The Sony A7R2 was released in 2015 some time later Nauticam released the WWL-1 and I was told this wet lens would work with a Sony full frame using a 28mm prime.
Years later I own a Sony A1 and I have been considering the 28/2 prime as a complement to the Sony 28-60mm mostly to address sharpness issues at the edges.
There is no doubt that the 28-60mm is a great little travel lens and perfect companion of the A7C however performance at the edges is never quite right no matter how much you close down.
The 28mm prime is smaller than the 28-60mm when this one is extended but has a wider front element.
The side by side comparison shows that the 28mm is 9mm shorter when the zoom is at 28mm. The 28mm has a 49mm filter thread while the 28-60 has a 40.5. The 28mm is two stops faster than the 28-60mm but has a lot of vignetting.
DxoMark says the 28/2 will resolve 47 megapixels when coupled with the A7RIV 62 megapixel sensor.
The lens has quite a bit of distortion but not as much as the 28-60mm and also strong vignetting.
On the A1 the lens looks small and well proportionate to the camera body. Not sure if I will ever use a 28mm prime but I got my copy from Wex photography using a discount code and it was open box.
The lens will vignette with the Nauticam flat port 45 and it requires the purposely designed flat port 32. This was released after the new generation of Sony housing as replacement of the flat port 37 used on earlier models.
Not much to say the port is obviously shorter and does not focus a knob.
Before taking the camera in water I wanted to make sure the lens was sharper than the 28-60mm and it is.
My assessment topside is that the lens is best at f/5.6 and the 28-60 never really matches it. At f/11 the resolution drops and the two lenses become comparable however there is no benefit shooting the 28mm at smaller apertures than f/8.
You can open the images in a new tab I spare the crop comparisons the 28-60 edges are blurry at f/5.6.
By f/8 there is an improvement at the edges but the centre drops on the 28mm. Likewise on the 28-60mm where the edges become acceptable.
At f/11 the lenses are almost identical. This is an important consideration as underwater this means shooting from f/11 and smaller aperture will not show substantial differences between the two lenses with the WWL-1.
I set up my camera and went to Inspire Luton for a shooting session.
First I set up the small test reef and took images at various apertures.
I disabled distortion correction so there is a little black bar on the bottom when you are at extreme close range.
The image at f/5.6 shows that on the focus line (the pink coral is the target) everything is good quality as you move to the edges but you can see the depth of field running out as you get closer. Do not confuse this with the lens edge performance as many testers do.
The focus point is on the line Achieve Neutral Buoyancy. You can see that the WWL-1 deteriorates the image quality especially on the meridional lines compared to topside. However this is overall useable in my opinion compared to the 28-60mm.
Closing to f/8 achieves overall the best centre performance.
Edges are more than adequate I would say f/8 is the sweet spot of this lens for shots that are not too close.
At f/11 the WWL-1 in its best performance at the edges but the lens has lost a bit of punch.
Here is a shot at f/16 just to demonstrate the issue of depth of field is unrelated to the lens aberrations.
Personally I would not use this lens for close up work but if you have to f/16 is the way to go.
For reference this is the 28-60mm at f/11 which is totally usable, the shots are not as close so less demand on the lens.
Shooting a target further away demonstrates the ability of the 28mm at wider apertures.
Edges are fine at f/5.6 but this is a flat target.
In conclusion my recommendation for the 28mm is to shoot the lens at f/8 and go to f/5.6 when there is nothing in the edges as necessary to improve centre sharpness. This is an improvement of 1 stop over the 28-60mm. It is not possible to use the lens at f/4 with the WWL-1 the performance is just not there.
The lens has a good contrast and pop.
Shots at f/5.6 are softer at the extreme edges and depth of field also plays a role.
Midwater shots do not display significant issues as expected.
Open Water Shots
I used this lens in Sorrento during my last trip shooting it always at f/8 which was a mistake for close up shots where I should have closed down the aperture.
The shots that follow would have been better suited to a fisheye.
At close range I did not close down to f/16 so the lack of depth of field is evident. Do not confuse this with edge performance.
You can see that as the focus is on the grouper the reef coming outwards is blurred due to lack of depth of field.
This is very apparent on this shot.
I have the impression that those water contact optics work better when focussed closer in the frame not on the target as if the depth of field is mostly behind the focus point.
The Sony 28/2 costs £339 currently and the flat port another £369 for a total of £708 for the set up.
I have not tested the lens with the WACP-C but I think performance will be worse as the mount has a lot of gap until the back of the lens is reached and this creates other side effect.
I believe that the 28mm prime is not something that you require for a 24 and even 32 megapixel camera. Users of the A1 or A7R series that want the absolute best quality and the ability to shoot one stop more open will look into this lens but the majority of shooters will stay with the 28-60mm as their only lens. For video users I think the 28/2 lens is a non starter and I am not planning to use it at all as in 16:9 the extreme edges are cropped and even the 28-60mm is fine.
I am conscious that a post like this is destined to create some stir, however it reflects over one month of testing of the two Nauticam water contact optics with my A1 and summarizes my conclusion for my own use.
Of course if you are reading this you may agree with what you will read and this will be your conclusion too. Or otherwise you would have bought the WACP-C thinking it was an upgrade for your Sony Alpha and well if it turns out it is not you will think it is anyway.
I was fortunate to be able to borrow the WWL-1 DRY from Alex Mustard. This lens is the prototype of the current Nauticam WACP-C. The lens has remained pretty much the same but it now has an integrated fixed float collar and built in extension. Other than a thickening of the rear lens mount ring it looks identical and therefore I assume optical performance is the same.
Someone will say well but it is not the same, but as we know the construction of the WWL-1, WACP-C and WACP-1 is identical and each model is 1.15 bigger than the previous with the optical design made of 6 lenses in 5 groups for all of them.
I have not had the chance to test the WACP-1, Alex said he would lend me that too however I am not interested in such large lens.
I have also had the opportunity to test the WACP-C with a variety of lenses including some not on the port chart like the Tamron 20-40 F2.8 and 17-28 F2.8 both did very well but nothing amazingly better than that little Sony 28-60 or the Sony 28mm prime and therefore I concluded that path is not worth pursuing.
Sony SEL2860 Lens Options
For the purpose of this article I will focus on the comparison with the Sony SEL2860 F4-5.6 28-60mm which is no doubt not an amazing lens but it happens to be pretty sharp from 35mm onwards. It is rather weak at 28mm at the edges so one of the things I wanted to check was if the larger WACP-C was giving an improvement over the smaller WWL-1.
The Sony SEL28060 is a small lens that needs to be extended for use. When mounted on the A1 is pretty compact, no surprise as this is the kit lens for the A7C.
The lens is longest at 60mm but only 1mm shorter at 28mm which makes it ideal for use behind a wet lens.
To use it on the Sony E-Mount Full frame of new generation with the N100 port system you need the flat port 45 that comes with a rather unuseful knob that I have removed from mine.
The set up with the A1 is very compact and portable the whole housing, wet lens camera, strobes and arms together with camera and lens fit a carry on luggage on every airline of the world.
To use the WWL-DRY aka WACP-C I needed to use my 35.5 N120 to N100 adapter and a 25mm adapter ring. The production version only needs a 30mm N100 extension ring but will be as long as you see here.
There is a considerable difference in weight between the two set ups and the production WACP-C is heavier.
I own the original WWL-1 version with non integrated float collar which is lighter than the current WWL-1B.
In the post title image you see both lenses without floatation.
In order to perform a comparison I decided to use a semi scientific method consisting of a fixed scene and shots at very close range. The closest the subject is to the lens more stress is induced on the optics that are designed to focus far away. This means that if a lens is better than another at close range when you point them far way the gap will still be there but will reduce.
The first set of tests was performed with the WWL-1 DRY.
I started at f/5.6 not f/4 that looked visually a waste of time. First I tried with the target on a line to see the potential effect of field of curvature and other issues.
At f/5.6 the sides are already blurry. The edges are even more fuzzy.
The images are 6 megapixels feel free to open them in another tab and look for yourself.
Moving to f/8 improves the situation but not as much as you would think.
The edge remain soft at f/8.
From f/11 we have good performance across the frame using the SEL2860.
Note that the focus point is on the edge and this means the issue if solely due to the water contact optic is not a problem of depth of field or field of curvature.
I proceeded to shoot at f/11 and f/8 avoiding f/5.6.
Shooting at f/8 is possible if there is nothing at the edges and the depth of field is sufficient.
The test with the WWL-1 brought practically identical results.
Sides are soft at f5/6 and the slate shows obvious issues of depth of field.
Edges are very similar to the WWL-1 DRY perhaps a bit better.
At f/8 the situation improves as it had happened with the WACP-C.
From F/11 image quality is consistent across the frame.
There is an obvious issue of depth of field so if you are shooting at close range with the 28-60mm you really need to look at f/16 but this was not the point of the tests.
As you can see by yourself there is really nothing between the two optics and clearly the difference between the wet and dry version is simply in the ergonomics and of course the price. For me there is no reason to consider the WACP-C unless you have serious issues with a wet mount.
After all those tests I decided not to take the WACP-C to Italy and used the WWL-1 for both photos and video with good results.
This shot is taken at 40 meters with the 28-60mm at f/11.
I pretty much used f/11 fixed changing other parameters for the exposure and at time using the zoom.
This is not the red sea it is much darker and as you can see dry suit were in use.
The zoom of the 28-60 has some clear benefits.
The WWL-1 needs the bayonet mount and the flat port 45 to operate with the WWL-1. This comes at cost of $2,119.
The WACP-C needs the N100 extension ring 30 to operate. This comes at $3,426.
If you a Sony full frame E-mount user and have issue dealing with the bubble removal of a wet lens when you jump in the water you can spend $1,306 to avoid yourself the inconvenience. However you will not have any benefit in terms of optical quality and you will be carrying more weight.
For video the wet lens is clearly preferred as you can operate the 28060 with a flat port and wet lenses for close up work.
The WWL-1 remains the true Nauticam master piece and a lens that keeps delivering years after the introduction.
I must admit Macro photography is not exactly my favourite genre both underwater and topside however I do enjoy a bit of critter hunting.
I was sure that the A1 would be an absolute beast for topside wildlife and underwater wide angle, however I did not feel comfortable at all with the performance of the Sony 90mm Macro lens.
It has a reputation for hunting and a lot of focus breathing that make it hard to use for topside focus stacking.
I have been playing with the lens topside and I did see examples of both so I was somewhat skeptical taking it underwater.
I was perhaps over worried so I set up the camera for the worst case scenarios:
Focus limiter set to 0.3 – 0.5 meter
CAF priority set to Focus
Aperture drive – Focus priority
I went in with autofocus set to tracking flexible spot.
Port and Focus Gear
I have always mixed feelings for focus gears and mostly I use it to make sure I am hitting the minimum working distance and therefore maximu magnification.
The focus gear for this lens is a large item and does not allow to operate the focus clutch. The operation is quite easy as the focus ring does not have an excessive long run.
I already own the 45 Flat Port that I use for the Sony 28-60mm and also have the 35.5 N120 to N120 port adapter so I thought how do I make this 105mm long?
Nauticam makes convenient adaptor rings of various length to go from N120 to N100 port size. I got the 25mm that resulted in a saving of £441-260=£181 which I used to buy another part.
The rig as assembled looks like this. In effect even the 110 port starts wider and gets narrower.
Before going to the pool I realised the housing does not have an M10 mounting point but you can adapt one of the points that go to the bars connecting the angle. Will be done at some point. So I went in without focus light in a very very very dark pool.
As I packed my props I realised I did not really have any good macro target however a friend came to the rescue. An instructor of a diving center that uses the same pool brought a small leopard and octopus that sank and were perfect targets.
As you probably know I am obsessed by obtaining the absolute maximum performance from each lens. And this for a macro lens means shooting at the best aperture, for this lens f/4-5.6 and stacking. However this is not available underwater. You need to pull your shot from a single image and this means the lens won’t be at the best performance.
I started at f/11 which gives a respectable MTF50 and to be honest I am impressed!
I then pushed the lens to f/16 I could see resolution dropping as depth of field was going up.
In order to get depth of field of an overall scene with the octopus I had to go all the way to f/22 diffraction zone.
Yes with the high resolution of the sensor those images are still ok or at least so they seem to me.
I think this lens wide open makes an amazing bokeh that will probably be still there at f/4 so something to check.
Field Impression and Ergonomics
First of all I did not regret setting the lens to close range using the focus limiter. This will give you a frame 19 cm wide if you feel that is too small and you are just trying to get some fish portraits perhaps leaving this to full is a better idea. Likewise if your targets are bigger.
I did not get any hunting despite the dark conditions and I am not sure if this was due to this setting or if this helped.
CAF worked in all situations the A1 can practically see in the dark however in order to get focs tracking and eye detection working (it detected the eye of the leopard) I needed to switch on the focus light of the strobes.
I believe tracking and detection requires a level of scene brightness higher as the camera is effectively in video mode. When you half press the aperture drive meant it would focus thought it had not tracked anything. I got 2 shots not focussed on the subject because I moved.
The focus gear I believe is not required unless you want to do super macro or to make sure you are as close as you can get but I do not regret having it as the run is pretty short with the focus limiter is on.
Alex Mustard tried the 90mm with the A1 for blackwater and said it was better than the Nikon D850 with the 60mm which is a well known blackwater combination. My tests confirm this combination is very very powerful even in the dark and with a little bit of light it will focus on anything. If the lens goes back and forth is because you are close or over 1:1 reproduction ratio.
Overall my concerns apperad not justified and this combination is a solid performer. Probably next steps are getting an SMC magnifier to push this even further.
The subject of rectilinear wide angle lenses and underwater optical performance has been beaten to death.
Most recently some photographers and videographers have done without rectilinear lenses altogether citing the horrible performance at the edge of the frame as the primary reason to shoot lenses with barrel distortion being those fisheye or standard lenses with an added water contact optic.
Is it all justified? Should you stay away from rectilinear lenses altogether?
Of course not. Rectilinear lenses have a place in underwater imaging that is there to stay but…
There are many many buts so let’s dive into some demistification and general considerations.
Topside Performance of Wide angle lenses 17mm use case
The vast majority of underwater shooters do not perform any type of topside imaging being that photo or video and use their set up only underwater with the exception of the odd event or those that like to shoot macro above and below this is where we stand in most cases.
In order to ascertain if the performance of the wide angle lens in water deteriorates it is appropriate to determine the performance of said lens topside. This is something that not many people are in fact able to ascertain. You can read equipment review but it is never the same thing.
I have recently invested in a Sony A1 and underwater housing and I decided to purchase a rectilinear wide angle lens. I always try to buy lenses that are good topside and underwater and my choice has fallen on the Tamron 17-28mm F/2.8 Di III RXD.
Several reasons for buying this lens I will list the most important are:
Close minimum focus distance (19 cm wide – 26 cm tele)
Lens does not extend when zooming
Reasonably compact (99 mm and 420 grams)
Not too wide
Items 1,2 above are important underwater and 3,4 are also important topside when you use the lens on a gimbal or when you shoot interiors or close up and you do not want apparent perspective distortion.
I have been shooting the Tamron topside on trips and I have been very pleased with it. Before taking it underwater I wanted to understand what to expect.
I built my scene using my underwater props on a table top and started taking a series of shots from f/8 to f/22 to see the results. What follows are a set of images taken on land with the focus on the eye of the chick.
At f/8 the first row of props is blurry and also the leaves behind are not sharp. The edges are soft.
This is due to lack of depth of field not to the bad performance of the lens.
At f/11 we have more depth of field however the props at the edges and the nearest part is still soft.
By f/16 all the props are in focus, the edges of the math are a tad soft but overall this is the right place to be.
By f/22 pretty much everything is in focus but the image quality has dropped considerably.
In conclusion topside we need to close down to f/16 to have all the props in focus on this scene.
Just so we are clear there is not an issue of edges or else there is simply lack of depth of field as we are shooting a close up.
Underwater Performance of Wide angle lenses 17mm use case
After rigging my camera and lens with the Nauticam 180mm dome it was time to hit the pool and try underwater.
What follows are a series of shots from f/8 to f/16 with focus on the chick as the topside shot.
The image at f/8 looks very much like topside and lacks depth of field, however interestingly the bush behind the chick is relatively sharper to the topside scene. The dome port is increasing the depth of field behind the subject.
By f/11 there is a considerable improvement all across the frame the items at the edges are still soft pretty much like the topside image.
By f/16 we are where we should be. Note how the entire set of props is in focus exactly like the topside image and only a slight deterioration on the very left of the frame prop.
Move your focus…
Dome ports increase the depth of field of the lens as infinity becomes nearer however they also shift the depth of field of the lens because the virtual image is closer and most of the depth of field shifts behind.
With that in mind I focussed on the first prop to see what happens.
At f/8 the first line is sharper even the props at the edges are substantially better and I would say acceptable however the leaves behind are out of focus.
At f/11 the edges are good and so are the props behind the chick with the exception of those really further back where we are running out of depth of field.
By f/16 focussing on the near prop we have pretty much everything in focus.
As final example this is a shot at f/11 with focus just behind the fake coral red and yellow on the right.
With the exception of the very very edge of the right frame which is bordering the dome edge the image is sharp throughout.
Why are the images not blurry?!?
You are now starting to ask why some images you see on the web look horrible and mine don’t? This is a legitimate question to which there are at least five answers.
Lens working distance
The Tamron 17-18mm has a working distance of 19 cm and is 9.9 cm long. From my calculation the entrance pupil is around 26mm from the front of the lens. This means that a dome radius of 10cm is sufficient to be able to focus right on the port. All other lenses for the Sony E-mount have working distance of 25 to 28 cm and would need extremely large radius to be able to focus on the glass.
Wrong Extension Ring
The Nauticam 18809 wide angle dome port is not a classic dome but has design without a flat base. The port has 11cm radius of curvature and is 83mm deep 180mm wide this means the entrance pupil needs to be 27mm behind the extension.
Nauticam recommended extension is 40mm when combined with the 35.5mm N120 to N120 port adapter. Due to the shape of the lens this cannot be used with the N100 port as the zoom is close to the front of the lens.
Underwater housing manufactures unfortunately do not apply any science to the selection of domes and extension for a lens but out of pure coincidence the 40mm extension ring is what this lens requires.
Nauticam criteria for the 180mm port seems to be the lens needs to be more or less flush with the extension ring. In our case the entrance pupil is 26mm behind and the extension ring is a few mm over so we are more or less spot on. THIS IS ENTIRELY A COINCIDENCE!
With the 40mm extension the glass port will be exactly 11 cm from the entrance pupil and focus right on the surface.
Unfortunately the principles applied by manufacturers which are either to be flush with the ring or the dome mount or to extend until it vignettes generate loss of angle of view and distortion.
One of the worst offender is the Nauticam 230mm glass dome, where the rule of extend until you can generates pincushion distortion (edge pulling) effect.
Software Correction of Distortion
The lens correction has a warping effect on the edges even when the dome is correctly placed.
If you have a full frame camera or a camera where you can disable the correction make sure this is set that way.
For systems where lens correction is baked in the lens profile (micro four thirds) ensure to use a program that can disable the correction such as DxO Photolab for best results.
Constant Autofocus with subject tracking
As we have seen in most cases it is better not to focus bang on the subject but to focus closer or even at the side of the frame and work out the depth of field.
Many users use subject tracking that may seem a wonderful idea and works very well with a flat port however underwater results in blurred edges due to the depth of field distribution of the dome port unless you close the aperture until you can care less.
If you want to ensure the edges of your rectilinear wide angle shots are sharper use single autofocus and position the focus strategically in the frame the dome compression will do the rest.
Superwide lenses (<16mm)
When your lens is superwide you may have all effects on top of each other: pincushion distortion because your extension is calculated with the ‘go until vignette’ method, distortion correction in software, subject tracking, lens with long working distance and to make it worse perspective distortion and spherical aberration which occur when the lens is very very wide.
Choosing your rectilinear wide angle lens
I have computed all lenses avaialble for my A1 and calculated the ideal radius of a dome in this table. Unfortunately while the 230 port has a wider angle of view it has a radius of 12 cm which is only 1 cm more than the 180mm port. The choice of port is therefore driven by angle of view and not radius as 1 cm does not change much. Most lenses would need 15 or 16 cm radius to be able to focus close to the glass.
Field of View
FE14 1.8 GM
Sony e-mount rectilinear lenses and ports
You can easily see that the Tamron 17-28mm has much better design characteristics to go into a dome port and this is the lens to buy.
From my tests there is no need of any field flatteners and correction lenses it works fine out of the box as the lens has minimal field of curvature and zero spherical aberrations.
If you are not happy with the CFWA studio scene here are some images from a recent pool session. Many f/8 and f/11 images no need to close the aperture more if you don’t have anything close and shot in single autofocus.
Quite interesting to see the fins at the edges of the f/8 shots.
If there is one challenge of rectilinear lenses is that you need strobe power. The narrower field of view compared to a fisheye means that you are standing further back that in turn means more strobe power and more particles between you and the subject.
Should I buy a rectilinear wide angle lens for underwater use?
My answer is definitely yes but each system will have the special lens, the one that focuses close, does not require a large radius and is not too wide and not too narrow (16-18 is ideal) however examine carefully images of others and check the lens construction as your suggested extension may be wrong.
But when your lens is fit for purpose using the correct size dome and the proper extension you will get high quality images that match or beat fisheye like lenses and water contact optics.
As example here an image shot with a canon 8-15mm at close range f/11. Does it have much better edges?
And here a WWL-1 image at f/8
I cannot see any advantages of the fisheye like lenses at the edges at the same aperture in fact in both cases but judge for yourself.
Since many years Canon and Nikon full frame users are able to use their respective 8-15mm with a teleconverter underwater, however this is not a very popular configuration.
In this article I will look at the Canon 8-15mm with the Kenko Teleconverter 1.4x for Sony full frame cameras.
First and foremost a teleconverter is not cropping the image it has optical elements. Cropping means reducing the resolution at sensor level while a teleconverter induces a deterioration of the image and possible defect but does not affect the sensor resolution. Generally 1.4x TC is much better than 1.4 crop. If you find yourself cropping a lot your fisheye shots or even using the 8-15mm in APSC mode the teleconverter may add some real value to you so read along.
In addition to the set up required to use the Canon 8-15mm you need 3 additional items:
Kenko 1.4 Teleconverter
Canon 8-15+TC zoom gear
Extension ring N120 20mm
The benefits of this set up are clear:
Unique field of view
Smaller additional bulk
Relatively low cost
Some readers have emailed asking if the Kenko is compatible with the Sigma MC-11. I do not recommend using the Sigma MC-11 with the Canon 8-15mm because it only supports single AF and it is unclear if the Kenko will work or not and how well. I have tested with the Metabones smart adapter and this is the one I recommend.
Field of view
The 8-15mm lens with teleconverter will give you access to a zoom fisheye 15-21mm with field of view between 175 and 124 degrees. This is a range not available with any other lens of water contact optic that stop normally at 130 or 140 degrees.
The additional items add circa 370 grams to the rig without teleconverter and make is 20mm longer due to the additional extension. The additional fresh water weight is circa 110 grams.
The latest version of the Kenko Teleplus 1.4X HD DGX can be found in UK for £149.
The 20mm extension ring II is £297 and the C815-Z+1.4 Zoom gear is £218. Note this is in addition to the 30mm extension required for the 8-15.
With a total cost of £664 you are able to obtain the entire set up.
The rig looks identical to the fisheye except is a bit longer. You have a choice of 140mm glass dome or 4.33″ acrylic dome see previous article.
With the rig assembled I made my way to the pool with the local diving club.
The 8-15mm with teleconverter was my first pool session with the A1 on the 3rd of February I was very much looking forward to this but at the same time I had not practiced with the A1 underwater previously and did not have my new test props. I think the images that follow will give a good idea anyway.
At 15mm (zoom position somewhere between 10 and 11 mm on the lens) the image is excellent quality in the centre and I find very difficult to tell this apart from the lens without TC except for the color rendering. I believe the Kenko takes a bit away from the Canon original color rendering.
At close range you get the usual depth of field issues depending on where you focus but this is not a teleconverter issue.
For comparison a 15mm image without TC.
Obviously what is interesting it that you can zoom in here a set of shots at 16, 18, 21 mm.
Finishing up with the required selfie.
I enjoyed the teleconverter with the Canon 8-15mm and in my opinion in the overlapping focal length this set up provides better image quality of the WWL-1. I shot for most at f/8 as I was not very close and this actually shows the TC does not really degrade the image much.
You need to ask yourself when you will need 124 to 175 degrees diagonal and the answer is close up shots of mantas and whalesharks where a fisheye may be too much and 130 degrees may be too little. The set up also works if you want to do close up work and zoom in however I reserve the right to assess more in detail using my new in water props when I have some time.
Since the very first release I was told by Nauticam that the WWL-1 had been tested on Sony full frame with the 28mm f/2 lens and since then more lenses have been added to the compatibility list and the WWL-1 itself has had a redesign called WWL-1B, this lens has an integrated float collar and I do not know if there is any difference in the optics but I assume there is none.
Nauticam has since released a number of other water contact optics with dry mount and today you have a choice of at least 3 flavours for your Sony full frame camera that provide the 130 degrees diagonal field of view.
Max Filter size (mm)
Summary Table Nauticam 0.36x Water Contact Optics
The three lenses provide the same field of view but they are different in size and mount. A useful way to see is that as the lens physical size grows you require a larger underwater optic.
The Sony E-Mount is still the only full frame format compatible with the WWL-1 in virtue of some really small and compact lenses. As you can see from the table above the WWL-1 rear element is large enough for 28mm lenses that have a maximum filter size of 52mm.
Two E-mount full frame lenses the 28/2mm prime and the 28-60mm zoom are compatible with the WWL-1.
As you move towards the WACP-C you can also use the 28-70mm lens which is one of the worst kit lenses on the market but will give you a longer tele end and finally the WACP-1 gives access to the Tamron 28-75mm and Sigma 24-70mm two lenses that have much higher quality than the smaller Sony lenses but have some restriction in terms of zoom range.
Underwater Performance Context
There are quite long discussions about which water contact optic to get for your Sony full frame once you have the 28-60mm zoom and some comparison in terms of sharpness.
In simple terms you can think of the following equation:
Underwater Performance = Land performance X Port Factor
Port Factor is always less than 1 which means a lens will never do in water as well than it does on land. Looking at my analysis of the 28-60mm corroborated by other test you know before buying any water contact lens that the lens has its own limitations and no matter how good is the port performance will only go down. However this may still be a better option compared to a standard dome port.
I do not have access (yet) to the other two water contact optics however I have a good idea of how the WWL-1 perform and how the Sony 28-60mm performs topside. If you want a refresh look at this article.
To understand how a water contact optic works you can go back all the way to the Inon UWL-100.
The idea of this lens designed for compact cameras is to demagnify the camera master lens to enlarge the field of view. You could then get an optional dome that will enable the lens to expand the underwater field of view from 100 to 131 degrees.
Back in 2015 I compared the Inon UWL-H100 with dome with the WWL-1 and concluded that the WWL-1 was giving better results when used on the same camera. It is now time to see if the WWL-1 can be used also on a full frame system.
Sony A1 WWL-1 Rig
The WWL-1 requires the flat port 45 to be used on a Sony full frame underwater housing. The lens will be attached using the same bayonet adapter that has been available for several years now.
I have removed the focus knob from the port as I found it inconvenient. The focus knob may be useful with the flat port but for the WWL-1 that is afocal is definitely not required.
Once you add the flat port the overall length is very much the same of the WACP-C but this will require an extension ring resulting in overall 30mm additional length.
Overall the rig is very similar in weight to the Canon 8-15mm with the Acrylic Dome Port 5.5″.
With the rig assembled I went for a pool session with the objective of finding out what was the overall performance of the system.
What follows are a series of test shots of divers.
In general I found the lens to be sharper in the centre at f/8 but closing down to f/11 was required if there was something in the corners.
I was intrigued by a number of discussions on edge sharpness and after several exchanges with Shane Smith he was clear that the lens needs to be stopped down to f/11 for best results.
After the session in the pool I would agree with Shane however I was curious if this was an issue of the WWL-1 or the 28-60mm lens itself.
This image quite simple has something at the edges and has focus in the centre at f/8.
You will notice that the part of the frame closer to the camera is fairly blurry.
So I did another experiment placing the slate on the edge.
The edges were quite fuzzy. I wanted to exclude this was an issue of depth of field so I focussed right on the corner.
This is the resulting image and is still soft on the edge.
I then took the same shot at f/11 with focus on centre.
The image at the edges is better. Then moved the slate to the edge.
The image improved overall regardless of the focus point indicating this is not a depth of field issue but some other defect of the lens, most likely as the lens meridional and sagittal resolution are different we have an example of astigmatism.
The sharpness improves closing down the lens regardless of where the lens is focussing consistent to the MTF charts.
Looking back at land test shots we can see something very similar.
In conclusion it is not about the WWL-1 but about the lens itself.
Comparison to Rectilinear lenses
While the WWL-1 can offer a diagonal feld of view of 130 degrees the image is distorted and the lens can only offer 107 degrees horizontally and 70 vertically. Is like saying that the horizontal field of view is similar to a 13mm rectilinear lens while the vertical is is more like 17mm. A fair comparison is probably a 14mm rectilinear lens but as the WWL-1 is a fisheye like optic a direct comparison is not entirely possible. In my opinion as the image is distorted is more appropriate to compare the WWL-1 with a fisheye with teleconverter and when I look at what the canon 8-15mm with kenko 1.4 tc can produce for me the results are very similar, I would say the Canon has in fact an edge however the field of view are not comparable except when the WWL-1 is at the widest and the canon with the tc at the maximum zoom. I would go as far as to say that the canon + TC at f/8 is as good as the WWL-1 at f/11.
If you have the WWL-1 from your previous rig it makes absolutely sense to get the Sony 28-60mm and flat port. This combination will give you decent (but not sensational) shots and work very well for 4K video at reduced resolution. I do not believe that this lens can resolve the full 50 or 60 megapixels of the A1 or A7R4 or A7R5 even topside.
If you are starting from scratch I would recommend to think careful at your intended use case. If you want angles wider than 130 degrees and already have the Canon 8-15mm you may want to check the kenko telecovenverter before you buy a new port as all you need is a 20mm extension ring and a zoom gear.
If you really like the field of view range of 69-130 degrees you need to consider which water contact optic you need.
I am still looking for a test WACP-C but until then my general guidance would be to consider simply if you prefer a dry or wet mount.
A dry mount has the benefit of being ready to go as you hit the water, without the need to remove bubbles between the wet lens and the port. As photographer a dry mount may be the best way forward.
If you intend to use your camera for video and insert filters between the lens and the flat port or you require the lens to be removed in water then go for the WWL-1.
Rigorous comparisons between WACP-C and WWL-1 are not yet available but the first indications are that the difference in image quality is very small therefore I would not loose my sleep there and look more at overall ergonomics.
The final consideration is should you get the WACP-1 instead? Based on my assessment of the Sony 28-60mm I would think this is not particularly wise even if this choice is very popular. Personally I always believe that the master lens needs to be good enough to justify the cost of the water optic so I would like to see how the Tamron 28-75mm performs however no test images are available so I am not in a position to conclude.
In my case having seen what the Sony 28-60mm lens can do I am not planning to invest in a WACP-C but I would be very interested in testing one.
The WWL-1 gets my approval also on full frame but it is not going to give me the same resolution than the Canon 8-15mm or the Sony 90mm macro will give. I look forward to testing some rectilinear lenses to see how those compare and this will happen in a week from now so stay tuned.
Costs to get one for your Sony full frame excluding lens:
Bayonet adapter €102
N100 45 flat port €494
Total €2,020 vs WACP-C + N100 Extension Ring 30 €3,333
Following from a previous article about not increasing bulk I have considered a few options for the Canon 8-15mm fisheye.
The 8-15mm is not a small lens and due to the different flange distance between Canon EF mount for DSLR (44mm) and Sony E-Mount (18mm) we have a chunky 35.5mm N100 to N120 adapter port that makes the whole set up not that compact.
Dome Options 140mm vs 4.33″
The Nauticam port chart recommends the 140mm glass fisheye dome for the 8.15mm, this port is 69mm radius and is made with anti reflective optical glass and weights 630 grams.
There is another dome from Nauticam the 4.33″ acrylic but this does not feature on the port chart for the Canon 8-15mm.
I did some calculations and this dome should require the same extension so I ordered one conscious that this would be lighter but not necessarily increase the underwater lift due to a reduced volume.
Although there is a difference of 362 grams the smaller volume will result in less buoyancy 348g lift vs 688g lift for the 140mm so overall the additional buoyancy is only 22 grams.
The primary benefit of this smaller dome is that it gets you closer this in turn means that things will look bigger and as consequence depth of field will drop. Depth of field depends on magnification and as you will get closer it will drop compared to other domes. So larger domes have more depth of field not because they are larger when you are at close range but simply because your camera focal plane is standing further back.
To give an idea this is a little miniature shot with the 140mm dome with the target touching the glass port.
This is the same target with the 4.33″ dome.
Side by side shows the difference in magnification.
If we look at the same detail we can see that the 140mm dome image detail is less blurred.
We are on land here there is no water involved and the 140mm image is sharper at the edge simply because it is smaller.
As depth of field must be compared at equal magnification we can also bust another myth of larger domes vs smaller domes there is no increased depth of field you are just standing further back if you compared the front of the port instead of the focal plane.
Building the Rig
The extension required is still 30mm as for the 140mm dome,
The overall size of this dome means it is flush with the extension ring.
This is the overall rig with the amount of flotation in this image it is around 600 grams negative in fresh water.
Now that we know what to expect is time to get in the pool and take some shots. I got some miniature aquarium fixtures to simulate a close focus wide angle situation.
Once in water I set up my artificial reef and got shooting.
I was at the point of touching the props so I had to stand back a little. As expected the issue is depth of field.
Shots at f/11
For starter we try to get as close as possible and focus in line with the chick.
Due to the extreme magnification the front details are quite soft. So from here I start moving backwards a little.
Still focussed on the chick the sharpness improves due to reduced magnification this is a simulation of a larger dome.
There still is severe blurring of the front detail at f/11. However due to the increased depth of field that the dome brings behind the focus point the rest looks pretty good.
Focussing on the middle of the frame at f/11 results in blurry details for the features in the front of the frame but much less blurry than before and the chick is still relatively sharp.
Focussing on the pink reef detail results in a better overall result in a counterintuitive way.
Shots at f/16
Stopping down the lens results in increased depth of field so more of the image is in focus however the overall sharpness drops. This is a good place to be if you don’t want to be too sophisticated with the choice of focus point and you are close.
You can get closer but the front detail is still a bit soft but acceptable.
If you move your focus point a bit further in front the situation improves.
At this point I decided to get into the picture with a white balance slate.
Although the front is quite blurry due to the extreme close range the result is acceptable for the non pixel peeper.
Shots at f/22
We are here hitting diffraction limit and the image looses sharpness but we are after depth of field so be it.
Now the depth of field is there although the detail in the centre is less sharp.
Moving the focus point makes the image a bit better.
Time to insert the diver in the frame.
Overall ok not amazing consider the dome is on the parts.
The small acrylic dome does quite well at close range, the limitations come from the depth of field and not from the water and the dome increases the depth of field behind the focus point. This is something that you can use to your advantage if you remember when you are in open water.
For shots that are further away you can shoot at f/11 and get excellent IQ there is no need to stop down further to improve the edges. Consider however that f/8 may be just too wide on full frame and introduce additional aberrations regardless of depth of field.
Nauticam 140mm Glass dome: £911
Nauticam 4.33″ Acrylic dome: £550
Price difference £361 or 40% however bear in mind that the primary benefit of the glass dome is to resist reflections and ghosting due to the coating and the fact you can keep the 8-15mm hood on.
When shooting ultra-wide angle, you benefit from a large depth of field
You can get very close to large subjects, maximizing color and sharpness
They perform well behind dome ports with good corner sharpness, and they don’t need a diopter
You usually need at least 2 strobes with good angle of coverage to properly light the entire area.
Some of the above statements are correct in absolute, some are correct but not specific to fisheye lenses and some are just incorrect.
Fisheye lenses usually focus very close -> true for the most recent fisheye lenses, not true for some older models
They are small and light -> Not true. Canon 8-15mm and Nikon 8/15mm are fairly chunky lenses with lots of glass
When shooting ultra-wide angle, you benefit from a large depth of field -> not a property of the fisheye lens but of the focal lens. In fact due to the extreme field of view Fisheye lenses have issues of depth of field.
This is a tea towel shot with a rectilinear lens. Note how sharp the target is at f/5.6
This is the same target at the same distance with the Canon 8-15mm at f/5.6 note how the edges are blurry and the blur starts very near centre.
You need to stop down the lens to f/16 to start getting coverage for the edges.
You can get very close to large subjects, maximizing color and sharpness -> This is a consequence of close working distance and wide field of view however sharpness is another story
As we have seen before fisheye shots at close distance are generally not that sharp especially at the edges.
They perform well behind dome ports with good corner sharpness, and they don’t need a diopterThis happens to be true in practice and it is a major benefit for the underwater shooter
We will dive in detail in this topic.
You usually need at least 2 strobes with good angle of coverage to properly light the entire area.Fisheye lenses cover an aspect ratio wider than the format aspect ratio and result in limited vertical angle of coverage. Fisheye lenses are ideal for two strobes except the very far edges.
Let’s ignore the edges and assume we are a one meter.
Horizontal field of view 2*tan(71)=5.8 meters
Vertical field of view 2*tan(45.5)=2.03
Aspect Ratio = 2.85:1
The issue with fisheye lenses is that the frame is really very wide much wider than it is tall. This means some of the edges on the horizontal axis will be normally dark unless you are very very close.
Fisheye lenses and Dome Ports
A dome is simply a lens with a single element that has the property to retain the air field of view of a lens.
A dome is a lens with a lot of field of curvature simply because it is bent.
Using the dome port visualiser we can see that the effect of a dome is to bring the image closer to where it really is.
The net effect of a dome port is to increase the depth of field as infinity focus is reached much sooner.
A dome port has several side effects the main ones are:
Field of curvature
A fisheye lens works opposite to a dome. The centre of the frame is closer to the lens the edges are further away.
Domes, field of curvature and Fisheye lenses
In order to understant how the barrel distortion works in combination with a dome port and a fisheye lens we can build a small simulation in a light box where the edges of the frame are closer than a flat target.
We can see that despite the edges are quite blurry this image is actually better than our flat target.
At f/11 the image is not perfect but we can see that most details off centre are not looking bad at all.
it is definitely blurry but not as bad as the tea towel as if the way the element are laid out improves the image in the corners.
And this is exactly the point: the items as laid out emulating the curvature of a dome improve the fisheye lens performance.
By f/16 the image is almost all sharp.
One trick is not to focus in the back of the frame but find a middle point this means we can find additional depth of field in front of the target.
Let’s see how this goes. at f/11 we already get some better results.
At f/16 we get some additional improvement but is not as major as the original f/16
Looking at the other areas there are some minor improvements but generally less as we close down the aperture.
In conclusion the layout of the image elements helps the fisheye lens to achieve better image quality this can be futher improve focussing off centre however closing down the aperture results in the best results regardless.
In short we can improve an image at f/11 by shooting off centre in a strategic point to improve depth of field but ultimately aperture plays a bigger role in improving performance of the fisheye lens.
A similar reasoning can be applied to dome size vs closing down the aperture.
We can plot a scenario in the dome simulator tool.
In the starting example our aperture is 4cm to similate our 15mm lens at f/4.
We now reduce the aperture to 2cm which is more or less f/8
And finally to 1cm which is more of less f/14. In reality this is mm not cm but should make you understand that aperture matters more than anything else.
What we can see is that by reducing the aperture the light rays passing through the dome converge and this means stray light is reduced and as consequence spherical aberrations are decreased.
Let’s now introduce dome size which is the equivalent of depth of field in the mix in our light box shooting off centre.
We can see that with a double size dome the converging effect on the light rays is not as significant as the aperture is already small, but nonetheless is present. This is consistent with our f/11 off centre use case.
Finally at aperture completely closed.
Although virtual distance has increased significantly the effect of the large dome on the stray rays is not significant here aperture rules.
What does all of the above mean?
I realise this was a bit geeky.
To summarise a dome has two issues one is spherical aberration for the very shape of the dome. This is mostly cured by closing down the aperture. Dome size has limited effect here unless you shoot wide open and with apertures from f/14 we can see that large dome vs small dome does not really matter.
However when it comes to field of curvature large dome helps the situation but because fisheye lens have barrel distortion and this has a counter effect to dome shape curvature therefore dome size matters much less to a fisheye lens than it would to a rectilinear lens.
Some additional insight in this post. And the summary finding here.
The takeaway message is this: stopping down the aperture improves field curvature and astigmatism somewhat, improves coma a lot, and improves spherical aberration most of all. The sum total of these effects changes our ‘area of best focus’, which is what we photographers really mean when we say ‘field curvature’.
We could paraphrase this by saying:
A dome port increases depth of field and a fisheye lens, due to barrel distortion, benefits from a dome port. Optical aberrations introduced by the dome are mostly addressed by stopping down the aperture. The size of the dome port does not matter too much when using a fisheye lens and the benefit on aberrations of a much larger size dome is likely to be minimal when we look at that simulator. Focussing appropriately mitigates residual issues of field of curvature of the dome for the fisheye lens.
Underwater proof of concept
I took my Sony A1 with a Canon 8-15mm first and then with a WWL-1 that behaves very much like a fisheye lens.
Let’s have a look at some images shot with Nauticam 140mm dome.
The image above sees two buddies in the frame almost flat with their fins going back in the frame however the result is much better than the lightbox example as result of distance and dome port increasing field of view and adding curvature to bring the fins in.
This however does not resolve all issues if you focus near like in this example focussed on the eye of the croc
Here the eye is close resulting in the tail being blurred this is an effect of close distance and lack of depth of field despite the dome.
More interesting the nose is even more blurred as the dome brings that even close and blurs away due to field of curvature as the focus point is behind.
In this other example instead of focussing on the eye the focus goes mid frame so the fins are still in decent shape even if deep in the frame at f/8.
In order to prove the concept even more I took some props underwater.
First let’s have a look a shot at f/8 with the WWL-1.
As we can see the image is not too bad even in the close area but it is definitely better at f/11
What happens if we position the target off centre?
Contrary to our topside example the situation does not improve by focussing on the edge to further prove the issue here is NOT depth of field.
Here a detail crop the image is still fuzzy despite then focus is right on the spot. Depth of field is not the issue.
And finally we close down the aperture to f/11.
Crop at 100%
So here we can see that the underwater interface provides already for the depth of field but moving the focus at the edges does not have such a good effect.
The combined 28mm with WWL-1 at f/8 means 20/8-2.5 mm aperture when stopped down to f/11 this becomes small enough to cure aberrations (less than 1cm with reduced field of view is sufficient).
For the same reason ASPC and MFT will be able to shoot at wider aperture not because of depth of field but due to smaller lens aperture.
15mm fisheye at f/14 –> 1.07mm physical aperture
8mm MFT fisheye at f/8 –> 1mm physical aperture
Again it is not the depth of field but the aperture size to cure most aberrations.
All Nauticam port chart recommend the 140mm dome and not larger domes. This is aligned with the theory behind this post that dome size ultimately matters but not as much as stopping down the lens and that fisheye are naturally helped by dome port geometry.
This conclusion also extends to water contact optics which are composed by a fisheye like demagnifier and an integrated dome port.
As long as the rear element of the lens is big enough the increased size of the lens does not result in proportional improvement of performance.
By coincidence Alex recommends shooting at f/14 or f/16 which means a physical aperture of 1mm which cures all sorts of aberrations.
Considering that the benefit of a much larger dome may be as small as 1/2 to 2/3 aperture stops you may consider going the opposite way and get a very small dome which will result in additional spherical aberration and will need to be stopped down more when shooting very close.
If you use the Nauticam system there are only two ports that are a full emisphere and therefore able to contain a fisheye lens field of view:
140mm optical glass fisheye port
4.33″ acrylic dome port
I happen to own both those ports and in a future article will compare and contrast the two. I will also revisit the topic of dome ports and rectilinear lenses which is obviously different from fisheye lenses.
Sony has been the fist brand to produce a full frame mirrorless camera in 2013 with the Alpha 7. Ten years later Sony is a market leader in Digital Cameras and their division Sony Semiconductors is the market leader in sensor technology for a variety of applications, mobile phones, security and of course digital cameras.
It is not all rosy though, Sony ergonomics and menu system have been historically not intuitive with many people criticising or simply despising it.
In July 2020 Sony releases the A7S III a low megapixel camera completely focussed on video functionality with a strong performance in low light.
The A7S III offered a completely redesigned menu system and this was very well received by the public.
The ergononics were greatly improved and many video users started to convert to Sony, there were and are still some quirks but the useability had greatly improved from past model.
Since then the Alpha 1 announced in January 2021, the A7 IV and now the A7RV all have benefited from the new menu system and improved ergonomics.
An additional important detail is that Sony cameras are small and portable with weights between 650 and 740 grams this means underwater housing are also compact.
The Sony E-Mount system is the most popular full frame mirrorless format and is supported by many 3rd party lens manufacturers: Sigma, Tamron, Samyang and others.
It is also the most popular and more affordable full frame format for underwater photography with many housing options.
But what is more exciting is that the Sony E-Mount has extensive support of water contact optics from Nauticam and there is even an adapter to use Nikkor water contact lenses.
And finally the auto focus system of Sony full frame camera is market leading and Since the A1 sports subject detection with improvements trickling into the entire range.
So many DSRL users have been sitting on the fence waiting and keeping hold of their rigs but now in 2023 there really is a lot of choice and the Sony system supported by Nauticam housing and port system can offer options to all type of underwater photography shooters.
I have done myself a lot of research and tried many of those cameras before deciding what to get and I want to share some of my thinking with you.
The 2023 Line Up
As of today I would consider only 3 Sony full frame camera for underwater photography and those are:
This is a small comparison table with some key data points:
I will discuss the cameras from top to bottom. You can see that the price difference between the housings is not large but the price of the cameras are varying significantly.
Sony ILCE-1 aka A1
This camera sits on top of the current range of Sony full frame cameras and rightly so. The heart of the camera is a 50.1 megapixels stacked back illuminated sensor capable of a readout speed of 200 frames per second.
This means that the A1 is able to offer a black-out free shooting experience when the electronic shutter is used.
The other interesting characteristic of this camera is a flash sync speed of 1/400 s using mechanical shutter and the ability to trigger flash with electronic shutter up to 1/200 s.
The camera also offers a super high resolution viewfinder capable of 2048 × 1536 (QXGA) pixels although the best image quality is only available when the EVF is refreshed at 60 frames per second.
The A1 has many dials and controls including dedicated ones for exposure compensation and drive mode and generally feels compact and well built but perhaps not as robust as other premium models from Nikor or Canon.
It also offers 8k video up to 30 fps and 4k video up to 120 fps with a small crop. In general terms the A1 is still two years from its release the fastest camera on the market with a burst speed of 30 fps with autofocus.
Talking of autofocus this is simply the best AF on the market with subject eye detection and a very competent tracking mode for general purpose use.
I have the A1 myself if money is no object I would definitely recommend it if you are interested in a camera that is very fast to operate and has amazing video.
Nauticam offers an housing with all features available except touch screen.
Looking at the back of the housing you can see that even the multi function button is controlled by the housing.
Due to the compact size of the camera the housing itself is very compact for a full frame camera. A plus point is that the Nauticam housing can also be used for the A7S III with an adapter.
Sony ILCE-7R5 aka A7R5
This camera has recently been released and while the sensor is identical to the previous A7R4 the R5 offers the new improved menu system and a redesigned autofocus engine with subject detection.
The A7R5 has 61 megapixels and possibly the best image quality on the market for a full frame mirrorless camera.
The A7R5 has a single main dial with a subdial for movie and other modes. No dials exist for the drive.
The camera shares the same amazing EVF of the A1 but it has a fully articulated high resolution LCD.
The sync speed is a respectable 1/250 however the A7R5 has a very slow read out of 15 frames per second. This means video has a lot of rolling shutter and the burst rate is low as the camera reads slow and has many megapixels.
Nauticam has recently released the housing for this camera.
The housing is slightly simpler than the A1 due to the reduced number of controls and is very similar in size.
I believe the A7R5 will be a very popular choice for the underwater photographers and it is the perfect choice if IQ is your priority and in addition to underwater you also like landscape, architecture photography topside and video is not really your priority.
Sony ILCE-7M4 aka A7 IV
The A7 IV was released in fall 2021 and has marked a significant improvement over the very popular A7 III with a jump from 24 to 33 megapixels, improved EVF and autofocus and 4k video up to 60 fps with APSC crop.
The camera weakest point is the read LCD that has a very low resolution but otherwise this is a respectable camera with a price that has increased compared to previous models.
The camera body is very similar to the A7R5 and in general Sony cameras are fairly similar when it comes to a new release.
The housing is again very similar to the A7R5 due to the similar controls.
Although the EVF is ‘only’ 1280×960 this is perfectly adequate to check critical focus. Same cannot be said for the LCD and if you plan on getting this camera an underwater viewfinder is a must.
This camera like the A7R5 has a slow read out rate of 15 fps so it is not the best choice for fast moving subjects and burst but the AF is very functional so it will work well for your occasional kid running.
The A7 IV is a great choice is you like shooting in a variety of situation and especially in low light and you are not fussed by high megapixel count. In addition video quality is great and the APSC mode is very functional. It is a camera you can expand with accessories if you like.
Which camera is for me?
When it comes to choice this is mostly driven by your budget. While there are certainly differences in performance and functionality across the 3 models discussed all of them are perfectly capable of taking magnificient underwater images. Comparing sensor performance we can see we are splitting hair here. (The comparison is with the A7R4 that has the same sensor so it will be indentical)
I suppose it is somewhat suprising that the scores are so close but we need to take into account that those are normalised back to 8 megapixels.
In general terms I believe the A7R5 will be the most sought after model for underwater photography because of the high megapixel count, the high quality EVF and LCD and the functionality of the autofocus.
However if you can not or do not want to afford it the A7 IV is a very respectable choice. The LCD I believe is the key limitation of an otherwise very competent camera and frankly 33 megapixels are plenty.
The A1 will appeal to hybrid users that want the best photos and video and are most likely doing other form of wildlife shooting where speed matters.
Whatever you choose you cannot go wrong with the latest Sony models.
In the upcoming articles choosing the right ports for keeping your Sony full frame underwater system still portable.
There is no doubt that LOG formats in digital cameras have a halo of mystery around them mostly due to the lack of technical documentation on how they really work. In this short article I will explain how the Panasonic V-Log actually works on different cameras. Some of what you will read may be a surprise to you so I have provided the testing methods and the evidence so you can understand if LOG is something worth considering for you or not. I will aim at making this write up self-contained so you have all the information you need here without having to go and search elsewhere, it is not entirely possible to create a layman version of what is after all a technical subject.
A logarithmic operator is a non-linear function that processes the input signal and maps it to a different output value according to a formula. This is well documented in Panasonic V-Log/V-Gamut technical specifications. If you consider the input reflection (in) you can see how the output is related to the input using two formulas:
IRE = 5.6*in+0.125 (in < cut1 ) *
IRE = c*log10(in+b)+d (in >= cut1 )
Where cut1 = 0.01, b=0.00873, c=0.241514, d=0.598206
There are few implications of this formula that are important:
0 input reflectance is mapped to 7.3% IRE
Dark values are not compressed until IRE=18%
Middle Grey (18% reflectance) is still 42% IRE as standard Rec709
White (90% reflectance) is 61% IRE so much lower than Rec709
100% IRE needs input reflectance 4609 which is 5.5 stops headroom for overexposure.
So what we have here is a shift of the black level from 0% to 7.3% and a compression of all tones over 18% this gives the washout look to V-LOG that is mistakenly interpreted as flat but it is not flat at all. In fact the master pedestal as it is known in video or black level is shifted. Another consequence of this formula is that VLOG under 18% IRE works exactly like standard gamma corrected Rec709 so it should have exactly the same performance in the darks with a range between 7.3% and 18% instead of 0-18%.
In terms of ISO measured at 18% reflectante V-LOG should have identical ISO value to any other photo style in your camera this means at given aperture and exposure time the ISO in a standard mode must match V-LOG.
When we look at the reality of V-LOG we can see that Panasonic sets 0 at a value of 50% IRE so generally ⅔ to 1 full stop overexposed this becomes obvious when you look at the waveform. As a result blacks are actually at 10% IRE and whites at 80% once a conversion LUT is applied.
Challenges of Log implementation
LOG conversion is an excellent method to compress a high dynamic range into a smaller bit depth format. The claim is that you can pack the full sensor dynamic range into 10 bits video. Panasonic made this claim for the GH5s and for the S1H, S5.
There is however a fundamental issue. In a consumer digital camera the sensor is already equipped with a digital to analog converter on board and this operates in a linear non log mode. This means the sensor dynamic range is limited to the bit depth of the analog to digital converter and in most cases sensors do not even saturate the on board ADC. It is true that ADC can also resolve portions of bits however this does not largely change the picture.
If we look at the sensor used in the S1H, S5 this is based on a Sony IMX410 that has saturation value of 15105 bits or 13.88 stops of dynamic range. The sensor of the GH5s which is a variant of Sony IMX299 has a saturation of 3895 (at 12 bits) or 11.93 stops.
None of the S1H, S5 or GH5s actually reaches the nominal dynamic range that the ADC can provide at sensor level. The sensor used by the GH5 has more than 12 stops dynamic range and achieves 12.3 EV of engineering DR, as the camera has 12 bits ADC it will resolve an inferior number of tones.
So the starting point is 12 or 14 stops of data to be digitally and not analogically compressed into 10 bits coding. Rec709 has a contrast ratio requirement of 1000:1 which is less than 10 stops dynamic range. This has not to be confused with bit depth. With 8 bits depth you can manage 10 stops using gamma compression. If you finish your work in Rec709 the dynamic range will never exceed log2(1000)=9.97 stops. So when you read that rec709 only has 6.5 stops of DR or similar it is flawed as gamma compression squeezes the dynamic range into a smaller bit depth.
When we look at a sensor with almost 14 stops of dynamic range the standard rec709 gamma compression is insufficient to preserve the full dynamic range as it is by default limited to 10 stops. It follows that logically LOG is better suited to larger sensors and this is where it is widely used by all cinema camera manufacturers.
In practical terms the actual photographic dynamic range (this is defined as the dynamic range you would see on a print of 10″ on the long side at arm length), the one you can see with your eyes in an image, is less than the engineering value. The Panasonic S5 in recent tests showed around 11.5 stops while the GH5S is around 10 and the GH5 9.5 stops of dynamic range. Clearly when you look at a step chart the tool will show more than this value but practically you will not see more DR in real terms.
This means that it is possible that a standard gamma encoded video in 10 bits can be adequate in most situations and nothing more is required. There is also a further issue with noise that the log compression and decompression produces. As any conversion that is not lossless the amount of noise increases: this is especially apparent in the shadows. In a recent test performed with a S5 in low light and measured using neat-video assessment V-Log was one of the worst performed in terms of SNR. The test involved shooting a color checker at 67 lux of ambient illumination and reading noise level on the 4 shadows and darks chips. Though this test was carried out at default setting it has to be noted that even increasing the noise reduction in V-LOG does not eliminate the noise in the shadow as this depends on how V-LOG is implemented.
The actual V-Log implementation
How does V-LOG really work? From my analysis I have found that V-Log is not implemented equally across cameras, this is for sure a dependency on the sensor performance and construction. I do not know how a Varicam camera is built but in order to perform the V-Log as described in the document you need a log converter before the signal is converted to digital. In a digital camera the sensor already has an on board ADC (analog to digital converter) and therefore the output is always linear on a bit scale of 12 or 14 bits. This is a fundamental difference and means that the math as illustrated by Panasonic in the V-LOG/V-Gamut documentation cannot actually be implemented in a consumer digital camera that does not have a separate analog log compressor.
I have taken a test shot in V-LOG as well as other standard Photo Styles with my Lumix S5 those are the RAW previews. V-LOG is exactly 2 2/3 stops underexposed on a linear scale all other parameters are identical.
What is happening here? As we have seen ISO values have to be the same between photo styles and refer to 18% middle grey however if you apply a log conversion to a digital signal this results in a very bright image. I do some wide field astrophotography and I use a tool called Siril to extract information from very dark images this helps visualise the effect of a log compression.
The first screenshot is the RAW file as recorded a very dark black and white image as those tools process separately RGB.
The second image shows the same RAW image with a logarithmic operator applied; this gives a very bright image.
Now if you have to keep the same middle grey value exposure has to match that linear image so what Panasonic does is to change the mapping of ISO to gain. Gain is the amplification on the sensor chip and has values typically up to 24-30 dB or 8 to 10 stops. While in a linear image the ISO would be defined as 100 at zero gain (I am simplifying here as actually even at 100 there will be some gain) in a log image zero gain corresponds to a different ISO value. So the mapping of ISO to gain is changed. When you read that the native ISO is 100 in normal mode and 640 in V-LOG this means that for the same gain of 0 dB a standard image looks like ISO 100 and a V-LOG image looks like ISO 640, this is because V-LOG needs less gain to achieve the same exposure as the log operator brightens the image. In practical terms the raw linear data of V-LOG at 640 is identical to an image taken at 100.
This is the reason why when a videographer takes occasional raw photos and leaves the camera in V-LOG the images are underexposed.
The benefit of the LOG implementation is that thanks to log data compression you can store the complete sensor information in a lower bit depth in our case this means going from 14 to 10 bits.
There are however some drawbacks due to the fact that at linear level the image was ‘underexposed‘, I put the terms in italic as exposure only depends on time and aperture of the lens, so in effect is lack of gain for which there is no term.
The first issue is noise in the shadows as those on a linear scale are compacted, as the image is underexposed: a higher amount of noise is present and this is then amplified by the LOG conversion. It is not the case that LOG does not have noise reduction, in fact standard noise reduction expects a linear signal gamma corrected and therefore could not work properly (try setting a high value in V-LOG on a S camera to see the results), the issue is with the underexposure (lack of gain) of the linear signal.
There are also additional side effects due to what is called black level range, I recommend reading on photonstophotos a great website maintained by Bill Claff. When you look at black levels you see that cameras do not really have pure black but have a range. This range results in errors at the lower scale of the exposure; the visible effect is colour bleeding (typically blue) in the shadows when there is underexposure. As V-LOG underexposed in linear terms you will have issues of colour bleeding in the shadows: those have been experienced by several users so far with no explanation.
The other side effect is that the LUT to decompress V-LOG remains in a 10 bit color space which was insufficient to store the complete dynamic range data and this does not change. So the LUT does not fully reverse the log compression in Panasonic case this goes into the V709 CineLike Gamma which is in a Rec709 gamma. As the full signal is not decompressed means that there are likely errors of hue accuracy so V-LOG does not have a better ability to reproduce accurate colors and luminance and this is the reason why even after a LUT is applied it needs to be graded. If you instead decompress V-LOG in a log space like Rec2020 HDR you will see that it does not look washed out at all and colors are much more vibrant as the receiving space has in excess of 20 stops.
Some users overexpose their footage saying they are doing ETTR. Due to the way log is implemented this means it will reach a clipping point sooner and therefore the dynamic range is no longer preserved. This is a possible remedy to reduce the amount of noise in low light however the log compression is not fully reversed by the LUT that is expecting middle grey exposure and therefore color and luminance accuracy errors are guaranteed. If you find yourself regularly overexposing V-LOG you should consider not using it at all.
Shadow Improvement and input referred noise
The Lumix cameras with dula gain sensor have a different behaviour to those without. This is visible in the following two graphs again from Bill Claff excellent website.
The first is the shadow improvement by ISO here you can see that while the GH5/G9 stay flat and are essentially ISO invariant, the GH5S and S5 that have a dual gain circuit have an improvement step when they go from low to high gain. What changes here is due to the way the sensors of the GH5s and S5 are constructed, the back illumination means that when the high gain circuit is active there is a material improvement in the shadows and the camera may even have a lower read noise at this ISO (gain) point than it had before because of this.
Another benefit of dual gain implementation is easier to understand when you look at input referred noise graphs. You can see that as the sensor enters the dual gain zone the input referred noise drops. Input referred noise means the noise that you would need to feed as an input to your circuit to produce the same noise as output. So this means when that step is passed the image will look less noisy. Again you can see that while the GH5 stays relatively flat the GH5s and S5 have a step improvement. Is it is not totally clear what happens in the intermediate zone for the GH5s possibly intermediate digital gain or more noise reduction is applied.
The combination of a certain type of sensor construction and dual conversion gain can be quite useful to improve shadows performance.
Do not confuse dual gain benefit with DR preservation, while dual gain reduces read noise it does not change the fact that the highlights will clip as gain is raised. So the effective PDR reduces in any case and is not preserved. The engineering DR is preserved but that is only useful to a machine and not to our eyes.
Now we are going to look at specific implementation of V-LOG in various camera models.
Front Illuminated 12 bits Sensors
Those are traditional digital cameras for photos and include the GH5, G9 for example. On those cameras you will see that the V-Log exposure shows a higher ISO value of 1 stop compared to other photo styles at identical aperture and shutter speed setting but the actual result is the same in a raw file so your RAW at 400 in VLOG is the same of another photo style at 200. This is a direct contradiction of Panasonic own V-Log model as the meter should read the same in all photo styles so something is going on here. As there is no underexposure it follows that there is no real log compression either. Those cameras are designed in a traditional way so low ISO (gain) is good high ISO (gain) is not. This is visible in the previous graphs.
Those screenshot show how the raw data of an image taken at ISO 250 in standard mode is identical to the V-LOG image and therefore shows how there is not LOG compression at all in the GH5. V-LOGL of the GH5 is therefore just a look and does not have any increase of dynamic range compared to other photo styles.
Is this version of V-LOGL more effective than other photo style with a compressed gamma like CineLikeD? According to Panasonic data CineLikeD has 450% headroom so it is already capable of storing the whole dynamic range that the GH5 can produce (450% means 12.13 stops vs 12.3 theoretical maximum).
In addition noise performance of V-Log is worse because all is doing is acting on shadows and highlights and not really doing any log conversion. The business case for acquiring a V-Log key on those cameras is limited if the objective was to preserve dynamic range as the camera already has this ability with photo styles included with the camera and moreover the V-LOG is not actually anything related to LOG compression otherwise the image would have needed to have less gain and would have shown underexposed. The fact that the camera is shooting at nominal ISO 400 means most likely that some form of noise reduction is active to counter the issue that V-Log itself introduces of noise in the shadows. So in this type of camera V-LOG is only a look and does not accomplish any dynamic range compression.
Back Illuminated 12 bits readout sensors
The cameras that have this technology are the GH5s and the BGH1, the back illumination gives the sensor a better ability to convert light into signal when illumination levels are low. Those cameras have actually a sensor with an 14 bits ADC but this is not used for video.
In order to decompose the procedure I have asked a friend to provide some RAW and Jpeg images in Vlog and normal. You can see that in the GH5s there is 1 stop underexposure and therefore a light form of log compression.
In the GH5s implementation the camera meters zero at the same aperture shutter and ISO in LOG and other photo styles and zero is 50% IRE so actually is 1 stop overexposed.
The procedure for V-Log in this cameras is as follows:
Meter the scene on middle grey + 1 stop (50%)
Reduce gain of the image 1 stop behind the scenes (so your 800 is 400 and 5000 is 2500)
Digital log compression and manipulation
As the underexposure is mild this means the log compression is also mild as it is only recovering 1 stop as the two effect cancels this is actually a balanced setting.
The IMX299 dual gain implementation was a bit messed up in the GH5s but has been corrected in the BGH1 with the values of 160 and 800. It is unclear what is happening to the GH5s and why Panasonic declared 400 and 2500 as the dual gain values as those do not correspond to sensor behaviour, perhaps additional on sensor noise reduction only starts at those values or just wanting to make a marketing statement.
Back Illuminated 14bits Sensors
Here we have the S1H and S5 that have identical sensors and dual gain structure.
The metering behaviour on the S series is the same as the GH5s so all photo styles result in identical metering. The examples were at the beginning of this post so I am not going to repeat them here.
Now the gain reduction is 2 and ⅔ stops which is significant. After this is applied a strong log compression is performed. This means that when you have ISO 640 on the screen the camera is actually at gain equivalent to ISO 100 and when you have 5000 is at 640 resulting in very dark images. In the case of the S5/S1H VLOG does offer additional dynamic range not achievable with other photo styles.
Interestingly V-Log on the S series does achieve decent low light SNR despite the strong negative gain bias. Here we can see that the Log implementation can be effective however other photo styles that do not reduce gain may be a better choice in low light as gain lifts the signal and improves SNR. It is also important to note that the additional DR of VLOG compared to other photo styles is in the highlights so it only shows on scenes with bright areas together with deep darks this was noted on dpreview and other websites.
Should you use V-LOG?
It looks like Panasonic is tweaking the procedure for each sensor or even camera as they go along. The behind the scenes gain reduction is really surprising however it is logical considering the effect of a log compression.
Now we can also see why Panasonic calls the GH5s implementation V-LOGL as the level of log compression is small only 1 stops as opposed to VLOG in the S series where the compression is 2 ⅔ stops. We have also seen that V-LOG, at least in a digital consumer camera with sensor with integrated ADC, has potentially several drawbacks and those are due to the way a camera functions.
Looking at benefits in terms of dynamic range preservation:
GH5/G9 and front illuminated sensor: None
GH5s/BGH1 back illuminated MFT: 1 stop
S5/S1H full frame: 2 ⅔ stops
What we need to consider is that changing the gamma curve can also store additional dynamic range in a standard video container. Dpreview is the only website that has compared the various modes when they reviewed the Panasonic S1H.
A particularly interesting comparison is with the CineLikeD photo style that according to Panasonic can store higher dynamic range and is also not affected by the issues of V-LOG in the shadows or by color accuracy problems due to log compression. The measures of dpreview show that:
On the GH5s V-LOG has 0.3 stops benefits over CineLikeD
On the S1H V-LOG has a benefit of 0.7 stops over CineLikeD2
Considering the potential issues of noise and color bleeding in the shadows together with hue accuracy errors due to the approximation of the V-LOG implementation I personally have decided not to use V-LOG at all for standard dynamic range but to use it for HDR footage only as the decompression of V-LOG seems to have limited to no side effects. In normal non HDR situations I have shot several clips with V-LOG but I never felt I could not control the scene to manage with other photo styles and the extra effort for a maximum benefit of 0.7 Ev is not worth my time nor the investment in noise reduction software or the extra grading effort required. As HDR is not very popular I have recently stopped using V-LOG altogether due to lack of support of HDR in browsers for online viewing.
Obviously this is a personal consideration and not a recommendation however I hope this post helps you making the right choices depending on what you shoot.
This write up is based on my analysis on Panasonic V-LOG and does not necessarily mean the implementation of other camera manufacturers is identical however the challenges in a digital camera are similar and I expect the solutions to be similar too.