Olympus vs Panasonic for Underwater Use

I have been shooting MFT underwater since 2014 coming from compacts but I have also owned DSLR cameras for land use. As I initially focussed my underwater imaging on video I adopted Panasonic MFT cameras as they have an edge in terms of video use coming from Panasonic long established video and broadcast legacy.

Recently, just days before the divestiture announcement, I have purchased an Olympus OMD EM1MKII. I have decided on this camera as during lockdown I have been attempting pictures of birds in flight and the autofocus of my Panasonic G9, that I was using since February for land pictures, was not satisfactory.

I have since pondered if it made sense to switch to Olympus also for underwater use and I have considered the pro and cons of this choice compared to Panasonic semi pro models GH5 and G9. I thought of sharing my thinking with you so that if you are considering an MFT system as your next investment for underwater imaging you have a point of reference.

Note: I am only considering the top range Olympus cameras as others do not offer in my opinion any benefit over Panasonic range.

Strengths of OMD System

Olympus OMD Auto Focus system

At time of writing the OMD EM1 series and the EM5 Mark III use an Olympus specific on sensor phase difference detection auto focus system. Note this is different to DSLR phase detection and more similar to Sony hybrid AF system.

I found this system to be very effective with birds in flight once locked on the subject and much faster in locking on subjects as long as the background was clear; with this I mean this system still struggles if there is a busy background to acquire focus. In particular the CAF with tracking is very effective for birds that do not move too fast in the air or are about to take off from a fixed spot. It also effectively tracks at higher frame rate any type of object in motion. This system is superior to Panasonic CAF that is based on motion estimation for shots following the first one of the burst. More specifically it is harder to acquire focus for the first time with Panasonic and the following shots are estimated using a motion prediction algorithm without  continuous autofocus. This feature is the one that sets Olympus camera that have phase detection AF apart from Panasonic and from more economic Olympus model such as the OMD EM10 series. Another useful feature is that in review mode it tells you what the camera focussed on.

Example Birds in Flight Shot OMD EM1MKII
This shot is taken on a Panasonic G9 using the Pre-Burst functionality

Other features of OMD system for land use

If you shoot at night another very useful feature is live composition, this is very useful for fireworks or star trails but not effective for real astrophotography for which you need a star tracker or use stacking. Other features that are present in the newer EM1MKIII like starry AF are in my opinion not useful if you know how to focus on stars.

Milky Way with Panasonic GH5 shows no tangible difference to OMD Shots

Olympus Housing Costs

As Olympus bodies are smaller and simpler the housing cost compared to Panasonic G and GH series is 30% lower this is material in the scheme of things as Panasonic Pro housing are almost as expensive as an APSC DSLR. This for me is the single most important factor.

OMD EM1MKII €1,856 list price Weight 1.95kg Dimensions 305mm (W) × 175mm (H) × 116mm (D)

Drawbacks of Olympus Cameras

Lack of on Screen Manual Focus Guide

The most evident one for macro shooters is the lack of on screen MF guide as displayed in Panasonic cameras. This very useful for macro but also for astrophotography and video as you know if your camera is at the macro or tele end. For macro underwater photography this means you know if you have hit the minimum working distance and maximum magnification so now you can focus on getting the shot using peaking. 

Olympus does not offer a guide but you can pre-set a mode called Pre-MF to minimum distance however I found the on screen peaking to be really poor and ultimately getting less magnification in macro shots.

AARGH!
Typical Macro Shots where the MF Guide feature is useful to ensure maximum subject size

Exposure Aids

While Panasonic offers customisable Zebra on screen Olympus only offers a red and blue colouring and the levels only offer limited customisation on a 0-255 8 bits scale. This is OK for checking clipping in absolute but not good for specific exposure targets.

Video Mode

The video modes of the OMD are simply poor and the codec quality just good for your occasional video. The lack of exposure aid and support for manual focus make the whole video experience very very dissatisfactory.

Framing

With Panasonic you can set framing guides on the screen for 1:1 5:4 whatever you like without changing the image aspect ratio, this is useful if you want to frame a shot for a specific platform. Olympus lacks this feature entirely.

Image Quality

I can confirm that for underwater and land use I see zero difference in performance between my OMD EM1MKII and the GH5 in the range ISO 200-1600. It is true that the Jpeg settings are different and the color rendering is different for Jpeg however shooing RAW files this becomes irrelevant and I can’t distinguish the shots when the calibrated adobe profiles are used in Lightroom. I believe at some point that Olympus images were sharper however this was due to the images being better in focus when it comes to birds and subjects fast moving.

In terms of JPEG rendering Olympus choices are better for nature and landscapes with more saturated colours, for portraits I prefer the Panasonic rendering. Again those settings are not relevant for RAW files.

Nauticam GH5V a whopping €2,862 due to the M21 Valve weights 2.36 Kg

Conclusion

In my opinion the most attractive feature of Olympus cameras for underwater photography use is actually the reduced cost and size of the housing. While the extra strength are surely worth for land wildlife photography I truly do not think they make any difference underwater. For sure it would be better to do a field test, this so far has not been possible and if anybody gives me an OMD EM1MKII housing to test I would be very happy, however using the tools made available by Panasonic I do not get almost any shots out of focus and those there are blurred are because I forgot to change a setting on the camera.

For video I cannot recommend the Olympus system at all, Panasonic is way ahead on this on a number of accounts. 

In conclusion if you are 100% focus on photography and just take an occasional video the OMD system is light more compact and less expensive. It will not give any edge to your images as the sensors are identical. If you shoot a mix of video and photos the choice is Panasonic. Rest assured none of the AF strength of Olympus will improve your hit rate, if your shots are blurred you are likely using the wrong settings with your camera. The housing costs tho are higher and the rigs are less portable.

Trip Baia di Napoli and Sorrento Peninsula

There is no doubt that until a Covid-19 vaccine is widespread our travel plans have to adjust to the new conditions. As of today 2 August 2020 most of our favourite destinations are still in the no go list and are not covered by travel insurance.

The latest list of countries and territories published by the British FCO does not include Egypt, Indonesia, Philippines and no countries in South America although it does have many Caribbean destinations.

With the situation evolving fast and the imminent prospect of tighter lock down as we go towards winter many people would not travel long haul anyway to avoid risks of quarantine or possible issues coming back to their home country. So for now, many of us will travel more locally. We have seen lots of new underwater photographs taken locally in British Waters but there is no doubt this is not out of choice and most people would rather be elsewhere.

After the postponement of my Red Sea live-aboard to 2021 I have been invited to the Italian Nauticam days in Italy in the stunning location of Napoli and Sorrento and coast. I am from the same region and all my diving training has been abroad so I am guilty of not having tried the local diving until now. If you don’t want to read the whole article the summary is that the diving is great and combined with the natural beauty of the area, the warmth of the local and the food and drink there is probably no better alternative for diving safe in Covid-19 times in Europe right now. I am sure there are equally stunning places in Liguria and some of the Sicilian or Tuscany locations however the Penisola Sorrentina is very hard to beat when you consider the other elements. Please get in touch if you want to dive the area as I am planning a trip mid September 2020.

The Diving Centre and Location

I used Punta Subaia and Punta Campanella Diving centre two long standing operations on the coast. The first is located in Bacoli north of Naples and the second is in Massa Lubrense just past Sorrento. Bacoli is Naples local beach so gets more local traffic while the other location is more touristic in nature with a good ratio of foreigners: during my stay there were English, German, French, Swiss and Dutch on the dives.

I used a 5mm wetsuit with a 3mm hooded vest and a thermal top under and was fine. Locals dive with a 7/5mm semidry suit.

Diving is done using 7.5 meters RIBs that can take up to 8 divers on a double tank or 12 on a single tank dive. Covid-19 procedures are in place and face masks are not mandatory outdoors in Italy however spacing on the RIB is challenging so you have checks and declarations to fill in. Some people wear face masks on the boat too is entirely up to you.

1 meter distance on the boat is possible

Journey time to the dive sites is 5 minutes in Baia while in Punta Campanell it can be up to half hour and the scenery is amazing as Capri is just in front of the coast and the landscape is jut breathtaking.

Under those cracks there are frequently underwater caves at shallow depth

If there is one thing that I did not like is that in the morning there was not a systematic double tank excursion so sometimes the day would finish at 6 pm with only 3 dives done. Crew are very helpful and 15 litres tanks are included at no extra so in all cases I came up because I reached the 1 hour limit still having plenty of air.

Divers getting ready to enter the water on a coastal dive

I booked a double room with single occupancy at €80 per night B&B 2 minutes walk to the dive centre. Food and drinks with wine runs at €50 or less per day and is glorious!

Spaghetti with clams will cost you €13

Underwater Photography

If you want to have an idea of the critters in the area I would recommend the book Into the Mirror from Mimmo Roscigno ISBN: 9788890966804 is only in Italian but it is a typical coffe table book the images are simply amazing.

For wide angle a good sample is on Punta Campanella Dive Center website, also look for photographers Marco Gargiulo that is local of the area. Other photographers like Franco Banfi have also been here for workshops. So there has been some fame but mostly limited to Italian speaking photographers, this is a shame as the staff speaks English and this is a photo friendly operation.

Subaia

I went for this trip with a selection of wide angle lenses, I had been told by Pietro Cremone about the underwater archeology park so I packed a rectilinear wide angle in order to avoid distortion.

Dives in Subaia are typically 1 hour long max by law at depth of 5 meters.

Dive site maps are placed underwater however you need to dive with an autorized guide

The dives have to be done with an expert guide as the mosaics are normally hidden to protect from the agents and the water.

Edoardo Ruspantini clears the debris to show the underlying Mosaic
Delfino
The Dolphin Mosaic

There are also replica statues that are good subjects, the originals are in the Napoli Museum.

Goddess of Men
Goddess of Men
Where is my hand

There are many villas and it is impossible to cover the grounds in two dives however I had planned to move to the second location so I drove two hours to Massa Lubrense on the night.

Punta Campanella

Here the diving is about fish and caves. You have a combination of close up subjects and wide angle. I took by zoom fisheye with me so I focussed on wide angle. Sea life includes plenty of Anthias and Damsel, Snappers, large groupers, eagle rays, breams, bass there is a lot of fish as the area has been a protected marine park for more than 20 years now. I was not expecting this abundance, there is also a resident shoal of Barracudas 1000+ strong specimen that is in shallow water at one of the sites. Due to limited processing power I have not yet created a 4K video however I took plenty of shots. The whole album is on flickr. I hereby include some key shots.

Medusa
Medusa
Diving Penisola Sorrentina 2020
Red Gorgonia
Ambush photo
Grouper
Behind the Mask
The Mask
Barracudas
Barracudas
Diver going through Scoglio a Penna
Caves
Eagle Ray
Eagle Ray

Wrap Up

I was frankly surprised by the sheer abundance of photo opportunities and I will be always taking my equipment whenever I go back to Italy in the summer. There are so many positives to the location:

  • Great photo opportunities
  • Well organised dive operation English speaking and photo friendly
  • Stunning location also for non divers
  • Amazing food
  • Fantastic people
  • Easy to reach from UK and other EU countries
  • Covid-19 procedures in place safe location with prime health system

I am so impressed by the location that I will be back and in fact I am planning a photo trip the week of 14 or 21 September, with the following itinerary:

  • Sunday arrival dinner with local photographers to have a taste of the area
  • Monday to Friday double tank morning dive, afternoon optional 3rd dive or sightseeing
  • Photos of the day debrief after dinner time – optional
  • Saturday no dive day local trips optional or travel independently
  • Sunday free morning transfer to airport and return

Diving cost is €400 for 5×2 tank dives to be booked in advance through me. For those we will have exclusive use of the boat optional dives in the afternoon non exclusive will be €35 per dive. Accommodation will be typically less than €600 euro for the week in single occupation and plane in the region of £100-150 depending on extras. I can help with accommodation, travel and transfers. You can also rent a car as low as £15 per day this is especially of value if planning to come with partner or family.

Please fill the contact form if interested spaces will be limited to maximum 8 for the trip. I think it will be a long time for anyone to be in tropical waters with the Covid-19 situation, this is an opportunity not to be missed until the water stays warm and enjoy one of the world very best destinations.

What Happens After the Olympus has fallen?

On June 24 2020 Olympus corporation has announced they will divest the imaging business and sell the business to be carved-out to JIP (Japanese Industrial Partners).

The full script is here: Memorandum.

Olympus had already delayed the disclosure of financial results for the year ended 31 March 2020, Nikon had already done the same. Clearly companies need to build some accounting provisions for Covid-19 however you would argue that for the year ended on 31st of March the impact of Covid-19 was not substantial as most countries only entered lockdown in March and this is not a prime period for camera sales anyway.

As as an M&A consultant specialising in carve-outs and divestment I have my views on how this will turn out based on my experience but this is not the purpose of this post. What I wanted to do is to perform a short analysis of what I think has gone wrong and what is likely to be the most significant challenge to the newco that will be formed from Olympus imaging business.

The overall situation of the camera market

According to CIPA worldwide sales in units have fallen 87% since 2010.

The overall number of images is actually growing however as of 2017 85% of those pictures are taken on mobile phones.

According to DxOMark and other sources, mobile phones are closing the gap on cameras on a number of aspects. Mobile phones have a lot of development behind and have powerful processors that combined with multiple lenses can produce stunning images.

Most images are consumed on mobile phones and are usually limited to resolutions lower than 4 megapixels or even 1.5 megapixels like Instagram we can understand where this is all going. There is software that allows you to retouch your images directly on your phones one of the reason why instagram is so popular.

As the market for digital camera shrinks camera manufacturers feel the squeeze and this means business will disappear in the process with Covid-19 putting a final stake in what was already a walking dead: Olympus camera business.

Why Olympus?

First of all Olympus is not the first company going through this, it has already happened to Pentax though this entity was sold at profit in the golden years of digital cameras. Contrary to what most people think Olympus was not originally a camera brand but started out with medical and microscopes in 1919 only in the mid 30s Olympus started making cameras and as of today Olympus is predominantly a B2B enterprise. Olympus has also been at the centre of significant corporate fraud in 2011 and in 2016 was also in the middle of a bribery scandal in US. The last ten years of Olympus corporation history have been plagued by misconduct and therefore nobody would go anywhere near a possible acquisition of Olympus assets at least until now.

As of FY 2020 the imaging division has posted 3 consecutive years of losses with a 10% revenue reduction on FY 2019. Olympus had started the restructuring of their manufacturing operations in 2017 and has cut c45% of their operating losses as result. As a division is still loosing cash and therefore if you had to evaluate the business in terms of EBIT multiplier, a common method for corporate transactions, Olympus Imaging Division is worth nothing and actually it has negative value means it costs cash just to run.

The improvement trajectory and the nature of the distressed business has fallen in the interest of JIP who specialised in acquiring divisions of loss making companies and had already closed deals with Sony, Nec to name a few.

Some Olympus consumers have felt betrayed by this move as Olympus had repeatedly affirmed they were continuing the camera business however the reality is that nobody was likely to go anywhere near it until now and the moment they have a prospective buyers this would most likely proceed as it has happened. From corporate point of view, despite the various scandals, Olympus has been increasing their operating profits as the other divisions are all successful. Removing a loss making divisions will greatly benefit the shareholders and investors and will also allow Olympus to focus on the segments that are successful. If the proposed transaction completes Olympus will effectively exit consumer markets.

So in short Olympus is divesting the imaging division because is loss making, it dilutes shareholder value and they now have a potential buyer, it would be crazy for them not to proceed in consideration of the overall situation of the camera market.

Questionable Choices

In addition to the compression of the digital camera market, Olympus has also made some questionable choices, and is affected by the overall stagnation of imaging sensors. Olympus does not make their sensors since a long time, previously they bought them from Panasonic, then lately from Sony.

Sony who makes sensors for most brands including Nikon and Panasonic, has not released anything new in the micro four thirds segment since 2017. For this reason we have not seen a rush from Panasonic to release new models and things have been pretty quiet on their front since the G9 camera in 2018 with the rest of the range just aligning to the 20 megapixel sensor.

Olympus instead has released a few models of their flagship OMD range, the EM1X and the EM-1 Mark III, both based on the same sensor technology of the previous OMD EM-1 Mark II released December 2016.

The EM1X specifically aimed at the professional wildlife photographer has a RRP of £2,699, that is the same price of a Nikon D850.

Size by Side courtesy of Camerasize.com

Combined with the Olympus 300mm f/4 prime the EM1X is 2.3 Kg while the D850 with the Nikkor 500mm f/5.6 prime is 2.4 Kg. The Nikon set up ends up being around £6K while the Olympus is £4.7K at RRP. I am not sure this is an appealing proposition considering the significant IQ difference between the two cameras and the pretty identical weight.

Also to consider that at £1,499 you can buy a Nikon D500 that has the same RRP of the new OMD EM-1 MKIII. Now it is possible that Nikon is heavily discounting items and they are going to go bust next, however you can clearly see that competing with those boys may not be a good idea.

The Micro Four Thirds Benefits

The benefits of MFT are listed in the four thirds website here.

There were 3 key items:

  1. Radical reduction in thickness, size and weight
  2. An interchangeable lens system designed to handle video in the future
  3. Continued use of four thirds lenses

Looking at the reduction in size the EM1X is not a good example for this and we can argue the Panasonic G and GH series body are neither. Panasonic had to accommodate item 2 video handling and to do that needed to include an heatsink in their models and this makes the shape of the GH5 large. Then they continued that trend with the G9: both cameras are very similar to an APSC DSLR and larger than Sony A series.

Olympus never cracked the video space, their cameras are limited in that respect while Panasonic has scored significant success and now brands like Zcam and Blackmagic Design use MFT sensor for semipro cinema cameras that perform very well in that segment.

So MFT has not disappointed as a whole, though Olympus seemed to have lost track of the manifesto, and ended up competing in territories where other players are already consolidated. It has to be said they have done that on their own accord as the OMD EM-1 MKII is a very capable camera for who does not want to invest in a large rig and with a battery grip gives you pretty much the same of the EM1X at half the cost or less at today prices.

What happens next?

It is worth looking at what is in scope and what is the envisaged structure of the imaging division after the carve-out.

Scope

There is mention that the prestigious brands of OMD and Zuiko will continue with NewCo. In short this means that OMD and Zuiko that really were product lines become brands. This is because Olympus corporation will continue and therefore NewCo cannot be called Olympus cameras or similar. There is no mention of Pen or Tough lines to be in scope of the transaction specifically, this may be simply omitted or those are not in the interest of JIP.

NewCo will also maintain the R&D and manufacturing functions, this is important as otherwise product development would not be possible. We need to understand practically what does this mean in terms of key people and which one will move along and which one will leave.

Timetable

JIP is currently performing diligence and, subject to confirmation of their assumptions, the deal would be signed at the end of September and then close at the end of 2020. JIP has now access to Olympus data and financials and this will help them confirm their offer, but potentially could also mean they back off if the situation is worse than expected. Olympus has also committed to continue the restructuring already in progress, this is important as that has an impact on the valuation of the business.

Transition Agreements & Rebranding

When the transaction is complete it is possible that there are still dependencies on the seller and therefore transitional service agreements are put in place. It is easy to imagine that those will go ahead for 18 to 24 months and the largest question mark is up to which point the NewCo will be allowed to use the Olympus brand and how they are going to deal with re-branding. Re-branding can be lethal to businesses I do not want to provide a long list but there is an intangible value to the name of a brand and is not simple to switch consumer to the new brand and keep them all, people sometimes, actually most times, go elsewhere and Panasonic will most definitely benefit from this.

The immediate future

Usually when those type of transactions are announced there are all sorts of activities to say that is business as usual, things will get better and products roadmaps and other events are promptly coming out to reassure consumers. The prime reason for that is that consumers may want to switch right now or if they were planning to buy this specific brand they may change their mind. The reality is that carving-out a business is not easy and nobody really knows how things will turn out.

Micro Four Thirds Future

The crisis at Olympus is not a good thing for Micro Four Thirds there is no doubt about it, however this should not be too much of a worry for day to day life. DSLR has been pronounced dead years ago but is still there and MFT is an important step towards mirrorless. It is evident that cameras will eventually move towards mirrorless and the advances of Olympus cameras on autofocus are an important step, today only Sony and Olympus have decent autofocus on mirrorless. Canon and Nikon are playing catch up but their pro equipment is still DSLR.

The market is shrinking and Olympus is not going to be the last company to struggle, who will survive is not necessarily linked to who has the best product, but to those who can manage the market situation and can align to consumer needs.

121 with pietro cremone

This week 121 is with Pietro Cremone who is a long standing photographer and also runs the Fotosub Shop who is the distributor of most key brands of underwater imaging and Nauticam importer for Italy.

Pietro is a people person everybody knows him in the Italian underwater photography scene and during this lock down he has made series of live shows on facebook that have been both informative and entertaining. Pietro is very active on the web and social media and I invite you to connect with him.

Personal Website

Facebook

Instagram

Bio

I was born in 1964 in Castellammare di Stabia, and from an early age I was fascinated by the sea.

Pietro with his current Rig

As a child I enjoyed exploring the tide pools with mask and fins, and later I started spear fishing with my small spring-speargun, with which fortunately I could not catch almost anything.

Growing up, I replaced the speargun with the camera.

Over the years, my passion for underwater photography has grown a lot, and I decided to turn it into a profession
Since 2009 I am the owner of  Fotosub Shop, an underwater photography shop that has become the Italian reference point for underwater images in just a few years.

I occasionally participate photographic contests, and I have had many satisfactions, with some of my photos exhibited in museums and even at the United Nations on the occasion of World Oceans’ Day.

With my colleagues Marcello Di Francesco and Massimo Zannini we won the World Shootout national championship in 2018, and this year we were again in the final 5. 

My latest awards are an Honorable Mention for the Slideshow section in Ocean Geographics contest, another HM in the Memorial Maria Luisa and a first place in macro section for the Dive Into Pink contest. 

Questions

When did you start underwater photography and why?

I started very early, around 1989 after my first tropical trip in Thailand. What I saw while snorkelling in Phi Phi island was so exciting that I decided to start with UW photo.  I was not yet a diver but I enjoyed a lot trying to shoot on the surface and skin diving.

Interesting shots can be taken snorkelling or skin diving

How much diving experience did you have when you started?

None! I took the camera underwater just after my OWD license. I was already photographing in snorkelling with a digital compact. 

Compact cameras can get you started in underwater photography – This shot is NOT with a compact…!

Were you a land photographer before starting? 

Yes, I loved photography since when I was 20.

What were you shooting and do you still shoot land photography? 

I love shooting landscapes and portraits, and often I shoot my cats 😊 

The eye of a landscape photographer translate well in underwater wide angle
Mushroom

What was your first underwater camera and housing?

I started with a Nikon FG SLR in a NIMAR housing, but my first serious shoots underwater were with a CANON A90 compact with the small Canon housing.

Pietro Started with a Canon Powershot compact

What is your current camera rig and why did you choose it?

Actually I shoot with an NIKON D850 housed in Nauticam. Since 2010 my housing choice is Nauticam, not only because I’m the Italian distributor for this brand, but because I always loved the perfect ergonomy and usability of these housings, along with the impressive choice of ports and accessories that I can achieve.

The NA-850 for Nikon D850 and a set of Retra Strobes

What is your favourite discipline (wide angle, macro, portraits, blackwater, etc)?

I love wide-angle photography very much, although I don’t mind small subjects, that I always try to portray with a small artistic and personal touch. Some times ago I discovered the wonders of blackwater in Anilao and it has become one of my favourites!

Sea Lion and baitball
Red and green
Bull Shark Portrait
Anilao blackwater diving
More blackwater
Rhinopia bubbling up
Abstract

What has been to date your best trip from a photography viewpoint? 

I have 2 places in my heart: Raja Ampat and Baja California. They can offer all that an underwater photographer can dream!

Raja Ampat and piers
Flowers in the sky
Rampant Flabella

How many trips have you done in the last 3 years and where?

I’m very lucky because I can travel a lot thanks to my work (I run workshops and guided trips for my customers). 

My last trips took me often in Indonesia (Raja Ampat, Wakatobi, Maratua), Philippines (Anilao, Puerto Galera), Maldives, Red Sea, Baja California.

Oslob Whale Sharks
Classic cayman
Manta Madness
Back to back Pygmy
Jellyfish burst
Manta on carpet
Goby life

Has there been a defining moment where you think your photography improved significantly?

Yes, I started diving and photographing in 2006 but around 2010 I met Mimmo Roscigno, one of the greatest Italian photographers, and with his inspiration my photo started to improve a lot. Then in 2012 I had the pleasure to be in a workshop held by Alex Mustard, and that was another important milestone in my career. 

Mimmo Roscigno historical Italian Underwater Photographer

What is your personal favourite shot among all you have taken?

That’s a hard question, because I have so much images that I love! But there is one that is special for me, it depicts a Pilot Whale with its newborn calf shot in Atlantic Ocean.

Pietro own favourite shots of pilot whales mum and calf

I found this shot so sweet and awe inspiring, and remembers me a very special moment spent with these wonderful animals.

It also won the “Coup de coeur” in a Festisub edition. 

Eye level

121 with Nicholas More

I have met Nick in 2015 and I was immediately impressed by his techniques and shots and we have been on a couple of trips together were I have been able to see the dedication he puts in getting the right image. Nick has the mindset required to take stunning images without a doubt.

So I am very pleased to share this post with you. Nick has also provided me with a set of pictures that I will host here. To stay up to date with his shots follow him on Instagram

If you want technical details on how to take motion blur shots the best path is to get a copy of the 2020 edition of Martin Edge‘s book The Underwater Photographer: a classic in the library of each underwater shooter.

Underwater photographer 2020 Edition

Chapter 9 of the 2020 edition is dedicated to Motion Blur and is authored by Nicholas More in person so you get the low down required by the photographer who has made this style his trademark.

Who is Nicholas (Nick) More?

Nick and his trusted D500 during a workshop with Dr Alex Mustard – use permitted

Dr Nicholas More is a Dental Surgeon from Exmouth, Devon, UK and is married to Rachel and father to their son, Ben. He has been diving since his teenage years and is now a PADI Dive Master, with well over 2000 dives. Nick combined this with photography in 2012. 

Key Achievements

Nick is a multi-award winning Underwater Photographer and the current British Underwater Photographer of the Year. His other notable achievements include numerous commendations in the British Wildlife Photography Awards (BWPA) and the Underwater Photographer of the Year (UPY), back-back wins in the BSoUP Print competition and a Silver medal in the Our World Underwater Photo competition.

Underwater Photographer of the Year:

British Underwater Photographer of the Year – 2020.

Highly Commended UPY – Wide Angle – 2020.

Commended UPY – Portraits – 2020.

Highly Commended UPY – Black & White – 2019.

Highly Commended UPY – British Wide Angle – 2019.

Commended UPY – Portraits – 2019

Runner Up: British Wide Angle UPY – 2018.

Highly Commended UPY – Portraits – 2018

The shot that awarded Nick the British UPY 2020 and Highly Commended UPY – Wide Angle – 2020

.

UPY 2020 Highly Commended Portraits
Highly Commended UPY – British Wide Angle – 2019.
Commended UPY – Portraits – 2019
Runner Up: British Wide Angle UPY – 2018

Ocean Art:

1st Place – Wide Angle – 2019

Runner-Up – Reef-scapes – 2019

Honourable Mention – Reef-scapes – 2019

Wide angle Ocean art 2019 Winner

Ocean Art 2019 Reefscape runner up

British Wildlife Photography Awards:

2 x Highly Commended BWPA – 2019.

Grey Seal Halichoerus grypus

Our World Underwater.

Silver medal, Macro Unrestricted – 2017.

Lembeh / Gulen Shootout:

Grand Prize Winner – 2018

Think Pink Photo Contest:

Winner – 2017.

BSoUP / Diver Print Competition:

BSoUP:

Grand Prize Winner – 2016 / 2017.

Judges Vote: 

Highly commended – 2014 / 2015 / 2017 / 2019.

Public Vote: 

Overseas Winner – 2013.

Advanced Overseas Runner-Up – 2014 / 2016.

Advanced British & Irish Runner-Up – 2016 / 2017.

Questions and Answers

When did you start underwater photography and why?

I have been diving since the 1990s. I started UW photography in 2012 as digital compact cameras became common place. I caught the bug very quickly and never looked back.

How much diving experience did you have when you started?

LOTS! I had approx. 1500 dives when i started UW photography. Im a PADI DM.

Were you a land photographer before starting?

NO! The only land photography I do is with an iPhone. I did go on safari in 2018 to Botswana, I borrowed a telephoto lens and got some pretty nice shots of the wildlife. The only subject I shoot on land is my son, Ben!

What was your first underwater camera and housing?

My 1st UW camera system was a Canon S95 in Canon polycarbonate housing. No strobes, just 1 touch custom WB, i did have an Inon Wide Angle wet lens that made a big difference. 

Amazon.com : Canon WP-DC38 Waterproof Housing for Canon S95 ...
Nick first camera was a Canon S95 in a classic polycarbonate housing

I then moved to micro 4/3rds with an Olympus OM-D before moving to a Nikon7100/7200.

What is your current camera rig and why did you choose it?

I shoot with a Nikon D500 in a Nauticam housing. I use Inon Z240 & Z330 strobes depending whether I’m shooting Wide or Macro. It has been very successful for me & I know the housing like the back of my hand. 

The Nikon D500 is a popular choice among underwater photographer and is the camera Nick shoots in a Nauticam housing

The D500 has super fast AF and great IQ. Im considering full frame but I wouldn’t trade my D500 rig. It would be used alongside.

What is your favourite discipline (wide angle, macro, portraits, blackwater, etc)?

I enjoy shooting Wide angle & macro. My preference is shooting animal portraits big & small. I like to shoot using motion blur. 

Im not a fan of wrecks or divers in my shots. Im more interested in the animals.

What has been to date your best trip from a photography viewpoint?

Raja Ampat without doubt. My last trip has produced numerous competition winners including some i can’t talk about yet! Raja has it all. The biodiversity is off the scale. 

striated frogfish or hairy frogfish Antennarius striatus Retra LSD Snoot

How many trips have you done in the last 3 years and where?

Ive had around 10 trips in the past 3 years. Trips include Lembeh / Raja Ampat & Bali. The Egyptian Red Sea and the Bahamas & Cuba for sharks and other big animals. I decide on which trips I go on depending on location, subjects and I have a preference for attending workshops with Alex Mustard & Wetpixel.  

Has there been a defining moment where you think your photography improved significantly?

Most definitely. Paul Duxfield taught me the basics and encouraged experimentation. Alex Mustard and his workshop participants then inspired  me to improve….quickly. Im competitive my nature so challenged myself to be the best I can be. I won the overseas category of the Diver / BSoUP Print Competition in 2013 at my 1st attempt. This meant I had to enter advanced / pro categories from then on – I had to improve! Long way to go….. 

What is your personal favourite shot among all you have taken?

My favourite shot, is a unique image of a porcelain crab, backlit through its host anemone. It was awarded Highly Commended in the Black & White category in UPY 2019. Its difficult to be original in UW photography and I feel this image is,  as its not been done before or since!

Nick personal favourite is the unique shot of a porcelain crab Highly Commended UPY – Black & White – 2019.
Periclimenes colemani Snooted Colemans Shrimp Portrait Retra LSD Snoot
Motion blur also works with schooling fish
Fast moving Stingray of the Red Sea

Announcing 121 with Nick More

Nick More will be answering my Q&A on a post next to be published on my blog.

Nick, is the British Underwater photographer of the year 2020 and has become a trademark of motion blur

Nick has recently authored a chapter on the latest edition of Martin Edge Underwater Photography and has provided me with some of his most exciting image including some that he consider special

Check his images on http://instagram.com/nicholasmoreuw and stay tuned the post will go up this Saturday June 13 2020

ProRes Raw Status as of May 2020

I have been spending some time looking at ProRes RAW in the last weeks and I have come to some conclusions that I wanted to share with you.

First of all ProRes RAW together with the unsupported CinemaDNG is the only RAW video codec that is not camera manufacturer specific this is a benefit of course as it makes your workflow camera independent.

ProRes RAW partners currently only include Atomos and DJI see full list here https://support.apple.com/en-gb/HT200321

Atomos implementation is based on HDMI data transfer and capture of raw signal on disk. This is limited by HDMI bandwidth.

  1. HDMI 2.0 imposes a limit of 12 bits depth
  2. HDMI 2.1 will remove this limit and allow 14+ bit depth however this is not supported mainstream right now

So if you have a camera with an APSC (Super35) or Full Frame sensor with a 14 bits RAW image capability you will be limited by two things:

  1. Sensor Readout: in video mode most full frame camera can’t output the full frame at video recording speed. Super35 being smaller are better in that respect
  2. Bandwidth of HDMI: your camera will not have more than HDMI 2.0

So in short right now the only camera on the market that can fully benefit from ProRes RAW is the ZCAM E2 see here link

This camera needs an external monitor and you need a Ninja V anyway to record ProRes RAW but it does have a Nauticam housing.

So right now your only option to full exploit ProRes RAW underwater is to use a ZCAM E2 with Nauticam housing and HDMI 2.0 connection.

Super35

Super35 cameras remain professional domain, Varicam EVA1 has ProRes RAW support still limited to 12 bits.

Nauticam makes a housing for it. It is of course expensive and this is really prograde.

Full Frame

Due to readout and scaling limitations there are no full frame cameras that can output 4K. However the S1H can offer a cropped Super35 (APSC) output to ProRes RAW this also has a Nauticam housing supporting HDMI 2.0. Am not considering the Nikon Z series total fail in this review.

Sharpness and lens correction

MFT format lenses are autocorrected other formats aren’t we don’t know what ProRes does.

Furthermore we have no details of which demoisaicing procedure is embedded in ProRes. Camera without an antialiasing filter appear to work badly indicating the algorithm favours speed to precision.

It is therefore possible that the IQ in ProRes RAW may be worse than log out of camera. This has been discussed in a workshop on Raw, gamma and log I have attended this week.

Conclusion

At Prosumer level the only options currently for ProRes RAW is the ZCAM E2 as the Panasonic S1H firmware has been delayed.

It is likely that ProRes RAW current readiness produces an outcome that may be equal or less satisfying that standard video processing.

I will keep following on the subject and keep you updated for now the advice is don’t rush it.

Why You need 1.4 lenses on Micro Four thirds

This post is NOT about underwater imaging. With the lockdown most of us have started using their cameras in the garden to shoot bugs, or birds or family members or abstracts.

In my instagram on the side you can see some examples of what I have been up to.

Shooting underwater is typically done at small apertures because of underwater optics issues. It is rare to shoot wide angle wider than f/5.6 on a MFT body or F/11 on full frame.

On land everything changes and you want to have as much light as possible coming into your camera to maximise dynamic range, bring out colours and minimised noise. Aperture controls not just how much light hits the sensor but also depth of field or I should say depth of focus.

Depth of field at equal level of magnification (size of the subject relative to the frame) depends only on the aperture of the lens. It does not matter if the lens is short or long once the subject fill your frame it is the f/number that influences depth of field.

2.8/2/1.4 is the Magic Number

Typically in full frame terms f/2.8 was a good lens, and the reason is quite simple if you shoot a classic 50mm lens from 1.5 meters away you will have 15 cm or half a foot depth of field. This is ideal to keep things in focus but also provide some background separation as objects blur as they move away from the area in focus. If you had a faster lens more light would go in the frame however you risk that nothing is in focus, for example nose and eye in focus and maybe ears not in focus.

And this is why 2.8 has been the magic number for full frame photography. If we move to an APSC sensor this becomes 2 and on MFT the magic number is 1.4. So 1.4 on a 25mm lens on MFT is equivalent to 2.8 on 50mm on full frame.

-20200211-13.jpg
Street Photography Night scene at 1.4

1.4 also gives plenty of light to your sensor so when you want to do some street photography or filming on MFT you can keep your ISO very low.

Exposure Value

Every scene has a level of illumination given in LUX and your camera needs to be able to expose for it with the right focus, with the required motion blur and lowest noise.

The scene in the image above is shot at f/1.4 1/60 ISO 640 let’s calculate the Ev taking into account the reference value is f/1 1 second and ISO 100.

1.4 means 1 stop 1/60 means 5.9 stops and 640 means 2.67 stops. So in total we have 6.9 stops of light taken away from aperture and shutter and 2.67 stops added by ISO gain. Total of 4.22 Ev using the formula Lux = 2.5 2^Ev we get 47 Lux which is the level of illumination of your living room in the evening with artificial lights.

If you had a slower lens like for example 2.8 to cover the same scene you needed to shoot at ISO 2500 this would have increased the noise, reduced the dynamic range and the colors.

2.8 Zooms are for outdoor

There are a number of great lenses for MFT cameras that are midrange zoom and have outstanding optical quality:

Panasonic 12-35
Olympus 12-40

The lenses above are constant aperture and weather sealed they are ideal for outdoor use however they do not offer a shallow depth of field for subject isolation as they really are f/5.6 in full frame equivalent and they are also slow meaning they will take you to the ISO 2500 zone if you try street photography or shooting movies in your living room.

Prime Rules

If you want fast lenses in MFT you need to have prime lenses, this is due to the physical constraint of the format.

Here my selection, I am not a fan of vintage lenses or full manual lenses, I like the best optical quality and if I want to add a vintage feel I do it in post.

From left: Panasonic 12mm, Sigma 16mm, Panasonic 25mm, Panasonic 42.5 all 1.4 lenses

In more detail:

Panasonic 12mm 1.4

The Panasonic 12mm 1.4 is an expensive lens that I use for astrophotography and gimbals plus low light narrow room indoor shots.

It is weather sealed, extremely sharp and fast to focus and works in full auto focus on a gimbal.

Home Sweet Home
Star Trail with 12mm 1.4
Gimbal
Sigma 16mm 1.4

The Sigma 16mm 1.4 must be the best value prime on the market for MFT lenses. I use it in street photos and for videos. It is almost a 35mm full frame lens.

-20200213-11.jpg
street photography with Sigma 16mm
Garden Overview
Panasonic 25mm

The Panasonic 25mm is a workhorse for small group portraits and ideal lens for movie style video.

25mm 1.4
Kids video with 25mm
Nocticron 42.5

The Panasonic 42.5 Nocticron is probably the best portrait lens on MFT and one of the best lenses overall.

Nocticron portrait

Why not Olympus/Others?

Of course there are equivalent primes from other brands for all focal lengths except the 12mm. They will perform equally and as long as they can go to 1.4 all is good. I use Panasonic bodies so tend to have Panasonic lenses and I buy Sigma since a long time but this is personal. There are tons of reviews on which lenses to choose etc etc but is not my place to do such comparisons.

How about Video?

Even more essential to have fast primes for video as you are constrained in the shutter speed you can use.

Using a 1.4 lens at 1/50 you can shoot several scenes at different ISO

ISOLuxTypical Scene
200125Dark day
40063Indoors low lit areas
80032full overcast sunset/sunrise very dark indoor
160015Near twilight
32008After Twilight dark
64004dark
128002very dark
256001Candlelight
Aperture vs environment

For my purposes this adequate for reference underwater scenes at 3.5 means I can cover 100 Lux in ambient light in movie mode before turning on the lights.

Conclusion

If you find yourselves with grainy images or videos invest in fast lenses. A lens is the eye of your camera and the sensor is the brain. Think about getting better lenses before investing in a new camera and consider that if you need to go in lower light it is not always true that getting a bigger sensor will help considering the limitation of depth of field so you may want to think about lights.

do you need raw video?

We are finally there. Thanks to smaller companies that are keen to get a share of the market we now have at least two cameras with MFT sensor that are able to produce RAW video.

RAW Video and RED

It has been RED to patent the original algorithm to compress raw video data straight out of the sensor before the demosaicing process. Apple tried to circumvent the patent with their ProRes RAW but lost in court the legal battle and now has to pay licenses to Red. Coverage is here.

So RED is the only company that has this science, to avoid paying royalties Blackmagic Design developed an algorithm that uses data taken from a step of the video pipeline after demosaic for their BRAW.

I do not want to discuss if BRAW is better than RedCode or ProRes RAW however with a background in photography I only consider RAW what is straight out of the sensor Analag Digital Converter so for me RAW is RedCode or ProRes RAW and not BMRAW.

How big is RAW Video

If you are a photographer you know that a RAW image data file is roughly the same size in megabytes than the megapixels of your camera.

How is that possible I have a 20 Megapixel camera and the RAW file is only a bit more than 20 megabytes? My Panasonic RW2 files are 24.2 MB without fail out of 20.89 Megapixels so on average 9.26 bits per pixel. Why don’t we have the full 12 bits per pixel and therefore a 31 MB file? Well cameras are made of a grid of pixels that are monochromatic so each pixel is either red, green or blue. In each 2×2 matrix there are 2 green pixels, 1 red and 1 blue pixel. Through a series of steps of which on is to decode this mosaic into an image (demosaic) we rebuild an RGB image for display.

Each one of our camera pixels will not have the full 4096 possible tones, measures from DxoMark suggest that the Sony IMX272AQK only resolves 24 bits colours in total and 9 bits of grey tones. So this is why a lossless raw files is only 24.2 MB. This means that an 8K frame video in RAW would be 9.25 MB and therefore a 24 fps RAW video stream would be 222 MB/s or 1,776 Mb/s if we had equivalent compression efficiency. After chroma subsampling to 422 this would become 1184 Mb/s.

Cameras like the ZCam E2 or the BMPCC4K that can record ProRes 422 HQ approach those bitrates and can be considered virtually lossless.

But now we have ProRes RAW so what changes? The CEO of ZCAM has posted an example of a 50 fps ProRes RAW HQ files and this has a bitrate of 2255 Mb/s if this was 24 fps it would be 1082 Mb/s so we can see how my maths are actually stacking up nicely.

Those bit rates are out of reach of almost all memory card so an SSD drive support is required and this is where Atomos comes into the picture.

Atomos have decided to adopt ProRes RAW and currently offer support for Nikon, Panasonic and Zcam selected model.

ProRes RAW workflow

So with the ProRes RAW file at hand I wanted to test the workflow in Final Cut Pro X. Being an Apple codec all works very well however we encounter a number of issues that photographers have resolved a long time ago.

The first one is that RAW has more dynamic range than your SDR delivery space, this also happens with photos however programs work in larger RGB spaces like ProPhotoRGB at 16 bits and using tone mapping you can edit your images and then bring them back to an 8 bit jpeg that is not as good as the RAW file but is in most cases fine for everyone.

Video NLE are not in the same league of photo raw editors and usually deal with a signal that is already video is not raw data. So the moment you drop your ProRes RAW clip on a SDR timeline it clips as you would expect. A lot of work is required to bring back clips into an SDR space and this is not the purpose of this post.

To avoid big issues I decided to work on an HDR timeline in PQ so that with a super wide gamut and gamma there were no clipping issues. The footage drops perfectly into the timeline without any work required to confirm which is brilliant. So RAW for HDR is definitely the way forward.

ProRes RAW vs LOG

My camera does not have ProRes RAW so I wanted to understand what is lost going through LOG compression? For cameras that have an analog gain on sensor there is no concept of base ISO fixed like it happens on Red or ARRI cameras. Our little cameras have a programmable gain amplifier and as gain goes up DR drops. So the first bad news is that by using LOG you will lose DR from RAW sensors.

This graph shows that on the Panasonic GH5 there is a loss of 1 Ev from ISO 100 to 400 but still we have our 11.3 Ev minimum to play with. I am not interested in the whole DR but I just want to confirm that for those cameras that have more DR than their ADC allows you will have a loss with LOG as this needs gain and gain means clipping sooner.

Panasonic GH5 full resolution 20.9 MPixels DR

What is very interesting is that net of this the ProRes RAW file allowed me to test how good is LOG compression. So in this clip I have :

  1. RAW video unprocessed
  2. RAW video processed using Panasonic LOG
  3. RAW video processed using Canon LOG
  4. RAW video processed using Sony LOG

In this example the ZCAM E2 has a maximum dynamic range of 11.9 Ev (log2(3895)) from Sony IMX299CJK datasheet. As the camera has less DR than the maximum limit of the ADC there is likely to be no loss.

We can see that there are no visible differences between the various log processing options. This confirms that log footage is an effective way to compress dynamic range in a smaller bit depth space (12->10 bits) for MFT sensors.

The same ProRes RAW files processed using log from Panasonic, Canon and Sony shows no visual difference

Final Cut Pro gives you the option to go directly to RAW or go through LOG, this is because all your log based workflow and LUT would continue to work. I can confirm this approach is sound as there is no deterioration that I can see.

Is ProRes RAW worth it?

Now that we know that log compression is effective the question is do I need it? And the answer is it depends…

Going back to our ProRes RAW 1082 Mb/s once 422 subsampling is applied this drops to 721 Mb/s this is pretty much identical to ProRes 422 HQ nominal bit rate of 707 Mb/s. So if you have a Zcam and record ProRes RAW or ProRes 422 HQ you should not be able to see any difference. I can confirm that I have compressed such footage in ProRes 422 HQ and I could not see any difference at all.

However typically with photos a RAW files can hold heavy modifications while a JPEG cannot. We are used processing ProRes and there is no doubt that ProRes 422 HQ can take a lot of beating. In my empirical tests I can see that Final Cut Pro X is very efficient manipulating ProRes RAW files and in terms of holding modifications I cannot see that this codec provides a benefit but this may be due to the lack of capability of FCPX.

For reference Panasonic AVC Intra 422 is identical in terms of quality to ProRes 422 HQ though harder to process, and much harder to process than ProRes RAW.

Conclusion

If you have already a high quality output from your camera such as ProRes 422 HQ or Panasonic AVCI 400 Mbps with the tools at our disposal there is not a lot of difference at least for an MFT sensor. This may have to do with the fact that the sensor DR and colour depth is anyway limited and therefore log compression is effective to the point that ProRes RAW does not appear to make a difference, however there is no doubt that if you have a more capable camera, there is more valuable data there and this may be well worth it.

I am currently looking for Panasonic S1H ProRes RAW files. Atomos only supports 12 bits so the DR of the camera will be capped as RAW is linearly encoded. However SNR will he higher and the camera will have more tones and colors resulting in superior overall image quality, someone calls this incorrectly usable DR but is just image quality. it will be interesting to see if AVCI 10 bits and log is more effective than ProRes RAW 12 bits.

Tips to make the most of underwater time