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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
At 28mm you can see the glass in the frame on the right side and the window in the background.
At 50mm with similar size of the cup the glass is half gone and the cup looks nicer less of the window is showing.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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
Getting a bit closer and stopping at f/8 the results are pretty good for an adapter that is less than £100 on amazon.
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.
The Lumix G X 14-42 Power Zoom lens is designed for video with a silent motor zoom controlled by a slider that is quite effective to use.
The focal range in 4:3 format is 14-42mm which corresponds to 29-87mm in the standard 35mm format (the crop factor is 2.08 36/17.3 and not 2 how commonly thought in the classic 3:2 aspect ratio).
This lens is not exactly a best in class in terms of performance especially considering quite a bit of vignetting at wide end and distortion that anyway gets corrected nicely in camera for most. A detailed review is here http://www.photozone.de/olympus–four-thirds-lens-tests/765_pana14423556hd
You can see that this is lens is quite sharp at 2868 LW/PH to give you an idea the much more expensive Lumix 12-35mm reaches 3110 LW/PH though sharpness drops at corners to around 2100-2200.
Another interesting characteristic is that this lens performs best at f/3.5-f/5.6 which is close to the widest aperture as we will use this lens with the Nauticam flat port 35 this is all good news.
The lens fits very nicely inside the port leaving space for small filters and close up lenses but not really a lot.
The lens does not really move much between 14 and 42 mm and reaches his longest at 14mm.
I have tried using a set of Inon diopters to see the degree of magnification you can get.
This shot is with an Inon UCL-165 +6.06 diopter.
The smallest frame width with this lens is 42mm however in video mode using the ex tele converter option this becomes a much smaller area achieving in fact super macro easily with the added benefit of larger depth of field.
If you are into pixel peeping you can see some chromatic aberration on the edges this is a combination of the lens and the wet diopter.
I also tried stacking an UCL-165 with the UCL-330 this achieves a capture width of 32mm so we are in super macro zone.
Image quality does not get much worse but there are some internal reflections here on the white surface as the Inon lenses are not coated externally.
Finally I wanted to see if the Inon UCL-100 would work and it does achieving super macro without any fringing. If you want to use this lens for pygmy sea horse photography and do not want to get an Olympus 60mm this or the sub see 10 are the close up lenses to get, also the nauticam SMC is in the same range.
Now onto what is really good of this lens port combination and this is the versatility as you can attach the Inon UWL-H100 and get a very wide 18mm flat wide angle that is very sharp indeed as per previous images
Consider that this image is taken at f/3.5 and the ruler is in the corner at ISO 1600 and you can see that sharpness is more than acceptable.
More interesting is that for some reason with this lens you can fully zoom through even down to 42mm without soft corners.
I have no idea how this is possible but it works just fine.
So if you are a video junkie you can cover the whole 100 degrees wide to super macro with this lens the Nauticam 35 Macro Port the Inon UWL-H100 and the UCL-100. For video it gets even cheaper with the UCL-165. You can of course use the flat port to do nice fish portrait in the mid-range of the zoom.
I forgot to mention the zoom gear which is actually pretty expensive because of the complex spring design.
The total cost for the Nauticam 35 with zoom gear is $510 plus of course the lens itself $290 total of $800.
Inon UWL-H100 + LD adapter = $654
Inon UCL-100 = $282
Inon UCL-165 = $205
Wet Lenses Still total = $936
Wet Lenses Video total = $859
Let’s compare to getting an Olympus 9-18mm with 4″ wide angle port and the Olympus 60mm with 30 extension ring total price $2129.
Price gap for stills $393 but you now also have a mid range lens for portraits, personally I don’t really like the Olympus 9-18 behind that port comparing side by side images taken with the 14-42 PZ and Inon lens I am not sure the Olympus is any better and definitely needs diopters due to mushy corners. For macro the 60mm Olympus lens has the advantage of increased working distance but is a very specific lens that you would only use for really small stuff.
For what concerns video you would probably look at the Panasonic 7-14 and forget the Olympus 60mm the combination is worth $1800 which is a difference of $636. Again the issue with rectilinear lenses and dome ports is there and the 7-14 does not take diopters.
So if we were to use the lenses on land no doubt you would need additional glass but in water wet lenses can be quite cost effective especially if you use a micro four third camera for video.
Peter Rowlands uses a Panasonic GX7 with Inon UWL-H100 and dome successfully and I am joining that club now.
Stay tuned for more tests next to come will be the Panasonic Fisheye 8mm with the 4.33″ dome which is another essential buy for the micro four third cameras underwater, obviously for pictures and not video.