Category Archives: UNDERWATER VIDEO

Leak Sentinel V4 and Vivid Housing Vacuum Valves

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

Bare Vacuum Valve

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

P1020804
Left Leak Sentinel V4 Right M14 Vacuum Valve

 

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

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

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

Leak Sentinel v4 Updated Review

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

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

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

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

The leak sentinel v4 costs €200 including shipping worldwide.

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

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

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Best Settings for 4K video with the Panasonic DMC-LX100

There is no doubt that the Panasonic LX100 is a very capable camera and has a great 4K mode that works great especially at the wide end. In this post we will look at the settings that in my opinion maximize the camera features and have the best ergonomics for shooting underwater and actually also on land for most.

There is quite a bit of confusion between still image settings and movie settings and if your objective is to shoot video I recommend saving all the settings below or your preferred choice in a custom memory. The LX100 has 3 custom memory so you can save your settings for movie, stills and something else. Note that due to the absence of mode dials aperture, shutter and exposure are not saved so check you have the right settings before starting your recordings.

Movie Menu

Photo Style: I tend to leave this on the standard setting. Some users like to define a custom setting with sharpening of -2 I don’t think this is necessary. Likewise noise reduction is fine out of the box

4K Photo: I leave this option off as I want to shoot in 24p, setting it on will force the camera in 25/30p mode.

Rec Format: mp4

Rec Quality: 4K 24p I like the cinematic movie but also want to extract the maximum quality from the image

AFS/AFF/AFC: AFS single focus at the beginning of the scene

Picture Mode: setting not relevant in 4K

Continuous AF: set to OFF to prevent the camera to hunt focus especially underwater. If used on land this may be set to ON

Metering Mode: I tend to use centered weighted average for macro and multi metering for wide angle.

Highlight/Shadow: this is a very powerful control but I leave it to default

i.Dynamic: set to OFF to avoid unpredictable artifacts

i.Resolution: set to OFF the camera is very sharp no need for this

i.Zoom: set to ON due to the limited focal range it is important to allow for some extended zoom although there is some quality loss especially at high ISO. It works pretty well on the first notch

Digital Zoom: set to OFF the digital zoom looses too much quality

Mic settings: all left default

Wind cut: auto

Custom Settings Menu

Silent Mode: can be set on if you are working with wildlife on land

AF/AE lock: set to AE lock, as we have disabled continuous focus and we keep the focus at the beginning of the scene there is no need for AF lock in video. AE lock allows you to lock exposure when entering caves and wanting to keep a natural light without abrupt changes in exposure

AE/AF lock hold set to on so that the exposure lock is released only when the button is pressed again.

Shutter AF: ON we want to focus when we press the shutter at the beginning of the scene

Half Press Release, Quick AF, Eye sensor AF: all left to OFF

Pinpoint AF time: set to MID

Pinpoint AF display: picture in picture

AF assisted lamp: off

Direct Focus Area: set to OFF otherwise moving the cursor will override other buttons

Focus/Release Priority: irrelevant in movie mode

AF+MF: this allows for fine tuning with manual focus if the shutter is half pressed can be useful if the camera struggles to focus

MF Assist: focus

MF Assist display: PIP

MF Guide: ON

Peaking: ON your preference of color and level. I find the defaults to work fine some people prefer orange.

Histogram: OFF

Guide Line: rule of thirds

Highlight: irrelevant for video

Zebra: I use zebra 2 with 100% setting to just show me overexposed areas.

Monochrome live view: OFF

Constant Preview: OFF

Expo Meter: ON

Dial Guide: ON

LVF/Monitor Display: set default

Info display: ON

Rec Area: Movie, this settings makes the picture format lever redundant if you shoot videos so you don’t need to set the dial to 16:9.

Remaining Display: movie (this is only useful at the end of the memory card)

Fn button set: For underwater use F1-Set record area F2-default(Wireless) F3-Custom memory settings

Zoom Lever: I prefer to move in steps

Control Ring: defauls

Zoom Resume; OFF very important if you have the LX100 in the short port and accidentally you zoom too much leaving this to on can compromise your dive

Q.Menu: preset

iA button: default

Video Button: leave to On

Eye Sensor: LVF Monitor Switch: Mon

Custom Menu

All settings default except

Menu Resume: set to ON

Focus Area: 1 Area recommended for underwater use alternatively pinpoint for macro

Recommended Shooting Settings

Wide Angle

As discussed I prefer 24p and therefore I leave the aperture dial to auto and the ISO setting to auto too for wide angle. Generally the camera will operate prioritizing a low ISO to a small aperture and if you touch the aperture you end up in manual exposure that may be a possibility. Shutter dial on 1/60 with shutter speed reduced to 1/50 this gives plenty to play with in terms of aperture and in bright scenes the aperture will quickly go above f/8. The focus will be fixed as you set it at the beginning of the scene however if you need to refocus you can half-press the shutter and the camera will re-focus.

Macro

For macro other considerations on depth of field apply so you need to get going with the aperture until you get a decent focus, consider that the camera does not follow any rules so in effect you will set the shutter to 1/50 and then play with the ISO until you reach the desired exposure. As you will be shooting macro with lights this should not pose a large issue. If your subject is in the center of the frame use centered weighted average metering if not you need to be careful here is where the zebra control comes very useful. In general is better to avoid under exposure  and the zebra can help to ensure you prime subject is exposed correctly. For what concerns focus here you can try auto+manual as a starting point and then fine tune. Depth of field is limited so once you lose the focus it may be worth stopping and starting again instead of trying to refocus.

You can also keep the focus constant and move the camera back and forth.

I hope you find those settings useful let me know how you get on.

Nauticam NA-LX100 4K Video Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Nauticam NA-LX100 housing and port system review

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

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

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

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

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

LX100 housing preparation
LX100 housing preparation

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

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

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

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

UL-165
NA-LX100 UCL-165

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

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

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

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

UCL-100
NA-LX100 UCL-100

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

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

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

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

N50 3.5
N50 3.5″ Mini Dome

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

Optical quality is great.

LX100 Mini Dome 24mm
LX100 Mini Dome 24mm

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

N50 Short Port
N50 Short Port

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

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

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

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

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

NA-LX100 rear buttons
NA-LX100 rear buttons

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nauticam WWL-1 Wet Wide Angle Lens Review

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

Until now!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The lens has a standard M67 mount.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A day at the pool
A day at the pool

4K Video Compacts Panasonic LX100 vs Sony RX100 IV

The yearly refresh of the Sony RX100 brings us the mark IV and with it comes 4K video.

The sensor of the camera is still the same 1″ size of the RX100 but Sony has now added an XAVC codec at 100 mbps with 4K resolution as well as a lower 60 mbps mode that adds to the 50 mbps HD modes of the mark III.

So now we have two compact cameras that can record 4K video and the Panasonic DMC-LX100 is not alone.

Frankie Fok has a nice clip from Socorro with the LX100 as shown here

There is to date one only example with the Sony RX100 Mark IV and is not in the best environment but it gives an idea

So if you want to shoot 4K with a compact camera underwater which one should you choose, if any?

Panasonic DMC-LX100

The LX100 has some interesting characteristics, although the sensor is in fact the same of the GX7. The camera has a good sharp lens and as all Panasonic the video implementation includes an IPB codec for video that makes compression very efficient.

However the LX100 has a number of issues and challenges as well :

  • No Auto ISO in manual mode
  • No ND filter
  • Short zoom range 24-75mm with multi-aspect sensor (26-81mm in 4K video mode)

The most serious problem of the LX100 is certainly its lens.

Nauticam released the housing early and for the first time it featured a port system.

Nauticam LX100
Nauticam LX100

To my horror the default port is rectangular, this creates a host of issues including the fact that you can’t easily add a close up lens in front without an expensive adapter.

The camera weights around 400 grams with battery and you need to add another 1.2 Kg for the housing for a total of 1.6 Kg more than some mirroless cameras such as the Panasonic GX7 or the Sony A5000.

You need around $2,000 to get the camera and the housing which is not exactly cheap for a camera that can’t do wide angle and you need something like the Nauticam CMC to achieve 32mm width in the frame however the diopter holder is $220 and other $320 for the CMC.

The port system has challenges too, for example the mini dome only allows for limited use of the zoom range and the short port locks the zoom completely.

Update: Nauticam has told me that the dome should work on the entire zoom range am waiting confirmation

The Sony RX100 mark IV has similar issues:

  • A short lens 24-70mm that becomes 28-81mm in video
  • The video codec has only predictive frames (as all Sony) and is less efficient than Panasonic
  • 4K video is limited to 5 minutes before the camera auto shuts down

The RX100 has several other attractive features that the LX100 does not have:

  • ND filter
  • Auto ISO in manual
  • Allows for external recorders
  • Image profiles for video similar to professional equipment
  • The housing does not have a port system
Nauticam RX100 IV
Nauticam RX100 IV

The issues at close range are the same of the LX100 and the RX100 requires similar solutions, but at least you have an M67 thread, what’s more important at 28mm you can use a normal Inon lens UWL-H100 to achieve a wide and rectilinear field of view and also a push on filter. Most likely filters are still a must due to Sony well known issue with custom white balance.

The smaller Sony sensor does mean worse performance at low ISO but having seen the LX100 results this seems to be an issue there as well.

The RX100 mark IV + Nauticam housing comes at similar cost but does not require additional ports. The rig is truly portable at around 1.1 Kg in total.

The 5 minutes limit is not an issue for underwater use although it is a limitation on land for sure.

I am not convinced that any of those two compacts are actually worth investing as both use the H264 video codec that is not designed for 4K. This generates all sorts of issues at low ISO as well as being really processor intensive to the point of over heating the sensor like it happens on the Sony.

If you really want to invest in a small rig for 4K underwater video my preference would be the RX100 mark IV but is very likely that personally I am going to stay on HD for another year

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 GX7 First Test

So time has come for my first video with a micro four third camera the Panasonic GX7. I had only 3 dives in Sharm and conditions on Naama Bay beach were not the best but still good enough to give the set up a good try, this is the resulting video.

I used the Nauticam housing with the Macro 35 port and the M67-LD adapter so that I could use the Inon UWL-H100 wet lens.

As it is not possible to fix the position of the lens I had to take the hood off and therefore I used an Ikelite UR/PRO filter for the 100mm lens. I had to use gaffer tape on the lens and inside the filter or it would be loose but it worked.

The first dive was with the URPRO filter in auto white balance, I was hoping this would give me good results but instead everything came with a strong yellow cast.

From the second dive I used custom white balance and the results were much much better.

To give an idea of the issue this is a shot of a grey card with the UR/PRO filter on land with white balance fixed.

URPRO test card
URPRO test card

You can see what kind of effect the filter bear it is orange in colour.

Other than this I was pretty happy with the GX7 especially because I could use the full zoom with the wide angle lens this is the first time I see it working. The moray eel shot towards the end of the video is an example.

Back home I was not happy at all about the UR/PRO and the inability to work with auto white balance. Probably I could have played with the tint but it did not come to mind. So I got in touch with Peter Rowlands of Magic Filters to see if they had an option that would fit on the Ikelite mount. Peter sent me two sample and they fit perfectly in the ikelite frame, though this is not commercially available I guess you can request those if you are not happy with the ikelite UR/PRO.

This is the same test card with the magic auto filter.

DSC04030

You can see that it looks less orange and also slightly colder.

I did some tests and the UR/PRO is a warmer filter with 2700K temperature whilst the magic auto is 3200K. The magic is however more red and has more magenta tint than the UR/PRO.

For me this means that the magic will work better in auto and will require less custom white balance. However those 500K difference mean you will eventually need to custom white balance once you go below 18-21 meters. I know people say filter work until 21 meters anyway but I have tried with deeproof down to 30 and on a bright day it was still good.

So if you are not happy with the yellow cast of your UR/PRO in auto white balance is definitely worth giving magic filters a go.

The GX7 confirmed all the good features including the ex tele mode

Here the shrimps are shot with a single Inon UCL-165 and then the close up of the head uses ex tele that pushes well over super macro.

Look at the incredible ability to refocus in video mode. See how focus locks on the shrimps when I press the button.

Overall the GX7 can do pretty much everything on a single dive with a wet wide angle lens and a close up lens. You can cover from 100 degrees wide to super macro. The fact you can zoom with the wide angle removes the need to take the lens off at every occasion and in fact in the red sea you barely need to have any other lens.

I was not particularly happy with the lack of hood that the ikelite filter wants removed so I experienced the occasional flare. Still pretty good result.

The clip looks much better at home than it does on youtube where the gap with the RX100 seems much smaller.

So as far as video is concerned if you don’t need 4K the GX7 gives you extremely high quality footage and reasonable cost.

A final note I shot this video in 24p at home I can’t tell the difference with 25p see if you can see it!

100,000 visits – In Depth into Sharing Videos on the Internet

Two years and few months later I am pleased my blog hit 100,000 visits. Considering that there is sponsorship and this is pretty much content produced during free time I am well pleased.

So as commemoration topic I want to put a few considerations that spin off a post on the editing and share section of wet pixel.

Many people spend a lot of money on underwater video rigs and use sharing websites such as youtube and vimeo to host or promote their content. The reason is clear those sites have a huge audience and if you have original content you can get a bit of advertising revenue as well that is never a bad thing.

However most of us have noticed that once you upload a file on those websites it looks worse than the original some time much worst. Why does that happen?

The answer lies in two words video compression.

Video compression is a technical subject and my previous post tried to share some of my finding in regards of the reasons why a camera produces video better than another even if the second produces better still images. It is all in the compression effectiveness and the same issue applies when we share our videos on line.

Unfortunately many people do not really know much about this subject and assume that the video editing program they purchased has all the answers and everything is optimised. Well that is not the case. Video produced off the shelf by such programs with default settings may be watchable but are not great and usually worse than the source clip of a good deal.

Another common misconception is that you need to convert a file produced by your device to another format so you can edit.

Finally many people convert files many times and wonder why the result is far off the original clips, not realising that video compression is lossy so each time you manipulate a clip are you are making things worse.

Obviously am talking consumer and prosumer here not RAW video recording at stellar bitrates.

So what is the best way too produce an underwater clip that looks good without spending too much time on it and that when uploaded on the web looks still decent?

To give an idea why a clip like this one shot with a compact camera

Does not look to far off this other clip shot with a semipro camcorder Sony AX100

or a Panasonic GH4

What all 3 clips at 1080p on youtube and honestly evaluate if there price difference is justified you will probably think no and think the second clip is actually a pro.

So why is that?

50% of the problem comes from the editing, I don’t have the details of how the other two clips are done but I know my clip is edited with iMovie, surely not the most advanced tool on the market you would think.

However there are a few tricks of the trade that I will explain to you one at time:

1. Never let your editor convert the files at the import.

Unless your workstation can’t physically process them leave the clips as in. Even think about getting a better computer in the long run if you can’t process files as is.

Many editors convert the files at import, in intermediate formats like prores or Avid that have no temporal compression. Those files unlike the originals have each frame stored like a complete image so that it is easier to edit. If your editor allows you use the original file without any conversion. You can do this in Final Cut using proxy and cheating also in iMovie creating manually event folders and copying mov or mp4 compliant files manually into them.

2. Once you finish your editing use the highest quality option available for export.

This is sometimes a tricky issue as the default options of those programs mention sometimes just a quality option with a slider from low to best. Many programs though, like final cut offer other options and modules for advanced compression.

If you have spent money on the editor spend the extra funds on the advanced codecs as they are worth every penny.

Once you have the advanced codecs (x264 is the one I use and is free plug in for iMovie) use constant quality with factor of 18 and the slowest preset your workstation can bear.

X264 preset go from very fast to placebo, my workstation can tolerate a very slow for 1080p that applies all the most advanced compression settings. This together with quality at 18 gives me an output very similar to the input but much more efficient with a smaller file.

At this point you are nearly there and ready to upload on vimeo and youtube.

Between the two services which one has the best quality?

Vimeo plain and simple, the same file will look better than youtube with less artefacts at the same resolution, however vimeo requires you to have a plus account to upload and share in 1080p whilst youtube is free.

So this is the reason why your files do not look as good as the clips you shot with the camera when you share them.

Now onto the second part why do clips produced with my very expensive equipment look worse than someone with a much cheaper set up and inferior equipment?

This second problem has to do with the way videos are shot.

Many people look on the internet for guidance on how to produce a video clip that looks decent and are tempted by some esoteric terms such as: flat profiles, colour grading, gamma curves etc etc.

They then go into water with their camera set like they have read on the internet and then spend a long time editing their clips, after all that effort the result image is a bit soft and the colors are washed out.  This seems to be quite a common issue especially with pros.

http://www.peterwalker.com/komodo.html

Note that the two videos above are probably two of my favourites of the last few years. However check the difference between the close up shots with lights or the land shots and the wide angle with natural light? Very different

This instead is an example of someone who knows how to work with the limitation of the set up:

Flat profiles and color grading may work very well when the environment is controlled in a studio situation or where there is plenty of light but in water this is seldom the case. So the best help is to get it right first time and if needed use a filter for your ambient light shots.

Many people including me used to be a white balance evangelist but I have to say with years I have lost interest and I think is greatly overrated.

This video from ikelite is my absolute favourite

The best part is at 0:45 comparing filter with auto white balance and filter with manual white balance. The clips says looks at the purple that comes with the manual white balance but actually that is a horrible hue there!

I have spent the entire 2012-2014 trips trying to perform custom white balance with various cameras, with various degree of success. When I was in Raja Ampat I once left the camera in auto and realised the color where the best I ever got. Though this was a mistake but after few months when I reviewed the clips and how they were taken I realised the truth, even since I have never hit the custom white balance button once on my RX100 and I am preparing to do exactly the same on the GX7.

So my five cents into video editing and doing something decent for sharing on the internet is based around the following key principles:

  1. Get the clip right in camera. Use the settings that make the clip look great at the outset, experiment until you are happy of the results. Forget about theory focus on what you like.
  2. Don’t let your editor alter the clips at all and use no or minimum grading or even try to do no correction at all including contrast and exposure any time the editor touches the clip something is damaged.
  3. Export with advanced settings using all the CPU power you have at hand to produce a high quality but as small as possible file

Good luck for your next trip, I am very much looking forward to mine!