Category Archives: ambient light

CREATIVE strobe filters for wide angle

When people think about creating lighting technique for underwater photography a few things come to mind and usually it is about tools. Snoots for example have become very popular and help the underwater photographer to increase separation of the subject from the background. I have seen some people jumping in the water with a black slate to create an artificial black background, clearly is much easier to do that for macro as everything is at end and typically the subjects are not fast moving or the diver is not fast moving.

Then of course there is strobe positioning, classic, inward, crossed, rabbit ears, backlighting etcetera here goes a long list of options.

At the end however some pictures just seem to “pop” more than others, and this usually has to do with the colours and the contrast and with the blue.

It is not a coincidence that the term Mustard Blue is what has made some shots from Alex Mustard re-known and if you read his underwater photography masterclass there is a whole section ‘The sea is blue’ where Dr. Mustard goes on about the importance of exposure and background blue.

His suggestions are to:

  1. Dial in an underexposure (for the water) around -2/3 to -1 1/3 Ev
  2. Using warm strobes

It is worth stressing out that the primary reason why the camera gets fooled by the conditions underwater is because colours gets absorbed and blue lights gets scattered instead creating that milky glare at times when the water has lots of suspended particles.

If shoot an auto mode with exposure compensation at zero your pictures will for most part come out washed out and lacking contrast underwater and this is one the primary reasons photographer like Dr Mustard do not follow the expose to the right rules.

Underexposure for the water is obtained by keeping the aperture and ISO constant as they are aligned to the strobes and changing the shutter speed accordingly. Obviously if you are shooting video your shutter speed is most likely fixed so you need to find alternative ways to get your blue as you want it but generally you would still underexpose probably not as much.

With regards to warm strobes this is a fairly subtle point linked to the camera auto white balance mechanism.

Most flash strobes have colour temperatures between 5500 and 6500 K and therefore are not at all particularly warm.

Inon Z240 Standard and Warm diffuser

Inon has developed warming diffusers for their Z240 range and I believe also for the most recent Z330 range. They are available in 4600K and 4900K temperature. I definitely recommend the 4600K version over the 4900K as it has a stronger effect.

So how does a warm strobe work in order to get a richer blue?

Table of light sources – Olympus education

When we shoot with strobes the camera is set to auto white balance, and will average for most the subject we hit with our strobes to calculate the average colour temperature and tint.

The camera auto white balance operates between 2500K and 7500K typically so a warm strobe is likely to set the colour to 4600K instead of the typical 5500K the ‘extra’ 900K do not really do anything to the subject that will anyway we white balance but give an extra kick to the blue background. Underwater colour temperature is usually higher than 9000K and easily reaches 14000K (purple tone in the water) at depth. So the warm strobes are particularly effective in shallower and clearer water as they push the blue to a darker tint like in this example taken around 12 meters.

f/8 1/125 ISO 125

You can see how deep is the blue other example taken on the Barge at less than 10 meters.

Portrait in deep blue…

So what happens if you don’t have a warm strobe or if there aren’t warm diffusers for the strobe you have, or maybe you don’t want to spend the money for them?

Amazon comes to the rescue

If your strobe is around 5250 with diffusers (like Sea and Sea YS-D2 or Inon S2000/Z240/D200) get a 1/8 CTO

Rosco Cinegel sun 1/8 CTO, 20×24″ Color Correction Lighting Filter

You can find this filter also under Lee on colour 231, with a little amount you can get a half sheet that is enough for a few strobes.

This filter has a negligible -0.3 Ev light loss and will bring your strobe down to around 4600K .

If you have a fairly cool strobe you need a 1/4 CTO

Rosco un 1/4 CTO 20X24 Amber – Rosco RS340911

If you have something different you can try a mired shift calculator here

http://www.leefilters.com/lighting/mired-shift-calculator.html

Be careful not to exceed with this technique or subject will turn too warm.

An alternative and perhaps counterintuitive approach is to use cooling filters.

In this case the strobe light will become colder to emulate the water colour and the camera will need to be set to custom white balance.

In almost all cameras except Olympus that reach 14000K colour temperatures are limited to 10000K however they can be further enhanced to reach 11000K if you have an adjustment panel like the Panasonic or Sony cameras. Pushing the adjustment to the A gives extra 1K. This technique with a bare lens has however a limitation as when the custom white balance caps the colours go completely off.

In order to see what can the colour temperature setting do we can compare a normal grey card shot with one where the colour temp is 11000K and magenta is pushed to the max.

Grey card bare lens
Maxed out Custom White balance on Panasonic GH5

In order to cool down the strobes you need a cyan filter, the custom white balance can correct up to 2 stops Cyan but no more. You can trim a sheet of Rosco 4360 to fit into your diffuser as below. This takes around 1 stop Ev off the strobe.

Sea and Sea diffuser with a Cyan 60 gel

It important to stress that the predominant colour in blue and blue water is cyan not blue and this is what gives the washed out scattering. We want to keep the deep blues and get rid of light blue and green which ultimately is cyan the colour of water.

So the strobe will emulate the water and the camera custom white balance will set the colour restoring what was lost and giving us a full correct spectrum. This however only works until the water colour temperature gets to 11000K and this is not as deep as you may think it could be a low as 9-10 meters. A cyan 60 filter is approximately 9500K. You can see the colour in the image below.

Cyan 2 Stop results in Colour Temperature around 9500K

In this technique the strobe is not used to give colour but to eliminate shadows the custom white balance is going to give a deep colour that penetrates the whole frame so any subject in the distance will be colourful as well.

The benefit of this technique is that you may use wider apertures and even slower shutter speeds like in this 1/60 example here.

batfish formation 1/60 f/5.6 ISO 200

You can clearly see the orange colours of the anthias far behind in the frame.

The ultimate stretch of this technique is to combine a filter like the magic filter this can be used with both a Cyan 2 stops and also a Cyan 3 stops in deeper water. This technique is taxing on exposure as your strobes are half power and your exposure has 1 2/3 stops less however this is easily recovered as you tend to shoot at slower shutter speeds of 1/30 to 1/60 instead of 1/125 to 1/200 because the filter will give you the deeper blues.

Magic filters on WB slate

The magic filter adds around 3000K to you camera custom white balance ability reaching the 14000K where the water starts turning purple blue. To that regards due to the amount of red I do not recommend going to deep with the magic and keep it to a max of 13 meters as recommended on their website.

The magic filter is almost a perfect match for the Cyan 60 filter if you overlap them over the lens you get almost a neutral grey card the temperature is only 150K off while the tint is around 5 notches toward green in Lightroom.

Magic Filter + Cyan 60 results in almost neutral grey card

This cave shot I believe gives an idea and is taken with filter on lens and strobes.

Magic filter plus Cyan 60

I have also tried the magic filter with Cyan 90 however there are some side effect to consider. Firstly you get Cyan cast on the image at shallower depths. Second the magic filter has a tendency to turn purple below a certain depth so I recommend to use the magic with the Cyan 60 as you are certain that the foreground subject and the strobe filter will give you a neutral colour. If you are in deeper water and the temperature is above 10000K this will only result in a deeper blue and a warmer light on the subject that once RAW corrected will look just fine.

Conclusion

In this post I have tried to give you some tips on how to use gels to give deeper blue or richer colours to your wide angle. I would recommend to start with warming diffusers and then move to cyan filters and finally to magic filter and cyan filter in combination.

I will be demonstrating extensively this techniques during my 2020 Red Sea Liveaboard

A final word for video shooters. I am not aware of any add on warming diffusers for video lights and generally I have not seen LED warmer than 5000K therefore unless you shoot at 60p 1/125 it will be very hard to get deep blue at shallow depths without a lens filter.

See my other post for video specific tips.

Full size images are available on my flickr pages all images here are reduced to 1600 pixels for storage purposes.

The importance of Underwater white balance with the Panasonic gh5

One of the key steps in order to get the best underwater colours in your video is to perform a custom white balance.

This is true on land and on water because auto white balance only works in a specified range of color temperatures.

Panasonic GH5 advanced user manual

For our GH5 the range where auto works goes is approximately 3200-7500K. When the camera is working outside this range you get a colour cast. Let’s see with some examples:

Grey card Auto White Balance 8mm
Grey card Custom White Balance 8mm

In the example above I am taking a picture of a white balance reference card under warm lights that have a colour temperature of 2700K.

As you can see the auto white balance fails resulting in a yellowish tinge, while the shots taken after the custom white balance is accurate.

In terms of white balance card I use the Whibal G7 Studio 3.5″x6″ (8.9×15.2 cm). I found this card to work well underwater and I use it with a lanyard attached to a clip that I hook on my BCD D rings.

More info on the whibal here

It is possible to buy a larger card such as the reference that is 7.5″x10″ however this is cumbersome and I found the Studio version to work well with the Panasonic GH5 as it only uses the central part of the frame for white balance.

Custom white balance with the 8mm fisheye

Going back to our GH5 instruction manual you can also see that the camera white balance is limited to 10,000K which is the colour of blue sky.

Underwater due to light absorption at longer wavelengths red and orange disappear at depth and blue tends to scatter over suspended particles. So the colour temperature of water tends to be higher than 10,000K and also the blue is somewhat washed out by scattering.

This is the reason filters are essential because reduce the amount of blue or to say better cyan and bring the camera into a range where custom white balance works again.

I have already posted a whole range of observations on filters in a previous post so am not repeating here.

With the right filter for the water colour I dive in and with the appropriate white balance card you can get some pretty decent results with custom white balance.

To help the colour accuracy I have experimented with the Leeming Luts and I want to thank Paul Leeming for answering my obscure questions. Obviously you do not have to use the LUTs and you can design them yourself however I found that using the Cinelike D LUT I have a very good starting point for colour correction.

The starting point is a CineLike D profile with saturation, noise reduction and sharpness set to -5 all other settings to default as suggested by Paul, there is no need to lower the contrast as CineLike D is already a flat curve.

*Noise and sharpness have actually nothing to do with grading but are set to -5 as the GH5 applies sharpening and noise reduction even at -5 setting. Sharpening has generally a negative effect all around while noise reduction if required is better performed in the editor.

Looking at imaging resource tests of the GH5 we can appreciate that the camera colours are oversaturated by default.

the GH5 has around 113% over saturated colours

The GH5 tends to push deep colour and wash out cyan and yellow. This becomes apparent when we look at a white balanced clip uncorrected.

White balanced clip in final cut pro you can see how the water column is washed out whilst red and other dark colours are accurate

The Leeming Lut helps rebalancing the camera distorted colours and when you apply the camera LUT, provided you have followed the exposure instructions and applied the profile as described, the improvement is immediate.

The previous clip now with the CineLike D Leeming LUT applied

From here onwards it is possible to perform a better grading and work to improve the footage further.

For the whole read please look at Leeming Lut website

One other thing that I believe it is interesting is that while generally for ambient light or balanced light shots I do not actually trust the camera exposure and go -1/3 to -2/3 for close up shots exposing to the right greatly helps highlights recovery

In the two frames you can see the difference the LUT brings restoring the correct balance to the head of the turtle.

Turte detail the highlights appear blown out
Turtle detail with Leeming Lut applied

To be clear the turtle detail has been white balanced in water on the whibal card while using a Keldan Spectrum filter -2, then in fcpx automatic balancing is applied. The LUT brings out a better dynamic range from the same frames.

Obviously you are free to avoid lens filters and LUTs and to some extent it is possible to get similar results however the quality I obtain using automatic settings I believe is quite impressive.

I found myself most times correcting my own wrong exposures or wanting to increase contrast in scene where I had little however this only happens in sever circumstances where white balance and filters are at the limits.

Conclusion

There are many paths to get the right colours for your GH5 underwater videos in my opinion there are four essential ingredients to make your life easier and give your footage a jump start:

  • Take a custom white balance using a professional grade white balance card
  • Set the right picture profile and exposure when shooting
  • (Recommended) Use appropriate filters for the water conditions
  • Apply the appropriate LUT to eliminate the errors in the GH5 colour rendering in post processing

With the following settings producing a video like this is very simple and all your efforts are in the actual cutting of the clip.

Short clip that applies this blog tips

Please note some of the scenes that look off are shot beyond the working conditions of filters and white balance at around 25 meters…

Getting the best colors in your underwater video with the panasonic gh5

There is no doubt that the Panasonic GH5 is a very capable camera and in given conditions the video performance you can get is truly impressive.

Broadly speaking a video clip needs to be:

  1. Sharp
  2. Colorful
  3. Contrasty
  4. Clean

Those 4 characteristics are tightly related to:

  1. Resolution
  2. Color depth
  3. Dynamic range
  4. Low Noise

Resolution

Today everyone shoots 4K and after all resolution is well supported by almost any camera, broadly is unaffected by other factors and unless the noise is really high sharpness of your frame is not going to be a real issue shooting at 4K.

Color depth

In normal conditions and not underwater a camera can resolve many colors. However underwater due to the diffraction of light and selective absorption of colours the starting point is very different from land. So generally is not the camera that cannot resolve the colors but the colors that are missing to start with. This post will focus specifically on this aspect. The Panasonic GH5 can resolve 23.8 bits in RAW and therefore technically has less than 8 bits color depth – do not confuse this with the 8 or 10 bit recording setting.

Dynamic Range

Underwater scenes tend to have limited dynamic range, with the exception of sunbursts or shooting against the light this is going to be an issue only in specific circumstances of very bright scenes with shadows. In all scenes taken with video lights dynamic range is not an issue at all. The GH5 has 13 stops of dynamic range but rarely this is an important consideration.

Noise

Noise is an important consideration as when the noise goes up the camera looses the other characteristics, color, dynamic range and resolution will be affected when the camera is outside the sweet spot. Broadly speaking the Panasonic GH5 does not do well once you pass the ISO 1600 setting and I tend to cap the ISO in video at 800 in most cases.

Diving Conditions

To understand how those variables play we can see how the same set up reacts very differently in scene where there is less light and therefore the camera uses high ISO like this one.

The same camera with exactly the same equipment in brighter water produces this

So the reason for the above is that with less light there are less colours and the clip looks what it is really.

OK moving on to the main subject of this post how do I get the colors right? It is a combination of techniques and the trick is to use the right one in the right conditions.

Generally every site has specific conditions that change depending on weather, time of the day, visibility and other factors. So in broad terms a site will have more or less light and therefore more or less colours. It is therefore impossible to categorically define what to do at a given depth but is more about typical values. With this in mind we have typically 3 scenarios:

  1. Ambient light shots
  2. Artificial light shots
  3. Balanced light shots

Close up Shots

In general close up shots especially of small subject fall within the scenario 2 for which a video light with high color rendering is important as this will define the colours you see. With a lot of power it is possible to extend artificial lighting to larger subjects but eventually you run out of power due to distance or size of the subject.

Wide angle shots and seascapes

True wide angle shots are generally ambient light shots which also means when it gets too dark the colors will be missing and it will look blue not matter the equipment.

In order to make the most of ambient light shots for wide angle it is essential to balance the colours in water even when you use a RAW format on a still image because RAW files are not as RAW as you think and are actually compressed.

Custom White Balance

Using Custom White balance with a grey card it is possible to obtain decent results until the camera hits the maximum color temperature in the case of the Panasonic GH5 this is 9900K. Depending on conditions you may get to 10-12 meters and this still works, in darker water this stops working much sooner.

Chrisoula K Bow
Chrisoula K Ambient Light 5 meters

Color Filters

Color filters push the limit of custom white balance further down. Some add more or less 4 meters others up to 6-8 meters at the expense of an overall loss of light. Filters are useful when there is a lot of light because also help to keep the Panasonic Gh5 in the best aperture range (not smaller than f/11)

Filter in action at 10 meters

Right now there are predominantly 3 filters on the market:

  1. UR PRO
  2. Magic filter
  3. Keldan Spectrum

All those filters will improve the performance and color rendering of your footage, under the conditions that the loss of light is not pushing the camera above reasonable ISO values.

In terms of depth range the magic filter and the Keldan Spectrum -2 version can be pushed to 15 meters depth on a bright day in clear water. The URPRO is capable of getting a few meters more down to around 17-18 meters although it does generate an orange cast (as there is no red left) it is still workable.

FilterLight LossTypical Max Depth
Magic Filter1 2/3 Ev15 meters
Keldan Spectrum -22 stop (WWL)12 meters
URPRO 1 2/3 Ev18 meters

This image gives an idea of the 3 filters as you can see they are very different one from the other.

Keldan top URPRO bottom Magic filter

Balanced Wide Angle Shots

This is an entirely new technique that has started with the Keldan Ambient light filters. I wrote a whole piece on wetpixel

The principle is to use custom white balance with or without filter to obtain color rendering and then put filters on the video light so that the color of the light emulates the ambient light and therefore it only gives texture not color.

Keldan has developed a whole range of filters for various situation that match their light and therefore are not applicable to any other light.

As I do not own a set of Keldan I have done some tests and found that a gel of Cyan filter 2 or 3 stops makes my divepro G18+ practically ambient light in the conditions I dive into.

FilterCyan Strength
Magic Filter2 stops
Keldan Spectrum1 1/2 stops
URPRO3 stops

The above value are based on my experience use at your own risk especially with different lights.

Square Cyan 2 stops Round Cyan 3 stops

To give an idea I overlapped the filter to my iPhone lens

This is the shot without any filters

Original Shot

URPRO and Cyan 3 stops (darker)
Magic filter and cyan 2 stops accurate
Keldan and cyan 2 stops accurate

This example shows that the two filters cancel themselves the result is almost daylight with no cast which means in water if you use a video light or a strobe you will not see a red or orange spots on the image.

For those taking pictures the same combination remains true with Inon Z240 and Sea and Sea YS-D2

Example picture here

five in a row
My own filter and Cyan 3 stop note that the light is coming from the other side

One thing to take into account is that you need to find a way to hold the gel on the video light or the strobes. The flat surface strobe diffusers make this process easy, finding something you can use with your video lights is not easy and also the gels may melt after continuous use.

Artificial lights

It comes a point and a depth where filters stop working, this could be as shallow as 8 meters in green water. As the scene is dark using lights is what is required. There is nothing specific about this technique except making sure you don’t get burned highlights or backscatter. As it happens in photography using long arms (maybe not as long as for stills) is key to get good lighting on your subject.

My Camera Settings

I use CineLike D with saturation, sharpness and noise reduction to -5. I shoot at 24/25p AVCI 400 mbps and follow the 180 rules, it is entirely possible to shoot at 1/100 if you like more crisp look.

Clearly there are people out there that do not like filters and think white balance is best etc but I think a good read on magic filters explains it all.

http://www.magic-filters.com/need.html

Getting the best underwater colours for your 4K Sony RX100 Mark IV

It is not a mystery that even the new Mark IV version has issues with custom white balance.

The ergonomics have not changed and you need to go into photo mode to set custom white balance but generally underwater results are poor. Using filters is therefore a necessity also on the new 4K version.

RX100 Mark IV Video Behavior

The RX100 offers now a 4K 100 mbps mode and can use picture profiles.

I have used a modified version of PP6 that use the cine2 gamma curve, I have however changed the colour to the Pro mode and changed a number of other settings in my last video in Puerto Galera.

The water was green and murky but this gives you an idea of what you can get.

Filter Options and Wide Angle

Although the Nauticam WWL-1 is the best lens for the RX100 it does not take filters and therefore is not adequate for video.

In this review clip you can see the options available on the market.

In terms of wide angle you have two options for 4K:

  1. Inon UWL-H100
  2. Inon UWL-100

Both lenses work fine in 4K however the older UWL-100 achromat does vignette in photo mode.

The UWL-H100 offers a very wide field of view also in HD mode with no vignette and accepts the mangrove/deeproof filter.

This filters is loaded with magenta so I suggest adjusting the tint in the auto white balance mode to +2 green.

The UWL-100 works fine in 4K and is wider than the UWL-H100 however has only the M67 mount. If you have one of those lenses you can use the Ikelite 6442 filter. This filter required you to remove the rubber ring on the lens and does work quite well except has a yellow cast to it you can reduce by changing the tint to +2 blue and increasing also magenta to +1.

For flexibility purposes probably the UWL-H100 is better as it takes the bayonet but the UWL-100 is really wide and has a little less fringing. Some people do like the UR/PRO filters better.

I hope you find this post useful and good luck with getting the best colours from your Sony RX100 Mark IV

Video Feature Sony RX100 Mark II in Malta

Following from my previous post I managed to get together a clip out of the 5 dives I did

The first day was somewhat plagued by visibility a bit lower than the norm for the location but the second day was fabulous

For this trip I brought with me the Inon UWL-H100 and the red push on filter from deep roof H20 and the Inon UCL-330 as I was expecting medium size fish and nothing really small

Here is the outcome

I am quite happy how things turned out so let me share the settings with you

First I shot most of the footage in 25p AVCHD mode only some small sections are shot at 50p and actually I did not need to slow down any of the material.

For the wide shots I used steady shot in normal mode and shutter priority at 1/50th. With the filter on I had auto white balance with tint correction G2 A1. I noticed that the camera was giving red tint in some situation and so added a bit of green back. The Amber correction instead is for the RX100 itself the camera does not have vibrant yellow and is a bit blue.

Tunas
Tunas – AWB with filter

For the first time I use creative mode changing the standard contrast to -3 in order to prevent crushing of blacks.

Exposure was set all along to -1/3 and metering to multi area with AUTO ISO limited 160-800.

I think the results are so good that in fact I have performed no colour correction to any shots in ambient light.

Opening the tuna farm
Opening the tuna farm – AWB with filter

For shots with lights I set up first colour temperature to 6500K and A1 to match the lights but then in some of the far shots this resulted a bit cold so I adjusted very slightly in post the temperature.

Seahorse
Seahorse – AWB UCL330

Only 40″ are adjusted in the whole video in essence is as shot and the editing took me half hour.

In cave
In cave –  AWB no filter

I did a bit of analysis and the camera was operating for most at ISO200 with aperture around f/3.5 – f/4.0 which is really the sweet spot of the lens.

I did have some challenges using the UCL330 for some nudibranches  that really required a stronger lens so they look a bit small, there was also surge so I had to fight with focus problems but all in all very happy.

Nudibranch
Nudibranch – AWB UCL330

The longer working distance of the UCL330 (20-30 cm or 8″ to 1′) proved challenging on walls as you are too far to hang on to anything or use a stick. I will bear this in mind in the future.

For the close up shots I used steady shot active.

I also wanted to say that a few times the camera did manage to white balance properly however the results were not exciting and frankly not worth the hassle. Using the filter is just so much better with the auto white balance.

Tweaking the Sony RX100 Mark II Video Performance

I am currently in Malta for few days relaxing and I manage to squeeze in some dives. The Mediterranean sea is nothing sensational (from a pure diving point of view) but does offer clear water, and some brisk thermoclines, and a combination of algae, blue water, caves and silvery fish that is challenging on the dynamic range of our little RX100.

The purpose of this trip is mostly to refine the video settings and go more in depth in few topics. I wanted to try specifically the following:

  • Metering modes
  • Creative modes
  • Stabiliser modes
  • Tracking focus
  • Medium size fish portraits
  • White balance
  • Caves and low light

Some of my settings will be the same and I am not intending to changed them those are:

Auto ISO: 160 – 800

DRO: Auto

Starting off with metering, the first attempt was to try and use the camera on 0 exposure compensation with centred weighted average metering.

Entering Cave Fairly Bright
Entering Cave Fairly Bright

Pretty soon I realised this gave issues of banding of the blue water, this was apparent not only in backlit shots but also in normal wide angle of fish in specific cases. So after dive number 1 I changed it to the standard -0.3 from dive 2.

I set a new creative style with contrast at -3 in the hope to recover detail and seem to be working fine with the shots still having plenty of contrast.

Lowered Constrast on -3
Lowered Constrast on -3

I also tried spot metering for close up but it makes no sense the video lights are too wide and ended up with burned highlights at the edges of the frame so back to centred weighted average for close up shots.

Spot metering
Spot metering

So when it comes to metering my settings are:

Wide angle: multi area

Close up: centered weighted average

I did some tests with stabiliser in steadyshot mode, this gives back some field of view and the lens offers 100 degrees diagonal and 90 horizontal, I actually think a bit more anyway with fairly stable conditions this worked fine. At longer focal length for close up I am still using active mode.

Schooling Fish 100 fov
Schooling Fish 100 fov

I have a +3 diopter for this test as I realised in my last still trip I don’t have a lens for medium size fish, the lens worked very well and I also tried the camera tracking focus but it seems it won’t work with fireworms or similar. So either keep normal focus or manual with peaking.

Tracking focus fail
Tracking focus fail
Rock FIsh UCL 330
Rock FIsh UCL 330

White balance has been a subject of discussion, I did manage this time to white balance a few times but to be honest it was not worth the effort there is a better correction of the purple hue of the filter but this can be corrected setting Green to 1 or 2 in AWB. I also changed the AWB to include a correction with Amber 1 as per examples. Very happy with the results I think this is the final set up with this filter lacking a proper orange filter.

AWB corrected
AWB corrected

Shooting in low light was rewarding with ISO maxed out at 800. I am becoming less and less a fan of video lights in cave due to the amount of backscatter am getting. I think I will default at using the lights as dive torches instead of wide beams of even leaving them off for effect.

Backscatter
Backscatter
Cave in natural light
Cave in natural light

 

Red Sea Workshop with Alex Mustard – Part VI Schooling Fish

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

Batfish school from Top
Batfish school from Top

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.
Schooling Batfish on Reef
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.

Jacks Schooling
Jacks Schooling

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.

Giant Trevally
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

Red Reefs
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

Arrows
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.

Giant Barracuda issuing orders
Giant Barracuda issuing orders

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.

Red Sea Workshop with Alex Mustard – Part IV Shark Reef

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:

  • Batfish
  • Surgeonfish
  • Barracuda
  • Jacks
  • Snappers

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.

Encirclement
Encirclement

Also you always managed to get someone in the frame or bubbles

Shooting Batfish Below
Shooting Batfish Below

So I focused on trying to get the best backgrounds for the pictures to come like in this case.

Bommie

Also had some fun taking images of the others and the batfish one or two came out pretty good.

Bats Photography

Creative angles
Creative angles

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

Ras Katy Sunset

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.

 

Sony RX100 Mark III – Is it worth upgrading?

UPDATED 23 July 2014

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

http://www.imaging-resource.com/news/2014/06/16/battle-of-the-rx100s-sonys-rx100-vs-rx100-ii-vs-rx100-iii

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:

RX100 Sensor Ratings
RX100 Sensor Ratings

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.

Flash Recycling

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.

RX100 Mark III with Inon UCL-165 Close up lens
RX100 Mark III with Inon UCL-165 Close up lens

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

Stacked UCL-165+UCL330
Stacked UCL-165+UCL330

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

two UCL-165 stacked
two UCL-165 stacked

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.

ND filter

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.

Clear image zoom 1.5x on single UCL-165
Clear image zoom 1.5x on single UCL-165

Image stabilizer

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!!!

Video Formats

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!!!

HDMI connection

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.

Summary

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!!!

Look Right inThe 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

Red Sea Workshop with Alex Mustard – Part III Sunbursts and the Caves

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

Soft Coral
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
Sunburst
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
Look Right in
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.
1st Cave@Jackfish Alley
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.
Window
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

Dapple at Ras Katy
Dapple at Ras Katy

 

This is me taking the shot above

Interceptor Shooting Dapple

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

Test Shots dapple Reflections
Test Shots dapple Reflections

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.