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Another advantage of HD equipment is the very high sensitivity even in low light conditions. Filming a bird of paradise during courtship display in Papua New Guinea, very little light reaches the ground of the dense rainforest. “When people have come here in the past and used super-16 or 35mm film to shoot these birds, they've come away with very dark, grainy images.”, Jeff Wilson said regarding the use of High Definition. “In low light, you wouldn't see the beautiful, iridescent colors of their wings. With HD, you can capture everything.”

Watch the Birds Of Paradise scene on Youtube:

Video Source: Youtube

Nevertheless there are some cases in which an old non-HD equipment is preferred.
Talking to The Independent Alastair Fothergill insists that “In perfect light conditions, the 35mm remains probably highest quality.”
Furthermore HD cameras are not that resistant to bad weather conditions like common 35mm systems, so it's quite risky so send them out to thirty degrees below zero.
Therefore scenes like the ones in Antarctica with emperor penguins weren't shot in HD.
At the beginning of the production Fothergill himself didn't seem so sure about the use of the new technology at all: “I have to say that when I was told we were going down that line I was very worried. At the end of 2001 there was a lot of anxiety about High-Def. Everybody was very excited about it, but none of the cameras had been properly tested in the field, and a lot of the specialist techniques that are important of wildlife filmmaking were based round film-cameras.” (The Times 2/18/06).
In the end they did use it, thanks to the co-producing partners Discovery Channel and NHK who paid the extra money for High Definition.

Although the use of HD is certainly a big part of Planet Earth's groundbreaking aspect, there's more to it than just showing pretty pictures. “The function of Planet Earth is to raise people's awareness and to show them things that are out there which are still unspoilt.”, Fothergill says.
Watching the series one becomes aware of species that are worth being protected. It kind of gives the viewer a sense of the majesty and absolute beauty of nature, which normally you don't get at this level from other nature documentaries.
So David Attenborough is completely right in his opening narration: “(...) This series will take you to the last wildernesses and show the planet and its wildlife as you have never seen it before.”

Interviews quoted from The Times Interview (click) from February 18, 2006 and The Independent Interview (click) from November 7, 2007.

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