Category Archives: Underwater Photography

Olympus vs Panasonic for Underwater Use

I have been shooting MFT underwater since 2014 coming from compacts but I have also owned DSLR cameras for land use. As I initially focussed my underwater imaging on video I adopted Panasonic MFT cameras as they have an edge in terms of video use coming from Panasonic long established video and broadcast legacy.

Recently, just days before the divestiture announcement, I have purchased an Olympus OMD EM1MKII. I have decided on this camera as during lockdown I have been attempting pictures of birds in flight and the autofocus of my Panasonic G9, that I was using since February for land pictures, was not satisfactory.

I have since pondered if it made sense to switch to Olympus also for underwater use and I have considered the pro and cons of this choice compared to Panasonic semi pro models GH5 and G9. I thought of sharing my thinking with you so that if you are considering an MFT system as your next investment for underwater imaging you have a point of reference.

Note: I am only considering the top range Olympus cameras as others do not offer in my opinion any benefit over Panasonic range.

Strengths of OMD System

Olympus OMD Auto Focus system

At time of writing the OMD EM1 series and the EM5 Mark III use an Olympus specific on sensor phase difference detection auto focus system. Note this is different to DSLR phase detection and more similar to Sony hybrid AF system.

I found this system to be very effective with birds in flight once locked on the subject and much faster in locking on subjects as long as the background was clear; with this I mean this system still struggles if there is a busy background to acquire focus. In particular the CAF with tracking is very effective for birds that do not move too fast in the air or are about to take off from a fixed spot. It also effectively tracks at higher frame rate any type of object in motion. This system is superior to Panasonic CAF that is based on motion estimation for shots following the first one of the burst. More specifically it is harder to acquire focus for the first time with Panasonic and the following shots are estimated using a motion prediction algorithm without  continuous autofocus. This feature is the one that sets Olympus camera that have phase detection AF apart from Panasonic and from more economic Olympus model such as the OMD EM10 series. Another useful feature is that in review mode it tells you what the camera focussed on.

Example Birds in Flight Shot OMD EM1MKII
This shot is taken on a Panasonic G9 using the Pre-Burst functionality

Other features of OMD system for land use

If you shoot at night another very useful feature is live composition, this is very useful for fireworks or star trails but not effective for real astrophotography for which you need a star tracker or use stacking. Other features that are present in the newer EM1MKIII like starry AF are in my opinion not useful if you know how to focus on stars.

Milky Way with Panasonic GH5 shows no tangible difference to OMD Shots

Olympus Housing Costs

As Olympus bodies are smaller and simpler the housing cost compared to Panasonic G and GH series is 30% lower this is material in the scheme of things as Panasonic Pro housing are almost as expensive as an APSC DSLR. This for me is the single most important factor.

OMD EM1MKII €1,856 list price Weight 1.95kg Dimensions 305mm (W) × 175mm (H) × 116mm (D)

Drawbacks of Olympus Cameras

Lack of on Screen Manual Focus Guide

The most evident one for macro shooters is the lack of on screen MF guide as displayed in Panasonic cameras. This very useful for macro but also for astrophotography and video as you know if your camera is at the macro or tele end. For macro underwater photography this means you know if you have hit the minimum working distance and maximum magnification so now you can focus on getting the shot using peaking. 

Olympus does not offer a guide but you can pre-set a mode called Pre-MF to minimum distance however I found the on screen peaking to be really poor and ultimately getting less magnification in macro shots.

AARGH!
Typical Macro Shots where the MF Guide feature is useful to ensure maximum subject size

Exposure Aids

While Panasonic offers customisable Zebra on screen Olympus only offers a red and blue colouring and the levels only offer limited customisation on a 0-255 8 bits scale. This is OK for checking clipping in absolute but not good for specific exposure targets.

Video Mode

The video modes of the OMD are simply poor and the codec quality just good for your occasional video. The lack of exposure aid and support for manual focus make the whole video experience very very dissatisfactory.

Framing

With Panasonic you can set framing guides on the screen for 1:1 5:4 whatever you like without changing the image aspect ratio, this is useful if you want to frame a shot for a specific platform. Olympus lacks this feature entirely.

Image Quality

I can confirm that for underwater and land use I see zero difference in performance between my OMD EM1MKII and the GH5 in the range ISO 200-1600. It is true that the Jpeg settings are different and the color rendering is different for Jpeg however shooing RAW files this becomes irrelevant and I can’t distinguish the shots when the calibrated adobe profiles are used in Lightroom. I believe at some point that Olympus images were sharper however this was due to the images being better in focus when it comes to birds and subjects fast moving.

In terms of JPEG rendering Olympus choices are better for nature and landscapes with more saturated colours, for portraits I prefer the Panasonic rendering. Again those settings are not relevant for RAW files.

Nauticam GH5V a whopping €2,862 due to the M21 Valve weights 2.36 Kg

Conclusion

In my opinion the most attractive feature of Olympus cameras for underwater photography use is actually the reduced cost and size of the housing. While the extra strength are surely worth for land wildlife photography I truly do not think they make any difference underwater. For sure it would be better to do a field test, this so far has not been possible and if anybody gives me an OMD EM1MKII housing to test I would be very happy, however using the tools made available by Panasonic I do not get almost any shots out of focus and those there are blurred are because I forgot to change a setting on the camera.

For video I cannot recommend the Olympus system at all, Panasonic is way ahead on this on a number of accounts. 

In conclusion if you are 100% focus on photography and just take an occasional video the OMD system is light more compact and less expensive. It will not give any edge to your images as the sensors are identical. If you shoot a mix of video and photos the choice is Panasonic. Rest assured none of the AF strength of Olympus will improve your hit rate, if your shots are blurred you are likely using the wrong settings with your camera. The housing costs tho are higher and the rigs are less portable.

Sorrento Peninsula 2020 UNDERWATER IMAGE MAKERS

In light of Covid-19 many long haul destinations are still closed and may potentially be for a long time so your UW photography gear may collect a good amount of dust…unless you join me for this wonderful trip, on the gulf of Naples, in the marine protected area of Punta Campanella.

Strategically located and fronted by the island of Capri Punta, Campanella offers exhilarating dives with schools of snappers, large groupers, thousands of barracudas as well as wonderful red and white gorgonians. It also offers caves, macro and amazing night dives.

Barracudas at Scoglio a Penna

More information on the website of Punta Campanella.

The area is also home to Mimmo Roscigno, a super talented local underwater photographer, who published a book on the fish life found in the area.

Jellyfish photography is possible near the coast

On top of that the area offers amazing food and views. Capri, Pompei and Positano are nearby if you fancy a trip during the degassing day.

Spaghetti with clams
Capri on the background of the RIB

Accommodation will be at Sea Breeze Residence that is 2 minutes walk from the marina and meals will be at the Paguro restaurant on the jetty, serving fresh food with local produce and fish.

Planned itinerary:

13 September Arrival in Naples. Transfer to Massa Lubrense. Light Lunch. 1530 Mandatory Check Dive. Transfer to Massa Lubrense. Check in at Sea Breeze Residence

14 – 18 September. 8.00 Double Tank dive. Lunch. 1530 Optional afternoon Dive. 20.30 Dinner.

19 September. Degassing day. Free time to explore the area (Capri, Positano, Pompei are nearby)

20 September 6.30 AM departure to Airport. 10:35 Departure to destination

Extras:

Night Dives €40

Diving Baia Archaeological Park (transfer costs only, dependant on number of participants)

Flights (average price at time of writing is under £100 excluding luggage)

Price €1,350 excluding flights includes 15 litres tanks

Due to the heavy discounts involved, a non refundable €350 deposit is required by 31st of August to block the rooms.

Covid-19 disclaimer: all operations and the hotel adopt regulation as mandated by local authorities. Room rates are based on single occupancy, double occupancy is allowed for member of the same household but will not grant any further discount on the quoted prices. In case of lockdown of the area of additional UK restriction towards Naples the trip will be postponed at no extra charge.

Other Sample Shots from the Trip

Soglio a Penna
Large resident grouper on Banco di Santa Croce
Eagle Rays are resident at Banco di Santa Croce
Stalactites in a local cave
Red coral starts at 25 meters in the area while in other site of the mediterranean is at 40 meters and deeper
The optional trip at Baia offers unique photo opportunities

Book your place here

Trip Baia di Napoli and Sorrento Peninsula

There is no doubt that until a Covid-19 vaccine is widespread our travel plans have to adjust to the new conditions. As of today 2 August 2020 most of our favourite destinations are still in the no go list and are not covered by travel insurance.

The latest list of countries and territories published by the British FCO does not include Egypt, Indonesia, Philippines and no countries in South America although it does have many Caribbean destinations.

With the situation evolving fast and the imminent prospect of tighter lock down as we go towards winter many people would not travel long haul anyway to avoid risks of quarantine or possible issues coming back to their home country. So for now, many of us will travel more locally. We have seen lots of new underwater photographs taken locally in British Waters but there is no doubt this is not out of choice and most people would rather be elsewhere.

After the postponement of my Red Sea live-aboard to 2021 I have been invited to the Italian Nauticam days in Italy in the stunning location of Napoli and Sorrento and coast. I am from the same region and all my diving training has been abroad so I am guilty of not having tried the local diving until now. If you don’t want to read the whole article the summary is that the diving is great and combined with the natural beauty of the area, the warmth of the local and the food and drink there is probably no better alternative for diving safe in Covid-19 times in Europe right now. I am sure there are equally stunning places in Liguria and some of the Sicilian or Tuscany locations however the Penisola Sorrentina is very hard to beat when you consider the other elements. Please get in touch if you want to dive the area as I am planning a trip mid September 2020.

The Diving Centre and Location

I used Punta Subaia and Punta Campanella Diving centre two long standing operations on the coast. The first is located in Bacoli north of Naples and the second is in Massa Lubrense just past Sorrento. Bacoli is Naples local beach so gets more local traffic while the other location is more touristic in nature with a good ratio of foreigners: during my stay there were English, German, French, Swiss and Dutch on the dives.

I used a 5mm wetsuit with a 3mm hooded vest and a thermal top under and was fine. Locals dive with a 7/5mm semidry suit.

Diving is done using 7.5 meters RIBs that can take up to 8 divers on a double tank or 12 on a single tank dive. Covid-19 procedures are in place and face masks are not mandatory outdoors in Italy however spacing on the RIB is challenging so you have checks and declarations to fill in. Some people wear face masks on the boat too is entirely up to you.

1 meter distance on the boat is possible

Journey time to the dive sites is 5 minutes in Baia while in Punta Campanell it can be up to half hour and the scenery is amazing as Capri is just in front of the coast and the landscape is jut breathtaking.

Under those cracks there are frequently underwater caves at shallow depth

If there is one thing that I did not like is that in the morning there was not a systematic double tank excursion so sometimes the day would finish at 6 pm with only 3 dives done. Crew are very helpful and 15 litres tanks are included at no extra so in all cases I came up because I reached the 1 hour limit still having plenty of air.

Divers getting ready to enter the water on a coastal dive

I booked a double room with single occupancy at €80 per night B&B 2 minutes walk to the dive centre. Food and drinks with wine runs at €50 or less per day and is glorious!

Spaghetti with clams will cost you €13

Underwater Photography

If you want to have an idea of the critters in the area I would recommend the book Into the Mirror from Mimmo Roscigno ISBN: 9788890966804 is only in Italian but it is a typical coffe table book the images are simply amazing.

For wide angle a good sample is on Punta Campanella Dive Center website, also look for photographers Marco Gargiulo that is local of the area. Other photographers like Franco Banfi have also been here for workshops. So there has been some fame but mostly limited to Italian speaking photographers, this is a shame as the staff speaks English and this is a photo friendly operation.

Subaia

I went for this trip with a selection of wide angle lenses, I had been told by Pietro Cremone about the underwater archeology park so I packed a rectilinear wide angle in order to avoid distortion.

Dives in Subaia are typically 1 hour long max by law at depth of 5 meters.

Dive site maps are placed underwater however you need to dive with an autorized guide

The dives have to be done with an expert guide as the mosaics are normally hidden to protect from the agents and the water.

Edoardo Ruspantini clears the debris to show the underlying Mosaic
Delfino
The Dolphin Mosaic

There are also replica statues that are good subjects, the originals are in the Napoli Museum.

Goddess of Men
Goddess of Men
Where is my hand

There are many villas and it is impossible to cover the grounds in two dives however I had planned to move to the second location so I drove two hours to Massa Lubrense on the night.

Punta Campanella

Here the diving is about fish and caves. You have a combination of close up subjects and wide angle. I took by zoom fisheye with me so I focussed on wide angle. Sea life includes plenty of Anthias and Damsel, Snappers, large groupers, eagle rays, breams, bass there is a lot of fish as the area has been a protected marine park for more than 20 years now. I was not expecting this abundance, there is also a resident shoal of Barracudas 1000+ strong specimen that is in shallow water at one of the sites. Due to limited processing power I have not yet created a 4K video however I took plenty of shots. The whole album is on flickr. I hereby include some key shots.

Medusa
Medusa
Diving Penisola Sorrentina 2020
Red Gorgonia
Ambush photo
Grouper
Behind the Mask
The Mask
Barracudas
Barracudas
Diver going through Scoglio a Penna
Caves
Eagle Ray
Eagle Ray

Wrap Up

I was frankly surprised by the sheer abundance of photo opportunities and I will be always taking my equipment whenever I go back to Italy in the summer. There are so many positives to the location:

  • Great photo opportunities
  • Well organised dive operation English speaking and photo friendly
  • Stunning location also for non divers
  • Amazing food
  • Fantastic people
  • Easy to reach from UK and other EU countries
  • Covid-19 procedures in place safe location with prime health system

I am so impressed by the location that I will be back and in fact I am planning a photo trip the week of 14 or 21 September, with the following itinerary:

  • Sunday arrival dinner with local photographers to have a taste of the area
  • Monday to Friday double tank morning dive, afternoon optional 3rd dive or sightseeing
  • Photos of the day debrief after dinner time – optional
  • Saturday no dive day local trips optional or travel independently
  • Sunday free morning transfer to airport and return

Diving cost is €400 for 5×2 tank dives to be booked in advance through me. For those we will have exclusive use of the boat optional dives in the afternoon non exclusive will be €35 per dive. Accommodation will be typically less than €600 euro for the week in single occupation and plane in the region of £100-150 depending on extras. I can help with accommodation, travel and transfers. You can also rent a car as low as £15 per day this is especially of value if planning to come with partner or family.

Please fill the contact form if interested spaces will be limited to maximum 8 for the trip. I think it will be a long time for anyone to be in tropical waters with the Covid-19 situation, this is an opportunity not to be missed until the water stays warm and enjoy one of the world very best destinations.

121 with pietro cremone

This week 121 is with Pietro Cremone who is a long standing photographer and also runs the Fotosub Shop who is the distributor of most key brands of underwater imaging and Nauticam importer for Italy.

Pietro is a people person everybody knows him in the Italian underwater photography scene and during this lock down he has made series of live shows on facebook that have been both informative and entertaining. Pietro is very active on the web and social media and I invite you to connect with him.

Personal Website

Facebook

Instagram

Bio

I was born in 1964 in Castellammare di Stabia, and from an early age I was fascinated by the sea.

Pietro with his current Rig

As a child I enjoyed exploring the tide pools with mask and fins, and later I started spear fishing with my small spring-speargun, with which fortunately I could not catch almost anything.

Growing up, I replaced the speargun with the camera.

Over the years, my passion for underwater photography has grown a lot, and I decided to turn it into a profession
Since 2009 I am the owner of  Fotosub Shop, an underwater photography shop that has become the Italian reference point for underwater images in just a few years.

I occasionally participate photographic contests, and I have had many satisfactions, with some of my photos exhibited in museums and even at the United Nations on the occasion of World Oceans’ Day.

With my colleagues Marcello Di Francesco and Massimo Zannini we won the World Shootout national championship in 2018, and this year we were again in the final 5. 

My latest awards are an Honorable Mention for the Slideshow section in Ocean Geographics contest, another HM in the Memorial Maria Luisa and a first place in macro section for the Dive Into Pink contest. 

Questions

When did you start underwater photography and why?

I started very early, around 1989 after my first tropical trip in Thailand. What I saw while snorkelling in Phi Phi island was so exciting that I decided to start with UW photo.  I was not yet a diver but I enjoyed a lot trying to shoot on the surface and skin diving.

Interesting shots can be taken snorkelling or skin diving

How much diving experience did you have when you started?

None! I took the camera underwater just after my OWD license. I was already photographing in snorkelling with a digital compact. 

Compact cameras can get you started in underwater photography – This shot is NOT with a compact…!

Were you a land photographer before starting? 

Yes, I loved photography since when I was 20.

What were you shooting and do you still shoot land photography? 

I love shooting landscapes and portraits, and often I shoot my cats 😊 

The eye of a landscape photographer translate well in underwater wide angle
Mushroom

What was your first underwater camera and housing?

I started with a Nikon FG SLR in a NIMAR housing, but my first serious shoots underwater were with a CANON A90 compact with the small Canon housing.

Pietro Started with a Canon Powershot compact

What is your current camera rig and why did you choose it?

Actually I shoot with an NIKON D850 housed in Nauticam. Since 2010 my housing choice is Nauticam, not only because I’m the Italian distributor for this brand, but because I always loved the perfect ergonomy and usability of these housings, along with the impressive choice of ports and accessories that I can achieve.

The NA-850 for Nikon D850 and a set of Retra Strobes

What is your favourite discipline (wide angle, macro, portraits, blackwater, etc)?

I love wide-angle photography very much, although I don’t mind small subjects, that I always try to portray with a small artistic and personal touch. Some times ago I discovered the wonders of blackwater in Anilao and it has become one of my favourites!

Sea Lion and baitball
Red and green
Bull Shark Portrait
Anilao blackwater diving
More blackwater
Rhinopia bubbling up
Abstract

What has been to date your best trip from a photography viewpoint? 

I have 2 places in my heart: Raja Ampat and Baja California. They can offer all that an underwater photographer can dream!

Raja Ampat and piers
Flowers in the sky
Rampant Flabella

How many trips have you done in the last 3 years and where?

I’m very lucky because I can travel a lot thanks to my work (I run workshops and guided trips for my customers). 

My last trips took me often in Indonesia (Raja Ampat, Wakatobi, Maratua), Philippines (Anilao, Puerto Galera), Maldives, Red Sea, Baja California.

Oslob Whale Sharks
Classic cayman
Manta Madness
Back to back Pygmy
Jellyfish burst
Manta on carpet
Goby life

Has there been a defining moment where you think your photography improved significantly?

Yes, I started diving and photographing in 2006 but around 2010 I met Mimmo Roscigno, one of the greatest Italian photographers, and with his inspiration my photo started to improve a lot. Then in 2012 I had the pleasure to be in a workshop held by Alex Mustard, and that was another important milestone in my career. 

Mimmo Roscigno historical Italian Underwater Photographer

What is your personal favourite shot among all you have taken?

That’s a hard question, because I have so much images that I love! But there is one that is special for me, it depicts a Pilot Whale with its newborn calf shot in Atlantic Ocean.

Pietro own favourite shots of pilot whales mum and calf

I found this shot so sweet and awe inspiring, and remembers me a very special moment spent with these wonderful animals.

It also won the “Coup de coeur” in a Festisub edition. 

Eye level

RED SEA 2021 UNDERWATER IMAGE MAKERS LIVEABOARD

Due to Covid-19 I have decided to postpone the boat to 31 July 2021. I have also had some cancellations due to the same reason so currently have 7 spaces. Prices remain unchanged. What follows is content from the original post.

__________________________

Diving for images or video can be frustrating at times. I find this less so for macro and super macro where you are resort based and you can hire a guide with super sharp eyes that will help you find the right subjects. For wide angle it is a totally different story. Land based may preclude the best access to certain destinations whilst if you are on a liveaboard with divers there is a conflict of interest. The boat will typically run a fixed itinerary cruise and the result is that you will visit many times so more memorable than others and typically just once. The single dive you do may not be at the right time of the day and the ambient light may not be the best for what you trying to do.

I am self taught and I like to read books and experiment myself however some years ago I was invited by Nauticam to a Red Sea workshop with Alex Mustard.

I wrote some articles at the time you can find them all if you click this link https://interceptor121.com/?s=workshop

What I really liked about that workshop was the ability to steer the boat to the right sites, to be able to dive at the right time of the day and also to repeat dives on the best sites and omit the areas that were not promising. For me this had great value on its own.

Of course Dr Alex Mustard tuition was also superb however I have now done this workshop 3 times and I believe that element has become less interesting. I also happened to work in Sharm El Sheikh as resident instructor at the Marriot Hotel so all dive sites were already known to me as a diver at least.

On those workshops I found very useful the fact that you could see the work of others and learn from the group, I also like the fact that there was no competition so everybody was encouraged to share.

Needless to say that after years of diving the same sites I still find the Northern Wreck and reefs of the Red Sea one of the best imaging destination in the world so I thought how do I have the same experience without the workshop part and the related high costs – it costs almost double a standard diving trip to book Alex workshop and they are fully booked almost immediately.

A further issue that has occurred in time is that there are no flights to Sharm El Sheikh from UK and now majority of boats live from Hurghada. This seriously limits the workshop as you have a lot more navigation.

So my ideal requirements for such a trip would be:

  1. Boat to live from Sharm El Sheikh not Hurghada. I rather have indirect flights and burn land time vs consuming cruise time in transfers
  2. Need to be able to have full control of the itinerary
  3. Dive as a photographer with a loose buddy concept
  4. Have a good boat and logistics
  5. Have small number of people in the water – I think 20 is too much so I have set my target to 8 min 12 max

I reconnected with my old network and after looking around I have found a boat and a company that can help with this.

King Snefro is the only liveaboard fleet currently departing from Sharm El Sheikh and the boat of choice is the Snefro Pearl

Cruise Dates: 31 July – 7 August 2021

Price: €1250 per Pax in twin cabin includes:

  • 32% Nitrox
  • Airport transfers
  • 12 Liter tanks
  • 3 meals, snacks and soft drinks, tea and coffee
  • Special imaging orientated dive briefing to make the most of the sites
  • Group image debrief – optional participation
  • Arrival on Saturday 31st July – check in commences at 1800
  • Check out Saturday 7th August – 1200 latest
  • For those whose flight leaves much later possibility of a stop gap in a beach resort before final departure

You need to be a PADI Advanced Open Water Diver or equivalent and 30 logged dives are required for this safari. All dives, especially some more demanding wreck dives, are subject to diver’s qualification and experience. 

EAN or other Nitrox certification required if not training will be provided on the boat at a charge.

Extra Hotel arrangements if you are coming the day before or leaving the day after

per night per person

*Club El Faraana Reef*​ –  www.faraanareef.com

Halfboard  in Single Room = 50 € per night per person
 Soft All in per in Single room = 60 € per night per person

Halfboard  in Double  Room = 35 € per night per person
Soft All in Double room = 45 € per night per person

Halfboard  in Triple  Room = 30 € per night per person
Soft All in Triple room = 40 € per night per person

Service Charge & taxes included, Transfer Airport to Hotel/ Hotel to Airport is included
(Check in starts from 14:00 H, Check out till 12:00 H,  in combination with safari booking early check in or late check out will be arranged free of charge) 

On to the dive sites:

Wrecks of Abu Nuhas

Giannis D

Gianni's D classic shot
Giannis D Classic Shot

Carnatic

Encircled
Silversides and diver in the Carnatic

Chrisoula K

Chrisoula K Bow
Bow of Chrisoula K

The Tugboat

Stay Away from my Eggs
Tiger cardinal fish with eggs

The Thistlegorm

Motorbike in Hold 2
bike on hold 2

Ras Za’tar (Optional site for sunbursts)

Sunburst
Suburst on Ras Za-tar

Jackfish Alley – Optional site for caves

1st Cave@Jackfish Alley
Cave 2 Jackfish alley

Ras Mohammed where at that time of the year you can have various shoals of fish

Bohar Snappers

Sunburst  Snap
Snapper Sunburst

Barracudas

Arrows
Arrows

Batfish

Schooling Batfish on Reef
Bats

Surgeonfish

Toilet Flush
Toilet flush

Instead of night dives we will do snorkelling session for split shots or sunset dives

Sunset Neat
Sunset on Ras Katy

I will be glad to help with ideas for the sites or the shots to take however this is not for beginners so if you don’t know even how to work out your camera works maybe it is not for you. The trip is open to photographers and videographers I will shoot both and will provide assistance as required. Below little sample of the video opportunity in Shark Reef

Please use the form to book a space. In case the cruise it is sold out I will operate strictly a first come first serve basis at time of writing there are five space left so hurry up. In case of cancellation I will also run a wait list. Please inquiry for any other details as well

121 with Nicholas More

I have met Nick in 2015 and I was immediately impressed by his techniques and shots and we have been on a couple of trips together were I have been able to see the dedication he puts in getting the right image. Nick has the mindset required to take stunning images without a doubt.

So I am very pleased to share this post with you. Nick has also provided me with a set of pictures that I will host here. To stay up to date with his shots follow him on Instagram

If you want technical details on how to take motion blur shots the best path is to get a copy of the 2020 edition of Martin Edge‘s book The Underwater Photographer: a classic in the library of each underwater shooter.

Underwater photographer 2020 Edition

Chapter 9 of the 2020 edition is dedicated to Motion Blur and is authored by Nicholas More in person so you get the low down required by the photographer who has made this style his trademark.

Who is Nicholas (Nick) More?

Nick and his trusted D500 during a workshop with Dr Alex Mustard – use permitted

Dr Nicholas More is a Dental Surgeon from Exmouth, Devon, UK and is married to Rachel and father to their son, Ben. He has been diving since his teenage years and is now a PADI Dive Master, with well over 2000 dives. Nick combined this with photography in 2012. 

Key Achievements

Nick is a multi-award winning Underwater Photographer and the current British Underwater Photographer of the Year. His other notable achievements include numerous commendations in the British Wildlife Photography Awards (BWPA) and the Underwater Photographer of the Year (UPY), back-back wins in the BSoUP Print competition and a Silver medal in the Our World Underwater Photo competition.

Underwater Photographer of the Year:

British Underwater Photographer of the Year – 2020.

Highly Commended UPY – Wide Angle – 2020.

Commended UPY – Portraits – 2020.

Highly Commended UPY – Black & White – 2019.

Highly Commended UPY – British Wide Angle – 2019.

Commended UPY – Portraits – 2019

Runner Up: British Wide Angle UPY – 2018.

Highly Commended UPY – Portraits – 2018

The shot that awarded Nick the British UPY 2020 and Highly Commended UPY – Wide Angle – 2020

.

UPY 2020 Highly Commended Portraits
Highly Commended UPY – British Wide Angle – 2019.
Commended UPY – Portraits – 2019
Runner Up: British Wide Angle UPY – 2018

Ocean Art:

1st Place – Wide Angle – 2019

Runner-Up – Reef-scapes – 2019

Honourable Mention – Reef-scapes – 2019

Wide angle Ocean art 2019 Winner

Ocean Art 2019 Reefscape runner up

British Wildlife Photography Awards:

2 x Highly Commended BWPA – 2019.

Grey Seal Halichoerus grypus

Our World Underwater.

Silver medal, Macro Unrestricted – 2017.

Lembeh / Gulen Shootout:

Grand Prize Winner – 2018

Think Pink Photo Contest:

Winner – 2017.

BSoUP / Diver Print Competition:

BSoUP:

Grand Prize Winner – 2016 / 2017.

Judges Vote: 

Highly commended – 2014 / 2015 / 2017 / 2019.

Public Vote: 

Overseas Winner – 2013.

Advanced Overseas Runner-Up – 2014 / 2016.

Advanced British & Irish Runner-Up – 2016 / 2017.

Questions and Answers

When did you start underwater photography and why?

I have been diving since the 1990s. I started UW photography in 2012 as digital compact cameras became common place. I caught the bug very quickly and never looked back.

How much diving experience did you have when you started?

LOTS! I had approx. 1500 dives when i started UW photography. Im a PADI DM.

Were you a land photographer before starting?

NO! The only land photography I do is with an iPhone. I did go on safari in 2018 to Botswana, I borrowed a telephoto lens and got some pretty nice shots of the wildlife. The only subject I shoot on land is my son, Ben!

What was your first underwater camera and housing?

My 1st UW camera system was a Canon S95 in Canon polycarbonate housing. No strobes, just 1 touch custom WB, i did have an Inon Wide Angle wet lens that made a big difference. 

Amazon.com : Canon WP-DC38 Waterproof Housing for Canon S95 ...
Nick first camera was a Canon S95 in a classic polycarbonate housing

I then moved to micro 4/3rds with an Olympus OM-D before moving to a Nikon7100/7200.

What is your current camera rig and why did you choose it?

I shoot with a Nikon D500 in a Nauticam housing. I use Inon Z240 & Z330 strobes depending whether I’m shooting Wide or Macro. It has been very successful for me & I know the housing like the back of my hand. 

The Nikon D500 is a popular choice among underwater photographer and is the camera Nick shoots in a Nauticam housing

The D500 has super fast AF and great IQ. Im considering full frame but I wouldn’t trade my D500 rig. It would be used alongside.

What is your favourite discipline (wide angle, macro, portraits, blackwater, etc)?

I enjoy shooting Wide angle & macro. My preference is shooting animal portraits big & small. I like to shoot using motion blur. 

Im not a fan of wrecks or divers in my shots. Im more interested in the animals.

What has been to date your best trip from a photography viewpoint?

Raja Ampat without doubt. My last trip has produced numerous competition winners including some i can’t talk about yet! Raja has it all. The biodiversity is off the scale. 

striated frogfish or hairy frogfish Antennarius striatus Retra LSD Snoot

How many trips have you done in the last 3 years and where?

Ive had around 10 trips in the past 3 years. Trips include Lembeh / Raja Ampat & Bali. The Egyptian Red Sea and the Bahamas & Cuba for sharks and other big animals. I decide on which trips I go on depending on location, subjects and I have a preference for attending workshops with Alex Mustard & Wetpixel.  

Has there been a defining moment where you think your photography improved significantly?

Most definitely. Paul Duxfield taught me the basics and encouraged experimentation. Alex Mustard and his workshop participants then inspired  me to improve….quickly. Im competitive my nature so challenged myself to be the best I can be. I won the overseas category of the Diver / BSoUP Print Competition in 2013 at my 1st attempt. This meant I had to enter advanced / pro categories from then on – I had to improve! Long way to go….. 

What is your personal favourite shot among all you have taken?

My favourite shot, is a unique image of a porcelain crab, backlit through its host anemone. It was awarded Highly Commended in the Black & White category in UPY 2019. Its difficult to be original in UW photography and I feel this image is,  as its not been done before or since!

Nick personal favourite is the unique shot of a porcelain crab Highly Commended UPY – Black & White – 2019.
Periclimenes colemani Snooted Colemans Shrimp Portrait Retra LSD Snoot
Motion blur also works with schooling fish
Fast moving Stingray of the Red Sea

SNR in Digital Cameras in 2020

There are significant number of misconceptions about noise in digital cameras and how this depends on variables like the sensor size or the pixel size. In this short post I will try to explain in clear terms the relationship between Signal Noise Ratio (SNR) and sensor size.

Signal (S) is the number of photons captured by the lens and arriving on the sensor, this will be converted in electric signal by the sensor and digitised later on by an Analog Digital Converter (ADC) and further processed by Digital Signal Processors (DSP). Signal depending on light is not affected by pixel size but by sensor size. There are many readings on this subject and you can google it yourself using sentences like ‘does pixel size matter’. Look out for scientific evidence backed up by data and formulas and not YouTube videos.

S = P * e where P is the photon arrival rate that is directly proportional to the surface area of the sensor, through physical aperture of the lens and solid angle of view, and e is the exposure time.

This equation also means that once we equalise lens aperture there is no difference in performance between sensors. Example two lenses with equivalent field of view 24mm and 12mm on full frame and MFT with crop 2x when the lens aperture is equalised produce the same SNR. Considering a full frame at f/2.8 and the MFT at f/1.4 gives the same result as 24/2.8=12/1.4 this is called constrained depth of field. And until there is sufficient light ensures SNR is identical between formats.

Noise is made of three components:

  1. Photon Noise (PN) is the inherent noise in the light, that is made of particles even though is approximated in optics with linear beams
  2. Read Noise (RN) is the combined read noise of the sensor and the downstream electronic noise
  3. Dark Current Noise (DN) is the thermal noise generated by long exposure heating up the sensor

I have discovered wordpress has no equation editor so forgive if the formulas appear rough.

Photo Noise is well mapped by Poisson distribution and the average level can be approximated with SQRT(S).

The ‘apparent’ read noise is generally constant and does not depend on the signal intensity.

While 3 is fundamental to Astrophotography it can be neglected for majority of photographic applications as long as the sensor does not heat up so we will ignore it for this discussion.

If we write down the Noise equation we obtain the following:

Noise=sqrt({PN}^2+{RN}^2+{DN}^2)

Ignoring DN in our application we have two scenarios, the first one is where the signal is strong enough that the Read Noise is considerably smaller than Photon Noise. This is the typical scenario in standard working conditions of a camera. If PN >> RN the signal to noise ratio becomes:

SNR =sqrt S

S is unrelated to pixel size but is affected by sensor size. If we take a camera with a full frame and one with a 2x crop factor at high signal rate the full frame camera and identical f/number it has double the SNR of the smaller 2x crop. Because the signal is high enough this benefit is almost not visible in normal conditions. If we operate at constrained depth of field the larger sensor camera has no benefit on the smaller sensor.

When the number of photons collected drops the Read Noise becomes more important than the photon noise. The trigger point will change depending on the size of the sensor and smaller sensor will become subject to Read Noise sooner than larger sensors but broadly the SNR benefit will remain double. If we look at DxOMark measurements of the Panasonic S1 full frame vs the GH5 micro four thirds we see that the benefit is around 6 dB at the same ISO value, so almost spot on with the theory.

Full Frame vs MFT SNR graph shows 2 stop benefit over 2x crop

Due to the way the curve of SNR drops the larger sensor camera will have a benefit or two stops also on ISO and this is the reason why DxOMark Sport Score for the GH5 is 807 while the S1 has a sport score of 3333 a total difference of 2.046 stops. The values of 807 and 3333 are measured and correspond to 1250 and 5000 on the actual GH5 and S1 cameras.

If we consider two Nikon camera the D850 full frame and the D7500 APSC we should find the difference to be one stop ISO and the SNR to drop at the same 3 dB per ISO increment.

The graphic from DxoMark confirms the theory.

Full Frame vs APSC SNR graph shows 1 stop benefit over 1.5x crop

If the SNR does not depend on pixel size, why do professional video cameras and, some high end SLR, have smaller pixel count? This is due to a feature called dual native ISO. It is obvious that a sensor has only one sensitivity and this cannot change, so what is happening then? We have seen that when signal drops, the SNR becomes dominated by the Read Noise of the sensor so what manufacturers do is to cap the full well capacity of the sensor and therefore cap the maximum dynamic range and apply a much stronger amplification through a low signal amplifier stage. In order to have enough signal to be effective the cameras have large pixel pitch so that the maximum signal per pixel is sufficiently high that even clipped is high enough to benefit from the amplification. This has the effect of pushing the SNR up two stops on average. Graphic of the read noise of the GH5s and S1 show a similar pattern.

Panasonic Dual Gain Amplifier in MFT and Full Frame cameras shows knees in the read noise graphs

Sone manufacturers like Sony appear to use dual gain systematically even with smaller pixel pitch in those cases the benefit is reduced from 2 stops to sometimes 1 or less. Look carefully for the read noise charts on sites like photonsforphotos to understand the kind of circuit in your camera and make the most of the SNR.

Because most of the low light situation have limited dynamic range, and the viewer is more sensitive to noise than DR, when the noise goes above a certain floor the limitation of the DR is seen as acceptable. The actual DR is falling well below values that would be considered acceptable for photography, but with photos you can intervene on noise in post processing but not DR, so highest DR is always the priority. This does not mean however that one should artificially inflate requirements introducing incorrect concepts like Useable DR especially when the dual gain circuit reduce maximum DR. Many cameras from Sony and Panasonic and other manufacturers have a dual gain amplifier, sometimes advertised other times not. A SNR of 1 or 0 dB is the standard to define useable signal because you can still see an image when noise and signal are comparable.

It is important to understand that once depth of field is equalised all performance indicators flatten and the benefit of one format on the other is at the edges of the ISO range, at very low ISO values and very high ISO and in both cases is the ability of the sensor to collect more photons that makes the difference, net of other structural issues in the camera.

As majority of users do not work at the boundaries of the ISO range or in low light and the differences in the more usual values get equalised, we can understand why many users prefer smaller sensor formats, that make not just the camera bodies smaller, but also the lenses.

In conclusion a larger sensor will always be superior to a smaller sensor camera regardless all additional improvement made by dual gain circuits. A full frame camera will be able to offer sustained dynamic range together with acceptable SNR value until higher ISO levels. Looking for example at the Panasonic video orientated S1H the trade off point of ISO 4000 is sufficient on a full frame camera to cover most real-life situation while the 2500 of the GH5s leaves out a large chunk of night scenes where in addition to good SNR, some dynamic range may still be required.

121 with Paolo Isgro

Featured Image courtesy of Hannes Klostermann

Paolo Isgro lives in Belluno (Italy) in the Dolomites National Park, one of the most suggestive alpine locations in the world. Although he lives on the mountains and is fond of nature Paolo has been limited by his altitude sickness and therefore when he tried diving in 2002 he was immediately locked in.

Paolo is a scuba diver and has recently certified in free diving, he tries to travel as much as possible and he is keen to explore distant remote locations.

His work is accessible online on flickr https://www.flickr.com/photos/paolobl65/albums

Paolo has recently participated to a number of underwater photography competition, among his latest results:

Ocean Art 2019: 1 and 3 in the Super Macro category

Underwater Phographer of the Year 2020 2nd in behaviour category

Deep Visions 2019 1st in cetacean category

Deep Visions 2019 2nd in Macro category

Deep Visions 2019 best snoot image 

 

Questions and Answers 

When did you start underwater photography and why?

I started in 2006 during my first trip to Indonesia. Photography has been the natural evolution of my love for the ocean. I wanted to extend the emotions of the dives through images to keep as memories for me and others to enjoy. 

How much diving experience did you have when you started?

I had around 50 dives when I started. I have done other 900 dives since then, all with my camera.

Were you a land photographer before starting? 

I did not have significant photography experience prior to diving. I do like to take shots of the diving locations I visit however when I am at home I do not have sufficient time to dedicated to land photography.

Today my underwater photography is concentrated during my trips although I keep studying and learning when am home. 

What was your first underwater camera and housing?

My first camera was a Nikon E4600 point and shoot with a Fantasea housing. One year after I replaced it with an Olympus with a strobe and in 2009 I bought my first DSLR.

Paolo’s first camera

What is your current camera rig and why did you choose it?

For wide angle I use a  Canon 80D with Canon 8-15mm FE  or Tokina 10-17mm FE while for macro a Canon 7D with Canon 60mm lens. I also use Inon UCL-67 wet lenses and an inverted Canon 24mm Pancake for extreme super macro.

Paolo’s current Wide angle camera

I use Sea and Sea housing with a 45 degree viewfinder, I have developed my own trim system with self made floats on Stix arm segments. I have of course a macro port, a zen minidome and a 170 dome with 20 and 30 extensions.

Sea and Sea MDX-80D

My strobes are Inon Z330, OneUW 160 and Inon Z240 as remote snoot rig using triggerfish. I have several snoots including some self made in fiber optic.

I started using Sea and Sea housing in 2009 when I bought the DSLR and I have stayed with this brand ever since. Maybe there are better products now however I have found Sea and Sea to be very sturdy and reliable and I have invested in the ports and accessories so now is difficult to change.

For what concerns the camera right now I think Nikon is better than Canon however I had already built my set of lenses and I really like the reverse ring macro that canon offers. 

What is your favourite underwater photography discipline?

I started with macro and I have a lot of experience with it. I think macro is the easiest discipline in underwater photography you can start critter hunting with a dive guide and just keep shooting. When you have more experience, you start framing correctly and understanding the correct positioning as well as the lighting. Eventually you realise that the background can be at times more important than the subject and that it is not just about shooting but waiting for the subject to be ready for your shot, chasing the peak of the action.

I have also spent time in developing special techniques with reverse rings or with mixed lighting or slow shutter speeds. Sometimes I use vintage lenses to get a special bokeh at very wide apertures. I try to constantly move forwards some experiments are very successful like super macro or slow shutter shots, others still to be improved like vintage lenses. I constantly look at the work of other photographers to understand if there is a technique I am interested in trying. Another point in favour of macro is that most key locations are accessible at reasonable cost, so once on location I recommend to hire a private guide to support you taking the shots and maximise the opportunities.

Ajiex Dharma  in Tulamben  and Obet Curpuz in  Anilao  are the guides that have helped me the most during my trips.

Wide angle is the discipline that today I find more interesting, especially large animals and the possibility to dive in spectacular dive sites. I think I still need to develop my wide angle photography.

Wide angle is the most complex discipline in underwater photography and I recommend to try it once you have already some experience. There are many challenges, firstly you need the location with the right mix of reefs and fish life, those tend to be more difficult to dive with currents, surge, or sometimes deep dives. Balancing ambient and strobe light is complex and requires more powerful strobes to cover fisheye lenses. I find particularly challenging to develop a wide angle vision to frame the shots in such a way that they have depth and energy in the frame. 

Selection of shots

Snoot :

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Accelerated panning with snoot :

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supermacro with reverse ring :

Reverse Ring for Canon 24mm pancake
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IMG_2612
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Macro with vintage lenses :

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Ambient light wide angle :

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Wide angle :

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What has been to date your best trip from a photography viewpoint?

Triton Bay ( Indonesia )   has incredible variety of subjects : 5 different pygmy seahorse  (satomi , pontoi , severn, denise , bargibanti ),  whale sharks,  reef fish and invertebrates of west  papua .  The reefs offer incredible scenes in shallow water thanks to ambient light and the beaches are wonderful.

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How many trips have you done in the last 3 years and where?

Lately I have been lucky to make up to 3 trips per year. In the last 3 years I have been to Fiji/Tonga, La Paz, Socorro, Anilao, Tulamben, Gorontalo, Triton bay, Raja Ampat and Weda Halmahera. I prefer staying in resort for two reasons: I can repeat the same dive site over and over and I can stay for longer period of time. Clearly some locations are only accessible by boat but if there is a choice I would always stay in resort, typically I look for small locations with a limited capacity specialised in underwater photography. 

Has there been a defining moment where you think your photography improved significantly?

No. I am self-taught so I have had to study hard. I like to research the theory before trying and as I am far from the sea my progression has been steady and continuous.

It is really important to understand your own limitations and mistakes, this is a key point. Even if you get many likes on facebook or win a competition you don’t understand from there how to move forward and you get stuck in a loop. Having some friends that are experts and open minded that can give you some feedback is extremely useful. 

What is your personal favourite shot among all you have taken?

I think my shot with strobe and accelerated panning of this seahorse really gives the idea of a horse galloping in the wind!

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Launch of 121 with…

Dear Readers

I hope you are staying safe with the COVID-19 pandemic please in case of doubt err on the safe side and check any advice that sound ‘original’.

In order to keep morale I have decided to start with a series of 121 Q&A with up and coming underwater photographer that have either won some competitions or created some emotionally engaging images in the last few years and MORE IMPORTANTLY are happy to share their work and ideas.

The first release will be on Saturday 28 March 2020 and will feature Paolo Isgro .

I believe Paolo has produced some really exciting macro images in the last years but I see the greatest potential for wide angle where he is producing more exciting images each trip.

If you are or know a photographer that wants to share his work please let me know and I will send out the questionnaire.

Stay safe