Category Archives: SONY RX100

Sony RX100 Mark II Bulkhead Connection Flop

In this post I will investigate for your enjoyment the bulkhead connector available for the Sony RX100 Mark II and will see why this is unfortunately an accessory that is not worth buying. There are other ways to put the M16 port to use for example with a leak detection system but if were thinking of firing strobes using electrical sync cords then think again.

I was today at the London International Dive Show where I met Dr Alex Tattersall of Nauticam UK that also introduced me to Catherine Lai, daughter of Edward CEO and founder of Nauticam and herself operations director.

I felt a bit sorry when I had to explain why the bulkhead was not a workable solution and if you have a look at the youtube video you will understand why, this has been shot by my fiance’ on an iPhone so apologies for the portrait format and occasional shake.

Right so if you didn’t manage to hear the audio or understand the subtitles here is the plain text explanation.

The bulkhead has a single X pin that connects to the center of the RX100 multi-shoe, now this is the same interface that is on the newer Nex and on the A7. The Sony multi-shoe has a complex 21 pin interface that used with compatible accessories can trigger an external TTL flash.

In order for an external device to be recognized the interface of the connector need to connect to the 21 pin slot not just to the center. Nauticam bulkhead adapter is not so complex and only connect only on the center pin.

So the result is that the external connection is not recognized and if you leave the flash set to fill flash, as you would do with an optical connection, the internal RX100 flash pops out and fires away negating the benefit of the electrical connection.

So in order to make it work you need to set the internal flash to OFF. As the pin on the multi-shoe is always live this works perfectly so when you press the shutter the nikonos interface triggers the external strobe which is what should happen.

The little but significant inconvenient is that if you set the flash to off the LCD goes pretty much black as the RX100 has live view on the LCD and only lights up when you half press the shutter. This means is practically impossible to compose any shot unless you have a really bright focus light or there is sufficient ambient light. In any case for a close focus wide angle shot that you will take with this camera with apertures between f/8 and f/11 the screen will look pitch black as in the video even if you set the LCD to sunny weather.

Whilst the A7 and Nex have an option to disable live view in the LCD, the RX100 does not have such option so you are pretty much done and this accessory is not worth buying as it also introduces an additional point of failure for the housing and one for each strobe.

So the supposed big advantage of the Mark II goes out of the window, time to despair? Not at all!!!

As previously anticipated in my first impression post https://interceptor121.wordpress.com/2013/07/27/sony-rx100m2-first-impressions/

I had the impression that the internal flash was recycling much faster than the original RX100, well I have done some tests and I can confirm what imaging-resource has measured: the flash recycling time at full power goes from 7.2 sec of the RX100 down to 4.4 seconds of the Mark II.

Now this is significant because after your shot you need anyway 2 seconds to recharge the strobes and look at the image preview after the shot and probably another 2 seconds to recompose the shot, at that time the RX100 Mark II will be ready to shoot again at full power.

The improved CIPA rating of the Mark II also means well in excess of 200 shots at full flash before having to change the battery so there is no big deal that the electrical option is not workable, get yourself a twin set of Inon Z240 (my current favourite) or Sea and Sea YS-D1 and you will have no issues compared to any other compact as the RX100 Mark II has the highest CIPA rating of all compacts on the market that are good underwater.

In fact the most significant improvement of the RX100 Mark II in addition to the better performance in low light is certainly the strobe recycle time, from 7.2 to 4.4 is nearly a 40% improvement and the Mark II is faster to recycle than a Canon S120 although not as fast as the G15 or as fast as the Panasonic LX7 or Olympus XZ2. However we are talking about 1.2 seconds difference I doubt that is such a big deal

Clearly the RX100 Mark II is the best compact camera for both still and videos and I look forward to shooting more stills with it.

 

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Underwater Video Tips: Best video settings for Sony RX100

It is not a mystery that the RX100 is capable of shooting excellent video. In fact in some comparisons with SLRs cameras there is little to no difference in the footage quality. The RX100 has many settings and options so which ones are important for underwater video? I will go and explain those that I find useful.

RX100 Video Behavior

Although the RX100 offers full manual control in video this option is not as useful as it seems. Now that many video editors support AVCHD progressive the 50p or 60p options are the more relevant as the footage can be slowed down to half speed and still offer a standard frame rate (50/60p at half speed is 25/30p).

The RX100 shoots video in program mode with shutter speeds of double the frame rate so 1/100 for PAL and 1/125 for NTSC that is excellent news. The camera will then drop to 1/50 or 1/60 when the max ISO is reached which is still acceptable. In Movie Program mode the camera shoots at the lowest possible ISO for the set shutter speed at the widest required aperture. The RX100 has a minimum ISO in video of 125 and the RX100 has it at 160, which is quite high.

Shooting Wide angle

I shoot all my wide-angle footage with the camera in Program Mode. By that I actually mean Photo Program Mode. Pressing the movie button in P mode results in the same behavior that shooting video in P mode. In order to be able to frame correctly I set the image format to 16:9 also for stills. This is also useful to capture ambient light landscapes. I started shooting in P because this allowed me to white balance quickly however I found out that the custom white balance on the RX100 Mark II is a total disaster and in fact I never use it as it gives weird results. I shoot with a red filter with Auto white balance on until approximately 25/27 meters and then I move to White Balance set to K (colour temperature) 9900K Tint set to M7+Y7. When shooting with lights I also use auto white balance. Generally speaking I only use the movie button and the white balance settings for wide angle.

Deep Wreck in Program Mode
Deep Wreck in Program Mode

Shooting Macro

When shooting with diopter at tiny subjects focus with the RX100 is a challenge. I set my video mode to Aperture priority with an aperture of f/11 and Auto ISO, the camera will always keep a shutter speed of double the frame rate which is ideal. If you light the subject properly the RX100 will always shoot at the lowest ISO maybe at 200 but not more. I use auto white balance for all my macro. I find it convenient to leave the video mode like this so that I only have P for wide angle and Movie – Aperture priority for video. If you prefer you can set those as memory recall 1 and 2 but I find that not as useful except you don’t need to use the control dial.

Frogfish at f/11
Frogfish at f/11

Settings for the Function Buttons

Many features that can be assigned to the function button are not available in video or not useful. I only have 4 settings in the function wheel:

  1. ISO
  2. Metering Mode – Always on evaluative
  3. DRO – I set it to auto
  4. Focus Mode – in video only constant and manual are available

To be perfectly honest I rarely change any of those except for testing the camera exposure. Even the metering mode can be left to evaluative all the time as when you shoot macro the area is so small and evenly illuminated that I have never had an issue with exposure.

Settings for the Control Wheel

I use the following assignments and I find them very useful:

  • Left: White balance
  • Centre: Manual Focus Toggle
  • Right: Exposure Lock

The bottom arrow is always assigned to exposure compensation and can’t be changed I set it to -0.3 eV all the time.

White Balance

The performance of custom white balance with the RX100 Mark II is shocking worse than the original RX100, 9 out of 10 I get a white balance error and the results are usually off with too much magenta. The only occasions where I do not get an error is in 6 meters or water (20 feet) on a sandy bottom. In other conditions it does not matter if you try with sand, tanks, hand, slates the outcome is shocking. The results can be used changing the tint to an M2 or even zero but generally using a filter and auto is just much easier and better. I assign the K setting to 9900K M7 for shooting at depth, This is painful because it means that unless you have a flat lens like an Epoque or Inon you can basically forget shooting video with the RX100 as the custom white balance is erratic at least.

The Inon UWL-H100 has only one red filter that is compatible and is made by deeproof. I find this filter excellent though I prefer plastic to glass I have to say it works a treat.

Results with White Balance Error 9900
Results with White Balance Error 9900 Note the Magenta tinge
Similar scene with auto white balance and red filter
Similar scene with auto white balance and red filter

Focus

The RX100 focus automatically on the center when shooting video and does it very well,. Tracking focus is not as useful and by assigning the center button to manual focus it can be eliminated. When shooting macro it is essential to use peaking. I set it to low with white color. Generally with diopters there is only one focus distance so I move the camera until the peaking shows nice white and then press record trying to be steady. That’s pretty much it.

DRO

I keep the dynamic range optimizer to Auto. This means the ISO is most of the times set automatically to 200 to preserve dynamic range. When the scene is perfectly lit the ISO is chosen to be 160. I don’t see much difference between ISO 160 and 200 but if this bothers you set the DRO to off which means the camera will mostly shoot at ISO 160 in good light conditions.

ISO and Max ISO

I set the ISO Max to 800, having analysed a lot of my footage I have not found one example where the camera shot at ISO800 yet unless I had a filter and was at 30 meters. However I prefer the camera to drop the shutter speed and keep the ISO to 800 instead of going all the way down to 3200.

Zoom

In video the RX100 activates digital zoom even when you set it to off. This deteriorates the image so you need to pay attention that the middle notch corresponding to 3.6x is not exceeded or you will see artifacts in your footage.

Stabilizer

I use active steady shot thought this reduces the field of view as it does help with shake quite a lot with macro footage.

Other Settings to disable

There are a number of settings that are harmful in video either because they use battery or because they are counter productive I disable them all list includes:

  • Smile / Face Detection
  • Picture effects
  • Audio recording ( I do not like bubble sound)
  • Wind Noise Reduction

The following are only relevant for still but I like them off regardless.

  • AF illuminator
  • Red eye reduction
  • MF Assist

Sony RX100 – Which close up lens gives real macro?

As we know the Sony RX100 cameras, we will refer to both Mark I and II as the lens is the same, do not offer the best out of the box super close up performance.

To be clear no compact camera really does macro, as no compact can capture an area 36×24 mm in size without being on top of the subject and having a shadow cast on it.

The RX100 however are particularly unexciting as the capture area is pretty large at 76x51mm at the minimum focus distance of 5cm. This means a reproduction factor of less than 1:2 so things are half life size in traditional terms.

In water the minimum focus distance increases and so does magnification so performance is all in all the same.

This means that a typical small subject like a medium size nudibranch measuring 4cm will fill a bit more than half the frame, not great.

The problem can be addressed by close up lenses that have a set power that determines the focal length and working distance where we can use the full camera zoom.

So the close up lens sets the working distance whilst the camera zoom sets the magnification.

A typical close up lens will have a power of 5 or 6 diopters with a working distance in water of 200 or 165mm, what does it mean for the RX100?

I have done some testing in water using a ruler and an Inon UCL165 this is the result:

Single +6 diopter Inon UCL165
Single +6 diopter Inon UCL165

Our capture width is now 46mm so our 4cm nudibranch will nearly fill the frame. The working distance of this lens is 165mm so this is a very versatile solution as most critters have no problem being approached so close.

What happens with a +10 close up lens with a focal length of 100mm, this is another test

+10 Diopter UCL100
+10 Diopter UCL100

A +10 diopter like the Subsee or Inon UCL100 achieves exactly 35mm so life size macro. However a lens like this will not focus at longer focal distances without zooming out, furthermore there are plenty of subject that do not need this magnification.

Close up lenses can be stacked so this is the result of two + 6 diopters

Two stacked Inon UCL165
Two stacked Inon UCL165

The width is now 32mm which is 1.1:1 so more than macro. This is adequate even for pygmy seahorse and with the incredible resolution of the RX100 cropping is not a big issue. Working distance is around 8.5cm which is still tolerated by small critters.

For completeness I have also tested a +16 combination

16 Diopters
16 Diopters

At around 26mm this is 1.4:1 so real super macro, the working distance is however only 6.25cm which is really close and will scare most critters away.

Conclusions:

  1. Without any close up lens the RX100 can only capture 5cm objects without extensive cropping
  2. A close up lens with a working distance of 165mm allows for most of the critters we consider small but without super macro effects unless cropped
  3. Two stacked +6 diopters offer super macro and can also be cropped for more suggestive effect
  4. A single +10 close up lens achieves real macro however it is not versatile enough for every day usage
  5. Stacking lenses does introduce chromatic aberration but this can be eliminated in photos and is barely noticed in video

Pay attention when you select your close up lenses that the focal distance that is in the specification is measured in water otherwise you will find yourself with a useless purchase

Sony RX100M2– First Impressions

I have  been fortunate to receive one of the first RX100M2 that have reached the market so I thought of sharing with you my first impression and what I believe will be the potential for underwater imaging use.

This is the link to the unboxing video of the camera

I posted a summary of the RX100 capabilities for underwater video some time ago on this blog the post is here:

Probably the best thing is to revisit my review and update any significant differences between the RX100 Mark 2 and the original version which is still on the market and will remain at least until the end of 2013.

Key Strengths

Bright Lens –  Not changed

The RX100M2 has exactly the same lens of its predecessor RX100, it is true that when zoomed the minimum aperture drops down to f/4.9 however this is not a concern for underwater imaging as usually long focal lengths are for macro and we are interested in very small aperture to allow for greater depth of field.

Low Noise – Improvement!

In virtue of the new retro illuminated sensor the mark 2 has one full f-stop advantage over the original RX100. This means that ISO800 is a breeze and potentially we could go as low as ISO1600. I would not do that but what it means is a cleaner image at depth in ambient light.

Image Quality – Improvement

Image quality is outstanding and the lack of aggressive contract and sharpness filters in the default settings means more room for correction in post processing.

Video Mode Control – no change

The RX100 had complete control on video mode and the mark 2 maintains the standard. Very important is that the program mode is excellent and keeps the shutter speed at 1/100 or 1/125 when used in active mode which is ideal for 50/60p smooth footage.

Manual Focus – no change

Same as for the RX100

Battery Life – Improvement

According to Sony battery life has improved from an already outstanding CIPA 330 to a declared value of CIPA 350. The new Mark 2 has also an hot shoe so in theory if any manufactures produces a wired TTL enabled housing this means plenty of shooting before changing the battery pack. We suspect though that only ikelite will have this option on the housing.

Active Steadyshot – no change

I initially slagged the RX100 stabilization system based on performance on land. However at a more in depth analysis it turns out that the RX100 active steadyshot, even if at cost of an image crop is very effective for sudden camera movement and for high magnification macro. The Stabilizer is not as sticky as others so when you eventually vibrate it does not jump. Although the performance for stills is poor to irrelevant and so is the normal mode the active mode is very effective for underwater use. The mark 2 is built exactly with the same algorithm and combination of optical and electronic.

Tedious Workarounds Comparison

Some of the ergonomics of the RX100 are not the best and seriously deduct from an otherwise excellent experience, the most annoying issues:

Lack of focus lock – no change

For some reason Sony decided to skip on this essential feature, the workaround involves switching to manual focus however it is then possible to accidentally change focus if the front ring is set to control focus. The RX100M2 has the same issue.

Setting Custom White Balance in Video – No change

Setting custom white balance is only possible in the still modes, while in fact if you shoot RAW don’t actually need white balancing. This is the largest non sense of this camera that requires the user to navigate out into Program to ensure white balance is set correctly and you don’t end up with the Custom WB Error message. Though this is annoying is not such a killer as it would initially seem if you take your movies in one of this still modes which is valid for wide angle and ambient light shot. For macro you will need to switch to movie mode aperture priority in AWB. If you keep this discipline this is issue is mitigated. The RX100M2 does not change this and I believe this is due to the fact that the shutter button that is used to set custom white balance is disabled in video.

Lack of 24/25/30 progressive modes at 1080HD – Improvement!

The RX100M2 shoots at 50/60p as well as 25/24p in addition to that you can switch between PAL and NTSC which is great!!!

AVCHD – Improvement!

The RX100M2 has not only the progressive modes at double frame rate but also AVCHD 1.0 compliant format, this means that if you choose the 24M 24/25 p mode you can import with all editing programs without issue. Not only that but if you use the wireless import utility this converts also the AVCHD progressive files in mp4 for you. This is  great improvement

Key Weaknesses comparison

The RX100 had also some key weaknesses let’s see how the mark 2 fares.

Macro Performance – no change 

Exactly the same as its predecessor the RX100M2 has a minimum focus distance of 5cm on land that becomes around 7 in water. Like with the RX100 because of the large capture area you will need diopters for macro shots. On a positive note once you have a close up lens the performance is incredible when coupled with manual focus with peaking.

Stabilizer

Sony has adopted a lens shift approach in this camera instead of the sensor shift of the higher end alpha, maybe due to large size of the sensor compared to the camera body. They have then added some software processing in camera but the results are just average. There are many other cameras that do better than the RX100.

Soft Corners at Wide End – Improvement

The RX100 first generation had soft corners until f/5.6 the situation changes dramatically as we can see in this test card comparison shot. Not sure if there was an issue with the RX100 original sensor but this looks excellent and as sharp as the panasonic LX7 or Canon G15.

Look for yourself!!!

Left RX100M2 Right RX100
Left RX100M2 Right RX100

No Neutral Density Filter – marginal deterioration

As its predecessor there is no neutral density also on the mark2. A little tip for video is to shoot with filters that take away 1 1/3 f-stop. This is not ideal but helps. There were some speculation that because the minimum ISO in RAW is now 100 instead of 80 sunballs would be more difficult to shoot. 1/3 of an f-stop does not really make any difference I believe this is more a statement so that the RX100 housing that are in stock sell out at full price.

Other features

I have to say that the tilting screen is fantastic to shoot on a tripod on lens. I doubt any housing can accommodate for this but the feature is outstanding

IMG_6772
Tilt screen side view

And this is the rear

RX100M2 tilt screen
RX100M2 tilt screen

Conclusion

So the question is should I buy the RX100M2 or the RX100 maybe grabbing a deal? Recsea has already announced a housing for the mark 2 and Nauticam is working on it. I believe that when it comes to still photography the difference between the two cameras are not substantial as many shots are with strobes I have however noticed a much faster internal flash cycle time. I do not want to be definite but looks like a full dump takes around  seconds to recharge. Also to be considered that in US the price difference is $100 so definitely the Mark2 is the way forward. In UK/Europe the difference on the list price is £150/€180 which is much more.

So I would say if you are planning to use the camera for video go for the RX100M2 the improvements are significant both in terms of video formats but also in terms of sharpness at wide apertures. If your main interest is photography and you live in US go for the mark 2 in Europe instead I would grab a deal on the RX100 when the price of the housing drops.

I am waiting for a test housing from Nauticam as soon as I have it I will post an unboxing video followed by some pool tests.

Underwater Video Tips: Inon UCL100 Analysis

Inon introduced a new close up lens in February of this year the UCL100. So why did Inon come up with this after the very successful UCL165 series? Probably some pressure from products like Subsee that produce better quality images than the Inon lenses and more and more lenses with similar performance to the existing Inon lenses. So what is different about the UCL100? First of all this lens is heavy 243/269 grams in the LD/M67 version in air that become 130/151 grams in water double than the UCL165. The lens is made of 3 elements instead of two and is very similar to a Subsee this is more evident taking a look at the lens on land.

This shot is taken with the bare port at 50mm.

LX7 50mm
LX7 50mm

This is the same shot at the same working distance using the UCL100 note the magnification.

LX7 UCL100 50mm
LX7 UCL100 50mm

The lens behaves like a magnifying glass exactly as the Subsee, Inon has made some effort to try to reduce vignetting, this picture is taken on land at 28mm.

UCL100 Fix Land 24mm
UCL100 Fix Land 28mm

Note a little dark bottom right corner, the lens in fact vignettes at 24mm this is due to the huge size of the LX7 lens and may not happen with other cameras.

Here we can see the rear of the lens from the Fix adapter side. The lens sits very close to the glass port.

UCL100 rear lens attached to Fix LD adapter
UCL100 rear lens attached to Fix LD adapter

I have opted for a bayonet version of this lens as I will use the fix as m67 adapter if I had to dive with the wet mate.
If you are a photographer I would definitely recommend the LD bayonet version over the M67 as it is easier to remove and attach in water.

There are some other very interesting characteristics of this lens. Usually a diopter works only around a certain working distance for a given zoom so the issue with such a powerful close up lens is that if we are far away from the working distance the lens is not usable.

The UCL100 instead is quite flexible and has a huge swing of working distances for a given focal length as in the table below.

Zoom Position Min Max
90 60 100
70 45 115
50 20 130
35 10 200
28 0 300

All values are in mm.

So the lens keeps working well far away the nominal 100mm and due to the construction also gives a magnifying effect this means that it is possible to take this lens in water as the only close up lens and there will not be too much of a limitation if for some reason we can’t get that close to the subject. A swing of 40mm at telephoto end is excellent and this becomes 70mm at 70mm zoom and 110 at 50mm.

What about image quality most of you will know by now how specific I am when it comes to aberrations, this is a crop of an image taken with the UCL165

Inon UCL165 Fringing
Inon UCL165 Fringing

You can see the yellow and purple halo around the zero.

This is a detail of the same ruler in water with the UCL100

Inon UCL100 Detail
Inon UCL100 Detail

The image is a bit soft because of the aperture used but absolutely free of any fringing that is astounding for this level of magnification, the quality of the image is same as Subsee.

This lens comes with a lens front and back cover, the front lens is a clip with lanyard. The UCL100 can also be stacked with other M67 lenses if you need more!!!

Inon UCL100
Inon UCL100

With the LX7 the UCL100 achieves a reproduction ratio of 1.1:1 compared to the 1.4:1 of an Inon UCL165. The limitation of the zoom of the LX7 shows a bit here as even the Sony RX100 gets nearly a 1:1 with this lens but the strength of the focus of the LX7 are second to no other camera in this segment so I look forward to using this lens on some really small stuff.

The UCL100 is priced at $282 in US and £275 in UK versus $225/£210 of Subsee so why would you bother getting this lens from Inon instead? I think the main selling point of this lens in addition to the image quality and magnification power is the fact that the lens operates until wide end and has a very wide range of working distances so you are not stuck just around the 100mm nominal focal lenght. This allows use of the full zoom from wide to tele that in video is especially important. For pictures I am not so sure the additional cost is justified as stills are usually at full telephoto end.

Underwater Video Tips: Choosing a Close Up Lens for a Compact Camera

There is always a lot of confusion around macro photography and close up lenses. It is useful to set some definitions right before going into selecting the appropriate lens.

In traditional terms a macro photograph is one where the image of the subject on the sensor is the same size of the subject itself. As photography is based on 35mm film this means that a macro photograph is one where the vertical size of the frame measures 24mm. If we look at high-end compact cameras there are very few that are able to capture an area smaller than 35×24 mm, among those the Canon G15 or the Panasonic LX7. Majority of other cameras capture around 60-65mm wide and 40-42mm tall frames usually at the widest end with distances of 1-3 cm from the subject. As compact camera sensors are small strictly speaking there are no compact cameras on the market that can capture an object as small as their sensor.

So as far as we are concerned all that matters is that the height of the frame is same or smaller than 24mm as if we were shooting with a full frame DSLR.

Seems macro but it is not!
Seems macro but it is not! 1:1.2

For an SLR user the choice of a close up lens is quite straightforward as usually there will be a 100mm lens behind a flat port. This lens gives a magnification of 1:1 usually with a closest focus distance of 12” or 30cm. To achieve more with the same lens there is the need of a close up lens that works with a similar principle of a magnifying glass.

A close up lens will have a determined focal length or maximum working distance, beyond which it will not focus. If you hold a close up lens at the focus distance and look inside it you will notice that the object will appear larger as you step back from the lens and smaller as you get closer to it. The camera lens behaves in a similar way. Once you reach the working distance of the close up lens is the zoom that moves the lens forward or back and effectively provides the magnification. The close up lens only shorten the working distance allowing you to get closer.

Close up lens are measured in diopters this is the ratio between 100cm and the lens focal length. So a lens with a focal length of 20cm is a +5 diopter. A 100mm lens at 30cm once placed at 20cm from the object would achieve a 1.5:1 magnification. So with a 100mm lens in a flat port and a +5 diopter we are able to capture images larger than life-size with a DSLR full sensor. A +10 diopter would give a magnification of 2.1:1.

So how much power do we need to shoot macro with a compact camera? Is it the same than with a DSLR? Are there other considerations that apply?

The first issue is that because compact camera have fixed lens there is no way to predict at a given focal length if we will achieve macro or not. A compact camera zoomed to 100mm equivalent is not the same as a full sensor camera with a 100mm lens: in most cases the capture area is much larger. In fact there is no way to know if our lens will or not achieve our objective of taking a macro shot just looking at the camera specs. To make matters more complicated it is not always possible to get too close to our subject, this may be because there is no physical way to get closer or because we do not want to freak out the marine life that we want to capture. In general I like to leave some breathing space to subjects, as a minimum 3 inches or 7.5cm are needed and a bit more. This means that more than a lens with more than 12 power is generally a bit too close to the subject.

So how do we work out what diopters we need for our lens? Unfortunately we will only know after we have actually tested it, this is of course not very good!

Another possible approach is to define what is the working distance that we can realistically sustain with our equipment and the conditions we dive in.

Generally it is always possible to get between 20cm and 10cm and in some cases also under 10cm. This corresponds to 5 – 10 diopters and sometimes more for example 12. Considering that plenty of marine life is actually one inch or larger to capture a frame where the subject is filling it we do not actually need real life-size macro. In practical terms this means that for a compact with zoom of 100mm a lens with 6 diopters is fine with less or more depending on the camera zoom and focus ability. So for general purpose a close up lens between 5 and 7 is perfectly fine, this corresponds to working distances between 14 and 20 cm or a bit less from the back of the close up lens so actually closer from the front of the lens itself. For very small subjects around 1.5 cm like a pygmy seahorse we would be looking at 10 to 12 diopters, more is impossible as we would be crashing into the critter. This means a working distance between 8 and 10 cm or 3 to 4 inches from the front of the lens or 3 to 5 cm or 1 to 2 inches from the close-up lens that would still allow a small space for our lights.

Macro Shot 1:1
Macro Shot 1:1

Will we achieve real life size macro with this? It depends, to give some context my Panasonic LX7 that only has a 90mm zoom will capture a 32mm tall frame with 6 diopters power, strictly speaking this is not macro, and 20mm with two stacked 6 lenses achieving a 1,2:1 super-macro.

Super Macro 1.7:1
Super Macro 1.7:1

There are also other consideration that apply, if all we have is a +10 diopter we need to get very close to our subjects for our lens to start working, in all those situation where we cannot get close we would run into problems. If we look at a videographer with a 10x 400mm zoom camcorder they most likely only need a 2-3 diopter because with the range of zoom available they can comfortably achieve macro staying over a foot away from the subject. So the advice is to always have a 5-6 lens for general work and another 10-12 for smaller subject or if the lenses are stack-able two 5-6 this will cover all possible situations with a camera with a 90-140mm equivalent zoom.

I thought of concluding this blog with some recommendations so those are my recommended close up lenses based on personal use or looking at pictures of others:

  • DSLR: Reefnet Subsee both 5 and 10 with 100mm lens on full frame or 60mm on 1.5x cropped sensor. The new Inon UCL100 is also worth checking but it is more expensive.
  • Compact Camera: Inon UCL165 x2 or Dyron Double Macro lens x2

Note that the Inon UCL165 focal length of 165mm is from the back of the lens so the power is 6.06. Dyron lens are reported as 7 diopters however they are then declared 165mm underwater which is actually 6.06 exactly as the Inon.

Optical quality of both lenses is similar so I guess it depends on price what would be the choice. Inon is available with bayonet mount that maybe a big advantage for some cameras like the Sony RX100.

Whilst the Subsee give the best optical quality they are bulky and not flexible so I would not consider those for a compact rig. Inon and Dyron are lighter and more portable and can be stacked, a single diopter will be in most cases sufficient for good close up work with two required only for the smallest critters. It has also to be considered that at least for stills chromatic aberration can be removed in the editing phase, not so for video, but there generally goes unnoticed unless is really heavy. The Dyron and Inon lenses have the level of quality that the aberration cannot be noticed. This muck diving video has plenty of macro and close up with diopters note that no chromatic aberration is visible, shot with single or double Inon UCL165

There are other brands like FIT or époque but there seems to be quite some confusion as their specs are either air values or magnification that as we appreciate depends on the lens used. From tests I have seen the FIT 16 seems less powerful than an Inon 6 and same of a Subsee 5 and they are expensive so not an option for me.

What other tips are useful for shooting with close up lenses? The first is to make sure to use small apertures to have the maximum depth of field.

Contrary to what many believe the diopter itself does not create an issue of shallow depth of field is the size of the subject and the magnification that create the problem. With diopters most times we are at the maximum possible magnification with a total depth of field of few millimeters, it is important to operate at aperture values for a compact camera of f/8 and if available smaller.

For pictures is it also advised to use very fast shutter speed to avoid motion blur that the shake of the camera could create, usually 1/250 or faster unless using a tripod or a solid base. Video is not usually shot with high shutter speed, if available use double frame rate and shutter of 1/100 or 1/125 depending on the PAL or NTSC video system. This will allow half speed slow motion in editing that could prove useful.

Lights are also very important for close up, for still cameras they allow the camera to focus and for video they are needed to actually take the shot. For still cameras a strobe is essential, as video lights do not perform well at high shutter speed.

A final advice is to use the lowest ISO or gain available to ensure the quality of the picture or footage is the best possible, as we are close and have lights this should not be an issue at all. Most macro stills are shot in manual, for video if a manual mode is not available pumping the lights up results in the camera closing the aperture and reducing the ISO. If manual mode is available it is possible to set shutter, aperture and ISO and then measure the exposure that the light give until a satisfactory value is achieved.

Underwater Video Tips: Panasonic LX7 Settings and Features

My previous testing of underwater video with the Sony RX100 has been quite successful I was initially pretty hard on myself but I would say the performance was as good as it could have been taking into account the conditions

Most of my videos considering the conditions look better than dedicated single chip camcorders on the market and as good as some badly shot 3-chip camcorders

It is worth noting that a decent camera in a good housing like Gates or Light and Motion costs in excess of $3,000 without any lenses or lights, whilst with the same amount of money you can get a complete set up for a high end compact camera with included two sola 1200 and various lenses.

The restrictions of a still camera though still apply at least to the Sony RX100 and those are:

  • No use of zoom at wide angle with wet lenses (problem of set up not specific to RX100)
  • Clumsy operation of functions like white balance
  • having to change wet lenses multiple times in the same dive because close up performance is average

So is there something else out there that at similar or lower price point can get us high quality underwater video?

I believe there is and it is the Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX7, this camera has a bright f/1.4 lens with good sharpness, a 24mm lens and more effective ergonomics than the Sony.

Obviously I am talking about video here as I do believe the RX100 is the camera to beat in terms of compact for still pictures. For video especially at wide angle we are shooting mostly with ambient light and the corner softness of the RX100 does show with wide apertures. So whilst for your photos at close focus wide angle with a strobe the camera does an outstanding job for an HD video at 1080p the image does not look that crisp.

I am glad I got the RX100 as this is going to be the next camera for stills once I abandon the Canon S95.

Ok moving on to the Panasonic LX7 I did a little stress test pointing at the fireplace in low light to see how the two cameras respond, the clips are done 1 minute after the other so have similar ambient light available. It is clear that the LX7 is a winner in virtue of the brighter lens not only that the wider 24mm lens against the 28mm of the Sony shows a clear advantage.

Now what else is good about the LX7 the major feature are definitely the ergonomics, let’s have a look at the rear controls.

Panasonic LX7 rear buttons
Panasonic LX7 rear buttons

The first button of interest is the AF/AEL lock that you can configure to lock focus, exposure or both. Now having this with one touch means that any shot of moving fish in front of the camera or a dive into a cave will resist the camera hunting for focus or trying to change the exposure.

The other button of interest is the WB you can recall and set white balance in any non automatic mode including video, in addition there are two custom settings for white balance and you can alter the tint after setting that is great.

The ISO button is also very useful but mostly for picture and a half press will tell you what combination of aperture, shutter and ISO the camera would shoot at.

This also brings one of the weaknesses of the camera and is the camera’s video Program submode. For some reason this behaves like the still camera program mode so does not take into any account the 180 shutter rule, so be careful and never use the camera in Creative Video mode with the Program submode as results will not be good.

So how should you shoot video with your Panasonic LX7? Simple you should shoot in shutter speed priority or in specific cases in manual.

I think the shutter speed priority is the simplest starting point, so let’ assume you are in the PAL system where video is 25 frames per second you should set shutter priority and speed of 1/50 for wide angle with ISO in Auto. Depending on available light the LX7 will keep the lens at widest aperture and ISO until needed and then start closing the lens, this is fine for us as it is better to have lower noise image than huge depth of field.

If you want to influence depth of field for example in a macro situation when you are zooming in a lot you can take a half press and set the ISO manually until you have the aperture you like. The LX7 sets ISO in 1/3 of f-stop so the fine-tuning possible is incredible.

I would not trust the camera aperture priority mode as the LX7 will quite happily reduce the shutter speed all the way to 1/30 of a second before increasing the ISO and this would give blurred footage.

Shooting macro with the LX7 may require you to operate at double frame rate modes of 50 or 60 fps in that case again in shutter priority mode or manual start with a shutter of 1/100 or 1/125 and pump up your lights until you see the aperture closing. If the image is still soft increase the ISO manually to get where you want to be take into account that this camera has really a lot of corner sharpness so in general it is not needed to get to small aperture as much as it is with other cameras.

So which housing for the LX7? I have done a quick review of the Nauticam in the unboxing video here

This housing is really impressive and makes the camera actually even easier to operate when outside the housing!

Now with all those good things why is the LX7 not as good as the RX100 for still pictures:

  1. Too wide lens: 24mm makes it difficult to get wide angle lenses and impossible to use a fisheye
  2. Resolution is only 10MP in RAW pictures this shows, not in video though
  3. Smaller sensor again the performance at the same ISO is better with the RX100 when you have a strobe

For video some of those drawbacks become actually plus points:

  1. The 24mm lens when coupled with the Nauticam wet mate dome has 84° field of view in water that is good for most situations
  2. Smaller sensor means more depth of field at same aperture

Another factor to consider with regards to the LX7 is the 1cm minimum focus distance, this means that diopters are only needed for super macro very small subjects as the capture area of the camera is incredibly small less than half the RX100.

Other plus points of the LX7

  1. Neutral density filter, -3 f-stops means the camera will not jump to shutter speeds of 1/1000 in bright sunlight but stay at the normal speed with the lens wide open
  2. Stabiliser: the LX7 optical stabiliser is rock solid and gives the same performance of the RX100 active stabiliser without any cropping of reduction of the field of view
  3. A normal Mp4 1080p video mode at 20 Mb/s bitrate that is great for general purpose wide angle

In the next post we will have a look at the Nauticam Wet Mate and the diopter that I have chosen for the LX7

Sony RX100 – Summary of Underwater Video Performance

Few months ago this clip came out

Many people including me got really excited about this camera and had a go at underwater video with it

Now it is time for an end of year review and summary of my experience with the Sony RX100.

Without a doubt the camera is a game changer and there are some feature that are especially suited to underwater video.

Key Strengths

Bright Lens

The RX100 does very well in low light this is a strong selling point for underwater video, even in cloudy days the camera does extremely well

Low Noise

The camera performs very well in video mode up to ISO 800, the level of background noise is really low and the footage clearly benefits from it

Image Quality

The quality of video if we focus on the center, as well at the telephoto end is impressive. Color rendering is very accurate and there is even the option of using Adobe RGB. The dynamic range of the camera is excellent and the image is vibrant.

Video Mode Control

There is full manual control in Video mode and the option for aperture and shutter priority. The program mode does very well. Only an Auto ISO option in manual is missing but this is negligible. Indeed the most interesting mode is aperture priority.

Manual Focus

The peaking function works very well and it is really a strong feature of this camera, it is also very usable underwater

Battery Life

You can easily do 3 dives with the RX100 without having to open the case which is great and actually unusual these days when even a gopro does not last one hour.

Active Steadyshot

I initially slagged the RX100 stabilization system based on performance on land. However at a more in depth analysis it turns out that the RX100 active steadyshot, even if at cost of an image crop is very effective for sudden camera movement and for high magnification macro. The Stabilizer is not as sticky as others so when you eventually vibrate it does not jump. Although the performance for stills is poor to irrelevant and so is the normal mode the active mode is very effective for underwater use.

Tedious Workarounds

Some of the ergonomics of the RX100 are not the best and seriously deduct from an otherwise excellent experience, the most annoying issues:

Lack of focus lock

For some reason Sony decided to skip on this essential feature, the workaround involves switching to manual focus using the function dial however it is then possible to accidentally change focus.

Setting Custom White Balance in Video

Setting custom white balance is only possible in the still modes, while in fact if you shoot RAW don’t actually need white balancing. This is the largest non sense of this camera that requires the user to navigate out into Program to ensure white balance is set correctly and you don’t end up with the Custom WB Error message. Really an awful issue that Sony should try to fix in a firmware update

Lack of 24/25/30 progressive modes at 1080HD

Sony thought that for some reason you either shoot interlaced or you go directly at double frame rate with a 25 or 30 progressive mode only available at reduced bit rate and resolution of 1440×1080 with rectangular pixels. Why did they do that is a total mystery. You are therefore forced to shoot at the highest mode of 1080p50 or 1080p60 that produces large files difficult to digest by many programs. Sony decided to keep a bunch of interlaced modes despite the fact that there are no programs that can edit those without conversion and that CRT Tvs don’t exist since a little while.

AVCHD

Sony embraced AVCHD maybe because their software handles it well but what about the rest of the world? Mp4 is the standard for video clips on the internet and AVCHD adds absolutely no feature to it for simple video recording. Files have to be systematically converted, sometimes with commercial software, to be used with mainstream non linear editors, not only most would not recognize the files at double frame rate.

Key Weaknesses

The RX100 has also some key weaknesses that limit its own performance and can’t be cured by workarounds.

Macro Performance

The camera does an awful job at close range and needs a diopter even to shoot basic macro. To shoot super macro you need +12 diopters and this requires high quality lenses to avoid chromatic aberrations in the image. The focus mechanism with diopter is a bit of a mystery to work out at times. Once you manage to focus the image quality is great. However the need for a +5 diopter as a starter makes this set up expensive and cumbersome to handle in water compared to others.

Stabilizer

Sony has adopted a lens shift approach in this camera instead of the sensor shift of the higher end alpha, maybe due to large size of the sensor compared to the camera body. They have then added some software processing in camera but the results are just average. There are many other cameras that do better than the RX100.

Soft Corners at Wide End

I was going crazy looking at pictures taken with different wet wide-angle lens to check which lens was best, at the end of hours of observation I took some shots on lend at the wide end. The issue is not with the wet lenses is with the camera itself, it has very soft corners until at least f/5.6 and not the sharpest corners anyway afterwards. This cannot be cured and is a key weakness that is not so apparent in stills where you can crop quite a lot 20 megapixels but obvious in video.

No Neutral Density Filter

The RX100 has a bright lens and low noise however in video the ISO starts at 125, in many situation near the surface the camera maxes out at f/11 and then starts increasing shutter speeds to 200 400 800 and so on producing scatty mechanical images. Neutral density filters have been implemented for ages in cheaper camera and take away 2-3 f-stops allowing the camera to operate at wide aperture. For some reason Sony decided not to do anything about this. On land this is an even stronger limitation in bright days.

A final remark that I want to include for all those that use the RX100 for still photography that indeed is the real strength of this camera.

Another key weakness is the strobe recycle time not an issue in video of course but creating several issues of missed shots for photographer

In conclusion the RX100 can produce great footage but has some limitation that need to be taken into account.

If you go muck diving on flat surfaces with a couple of diopters and good video lights it is of course all looking wonderful but the situation changes when you cannot lay down as in my seahorses video

With two Inon UCL165AD stacked it is really hard to get some decent footage and due to the large sensor the depth of field at such level of magnification is pretty much zero.

But the limits show up more in the wide angle where the soft corners come up no matter what you do as very seldom you are able to shoot at f/5.6 or higher at depth below 12 meters or 40 feet

Whoever wants to try the RX100 for video please get in touch if you have more questions and happy 2013!!!

Sony RX100 – Tips for underwater video part 9 Wide Angle Shots and Lenses

During my last trip to Raja Ampat I had finally the opportunity to take the wide angle lenses in a real life situation and test that they were working to satisfaction. As some people know I really like my set of Inon AD lenses and although the RX100 has a 28mm equivalent lens I put together a bespoke adapter to reuse the lenses I already have. At the time of the trip I did not have the final prototype but only a pre-release which meant I could no use the fisheye as I had an alignment issue with the dome so I only used the flat UWL105AD.

There are two videos that are of interest one is the Raja Ampat North sites which is below.

In the north visibility was at best fair and I was struggling with the set up as I had not tested the push up filter. What happened is that the black ring created vignetting so I had to reverse the rubber ring on the lens until I could push the filter deeper. In the video you can see clearly a vignetting issue around 3:50 on the wobbegong approach where I had not yet resolved this problem. The video has no image stabilization nor cropping and it shows! There are also occasional soft corners as due to the low level of visibility and lack of light the camera was working around f1.8 or f2.0 aperture most of the time. This does create soft corners on the RX100 when you have something in close focus because I always shoot at the lowest ISO as I have found that increasing aperture and working with high ISO creates a mayhem of chromatic issues.

Anyway once I got a few dives and the problems were ironed out we also moved down to Misool where conditions where much better. This is the Misool video.

Here because of the increase of light and better conditions the image is sharper due to smaller aperture settings. I did not use the RX100 to take any stills as I wanted to focus entirely on video.

Once I got home I bought a fix M67-28AD adapter PRO, that allows you to adjust the AD lens so that the dome petals are in the right place. I tested it in the bathtub with the UFL165AD and the UWL105AD, in terms of vignetting as we shoot stills at 3:2 the working focal length is 34mm on the zoom or 12.8mm.

This is a shot of the bare lens

Bare Port

You can see the characteristic pincushion distortion that the bare port creates, this is the main reason together to demagnification to have a wet wide angle lens note the purple fringing is evident.

This is a shot at f5.6 with the UFL165AD.

UFL165AD 12.8mm

Despite the zoom the lens performs great and it is very wide. If we look at a 100% zoom of the corner

UFL165AD 100% crop

We can see that at this aperture the corners are sharp and there is a very small amount of red and blue fringing.

Let’s look at the Inon UWL105AD

UWL105AD 12.8mm

If we zoom into the corner this is what we get

UWL105AD 100% crop

Also here there is tiny blue and yellow fringing but the results are comparable to some shots I have been sent taken with the Inon UWLH-100 28LD.

Finally this is the UWL105AD with a 16:9 aspect ratio and 33mm equivalent zoom, this is interesting as it is the way the camera behaves in active steady shot without zoom.

UWL105AD 16-9 100 crop

As you can see even better performance in the corners as the port is closer to the back of the lens with the RX100 because of how zooming is implemented.

For who is interested I sell spacer rings and special screws that you can attach to the fix adapter at $45 get in touch if you have some old AD lenses and you want to reuse them with the RX100. Especially as the UFL165AD has incredible performance with stills and nothing can beat the flexibility of this lens and its very light weight in water let alone the speedy bayonet mount.

A final word about filters, in video filters are essential to restore colour however they also take away 1 1/2 f-stop of light so in low light the footage may get too grainy and it is actually better to work only with white balance.

I have heard many people commenting about the dreaded white balance error 9900K message of the RX100. So why is this happening?

It seems that the RX100 cannot white balance if the exposure is outside the -2 or +2 Ev range. If you do continue and ignore the error message you may end up with strange results.

So how to fix this? Contrary to what I said in my post about white balance I have worked out that it is best to set a custom white balance in P mode and not in M, this is because the camera will adjust exposure and never issue an error message. If you want to keep white balancing in M make sure you are within the allowed range of exposure.

Sony RX100 – Tips for Underwater Video Part 8 – Shooting at Night

If you are not freaked out by diving at night you know that it offers unique opportunities to see behavior and creatures not usually seen during the day like the monster snail in the featured image of this post.

During my recent trip in Raja Ampat we had the opportunity to see some really unique features, now for someone this fellow here is unusual enough

We had however made an indigestion of flamboyant cuttlefish in Dauin so that was not that exciting although having one of those walking towards the lens was pretty cool.

It is useful to compare the two still pictures of the flamboyant and the snail, you will notice that in featured image you can clearly understand the shot was taken at night whilst the flamboyant could have been just a day shot for how bright it is.

This leads us to tip number 1 for taking video at night which is never exceed with the lighting. We don’t have any ambient light to help and our lights are the only light source, it is very easy to exceed and wash out a scene with too much reflection from our subject.

I have lights that can be dimmed and I did not use more than half the power at night. It is also important to leave some form of dark halo around the frame to give really that night impression.

Coming to the light having bright lights on all the time also attracts lionfish, krill and plankton. On this trip I was literally attacked by krill to the point I had to switch off the lights for few minutes.

Back scatter is also more of a problem due to the particle in the water at night and the fact that they are more clearly reflecting our lights, if possible never illuminate a subject frontally to avoid the snow effect. Sometimes though, like in some sections of the video, there is just too much no matter how you angle the lights.

The real important part is the gear, I have video light that also change to spot and work as torches and are dimmable, this saves the effort of taking a torch with you and having to juggle with all the gear.

Other factor of relevance is that during a night dive you can’t really shoot wide angle as there is no ambient light, this limits the type of shots you can take so it is important to add something else to make the clip more interesting. It is also more difficult to film divers without blinding them so really there is less selection possible.

A final note are skittish critters that require a red filter, I have never been in this situation, usually I keep the lights low until time to take the shot and then go for it like for the eupalette shark towards the end of the clip. If you need to use a filter remember to set a custom white balance.

Talking of white balance every light has a specific temperature, mine are 6500K, it is a good idea to set the camera white balance to this temperature to neutralize the coldness of the light this is possible in video more on the RX100 but not all camera offer that option so you can start with auto mode to see how it works.

Anyway the video is the collection of the 7 night dives, some were not memorable but at least 4 were excellent you can see what I mean if you watch it in full and notice some of the specific quirks. I found the RX100 to perform very well and the footage is very clear. I used Movie mode P increasing or decreasing the power of the lights until I was getting the best compromise between aperture and too much light.