Category Archives: SONY RX100M2

Red Sea Workshop with Alex Mustard – Part II Thistlegorm and Co

After the first day of fish portraits it was time to go and dive the Thistlegorm, this can be an amazing dive site but also very challenging as the wreck is not sheltered by any reef formation.

We got there early in the morning and attached to the wreck using the classic 3 point method: anchor, line on the bow and line on the stern we were all ready to go.

I have to say Dr Mustard prepared this very well and had a wealth of information on the wreck and the specific features.

The first dive was suggested to be a guide tour of the wreck from the outside with a limited penetration, the second would have been a penetration and the third dive a play with remote strobes (that I did not have).

As I had dived the wreck a number of times I decided to change the order so on dive number one went for a penetration of hold 2 and played a bit with the motorbikes.

There were already some others surrounding the bike as I went down so I played a bit with the divers themselves before being able to get in position.

Wreck Diving
It is amazing how much more interesting is a picture once you have a person in it. Eventually I got hold of the Bike in hold 2 also known as Elle’s bike. I looked around and there were some hatchet fish that I thought would have made the picture more interesting compared to the usual single fish in front of the bike.

Motorbike in Hold 2
I love the reflection on the fish that the strobe produced.

On dive 2 it was time to take some ambient light shots and I was expecting some divers to be around the stern that I could capture. Unfortunately the day boats had gone and the Thistlegorm was pretty empty so dive 2 was a bit of a waste as the boat itself says very little without a diver or a school of fish.

Thistlegorm Stern
Thistlegorm Stern

It could be the size of a RIB but you could not tell from here the massive size of the boat. It is quite dark at the 28 meters I took the picture so there is not a lot of color.

On dive 3 people that had them were playing with remote strobe. I fired a few shots when my cabin mate was placing his strobe, funny enough his remote strobe fired and I blackened him in lightroom so he is actually still there!
Trucks

The remote strobe creates the blue in the truck glass that would not be there otherwise.

Next trip I will take my third Z240 and the gorillapod, I have to get a remote trigger but I think this is relatively straightforward.

The briefing from Dr Mustard included map of all the bikes and trucks and suggestion for shots and strobe positioning really impressive detail there.

After 3 dives on the wreck we moved to Beacon Rock where the Dunraven rests not to dive the wreck but to experiment with dapple light.

This was a very productive dive for me I had some of the best shots in relatively poor conditions.
Dapple

The surface was not flat but this made it even more dramatic as the waves were breaking through.

There were also barracuda and goat fish shoals. The barracuda were not really cooperating so I focused on the goat fish

Special Guest

Goats

Meteor

I also had a 26º snoot this time so I played a bit with an octopus
Waiting in the dark

The good thing about the Inon snoot is that you can remove it and take normal shots with two strobes
This is the same octopus as before just to give you an idea

Side Shot

I was very happy with the performance of my RX100 Mark II one of the only two compact on the trip especially comparing to micro 4:3 that did not really look that much better.

Part 3 will be out soon with the first shots from Ras Mohammed

 

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Red Sea Workshop with Alex Mustard – Part I

So finally the time had come to attend the Nauticam Try out with Alex Mustard.

If you have never done any of those workshops I would definitely recommend you one. It is not just the outstanding tuition but the fact that the boat will go to specific dive sites at specific times to take advantage of conditions and light for photography.

If you are keen to see the pictures this is the link to the set with the 30 images I like the most

Giant Moray

I used the RX100 for stills for the whole trip but then on the last dive I shot this short clip just to give an idea of what it was like. Note that I used the auto magic filter on the lens and by then I had ruined it a bit so the image is softer than it should be and not up to my usual standards, the purpose is to illustrate the diving style not the quality of my set up for video.

The trip started with a preliminary explanation on how things were going to work and after a static first evening on the boat we departed for Abu Nuhas the early morning after. Unfortunately the conditions were really rough so we ended up aborting and after a check dive at alternatives we went to the barge.

The objective was to shoot fish portraits, cardinal fish had eggs in their mouth, at least some of them were carrying them, so you could find yourself your fish and try to take some shots. It was apparent that due to the level of comfort of the fish I could not get close enough with my diopters to take a shot to fill the frame so I needed to crop quite a bit as in this shot.
Eggs

Hopefully the eggs are still visible. Anyway the rest of the gang had for 90% DSLR and were happily shooting portraits with their 100mm macro lens I was struggling getting anything decent so I decided to try something alternative as it was clear that if I was shooting fish mid water I would have been too far away to fill the frame.

This shot from Alex Tattersall gives you an idea of what should have come out with the right level of magnification that I could not achieve.

cardinalwitheggs

In some cases I did find more cooperative fish like those two.
BigEyes

So I put on the snoot and started looking for different things like in this shot taken with the Inon at 20º.
Grey Moray
Those little gray moray are endemic of the red sea and look quite cute. I then found a giant moray and took a series of shots this one being my favorite.
Giant Moray

The Inon snoot is a great piece of kit especially because you can go from 20º to 100º depending on the parts you combine. There are fiber optics snoot on the market that are sensational for macro but do no wide angle, the Inon snoot can do wide angle with 86º 53º 46º coverage and narrower beams of 26º and 20º for smaller things or special effects.

This is a picture of the snoot set that I would recommend to all Inon strobe users.

Wide angle Snoot
Wide angle Snoot
20 degree snoot
20 degree snoot
Inon snoot kit
Inon snoot kit

Obviously I could only capture semi static subjects with the snoot and the issue of fish portraits remains. The RX100 at 100mm equivalent requires 50cm focus distance that becomes 66cm in water. At this distance the capture area is rather large and unsuitable for smaller fish like the cardinals in the example so a solution would be to use an Inon UCL330 diopter to reduce distance to around 25-30 cm and therefore have a 2x magnification but I don’t have this lens anymore so can’t confirm. I will buy it again and do some more tests in a future trip.

I will post part II in the next days with some shots from the Thistlegorm so stay tuned

Why not to move to Micro 4:3 for Video

I have recently received a number of messages asking me why I am not upgrading to a micro 4:3 set up.

There are several reasons why I am not doing that even if my photo rig is nearly as heavy as a micro 4:3 or even a DSLR and have to do mostly with video not with stills.

I will try and touch on the key points in this post, please remember those are subjective and by no mean a criticism to other people that use 4:3 set up for video.

Note: my perspective is one of a typical non professional user that has limited time to get the best shots. This is not an absolute point of view it is  clear that if you are a ‘pro’ and have much more time to spend to get few seconds of footage many considerations do not apply.

Composition

The way I have learned to love underwater video is the composition opportunities that it gives. My main source of inspiration is John Boyle and his book that remains the only valid handbook for what I am concerned even if it is a little old.

One of the classics of underwater video is the sequence: wide-medium-close-super close. On a micro four third in order to have good quality you would choose a macro lens or a wide angle lens,  both those choices will prevent a number of shots you either do close and super close or wide and medium and maybe close but not super close.

With a camera with a fixed lens with a range of 28-100mm and wet lenses you can cover the whole spectrum of shots although you may need to swap lenses during the shot the possibility is there.

Optical Quality

Some users try to use one lens to catch all, usually the choice is a Panasonic 14-42mm or an Olympus 12-50mm. However this is not as exciting as it seems in the first place. I have run some comparisons on the optics on DXOMark assuming the 4:3 are on a Panasonic GH3 that really is a mini SLR you can see the results by yourself

Comparison Panasonic 14-42 vs RX100II vs Olympus 12-50
Comparison Panasonic 14-42 vs RX100II vs Olympus 12-50

The RX100II gives better quality than both those lenses and especially it does it at f/1.8 versus the f/3.5 of f/4 of the other lenses.

The RX100 does have issues of distortion and chromatic aberration at the edges because of the extensive correction but is overall sharper at wider aperture. This is very important for video that is shot at ambient light.

Wet Lenses

You can add M67 lenses to the Panasonic 14-42 and the 35 macro port (am talking about Nauticam ports here) the results will be worse than the RX100 as the starting point is worst. There is no M67 mount to use the Olympus 12-50mm lens, I will try to see if the flip diopter can do that without vignette but still this gives only 24mm against the 18mm of the RX100 with an Inon wet lens.

Video Quality

The only cameras that are decent are Panasonic as Olympus video is pathetic. However only the GH3/4 have anything better than a compact in terms of recording formats. The new Sony RX100 Mark III with 50 mbps 24/25p seems almost equally interesting.

Stabilisation

Micro 4:3 cameras do not have in camera stabilization in video mode and most of the lenses (the 14-42 is an exception) do not have optical stabilizers to contain costs. It follows that close ups are shaky and even wide angle has jumps.

Conclusion

With all the considerations above it follows the only real set up would be a lens with a stabilizer, the only available that can also shoot close up with a wet lens is the 14-42mm Panasonic. However this lens seems to have worst optical quality than the on-board lens of the RX100II (I have checked some real life shots myself). The only benefit left is the higher bit rate recording format and this is only if you go on a GH3/GH4, with higher recording formats available for the RX100 Mark III and with an announced Panasonic LX8 with potential 4K I personally do not see a reason to jump on the 4:3 wagon for video. I do believe though that if you take mainly stills there is a compelling reason for 4:3 as you can have one camera fitting almost everything and smaller to pack than a DSLR (but not that much and forget about 200-400mm f/2.8 tele lenses).

Snell Windows with your compact camera

Snell’s window is a phenomenon by which an underwater viewer sees everything above the surface through a cone of light of width of about 96 degrees [From Martin Edge: Underwater Photography].

During my last Gapapagos Trip there was a bit of an issue in terms of photography subjects, in essence most of them were fairly big like sharks, turtles, eagle rays and of course divers.

After a while shooting or trying to shoot those uncooperative models I had the idea to try and do different things such as silhouettes and Snell windows. You can also combine both as we did in this case.

So what do you need to shoot image of a Snell window:

1. A lens that is wide enough, you need a bit more than 96º field of view to take the whole window

2. Something interesting on the surface (if you have calm water you can see right through)

3. An interesting subject as silhouette to contrast the clear water if there are waves and you can’t easily see through.

A normal flat wet wide angle lens for our compact camera is not sufficient to capture the snell’s windows as in this example

Safety Stop
Divers at Safety Stop – taken with Inon UWL-H100 at wide end

Take into account that even with a fisheye lens on an SLR you can’t capture the Snell’s window on the vertical axis as the field of view will fall short a few degrees.

With a compact camera a semifisheye lens will capture the edges of the window if correctly aimed on the diagonal and horizontal dimensions and will fall short on the vertical.

Snell to boat
Snell window divers exiting the water or ascending – UWL-04 semi fisheye lens Canon S95

I am reporting some of the calculated field of view for the most popular lenses at present for compact at 3:2 image format

Wet Lens Diag FOV Hor Fov Ver FOV Flare/Ghost
UWL-04 151.95 123.22 79.85 Ghost Possible
UWL-100 28AD 149.01 120.97 78.48 No
UWL-28 160.56 129.75 83.81 Both
UWL-H100 157.85 127.71 82.58 No

 

All those lenses will take a good Snell’s window I have not tried the UWL-28 and I have some concerns this lens may flare as it usually does but I do not know for sure.

Both the Inon lenses produce sharp images with no defect.

In general small sensor cameras like the Canon S series will work fine with the fix/idas lenses and should produce good results also of normal shots through the water.

Using the UWL-04 or UWL-28 with large sensor cameras like the RX100 there could be a sharpness issue a larger apertures so make sure you close that at f/8 or smaller instead of using the shutter speed to balance exposure if you want to go through the water.

Snell’s windows are uncommon with compact camera shooters as they are considered an advanced subject but they can be taken. I will be taking more in a next trip to Egypt I hope for calm surface conditions so I can go through the surface with the shots. Failing that this is very easy to practice in a swimming pool.

Have fun shooting snell’s windows!

Sony RX100 White Balance Woes

In one of my first posts on this blog I covered the subject of setting white balance with the Sony RX100.

It may be useful to have a quick recap on the topic:

  • For pictures setting a custom white balance is not useful if you shoot in RAW as the amount of correction in post processing is far superior*
  • For video (that is shot in compressed format) setting the appropriate white balance for your shots is essential

There are exceptions to this rule, some people like to set custom white balance even in RAW when they shoot ambient light pictures. This is because changing the white balance shifts the histogram and therefore if you had taken a shot with an incorrect white balance you may retrieve wrong information from the histogram. Personally I do not do this most of the ambient light shots I judge by eye and not histogram or are silhouettes anyway but may be useful to know.

The other exception is when you shoot a raw video format with bit rates in excess of 100 Mbps, in that case the footage is captured in a bland format lacking any real depth and contrast and things are corrected in post processing. This does not apply to any consumer camera that works in AVCHD or Mp4 with bit rate lower than 50 Mbps in any case.

It follows that setting the appropriate white balance for our videos is something that is important otherwise our clips will look dull, green or have some sort of color cast we do not like.

As many of you RX100 I have experience with the infamous Custom White Balance 9900K error. In theory if you set your custom white balance with the camera in P mode over a neutral target this error should only occur if the color temperature is out of range (>9900K) unfortunately this is not the case and you get this error pretty much always with our beloved camera. At the beginning I thought that this was due to my cheap PADI slate, but after various attempts against my hand, sand, buddy’s tank, the sun I have to think there is some genuine issue here.

So I got myself whibal card, that on my test on land performs amazingly well with both the RX100 and the Nikon D7100.

The first thing we can realize is that the auto white balance setting is rather cool in outdoor scenes, whilst it tends to be warmer in indoor scenes with artificial light.

Auto White Balance
Auto White Balance

When you take a custom white balance the colors appear warmer and the bluish cast departs and the yellows come back.

DSC01608

This is particularly bad news if you shoot underwater without a filter and think of using auto white balance as those results will be pretty ugly.

The whibal card has a specific black mark that if illuminated tells you the white balance reading is incorrect because of reflections. I thought this was the key to the 9900 Error, unfortunately I was wrong.

It just fails 100% reliably really painful so I could not get rid of my trusted red filter for the Galapagos trip. I even tried setting the white balance with the filter and it would fail as well.

So I went back to auto white balance and red filter and I am pretty happy with the results, many people have asked me if I have manipulated the footage in post processing as the colors look very deep and some have even said unnatural. Even so shooting at 1/50 means a relatively low ISO and in the specific trip another f/stop of aperture was not really significant but I would have like to have the option of working without the filter, sadly this was not an option.

For what concerns white balance just a few things I want to say:

1. At depth there is no color anyway so what your eye can see it is not what it is, the proof is when you use lights or strobes things look much better than the naked eye. Using your visual as a reference can produce dull results.

2. You have to set an appropriate white balance for your scene, this means removing the cast. If a scene has no cast and the colors look saturated this is not a white balance issue on its own but may due to the camera settings. The RX100II is one of the less saturated camera on the market. The mark I instead is pretty saturated take this into account.

3. Footage that looks dull IS in fact ugly. The fact you set custom white balance with or without a filter does not mean that results is the perfect result, there is no such thing in fact and as colors disappear at depth white balance is not that effective anyway

Nick Hope sometime ago published some interesting tests on wetpixel

http://wetpixel.com/forums/index.php?showtopic=16970&page=8#entry122288

It turns out that there is more than meets the eye.

Just to clarify the only color correction in my Galapagos clip is:

1. In the scene of the dolphins I was pointing the camera upwards and did not have time to take the filter off so ended up with a red cast, I performed a white balance adjustment in iMovie on the opposite value of the tint I was getting until I liked it.

2. In the scene where there is a group of Galapagos sharks and the close up of the eagle ray I have reduced the blue gain as it was over saturated

In all other cases the only changes were increase of contrast or reduction of brightness. When the water was green like at the end in the Punta Vicente Roca scene I did not touch it to make it look artificially blue.

Again for those who ask I use a deeproof push on filter for the Inon UWL-H100 this filter is my preferred for the only reason that is actually the only one available on the market that fits on the lens. Personally I would much prefer a plastic filter like the ikelite/URPRO but this one is glass. It seems to correspond to a deep sunset 2700K with magenta tint of +5 on the RX100 but I have no tools to measure it I can only say it works.

So my recommendation for the RX100 is to get this solution as the Inon lens has the best optical quality and a hood that comes very handy to reduce flare. There are other lenses that fit the RX100 but have no hood. Obviously an not even considering the fisheye style lenses as distortion is ugly and placing a filter under the lens is a very bad idea.

Galapagos: Sony RX100 Mark II Photos

I have mentioned the conditions we found in Galapagos in the previous post so no need to repeat myself.

One of the things I was told before going is that the last dive of the day tends to be pretty dark so not good for video, therefore I used this for photos were I was expecting to use strobes at all times.

I made a mistake as I should have taken the still rig also on the second cousins rock dive anyway I am quite happy on how things turned out considering I did only 4 dives and took 117 photos I am pretty happy I could pick 20 that I consider decent.

The whole set is here

Watching you

The rig I decided to pack at the end had 6+8 inches segment so it looked pretty cumbersome on land.

Photo RIg on Land
Photo RIg on Land

In water the setup looked like a glider with a significant wing span

Photo Rig Underwater
Photo Rig Underwater

The reason why I took arms so long is that I was expecting sharks to be 4-6 feet away and quite a bit of particles in the water.

I was right. Just have a look at the following two shots, the first taken with a Canon S95 and a single 8″ arm.

Turtle with single strobe 8" arm
Turtle with single strobe 8″ arm

You can see the considerable amount of backscatter despite the 1/1600 shutter speed.

This is another turtle on the same dive

Turtle with twin strobes
Turtle with twin strobes

This time two strobes on the longer arms are used, even at 1/320 this looks neat. The turtle looks bigger as the lens is not as wide as the previous, shooting distance is the same.

The arms proved to be good for the sharks as expected, I used aperture of f/4 for most shots, ISO 100/200 and shutter 1/60 to 1/125

This is emotionally the best shot

Galapagos Shark Watching me
Galapagos Shark Watching me

Later on in the snorkeling trips I took couple of split shots.

Unfortunately the weather was not good and the sky cloudy so I had to play with the graduated filter.

Galapagos Penguin Split Shot
Galapagos Penguin Split Shot

The purist will notice that the water line is not neat, as I am shooting with a wet lens the back of the lens has water as well so to avoid to see that I shoot portrait with the back of the lens in the water, which is a limitation but on a good day will produce interesting shots regardless, also the lens is only 9cm diameter and is flat (Inon UWL-H100)

I took some close ups but even the sea horses were huge so no need for close up lenses.

Giant Pacific Seahorse
Giant Pacific Seahorse

Funny enough I took this at f/5.6 1/60 after reading on DXOMark that the RX100 resolution is actually better at f/5.6 than it is at f/11.

The lens is at 35mm equivalent at the shooting distance I used the depth of field is only a couple of cm and as the background is quite plain I did not bother trying a black background that I could possibly not even achieve. This was a TTL shot whilst all the sharks and wide angle were taken with the strobes in manual.

Another great feature on land of the RX100 is the panorama, which I used in Bartolome and other places

Bartolome Panorama
Bartolome Panorama

In general the conditions were very difficult and I am happy with what I could achieve in just 4 dives.

I will be taking the same arms and strobes configuration to the Red Sea in a few weeks but with the Inon UWL-100 with dome. I expect better results as the conditions are usually fabulous in comparison, probably I could do with shorter arms but once in water the set up is not heavy so I will keep it like that

 

 

 

Galapagos: Sony RX100 Mark II Video

The time finally came for our trip to Galapagos and I was ready with a set of think rubber suits to overcome the cold water. I just bought a 5mm Oneill Sector (wonderful suit) a 3mm hooded vest, kevlar gloves and a 5mm 4th Element short john. Well the short john was not used and for most I used just the wetsuit and a set of O’Neill Thermo X unders (very recommended) as El Nino is coming and the water was warmer at 25-27C or 77-80F.

This means lack of schooling hammerhead at shallow depth close to the reef, they were in the blue. We had however our good dose of schooling barracuda, tuna (in the 1000s) and even galapagos sharks

This is the video I produced

If you have problems with playing in your country use vimeo instead

The conditions were difficult with low visibility and in some sites very green water as you can see here

Green waterQuestions will come about what I used etc etc so here is the list

  • Sony RX100II in Nauticam housing
  • FIx adapter for Inon LD mount
  • Inon UWL-H100
  • Deeproof blue water filter
  • Sola video lights 1200 (just few shots of the barracudas and some close ups)
  • Combination of arms and sometimes no arms
  • Ultralight tray TR-DM with extension and handles

The video has been produced with iMovie 9.0.4 no stabilization performed except the scene with the moray eels mating (very mild)

I shot the whole trip in shutter priority 1/50th of a second in the 25 fps 24 Mbps format. After some tests at home I have decided to use this mode as I can’t physically play the 50 fps files the camera produces on any of my devices differently. The 25 fps gives a film look and very smooth footage. This format is only available on the RX100II and not on the original RX100 so the consideration I made at the time for video settings of the RX100 remain valid.

The benefit of 1/50th shutter speed is a full f/stop of light the disbenefit is that at the surface and for backlit shots this is too slow, in those cases I go back to program mode or increase shutter speed to 1/100 or 1/200 or more.

For what concerns the editing I import the raw files in iMovie without using the conversion and then export with x264 using very slow preset and level 4.0 compatibility to use it with my appleTv.

I do minimal color correction in some cases I had to eliminate the red color cast of the filter when shooting upwards, to do that I change the white balance to top yellow until i remove the cast.

In some cases I had to put the green gain to the max for the same problem but in all other cases there is NO color correction in post.

When you work with AVCHD cameras the footage is compressed and the key is to get it right in camera.

As Galapagos conditions were challenging, although less than I expected, I used gloves in some dives to hang on to the barnacles and I also modified the set up to completely eliminate the lights.

I would dive with two 3″ segments and two 6″ Inon Mega float arms when I had the lights on and for other shots in ambient light I would have this set up here that looks odd but it is very effective and almost neutral at only 120 grams in water. The position of the floats means the camera stays upright at all times.

Compact tray for ambient light
Compact tray for ambient light

I would put a single Sola light on top of the housing not for video purpose but to signal the dive master when I was a bit far in the murky or dark waters. I used this set up on almost all blue water dives (Darwin and Wolf) and the normal set up with lights for the South and West sites with murky or green water.
There will be a separate post on the photos, I did a total of 18 dives with the camera of which 4 where photo and 14 video. You can see an example in the featured image.

I have now ran some statistics on the final clip that I produced

I used a total of 41 video clips:

ISO average was 273 with the following breakdown

  • 2 clips at 160
  • 30 clips at 200
  • 6 clips at 400
  • 3 clips at 800

f/stop average was 3.1 hyperfocal distance on average 1.16 meters. So if I were able to shoot without filter I would have not gained anything in terms of sharpness as most subjects were further away

I would consider the Galapagos and the dive trip I did not the best in terms of brightness and visibility so I would conclude that the RX100II with the Inon UWL-H100 and a red filter is the best set up for wide angle video in terms of performance, ease of use and flexibility.

 

2014 Compact Camera for Underwater Photo & Video Round Up

After the various Backscatter, Bluewater photo, and other shops compact cameras reviews I thought of putting my 10 pence in as well.

Most of those reviews you find are written by people who shoot DSLR and then occasionally go and take a compact in water to see how it goes. For what concerns underwater use I only shoot compact and I believe I know how to navigate into features and limitations of compact camera quite well so here is my view on the subject.

The first hint when you look at a high-end compact camera is to check if Nauticam makes a housing for it. If not maybe your camera is not as good after all. There are some exceptions of course.

Categories

I have ranked compacts according to the following shooting categories:

  1. Movie
  2. Ambient Light
  3. Macro
  4. Portraits
  5. Close Focus Wide Angle
  6. All purpose cameras

When possible there will be a top 3 in each category.

The Compacts

I have considered only the following cameras

  1. Canon G16
  2. Canon S120
  3. Olympus XZ-2
  4. Panasonic LX7
  5. Sony RX100II

The Fuji X20 is a potential addition but I have not found anyone that actually shoots it underwater so I abstain from judging here.

Best Cameras for Movie

In order to score in this category the cameras need to have full manual exposure control in movie mode and be able to shoot double frame rates for the system of choice PAL or NTSC.

This is my appraisal:

  1. Sony RX100II
  2. Panasonic LX7
  3. N/A

Canon cameras do not offer exposure control in movie mode, Olympus video is pathetic. Not possible to even consider a number 3 here.

Best Cameras for Ambient Light

1st Cave@Jackfish Alley

Here I consider shots without strobes with a view angle of 100º diagonal you need a wet wide-angle lens to take those shots.

Here are the rankings:

  1. Sony RX100II
  2. Panasonic LX7
  3. Canon S120

Olympus lags behind in image quality and the Canon G16 does not have any wet lens that allows to take those shots without strobes.

Best Cameras for Macro

P1000463-.jpg

I am looking here at shots are real 1:1 reproduction ratio and how easy is to take those shots in terms of autofocus and depth of field. In order to achieve this level of magnification a close up wet lens is necessary for all cameras. No compact camera achieves real macro with the bare port underwater.

Here are the results:

  1. Canon G16
  2. Canon S120
  3. Panasonic LX7

The Canon G16 in virtue of a 140mm focal length at telephoto end gives the highest magnification ratio, the Canon S120 follows closely same image quality less magnification. The Panasonic LX7 has only a 90mm equivalent lens however the autofocus is incredible so you can use +10 diopters very easily and it is the only camera to really offer Bokeh.

The Olympus XZ-2 lags in terms of image quality, the RX100II has great image quality but little magnification, you need a +10 diopter to give a 1:1 reproduction ratio and focus is difficult because of shallow depth of field due to the large sensor.

Best Cameras for Portraits

Look Right in

Here we are considering shots with the bare port at 35mm focal length using strobes. Here is the ranking:

  1. Sony RX100II
  2. Panasonic LX7
  3. Canon S120 & Canon G16

Whilst the RX100II has the best image quality it comes a bit as a surprise why the LX7 gives better images than the Canon. The reason is that Canon tend to have a very unbalanced color range with over saturated red. This does not go away with RAW images as it affects the whole spectrum. It is possible to correct this using blue diffusers for strobe but this is just a patch, the LX7 tend to give much better balanced images.

Best Cameras for CFWA

Side Shot

Close focus wide-angle is shot with a fisheye like lens, using strobes typically at small apertures here are the rankings:

  1. Sony RX100II
  2. Canon G16
  3. Canon S120

It is quite clear that the RX100II with the widest choice of fisheye lens and the highest dynamic range is the best camera for the job, but the addition of the Inon Zoom lens helps getting the G16 in this category, the S120 follows with similar results. The LX7 does not offer a fisheye options sadly and the XZ-2 lags behind in image quality compared to the two canons.

Best Versatile Still Cameras

Here I look at cameras that can shoot all type of shots from macro to ambient light.

  1. Sony RX100II
  2. Canon S120
  3. Olympus XZ-2

The lack of fisheye options cuts out the LX7 and the poor performance of zoom wide-angle lens at wide end kicks the G16 out.

Best Overall Camera Still and Movie

Taking the previous list and eliminating the cameras that do not offer exposure control in movie mode this is the result

  1. Sony RX100II
  2. NA
  3. NA

So the Sony RX100II is the only real all round camera and this explains why it beats the other in terms of sales.

Tuition Day with Martin Edge

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!

Pool Conditions
Pool Conditions

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.

Frog at 28mm
Frog at 28mm

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.

Frog at 50mm
Frog at 50mm

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.

Frog single diopter
Frog single diopter

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.

Frog Double Diopter
Frog Double Diopter

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.

Octopus fisheye
Octopus fisheye

I then moved to an Octopus rich of textures. I took the first shot with my Inon UWL-100 28AD with dome.

Octopus at 28mm
Octopus at 28mm

The same octo at 28mm fills the frame much more of course.

Octopus at 50mm
Octopus at 50mm

The Octopus at 50mm looks even better. I have topped up the lighting on this one.

Octopus single diopter
Octopus single diopter

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.

Octopus double diopter
Octopus double diopter

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.

Falcon Fisheye
Falcon Fisheye

You can see the outside of the pool and the windows on the top.

Family Fisheye
Family Fisheye

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.

Child with dog
Child with dog

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.

Lion Mouth Single Diopter
Lion Mouth Single Diopter

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

 

Sony RX100 – In depth into digital settings

Over a year ago I wrote a set of posts for the RX100 and some of the quirks of this wonderful little camera.

Steadyshot – aka Image Stabilizer

The RX100 has a specific Active mode for video not available when taking stills. I described the differences between those two modes in this post

Everyone is so obsessed of having the widest possible field of view that other more important considerations are completely missed out.

If you have ever shot a video with a GoPro underwater you know how bad is the quality of the image in the corners, this is because the flat port combined with the gopro lens create many optical aberrations.

Our RX100, especially the original Mark I, also has an issue in the corners, this is not just an underwater issue is also true on land. The lens on the camera has a lot of distortion and when corrections are applied to the image this effectively creates corner softness.

When we add a wide angle lens the image quality in the corners deteriorates further especially if the lens is flat creating a lot of chromatic aberrations that you can see in pictures with a blue or yellow halo around the edges.

Standard Mode
Standard Steadyshot

Now the good news the Active steady shot mode crops the image of a factor of 1.15x getting rid of the majority of the corner softness.

There is of course a price to pay which is the loss of some of the angle of view. According to my calculation if you use an Inon UWL-H100 you start from more than the declared 100.8º more around 104º in fact. When the active mode is on this drops to around 95º. Remember all those values represent the largest incident angle that means the diagonal field of view.

Active Steadyshot
Active Steadyshot

A lens with 100º diagonal field of view means 90º horizontal. So after the active mode is engaged our horizontal field of view looks more like 84º which is equivalent to a 20mm lens. This is sufficient for most close wide angle shots and plenty for ambient light videos of large fish or wrecks. I generally suggest to keep the Active mode on, of course if you can be in a fixed position and hold the camera really steady you can also use the standard mode and obtain more field of view. There is a chance though that you will need to crop the extra field of view if you need to stabilize in the editing phase.

For macro shots without a tripod the steadyshot is a must and helps greatly. I do not even see a reason to take it off if you have a tripod as the RX100 does not have a particularly small capture area.

Digital Zoom

This brings the second subject: digital zoom, if you shoot pictures you avoid it as what you are doing is to crop the image, something you can do yourself in processing. In video though there is very little quality loss as we use just 2 megapixels of the 20 of the RX100 camera. In my test you can use digital zoom until the 2x multiplier is reached, this corresponds to 7.2x magnification and see no noticeable degradation in the image quality. The other benefit is that the depth of field is the same despite the magnification so you can save yourself stacking two diopters with all the difficulties that follow in terms of focus.

Max Optical Zoom with UCL-165
Max Optical Zoom with UCL-165

Digital zoom is always on in video mode and I recommend to use it with a single close up lens before embarking on dual diopters or a strong single diopter. Also take into account that with a single +6 diopter your working distance is around 4″ which is ideal for most critters except pygmy seahorse and bobtail squid or some shrimps.

Digital Zoom 2x with UCL-165
Digital Zoom 2x with UCL-165

Video Lights

In another post I have explained that getting hung up about light angle coverage is not really the only thing to consider, there is also luminous flux and quality of light. With my Sola 1200 I can cover something between 2 and 4 feet away with decent results further away is just back scatter. Generally this is ok for some close portrait work and close wide angle and of course not sufficient to cover part of a wreck or much larger subjects. You may decide not to bother at all with lights for wide angle and just render your deep wreck dives in black and white in this case consider that a pair of Sola Dive 800 at $399 are a high quality macro set up, function as dive light and provide some decent close wide angle portrait illumination. For macro shots you need much less than that, I set my fill light at minimum (300 lumens) and the main light at 2/3 which is 600 lumens, I can shoot at f/11 with this light intensity. You can see me shooting in the feature image.