Category Archives: wide angle

Red Sea Workshop with Alex Mustard – Part VI Schooling Fish

On Friday we were up for our last 3 dives at Shark Reef the current had not changed but this time I decided to give more a go to the schooling fish after setting up all the backgrounds I wanted.

As you can see from the image on the title we had more of the usual divers chasing fish but this did not deter me this time as I developed a specific technique to do the dive that I used fully on the last two photo dives.

So after a bit of experimental shots like this one

Batfish school from Top
Batfish school from Top

It was time to give it a proper go. To be honest is not that I like batfish that much and probably this is one fish that you can shoot in RAW in ambient light however if you do that you need to sacrifice quite a few ISO stops. With strobes the issue is to get the school in a formation that allows you to do a good job with lighting. This is my best shot for the session.
Schooling Batfish on Reef
What I like about this shot is the light on the fish or most of it where you can see yellow fins but also the background and a hint of surface.

Other fish that featured on the day were jacks but catching a school of those running past is quite hard unless the school is really big and they circle you.

Jacks Schooling
Jacks Schooling

In those type of formation you have all sort of issues with hightlights form the strobes in fact I was shooting 1/4 of power.

Giant trevallies made a more interesting single fish shot like this one.

Giant Trevally
Contrary to what you may think this is a shot with strobes otherwise you would not see the texture of the fish as you see it. Maybe a busy background but good technical exercise.

I also attempted a few anthias shots just to try a well tested technique to get them buzzing out the reef

Red Reefs
In the middle of the dives while I was waiting the barracuda school came out to play. Barracudas are quite tough as they require strobes to lit properly and I find the multitude of black and white shots that you see a bit boring as the fish texture is what makes the shot.

You have several challenges with the formation, if the school is big is difficult to take it all unless you are on the bottom or on the top. In the first case you need to control bubbles in the second you shoot the bottom so better be neat.

Anyway with a bit of patience I got the shot that I wanted

Arrows
It is impossible to illuminate properly all of them but this shot has got the right geometry and I think is quite pleasant.

On the second dive I was lucky to spend some time with a Giant Barracuda that was literally commanding the school at sight, very rewarding from a diving point of view I got so excited that I kept shooting with a relatively slow shutter speed however the fish that is lit by the strobe is well crisp.

Giant Barracuda issuing orders
Giant Barracuda issuing orders

This shot is much deeper than the previous so the blue is colder but still makes for an interesting shot.

On dive 3 I decided to do a bit of video although I had not taken my favorite lens so I had to apply a filter directly on the camera lens. Moreover I had forgot the setting Toy effect on from some other experiment and whilst this is off in RAW it came back in video so the result is a soft warmer image…yuk still was fun to put it together so here it goes

It was time to rinse the gear (if you could call that hosing it quickly on the dive platform) and get ready to leave the day after. On the last day we were asked to put together a selection of our best 10 pictures and were give a video with some gopro footage taken by the ops manager plus our slideshow. Considering the time it was spent to do it the result is excellent.I hope this has given you an idea of the workshop that I definitely recommend, on the next post I will write my personal lessons learned from such experience.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Turtle and Dive Guide
Turtle and Dive Guide

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

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

Failed Silhouette
Failed Silhouette

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

Silhouette after lightroom
Silhouette after lightroom

Not bad huh?

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

Fish Portrait
Fish Portrait

Though my favorite is another
Masked Butterflies

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

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

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

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

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

 

Sony RX100 Mark III – Is it worth upgrading?

UPDATED 23 July 2014

Once again Sony has updated their RX100 camera with a stunning new release that will surely be a market leader at least until the release of the new promised Panasonic large compact sensor with 4K video recording.

So the question is again is it worth throwing our hard-earned money to this new model and housing or should we stay with what we have got? The Mark I and II are still available at reduced price though it is becoming harder to find Mark I housing as new.

The answer to the question is: it depends on what you are planning to do with your RX100, for some users an upgrade may not be required or even not advised let’s see why. no don’t waste any time with the Mark III.

Every time a new camera is released and reviewed I get a bunch of emails with subject: New Camera XYZ what do you think?

The best reviews you find online are made by sites that specialize in land photography and no consideration is given to underwater use. So not necessarily a camera that is a top performer on land will remain such underwater as this depends on specific characteristics that may be different or even opposite to land requirements.

So those reviews cannot be taken as they are they need interpretation. Personally I use two sites for camera reviews imaging resource and dxo mark I use the first to understand ergonomics, performance and to compare images with other cameras side to side, and the second to check sensor quality and lenses. Imaging resource has made a good article to compare the various RX100 on land read it here

http://www.imaging-resource.com/news/2014/06/16/battle-of-the-rx100s-sonys-rx100-vs-rx100-ii-vs-rx100-iii

If you look at a sensor comparison on DXOMark you would conclude that there is no need to upgrade at all if you use your camera primarily for still pictures as the sensor are practically identical in performance as this table demonstrates:

RX100 Sensor Ratings
RX100 Sensor Ratings

As you can see the differences in dynamic range, color depth or ISO are pretty much intangible.

However there are other metrics that are also important let’s see which ones and why.

Flash Recycling

We want our camera on board flash to recycle quickly after a full dump as the RX100 has only TTL flash and the flash can’t set to a minimum manual setting without consequences. Those are the flash recycling times at full output (a full dump will always occur when you don’t aim strobes directly at the subject for example wide angle)

Mark I: 7.2 seconds

Mark II” 4.4 seconds

Mark III: 3.3 seconds

The Mark III is pretty quick and the Mark II is acceptable the first release is definitely too slow.

Minimum Capture Area & Zoom

What is the smallest area that can be captured at wide end at the closest focus distance? This gives you an idea of out of the box close up performance

I do not have precise metrics yet but looking at comparable images on imaging-resource seems like the Mark III is worse than the Mark I and II of at least 20% with a capture width around 90mm versus the already not very good 76mm of the Mark I and II.

To fix this issue we use close up lenses in water that fix to a great extent the focal length and then zoom in to achieve magnification which means longer camera lens more magnification I roughly estimate that the Mark III will be worse of a factor of 0.7x so things will look 1.4x bigger with the Mark III this is terrible news for macro shooters as it means you need to be on top of the subject to fill the frame, this is in some cases not possible.

I have estimated that you need 11 diopters to achieve 1:1 macro so the Subsee 10 and Inon UCL100 that gave real macro on the Mark I and II won’t be sufficient. With two UCL-165 or Dyron 7 you are looking at 2.58″ or 6.5 cm from the back of the first close up lens that means you will be right on top of the subject which is not really an option.

Update July 18th: Nauticam has confirmed that even with their SMC lens the most powerful diopter on the market the capture area is 38mm wide so does NOT achieve 1:1 macro as I suggested…

 

Lens Focal Range

The new mark III has a 24-70mm lens compared to the 28-100mm of the Mark I and II what does this mean?

  • Less magnification with close up lenses and no real 1:1 macro
  • Vignetting or even not possible to use fisheye lenses designed for 28mm lenses

This means that with the Mark III your scene selection will be restricted  compared to the 150 to 24 of the mark I and II.

Update 23 July I have done some tests that confirm my suspicions please look at the following frames. The Mark III once zoom to 28mm actually works fine with the Mark II housing except the power button.

RX100 Mark III with Inon UCL-165 Close up lens
RX100 Mark III with Inon UCL-165 Close up lens

With a single Inon UCL-165 (+6.06 in water) the minimum capture area width is 5.4 cm which is bigger than the Mark II 4.8 cm. Not only that the distance from the top of the lens is only 9cm.

With stacked UCL-165+UCL330 total power 9.09 diopter we get this

Stacked UCL-165+UCL330
Stacked UCL-165+UCL330

4.4 cm width however we start running into problems as the minimum distance from the lens is only 4cm.

We finally achieve 1:1 with two stacked UCL-165 however the distance from the top of the lens is 3cm definitely too little

two UCL-165 stacked
two UCL-165 stacked

I have also tried the Mark III at 28mm and it still vignettes with the Inon UWL-H100 in air until around 30mm. Instead the old UWL-100 28AD is fine at 28mm either way image looks narrower than with the Mark II but this may be an issue with the old housing.

So basically no macro with the Mark III and no decent fisheye as expected.

Underwater Photography Conclusion

Due to the reasons above the best camera for the job is the RX100 Mark II, with the Mark I coming close but being penalized by the strobe recycle time, the Mark III really is not an option for the serious shooter due to limitations of the lens.

Let’s have a look at some other features of the Mark III that are not relevant for stills as much as they are for video.

ND filter

Shooting at the surface with plenty of ambient light or on land can create problems if you want to follow the 180 shutter rule, the ND filter of the Mark III ensures your footage will be smooth on land and in water. Take into account that on land you can apply optical ND filters (I have it for the Mark II) so this is really for underwater use when you are shooting at 1/50 or 1/60 shutter speed and the scene is too bright when you hit f/11 and the lowest possible ISO. Having now tested this feature I confirm it is really valid on land on a bright day to keep the aperture wide.

Clear Image Zoom

This is a special digital zoom with edge enhancement that only worked on JPEG stills on Mark I and II but is now available on video on the mark III. This means an additional 2x zoom is available bringing the focal length to 140mm that is more than adequate for macro. This is not an option on RAW images so irrelevant for still users.

23 July update Having done some tests for macro video (as stacking two diopters is not an option) the image quality suffers but anyway this is all you are left with lacking any other options.

Clear image zoom 1.5x on single UCL-165
Clear image zoom 1.5x on single UCL-165

Image stabilizer

The Mark III adds a further stabilizer mode with additional crop that takes the lens to 96mm equivalent in video mode. This is well worth for super macro hand-held footage and effectively provides an option where you can either use the super steady shot and no clear image zoom when hand-held or leave on only the optical stabilizer and use clear image zoom. If you shoot macro on walls and not on flat sand this is a well worth feature.

Update 23 July 2014

Following a side by side comparison you can find on this link

It follows that there is really no 5 axis stabilisation and only an additional mode with more crop with correction for rolling shutter that anyway does not really work!

Full Sensor Readout Video

The mark III reads the whole sensor not just alternate lines when capturing video this increases should increase the resolution to a great degree and increases the perceived resolution and clarity of your videos. However this does not seem to correspond to real life tests. See this sample with a side by side comparison the Mark III looks visibly worse than its predecessor even on the higher bitrate XAVC!!!

Video Formats

The Mark II introduced a well welcomes 24 Mbps 24/25 fps mode now the Mark III introduces a 50 Mbps mode in XAVC (that can be rewrapped into normal MP4) that produces even better footage although it will be quite demanding on your workstation and most likely some of your home devices will struggle playing the files (my Apple Tv 3rd generation only plays up to 25 Mbps) when uploading files online this will downgrade to 8 Mbps so won’t matter unless you have a good player at home. improves nothing and requires manipulation as the files are actually not MP4 compliant as they have WAV audio (!) they are also inside the AVCHD folder which is painful. As seen above seems like the encoding has got worse on the AVCHD files and only the higher bitrate compares but still does not match the mark II at the lower 24 Mbps!!!

HDMI connection

You can now connect the Mark III to an external HDMI recorder if you are into that kind of semi pro usage. For the normal user this is not relevant: if you are into spending that money probably you have already a DSLR or a Panasonic GH4.

Video Auto Focus

The auto focus in video has got worse you can see an example in the stabiliser test, and actually plenty of frames are blurred on the mark III. Awful!

Underwater Video Conclusion

The Mark I with only a 28 Mbps 50/60p mode is definitely a poor choice, the Mark II is acceptable to most users. and the mark III promises even better performance if you are a serious video user and have another camera to take pictures the Mark III may be well worth it.

The Mark III despite some useful feature is actually a let down and perform worse in practical terms than the mark II that remains my camera of choice.

Summary

If you have a Mark I camera and are frustrated with flash recycling you should be looking at a cheaper upgrade to the Mark II.

If you have a Mark II and your priority is photography upgrading is NOT recommended.

If you don’t have any RX100 get yourself a Mark II or wait for the new Panasonic as the Mark III is pretty much a pile of crap.

Is it the first time I am actually sending back a camera and invoking consumer rights but when I spoke to the camera shop they told me they had other returns and this is not really an upgrade!!!

Look Right inThe above image was shot at 100mm equivalent with one diopter with the RX100 Mark II. You won’t be able to fill the frame with the same close up lens and the Mark III camera

Snell Windows with your compact camera

Snell’s window is a phenomenon by which an underwater viewer sees everything above the surface through a cone of light of width of about 96 degrees [From Martin Edge: Underwater Photography].

During my last Gapapagos Trip there was a bit of an issue in terms of photography subjects, in essence most of them were fairly big like sharks, turtles, eagle rays and of course divers.

After a while shooting or trying to shoot those uncooperative models I had the idea to try and do different things such as silhouettes and Snell windows. You can also combine both as we did in this case.

So what do you need to shoot image of a Snell window:

1. A lens that is wide enough, you need a bit more than 96º field of view to take the whole window

2. Something interesting on the surface (if you have calm water you can see right through)

3. An interesting subject as silhouette to contrast the clear water if there are waves and you can’t easily see through.

A normal flat wet wide angle lens for our compact camera is not sufficient to capture the snell’s windows as in this example

Safety Stop
Divers at Safety Stop – taken with Inon UWL-H100 at wide end

Take into account that even with a fisheye lens on an SLR you can’t capture the Snell’s window on the vertical axis as the field of view will fall short a few degrees.

With a compact camera a semifisheye lens will capture the edges of the window if correctly aimed on the diagonal and horizontal dimensions and will fall short on the vertical.

Snell to boat
Snell window divers exiting the water or ascending – UWL-04 semi fisheye lens Canon S95

I am reporting some of the calculated field of view for the most popular lenses at present for compact at 3:2 image format

Wet Lens Diag FOV Hor Fov Ver FOV Flare/Ghost
UWL-04 151.95 123.22 79.85 Ghost Possible
UWL-100 28AD 149.01 120.97 78.48 No
UWL-28 160.56 129.75 83.81 Both
UWL-H100 157.85 127.71 82.58 No

 

All those lenses will take a good Snell’s window I have not tried the UWL-28 and I have some concerns this lens may flare as it usually does but I do not know for sure.

Both the Inon lenses produce sharp images with no defect.

In general small sensor cameras like the Canon S series will work fine with the fix/idas lenses and should produce good results also of normal shots through the water.

Using the UWL-04 or UWL-28 with large sensor cameras like the RX100 there could be a sharpness issue a larger apertures so make sure you close that at f/8 or smaller instead of using the shutter speed to balance exposure if you want to go through the water.

Snell’s windows are uncommon with compact camera shooters as they are considered an advanced subject but they can be taken. I will be taking more in a next trip to Egypt I hope for calm surface conditions so I can go through the surface with the shots. Failing that this is very easy to practice in a swimming pool.

Have fun shooting snell’s windows!

Sony RX100 White Balance Woes

In one of my first posts on this blog I covered the subject of setting white balance with the Sony RX100.

It may be useful to have a quick recap on the topic:

  • For pictures setting a custom white balance is not useful if you shoot in RAW as the amount of correction in post processing is far superior*
  • For video (that is shot in compressed format) setting the appropriate white balance for your shots is essential

There are exceptions to this rule, some people like to set custom white balance even in RAW when they shoot ambient light pictures. This is because changing the white balance shifts the histogram and therefore if you had taken a shot with an incorrect white balance you may retrieve wrong information from the histogram. Personally I do not do this most of the ambient light shots I judge by eye and not histogram or are silhouettes anyway but may be useful to know.

The other exception is when you shoot a raw video format with bit rates in excess of 100 Mbps, in that case the footage is captured in a bland format lacking any real depth and contrast and things are corrected in post processing. This does not apply to any consumer camera that works in AVCHD or Mp4 with bit rate lower than 50 Mbps in any case.

It follows that setting the appropriate white balance for our videos is something that is important otherwise our clips will look dull, green or have some sort of color cast we do not like.

As many of you RX100 I have experience with the infamous Custom White Balance 9900K error. In theory if you set your custom white balance with the camera in P mode over a neutral target this error should only occur if the color temperature is out of range (>9900K) unfortunately this is not the case and you get this error pretty much always with our beloved camera. At the beginning I thought that this was due to my cheap PADI slate, but after various attempts against my hand, sand, buddy’s tank, the sun I have to think there is some genuine issue here.

So I got myself whibal card, that on my test on land performs amazingly well with both the RX100 and the Nikon D7100.

The first thing we can realize is that the auto white balance setting is rather cool in outdoor scenes, whilst it tends to be warmer in indoor scenes with artificial light.

Auto White Balance
Auto White Balance

When you take a custom white balance the colors appear warmer and the bluish cast departs and the yellows come back.

DSC01608

This is particularly bad news if you shoot underwater without a filter and think of using auto white balance as those results will be pretty ugly.

The whibal card has a specific black mark that if illuminated tells you the white balance reading is incorrect because of reflections. I thought this was the key to the 9900 Error, unfortunately I was wrong.

It just fails 100% reliably really painful so I could not get rid of my trusted red filter for the Galapagos trip. I even tried setting the white balance with the filter and it would fail as well.

So I went back to auto white balance and red filter and I am pretty happy with the results, many people have asked me if I have manipulated the footage in post processing as the colors look very deep and some have even said unnatural. Even so shooting at 1/50 means a relatively low ISO and in the specific trip another f/stop of aperture was not really significant but I would have like to have the option of working without the filter, sadly this was not an option.

For what concerns white balance just a few things I want to say:

1. At depth there is no color anyway so what your eye can see it is not what it is, the proof is when you use lights or strobes things look much better than the naked eye. Using your visual as a reference can produce dull results.

2. You have to set an appropriate white balance for your scene, this means removing the cast. If a scene has no cast and the colors look saturated this is not a white balance issue on its own but may due to the camera settings. The RX100II is one of the less saturated camera on the market. The mark I instead is pretty saturated take this into account.

3. Footage that looks dull IS in fact ugly. The fact you set custom white balance with or without a filter does not mean that results is the perfect result, there is no such thing in fact and as colors disappear at depth white balance is not that effective anyway

Nick Hope sometime ago published some interesting tests on wetpixel

http://wetpixel.com/forums/index.php?showtopic=16970&page=8#entry122288

It turns out that there is more than meets the eye.

Just to clarify the only color correction in my Galapagos clip is:

1. In the scene of the dolphins I was pointing the camera upwards and did not have time to take the filter off so ended up with a red cast, I performed a white balance adjustment in iMovie on the opposite value of the tint I was getting until I liked it.

2. In the scene where there is a group of Galapagos sharks and the close up of the eagle ray I have reduced the blue gain as it was over saturated

In all other cases the only changes were increase of contrast or reduction of brightness. When the water was green like at the end in the Punta Vicente Roca scene I did not touch it to make it look artificially blue.

Again for those who ask I use a deeproof push on filter for the Inon UWL-H100 this filter is my preferred for the only reason that is actually the only one available on the market that fits on the lens. Personally I would much prefer a plastic filter like the ikelite/URPRO but this one is glass. It seems to correspond to a deep sunset 2700K with magenta tint of +5 on the RX100 but I have no tools to measure it I can only say it works.

So my recommendation for the RX100 is to get this solution as the Inon lens has the best optical quality and a hood that comes very handy to reduce flare. There are other lenses that fit the RX100 but have no hood. Obviously an not even considering the fisheye style lenses as distortion is ugly and placing a filter under the lens is a very bad idea.

Galapagos: Sony RX100 Mark II Photos

I have mentioned the conditions we found in Galapagos in the previous post so no need to repeat myself.

One of the things I was told before going is that the last dive of the day tends to be pretty dark so not good for video, therefore I used this for photos were I was expecting to use strobes at all times.

I made a mistake as I should have taken the still rig also on the second cousins rock dive anyway I am quite happy on how things turned out considering I did only 4 dives and took 117 photos I am pretty happy I could pick 20 that I consider decent.

The whole set is here

Watching you

The rig I decided to pack at the end had 6+8 inches segment so it looked pretty cumbersome on land.

Photo RIg on Land
Photo RIg on Land

In water the setup looked like a glider with a significant wing span

Photo Rig Underwater
Photo Rig Underwater

The reason why I took arms so long is that I was expecting sharks to be 4-6 feet away and quite a bit of particles in the water.

I was right. Just have a look at the following two shots, the first taken with a Canon S95 and a single 8″ arm.

Turtle with single strobe 8" arm
Turtle with single strobe 8″ arm

You can see the considerable amount of backscatter despite the 1/1600 shutter speed.

This is another turtle on the same dive

Turtle with twin strobes
Turtle with twin strobes

This time two strobes on the longer arms are used, even at 1/320 this looks neat. The turtle looks bigger as the lens is not as wide as the previous, shooting distance is the same.

The arms proved to be good for the sharks as expected, I used aperture of f/4 for most shots, ISO 100/200 and shutter 1/60 to 1/125

This is emotionally the best shot

Galapagos Shark Watching me
Galapagos Shark Watching me

Later on in the snorkeling trips I took couple of split shots.

Unfortunately the weather was not good and the sky cloudy so I had to play with the graduated filter.

Galapagos Penguin Split Shot
Galapagos Penguin Split Shot

The purist will notice that the water line is not neat, as I am shooting with a wet lens the back of the lens has water as well so to avoid to see that I shoot portrait with the back of the lens in the water, which is a limitation but on a good day will produce interesting shots regardless, also the lens is only 9cm diameter and is flat (Inon UWL-H100)

I took some close ups but even the sea horses were huge so no need for close up lenses.

Giant Pacific Seahorse
Giant Pacific Seahorse

Funny enough I took this at f/5.6 1/60 after reading on DXOMark that the RX100 resolution is actually better at f/5.6 than it is at f/11.

The lens is at 35mm equivalent at the shooting distance I used the depth of field is only a couple of cm and as the background is quite plain I did not bother trying a black background that I could possibly not even achieve. This was a TTL shot whilst all the sharks and wide angle were taken with the strobes in manual.

Another great feature on land of the RX100 is the panorama, which I used in Bartolome and other places

Bartolome Panorama
Bartolome Panorama

In general the conditions were very difficult and I am happy with what I could achieve in just 4 dives.

I will be taking the same arms and strobes configuration to the Red Sea in a few weeks but with the Inon UWL-100 with dome. I expect better results as the conditions are usually fabulous in comparison, probably I could do with shorter arms but once in water the set up is not heavy so I will keep it like that

 

 

 

Galapagos: Sony RX100 Mark II Video

The time finally came for our trip to Galapagos and I was ready with a set of think rubber suits to overcome the cold water. I just bought a 5mm Oneill Sector (wonderful suit) a 3mm hooded vest, kevlar gloves and a 5mm 4th Element short john. Well the short john was not used and for most I used just the wetsuit and a set of O’Neill Thermo X unders (very recommended) as El Nino is coming and the water was warmer at 25-27C or 77-80F.

This means lack of schooling hammerhead at shallow depth close to the reef, they were in the blue. We had however our good dose of schooling barracuda, tuna (in the 1000s) and even galapagos sharks

This is the video I produced

If you have problems with playing in your country use vimeo instead

The conditions were difficult with low visibility and in some sites very green water as you can see here

Green waterQuestions will come about what I used etc etc so here is the list

  • Sony RX100II in Nauticam housing
  • FIx adapter for Inon LD mount
  • Inon UWL-H100
  • Deeproof blue water filter
  • Sola video lights 1200 (just few shots of the barracudas and some close ups)
  • Combination of arms and sometimes no arms
  • Ultralight tray TR-DM with extension and handles

The video has been produced with iMovie 9.0.4 no stabilization performed except the scene with the moray eels mating (very mild)

I shot the whole trip in shutter priority 1/50th of a second in the 25 fps 24 Mbps format. After some tests at home I have decided to use this mode as I can’t physically play the 50 fps files the camera produces on any of my devices differently. The 25 fps gives a film look and very smooth footage. This format is only available on the RX100II and not on the original RX100 so the consideration I made at the time for video settings of the RX100 remain valid.

The benefit of 1/50th shutter speed is a full f/stop of light the disbenefit is that at the surface and for backlit shots this is too slow, in those cases I go back to program mode or increase shutter speed to 1/100 or 1/200 or more.

For what concerns the editing I import the raw files in iMovie without using the conversion and then export with x264 using very slow preset and level 4.0 compatibility to use it with my appleTv.

I do minimal color correction in some cases I had to eliminate the red color cast of the filter when shooting upwards, to do that I change the white balance to top yellow until i remove the cast.

In some cases I had to put the green gain to the max for the same problem but in all other cases there is NO color correction in post.

When you work with AVCHD cameras the footage is compressed and the key is to get it right in camera.

As Galapagos conditions were challenging, although less than I expected, I used gloves in some dives to hang on to the barnacles and I also modified the set up to completely eliminate the lights.

I would dive with two 3″ segments and two 6″ Inon Mega float arms when I had the lights on and for other shots in ambient light I would have this set up here that looks odd but it is very effective and almost neutral at only 120 grams in water. The position of the floats means the camera stays upright at all times.

Compact tray for ambient light
Compact tray for ambient light

I would put a single Sola light on top of the housing not for video purpose but to signal the dive master when I was a bit far in the murky or dark waters. I used this set up on almost all blue water dives (Darwin and Wolf) and the normal set up with lights for the South and West sites with murky or green water.
There will be a separate post on the photos, I did a total of 18 dives with the camera of which 4 where photo and 14 video. You can see an example in the featured image.

I have now ran some statistics on the final clip that I produced

I used a total of 41 video clips:

ISO average was 273 with the following breakdown

  • 2 clips at 160
  • 30 clips at 200
  • 6 clips at 400
  • 3 clips at 800

f/stop average was 3.1 hyperfocal distance on average 1.16 meters. So if I were able to shoot without filter I would have not gained anything in terms of sharpness as most subjects were further away

I would consider the Galapagos and the dive trip I did not the best in terms of brightness and visibility so I would conclude that the RX100II with the Inon UWL-H100 and a red filter is the best set up for wide angle video in terms of performance, ease of use and flexibility.

 

Tuition Day with Martin Edge

During the London Dive Show I attended a talk from Martin where he covered a number of shooting situations and how to deal with them in terms of composition and settings.

There was a promotion for a two for one tuition day with him that my buddy was keen to take so few months later we made our way to Dorset for a day of underwater photography with Martin.

This will be my first day of shooting with the RX100 Mark II albeit in a pool with my new arms and lenses so I was looking forward to it.

We arrived in Poole the night before and got ready for an 8.30 start with Martin.

We started off with a review of some basic exposure concepts and then looked at competition winning pictures and trying to identify what makes a wow picture. It was extremely useful!

Afterwards we went through our trips pictures so he could see what needed improving. Then look at what was needed for the next trip.

With that in mind we set up to jump in the pool to take some pictures the objective was to improve my buddy close ups and portraits as apparently her wide angle is as good as it gets with the Canon S95 used see featured image on this post.

Pool conditions were low visibility and plenty of suspended particles as the pool is used for kids swimming lessons let me give you an idea!

Pool Conditions
Pool Conditions

The first task was to shoot a frog with a view of eliminating shadows in its mouth. Start with one strobe and finish off with two.

Frog at 28mm
Frog at 28mm

The frog with the bare port gives you an idea of the size and the complexity of the task with one strobe. There are shadows in his mouth.

Frog at 50mm
Frog at 50mm

I then shot a portrait at 50mm, the reason why you see shadows more on the left is because I set the strobe at different powers.

Frog single diopter
Frog single diopter

The magnification of the RX100 is little so I went on with a first Inon UCL-165 and full zoom at 100mm equivalent. Note that everything is pretty much sharp at f/11.

Frog Double Diopter
Frog Double Diopter

With two Inon UCL-165 focusing on the mouth will result in this and the eyes being in focus and the rest blurred because of lack of depth of field.

Octopus fisheye
Octopus fisheye

I then moved to an Octopus rich of textures. I took the first shot with my Inon UWL-100 28AD with dome.

Octopus at 28mm
Octopus at 28mm

The same octo at 28mm fills the frame much more of course.

Octopus at 50mm
Octopus at 50mm

The Octopus at 50mm looks even better. I have topped up the lighting on this one.

Octopus single diopter
Octopus single diopter

I then took this guy with a single UCL-165 note the depth of field insufficient to keep the back of the head in focus, results though are exceptional.

Octopus double diopter
Octopus double diopter

With two close up lenses we go back to the depth of field problem even at f/11.

I thought I had at that point nailed all focus and strobe issues, especially considering I shot with single auto focus, I did not bother using manual focus at all with exception of some double diopter shots.

I then tried a few surface reflections with the fisheye this being the best.

Falcon Fisheye
Falcon Fisheye

You can see the outside of the pool and the windows on the top.

Family Fisheye
Family Fisheye

Afterwards made my own composition of statues for a fisheye shot that I think came out very well. The Z240 performed extremely well in both TTL and external auto as well as manual.

Child with dog
Child with dog

Martin asked me to have a go at the child with the dog as it is extremely difficult to lit up properly.

I went for an alternative strobe placement with light from the bottom as if it was in a gallery. He was impressed with the results.

Lion Mouth Single Diopter
Lion Mouth Single Diopter

To finish off my last task was the tongue and eyes of a lion that I shot with a single UCL-165.

Overall a great day and I definitely recommend you the tuition day with Martin. He is a great person and extremely good at teaching I can see the benefits my buddy had right away.

Lessons learned on the RX100

There were a few things that I learned about my RX100 still rig mode that I want to share with you.

  • The autofocus is incredible. I even used this for macro. If the camera does not focus is because you don’t have enough depth of field and that is it.
  • Best macro performance is with a single diopter and also had a benefit of an increased working distance, this means the shots will need cropping for extremely small critters
  • Two diopters resulted in near bokeh with less than 1mm in focus and difficult to autofocus (though the LCD is great and I could see if things were in focus or not I think this is personal and I would recommend DMF to others)
  • Performance at wide angle with the UWL-100 28AD with dome is stellar
  • Inon float arms (I used two 6″ segments) were perfect with lens holders on it.
  • Inon Z240 twin set with one in TTL and the second in external auto delivered creative lighting without headaches, remember to buy the AUTO diffuser that does not come with the strobe
  • Strobes in manual allowed for even more creativity and the level of precision compared to sea and sea was staggering
  • Despite pool conditions the RX100 focused well in low light and much better than the Canon S95 that was returning focus error on the same exposures. I will not bother having a focus light with this camera and only have a single sola on night dives

That’s all for now any question just drop a comment

 

Sony RX100 – In depth into digital settings

Over a year ago I wrote a set of posts for the RX100 and some of the quirks of this wonderful little camera.

Steadyshot – aka Image Stabilizer

The RX100 has a specific Active mode for video not available when taking stills. I described the differences between those two modes in this post

Everyone is so obsessed of having the widest possible field of view that other more important considerations are completely missed out.

If you have ever shot a video with a GoPro underwater you know how bad is the quality of the image in the corners, this is because the flat port combined with the gopro lens create many optical aberrations.

Our RX100, especially the original Mark I, also has an issue in the corners, this is not just an underwater issue is also true on land. The lens on the camera has a lot of distortion and when corrections are applied to the image this effectively creates corner softness.

When we add a wide angle lens the image quality in the corners deteriorates further especially if the lens is flat creating a lot of chromatic aberrations that you can see in pictures with a blue or yellow halo around the edges.

Standard Mode
Standard Steadyshot

Now the good news the Active steady shot mode crops the image of a factor of 1.15x getting rid of the majority of the corner softness.

There is of course a price to pay which is the loss of some of the angle of view. According to my calculation if you use an Inon UWL-H100 you start from more than the declared 100.8º more around 104º in fact. When the active mode is on this drops to around 95º. Remember all those values represent the largest incident angle that means the diagonal field of view.

Active Steadyshot
Active Steadyshot

A lens with 100º diagonal field of view means 90º horizontal. So after the active mode is engaged our horizontal field of view looks more like 84º which is equivalent to a 20mm lens. This is sufficient for most close wide angle shots and plenty for ambient light videos of large fish or wrecks. I generally suggest to keep the Active mode on, of course if you can be in a fixed position and hold the camera really steady you can also use the standard mode and obtain more field of view. There is a chance though that you will need to crop the extra field of view if you need to stabilize in the editing phase.

For macro shots without a tripod the steadyshot is a must and helps greatly. I do not even see a reason to take it off if you have a tripod as the RX100 does not have a particularly small capture area.

Digital Zoom

This brings the second subject: digital zoom, if you shoot pictures you avoid it as what you are doing is to crop the image, something you can do yourself in processing. In video though there is very little quality loss as we use just 2 megapixels of the 20 of the RX100 camera. In my test you can use digital zoom until the 2x multiplier is reached, this corresponds to 7.2x magnification and see no noticeable degradation in the image quality. The other benefit is that the depth of field is the same despite the magnification so you can save yourself stacking two diopters with all the difficulties that follow in terms of focus.

Max Optical Zoom with UCL-165
Max Optical Zoom with UCL-165

Digital zoom is always on in video mode and I recommend to use it with a single close up lens before embarking on dual diopters or a strong single diopter. Also take into account that with a single +6 diopter your working distance is around 4″ which is ideal for most critters except pygmy seahorse and bobtail squid or some shrimps.

Digital Zoom 2x with UCL-165
Digital Zoom 2x with UCL-165

Video Lights

In another post I have explained that getting hung up about light angle coverage is not really the only thing to consider, there is also luminous flux and quality of light. With my Sola 1200 I can cover something between 2 and 4 feet away with decent results further away is just back scatter. Generally this is ok for some close portrait work and close wide angle and of course not sufficient to cover part of a wreck or much larger subjects. You may decide not to bother at all with lights for wide angle and just render your deep wreck dives in black and white in this case consider that a pair of Sola Dive 800 at $399 are a high quality macro set up, function as dive light and provide some decent close wide angle portrait illumination. For macro shots you need much less than that, I set my fill light at minimum (300 lumens) and the main light at 2/3 which is 600 lumens, I can shoot at f/11 with this light intensity. You can see me shooting in the feature image.

Which Fisheye Lens for the RX100?

Recently I have started building my RX100 Mark II photo rig and as part of this I had to choose a wet fisheye lens.

For video I do not like the barrel distortion of a fisheye lens, and on top of that you can’t attach a push on filter to a dome so for me those are two big no when it comes to the RX100 and its white balance error woes.

For still instead I shoot only RAW never white balance in the water and a fisheye lens is required so that I can have human size strobe arms when shooting close focus wide angle at distances between 0 and 16”.

I will focus my discussion on the Nauticam housing starting off with a 67mm thread and go from there.

Currently there are 3 options on the market for the RX100 and come from 3 difference manufacturers. I will go through each one briefly and then we will look more in detail at the two I consider best.

The first lens is the FIX UWL-28M52R, this lens is the smallest of all and was originally design to nicely complement the form factor of a Canon S100 in a fix housing, hence the 52mm thread. The lens has a magnification factor of 0.41x and a diameter of 126mm including the hood, the lens is actually much smaller at around 90mm.

Fix has introduced this lens in 2011 as a replacement of the previous UWL-04 model for two reasons, the first is to have a smaller lens as the UWL-04 was a too big in comparison of the housing, second probably cost though this was never declared. However other people tests and plenty of in water images show that this lens is actually worse than its predecessor. It is also smaller making split over-under shots more difficult.

When Fix withdraw the UWL-04 the manufacturer of the lens continued the production and finally put it back on the market under the i-divesite brand. This lens is the same as the Fix except the label.

Both lenses the old and new fix are pretty much a copy of the old Inon UFL-165, both made of 4 glass elements and an acrylic dome with hard anti scratch coating.

Here is a set of shots for the UWL-04 and the various parts in the box.

UWL-04 Box
UWL-04 Box
UWL-04 package contents
UWL-04 package contents
UWL-04 Hood Cover
UWL-04 Hood Cover
UWL-04 with ring
UWL-04 with ring
UWL-04 back lens
UWL-04 back lens

The last lens on the market is the Inon UWL-H100 with dome. This lens is available with an M67 mount and with an LD bayonet mount. Due to the size and weight of those lenses in water (100 to 500 grams weight and diameter between 125 and 152 mm) a bayonet mount is my preferred choice.

The Inon lens is actually made entirely of glass, the dome is the biggest at 115mm for the lens with an overall diameter of 132mm. This lens is the more suitable to split over under shot and promises a better contrast and less flare than the other lenses with plastic domes. Inon had some concerns about plastic domes and flare following the performance issue of their UFL165 so went for 100% glass for all next generation lenses.

Vignetting with RX100

In certain conditions all those lenses actually have some vignette in water. Despite what you read on shop websites if you look at real pictures there is a bit of that.

The Fix and Idas lenses have an issue with the lateral hood, the shots look clear of vignette on land but in water the magnification of the hood petals makes them show in the picture, we are talking a minimum crop required around 1% and usually on one side. The Inon UWL-H100 has a different issue and it gives in specific situations a tiny bit of vignette in the corners, around 2% of the image needs to be cropped. Both lenses will not vignette when image stabilization is deactivated, the image stabilizer tends to aggravate the issue so if you are obsessed switch it off and try to be steady shooting at speeds of 1/125th of a second or faster. For example on the amount of vignette see the following

UWL-04 note the vignette left center
UWL-04 note the vignette upper left center
DSC02620Corrected
UWL-28M52R again vignette on the left upper side
SONY DSC
UWL-H100 vignette in left corners

I would like to thank Alex Tattersall, Tamas Plotek and Troy Williams for those in water pictures.

Inon UWL-100 28AD

Inon has another lens that is suitable for the RX100 and is the UWL-100 28AD a lens originally introduced in 2005. This lens has a smaller rear element than the UWL-H100 and it is not suited to many cameras with a very large lens aperture. The RX100 however works fine with this lens and contrary to the newer UWL-H100 this lens does not vignette in water or on land. The reason is that the de-magnification of this lens is less than the newer lens 0.63x vs 0.6x. This is the lens I have chosen for my RX100 Mark II and I will compare it here with the UWL-04 I have recently bought for my Canon S95. There are no substantial differences between the UWL-100 28AD and the UWL-H100 in terms of optical quality.

Here are few pictures to compare the lenses, take into account that whilst the weight on land is comparable, once in water the Inon lens is heavier at 400 grams versus 160 of the UWL-04.

UWL-04 UWL-100
UWL-04 UWL-100
UWL-04 UWL-100 profile
UWL-04 UWL-100 profile

 

Image Quality

There is no need to take the lenses in water to compare image quality generally things get worse in water not better so it is sufficient to take a shot on land and see how that goes to have a relative comparison between two lenses. In this example the cameras are on a table exactly in the same position when the shots are taken and use the same settings of ISO, aperture and shutter speed.

The first impression is that the UWL-04 is a tad wider but more rectilinear, the Inon lens has definitely more barrel distortion and is more a fisheye than the UWL-04 is. Looking at mid upper frame you can see that at diagonal level the UWL-100 28AD is actually wider than the UWL-04 that remains wider horizontally. This means looking at the specs can be misleading and results depend on the camera lens combination.

So how do these lenses compare when it comes to corner sharpness and flare?

This is a shot with the UWL-100 in very harsh conditions with sun-rays hitting the lens directly on the dome, you can clearly see the ghosting that comes from it.

UWL-100 Sunlight
UWL-100 Sunlight

This is the same shot in the same place taken with the UWL-04 you immediate notice that the ghosting has a green color. This is most likely due to lack of anti-reflection coating inside the dome and to the color of the inner lens mount.

UWL-04 Sunlight
UWL-04 Sunlight

Looking at the image the picture taken with the Inon has a clearer ghosting but then is sharp in the rest of the image, the UWL-04 image has flare around it with comparable less contrast as we move from the center to the corners.

The other two images are a crop in the corner, you can see that despite the high level of distortion you can still distinguish some detail of the small grass bush in the Inon image, the UWL-04 instead is softer and the bush is basically a uniform green shape with no detail at all.

UWL-100  Crop
UWL-100 Crop
UWL-04 Crop
UWL-04 Crop

Update 28 Feb I have taken some shots with the UWL-H100 and the UFL165AD here are the overviews

Inon UWl-H100
Inon UWl-H100

The UWL-H100 is actually wider than the UWL-04 with the Sony RX100 despite the advertised 144.5 degrees versus 165 of the UWL-04. Has the same level of detail of the UWL-100 28AD

Inon UFL-165 AD
Inon UFL-165 AD

The UFL165AD flare issue is obvious in this shot both lower corners are compromised, this confirms why the UWL-04 is the best option for the Canon S series in terms of flare or vignette.

Looking at the UWL-H100 crop you can see the vignette more apparent in the upper corner and the image sharpness, it is possible that with an M67 mount there is no vignette with a Nauticam housing in most conditions, with LD mount you need to turn image stabiliser off or crop. Considering this is the widest lens it is not a big issue. Once cropped the UWL-H100 gives still the widest field of view but someone maybe be annoyed by this. Zooming in results in the same field of view of the UWL-10- 28AD

Ergonomics

The Inon lens presents the benefit of a bayonet mount, although the lens is heavy it can be removed in water quite easily, the UWL-04 has some issues whereby the adapter ring would unscrew instead of the lens, this can be avoided fixing the adapter on the lens but then there is no lens cap that would fit the larger M67 screw in the box so you need to buy one yourself, generally the size of the petals make this lens impossible to handle in water and is more like diving with a dome port. It has to be noted though that you can zoom through with both lenses so still continue and take portrait shots and close ups. Obviously for real close or macro you do need to take the lens off which with the UWL-04 you can basically forget.

Cost

The UWL-04 costs $460 in US as shown here with dome cover and step down ring, and £362 in UK. The Inon UWL-100 28AD with dome costs $907.80 including an M67-ADF adapter in US and £775 in UK. All in all the Inon is around near to double the price of the UWL-04. The UWL-H100 is even more expensive at $970 for the M67 version and $942 for the LD bayonet, you then need to add $160 for an adapter for a total of $1,102 that is a lot of money another reason for the 28AD version.

Conclusion

The Inon is the best lens for the RX100 and there is no doubt, however it costs more than double the UWL-04 not everybody will be able to afford it. The UWL-04 is a somewhat basic lens that lacks sophistication and is essentially not removable in water but comes at a great price. In terms of field of view the lenses are very similar with the Inon lenses having more fisheye distortion and a wider diagonal field of view. The UWL-04 is more rectilinear and as consequence has less field of view diagonally. Only one lens has zero vignette at the wide end and this is the UWL-100 28AD with dome.

In Water Shots

I don’t have shots in water yet pending my next trip but two galleries that give an idea are here:

For the Inon UWL-100 28AD with dome look at my Red Sea Gallery https://www.flickr.com/photos/interceptor121/sets/72157645375379256/

For the UWL-04 instead this is an excellent one

http://www.flickr.com/photos/13930495@N06/sets/72157636133030726/

The second shooter has got rid of the UWL-04 to buy an Inon as not happy with corner sharpness!

My perspective is if I look at the pictures I can barely tell the difference however looking close the Inon lens is sharper at one f/stop less, the UWL-04 requires stopping at f/8 or smaller, you can happily shoot f/5.6 with the Inon which means you need less light and less strobe power.