I thought the Red Sea workshop with Alex Mustard was brilliant to I thought of writing down my notes and sharing them with you.
This final post is a general one and has my lesson learned from attending the workshop, those that follow are generic tips that I think would be beneficial to anyone wanting to attend a similar experience.
Before the Workshop
The experience actually starts before you even attend the sessions key points for me include:
Ask questions about the workshop and how it works
Know your equipment
Take all the gear you have
Be fit and self reliant
Set your self objectives
I did not really ask many questions before going as Dr Mustard sent a very comprehensive document however this is not standard and it is better to ask in advance about the conditions, the dives, the type of training and generally how the workshops is organized. Some have talks, other have one to one, other are just dive trips where you ask when you need. Not all types fit everyone so better to make sure you go to one that matches your need.
Sadly even this time like in every trip I have come across people using their equipment or part of their equipment for the first time. The end results is wasted dives and opportunities, I cannot stress enough that testing your rig in a pool before going allows you to familiarize with it and make any corrections you need.
Also take all the possible lens, ports, parts that may be useful. Once you are there you don’t want to have regrets about something you have left home. In my case all was there but I did not know about remote strobes otherwise I would have got myself a trigger as I have 2 Z240s.
In most of those workshops buddy system does not really apply so make sure you are self reliant and fit as the conditions allow to avoid embarrassing or even dangerous incidents. Once there dive within your comfort limit and if you don’t really have a buddy dive with a guide.
It is useful to know before you go what your objectives are, for example what type of shots you want to work on. This means you have something to do over and above the assigned tasks.
During the workshop
Once there you need to stay focused on your performance. Those are additional points to think about:
Deliver the assigned tasks
Go off the beaten track
Learn from other participants
Sometimes during those workshop there are challenges or set shot that are suggested, this is your opportunity to compare your work with others and therefore you should make sure you deliver those also to find out if there are limits with your equipment.
In the Red Sea workshop were given the task of taking pictures of cardinal fish with eggs in their mouth. I realized I could not fill the frame because I lacked a mid range close up lens and my camera would not focus closer.
In addition to the suggested shots you should make changes to those and try something different even if not totally different.
There are many landscape split shots but not many portrait so why not try one results can be excellent and it is easier with a small dome.
Other participants also will give a go to the same shots or have better editing skills it is worth to watch and learn.
My buddy was setting up a remote strobe I fired a few shots (unintentionally of course) so I got my own shot!
Finally take notes of what you did right and wrong and if you missed anything.
After the workshop
After the sessions are over still there is work to do over and above going over your pictures again.
Write down your lessons learned
Look at other people images
Order any equipment that you missed
Well it goes without saying that I put the notes together and summarized them here.
I also found great to connect to other people and then look at their gallery for other shots that we had not discussed before.
Finally I ordered myself an Inon UCL330, funny I had this lens and sold it not realizing the real use which is fish portraits!!!
That’s all for now if you go on a workshop soon I hope you find this useful.
On Friday we were up for our last 3 dives at Shark Reef the current had not changed but this time I decided to give more a go to the schooling fish after setting up all the backgrounds I wanted.
As you can see from the image on the title we had more of the usual divers chasing fish but this did not deter me this time as I developed a specific technique to do the dive that I used fully on the last two photo dives.
So after a bit of experimental shots like this one
It was time to give it a proper go. To be honest is not that I like batfish that much and probably this is one fish that you can shoot in RAW in ambient light however if you do that you need to sacrifice quite a few ISO stops. With strobes the issue is to get the school in a formation that allows you to do a good job with lighting. This is my best shot for the session.
What I like about this shot is the light on the fish or most of it where you can see yellow fins but also the background and a hint of surface.
Other fish that featured on the day were jacks but catching a school of those running past is quite hard unless the school is really big and they circle you.
In those type of formation you have all sort of issues with hightlights form the strobes in fact I was shooting 1/4 of power.
Giant trevallies made a more interesting single fish shot like this one.
Contrary to what you may think this is a shot with strobes otherwise you would not see the texture of the fish as you see it. Maybe a busy background but good technical exercise.
I also attempted a few anthias shots just to try a well tested technique to get them buzzing out the reef
In the middle of the dives while I was waiting the barracuda school came out to play. Barracudas are quite tough as they require strobes to lit properly and I find the multitude of black and white shots that you see a bit boring as the fish texture is what makes the shot.
You have several challenges with the formation, if the school is big is difficult to take it all unless you are on the bottom or on the top. In the first case you need to control bubbles in the second you shoot the bottom so better be neat.
Anyway with a bit of patience I got the shot that I wanted
It is impossible to illuminate properly all of them but this shot has got the right geometry and I think is quite pleasant.
On the second dive I was lucky to spend some time with a Giant Barracuda that was literally commanding the school at sight, very rewarding from a diving point of view I got so excited that I kept shooting with a relatively slow shutter speed however the fish that is lit by the strobe is well crisp.
This shot is much deeper than the previous so the blue is colder but still makes for an interesting shot.
On dive 3 I decided to do a bit of video although I had not taken my favorite lens so I had to apply a filter directly on the camera lens. Moreover I had forgot the setting Toy effect on from some other experiment and whilst this is off in RAW it came back in video so the result is a soft warmer image…yuk still was fun to put it together so here it goes
It was time to rinse the gear (if you could call that hosing it quickly on the dive platform) and get ready to leave the day after. On the last day we were asked to put together a selection of our best 10 pictures and were give a video with some gopro footage taken by the ops manager plus our slideshow. Considering the time it was spent to do it the result is excellent.I hope this has given you an idea of the workshop that I definitely recommend, on the next post I will write my personal lessons learned from such experience.
As the currents were not playing ball we decided to head to Tiran to dive Jackson reef.
I love jackson as a dive and a video dive but I was a bit vary from a photography point of view as lighting can be a problem.
Anyway there was an option for a hammerhead dive in the early morning or a first dive on Jackson followed by a second before returning to Ras Katy for an afternoon and sunset dive.
Hammerhead are found on the back of Jackson reef when there are shallow thermoclines with the surface at 26C the chances were low however I had alternative ideas for that dive.
As foreseen there were no hammerheads so towards the end of the dive I tried a few shots of the Lara Wreck (that is on the surface) through the Snell window despite the strong surf.
The resulting shot is currently my desktop theme and is here.
I tried to get the wreck on the surface, the breaking surf, the sunball, some fish or at least silhouette of fish and the hard coral to give a dramatic moody look to the image.
On dive two was time to have a relaxing dive with not much effort on photos. I saw few tunas at around 28 meters that is unusual and a turtle and some other critters though the shots are not particularly exciting.
In one occasion a dive guide came to be all excited as he had seen a turtle so I went there and bumped into our own guides that were out for a fun dive.
They usually are asked to get out of the frame instead I took the shot for their facebook perusal.
When the turtle had enough she shot off to the surface and I tried a silhouette however I forgot the strobe on
Nothing that lighroom can’t fix and this is the resulting shot after adjustment
Not bad huh?
Back at Ras Katy I tried few more portraits like this one
Though my favorite is another
At sunset I was part of the mermaid group, we had a model Katrin Felton suprising what a phenomena Mermaid tails have become.
We had a 2-3 shots in different poses however only the first was successful as the snell windows was ruined by one of the photographer that keept shooting with strobe…and getting in the way as she did not listen to the briefing properly well no big deal.
Anyway I gave it a shot afterwards Kat was not particularly happy about the barrel distortion that she said makes her look fat! Unfortunately I did not have a rectilinear lens anyway if you find yourself in this kind of set up make sure you have one.
All in all it was a bit of fun again I tried to include some fish, the reef, the mermaid, the sun rays. I looked at other pictures of the mermaid and I think she can’t appreciate how important is not to see the knees too much but I guess she likes to focus more on her figure on how slim she looks lol!
All in all another great day and a different perspective on shooting model underwater.
After the first 3 days of workshop we got into the core of it and Alex talked about schooling fish and how to take shots.
We had 4-5 varieties to choose from:
Detailed information was given in terms of how to best approach the fish depending on their behavior and also about the etiquette in terms of letting other people best positioned taking their shot first.
The surgeon fish are not that photogenic and actually quite messy I tried to take some shots when the current was pumping and they were all aligned close to the bottom at Yolanda however to me this is not that exciting as a shot. Other people got better results but I frankly was not that bothered about Surgeons. Probably as the fish is pretty dark and does not reflect the strobe much. The featured image close to the title shows what I mean.
During this trip the current was not going north to south as usual but there was near to no current at shark reef and current going outward at yolanda corner. This means the snappers that usually sit at the edge of shark reef were not out to play.
We were left with barracuda, batfish and jacks to choose from. On day 4 I only see few giant trevally but not many schooling jacks so had to focus on barracuda and batfish.
Unfortunately the barracuda were far from the reef and a bit too deep and did not really want to entertain chasing them so I tried with the batfish. Obviously there were not only us but also other boats so it was a bit of a competition for fish.
Also you always managed to get someone in the frame or bubbles
So I focused on trying to get the best backgrounds for the pictures to come like in this case.
Also had some fun taking images of the others and the batfish one or two came out pretty good.
It is quite hard to have the discipline to respect rules when you are with other 18 photographer on the boat so the competitions had to be expected and I was not that bothered.
In the evening we headed back to Ras Katy and I borrowed a Nikon D7100 from Nauticam UK. I asked to have a 9″ dome for the split shot and jumped in the water with the idea of just doing that.
This is my best shot
Personally I do not like split shots where the surface line is very distorted to avoid that you need to make sure your lens is near to rectilinear and it is better to shoot portrait as there is little distortion on that axis. What I wanted to capture in this shot is layers, the reef, water under and over, the boat and sunset colors.
I think it came out pretty good but it is painful to take 100 shots just to get one right and I wish I had some fish in the frame but never mind is good enough like this. The water was not really flat so that was an additional challenge as you can see the wave breaks on the lens creating a little thicker line but overall a good shot.
Once again Sony has updated their RX100 camera with a stunning new release that will surely be a market leader at least until the release of the new promised Panasonic large compact sensor with 4K video recording.
So the question is again is it worth throwing our hard-earned money to this new model and housing or should we stay with what we have got? The Mark I and II are still available at reduced price though it is becoming harder to find Mark I housing as new.
The answer to the question is: it depends on what you are planning to do with your RX100, for some users an upgrade may not be required or even not advised let’s see why. no don’t waste any time with the Mark III.
Every time a new camera is released and reviewed I get a bunch of emails with subject: New Camera XYZ what do you think?
The best reviews you find online are made by sites that specialize in land photography and no consideration is given to underwater use. So not necessarily a camera that is a top performer on land will remain such underwater as this depends on specific characteristics that may be different or even opposite to land requirements.
So those reviews cannot be taken as they are they need interpretation. Personally I use two sites for camera reviews imaging resource and dxo mark I use the first to understand ergonomics, performance and to compare images with other cameras side to side, and the second to check sensor quality and lenses. Imaging resource has made a good article to compare the various RX100 on land read it here
If you look at a sensor comparison on DXOMark you would conclude that there is no need to upgrade at all if you use your camera primarily for still pictures as the sensor are practically identical in performance as this table demonstrates:
As you can see the differences in dynamic range, color depth or ISO are pretty much intangible.
However there are other metrics that are also important let’s see which ones and why.
We want our camera on board flash to recycle quickly after a full dump as the RX100 has only TTL flash and the flash can’t set to a minimum manual setting without consequences. Those are the flash recycling times at full output (a full dump will always occur when you don’t aim strobes directly at the subject for example wide angle)
Mark I: 7.2 seconds
Mark II” 4.4 seconds
Mark III: 3.3 seconds
The Mark III is pretty quick and the Mark II is acceptable the first release is definitely too slow.
Minimum Capture Area & Zoom
What is the smallest area that can be captured at wide end at the closest focus distance? This gives you an idea of out of the box close up performance
I do not have precise metrics yet but looking at comparable images on imaging-resource seems like the Mark III is worse than the Mark I and II of at least 20% with a capture width around 90mm versus the already not very good 76mm of the Mark I and II.
To fix this issue we use close up lenses in water that fix to a great extent the focal length and then zoom in to achieve magnification which means longer camera lens more magnification I roughly estimate that the Mark III will be worse of a factor of 0.7x so things will look 1.4x bigger with the Mark III this is terrible news for macro shooters as it means you need to be on top of the subject to fill the frame, this is in some cases not possible.
I have estimated that you need 11 diopters to achieve 1:1 macro so the Subsee 10 and Inon UCL100 that gave real macro on the Mark I and II won’t be sufficient. With two UCL-165 or Dyron 7 you are looking at 2.58″ or 6.5 cm from the back of the first close up lens that means you will be right on top of the subject which is not really an option.
Update July 18th: Nauticam has confirmed that even with their SMC lens the most powerful diopter on the market the capture area is 38mm wide so does NOT achieve 1:1 macro as I suggested…
Lens Focal Range
The new mark III has a 24-70mm lens compared to the 28-100mm of the Mark I and II what does this mean?
Less magnification with close up lenses and no real 1:1 macro
Vignetting or even not possible to use fisheye lenses designed for 28mm lenses
This means that with the Mark III your scene selection will be restricted compared to the 150 to 24 of the mark I and II.
Update 23 July I have done some tests that confirm my suspicions please look at the following frames. The Mark III once zoom to 28mm actually works fine with the Mark II housing except the power button.
With a single Inon UCL-165 (+6.06 in water) the minimum capture area width is 5.4 cm which is bigger than the Mark II 4.8 cm. Not only that the distance from the top of the lens is only 9cm.
With stacked UCL-165+UCL330 total power 9.09 diopter we get this
4.4 cm width however we start running into problems as the minimum distance from the lens is only 4cm.
We finally achieve 1:1 with two stacked UCL-165 however the distance from the top of the lens is 3cm definitely too little
I have also tried the Mark III at 28mm and it still vignettes with the Inon UWL-H100 in air until around 30mm. Instead the old UWL-100 28AD is fine at 28mm either way image looks narrower than with the Mark II but this may be an issue with the old housing.
So basically no macro with the Mark III and no decent fisheye as expected.
Underwater Photography Conclusion
Due to the reasons above the best camera for the job is the RX100 Mark II, with the Mark I coming close but being penalized by the strobe recycle time, the Mark III really is not an option for the serious shooter due to limitations of the lens.
Let’s have a look at some other features of the Mark III that are not relevant for stills as much as they are for video.
Shooting at the surface with plenty of ambient light or on land can create problems if you want to follow the 180 shutter rule, the ND filter of the Mark III ensures your footage will be smooth on land and in water. Take into account that on land you can apply optical ND filters (I have it for the Mark II) so this is really for underwater use when you are shooting at 1/50 or 1/60 shutter speed and the scene is too bright when you hit f/11 and the lowest possible ISO. Having now tested this feature I confirm it is really valid on land on a bright day to keep the aperture wide.
Clear Image Zoom
This is a special digital zoom with edge enhancement that only worked on JPEG stills on Mark I and II but is now available on video on the mark III. This means an additional 2x zoom is available bringing the focal length to 140mm that is more than adequate for macro. This is not an option on RAW images so irrelevant for still users.
23 July update Having done some tests for macro video (as stacking two diopters is not an option) the image quality suffers but anyway this is all you are left with lacking any other options.
The Mark III adds a further stabilizer mode with additional crop that takes the lens to 96mm equivalent in video mode. This is well worth for super macro hand-held footage and effectively provides an option where you can either use the super steady shot and no clear image zoom when hand-held or leave on only the optical stabilizer and use clear image zoom. If you shoot macro on walls and not on flat sand this is a well worth feature.
Update 23 July 2014
Following a side by side comparison you can find on this link
It follows that there is really no 5 axis stabilisation and only an additional mode with more crop with correction for rolling shutter that anyway does not really work!
Full Sensor Readout Video
The mark III reads the whole sensor not just alternate lines when capturing video this increases should increase the resolution to a great degree and increases the perceived resolution and clarity of your videos. However this does not seem to correspond to real life tests. See this sample with a side by side comparison the Mark III looks visibly worse than its predecessor even on the higher bitrate XAVC!!!
The Mark II introduced a well welcomes 24 Mbps 24/25 fps mode now the Mark III introduces a 50 Mbps mode in XAVC (that can be rewrapped into normal MP4) that produces even better footage although it will be quite demanding on your workstation and most likely some of your home devices will struggle playing the files (my Apple Tv 3rd generation only plays up to 25 Mbps) when uploading files online this will downgrade to 8 Mbps so won’t matter unless you have a good player at home. improves nothing and requires manipulation as the files are actually not MP4 compliant as they have WAV audio (!) they are also inside the AVCHD folder which is painful. As seen above seems like the encoding has got worse on the AVCHD files and only the higher bitrate compares but still does not match the mark II at the lower 24 Mbps!!!
You can now connect the Mark III to an external HDMI recorder if you are into that kind of semi pro usage. For the normal user this is not relevant: if you are into spending that money probably you have already a DSLR or a Panasonic GH4.
Video Auto Focus
The auto focus in video has got worse you can see an example in the stabiliser test, and actually plenty of frames are blurred on the mark III. Awful!
Underwater Video Conclusion
The Mark I with only a 28 Mbps 50/60p mode is definitely a poor choice, the Mark II is acceptable to most users. and the mark III promises even better performance if you are a serious video user and have another camera to take pictures the Mark III may be well worth it.
The Mark III despite some useful feature is actually a let down and perform worse in practical terms than the mark II that remains my camera of choice.
If you have a Mark I camera and are frustrated with flash recycling you should be looking at a cheaper upgrade to the Mark II.
If you have a Mark II and your priority is photography upgrading is NOT recommended.
If you don’t have any RX100 get yourself a Mark II or wait for the new Panasonic as the Mark III is pretty much a pile of crap.
Is it the first time I am actually sending back a camera and invoking consumer rights but when I spoke to the camera shop they told me they had other returns and this is not really an upgrade!!!
The above image was shot at 100mm equivalent with one diopter with the RX100 Mark II. You won’t be able to fill the frame with the same close up lens and the Mark III camera
On the early morning of Day 3 we left the Thistlegorm for Ras Mohammed.
Dive number one would have been on Ras Zahatar, this dive site has some great opportunities for sunburst shots in the early morning but generally not a lot of fish as the location is quite sheltered and there is never too much current that I recall.
There are also some very nice gorgonian fans around the 22 meters mark however as soon as we jumped in it was clear it was going to be a competition to have some of it. Besides not having made clear arrangements for modelling with anyone it was going to be a quite technical session.
Since the arrival of digital sunburst shots have proven to be problematic for DSLR and mirrorless users. The issue is with the sunball itself there is an issue of highlights when you try to shoot a coral reef with the sunball in the frame and you are using a shutter speed of 1/250th or 1/320th that are typical DSLR sync speed.
Mirrorless cameras do even worst as usually the base ISO starts at 200 that makes it really difficult to capture this shot.
So the key is to put the sun behind something or have the rays in the frame but not the sunball. Something like this to give an idea
The sunball just behind the soft coral gives a nice glow so even with a 1/250th shutter and f/8 at ISO 100 is possible to capture a captivating scene.
Few meters away there is a gorgonian with a red soft coral on top that is really exciting to see at naked eye. To me this reminds of a frogfish head profile. It is impossible to capture this scene at 1/250th f/11 ISO 100 it is just too bright you need to reduce at least two stops to get the sun properly however if you did that on a DSLR you would be shooting at f/22 and it is near to impossible to properly illuminate the coral with your strobes at the distance required.
That is where our RX100 compact comes to help as you can sync your strobes at 1/2000th this should give a black background around the coral, the coral properly lit in the foreground as I had the strobes at full power and the sunball in the frame as well without too many glowing highlights, this is the resulting shot
Note that a model would not be visible in this shot and fish would be colorful only in front of the coral or close by anyway as discussed there was not fish to model for me and this was just technical entertainment. The image is quite strong but the lack of fish makes it less interesting.
I found some cooperating clown fish on this dive however they are those with the dark eyes so despite the eye contact the shot is not as strong as it would be with a better subject
This is taken with a single Inon UCL-165 a luxury of having a compact and being able to wide and macro on the same dive.
Anyway I was happy with the sunburst in the frame so that dive was well worth it.
Dive two was at Jackfish Alley, and proved to be the most entertaining of the day. Who knows this dive sites knows that there are two caves, the first is wide but very dark and at certain times has turtles inside. The second is really narrow but has few cracks the provides a cathedral light effect best experienced in other site of the Southern Red Sea. Anyway we got the briefing and Dr Mustard was going to be marshaling the queue of photographer in cave number 2.
Being familiar with the dive site I knew that cave 2 is quite narrow even for normal diver let alone this big troupe of photographer so I mounted my tripod legs on the tray with a view of working in cave 1 and then move to cave 2 after the chaos was over.
Well it was real chaos as you can see from the feature image divers in the way, bubbles silt, in short it was a mess.
So I spent some time in cave number 1, this cave is really dark and you can’t really shoot handheld. In cave number 2 you can use speeds of 1/25 or 1/30 up your ISO and put the camera on a rock whilst you take the shot, in cave 1 this results in darkness unless you go to 4 digits ISO.
So my shot on cave 1 is taken at 0.4″ f/4 ISO100.
The shot is taken with the camera on the tripod using self shoot so that there is no shake from the hand pressing the shutter, this means the picture is sharp as it can be and due to low ISO also very noise free. Unfortunately fish did not feature in the shot so this is again a fairly technical shot that is not as strong as it could be.
There were other interesting opportunities in smaller cracks like this one that I like quite a lot though is not a sensational shot.
I like the fact that the two snappers are one silhouette and the other full color.
After the shambles of dive 2 we moved to Shark Reef where the first dive was really more to acclimatise with the site so won’t bore you with the pictures for that dive.
In the evening the sunset dive was at Ras Katy that would have been our regular evening spot from there onwards.
On day one I was playing with dapple light and reflections
This is me taking the shot above
As you can see I am nearly at the surface thanks to Damo for this picture.
Near surface can also be interesting like in this case
Here you can see part of the Snell windows together with the reef and the sunball. This shot can be made much more interesting if you focus on the reflections.
Anyway this was the end of day 3 of diving next post will be about Shark Reef and the schools of fish.
After the first day of fish portraits it was time to go and dive the Thistlegorm, this can be an amazing dive site but also very challenging as the wreck is not sheltered by any reef formation.
We got there early in the morning and attached to the wreck using the classic 3 point method: anchor, line on the bow and line on the stern we were all ready to go.
I have to say Dr Mustard prepared this very well and had a wealth of information on the wreck and the specific features.
The first dive was suggested to be a guide tour of the wreck from the outside with a limited penetration, the second would have been a penetration and the third dive a play with remote strobes (that I did not have).
As I had dived the wreck a number of times I decided to change the order so on dive number one went for a penetration of hold 2 and played a bit with the motorbikes.
There were already some others surrounding the bike as I went down so I played a bit with the divers themselves before being able to get in position.
It is amazing how much more interesting is a picture once you have a person in it. Eventually I got hold of the Bike in hold 2 also known as Elle’s bike. I looked around and there were some hatchet fish that I thought would have made the picture more interesting compared to the usual single fish in front of the bike.
I love the reflection on the fish that the strobe produced.
On dive 2 it was time to take some ambient light shots and I was expecting some divers to be around the stern that I could capture. Unfortunately the day boats had gone and the Thistlegorm was pretty empty so dive 2 was a bit of a waste as the boat itself says very little without a diver or a school of fish.
It could be the size of a RIB but you could not tell from here the massive size of the boat. It is quite dark at the 28 meters I took the picture so there is not a lot of color.
On dive 3 people that had them were playing with remote strobe. I fired a few shots when my cabin mate was placing his strobe, funny enough his remote strobe fired and I blackened him in lightroom so he is actually still there!
The remote strobe creates the blue in the truck glass that would not be there otherwise.
Next trip I will take my third Z240 and the gorillapod, I have to get a remote trigger but I think this is relatively straightforward.
The briefing from Dr Mustard included map of all the bikes and trucks and suggestion for shots and strobe positioning really impressive detail there.
After 3 dives on the wreck we moved to Beacon Rock where the Dunraven rests not to dive the wreck but to experiment with dapple light.
This was a very productive dive for me I had some of the best shots in relatively poor conditions.
The surface was not flat but this made it even more dramatic as the waves were breaking through.
There were also barracuda and goat fish shoals. The barracuda were not really cooperating so I focused on the goat fish
I also had a 26º snoot this time so I played a bit with an octopus
The good thing about the Inon snoot is that you can remove it and take normal shots with two strobes
This is the same octopus as before just to give you an idea
I was very happy with the performance of my RX100 Mark II one of the only two compact on the trip especially comparing to micro 4:3 that did not really look that much better.
Part 3 will be out soon with the first shots from Ras Mohammed
So finally the time had come to attend the Nauticam Try out with Alex Mustard.
If you have never done any of those workshops I would definitely recommend you one. It is not just the outstanding tuition but the fact that the boat will go to specific dive sites at specific times to take advantage of conditions and light for photography.
If you are keen to see the pictures this is the link to the set with the 30 images I like the most
I used the RX100 for stills for the whole trip but then on the last dive I shot this short clip just to give an idea of what it was like. Note that I used the auto magic filter on the lens and by then I had ruined it a bit so the image is softer than it should be and not up to my usual standards, the purpose is to illustrate the diving style not the quality of my set up for video.
The trip started with a preliminary explanation on how things were going to work and after a static first evening on the boat we departed for Abu Nuhas the early morning after. Unfortunately the conditions were really rough so we ended up aborting and after a check dive at alternatives we went to the barge.
The objective was to shoot fish portraits, cardinal fish had eggs in their mouth, at least some of them were carrying them, so you could find yourself your fish and try to take some shots. It was apparent that due to the level of comfort of the fish I could not get close enough with my diopters to take a shot to fill the frame so I needed to crop quite a bit as in this shot.
Hopefully the eggs are still visible. Anyway the rest of the gang had for 90% DSLR and were happily shooting portraits with their 100mm macro lens I was struggling getting anything decent so I decided to try something alternative as it was clear that if I was shooting fish mid water I would have been too far away to fill the frame.
This shot from Alex Tattersall gives you an idea of what should have come out with the right level of magnification that I could not achieve.
In some cases I did find more cooperative fish like those two.
So I put on the snoot and started looking for different things like in this shot taken with the Inon at 20º.
Those little gray moray are endemic of the red sea and look quite cute. I then found a giant moray and took a series of shots this one being my favorite.
The Inon snoot is a great piece of kit especially because you can go from 20º to 100º depending on the parts you combine. There are fiber optics snoot on the market that are sensational for macro but do no wide angle, the Inon snoot can do wide angle with 86º 53º 46º coverage and narrower beams of 26º and 20º for smaller things or special effects.
This is a picture of the snoot set that I would recommend to all Inon strobe users.
Obviously I could only capture semi static subjects with the snoot and the issue of fish portraits remains. The RX100 at 100mm equivalent requires 50cm focus distance that becomes 66cm in water. At this distance the capture area is rather large and unsuitable for smaller fish like the cardinals in the example so a solution would be to use an Inon UCL330 diopter to reduce distance to around 25-30 cm and therefore have a 2x magnification but I don’t have this lens anymore so can’t confirm. I will buy it again and do some more tests in a future trip.
I will post part II in the next days with some shots from the Thistlegorm so stay tuned
I have recently received a number of messages asking me why I am not upgrading to a micro 4:3 set up.
There are several reasons why I am not doing that even if my photo rig is nearly as heavy as a micro 4:3 or even a DSLR and have to do mostly with video not with stills.
I will try and touch on the key points in this post, please remember those are subjective and by no mean a criticism to other people that use 4:3 set up for video.
Note: my perspective is one of a typical non professional user that has limited time to get the best shots. This is not an absolute point of view it is clear that if you are a ‘pro’ and have much more time to spend to get few seconds of footage many considerations do not apply.
The way I have learned to love underwater video is the composition opportunities that it gives. My main source of inspiration is John Boyle and his book that remains the only valid handbook for what I am concerned even if it is a little old.
One of the classics of underwater video is the sequence: wide-medium-close-super close. On a micro four third in order to have good quality you would choose a macro lens or a wide angle lens, both those choices will prevent a number of shots you either do close and super close or wide and medium and maybe close but not super close.
With a camera with a fixed lens with a range of 28-100mm and wet lenses you can cover the whole spectrum of shots although you may need to swap lenses during the shot the possibility is there.
Some users try to use one lens to catch all, usually the choice is a Panasonic 14-42mm or an Olympus 12-50mm. However this is not as exciting as it seems in the first place. I have run some comparisons on the optics on DXOMark assuming the 4:3 are on a Panasonic GH3 that really is a mini SLR you can see the results by yourself
The RX100II gives better quality than both those lenses and especially it does it at f/1.8 versus the f/3.5 of f/4 of the other lenses.
The RX100 does have issues of distortion and chromatic aberration at the edges because of the extensive correction but is overall sharper at wider aperture. This is very important for video that is shot at ambient light.
You can add M67 lenses to the Panasonic 14-42 and the 35 macro port (am talking about Nauticam ports here) the results will be worse than the RX100 as the starting point is worst. There is no M67 mount to use the Olympus 12-50mm lens, I will try to see if the flip diopter can do that without vignette but still this gives only 24mm against the 18mm of the RX100 with an Inon wet lens.
The only cameras that are decent are Panasonic as Olympus video is pathetic. However only the GH3/4 have anything better than a compact in terms of recording formats. The new Sony RX100 Mark III with 50 mbps 24/25p seems almost equally interesting.
Micro 4:3 cameras do not have in camera stabilization in video mode and most of the lenses (the 14-42 is an exception) do not have optical stabilizers to contain costs. It follows that close ups are shaky and even wide angle has jumps.
With all the considerations above it follows the only real set up would be a lens with a stabilizer, the only available that can also shoot close up with a wet lens is the 14-42mm Panasonic. However this lens seems to have worst optical quality than the on-board lens of the RX100II (I have checked some real life shots myself). The only benefit left is the higher bit rate recording format and this is only if you go on a GH3/GH4, with higher recording formats available for the RX100 Mark III and with an announced Panasonic LX8 with potential 4K I personally do not see a reason to jump on the 4:3 wagon for video. I do believe though that if you take mainly stills there is a compelling reason for 4:3 as you can have one camera fitting almost everything and smaller to pack than a DSLR (but not that much and forget about 200-400mm f/2.8 tele lenses).
Snell’s window is a phenomenon by which an underwater viewer sees everything above the surface through a cone of light of width of about 96 degrees [From Martin Edge: Underwater Photography].
During my last Gapapagos Trip there was a bit of an issue in terms of photography subjects, in essence most of them were fairly big like sharks, turtles, eagle rays and of course divers.
After a while shooting or trying to shoot those uncooperative models I had the idea to try and do different things such as silhouettes and Snell windows. You can also combine both as we did in this case.
So what do you need to shoot image of a Snell window:
1. A lens that is wide enough, you need a bit more than 96º field of view to take the whole window
2. Something interesting on the surface (if you have calm water you can see right through)
3. An interesting subject as silhouette to contrast the clear water if there are waves and you can’t easily see through.
A normal flat wet wide angle lens for our compact camera is not sufficient to capture the snell’s windows as in this example
Take into account that even with a fisheye lens on an SLR you can’t capture the Snell’s window on the vertical axis as the field of view will fall short a few degrees.
With a compact camera a semifisheye lens will capture the edges of the window if correctly aimed on the diagonal and horizontal dimensions and will fall short on the vertical.
I am reporting some of the calculated field of view for the most popular lenses at present for compact at 3:2 image format
All those lenses will take a good Snell’s window I have not tried the UWL-28 and I have some concerns this lens may flare as it usually does but I do not know for sure.
Both the Inon lenses produce sharp images with no defect.
In general small sensor cameras like the Canon S series will work fine with the fix/idas lenses and should produce good results also of normal shots through the water.
Using the UWL-04 or UWL-28 with large sensor cameras like the RX100 there could be a sharpness issue a larger apertures so make sure you close that at f/8 or smaller instead of using the shutter speed to balance exposure if you want to go through the water.
Snell’s windows are uncommon with compact camera shooters as they are considered an advanced subject but they can be taken. I will be taking more in a next trip to Egypt I hope for calm surface conditions so I can go through the surface with the shots. Failing that this is very easy to practice in a swimming pool.