waters of Palmyra Atoll by Sophie AnselUnderwater Earth

The SVII-S for Rapid Deployment

The SVII-S is a trimmed down version of the SVII. Instead of mounting the camera orb and underwater tablet onto a heavy underwater scooter, it is all attached to a purpose built, neutrally buoyant pole-like structure, allowing us to have the same technology in a much lighter package.

The SVII-S allows us to deploy a camera more quickly when responding to global change events such as coral bleaching episodes or post-cyclone surveys. 

Christophe Bailhache presenting the SVII-S to European media in Monaco by Sophie AnselUnderwater Earth

Media Engagement

The SVII camera has been featured in news features, documentaries and also the Emmy award-winning feature length documentary Chasing Coral which was made about our work at Underwater Earth.

The SVII camera in action! by Underwater EarthUnderwater Earth

The SVII has been used on over 70 missions across the globe, spanning from 2012 to 2020, with over 1 million images taken in this time.

Dive into more of our Underwater Earth stories, videos and images in our Underwater Earth collection.

Credits: Story

AXA XL, The University of Queensland, Dive-X, Google, Panedia, Fourth Element

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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