My previous testing of underwater video with the Sony RX100 has been quite successful I was initially pretty hard on myself but I would say the performance was as good as it could have been taking into account the conditions
Most of my videos considering the conditions look better than dedicated single chip camcorders on the market and as good as some badly shot 3-chip camcorders
It is worth noting that a decent camera in a good housing like Gates or Light and Motion costs in excess of $3,000 without any lenses or lights, whilst with the same amount of money you can get a complete set up for a high end compact camera with included two sola 1200 and various lenses.
The restrictions of a still camera though still apply at least to the Sony RX100 and those are:
- No use of zoom at wide angle with wet lenses (problem of set up not specific to RX100)
- Clumsy operation of functions like white balance
- having to change wet lenses multiple times in the same dive because close up performance is average
So is there something else out there that at similar or lower price point can get us high quality underwater video?
I believe there is and it is the Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX7, this camera has a bright f/1.4 lens with good sharpness, a 24mm lens and more effective ergonomics than the Sony.
Obviously I am talking about video here as I do believe the RX100 is the camera to beat in terms of compact for still pictures. For video especially at wide angle we are shooting mostly with ambient light and the corner softness of the RX100 does show with wide apertures. So whilst for your photos at close focus wide angle with a strobe the camera does an outstanding job for an HD video at 1080p the image does not look that crisp.
I am glad I got the RX100 as this is going to be the next camera for stills once I abandon the Canon S95.
Ok moving on to the Panasonic LX7 I did a little stress test pointing at the fireplace in low light to see how the two cameras respond, the clips are done 1 minute after the other so have similar ambient light available. It is clear that the LX7 is a winner in virtue of the brighter lens not only that the wider 24mm lens against the 28mm of the Sony shows a clear advantage.
Now what else is good about the LX7 the major feature are definitely the ergonomics, let’s have a look at the rear controls.
The first button of interest is the AF/AEL lock that you can configure to lock focus, exposure or both. Now having this with one touch means that any shot of moving fish in front of the camera or a dive into a cave will resist the camera hunting for focus or trying to change the exposure.
The other button of interest is the WB you can recall and set white balance in any non automatic mode including video, in addition there are two custom settings for white balance and you can alter the tint after setting that is great.
The ISO button is also very useful but mostly for picture and a half press will tell you what combination of aperture, shutter and ISO the camera would shoot at.
This also brings one of the weaknesses of the camera and is the camera’s video Program submode. For some reason this behaves like the still camera program mode so does not take into any account the 180 shutter rule, so be careful and never use the camera in Creative Video mode with the Program submode as results will not be good.
So how should you shoot video with your Panasonic LX7? Simple you should shoot in shutter speed priority or in specific cases in manual.
I think the shutter speed priority is the simplest starting point, so let’ assume you are in the PAL system where video is 25 frames per second you should set shutter priority and speed of 1/50 for wide angle with ISO in Auto. Depending on available light the LX7 will keep the lens at widest aperture and ISO until needed and then start closing the lens, this is fine for us as it is better to have lower noise image than huge depth of field.
If you want to influence depth of field for example in a macro situation when you are zooming in a lot you can take a half press and set the ISO manually until you have the aperture you like. The LX7 sets ISO in 1/3 of f-stop so the fine-tuning possible is incredible.
I would not trust the camera aperture priority mode as the LX7 will quite happily reduce the shutter speed all the way to 1/30 of a second before increasing the ISO and this would give blurred footage.
Shooting macro with the LX7 may require you to operate at double frame rate modes of 50 or 60 fps in that case again in shutter priority mode or manual start with a shutter of 1/100 or 1/125 and pump up your lights until you see the aperture closing. If the image is still soft increase the ISO manually to get where you want to be take into account that this camera has really a lot of corner sharpness so in general it is not needed to get to small aperture as much as it is with other cameras.
So which housing for the LX7? I have done a quick review of the Nauticam in the unboxing video here
This housing is really impressive and makes the camera actually even easier to operate when outside the housing!
Now with all those good things why is the LX7 not as good as the RX100 for still pictures:
- Too wide lens: 24mm makes it difficult to get wide angle lenses and impossible to use a fisheye
- Resolution is only 10MP in RAW pictures this shows, not in video though
- Smaller sensor again the performance at the same ISO is better with the RX100 when you have a strobe
For video some of those drawbacks become actually plus points:
- The 24mm lens when coupled with the Nauticam wet mate dome has 84° field of view in water that is good for most situations
- Smaller sensor means more depth of field at same aperture
Another factor to consider with regards to the LX7 is the 1cm minimum focus distance, this means that diopters are only needed for
super macro very small subjects as the capture area of the camera is incredibly small less than half the RX100.
Other plus points of the LX7
- Neutral density filter, -3 f-stops means the camera will not jump to shutter speeds of 1/1000 in bright sunlight but stay at the normal speed with the lens wide open
- Stabiliser: the LX7 optical stabiliser is rock solid and gives the same performance of the RX100 active stabiliser without any cropping of reduction of the field of view
- A normal Mp4 1080p video mode at 20 Mb/s bitrate that is great for general purpose wide angle
In the next post we will have a look at the Nauticam Wet Mate and the diopter that I have chosen for the LX7