Category Archives: Fisheye lens

Nauticam WWL-1 with Macro Port 29 for Micro Four Thirds

Nauticam has recently released a new Macro port 29 that is shorter than the 35 and is designed for optimal compatibility with the following lenses and the WWL-1 Wet lens.

  1. Olympus M.Zuiko Digital ED 14-42mm f/3.5-5.6 II R
  2. Panasonic Lumix G Vario 12-32mm f/3.5-5.6 ASPH Mega OIS
  3. Panasonic Lumix G X Vario Power Zoom 14-42mm f/3.5-5.6 Power OIS

I have had the port and wet lens for a few days and those are my observations with the Panasonic lenses as I do not own the Olympus.

In general terms none of those lenses are amazing in terms of optical quality and only the Panasonic lenses are stabilized. This is not so important for still images but an advantage for video.

Photozone has tests of all the three lenses

Olympus Test

Panasonic Vario G X PZ Test

Panasonic 12-32 Test

The Panasonic power zoom is better than the Olympus however the lens has issue of vignetting and pretty high chromatic aberration. The Panasonic 12-32mm is surprisingly good and has similar resolution and less issues of fringing.

I attached the 29 Macro Port to my GX7 housing and took some tests shots in the sink with the WWL-1 petals touching the subject.

Panasonic G X 14-42 PZ Port 29
Panasonic G X 14-42 PZ Port 29

The image is wide and the corner sharpness is great with minimal to no chromatic aberrations.

The 12-32mm lens does not vignette at wide end and gives similar performance to the PZ lens with the benefit of increased field of view.

Panasonic 12-32mm Port 29
Panasonic 12-32mm Port 29

The shots are taken at f/4 ISO 1600.

For comparison I mounted the 4.33″ dome and the 8mm fisheye and took a similar shot.

8mm Fisheye
8mm Fisheye

The field of view is wider but of course distortion in the corners is very high to the point they become garbled.

Clearly if you do need a fisheye lens the 8mm is still the choice however the WWL-1 has the advantage that you can use the full zoom and a field of view of around 130° with a 28mm equivalent lens and around 135° with 24mm equivalent.

One thing that is interesting is the use of the 12-32mm with the Macro 29 port combined with the Panasonic GH4 in 4K.

The crop factor of 1.2x means that the focal length with this lens at 4K 16:9 is 31.38mm. This makes this port compatible with a number of flat wide angle lens of the old generation.

Specifically the old Inon UWL-100 would give a field of view of 100° equivalent to 18mm in 4K. The additional benefit is that you can use the Ikelite UR/PRO push on filter and the full zoom. At the tele end 83.7mm may be a bit short however the fact that you have a fully rectilinear lens and you can use a push on filter is a big advantage.

The Macro port 29 is also compatible in normal mode with the Inon UWL-H100 at 24mm equivalent as per image.

Inon UWL-H100 Port 29
Inon UWL-H100 Port 29

The field of view appears narrow as the lens can get closer to the subject compared to the WWL-1. The optical quality is excellent with minimum fringing.

In summary the Macro Port 29 is a must purchase for the following users:

  • 4K Panasonic GH4 video users
  • 4K Panasonic GX8 Users
  • HD and Still images micro four third users wanting a full wet lens set up

The 12-32mm lens also give almost the same field of view of the Panasonic 7-14mm with wide angle port at much lower cost when coupled with an Inon UWL-H100 allowing use at apertures of f/4 and f/5.6 with one to two stops advantages on the 7-14mm.

On a final note for the users of the Macro 35 port Nauticam has now released the zoom gear for the Panasonic 14-42mm II Mega OIS. This lens is better than all of those discussed in this post in terms of optical quality and it comes as kit lens on lower end Panasonic cameras. If you already have the Macro Port 35 and a kit lens or if you don’t have any lens or port this is definitely the best option in terms of cost and optical quality

Nauticam bayonet mount for wet lenses

Nauticam entered the wet lenses market with their SMC close up wet lens that was optimized for DSLR.

Then it released the CMC compact macro converter for compact cameras and micro four thirds and finally the Wet Wide Angle Lens I that is compatible with compacts, micro four thirds and also full frame cameras with 28mm equivalent lens.

Up to now all lenses were using the traditional M67 mount as most of the lenses, even the close up ones, are pretty heavy this means going for the dive with the same lens. Nauticam has developed the flip diopter adapter for flat ports to overcome this issue.

Flip Diopter on Nauticam RX100 IV
Flip Diopter on Nauticam RX100 IV

The flip diopter is a good solution for micro four thirds and DSLR but looks rather cumbersome on compacts as the image shows.

I asked Nauticam for a bayonet adapter and specifically if they could develop something for the Inon LD bayonet system that so far has been the reference for wet lenses for compacts and micro four thirds cameras.

LD mount converter on RX100 IV
LD mount converter on RX100 IV

Edward told me that due to the fact that the WWL-1 lens rear element is so large the Inon LD system was not an option so they went off and developed their own system.

M67 bayonet mount converter
M67 bayonet mount converter

I would like to thank Nauticam again for making those parts available before general availability.

Looking a bit closer to it you can see that due to the specific construction with two concentric rings you need a special tool to apply the adapter on the port.

M67 bayonet mount converter The large item is to attache the mount to the port
M67 bayonet mount converter
The large item is to attache the mount to the port

Obviously as the Nauticam lenses use an M67 thread new adapter needed to be developed.

Mount converter for CMC/SMC
Mount converter for CMC/SMC

Nauticam does not use ABS plastic and uses aluminum for all their parts.

Now that the items have a bayonet adapter there is a need for a lens holder to put on the arms.

Lens holder looks too big for a 5" arm segment
Lens holder looks too big for a 5″ arm segment

The lens holder is too big for a standard 5″ segment but looks in proportion with a longer segment.

Lens holder on 8" arm segment
Lens holder on 8″ arm segment

The adapter is larger than the LD mount and a bit big for compacts to the point that even with a tray the adapter tips the rig back.

Another challenge is that this system is designed for Nauticam lens that have protruding rear element so when used with standard lenses there is a gap between the port and the wet lens that can be counter productive, not the end of the world and frankly the Inon system has the same problem. This however means that if you wanted to use this system with a different wide angle wet lens this would be suboptimal.

I am waiting for Nauticam to ship me back the WWL-1 so I can show how that lens performs on this system.

Another observation of course is that if you use this system for wide angle the super heavy WWL-1 and the fact that the adapter only works on a normal segment means your rig will be very heavy in water. I am going to discuss with Nauticam the possibility to have the adapter on a float arm however their carbon arms do not have any mounting point to be used.

Stay tuned for a full review of this adapter with the new 29 macro port that looks very promising for video.

Nauticam NA-LX100 4K Video Review

Following the previous review that was dedicated to still images we now go into the subject of 4K video with the Panasonic LX100 and related Nauticam LX-100.

Currently there are only two compact cameras that produce 4K video the Sony RX100 and the Panasonic LX100.

The housing for the Sony RX100 has a traditional M67 port whilst the LX100 uses the N50 compact port system.

This means you can use all your wet lenses with the RX100 without specific adapters. The LX100 has however a number of benefits.

This table compares the field of view of the two cameras in 4K video mode.

LX100
4K Horizontal FOV Vertical FOV Diagonal FOV Sensor width 35mm 3:2
26.00 71.90 44.40 79.50 15.80 23.86
81.00 26.20 14.90 29.90 15.80 74.40
RX100
4K Horizontal FOV Vertical FOV Diagonal FOV Sensor width 35mm 3:2
28.00 67.90 41.50 75.40 11.85 26.73
80.00 26.00 14.80 29.60 11.85 76.37

When the camera shoots in 4K mode the focal length remains the same however the camera uses a smaller part of the sensor. A normal micro four third sensor measures 17.3×12 mm whilst the 1″ sensor of the RX100 is 13.2×8.8 mm. Note that the LX100 does not use the whole sensor due to the multi aspect format that keeps the diagonal field of view unchanged regardless of the image format.

What we can see in the LX100 table is that although the focal length in 4K is 26mm the horizontal field of view is the same of a full frame camera with a lens of 23.86mm this means the field of view in 4K should be slightly wider than a picture taken by the LX100 in 4:3 format.

I put the camera on a tripod and took two sample shots, this is the first at 24mm in 4:3 format that I then cropped to 16:9.

4:3 Crop to 16:9
4:3 Crop to 16:9

This other shot is from exactly the same position taken extracting a 4K frame from a small video.

4K Photo 16:9
4K Photo 16:9

As stated the horizontal dimension is just a few mm wider in 4K 16:9.

What this means is that this is the same that any normal camera with a 24mm lens that then is cropped to movie format in terms of field of view.

The Sony RX100 does not have a multi aspect sensor and therefore the horizontal field of view drops more.

With the short port on the LX100 using a wet lens like the Inon UWL-H100 we can achieve more than 97° horizontal which is very wide and zoom all the way to 79° and if we use a wetmate or the mini dome cover the other range between 72° and 50°.

Practically the LX100 with wet lenses and wetmate or minidome gives you access to focal lengths between 15.5-21mm and again 24-35mm is like having an 8-18mm lens on a micro four third which is good for whale sharks and mantas this is even wider than the 7-14mm lens on a Panasonic GH4 in 4K and the LX100 has a (weak) optical stabiliser on the lens.

The RX100 mark IV instead can only cover between 96° and 90° before the wet lens stops working properly and we jump to 68° if using a wetmate.

UWL-H100 Flat Test Cards
UWL-H100 Flat Test Cards

This shot taken at around 15cm shows a nearly rectilinear and very wide image.

In short if you are after some super wide angle in 4K the LX100 is definitely the way to go.

From an ergonomic point of view I shoot video in shutter priority and let the camera work out ISO and aperture, this is relatively easy to do with the LX100 although the absence of custom memory modes on a mode dial is painful.

A control that can be quite useful due to the tendency of the LX100 to go focus hunting is to set the ae/af lock button to af-on. This requires the shutter to be set in release priority with this control you can use manual focus and force the LX100 to refocus when you hit the af-lock. This is a very useful feature.

Update 28 September the method described to fight focus hunting does not work in 4K. There is going to be another post with the best settings for 4K video for the LX100.

For what concerns macro both the LX100 and RX100 present their challenges due to the short zoom lens, the LX100 more so due to the horrible rectangular port. It can be argued that you can’t shoot wide and macro with the LX100 whilst you can do that with the RX100 however the strength of the LX100 is certainly in its very wide lens and the short port that combined with a flat wide angle lens can produce an extremely wide field of view able to cover practically almost any wide angle scene.

For macro the GH4 and upcoming GX8 are probably going to be better placed due to the higher crop factor giving focal lengths in excess of 100mm using the 14-42mm lenses.

If you want to get into 4K video and your focus is primarily wide angle the LX100 is an excellent device.

The WWL-1 on a Nauticam LX100
The WWL-1 on a Nauticam LX100

 

Nauticam NA-LX100 housing and port system review

Nauticam has given me the opportunity to test the housing for the Panasonic LX100 priced at $1,200 or £922 in UK.

As anticipated some time ago this housing features the new N50 mini port system for compact.

NA-LX100 aperture and format dial
NA-LX100 aperture and format dial

The housing comes with the rectangular port as a standard, as the LX100 has a 24mm equivalent lens and the lens extends quite a lot between the shortest and longest focal length it is not possible to use an M67 long port or there will be vignetting.

In order to install the camera you need to set the aperture to f/16 and the aspect ratio to 4:3 with focus mode in normal and lift the zoom lever. Likewise to take the camera out of the housing.

LX100 housing preparation
LX100 housing preparation

Unfortunately as mentioned several times on this blog pincushion distortion severely affects the image at focal lengths shorter than 35mm equivalent as our in water test shot demonstrated. If you zoom in the corners you can see also extensive blur and chromatic aberrations.

LX100 flat port at 24mm
LX100 flat port at 24mm

Furthermore the lack of an M67 port means you now need the Nautical flip diopter for rectangular port that costs $220 or £170.

When you eventually get to put a diopter on the lack of zoom means that magnification with traditional lenses is quite limited.

UL-165
NA-LX100 UCL-165

The frame width is 62mm with a single Inon UCl-165 and goes to 5cm when we stack another UCL-330.

UCL-165+330
NA-LX100 UCL-165+330

Image quality is ok except some blue fringing at the borders.

A single UCL-100 gives a frame width of 42mm.

UCL-100
NA-LX100 UCL-100

Apparently the Nauticam CMC ($320 or £240) gives 32mm frame width that is adequate for macro.

So if you are into macro you need to invest $1,200+$220+$320=$1,740 to have some decent magnification.

If you possess many clamps and cold shoe ball mounts you can buy an Inon M67 lens arm and use the lenses you have saving some $$$ but the magnification is limited unless you get the CMC.

For semi-wide angle a mini dome port is available at $280 or £216.

N50 3.5
N50 3.5″ Mini Dome

This restores the field of view in air however you can only zoom to 40mm before the camera can’t focus anymore. I have even tried with dry diopters on the camera there is no improvement.

Optical quality is great.

LX100 Mini Dome 24mm
LX100 Mini Dome 24mm

Probably the most useful port is the N50 short port that has an m67 thread and allows to use wet wide angle lenses.

N50 Short Port
N50 Short Port

I went to Swanage but got the tide wrong visibility was shocking still gives an idea of the image quality of the LX100 with the Nauticam WWL-1 wet lens.

SWANAGE (4 of 4)
Atlantic Ocean Anemones
SWANAGE (3 of 4)
Kelp?
Upside down
Upside down
SWANAGE (1 of 4)
Myst!

If you have a Nauticam wet mate you can also use it with the short port and achieve the same or better sharpness than the minidome thought with some residual chromatic aberration.

LX100 Short Port Wet Mate 24mm
LX100 Short Port Wet Mate 24mm

The big benefit is that if you find that your wet wide angle lens is too wide for what you are shooting you can change lens without changing the port.

NA-LX100 rear buttons
NA-LX100 rear buttons

For what concerns the ergonomics of the LX100 they are quite intuitive on land.

One of the characteristics is the lack of a mode dial.

You have an auto position  for shutter speed and aperture and if you leave them as such the camera shoots in program mode.

Once you move the aperture the camera goes in aperture priority mode. Probably the worst situation is the shutter dial that once touched has to come down all the way from 1/4000 to whatever you need it to be.

Also you don’t have thirds of exposure for the shutter dial and for example to get 1/50 you need to go to 1/60 and then use the rear dial.

I found the ergonomics of the camera in water particularly annoying as I was shooting with gloves. I did like the nauticam trigger system for the shutter however the amount of hardware of the nauticam tray and its weight are not really an option for me.

The Panasonic LX100 is a very interesting camera on land but in water ends up quite uncomfortable and expensive. The housing with the 3 ports comes at $1,200+$180+$280 if you add the Nauticam CMC and the WWL-1 you end with a whopping $3,195 the camera costs another $800. Total investment $4,000.

This is a lot of money in my opinion considering that with another $300 you can get a Panasonic GX7 with GX7 housing, an Olympus 60mm with 65 macro port and a Panasonic 8mm fisheye with 4.33″ dome. The LX100 and GX7 share the same sensor but there is no doubt that the macro performance of a dedicated lens as well as the fisheye of the 8mm lens have no comparison.

In conclusion the Panasonic LX100 with NA-LX100 is a bit of a flop for stills the only use that I can think of is wide angle 4K video with the short port and a wet lens but other than that I don’t see how Nauticam is going to sell many of those units.

Nauticam WWL-1 Wet Wide Angle Lens Review

Nauticam has been working on a wet wide angle lens for some time now, the first prototype was seen with the release of the new N50 port system for compact but nothing has come to market yet.

Until now!

Last week I have received a pre-production version of the WWL-1 (Wet Wide-Angle Lens – 1) coming in a retail box.

Edward had advised that the lens is bigger than the competition and this is due to the construction that includes 6 elements in 5 groups.

The box size is the same of a small compact housing and inside you find a pouch that looks like a mini picnic basket.

WWL-1 Pouch!
WWL-1 Pouch!
The lens comes with a neoprene dome cover.

WWL-1 With Cover
WWL-1 With Cover
Other characteristics include an adjustable dome and a large loop ring. I am unsure if this is to secure the lens, as it is so heavy you can’t really remove it in water or to operate it more easily.

WWL-1 Section
WWL-1 Section
Thanks to that ring I could easily remove and replace the lens with gloves.

The other feature is the extremely large rear element that measures 48mm, larger than the Inon UWL-H100. This makes the lens virtually compatible with any camera at 28mm equivalent. Edward mentioned that it could work even with an A7.

The lens has a standard M67 mount.

WWL-1 Rear
WWL-1 Rear
So off I went to Essex to test the lens in a pool. I was hoping for girls in bikini or at least some model but the water was around 14C so off I went with my dry-suit and gloves.

Interceptor121's test rig with WWL-1
Interceptor121’s test rig with WWL-1
The lens itself weights 1.28 Kg and is heavier than many compact housings including the camera.

I took some test shots with the WWL-1 and with the Inon UWL-H100 with and without dome.

First of all the WWL-1 seems wider than the Inon once you get rid of the vignette. I was using the WWL-1 with a Panasonic LX-100 in Nauticam housing and short port. The WWL-1 would stop vignetting at 28mm whilst the Inon lens needed zooming until 29mm.

Shooting a Snell’s window gives you an idea of the field of view.

WWL-1 Snell's Window
WWL-1 Snell’s Window
The Snell’s window requires an angle of 97.2 ° in order to be fully captured along a specific axis. We can appreciate that the WWL-1 on the LX-100 at 28mm has more than the required field of view on the diagonal and horizontal dimensions but is narrower than required on the vertical axis. Looking at this image the field of view on the diagonal looks more around 120 ° this may be due to the fact that the lens on the LX100 even with the short port is still around 2 cm away from the glass.

However when compared with the Inon the WWL-1 shows a better field of view overall.

UWL-H100 Snell's Window
UWL-H100 Snell’s Window
I did have some fun shooting through the window.

Shooting through snell's window
Shooting through snell’s window
The calm conditions of the pool allow the camera to see through the surface.

WWL-1 Photographer Through Window
WWL-1 Photographer Through Window
Having concluded that the WWL-1 is at least as wide as the Inon UWL-H100 I took some shots with the PADI test cards.

WWL-1 Test Card
WWL-1 Test Card
The images are taken with strobes at an aperture of f/5.6 which is the sweet spot of the camera. I wanted to check what is the level of softness in the corners as well as chromatic aberration.

I took few shots where the PADI logo was right on the bottom corner and this is the crop.

WWL-1 Corner Crop
WWL-1 Corner Crop
There is some softness and virtually no chromatic aberration.

The lens has the typical barrel distortion of a fish eye lens.

UWL-H100 Test Card
UWL-H100 Test Card
I took the same shots with the UWL-H100 with dome and the corners were much worse in terms of softness, CA was not a big issue.

UWL-H100 Corner Crop
UWL-H100 Corner Crop
I then took a few shots with the UWL-H100 flat, the LX-100 stopped vignetting at 25mm.

UWL-H100 Flat Test Cards
UWL-H100 Flat Test Cards
I had to step back in order to be able to capture the two cards and I could not achieve a Snell’s window on the horizontal axis as expected however the field of view is impressive for a rectilinear image I would say around 108-110 °.

UWL-H100 Flat Crop
UWL-H100 Flat Crop
The  wide field of view and the lack of the dome element present challenged, corners present both softness and large amounts of chromatic aberration.

Operating with Gloves
Operating with Gloves
Operating the lens and housing with gloves was acceptable and I could remove it as well.

What I liked the most is the fact that the hood can be adjusted without an allen key just operating the screws on the back.

The retail price of the WWL-1 is going to be $995, £769 and €1060 the lens is going to be slightly more expensive than the Inon UWL-H100 with dome but compared to the Inon it offers increased sharpness and contrast and comparable field of view.

The only draw back is the size the lens weights quarter of a Kg more than the Inon and is substantially longer.

If you are after the best optical quality for a wet lens this is the lens to buy at time of writing.

I would like to thank Edward Lai at Nauticam for sending me this pre-production model and Alex Tattersall at Nauticam UK for shipping me promptly.

I have not bought the item and I do not sell equipment this review is based on my independent view.

I will be testing this lens with the Panasonic GX7 and 14-42mm Mega OIS II soon.

A day at the pool
A day at the pool

Guide to Micro Four Third Lens and Port selection for Underwater Photography

Micro Four Thirds camera have become increasingly popular for underwater photography especially for macro and close up subjects in the last years.

The micro four thirds standard is shared between Olympus and Panasonic however in terms of underwater use Olympus is on the forefront and in fact it produces their own poly-carbonate housings for all new models.

Nauticam has their own N85 port system for micro four third that as of today has 10 different ports, two extension rings and a large number of focus and zoom gear. You can also buy cheaper 3D printed gear to save a few bucks for majority of lenses.

The other interesting characteristic of the micro four third market is that since the introduction of the 16 megapixels sensors, there have not been any substantial improvement in image quality among the various model, we will have to see what the 20 megapixels sensor of the Panasonic GX8 will bring but all in all the camera choice is mostly one of ergonomics and features.

Olympus is quickly clearing stock but you can still found the OM-D E-M10 out there for £478 with kit lens. The might Panasonic GX7 is now £433 with kit lens. In US you can find both the Panasonic GX7 and the Olympus O-MD E-M100 for $599 with kit lens.

The Panasonic LX100 sets you at £589 in UK and $698 in US really if you are into photography and want a micro four third it is a no-brainer you get a previous version GX7 or OMD EM10 (as you can’t find an EM5 new) and happy days.

Now that you have committed to the camera you are into lenses and ports for underwater use. The Olympus housing costs on average 25% less than Nauticam and has less choice of ports for me really is not appealing so let’s assume we are into Nauticam. What lens or port to choose?

Both the Olympus 14-42 EZ and the Panasonic 14-42 II fit in the Nauticam 35 port and require 3D printed gear to operate. The flat port will be OK for fish portrait and if you already have wet lenses it is definitely recommended to buy the 35 macro port first especially if you shoot video.

Nauticam Macro 35 port
Nauticam Macro 35 port
Deepshot zoom gear on the GX7
Deepshot zoom gear on the GX7

Both lenses do need a wet diopter to shoot small subjects in water as the smallest frame is around 7-9 cm width otherwise.

If you come from a compact camera most likely you have wet lenses and therefore you can re-use them for close range work.

Obviously a flat port for a 28mm equivalent lens is not a solution for wide angle.

First of all at the wide end due to water magnification the angle of view is the same of a 37mm lens which gives a field of view of just 60 degrees. The other point is that you really want to shoot at the tele end to avoid cluttering the background too much and typically in water those kit lenses work only at over 25cm from the port which means they are only good for medium size fish portraits.

The sequence of shots shows that even if the size of the cup is pretty much the same it looks much better at long focal length.

Cup at 28mm
Cup at 28mm

At 28mm you can see the glass in the frame on the right side and the window in the background.

Cup at 50mm
Cup at 50mm

At 50mm with similar size of the cup the glass is half gone and the cup looks nicer less of the window is showing.

Cup at 42mm
Cup at 42mm

at 42mm the glass is nearly out of the frames and the windows in the background is gone.

If you did not have any wet diopters the first additional lens and port to get will depend on your subjects, if you shoot macro you need a macro lens, if you shoot close focus wide angle you need a fisheye lens it is as simple as that.

Olympus 60mm and Nauticam 65 Port (35 + 30 mini extension)
Olympus 60mm and Nauticam 65 Port (35 + 30 mini extension)

The Olympus macro 60mm is the preferred lens combined with the Nauticam 65 port (or 35 port plus 30 extension). This lens can focus 10cm from the port and therefore can be used also in low visibility. Really there is no reason to use the more expensive 45mm Leica lens. The 60mm is great also for portrait work of small fish.

Cup at 60mm
Cup at 60mm

The same shot of the cup at 60mm means we now say goodbye to the glass due to the reduced angle of view. The increased working distance also means a more pleasant perspective.

I hope this explains why for underwater macro we want to shoot with long focal length as this helps us to get rid of the background so a longer lens will always be better than a zoom lens with a wet diopter and it will also give more magnification in case you have really small subjects.

If macro is not your priority and you are happy with kit lens and diopter for wide angle the first option is the Panasonic 8mm fisheye, that since the introduction of the Olympus 8mm pro fisheye has also reduced in price.

Panasonic 8mm Fisheye and Nauticam 4.33
Panasonic 8mm Fisheye and Nauticam 4.33″ Dome Port

This lens works best with the Nauticam 4.33″ dome port. If you shoot in 3:2 format you can also try the Nauticam 3.5″ wide angle port that makes the set up even smaller however there are no substantial improvements on how close you can get as the strobes will fail to lit properly anything that is right on the port without risking to see the strobe lights in the frame. The 3.5″ port will vignette in 4:3 image format though some users report success.

EDIT 7 September 2015

The issue of the 3.5″ port has been put forward again with the argument that it allows you to get closer than the 4.33″ dome with the Olympus EM5. I do not have an EM5 but I do have a Panasonic GX7 the end of the dome is 9 cm away from the focus point and this means that the dome allows you to get closer than the minimum focus distance of the lens of 10cm. As the dome is shorter than the minimum focus distance on the GX7 the 3.5″ port does not bring any benefit. Furthermore as trays are in general around 30cm you need to be around 15 cm anyway to be able to illuminate the subject properly with edge lighting, in virtue of this I remain convinced that the 3.5″ port does not bring any real benefit except is a bit cheaper and may vignette.

So your starter kit if you upgrade from compacts of you own a close up lens is Macro 35 port followed by Olympus 60mm and mini extension ring 30 or Panasonic fisheye 8mm with 4.33′ dome for wide angle.

Wide angle zoom lens are less of a priority but the choice is between the Olympus 9-18mm and the Panasonic 7-14mm bearing in mind that if you had a wet wide angle lens you may not even bother getting an intermediate wide angle zoom lens.

That’s all for now hopefully this will cover most of the ground for all new micro four third underwater shooters with kit lenses!

Panasonic Lumix G X Vario 14-42mm with Fisheye Converter DMW-GFC1

The Panasonic 8mm Fisheye lens for micro four third is a clear winner for close focus wide angle however the lack of zoom and the really wide 180º cover mean that there are many subjects that will look tiny in the frame.

The next option in terms of width is the Panasonic 7-14mm wide angle lens however this requires a large dome for optimal performance making the set up expensive.

Is there anything else left if you don’t want to buy a wet lens and you already have the Panasonic PZ 14-42 X Lumix G?

Panasonic produces an add on lens DMW-GFC1 that is declared to provide 10.5mm equivalent and reduce minimum focussing distance to 16 cm all specs can be found here.

This add on lens can be used with the 4.33″ dome for the 8mm fisheye and the 30 extension.

I took a few test shots and the results are pretty good.

This first shot is at f/5 and is very sharp in the centre.

Fisheye Converter f/5

Fisheye Converter f/5

Getting a bit closer and stopping at f/8 the results are pretty good for an adapter that is less than £100 on amazon.

Fisheye Converter f/8
Fisheye Converter f/8

Barrel distortion is contained so this combination may be good for wrecks where the fisheye effect is a bit disturbing.

If you have the Lumix G Vario X PZ 14-42mm you may want to invest in this little accessory before getting the much more expensive 8mm fisheye even if the Nauticam 30 extension is required. Later on the extension can be used with the flat port 35 and the Olympus 60mm for super macro and the 4.33″ dome of course with the 8mm.

I think it is amazing how much can be obtained out of this lens if we consider wet diopters, wet wide angle lenses and this adapter before you need to get a second lens.

This lens could also work for video with the Panasonic GH4 at 4K however zoom is not recommended with it.

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