Category Archives: Underwater Photography

Wet lenses choices for Panasonic LX7

When compact cameras were designed for 35mm it was quite common to shoot just with a camera and strobe; this allowed the average user to take decent close up pictures as long as the camera was capable of focusing within a couple of inches from the subject.

Years later manufacturers started introducing wider lenses first came 28mm equivalent and most recently 24mm, these cameras give an increased field of view on land of 75 and 84 degrees diagonal.

There is a common misconception that as the camera has a wider lens you don’t need to buy a wet lens for underwater activities. This is also reported in otherwise good articles like this one: http://www.scubaboard.com/forums/tips-techniques/46508-getting-started-amateur-underwater-photography-buying-your-first-camera.html

So why is it a bad idea to shoot just with the bare camera and no add-on lenses?

Two key reasons:

  1. Once in water the 84 degrees diagonal of a 24mm equivalent camera reduce to 54 or less because of the water medium
  2. At focal lengths shorter than 35mm pincushion distortion becomes stronger to the point the pictures are awful.
Pincushion Distortion at 24mm with flat port
Pincushion Distortion at 24mm with flat port

So if you plan to use your wider compact camera underwater without lenses make sure you zoom to 35mm to avoid distortion.

This is the same picture at 35mm note how the image is now rectilinear.

Flat Port 35mm
Flat Port 35mm

At 35mm we are back were we were in the mid 2000 and all we can do is close-ups so there is no advantage having a wider lens for underwater use with a compact.

Another common misconception is that a compact camera takes great macro just with the internal flash. Firstly a macro picture has a 24mm height of the capture area, nearly no compacts on the market are capable of this: the Panasonic LX7 and the Canon G15 within the current range are the exceptions. However at 1cm distance the internal flash is completely obscured by the lens, which means there really is no macro without a strobe and a close up lens: all you can shoot are close-ups.

Flat Port Close Up
Flat Port Close Up

This explains the need for wet lenses in water, wide-angle lenses to increase the field of view and allow us to get closer and take advantage of artificial lighting, close up lenses that also allow us to get closer using the full zoom of the camera and shoot at increased magnification without being on top of our subject.

The needs of photography and video differ as lighting tools differ, photos require strobe to freeze motion, video instead uses fixed lights. Photos are also taken at much wider angle than videos and fisheye effect is accepted, an effect that in video is generally not welcome.

With this in mind what are the wet lens options for the Panasonic LX7?

It depends of course on the planned usage of the camera.

Underwater Photographers

The LX7 has extremely good close up capabilities out of the box, however the capture area is around 12×8 cm that is not exactly small. If we want our nudibranch of shrimp to fill more of the frame we need a close up lens.

From my tests the Inon UCL165 brings around 2.5x magnification with the LX7.

Inon UCL165
Inon UCL165

I have tried stacking two UCL165 but the amount of chromatic aberration is too much for my liking, I found that 9 diopters is the max before fringing becomes a real problem and I do not recommend stacking two of those lenses or two equivalent Dyron diopters. I think the most flexible set up is a UCL165 and UCL330, this covers all possible working distances. I do not have a UCL330 yet so I can confirm but I have taken shots with a very similar lens (Olympus PTMC-01) and the results are excellent with a capture area of 48×32 mm that is very close to real macro. The zoom of the LX7 is the real limit here as it maxes out at 90mm versus the 120 of a Canon S110 or 140 of the Canon G15.

For close focus and ambient light wide-angle the bad news is that there is no fisheye lens that works well with the LX7 this is due to the extremely large lens.

I have tested the Inon UWL-H100 and I had to wait for a new port to be delivered from Nauticam as their original one was too long and had vignetting even at 28mm. This lens yields more than 100 degrees diagonal and is my preferred choice for the LX7 for stills. There is however a good amount of blue and yellow fringing if I really have to be picky so the extended field of view comes at some price.

UWL-H100 28mm
UWL-H100 28mm

I use Inon lenses however a possible candidate is the Epoque DCL30, this lens is reported to work with 28mm equivalent cameras however the rear lens is smaller than the Inon so I believe this needs confirmation. There is a $70 difference in US and £70 here in UK between the two lenses and considering that a dome will not worth I encourage testing this lens as the results may be acceptable. I think bluewater photo markets this lens in US under their own brand.

Underwater Videographer

If you plan to use the LX7 for video the situation is different, as the camera close up performance is extremely good and usually macro video is very hard. Most time we shoot with ambient light and if visibility is acceptable getting that close is not so important considering the LX7 ability to manipulate white balance.

The first suggestion is to get a Nauticam Wet Mate, this is a sealed air dome that gives us back the air field of view and works extremely well without any chromatic aberration and extremely sharp corners. This lens keeps the image rectilinear that is also a good thing for video.

LX7 with Nauticam Wet-Mate
LX7 with Nauticam Wet-Mate (do not compare with the Inon Picture this is taken from further away)

For majority of reef dives the wet mate is all is needed as this also allows the full use of the zoom without soft corners that occur if you zoom into a wet wide-angle lens. This lens is the most versatile for general video use and costs $250, great value from Nauticam.

There are however specific situations where the wet mate is not sufficient, as before close up performance with the bare port is good but not great for smaller critter, so a close up lens would be the next addition, again an Inon UCL165 or a Dyron Double Diopter would work just fine and have the same power.

When shooting at closer distance with lights, or when there is large fish or wrecks a wet lens is important as the 84 degrees diagonal of the LX7 are actually only 76 horizontal. Again the Inon UWL-H100 is my choice but would check again for the Epoque DCL-30. One characteristic of the LX7 that is interesting is that the diagonal field of view of the camera remains constant when picture format changes, this means the horizontal field of view is larger at 16:9 movie mode than it is at 3:2 for pictures.

Field of view with the LX7

Those are the maximum angles of coverage horizontal of the LX7 as I measured them at 3:2:

  • Bare Port 24mm: 50°
  • Wet mate 24mm: 71.5°
  • Inon UWL-H100: 88°

At 16:9 there is a wider field of view of:

  • Bare Port 24mm: 54°
  • Wet mate 24mm: 76.2°
  • Inon UWL-H100: 93°

In general terms with the wet mate we can cover 1.56x the horizontal field of view of the flat port and with the wide-angle 2.1x.

The wide-angle offers an additional 35% over the wet mate don’t be mislead by the apparent small difference between 84° and 100° as those are diagonal measures not horizontal and those few degrees more count.

At 1 meter distance the maximum subject size with the wet mate in movie mode is 1.56 meters and with the wide-angle this becomes 2.1, that confirms that the wet-mate is good for general use and the wide-angle is only required for close scenes of larger fish or wrecks.

Those are the three lenses I have used for those tests. A final consideration is about the lens mount. I will use the LX7 for video so my choice has been a 67mm mount, because this is the only format that the wet-mate offers.

If I was using the LX7 only for pictures I would prefer the flexibility of the Inon LD mount even if this costs a bit more as it makes it so much easier to swap lenses in water when you have a bayonet mount.