Category Archives: Fish Portraits

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!

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Red Sea Workshop with Alex Mustard – Part V Tiran & Mermaids

As the currents were not playing ball we decided to head to Tiran to dive Jackson reef.

I love jackson as a dive and a video dive but I was a bit vary from a photography point of view as lighting can be a problem.

Anyway there was an option for a hammerhead dive in the early morning or a first dive on Jackson followed by a second before returning to Ras Katy for an afternoon and sunset dive.

Hammerhead are found on the back of Jackson reef when there are shallow thermoclines with the surface at 26C the chances were low however I had alternative ideas for that dive.

As foreseen there were no hammerheads so towards the end of the dive I tried a few shots of the Lara Wreck (that is on the surface) through the Snell window despite the strong surf.

The resulting shot is currently my desktop theme and is here.
Lara from the reef
I tried to get the wreck on the surface, the breaking surf, the sunball, some fish or at least silhouette of fish and the hard coral to give a dramatic moody look to the image.

On dive two was time to have a relaxing dive with not much effort on photos. I saw few tunas at around 28 meters that is unusual and a turtle and some other critters though the shots are not particularly exciting.

In one occasion a dive guide came to be all excited as he had seen a turtle so I went there and bumped into our own guides that were out for a fun dive.

Turtle and Dive Guide
Turtle and Dive Guide

They usually are asked to get out of the frame instead I took the shot for their facebook perusal.

When the turtle had enough she shot off to the surface and I tried a silhouette however I forgot the strobe on

Failed Silhouette
Failed Silhouette

Nothing that lighroom can’t fix and this is the resulting shot after adjustment

Silhouette after lightroom
Silhouette after lightroom

Not bad huh?

Back at Ras Katy I tried few more portraits like this one

Fish Portrait
Fish Portrait

Though my favorite is another
Masked Butterflies

At sunset I was part of the mermaid group, we had a model Katrin Felton  suprising what a phenomena Mermaid tails have become.

We had a 2-3 shots in different poses however only the first was successful as the snell windows was ruined by one of the photographer that keept shooting with strobe…and getting in the way as she did not listen to the briefing properly well no big deal.

Anyway I gave it a shot afterwards Kat was not particularly happy about the barrel distortion that she said makes her look fat! Unfortunately I did not have a rectilinear lens anyway if you find yourself in this kind of set up make sure you have one.

Mermaid Kat I
All in all it was a bit of fun again I tried to include some fish, the reef, the mermaid, the sun rays. I looked at other pictures of the mermaid and I think she can’t appreciate how important is not to see the knees too much but I guess she likes to focus more on her figure on how slim she looks lol!

All in all another great day and a different perspective on shooting model underwater.

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thistlegorm Stern
Thistlegorm Stern

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Special Guest

Goats

Meteor

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

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

Side Shot

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

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

 

Red Sea Workshop with Alex Mustard – Part I

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

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

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

Giant Moray

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

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

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

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

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

cardinalwitheggs

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

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

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

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

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

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

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