Category Archives: Underwater Photography

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.

Panasonic Lumix G X Vario 14-42mm / F3.5 – 5.6 / Power OIS and Nauticam Macro Port 35

The Lumix G X 14-42 Power Zoom lens is designed for video with a silent motor zoom controlled by a slider that is quite effective to use.

The focal range in 4:3 format is 14-42mm which corresponds to 29-87mm in the standard 35mm format (the crop factor is 2.08 36/17.3 and not 2 how commonly thought in the classic 3:2 aspect ratio).

This lens is not exactly a best in class in terms of performance especially considering quite a bit of vignetting at wide end and distortion that anyway gets corrected nicely in camera for most. A detailed review is here http://www.photozone.de/olympus–four-thirds-lens-tests/765_pana14423556hd

You can see that this is lens is quite sharp at 2868 LW/PH to give you an idea the much more expensive Lumix 12-35mm reaches 3110 LW/PH though sharpness drops at corners to around 2100-2200.

Another interesting characteristic is that this lens performs best at f/3.5-f/5.6 which is close to the widest aperture as we will use this lens with the Nauticam flat port 35 this is all good news.

Nauticam Macro Port 35
Nauticam Macro Port 35

The lens fits very nicely inside the port leaving space for small filters and close up lenses but not really a lot.

The lens does not really move much between 14 and 42 mm and reaches his longest at 14mm.

I have tried using a set of Inon diopters to see the degree of magnification you can get.

This shot is with an Inon UCL-165 +6.06 diopter.

Lumix G X 14-42 PZ @ 42mm with Inon UCL-165
Lumix G X 14-42 PZ @ 42mm with Inon UCL-165

The smallest frame width with this lens is 42mm however in video mode using the ex tele converter option this becomes a much smaller area achieving in fact super macro easily with the added benefit of larger depth of field.

If you are into pixel peeping you can see some chromatic aberration on the edges this is a combination of the lens and the wet diopter.

I also tried stacking an UCL-165 with the UCL-330 this achieves a capture width of 32mm so we are in super macro zone.

Lumix G X 14-42 PZ @ 42mm with Inon UCL-165+330 Stacked
Lumix G X 14-42 PZ @ 42mm with Inon UCL-165+330 Stacked

Image quality does not get much worse but there are some internal reflections here on the white surface as the Inon lenses are not coated externally.

Finally I wanted to see if the Inon UCL-100 would work and it does achieving super macro without any fringing. If you want to use this lens for pygmy sea horse photography and do not want to get an Olympus 60mm this or the sub see 10 are the close up lenses to get, also the nauticam SMC is in the same range.

Lumix G X 14-42 PZ @ 42mm with Inon UCL-100
Lumix G X 14-42 PZ @ 42mm with Inon UCL-100

Now onto what is really good of this lens port combination and this is the versatility as you can attach the Inon UWL-H100 and get a very wide 18mm flat wide angle that is very sharp indeed as per previous images

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Nauticam 35 Port with Inon UWL-H100 on Panasonic Lumix 14-42mm

Consider that this image is taken at f/3.5 and the ruler is in the corner at ISO 1600 and you can see that sharpness is more than acceptable.

More interesting is that for some reason with this lens you can fully zoom through even down to 42mm without soft corners.

I have no idea how this is possible but it works just fine.

So if you are a video junkie you can cover the whole 100 degrees wide to super macro with this lens the Nauticam 35 Macro Port the Inon UWL-H100 and the UCL-100. For video it gets even cheaper with the UCL-165. You can of course use the flat port to do nice fish portrait in the mid-range of the zoom.

I forgot to mention the zoom gear which is actually pretty expensive because of the complex spring design.

The total cost for the Nauticam 35 with zoom gear is $510 plus of course the lens itself $290 total of $800.

Inon UWL-H100 + LD adapter = $654

Inon UCL-100 = $282

Inon UCL-165 = $205

Wet Lenses Still total = $936

Wet Lenses Video total = $859

Let’s compare to getting an Olympus 9-18mm with 4″ wide angle port and the Olympus 60mm with 30 extension ring total price $2129.

Price gap for stills $393 but you now also have a mid range lens for portraits, personally I don’t really like the Olympus 9-18 behind that port comparing side by side images taken with the 14-42 PZ and Inon lens I am not sure the Olympus is any better and definitely needs diopters due to mushy corners. For macro the 60mm Olympus lens has the advantage of increased working distance but is a very specific lens that you would only use for really small stuff.

For what concerns video you would probably look at the Panasonic 7-14 and forget the Olympus 60mm the combination is worth $1800 which is a difference of $636. Again the issue with rectilinear lenses and dome ports is there and the 7-14 does not take diopters.

So if we were to use the lenses on land no doubt you would need additional glass but in water wet lenses can be quite cost effective especially if you use a micro four third camera for video.

Peter Rowlands uses a Panasonic GX7 with Inon UWL-H100 and dome successfully and I am joining that club now.

Stay tuned for more tests next to come will be the Panasonic Fisheye 8mm with the 4.33″ dome which is another essential buy for the micro four third cameras underwater, obviously for pictures and not video.

 

 

 

Moving to Micro Four Thirds

In a previous post last year I had mentioned that a move to an interchangeable lens camera was unlikely however seeing the latest generation of compact on the market also have a port system it is time to reconsider the options.

During the Christmas holiday Panasonic put up a double cash-back promotion which meant you could get a Panasonic GX7 with kit lens with £100 off the retail effective price.

On the web you could find the GX7 with the 14-42mm G Mega OIS for £449 and combined with the 20mm f/1.7 for £579. The 14-42mm is actually a good lens but knowing I had to get the Lumix G X Vario PZ 14-42mm I opted for the 20mm f/1.7 a very bright lens that seemed good for occasional photos.

Butterfly bokeh

 

So I got myself the X Vario PZ 14-42mm and also the Lumix G 12-32mm Mega OIS as I thought I needed something midrange but did not want to spend a lot of money for the 12-35mm Panasonic and especially did not want to entertain a 6″ wide angle port.

Foliage Detail 12-32 mm
Foliage Detail 12-32 mm

I actually think this lens has better IQ than the 12-42mm PZ

14-42mm PZ
14-42mm PZ

The 12-32mm is the kit lens that used to come with the GX1 so is not a massively popular lens. A quick look at the Nauticam Port Chart confirms this lens takes the same macro port 35 of the 14-42 PZ, this port through a 30mm extension can be used to house the Olympus 60mm Macro. So went ahead and contacted Alex at Nauticam UK to get a quote on the housing. It turns out that there are no stocks of the NA-GX7 so had to wait until yesterday to receive mine.

I asked Alex to lend me a Nauticam Wetmate as I thought this could be used on the 35 port with the 12-32mm Panasonic lens in case the Inon UWL-H100 vignettes.

I was not quite sure of the physics of the wet mate so I got myself some close up filters in case there were focus issues.

The 12-32mm won’t focus in water with the wet mate until you add a +1 close up filter.

12-32mm with +1 diopter and wet mate on macro port 35
12-32mm with +1 diopter and wet mate on macro port 35

Once you get focus the image quality seems pretty decent despite being shot at ISO 1250 f/3.5. However this configuration would start having focus problem past 15mm so I put on a + diopter and tried again until 20mm or 40mm in 35 equivalent terms.

12-32mm at 20mm with +2 diopter and wet mate on macro 35 port
12-32mm at 20mm with +2 diopter and wet mate on macro 35 port

Quality is pretty good and the chromatic aberration are probably coming from the cheap diopter more than the wet-mate.

I am quite happy with those results although I have to admit the wet mate with the 67mm thread is a pain to take on and off in water and also is not coated so scratches easily.

Nauticam has still to confirm if the 4.33″ dome port can offer full zoom with the 12-32mm, I suspect it will with the help of a +2 diopter. The alternative is the 20mm extension with the 3.5″ wide angle port, in future perspective this is interesting for wide angle macro photography but not so much right now so will go with the 4.33″ dome.

I also did some tests with the Inon UWL-H100 28LD, once again the Fix M67-LD adapter let me down the screws had melted into the aluminium despite the tender loving care and broken the adapter I could however take some shots without the hood before that happened.

Panasonic 12-32mm with Inon UWL-H100 at 12mm
Panasonic 12-32mm with Inon UWL-H100 at 12mm

There are some dark corners but all in all the result could be acceptable equivalent focal length in 16:9 is 16.5mm which is approximately 105 degrees.

There seems to be some variability and some times I would get black corners more. Considering I will switch to the Nauticam LD adapter that vignettes more this at the end is not so interesting. The image is also a bit distorted.

With the Panasonic Lumix G X Vario  PZ 14-42mm instead there are no issues of vignette even in 4:3 aspect ratio.

Panasonic 14-42 PZ with Inon UWL-H100
Panasonic 14-42 PZ with Inon UWL-H100

The camera focuses literally on the glass.

What is even more interesting is that the camera lens combination keeps sharp focus all across the zoom range all the way to 42mm or 84mm equivalent.

Pamasonic 14-42mma t 42mm with Inon UWL-H100
Pamasonic 14-42mma t 42mm with Inon UWL-H100

Fringing is contained and generally the image is sharp across the frame considering we are at ISO 3200.

I also did a test with the UCL-330 and using the Extended Teleconverter function available in video I could achieve 32mm width frame with the 12-32mm lens!!!

The other positive note is that this is a 1″1 pixel read without artefacts and moire so generally quality is very high.

I think the PZ 14-42mm with the Inon UWL-H100 and a single UCL-165 makes a fine combination to shoot all purpose stills wide and macro in one dive. For video I will have to determine if the UCL-330 is a better choice considering the extended tele converter feature.

A few other features of the GX7 that really make this camera a video machine include the flicker free video recording that allows you to fix the shutter speed if you had to press the video record button when you are taking stills. Normally the camera would work in P more and not respect any shutter rule, with this feature you are telling the camera to shoot in shutter priority.

The GX7 has also the capability of altering the gamma curve for contrast which is great and a number of picture style presets of which I recommend the Scenery one for underwater use if you white balance.

I did some low light comparisons with the Sony RX100 and despite two full f/stops advantage for the RX100 lens the GX7 still resolved more detail at ISO 3200 versus the RX100 ISO 800 which was a bit surprising.

The AVCHD implementation at 24 Mbps will be my favourite underwater mode unless I am shooting macro and is a full IPB codec unlike the IP only with no B frames that Sony provides. That must be reason why the image quality in video is better even at two stop higher ISO.

In case you are looking for the holy grail for Nauticam micro four thirds camera to do a bit of everything the Macro Port 35 and the Panasonic G X Vario 14-42mm Power Zoom are highly recommended. Probably the image quality is not as good as the Panasonic 7-14mm although in my opinion with the Inon lens the results are very similar to the Olympus 90-18mm with 4″ wide angle port. Macro again is acceptable but not amazing with wet lenses. I will have to test more I am concerned the UCL-100 may not work with this port. For a mid range lens the 12-32mm costs one third of the 12-35mm Power OIS and once I receive the 4.33′ dome I will do more tests, meanwhile an option is to use the wet mate that works until 20mm before you have to take it off. The 4/33″ dome should have better image quality but maybe I will be surprised there too.

Finally with the 30 extension you can transform the macro 35 into a 55 port ready for some serious macro with the Olympus 60mm so I think having only one flat port, an extension ring and one dome to cover fisheye photography, portraits, wide angle, close up and macro is not bad at all. And for video most likely is the only port you will ever need together with the Inon UWL-H100 which is expensive but every flexible indeed.

I will post more images of the rig once I have nailed all options in terms of lenses and arms.

The end of advanced compact cameras for underwater photography

With the arrival of the new Nauticam N50 port system for advanced compacts I believe we say goodbye to using a large sensor compact underwater.

We already saw some signs when Sony released the RX100 Mark III with a 24-70mm equivalent lens, this effectively killed any use of the camera for macro. The new Panasonic LX100 has a similar problem with a 24-75mm lens but on top it has the new N50 port system in the nauticam housing or a severely limited functionality in the Ikelite version. It is obvious that the Panasonic LX100 will have similar sever limitations for macro but also with only 10 Megapixels really not be a strong competitor.

The last kid on the block is the Canon G7X, this camera looks very similar to the Sony RX100 Mark II and has a 24-100 zoom range that on land is very useful with an aperture of f/2.8 at tele end that is really interesting for land use. However this camera in the Nauticam version has the same port system N50.

So why has Nauticam introduced this? Both the Canon G7X and the Panasonic LX100 have fairly long lenses in terms of physical size and the zoom mechanism is such that the lens is retracted at wide end. This means that there is quite a gap between the lens and the port and wet lenses in those conditions have issues of both corner softness and chromatic aberrations. So Nauticam has introduced a short port with zoom blocked so that wet lenses can be used.

Effectively this is like diving with a fixed 18mm lens on your camera behind a dome with no zoom capability, taking the wet lens off results in horrible pincushion distortion so not really appealing.

Pincushion Distortion at 24mm with flat port
Pincushion Distortion at 24mm with flat port

The dome port does not allow the use of the full zoom at least without a diopter, so this is of limited use too for video.

Cost wise the new housing with the port system are around $1,200 in the US with additional $350 for the dome and $180 for the flat wide port. We are approaching the low end of Micro 4/3 Nauticam housing prices and are more expensive than Olympus OEM options but without the same flexibility and quality in terms of lenses.

It is clear that the Sony RX100 Mark I and II will remain one of a kind and this is the reason why they remain popular few years after launch.

Sony RX100 Mark II Rig June 2014 Front
Sony RX100 Mark II Rig June 2014 Front

 

Nauticam NA-LX100 Pricing Confirmed

It is official now the prices of the NA-LX100 are confirmed

in US $1,200 for the housing with flat port, $180 for the wide short port and $350 for the 3.5″ acrylic dome.

In UK £920 for the housing and flat port, £150 for the wide short port and most likely £290 for the dome.

Which means we can now update the GH4 comparisons for 4K

Super Wide

Panasonic LX100  $899 NA-LX100 $1,200 with Short Port $180 and Wet lens Inon UWL-H100 $522

Panasonic GH4 with 7-14mm and 6″ dome $2750 housing and port only plus camera and lens $2,399

The max field of view of the two options is almost the same however you can’t zoom the LX100 due to the zoom lock on the housing.

LX100 $2,801

GH4 $5,149

Price Difference $2,348

Mid range

Panasonic LX100 $899 housing $1,200  3.5″ dome circa $350

Panasonic GH4 with 12-35mm and 6″ dome $2750 housing and port Camera and Lens $2,399

The LX100 is wider in 4K at 26-81mm vs 28-81mm of the GH4

LX100 $2,449

GH4 $5,149

Price Difference $2,700

Close Up

Panasonic LX100 with NA-LX100 rectangular port $2,099

Panasonic GH4 with 14-42 and 35 macro port $1,815 housing and port $2,680

The GH4 will have more magnification due to the longer focal length with the same diopter.

LX100 $2,099

GH4 $4,495

Price Difference $2,396

The gap is still significant even with the price increase ranging between $2348 and $2700.

I still have some concerns on the 3.5″ acrylic dome for the LX100 as I am not sure about focus distance. If this port works with the full zoom it is definitely the most appealing for video but we will need to check this out.

 

 

Nauticam NA-LX100 Released

On Christmas day Nauticam has released the NA-LX100 housing for the Panasonic DMC-LX100. It is priced at ¥168,000 which is 50,000 more expensive than the last NA-RX100 III.

If this translates correctly in $ and UK prices it means $1,399 plus tax or £895 including VAT for UK.

Here is the original link in Japanese on the fisheye homepage

http://www.fisheye-jp.com/products/compact/na_lx100.html

NA-LX100 with flat rectangular port
NA-LX100 Rear View

 

Prices for the short port for wet lenses and the dome port have not yet been announced but we know that the dome can use the camera at full zoom and that the short port. The US price of the flip diopter for the rectangular port is known and is $220.

Which means we can now update the GH4 comparisons for 4K

Super Wide

Panasonic LX100  $899 NA-LX100 with Short Port and Wet lens $2,000 circa

Panasonic GH4 with 7-14mm and 6″ dome $2750 housing and port only plus camera and lens $2,399

The max field of view of the two options is almost the same however you can’t zoom the LX100 due to the zoom lock on the housing.

LX100 $2,899

GH4 $5,149

Price Difference $2,250

Mid range

Panasonic LX100 $899 with 3.5″ dome circa $1,699

Panasonic GH4 with 12-35mm and 6″ dome $2750 housing and port Camera and Lens $2,399

The LX100 is wider in 4K at 26-81mm vs 28-81mm of the GH4

LX100 $2,599

GH4 $5,149

Price Difference $2,550

Close Up

Panasonic LX100 with NA-LX100 rectangular port $2,299

Panasonic GH4 with 14-42 and 35 macro port $1,815 housing and port $2,680

The GH4 will have more magnification due to the longer focal length with the same diopter.

LX100 $2,299

GH4 $4,495

Price Difference $2,195

The gap is still significant even with the price increase ranging between $2200 and $2500.

There is still an option to use the GH4 with wet lenses although this has only been tried with diopters to date it is technically possible to use a wet wide angle lens.

 

Panasonic DMC-LX100 Nauticam 4K Underwater video becomes affordable

This week I have been in contact with Nauticam that have given me some final details with regards to the NA-LX100 housing that will be released in the next weeks and is already available for pre-order in Hong Kong.

The housing is confirmed to have a changeable port system the default is the rectangular flat port as in the image below.

When shooting 4K the Panasonic LX100 focal length is 26-81mm which means that in water the default port will give a range of 35-108mm due to water magnification. This is however negated by the increased working distance so don’t get too excited about macro.

Panasonic LX100 Flat Port

There will be a flip diopter for the rectangular port as a separate accessory. Due to the limited zoom of the LX100 a strong diopter with power of at least +10 in water is required for macro.

The other option displayed was a mini dome port.

Nauticam LX100 Mini Dome Port

Nauticam has confirmed that this dome is 3.5″ wide and unfortunately there is no provision currently for a flip diopter for this port.

The 3.5″ acrylic port is probably the most versatile option for the Panasonic LX100 and I am a bit puzzled of why the flat port is offered as a default. The mini dome seems perfect for all round reef use when there are no really small critters and medium size fish.

 

Nauticam has also a super wide option that utilizes a short port with a 67mm thread. This takes the Inon UWL-H100 from what we have heard and also a new lens Nauticam has designed.

The zoom will be  locked so the lens will stay at 24mm limited to circa 50mm which means with the wet lens this is a 16-32mm wide lens in water, I am not sure however that zoom in will be a possibility with the Inon lens but will be possible with the Nauticam lens as far as I understand.

Nauticam LX100 Wide wet lens

So what is the strategy for Nauticam and this housing?

It is quite clear for me that the Panasonic LX100 has the same 4K capabilities of the GH4 the same IPB codec and processor. It falls short of cinema options but costs half of the GH4 body.

So for your perusal those are the equivalent options

Super Wide

Panasonic LX100  $899 NA-LX100 with Short Port and Wet lens $1,700 circa

Panasonic GH4 with 7-14mm and 6″ dome $2750 housing and port only plus camera and lens $2,399

The max field of view of the two options is almost the same however you can’t zoom the LX100 due to the zoom lock on the housing.

LX100 $2,599

GH4 $5,149

Price Difference $2,550

Mid range

Panasonic LX100 $899 with 3.5″ dome circa $1,300

Panasonic GH4 with 12-35mm and 6″ dome $2750 housing and port Camera and Lens $2,399

The LX100 is wider in 4K at 26-81mm vs 28-81mm of the GH4

LX100 $2,200

GH4 $5,149

Price Difference $2,950

Close Up

Panasonic LX100 with rectangular port $2,000

Panasonic GH4 with 14-42 and 35 macro port $1,815 housing and port $2,540

The GH4 will have more magnification due to the longer focal length with the same diopter.

LX100 $2,000

GH4 $4,355

Price Difference $2,355

So the performance may be better but the price difference is very high.

The total cost of the Panasonic GH4 plus lenses housing and port is around $6,640 but the LX100 stops at a much more modest $2,400 without the wet wide angle lens. This still does not include flip diopters adapters and lens worth another $800+ but gives an idea that the total will be around $3,200 for the whole set.

You can get a complete 4K underwater video rig around $4,500-4,700 including tray, video lights and all the rest which few years ago would have been unthinkable.