Category Archives: Underwater Photography

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

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

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

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

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

Photozone has tests of all the three lenses

Olympus Test

Panasonic Vario G X PZ Test

Panasonic 12-32 Test

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

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

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

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

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

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

The shots are taken at f/4 ISO 1600.

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

8mm Fisheye
8mm Fisheye

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Nauticam bayonet mount for wet lenses

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

M67 bayonet mount converter
M67 bayonet mount converter

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Leak Sentinel V4 and Vivid Housing Vacuum Valves

A few weeks ago I was trying to buy a second hand Nauticam GH4 housing with the camera and I thought I could have recycled the valve on the GX7 housing. However I did not manage to take it off, even using the tool provided the valve would not come off.

Bare Vacuum Valve

The prospect of buying another valve did not sound particularly appealing so I tried to work out if there were some basic options out there and got in touch with vivid housings.

P1020804
Left Leak Sentinel V4 Right M14 Vacuum Valve

 

I wanted to find out if it was possible to use the leak sentinel that I still had as a dumb valve. I was also told that is possible to order the v4 circuit board for your leak sentinel v3 for €50. But I also noticed that there was a valve only option for €75. After a few discussions it turns out that is possible to order the vacuum valve (without circuit board) and the pump for €95 including shipping. This sounded quite appealing.

Unfortunately the valve was stopped at customs and it was dented disassembled and put back together damaging the o’ring plus my prospective seller for the GH4 rig had gone away. So in order to test if the valve was still working I used it with the M16 adapter that came with the leak sentinel v3 on the LX100 housing I have on loan that thankfully I have yet to return.

It works a treat! I posted a quick video review on my channel

Leak Sentinel v4 Updated Review

Vivid housing have taken on board my suggestions and the Leak Sentinel V4 comes with temperature compensation and also a very useful overnight mode. You an pressurize the housing and switch off the circuit if you prepare the rig overnight and then put it back on again. This is a clear advantage over other systems where the switch can only be accessed opening the housing. Another benefit is that if you have to change a port you also don’t need to fully open the housing.

I tested the leak sentinel v4 in parallel with the Nauticam system and generally worked well but there still some sensitivity having the sensor outside the housing so I suggest giving an extra stroke once vacuum is reached for safety otherwise the indicator may start blinking. Another useful feature is the battery warning indicator.

Frankly if you have a housing already equipped with a circuit and an indicator like the nauticam system it is likely you will only get the valve, after all the system in the housing has also a moisture sensor with an audible alarm. But if you have a housing without electronics the leak sentinel is a very cost effective option.

A word of warning as the circuit board is inside the valve care must be taken to have completely dry hands and dry environment when the valve is depressurised otherwise humidity can get into the PCB and make it fail.

The leak sentinel v4 costs €200 including shipping worldwide.

Both products are sold by vivid housings http://www.vividhousings.com

For clarity I received no benefit or commission on any of my review and I remain vendor independent!

Nauticam NA-LX100 4K Video Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Nauticam NA-LX100 housing and port system review

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

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

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

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

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

LX100 housing preparation
LX100 housing preparation

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

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

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

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

UL-165
NA-LX100 UCL-165

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

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

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

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

UCL-100
NA-LX100 UCL-100

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

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

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

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

N50 3.5
N50 3.5″ Mini Dome

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

Optical quality is great.

LX100 Mini Dome 24mm
LX100 Mini Dome 24mm

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

N50 Short Port
N50 Short Port

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

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

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

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

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

NA-LX100 rear buttons
NA-LX100 rear buttons

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nauticam WWL-1 Wet Wide Angle Lens Review

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

Until now!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The lens has a standard M67 mount.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A day at the pool
A day at the pool

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cup at 28mm
Cup at 28mm

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

Cup at 50mm
Cup at 50mm

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

Cup at 42mm
Cup at 42mm

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

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

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

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

Cup at 60mm
Cup at 60mm

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

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

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

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

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

EDIT 7 September 2015

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

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

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

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

Underwater Photography and Video: 1″ Sensor Compacts vs Micro Four Thirds

I am just back from the Red Sea underwater photography workshop hosted by Alex Mustard, this time I took the Panasonic GX7 with me instead of the Sony RX100 Mark II.

There have been a few posts on wetpixel and scubaboard to say that advanced compacts are all an underwater photographer will ever need considering also the luggage restrictions that are becoming increasingly more demanding these days.

As I have been on the forefront of the advanced compact shooters I thought of giving you my view on the subject. This is based on observations that I have made on this and last year workshop observing the images of around 35 different photographer. The kit in use went from a Sony RX100 Mark II all the way to full frame such as the Nikon D810, and included micro four thirds, cropped sensor SLRs as well.

In general terms I consider only 4 characteristics when I compare images between cameras and those are:

  1. Richness of color (color sensitivity)
  2. Contrast (dynamic range)
  3. Noise
  4. Sharpness

The following comparison may be useful to understand the differences between various cameras, I did it on Dxomark and I own all those 3 cameras so I have a good idea on how they fare.

Dxomark Comparison
Dxomark Comparison

 

Color

I already observed last year that when it comes to color there really is no perceived difference between the RX100 and a MFT camera. There is however a difference between compacts and MFT when you compare to a good cropped sensor like the Nikon D7100.

To make the point clearer this is a portrait shot with the RX100 Mark II

Look Right in

This is another portrait shot with the Panasonic GX7

Wings Open

Contrast

Here I am not talking about the contrast of the image the camera produces but the amount of contrast in the scene that the camera can deal with or dynamic range.

I am going to use two black and white images for comparison

Sony RX100 Mark II

Bats Photography

Panasonic GX7

From below

Again not much difference at all.

Noise

It can be useful to be able to shoot at high ISO however to be honest I have not yet found a reason to shoot at more than ISO 400.

This is  a Panasonic GX7 at ISO 400

Ras Katy

I looked at my RX100 shots and I could only find an ISO 160 shot

Arrows

I did not take split shots with the RX100 and so there was no need for high ISO. For me shooting at high ISO is a bit overrated as with stabilization you can shoot underwater landscapes at 1/25 without issue and for moving fish I use strobes for most.

Should you need higher ISO though there is around one stop improvement in a micro four third to a 1″ compact and nearly two with a cropped sensor.

Sharpness

This is probably the only real difference between a compact and a micro four third and to be honest is only visible on a 4K monitor or if you print or zoom into the image.

Schools of fish are a good way to check sharpness

This shot with the Sony RX100 Mark II is sharp

Meteor

However if we look at the Panasonic GX7 with the 8mm fisheye

Get together

We can see that there is a difference looking at the fish scales.

So in short if all you do is to look at images on the screen there really isn’t much in it, however if you have a high resolution screen or you print there is a considerable difference in sharpness between an advanced compact and a micro four third.

So what about video? If we consider HD there is no perceived difference in sharpness between clips taken with the Sony RX100 and the Panasonic GX7 until you go to High ISO.

At 4K I suppose we are back to similar considerations and micro four thirds should win but I have not done any tests so it is hard to say.

One thing that I do like about the Panasonic GX7 with wet lenses is that you can zoom through the entire range of the lens, whilst this is not an option on the Sony RX100.

So my conclusion is that if you are going on a trip and you are constrained by luggage limitations you can load camera, housing, wet lenses and two strobes in a back pack if you use a compact.

With a micro four third the strobes could end up in the luggage hold.

What about DSLRs? I found that if I compare shots with a good cropped sensor like the Nikon D7100 I can see difference in both colors, contrast the camera can cope and noise. The difference in sharpness seems to be less when you compare the panasonic 8mm fisheye with the tokina 10-17mm.

This should give an idea

Shoal of snapper in action

Obviously once  you are in the DSLR camp the size of the housing and its weight become the predominant consideration but so does the cost that doubles from a micro four third rig.

Panasonic GX7 with 14-42 Kit Lens with deepshot zoom gear in macro port 35

The Panasonic GX7 comes as standard with the LUMIX G VARIO 14-42mm / F3.5-5.6 II ASPH. / MEGA O.I.S. in UK.

http://www.panasonic.com/uk/consumer/cameras-camcorders/lumix-g-compact-system-cameras/dmc-gx7.specs.html

The camera is available at £467 with £50 cash back from Amazon, during Christmas the cash back was £100.

In US this camera with the same lens is available at $647 which is pretty much the same price once you factor in the cash back.

The housing of choice is of course the Nauticam GX7 however if you look at the port chart the LUMIX G VARIO 14-42mm / F3.5-5.6 II ASPH. / MEGA O.I.S. is not available on the map.

 

Nauticam ILC Port System
Nauticam ILC Port System

The lens on the map is the old version Mark I that was much longer when zoomed in and out and therefore Nauticam reports as flat port the 72 and the 4″ wide angle port if you like a dome. Now 28mm equivalent is not great behind a dome as it is too narrow.

So what about the current kit lens? The good news is that it fits in the Macro Port 35 too.

Nauticam Macro 35 port
Nauticam Macro 35 port

The lens also comes very close to the glass closer than the Lumix PZ 14-42 X Vario.

If you have an Olympus OMD-EM5 the camera comes with the Olympus ED 14-42 lens that also fits in this port.

14-42 Comparison from DXOMark
14-42 Comparison from DXOMark

The Panasonic lens is overall a better lens than the Olympus and is sharper than the Lumix Power Zoom 14-42 it has better sharpness and less chromatic aberration.

Another good characteristic of the Panasonic 14-42 Mark II Mega OIS is the way the lens zoom works. The lens is the longest at 14 and 42 mm and shortest at 25mm.

Panasonic GX7 with Kit lens at wide end
Panasonic GX7 with Kit lens at wide end

As such if you add an Inon wet lens the Panasonic 14-42 does not vignette with either the UWL-H100 or the close up UCL-165, it does not even vignette with the dome this was reported on an old Inon port chart.

Inon port chart for Panasonic 14-42 Mark II
Inon port chart for Panasonic 14-42 Mark II

So this lens is an excellent candidate for wet lenses because it has very low chromatic aberration and the zoom mechanism means the lens is very close to the port at wide end.

Panasonic GX7 with Kit lens with Macro Port 35 note how close the lens is to the glass

I put the camera in the housing and took some shots  in an inflatable pool.

Panasonic GX7 with kit lens and Inon UWL-H100 at 42mm
Panasonic GX7 with kit lens and Inon UWL-H100 at 42mm

As it happened with the 14-42 PZ lens you can fully zoom through the wet lens and the corners stay sharp. This picture is taken at f/5.6 so the lens is not even stopped down.

A residual problem is the lack of zoom gear however there are options out there in the market.

One of those is deepshot missing bits that is ran by Jussi Hokkanen in London.

Deepshot zoom gear for Panasonic 14-42 Mark II
Deepshot zoom gear for Panasonic 14-42 Mark II

The zoom gear for our lens costs £55 which is around less than half than any Nauticam gear, it is 3D printed and is not as sophisticated as the OEM gear so it is one piece of plastic with 3 adjustable rubber bits. The gear comes with a small allen key to adjust it.

I got in touch with Jussi and few days later he delivered the gear at London Waterloo station. The gear works perfectly with the lens as expected.

Deepshot zoom gear on the GX7
Deepshot zoom gear on the GX7

The kit lens is not exactly a macro lens this is a shot at the 42mm end.

Panasonic Lumix G 14-42 Mark II at 42mm
Panasonic Lumix G 14-42 Mark II at 42mm

The lens does not vignette with the diopter UCL-165 either as this image demonstrates from what I can see the chromatic aberration is minimal too in the corners.

Kit lens with Inon UCL-165 at 42mm
Kit lens with Inon UCL-165 at 42mm

The previous should give you an idea of the level of magnification the piece of paper as actually bent so there is not so much distortion as it looks!

So that means with an investment of £55 plus the macro 35 port that retails at £230 we are ready to use the kit lens once we have the GX7 housing.

Total cost in UK 417+1100+55+230=£1802

In US 647+1550+290+90=$2577

This is still more than the Sony RX100 Mark II that can take all sorts of wet lenses and will cost less, still producing decent video and superb stills. However when you look at the newer Canon G7X once you take into account the fixed port system and the fact that the Canon can’t take a semifisheye you wonder where to put your money. Plus a mirrorless camera allows you to choose a proper macro lens like the Olympus 60mm or the Panasonic 8mm fisheye.

The Canon G7X costs now £369 and the Nauticam housing £850 with the macro port, but you need to spend another £120 for the short port and still you won’t be able to reach more than 110 degrees field of view.

If you have Inon wet lenses from your compact camera this looks definitely appealing.

Also consider that other than the Inon UWL-H100 other wet lenses for compact cameras do not work properly with mirrorless as this article demonstrates.

Note that the same considerations apply for the Olympus OMD-EM5 however the olympus kit lens does NOT perform well with the wet lenses in virtue of the different zoom logic. The Olympus  lens is not close to the port at wide end as the Panasonic and I would not recommend the combination.

Obviously if you do not own any wet lens you still have the option of the Panasonic 7-14mm with wide angle port or the Olympus 9-18mm with the 4″ wide angle port. Both options require you to buy the lens and the port as well, both ports cost more than the macro 35, and both lenses have a soft corner issue at their widest.

The other positive of the kit lens is that it is optically stabilized from what I can see the Mega OIS is as effective as the Power OIS.

So if you have a panasonic GX7 with the newer 14-42 Kit lens you may need very little more to get you going especially if you are into video as the lens fully supports the Inon last generation of wet lenses.

I would also recommend this lens as a macro lens for the Panasonic GH4 and 4K video shooting, due to the crop factor the lens will be about 35-110mm which is pretty good.

So if you have grabbed a GX7 at discounter price you may as well be close to have a very effective combination without having to spend a fortune especially if you have a selection of wet lenses at hand.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fisheye Converter f/5

Fisheye Converter f/5

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

Fisheye Converter f/8
Fisheye Converter f/8

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

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

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

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