‘The Americas With Simon Reeve’, Series 1, opens with an iconic and unforgettable shot.
It’s a view of the late-afternoon movement of the sun across Denali, the highest peak in North America, and it’s a signature moment for the new series – the latest collaboration of renowned cameraman Jonathan Young with Reeve, the well-known British author, adventurer, and TV presenter.
The two-series BBC Two program “The Americas With Simon Reeve” traces Reeve’s journey “from the top to the toe” of two continents, with Series 1 covering North and Central America. “This program is Simon’s most ambitious journey yet, and he explores parts of the Americas few outsiders or even locals get to see,” Jonathan says.
As director of photography for ‘The Americas,’ Jonathan faced every extreme of temperature and location that it’s possible to encounter in a single filming assignment.
Jonathan relied on Anton/Bauer Dionic XT batteries to help him capture stunning imagery in rugged, remote, and challenging locations, from the icy wilderness of Alaska’s Denali National Park to the steaming jungles of Costa Rica. He used the same Dionic XTs batteries for “The Americas” that he had employed for his previous Reeve project, “The Mediterranean With Simon Reeve,” which aired on BBC Two in 2018. The batteries reliably powered not only his range of Sony cine cameras but also a SmallHD 702 monitor and, in some instances, a Teradek wireless transmitter as well.
“We pushed our equipment to the limit, and naturally, we expected something to break or fall apart,” Jonathan says. “But our Dionic XT batteries performed flawlessly throughout, whether we were shooting in -20 degrees Celsius in Alaska or 35 degrees and high humidity in Costa Rica.”
The compact Dionic XTs were ideal for the production’s highly mobile crew, constantly on the go to remote and difficult locations.
For the Alaska portion of the shoot, the crew travelled to the head of the Ruth Glacier in Denali National Park in a small plane. Another location, the ancient Maya site of Yaxchilán in Mexico’s Chiapas state, required them to travel up the Usumacinta River, hike through the ruin complex, and then climb 400 feet up rough stone steps to the top of the largest temple. In both instances, weight was a serious factor.
Not only are the Dionic XTs lightweight, but their long run time meant the crew was able to get the shots they needed with fewer batteries. At Yaxchilán, for instance, they only had to carry two batteries on the rugged approach to the site. “With the Dionics, we were able to calculate our battery requirements down to the minute to ensure we could climb to the top of the temple, filming as we went, with a safety margin to get back down again,” Jonathan explains. “Just one Dionic XT mounted on the camera, plus a spare, got us through at least four hours of hard, nonstop shooting. It made a big difference on a hot day with a big, strenuous hike.”
Jonathan adds, “After over a year of hard use and regular charging, you’d expect batteries to start showing their age. But the Dionics are seriously rugged – they’ve flown around the world and they’ve been hand-carried in a Peli case, snapped on and off cameras countless times, carried in coat pockets – and there’s barely a mark on them. And I have not noticed a drop-off of performance.”
The Dionic XTs’ ability to operate effectively in extreme heat, not only in Mexico but also in Costa Rica, was another critical factor.
Heat can be a battery’s worst enemy, but in Costa Rica, where the crew was dealing with both heat and humidity, Jonathan noticed no fluctuation at all in the Dionic XTs’ performance.
Jonathan comments, “Anton/Bauer has put so much thought and effort into the use of the Dionic XTs in extreme environments. I’ve now used them on both ends of the temperature spectrum, and they’ve never overheated or let me down in any way.”
Another essential tool in Jonathan’s kit: Sachtler’s flowtech100 tripod
With its lightweight yet sturdy carbon-fibre construction, the flowtech100 tripod combined with a Sachtler Video 18 S2 fluid head to provide stable support and smooth operation for the Jonathan’s camera payload, which often exceeded 15 kg. He was also impressed with flowtech100’s fast and easy setup, ruggedness, and lightweight, all of which were critical not only on the glacier but also on shoots in Mexico, Guatemala, Belize, and Costa Rica.
“Initially, I had doubts about its performance at low temperatures because I’ve seen other carbon-fibre equipment become brittle or crack in extreme cold. That did not happen with flowtech – it held up beautifully with no stiffening or brittleness,” Jonathan says.
He adds, “Not only is the flowtech light enough to be carried easily over long distances, but it’s extremely fast and easy to set up on uneven ground. With just three speed brakes to lock, I could even deploy it with one hand, and each leg could adjust automatically to a different height, such as multiple steps on the temple. And setup time can really make the difference between getting the shot or missing it.”
The combination of the Dionic XT batteries and flowtech100 tripod enabled Young to capture stunning and unforgettable moments for “The Americas With Simon Reeve”
The opening shot of Denali is a perfect example — a fleeting image that changed rapidly and then disappeared forever.
“The image of Denali was a one-shot deal, and we would have missed it completely if we'd had to spend a lot of time setting up a tripod or stop and go back to the plane to get another battery," Young said. "That's why the flowtech100 and Dionic XTs were so critical on this program. I know I can always count on these solutions when it really matters.”Jonathan Young