I must admit Macro photography is not exactly my favourite genre both underwater and topside however I do enjoy a bit of critter hunting.
I was sure that the A1 would be an absolute beast for topside wildlife and underwater wide angle, however I did not feel comfortable at all with the performance of the Sony 90mm Macro lens.
It has a reputation for hunting and a lot of focus breathing that make it hard to use for topside focus stacking.
I have been playing with the lens topside and I did see examples of both so I was somewhat skeptical taking it underwater.
I was perhaps over worried so I set up the camera for the worst case scenarios:
Focus limiter set to 0.3 – 0.5 meter
CAF priority set to Focus
Aperture drive – Focus priority
I went in with autofocus set to tracking flexible spot.
Port and Focus Gear
I have always mixed feelings for focus gears and mostly I use it to make sure I am hitting the minimum working distance and therefore maximu magnification.
The focus gear for this lens is a large item and does not allow to operate the focus clutch. The operation is quite easy as the focus ring does not have an excessive long run.
I already own the 45 Flat Port that I use for the Sony 28-60mm and also have the 35.5 N120 to N120 port adapter so I thought how do I make this 105mm long?
Nauticam makes convenient adaptor rings of various length to go from N120 to N100 port size. I got the 25mm that resulted in a saving of £441-260=£181 which I used to buy another part.
The rig as assembled looks like this. In effect even the 110 port starts wider and gets narrower.
Before going to the pool I realised the housing does not have an M10 mounting point but you can adapt one of the points that go to the bars connecting the angle. Will be done at some point. So I went in without focus light in a very very very dark pool.
As I packed my props I realised I did not really have any good macro target however a friend came to the rescue. An instructor of a diving center that uses the same pool brought a small leopard and octopus that sank and were perfect targets.
As you probably know I am obsessed by obtaining the absolute maximum performance from each lens. And this for a macro lens means shooting at the best aperture, for this lens f/4-5.6 and stacking. However this is not available underwater. You need to pull your shot from a single image and this means the lens won’t be at the best performance.
I started at f/11 which gives a respectable MTF50 and to be honest I am impressed!
I then pushed the lens to f/16 I could see resolution dropping as depth of field was going up.
In order to get depth of field of an overall scene with the octopus I had to go all the way to f/22 diffraction zone.
Yes with the high resolution of the sensor those images are still ok or at least so they seem to me.
I think this lens wide open makes an amazing bokeh that will probably be still there at f/4 so something to check.
Field Impression and Ergonomics
First of all I did not regret setting the lens to close range using the focus limiter. This will give you a frame 19 cm wide if you feel that is too small and you are just trying to get some fish portraits perhaps leaving this to full is a better idea. Likewise if your targets are bigger.
I did not get any hunting despite the dark conditions and I am not sure if this was due to this setting or if this helped.
CAF worked in all situations the A1 can practically see in the dark however in order to get focs tracking and eye detection working (it detected the eye of the leopard) I needed to switch on the focus light of the strobes.
I believe tracking and detection requires a level of scene brightness higher as the camera is effectively in video mode. When you half press the aperture drive meant it would focus thought it had not tracked anything. I got 2 shots not focussed on the subject because I moved.
The focus gear I believe is not required unless you want to do super macro or to make sure you are as close as you can get but I do not regret having it as the run is pretty short with the focus limiter is on.
Alex Mustard tried the 90mm with the A1 for blackwater and said it was better than the Nikon D850 with the 60mm which is a well known blackwater combination. My tests confirm this combination is very very powerful even in the dark and with a little bit of light it will focus on anything. If the lens goes back and forth is because you are close or over 1:1 reproduction ratio.
Overall my concerns apperad not justified and this combination is a solid performer. Probably next steps are getting an SMC magnifier to push this even further.
Following from my previous post I wanted to further investigate the implications of formats and megapixels on Macro Underwater Photography.
I also want to stress that my posts are not guides on which camera to choose. For Macro for example some people rely on autofocus so there is no point talking about sensors if your camera does not focus on the shot!
Macro underwater photography and fish portraits in general is easier than wide angle because is totally managed with artificial illumination, although some real masterpieces take advantage also of ambient light.
There are a number of misconceptions also here but probably on the opposite side of wide angle there is a school of thinking that smaller cameras are better for macro but is that really the case?
Myth 1: Wide angle lens -> More Depth of field than Macro
Depth of field depends on a number of factors you can find the full description on sites like Cambridge in Colour a good read is here.
A common misconception without even starting with sensor size is that depth of field is related to focal length and therefore a macro lens that is long has less depth of field than a wide angle lens.
If we look at a DOF formula we can see that the effect of focal length and aperture cancel themselvers
A long lens will have a smaller field of view of a wide lens so the distance u will increase and cancel the effect of the focal length f.
The other variables in this formula are the circle of confusion c and the F-number N. As we are looking at the same sensor the c number is invariant and therefore at equal magnification the depth of field depends only on F number.
Example: we have a macro lens 60mm and a wide angle lens 12mm, and a subject at 1 meter with the 60mm lens. In order to have the same size subject (magnification) we need to shoot at 20cm with the 12mm lens at that point the depth of field will be the same at the same f-number.
So a wide angle lens does not give more depth of field but it gets you closer to a subject. At some point this gets too close and that is why macro lenses are long focal so you can have good magnification and decent working distance.
Myth 2: Smaller Sensor has more depth of field
We have already seen that sensor size is not in the depth of field formula so clearly sensor size is not related to depth of field so why is there such misconception?
Primarily because people do not understand depth of field equivalence and they compare the same f-number on two different formats.
Due to crop factor f/8 on a 2x crop sensor is equivalent to f/16 on a full frame and therefore as long as the larger sensor camera has smaller possible aperture there is no benefit on a smaller sensor for macro until there are available apertures.
So typically the smaller sensor is an advantage only at f/22 on a 2x MFT body or f/32 on a APSC compared to a DSLR. At this small aperture diffraction becomes significant so in real life even in the extreme cases there is no benefit.
Myth 3: Larger Sensor Means I can crop more
The high level of magnification of macro photography create a strain on resolution due to the effects of diffraction this has a real impact on macro photography.
We have two cases first case is camera with same megapixel count and different pixel size.
In our example we can compare a 20.3 MFT 2x crop camera with a 20.8 APSC 1.5x crop and a 20.8 full frame Nikon D5.
Those cameras will have different diffraction limits as they have pixels of 3.33, 4.2 and 6.4 microns respectively those sensor will reach diffraction at f/6.3, f/7.1 and f/11 respectively so in practical terms the smaller camera format have no benefit on larger sensor as even if there is higher depth of field at same f-number the equivalent depth of field and diffraction soon destroy the resolution cancelling the apparent benefit and confirming that sensor size does not matter.
Finally we examine the case of same pixel size and different sensor size.
This is the case for example of Nikon D500 vs D850 the two cameras have the same pixel size and therefore similar circle of confusion. This means that they will be diffraction limited at the same f-number despite the larger sensor. So the 45.7 megapixels of the D850 will not look any different from the 20.7 megapixels of the D500 and none will actually resolve 20.8 megapixels.
So what is the actual real resolution we can resolve?
Using this calculator you can enter parameters in megapixels for the various sensor size.
In macro photography depth of field is essential otherwise the shot is not in focus, for this exercise I have assumed comparable aperture and calculated the number of megapixels until diffraction destroys resolution
Resolution in Megapixels at constrained DOF
Note that the apparent benefit of MFT does not actually exist as the aspect ratio is 4:3 so once this is normalised to 3:2 we are back to the same 6.3 megapixels of full frame. APSC that has the strong reputation for macro comes last in this comparison.
So although you can crop more with more megapixels the resolution that you can achieve is dropping because of diffraction and therefore your macro image will always look worse when you crop even on screen as now most screens are 4K or 8 megapixels.
For a macro image depth of field is of course essential to have a sharp shot however we have seen that sensor size is not actually a consideration and therefore everything is level.
Color depth is important in portrait work and provided we have the correct illumination full frame cameras are able to resolve more colours. We are probably not likely to see them anyway if we are diffraction limited but for mid size portraits there will be a difference between a full frame and any cropped format. In this graph you can see that there is nothing in between APSC and MFT but full frame has a benefit of 2.5 Ev and this will show.
Surprisingly for most the format that has an edge for macro is actually full frame because it can resolve more colours. The common belief that smaller formats are better is not actually true however some of those rigs will definitely be more portable and able to access awkward and narrow spaces to what extent this is an advantage we will have to wait and see. It may be worth noting that macro competitions are typically dominated by APSC shooters whose crop factor is actually the worst looking at diffraction figures.
I see many posts on line debating which macro lens is best for your micro four third system.
If I refer to the Nauticam system we have 4 macro lenses:
For the purpose of this article I will skip the Olympus 30mm as the Panasonic lens is known to be sharper and will focus on the other 3 lenses.
DxOMark is a popular tool for comparison as it gives you the results on one page. I have run it for the Oly 60 and the Pana 30 and 45 on the 20 Mpix OMD E-M1 MKII
Surprisingly the much more expensive Leica performs worse than the other cheaper models, this is confirmed on all internet sites running other type of tests.
What we can see is that there is little difference between the Panasonic 30mm and Olympus 60mm when it comes to image quality so whichever lens you choose your subject at the same level of magnification and aperture will have more or less the same detail.
Common Misconception: Shorter focal length give more depth of field
Many people think that using a longer lens is harder because there is less depth of field this is actually incorrect conceptually.
Enter for the Panasonic GH5 the following parameters
Circle of confusion: 0.015 mm
Focal length 30mm
Distance 10.5 cm (minimum distance of the 30mm Macro)
Result Total depth of field 0.3cm
Focal Length 60mm
Distance 21 cm (as it achieves the same magnification)
Result Total depth of field 0.3cm
So depth of field is not a consideration when choosing a macro lens…
Shooting a subject close to the background
In the following 3 shots am taking an image of a widget at f/11 at 29-44-60 mm on a Leica 12-60 (it is just easier it makes no difference to the outcomes)
At the same aperture you can clearly see that there are no difference whatsoever in the detail and actually overall in the picture you don’t notice anything.
Shooting a subject far from the background
For the second shot I have moved the widget away from the wall.
Again there is no difference in the level of detail of the widget however looking at the background we can see that
The 60mm shot reveals one brick and less than one quarter
The 44mm shot reveals one brick and a half
The 29mm shot reveals two bricks
So while the subject is exactly the same as the 60mm lens has a narrower field of view we see much less of the background.
This means that if you are shooting a nudibranch on the sand or something flat on a rock you won’t notice anything however if there is space behind the subject you will capture much more of that resulting in less subject isolation.
Underwater Comparison 30 vs 60 mm
In the first shot the Rhinopia is taken with a 60mm lens
In the second shot the same Rhinopia with the 30mm (in a different place to be fair)
I have marked up with red the areas that with a longer focal length would have been minimised.
Which Lens to choose?
Now that we have clarified that depth of field is not a consideration and as each macro lens will have the same magnification there are only two factors that matter:
Isolation from background
The 60 mm will have a longer working distance and at the same magnification will isolate the subject better from busy backgrounds, the 60 mm is also better for skittish subject because of the longer working distance. I have this lens and I have borrowed the 30mm in couple of occasions but do not have the 30mm yet.
There are however situations where longer working distance is not a benefit, specifically when the visibility is poor and there are suspended particles or the subject is really large.
In the example below I was at one meter from the two frogfish, a 30mm would have been better however the shot came OK.
I believe the Olympus 60mm is a must lens to have. To date I have not felt the need for the Panasonic 30mm that is indeed a very sharp lens because I have always managed to pull out the shots. However for someone diving in murky water and focussing on nudibranches or subject laying flat on the seabed the Panasonic 30mm could be a better choice. I also want to say that using the 14-42mm at 42mm for me is actually a better choice for portraits and with a close up lens works very well with small subject not super macro and therefore as I already own the 14-42mm and various diopter for me the 30mm is not on the shopping list.
Broadly speaking with the GH5 as well as with any other camera you have four categories of close up work:
Close-up – frame size 10 cm or 4″ and wider typically hand held
Super close-up – frame size 5cm or 2″ preferably on tripod
Macro – frame size below 2″ only on tripod
Super macro – frame size below 1″
For still images a typical choice is the Olympus 60mm, this lens however is very narrow so for any subject that is not too small and for the first category of close up you end up having working distances well above one foot. This in turns means more water to go through and makes it virtually impossible to cover larger subjects.
If you make that choice is because you have skittish subjects that do not like proximity and are very small. Furthermore the Olympus 60mm has not stabilisation and therefore with our GH5 will only use in-body stabilisation. Another side effect of using this lens is that it is impossible to take shots of divers or anything else at medium range so the videos end up being a collection of very close shots that may please someone but result fairly boring.
Of course you can make this kind of video exciting to an extent like here
But at the end for me something like this is more fun although of course the quality is very different (I shot this years ago with a Panasonic LX7 and edited in iMovie)
The difference between the stunning video of Dustin and the basic video of mine is that you only have very close shots in the first one and frankly a slideshow of still images would be equally nice. There is no description of any sort of where is the fish what are the conditions or anything at all. You may argue that the stuff to see is not that nice but at the end this gives you a real idea of the diving where you go which is the purpose of my videos and majority of non Pro people. Furthermore medium size subjects that move like octopus, squids, crabs will almost always exhibit some kind of behaviour.
My macro video rig is built around the Panasonic 14-42 MKII which is the same lens I use for wide angle video with the Nauticam WWL-1. In effect am running video like a compact set up.
Ergonomics and lens
The field of view with at 42mm is only 23 degrees horizontal and 13 degrees height this is ideal for portrait type of work
I still use my old Sola 1200 video lights that can be used with a 20 degree beam creating a snoot like effect to better isolate your subject. It can be argued that color rendering index of newer lights is better but I think the narrow coverage of the lights is more important. Consider that at wide end the field of view is less than 60 degrees anyway with the flat port at 18mm
I use two close-up lenses with a Saga dual flip diopter
The rig as described is heavy in water more than 700 grams negative to ensure the required stability
The tripod base has 2x 3″ segments and 1x 5″ segment to be as close as possible to the bottom this creates issue if you do not have a monitor as you need to have your face in the sand however once the shot is framed all is good
I use two close up lenses with this rig as the 14-42mm as a working distance in water around 26cm and a minimum frame size around 9cm that is pretty wide.
The SubSee 5 is in the sweet spot for the 14-42mm lens because it starts working pretty much when the 14-42mm can-t focus anymore and down to around 10-12 cm working distance. Minimum frame size is 46 mm
Using the Ex-Tele feature in video means we can get to 33mm which is below the 36mm classic DSLR 1:1
When this is insufficient and the subjects are really tiny the next lens is the Nauticam CMC-2
The CMC-2 gives a frame size of 32mm as in this image
Using Ex-tele this becomes 23mm which is the same you get with the CMC-1 without ex-tele and is plenty for any purpose. It is theoretically possible to stack the two close up lenses but is not really necessary and the working distance too small. The CMC-2 works around 6-7 cm so you have still space for lights etc.
Is there any use for this lens? Of course there is in case you want to capture a frame smaller than 23mm with the 60mm you can get down to 17mm with the bare lens to 12mm with the Ex tele, 9 mm with the CMC-1 and 6 mm with CMC-1 and ex tele. Will you be able to focus and work with the CMC-2 at 22mm from the subject is another discussion however for skittish subjects it gives you more working distance and this may be needed. I would recommend taking this lens with you for those cases but for video I do not see how you can really use the CMC-1. Please note the CMC-2 is useless with the 60mm as the working distance improvement is minimal to none.
How many times you see practically new close up lenses being sold on eBay after sitting for years in a cupboard? Have you ever experienced the frustration of buying a close-up lens to find out it did not add anything to your set up?
There is a lot of confusion in terms of what is that you are really getting when you buy an underwater close-up lens. In most cases lenses are specified in diopters, in some other cases with a magnification factor, in few cases with the focal length.
The focal length is probably the most useful of those specification because in a traditional diopter the following formula is valid if you approximate the lens to converge in the rear element:
Working distance ≤ Focal length – physical length of the close-up lens
For example for a Subsee +5 diopter the focal length is 1000/5=200mm the lens is 32mm therefore the working distance is less than 168mm.
Now on its own this means very little. Depending on the camera we use a distance of 168mm may be a great improvement or no improvement at all.
To understand why we need to look on our camera and find the little symbol that indicates the focus distance reference mark.
While for DSLR the shooting distance is typically calculated from the front on the lens for micro four third you need to use this obscure symbol.
Once we locate the reference mark we need to identify the corresponding reference on the housing we can use the other dials as starting point. In this case the mark is approximately in the middle of the cold shoe.
When we put the camera in the housing we can then look up the specifications of the lens and calculate the minimum shooting distance. For example for an Olympus 60mm this value is 19cm.
We take note of this point and then measure the distance between the glass and the minimum working distance on land.
This works out to be around 9cm. We now need to consider that once immersed in water this distance will be multiplied by 1.33 to become 12cm.
It follows that any diopter with a focal length close to 12cm or longer is not going to be effective for our camera and lens combination. More likely we need something that can focus substantially closer or the benefit will be minimal. Assuming we half the physical working distance between the port and the subject we need something around 60-80mm focal length which considering the length of the lens itself could mean getting 2cm away from the subject.
So time has come for my first video with a micro four third camera the Panasonic GX7. I had only 3 dives in Sharm and conditions on Naama Bay beach were not the best but still good enough to give the set up a good try, this is the resulting video.
I used the Nauticam housing with the Macro 35 port and the M67-LD adapter so that I could use the Inon UWL-H100 wet lens.
As it is not possible to fix the position of the lens I had to take the hood off and therefore I used an Ikelite UR/PRO filter for the 100mm lens. I had to use gaffer tape on the lens and inside the filter or it would be loose but it worked.
The first dive was with the URPRO filter in auto white balance, I was hoping this would give me good results but instead everything came with a strong yellow cast.
From the second dive I used custom white balance and the results were much much better.
To give an idea of the issue this is a shot of a grey card with the UR/PRO filter on land with white balance fixed.
You can see what kind of effect the filter bear it is orange in colour.
Other than this I was pretty happy with the GX7 especially because I could use the full zoom with the wide angle lens this is the first time I see it working. The moray eel shot towards the end of the video is an example.
Back home I was not happy at all about the UR/PRO and the inability to work with auto white balance. Probably I could have played with the tint but it did not come to mind. So I got in touch with Peter Rowlands of Magic Filters to see if they had an option that would fit on the Ikelite mount. Peter sent me two sample and they fit perfectly in the ikelite frame, though this is not commercially available I guess you can request those if you are not happy with the ikelite UR/PRO.
This is the same test card with the magic auto filter.
You can see that it looks less orange and also slightly colder.
I did some tests and the UR/PRO is a warmer filter with 2700K temperature whilst the magic auto is 3200K. The magic is however more red and has more magenta tint than the UR/PRO.
For me this means that the magic will work better in auto and will require less custom white balance. However those 500K difference mean you will eventually need to custom white balance once you go below 18-21 meters. I know people say filter work until 21 meters anyway but I have tried with deeproof down to 30 and on a bright day it was still good.
So if you are not happy with the yellow cast of your UR/PRO in auto white balance is definitely worth giving magic filters a go.
The GX7 confirmed all the good features including the ex tele mode
Here the shrimps are shot with a single Inon UCL-165 and then the close up of the head uses ex tele that pushes well over super macro.
Look at the incredible ability to refocus in video mode. See how focus locks on the shrimps when I press the button.
Overall the GX7 can do pretty much everything on a single dive with a wet wide angle lens and a close up lens. You can cover from 100 degrees wide to super macro. The fact you can zoom with the wide angle removes the need to take the lens off at every occasion and in fact in the red sea you barely need to have any other lens.
I was not particularly happy with the lack of hood that the ikelite filter wants removed so I experienced the occasional flare. Still pretty good result.
The clip looks much better at home than it does on youtube where the gap with the RX100 seems much smaller.
So as far as video is concerned if you don’t need 4K the GX7 gives you extremely high quality footage and reasonable cost.
A final note I shot this video in 24p at home I can’t tell the difference with 25p see if you can see it!
Once again Sony has updated their RX100 camera with a stunning new release that will surely be a market leader at least until the release of the new promised Panasonic large compact sensor with 4K video recording.
So the question is again is it worth throwing our hard-earned money to this new model and housing or should we stay with what we have got? The Mark I and II are still available at reduced price though it is becoming harder to find Mark I housing as new.
The answer to the question is: it depends on what you are planning to do with your RX100, for some users an upgrade may not be required or even not advised let’s see why. no don’t waste any time with the Mark III.
Every time a new camera is released and reviewed I get a bunch of emails with subject: New Camera XYZ what do you think?
The best reviews you find online are made by sites that specialize in land photography and no consideration is given to underwater use. So not necessarily a camera that is a top performer on land will remain such underwater as this depends on specific characteristics that may be different or even opposite to land requirements.
So those reviews cannot be taken as they are they need interpretation. Personally I use two sites for camera reviews imaging resource and dxo mark I use the first to understand ergonomics, performance and to compare images with other cameras side to side, and the second to check sensor quality and lenses. Imaging resource has made a good article to compare the various RX100 on land read it here
If you look at a sensor comparison on DXOMark you would conclude that there is no need to upgrade at all if you use your camera primarily for still pictures as the sensor are practically identical in performance as this table demonstrates:
As you can see the differences in dynamic range, color depth or ISO are pretty much intangible.
However there are other metrics that are also important let’s see which ones and why.
We want our camera on board flash to recycle quickly after a full dump as the RX100 has only TTL flash and the flash can’t set to a minimum manual setting without consequences. Those are the flash recycling times at full output (a full dump will always occur when you don’t aim strobes directly at the subject for example wide angle)
Mark I: 7.2 seconds
Mark II” 4.4 seconds
Mark III: 3.3 seconds
The Mark III is pretty quick and the Mark II is acceptable the first release is definitely too slow.
Minimum Capture Area & Zoom
What is the smallest area that can be captured at wide end at the closest focus distance? This gives you an idea of out of the box close up performance
I do not have precise metrics yet but looking at comparable images on imaging-resource seems like the Mark III is worse than the Mark I and II of at least 20% with a capture width around 90mm versus the already not very good 76mm of the Mark I and II.
To fix this issue we use close up lenses in water that fix to a great extent the focal length and then zoom in to achieve magnification which means longer camera lens more magnification I roughly estimate that the Mark III will be worse of a factor of 0.7x so things will look 1.4x bigger with the Mark III this is terrible news for macro shooters as it means you need to be on top of the subject to fill the frame, this is in some cases not possible.
I have estimated that you need 11 diopters to achieve 1:1 macro so the Subsee 10 and Inon UCL100 that gave real macro on the Mark I and II won’t be sufficient. With two UCL-165 or Dyron 7 you are looking at 2.58″ or 6.5 cm from the back of the first close up lens that means you will be right on top of the subject which is not really an option.
Update July 18th: Nauticam has confirmed that even with their SMC lens the most powerful diopter on the market the capture area is 38mm wide so does NOT achieve 1:1 macro as I suggested…
Lens Focal Range
The new mark III has a 24-70mm lens compared to the 28-100mm of the Mark I and II what does this mean?
Less magnification with close up lenses and no real 1:1 macro
Vignetting or even not possible to use fisheye lenses designed for 28mm lenses
This means that with the Mark III your scene selection will be restricted compared to the 150 to 24 of the mark I and II.
Update 23 July I have done some tests that confirm my suspicions please look at the following frames. The Mark III once zoom to 28mm actually works fine with the Mark II housing except the power button.
With a single Inon UCL-165 (+6.06 in water) the minimum capture area width is 5.4 cm which is bigger than the Mark II 4.8 cm. Not only that the distance from the top of the lens is only 9cm.
With stacked UCL-165+UCL330 total power 9.09 diopter we get this
4.4 cm width however we start running into problems as the minimum distance from the lens is only 4cm.
We finally achieve 1:1 with two stacked UCL-165 however the distance from the top of the lens is 3cm definitely too little
I have also tried the Mark III at 28mm and it still vignettes with the Inon UWL-H100 in air until around 30mm. Instead the old UWL-100 28AD is fine at 28mm either way image looks narrower than with the Mark II but this may be an issue with the old housing.
So basically no macro with the Mark III and no decent fisheye as expected.
Underwater Photography Conclusion
Due to the reasons above the best camera for the job is the RX100 Mark II, with the Mark I coming close but being penalized by the strobe recycle time, the Mark III really is not an option for the serious shooter due to limitations of the lens.
Let’s have a look at some other features of the Mark III that are not relevant for stills as much as they are for video.
Shooting at the surface with plenty of ambient light or on land can create problems if you want to follow the 180 shutter rule, the ND filter of the Mark III ensures your footage will be smooth on land and in water. Take into account that on land you can apply optical ND filters (I have it for the Mark II) so this is really for underwater use when you are shooting at 1/50 or 1/60 shutter speed and the scene is too bright when you hit f/11 and the lowest possible ISO. Having now tested this feature I confirm it is really valid on land on a bright day to keep the aperture wide.
Clear Image Zoom
This is a special digital zoom with edge enhancement that only worked on JPEG stills on Mark I and II but is now available on video on the mark III. This means an additional 2x zoom is available bringing the focal length to 140mm that is more than adequate for macro. This is not an option on RAW images so irrelevant for still users.
23 July update Having done some tests for macro video (as stacking two diopters is not an option) the image quality suffers but anyway this is all you are left with lacking any other options.
The Mark III adds a further stabilizer mode with additional crop that takes the lens to 96mm equivalent in video mode. This is well worth for super macro hand-held footage and effectively provides an option where you can either use the super steady shot and no clear image zoom when hand-held or leave on only the optical stabilizer and use clear image zoom. If you shoot macro on walls and not on flat sand this is a well worth feature.
Update 23 July 2014
Following a side by side comparison you can find on this link
It follows that there is really no 5 axis stabilisation and only an additional mode with more crop with correction for rolling shutter that anyway does not really work!
Full Sensor Readout Video
The mark III reads the whole sensor not just alternate lines when capturing video this increases should increase the resolution to a great degree and increases the perceived resolution and clarity of your videos. However this does not seem to correspond to real life tests. See this sample with a side by side comparison the Mark III looks visibly worse than its predecessor even on the higher bitrate XAVC!!!
The Mark II introduced a well welcomes 24 Mbps 24/25 fps mode now the Mark III introduces a 50 Mbps mode in XAVC (that can be rewrapped into normal MP4) that produces even better footage although it will be quite demanding on your workstation and most likely some of your home devices will struggle playing the files (my Apple Tv 3rd generation only plays up to 25 Mbps) when uploading files online this will downgrade to 8 Mbps so won’t matter unless you have a good player at home. improves nothing and requires manipulation as the files are actually not MP4 compliant as they have WAV audio (!) they are also inside the AVCHD folder which is painful. As seen above seems like the encoding has got worse on the AVCHD files and only the higher bitrate compares but still does not match the mark II at the lower 24 Mbps!!!
You can now connect the Mark III to an external HDMI recorder if you are into that kind of semi pro usage. For the normal user this is not relevant: if you are into spending that money probably you have already a DSLR or a Panasonic GH4.
Video Auto Focus
The auto focus in video has got worse you can see an example in the stabiliser test, and actually plenty of frames are blurred on the mark III. Awful!
Underwater Video Conclusion
The Mark I with only a 28 Mbps 50/60p mode is definitely a poor choice, the Mark II is acceptable to most users. and the mark III promises even better performance if you are a serious video user and have another camera to take pictures the Mark III may be well worth it.
The Mark III despite some useful feature is actually a let down and perform worse in practical terms than the mark II that remains my camera of choice.
If you have a Mark I camera and are frustrated with flash recycling you should be looking at a cheaper upgrade to the Mark II.
If you have a Mark II and your priority is photography upgrading is NOT recommended.
If you don’t have any RX100 get yourself a Mark II or wait for the new Panasonic as the Mark III is pretty much a pile of crap.
Is it the first time I am actually sending back a camera and invoking consumer rights but when I spoke to the camera shop they told me they had other returns and this is not really an upgrade!!!
The above image was shot at 100mm equivalent with one diopter with the RX100 Mark II. You won’t be able to fill the frame with the same close up lens and the Mark III camera
During the London Dive Show I attended a talk from Martin where he covered a number of shooting situations and how to deal with them in terms of composition and settings.
There was a promotion for a two for one tuition day with him that my buddy was keen to take so few months later we made our way to Dorset for a day of underwater photography with Martin.
This will be my first day of shooting with the RX100 Mark II albeit in a pool with my new arms and lenses so I was looking forward to it.
We arrived in Poole the night before and got ready for an 8.30 start with Martin.
We started off with a review of some basic exposure concepts and then looked at competition winning pictures and trying to identify what makes a wow picture. It was extremely useful!
Afterwards we went through our trips pictures so he could see what needed improving. Then look at what was needed for the next trip.
With that in mind we set up to jump in the pool to take some pictures the objective was to improve my buddy close ups and portraits as apparently her wide angle is as good as it gets with the Canon S95 used see featured image on this post.
Pool conditions were low visibility and plenty of suspended particles as the pool is used for kids swimming lessons let me give you an idea!
The first task was to shoot a frog with a view of eliminating shadows in its mouth. Start with one strobe and finish off with two.
The frog with the bare port gives you an idea of the size and the complexity of the task with one strobe. There are shadows in his mouth.
I then shot a portrait at 50mm, the reason why you see shadows more on the left is because I set the strobe at different powers.
The magnification of the RX100 is little so I went on with a first Inon UCL-165 and full zoom at 100mm equivalent. Note that everything is pretty much sharp at f/11.
With two Inon UCL-165 focusing on the mouth will result in this and the eyes being in focus and the rest blurred because of lack of depth of field.
I then moved to an Octopus rich of textures. I took the first shot with my Inon UWL-100 28AD with dome.
The same octo at 28mm fills the frame much more of course.
The Octopus at 50mm looks even better. I have topped up the lighting on this one.
I then took this guy with a single UCL-165 note the depth of field insufficient to keep the back of the head in focus, results though are exceptional.
With two close up lenses we go back to the depth of field problem even at f/11.
I thought I had at that point nailed all focus and strobe issues, especially considering I shot with single auto focus, I did not bother using manual focus at all with exception of some double diopter shots.
I then tried a few surface reflections with the fisheye this being the best.
You can see the outside of the pool and the windows on the top.
Afterwards made my own composition of statues for a fisheye shot that I think came out very well. The Z240 performed extremely well in both TTL and external auto as well as manual.
Martin asked me to have a go at the child with the dog as it is extremely difficult to lit up properly.
I went for an alternative strobe placement with light from the bottom as if it was in a gallery. He was impressed with the results.
To finish off my last task was the tongue and eyes of a lion that I shot with a single UCL-165.
Overall a great day and I definitely recommend you the tuition day with Martin. He is a great person and extremely good at teaching I can see the benefits my buddy had right away.
Lessons learned on the RX100
There were a few things that I learned about my RX100 still rig mode that I want to share with you.
The autofocus is incredible. I even used this for macro. If the camera does not focus is because you don’t have enough depth of field and that is it.
Best macro performance is with a single diopter and also had a benefit of an increased working distance, this means the shots will need cropping for extremely small critters
Two diopters resulted in near bokeh with less than 1mm in focus and difficult to autofocus (though the LCD is great and I could see if things were in focus or not I think this is personal and I would recommend DMF to others)
Performance at wide angle with the UWL-100 28AD with dome is stellar
Inon float arms (I used two 6″ segments) were perfect with lens holders on it.
Inon Z240 twin set with one in TTL and the second in external auto delivered creative lighting without headaches, remember to buy the AUTO diffuser that does not come with the strobe
Strobes in manual allowed for even more creativity and the level of precision compared to sea and sea was staggering
Despite pool conditions the RX100 focused well in low light and much better than the Canon S95 that was returning focus error on the same exposures. I will not bother having a focus light with this camera and only have a single sola on night dives
That’s all for now any question just drop a comment
So the time has come to talk about photography more in depth. I have actually given up stills in favor of video since a few years as I find video gets me closer to behaviors than stills do, I guess am just not patient enough to capture behaviors on still as that involves waiting!
Anyway this is the rig as it is today without the floats.
The RX100 is a demanding compact for the very same reason why it is the best compact the huge sensor it sports. If you come from shooting a canon or panasonic or even Olympus on a 1/1.7″ sensor you find the RX100 to be very unforgiving. In essence you can’t really just point and shoot you need to put some more thinking into your shots.
The rig that I have put together for stills has the same meticulous attention to detail than my video rig has, you would say OCD probably but here it is.
So let’s start with the housing, Nauticam just makes the best most ergonomic housing for the RX100 period. There is nothing you can think of improving about this housing. Even if the bulkhead connector is useless you can actually put a vacuum valve on it to put it to full use.
Nauticam do offer an M67 thread native on all their compact housings but I find this tedious to say the least. The beauty of a compact is that you can shoot wide and macro on the same dive, the M67 thread in essence negates this as it makes virtually impossible to change lenses on a dive. This is the reason why I went for the Inon 28AD mount for my rig using an inexpensive 10 bar adapter priced at $20 or £15.
Once you connect the Inon UWL-100 28AD the lens is very close to the housing to the point of nearly touching the port. This means you get no vignette with this lens with the added dome, and actually a larger field of view in water than you get with the UWL-H100. Why is that? The UWL-100 28AD has less magnification so it does not vignette even on land, once you add the dome you get almost the same field of view in water around 150º. The lens is just a tad lighter than the UWL-H100 with an in water weight of 400 grams.
The choice of the 28AD mount means you can only use the UCL-165AD close up lenses, that if attached would crash into the glass, you need therefore a 28AD->AD adapter from Inon.
You do get vignette until 50mm however this is not an issue as you shoot those lenses at the tele-end.
This is the whole lens set with the two adapters.
As discussed in other posts the two stacked diopters give you super macro, they are also light with 35 grams each in water. The small amount of fringing they give can be eliminated in lightroom with a single click.
The wide angle lens sports a 115mm optical glass dome with inner anti-reflection coating. If you are into observing fine detail you will notice that the dome is not actually a full semicircle but flatter, if you add the special coating this means no flare and increased contrast. If you wonder why shots taken with Inon dome lenses are sharper is because only 1% of the incoming light is reflected, against 3% of an acrylic dome, the glass dome due to the coating don’t flare, plastic ones do as simple as that.
Now let’s move on to the strobes a twin Inon Z240 set. I have been a sea and sea user for years until I managed to damage my YS-01 and got no assistance at all from S&S since then I decided to go elsewhere.
What I love about the Z240 is the variety of controls to manage shadows, the sharp aiming light with a red filter good for the most skittish critters. Contrary to what many people think I aim directly at the subject in macro as the distance is short and backscatter is not an issue so no point aiming the strobes away for me.
I happened to have a pair of Sea and Sea optical L cable that served me well and had no will to change, FIT produces this cost effective adapter that goes on your Z240 and makes it compatible, I just love it.
I believe Inon Z MV strobe head adapter has no equal in ergonomics but for some reason a part that is $20 in Japan sells at over $40 in US and £30 in UK so is not that popular. My second choice would be the Nauticam strobe adapter that has got the small feet needed to correctly lock on the strobe head.
With the Z240 doing wonders as aiming light there is no real room for a focus light however I have a set of Sola Video 1200 and what I like is that you can use them as dive light. I have connected them with a locline cold shoe, this will soon change to a ball mount, as the cold shoe is on the left side. Probably I will get a Sola Dive 800 so I can leave my two trays set for video and stills on the boat.
Looking at the tray I use ultralight, it simple and sturdy and allows me to center the port in the middle of the tray.
The most attentive will see that the two handles have different colors.
Why is that? Firstly I want to place the handles at maximum distance, second by placing two different handle I can ensure the ball is at the same height, this would not be true if I was using the same handle on both sides. I use a TR-DM with a TR-DUPL long extension to make the tray 30cm or 12″.
So this is what it looks like, there will be floats on it, I estimate I need 8 floats to make the rig neutral with the lenses off. I am planning to place 3 on each 8″ arm segment and two on the tray however I might change this to 2 on each arm and a bespoke float on the tray bottom. I will run some test to see what works best.
So that’s all folks surely there will be questions and I look forward to answer them.
Just want to remind you that if you are in the market for a compact still or video rig I provide a personal shopper service for £30 or $45 that provides an end to end service on your budget where all you have to do is to call the shop to pay. Of course we would discuss any observations about the set up before this gets finalized, but am sure better to spend a little amount instead of making expensive mistakes!
UPDATE 9 June 2014 I have made some more changes to the rig the current version (never say final) is here
So after a few months since I got the Nauticam housing I finally had the time to get in the water and try it on.
I was in Barbados for a week and although the diving was not exactly outstanding I did have enough to test the camera behavior.
The link to the videos are here for YouTube at 1080p
or if you prefer Vimeo at 720p
The footage was all taken at 1080p50 the highest mode of the RX100. The RX1oo can work in both PAL and NTSC standard but I chose the PAL mode just to avoid the annoying NTSC message at startup. The clip has been edited with iMovie 9.0.9 and then exported in 1080p25 using Xencoder codec for quicktime in high profile. Youtube then reconverts it to its own specifications, but at least I have the highest possible starting point.
As mentioned the RX100 shoots at shutter speed of 1/100 in 50p mode and this suited me fine in case I wanted to produce a 60p clip for viewing on the computer as currently no online system supports it.
As discussed in the previous post I shot all wide angle in camera Program mode. This allowed me to use the left control wheel button to call the white balance set menu that in video is not available. I set the picture format to 16:9 so that would show similar on the screen. I did notice that when I actually started the movie recording the crop of the active steadyshot kicked in with a reduction of field of view of around 9 degrees or a 1.14 zoom equivalent.
However the active steady shot was well worth it as I have not used any stabilization for any part of this clip and therefore not introduced any extra cropping.
The wide angle shots with the RX100 are an absolute breeze when you use a filter and there is no need for custom white balance until it gets too deep to actually use a filter. I struggled getting decent results with custom white balance, the 9900 K error came pretty much every time except when in shallow water and balancing on sand. Also the results were off with too much magenta tint to the point I had always to correct it.
Ultimately I kept the filter and the camera in Auto White balance and did not bother doing a custom reading at all. The results were excellent.
In deeper water the filter started making the image a bit dark so I took it off and used a temperature setting of 9900K with Magenta and Amber at the maximum.
For close up at distances over 20cm I still shot in program and had good results. When getting super close or macro I used Movie mode in Aperture priority mode with aperture set at f/11. Towards the end of the clip you can see a shot of a small pink frogfish that is done like that. The close up on the eye is shot with two stacked Inon UCL165 the depth of field is really small as you can see but still workable considering I hand held the camera at all time.
When I shot this arrow crab I had left the camera in program mode so it chose an aperture of f/5.6 you can see that whilst the mouth is in focus the arrow is not
Similar situation with the pedersen shrimp where not everything is sharp in focus
Obviously I am being very exigent with my footage and in normal condition this is already good to very good.
So what I liked and what I did not like about the RX100 Mark II:
The ergonomics and ease of use are outstanding
The camera performs incredibly well with a filter in auto white balance
The manual focus with peaking works extremely well
Dynamic range and colors are outstanding and not just for a compact
Image crisp even in the corners at f/1.8 compared to the Mark I this is extremely significant
The active stabilizer was great and meant to manipulation in post
Battery life is incredible
Performance in low light is excellent and better than the Mark I the camera never reached the ISO MAX of 800 I had set hitting a top of 640 at 30 meters
Autofocus at wide end in bright conditions is superb
The only think I hated was the custom white balance results an absolute disgrace, to the point that there is no benefit doing it. Not only that the few parts of the clip I had used it and correct it were still a bit off and required correction in post to a small extent.
Also to consider some of the topside capabilities of the RX100 Mark II just to give an idea though this is not exactly the same location have a look as this shot with a Nikon D7100 with sigma 17-70 in comparison with the RX100 Mark II
There is a difference but considering the size of the RX100 and the fact it fits in a pocket I don’t think there can be that many complains. Obviously once you look at specific lenses for the DSLR things change but in the 28-100mm all purpose range I would say that the gap is not as much as double as the price of the two set ups.
So is the Sony RX100 the best compact underwater video set up? Definitely
Is the Mark II better than the original RX100? Yes and well worth an upgrade for video
How does it compare with the Panasonic LX7? The dynamic range and the colors are superior and produces footage that is simply better and sharper. Where the LX7 excels is at macro in clear waters, this is not because of magnification as the RX100 and LX7 perform exactly the same with diopters, and this is because of the LX7 amazing autofocus. However with a bit of silt or other objects in range there is need to switch to manual focus and there the RX100 is actually superior when using peaking even if the depth of field is actually less, the manual focus on the LX7 with the magnifier is not as good unfortunately.
So my ranking for video is:
1. Sony RX100 Mark II
2. Panasonic LX7
3. Sony RX100
I would also add that for stills the LX7 is even more rewarding at macro range due to the performance of autofocus.