Tag Archives: Tips

Using Rectilinear Wide Lenses Underwater

I was checking the technical details of Alex Mustard Underwater Photography Master Class and the majority of wide angle pictures are taken with a fisheye lens. In the section about shooting sharks Alex says that he prefers to shoot sharks with a fisheye otherwise they look ‘skinny’.

If you look online on underwater video forums you frequently see comments on problems with wide angle lenses connected with the use of a rectilinear wide angle lens in a dome.

The two most common complaints are soft corners and distortion.

Soft corners are due to a combination of lens optical issues and dome port optics. In short any lens is to some extent curved and therefore if you shoot a flat surface the image may be sharp in the centre and softer as you move to the corners. Issues with field of curvature are corrected stopping down the lens. The issue with field of curvature happens everywhere not just underwater.

Right now there are four wide angle lens that can be housed for a micro four third camera:

Olympus 9-18mm

This lens has a nice working range that allows to capture 100 degrees diagonal at widest setting and still has a 35mm equivalent at the tele end. This is a pretty little lens at $699 is the most affordable option that can be put in a housing. You will need a wide angle port and the zoom gear. The whole combination for your Nauticam housing comes at $1,399. This lens can also be combined with a glass dome but this will make the whole combination much more expensive and you may want to think about getting a better lens instead.

Olympus 7-14mm

This is an outstanding lens especially on land due to the fast f/2.8 aperture. It is expensive at $1,299.99 and very heavy and bulky. The lens does not fit through the N85 port opening and requires a port adapter this gives the extra benefit of a focus know but with such a wide lens is not really useful due to high depth of field. You will need a 180mm glass dome and the zoom gear for the lens to complete the set up ending at a whopping $3159.99.

Panasonic 7-14mm

I have owned this lens and I have to say that at $799 is the right compromise between wide field of view and price. Furthermore once you get the zoom gear you have the option of a cost effective acrylic dome that will give you a very wide set up for $1589.99. There are reports of poor performance with this lens and it is true that is not as sharp in corners but the results are perfectly acceptable if you stop at f/8 in close shots.

Steering Wheel Truck
Panasonic 7-14mm with acrylic dome 9mm f/8
Exploring the Chrisoula
Panasonic 7-14mm with acrylic dome 7mm f/5

This lens is prone to reflections and flare however once you add the N120 port adapter and the 180mm glass dome this will get you to $2819 at that point you may want to consider the Olympus combination instead.

Panasonic Leica 8-18mm

This is my favourite lens is sharp does not suffer from field of curvature issues and has a very useful zoom range 16-35mm in 35mm equivalent. The zoom gear and the 7″ acrylic dome will take you to 1889.99 that is an excellent price point. The lens is not prone to reflection or flare and as the 7″ dome has the same curvature radius than the 180mm dome it will produce very similar results.

Encircled
Panasonic 8-18mm in 7 acrylic dome f/8
Sunset Neat
Panasonic 8-18mm at 8mm f/10

The significant size of the acrylic port and the fact it floats make it ideal for split shots and this is the lens that gives me the best results.

This lens can also take port adapter that allows you to use the 180mm glass dome. This adds up to $2919.99 if you experience bad reflections and shoot frequently in the sun it may be worth it but I have not had any issue so far with this lens probably because of its nano coating.

I have found the 7mm focal length too problematic for dome ports and the amount of perspective distortion excessive generally it would be preferred to shoot at 9mm and narrower however this maybe insufficient for wreck interiors if you want a rectilinear look.

Perspective Distortion

One of the regular complaints of video shooters especially in wrecks or caves is that the edges look horrible and distorted and that there is an issue with the corners pulling. This is in fact not an issue but a problem with perspective as you shoot very wide angle. The following test shots will illustrate that the issue happens on land and has nothing to do with dome ports.

Shot at f/2.8 with Panasonic 8-18mm at 8mm shows sharp corners
Image with objects in edges at 8mm

As we can see the football looks like an oval and the chair is pulled. This is due to a perspective issue and is not a lens problem. When you shoot underwater video the objects on the edges of the frame change shape creating this pull effect that most people dislike.

Same scene at 9mm

At 9mm the amount of perspective distortion is reduced and this is the reason why 18mm on 35mm equivalent is one of the favourite focal length for rectilinear video and the maximum angle that should be used in small spaces to avoid the pulling edges.

One of the reason why a lens like the Nauticam WWL-1 is preferred for video is because the corners look sharp but is that really true?

Not really let’s apply some barrel distortion to simulate the WWL-1 to the image that looked badly distorted.

Barrel distortion applied -60 8mm

Now the football looks circular as we have applied -60 barrel distortion, obviously the rest of the image is now bent but this seems not to be of a concern to most people!

Barrel distortion -30 9mm

It needs much less correction to bring the 9mm shot into shape and for sure between the 8mm and 9mm the 9mm is the dimension that produces the most acceptable results.

It has to be said that in video with 16:9 aspect ratio most of the issue will be cropped away at the edges but the distortion in the middle of the frame will remain. For the same reason the 9mm image will appear practically rectilinear with no issues

16:9 crop still showing the edge ‘pulling’ at 8mm

16:9 crop looks straight at 9mm

I hope this post was useful there are four options for micro four thirds shooters to use rectilinear lenses I have settled for the Panasonic 8-18mm as in most cases it is still possible to control the perspective issue, I found this impossible at 7mm.

Bike on Hold 2
Bike in hold 2 on SS Thistlegorm Panasonic 8-18 at 8mm
Bubbling Bike
Shot at 7mm showing the front tyre pulling outside the frame

Obviously if you shoot in the blue this problem will not be visible however rectilinear lenses are popular with wreck shooters and I think this posts gives an idea of the challenges at play.

Finally I would discourage the use of the 7-8mm focal length range for video to those that want to have a rectilinear look.

From this post I started supporting Bluewater Photo in US for my links because it still provides multi brand and choice and because I learnt a lot from Scott Gietler Underwater photography guide back in the days where there was no internet resource to learn from.

CREATIVE strobe filters for wide angle

When people think about creating lighting technique for underwater photography a few things come to mind and usually it is about tools. Snoots for example have become very popular and help the underwater photographer to increase separation of the subject from the background. I have seen some people jumping in the water with a black slate to create an artificial black background, clearly is much easier to do that for macro as everything is at end and typically the subjects are not fast moving or the diver is not fast moving.

Then of course there is strobe positioning, classic, inward, crossed, rabbit ears, backlighting etcetera here goes a long list of options.

At the end however some pictures just seem to “pop” more than others, and this usually has to do with the colours and the contrast and with the blue.

It is not a coincidence that the term Mustard Blue is what has made some shots from Alex Mustard re-known and if you read his underwater photography masterclass there is a whole section ‘The sea is blue’ where Dr. Mustard goes on about the importance of exposure and background blue.

His suggestions are to:

  1. Dial in an underexposure (for the water) around -2/3 to -1 1/3 Ev
  2. Using warm strobes

It is worth stressing out that the primary reason why the camera gets fooled by the conditions underwater is because colours gets absorbed and blue lights gets scattered instead creating that milky glare at times when the water has lots of suspended particles.

If shoot an auto mode with exposure compensation at zero your pictures will for most part come out washed out and lacking contrast underwater and this is one the primary reasons photographer like Dr Mustard do not follow the expose to the right rules.

Underexposure for the water is obtained by keeping the aperture and ISO constant as they are aligned to the strobes and changing the shutter speed accordingly. Obviously if you are shooting video your shutter speed is most likely fixed so you need to find alternative ways to get your blue as you want it but generally you would still underexpose probably not as much.

With regards to warm strobes this is a fairly subtle point linked to the camera auto white balance mechanism.

Most flash strobes have colour temperatures between 5500 and 6500 K and therefore are not at all particularly warm.

Inon Z240 Standard and Warm diffuser

Inon has developed warming diffusers for their Z240 range and I believe also for the most recent Z330 range. They are available in 4600K and 4900K temperature. I definitely recommend the 4600K version over the 4900K as it has a stronger effect.

So how does a warm strobe work in order to get a richer blue?

Table of light sources – Olympus education

When we shoot with strobes the camera is set to auto white balance, and will average for most the subject we hit with our strobes to calculate the average colour temperature and tint.

The camera auto white balance operates between 2500K and 7500K typically so a warm strobe is likely to set the colour to 4600K instead of the typical 5500K the ‘extra’ 900K do not really do anything to the subject that will anyway we white balance but give an extra kick to the blue background. Underwater colour temperature is usually higher than 9000K and easily reaches 14000K (purple tone in the water) at depth. So the warm strobes are particularly effective in shallower and clearer water as they push the blue to a darker tint like in this example taken around 12 meters.

f/8 1/125 ISO 125

You can see how deep is the blue other example taken on the Barge at less than 10 meters.

Portrait in deep blue…

So what happens if you don’t have a warm strobe or if there aren’t warm diffusers for the strobe you have, or maybe you don’t want to spend the money for them?

Amazon comes to the rescue

If your strobe is around 5250 with diffusers (like Sea and Sea YS-D2 or Inon S2000/Z240/D200) get a 1/8 CTO

Rosco Cinegel sun 1/8 CTO, 20×24″ Color Correction Lighting Filter

You can find this filter also under Lee on colour 231, with a little amount you can get a half sheet that is enough for a few strobes.

This filter has a negligible -0.3 Ev light loss and will bring your strobe down to around 4600K .

If you have a fairly cool strobe you need a 1/4 CTO

Rosco un 1/4 CTO 20X24 Amber – Rosco RS340911

If you have something different you can try a mired shift calculator here

http://www.leefilters.com/lighting/mired-shift-calculator.html

Be careful not to exceed with this technique or subject will turn too warm.

An alternative and perhaps counterintuitive approach is to use cooling filters.

In this case the strobe light will become colder to emulate the water colour and the camera will need to be set to custom white balance.

In almost all cameras except Olympus that reach 14000K colour temperatures are limited to 10000K however they can be further enhanced to reach 11000K if you have an adjustment panel like the Panasonic or Sony cameras. Pushing the adjustment to the A gives extra 1K. This technique with a bare lens has however a limitation as when the custom white balance caps the colours go completely off.

In order to see what can the colour temperature setting do we can compare a normal grey card shot with one where the colour temp is 11000K and magenta is pushed to the max.

Grey card bare lens
Maxed out Custom White balance on Panasonic GH5

In order to cool down the strobes you need a cyan filter, the custom white balance can correct up to 2 stops Cyan but no more. You can trim a sheet of Rosco 4360 to fit into your diffuser as below. This takes around 1 stop Ev off the strobe.

Sea and Sea diffuser with a Cyan 60 gel

It important to stress that the predominant colour in blue and blue water is cyan not blue and this is what gives the washed out scattering. We want to keep the deep blues and get rid of light blue and green which ultimately is cyan the colour of water.

So the strobe will emulate the water and the camera custom white balance will set the colour restoring what was lost and giving us a full correct spectrum. This however only works until the water colour temperature gets to 11000K and this is not as deep as you may think it could be a low as 9-10 meters. A cyan 60 filter is approximately 9500K. You can see the colour in the image below.

Cyan 2 Stop results in Colour Temperature around 9500K

In this technique the strobe is not used to give colour but to eliminate shadows the custom white balance is going to give a deep colour that penetrates the whole frame so any subject in the distance will be colourful as well.

The benefit of this technique is that you may use wider apertures and even slower shutter speeds like in this 1/60 example here.

batfish formation 1/60 f/5.6 ISO 200

You can clearly see the orange colours of the anthias far behind in the frame.

The ultimate stretch of this technique is to combine a filter like the magic filter this can be used with both a Cyan 2 stops and also a Cyan 3 stops in deeper water. This technique is taxing on exposure as your strobes are half power and your exposure has 1 2/3 stops less however this is easily recovered as you tend to shoot at slower shutter speeds of 1/30 to 1/60 instead of 1/125 to 1/200 because the filter will give you the deeper blues.

Magic filters on WB slate

The magic filter adds around 3000K to you camera custom white balance ability reaching the 14000K where the water starts turning purple blue. To that regards due to the amount of red I do not recommend going to deep with the magic and keep it to a max of 13 meters as recommended on their website.

The magic filter is almost a perfect match for the Cyan 60 filter if you overlap them over the lens you get almost a neutral grey card the temperature is only 150K off while the tint is around 5 notches toward green in Lightroom.

Magic Filter + Cyan 60 results in almost neutral grey card

This cave shot I believe gives an idea and is taken with filter on lens and strobes.

Magic filter plus Cyan 60

I have also tried the magic filter with Cyan 90 however there are some side effect to consider. Firstly you get Cyan cast on the image at shallower depths. Second the magic filter has a tendency to turn purple below a certain depth so I recommend to use the magic with the Cyan 60 as you are certain that the foreground subject and the strobe filter will give you a neutral colour. If you are in deeper water and the temperature is above 10000K this will only result in a deeper blue and a warmer light on the subject that once RAW corrected will look just fine.

Conclusion

In this post I have tried to give you some tips on how to use gels to give deeper blue or richer colours to your wide angle. I would recommend to start with warming diffusers and then move to cyan filters and finally to magic filter and cyan filter in combination.

I will be demonstrating extensively this techniques during my 2020 Red Sea Liveaboard

A final word for video shooters. I am not aware of any add on warming diffusers for video lights and generally I have not seen LED warmer than 5000K therefore unless you shoot at 60p 1/125 it will be very hard to get deep blue at shallow depths without a lens filter.

See my other post for video specific tips.

Full size images are available on my flickr pages all images here are reduced to 1600 pixels for storage purposes.

Getting the best underwater colours for your 4K Sony RX100 Mark IV

It is not a mystery that even the new Mark IV version has issues with custom white balance.

The ergonomics have not changed and you need to go into photo mode to set custom white balance but generally underwater results are poor. Using filters is therefore a necessity also on the new 4K version.

RX100 Mark IV Video Behavior

The RX100 offers now a 4K 100 mbps mode and can use picture profiles.

I have used a modified version of PP6 that use the cine2 gamma curve, I have however changed the colour to the Pro mode and changed a number of other settings in my last video in Puerto Galera.

The water was green and murky but this gives you an idea of what you can get.

Filter Options and Wide Angle

Although the Nauticam WWL-1 is the best lens for the RX100 it does not take filters and therefore is not adequate for video.

In this review clip you can see the options available on the market.

In terms of wide angle you have two options for 4K:

  1. Inon UWL-H100
  2. Inon UWL-100

Both lenses work fine in 4K however the older UWL-100 achromat does vignette in photo mode.

The UWL-H100 offers a very wide field of view also in HD mode with no vignette and accepts the mangrove/deeproof filter.

This filters is loaded with magenta so I suggest adjusting the tint in the auto white balance mode to +2 green.

The UWL-100 works fine in 4K and is wider than the UWL-H100 however has only the M67 mount. If you have one of those lenses you can use the Ikelite 6442 filter. This filter required you to remove the rubber ring on the lens and does work quite well except has a yellow cast to it you can reduce by changing the tint to +2 blue and increasing also magenta to +1.

For flexibility purposes probably the UWL-H100 is better as it takes the bayonet but the UWL-100 is really wide and has a little less fringing. Some people do like the UR/PRO filters better.

I hope you find this post useful and good luck with getting the best colours from your Sony RX100 Mark IV

Underwater Photography Workshops – My Tips

I thought the Red Sea workshop with Alex Mustard was brilliant to I thought of writing down my notes and sharing them with you.

This final post is a general one and has my lesson learned from attending the workshop, those that follow are generic tips that I think would be beneficial to anyone wanting to attend a similar experience.

Before the Workshop

The experience actually starts before you even attend the sessions key points for me include:

  • Ask questions about the workshop and how it works
  • Know your equipment
  • Take all the gear you have
  • Be fit and self reliant
  • Set your self objectives

I did not really ask many questions before going as Dr Mustard sent a very comprehensive document however this is not standard and it is better to ask in advance about the conditions, the dives, the type of training and generally how the workshops is organized. Some have talks, other have one to one, other are just dive trips where you ask when you need. Not all types fit everyone so better to make sure you go to one that matches your need.

Sadly even this time like in every trip I have come across people using their equipment or part of their equipment for the first time. The end results is wasted dives and opportunities, I cannot stress enough that testing your rig in a pool before going allows you to familiarize with it and make any corrections you need.

Pool Conditions
Pool Practice

Also take all the possible lens, ports, parts that may be useful. Once you are there you don’t want to have regrets about something you have left home. In my case all was there but I did not know about remote strobes otherwise I would have got myself a trigger as I have 2 Z240s.

Transformer Tray
In case of doubt exceed with equipment

In most of those workshops buddy system does not really apply so make sure you are self reliant and fit as the conditions allow to avoid embarrassing or even dangerous incidents. Once there dive within your comfort limit and if you don’t really have a buddy dive with a guide.

It is useful to know before you go what your objectives are, for example what type of shots you want to work on. This means you have something to do over and above the assigned tasks.

During the workshop

Once there you need to stay focused on your performance. Those are additional points to think about:

  • Deliver the assigned tasks
  • Go off the beaten track
  • Learn from other participants
  • Take notes

Sometimes during those workshop there are challenges or set shot that are suggested, this is your opportunity to compare your work with others and therefore you should make sure you deliver those also to find out if there are limits with your equipment.
Eggs
In the Red Sea workshop were given the task of taking pictures of cardinal fish with eggs in their mouth. I realized I could not fill the frame because I lacked a mid range close up lens and my camera would not focus closer.

In addition to the suggested shots you should make changes to those and try something different even if not totally different.

Ras Katy Sunset

There are many landscape split shots but not many portrait so why not try one results can be excellent and it is easier with a small dome.

Other participants also will give a go to the same shots or have better editing skills it is worth to watch and learn.

Trucks
My buddy was setting up a remote strobe I fired a few shots (unintentionally of course) so I got my own shot!

Finally take notes of what you did right and wrong and if you missed anything.

After the workshop

After the sessions are over still there is work to do over and above going over your pictures again.

  • Write down your lessons learned
  • Look at other people images
  • Order any equipment that you missed

Well it goes without saying that I put the notes together and summarized them here.

I also found great to connect to other people and then look at their gallery for other shots that we had not discussed before.

Finally I ordered myself an Inon UCL330, funny I had this lens and sold it not realizing the real use which is fish portraits!!!

That’s all for now if you go on a workshop soon I hope you find this useful.

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.

 

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.

Sony RX100 Mark II Bulkhead Connection Flop

In this post I will investigate for your enjoyment the bulkhead connector available for the Sony RX100 Mark II and will see why this is unfortunately an accessory that is not worth buying. There are other ways to put the M16 port to use for example with a leak detection system but if were thinking of firing strobes using electrical sync cords then think again.

I was today at the London International Dive Show where I met Dr Alex Tattersall of Nauticam UK that also introduced me to Catherine Lai, daughter of Edward CEO and founder of Nauticam and herself operations director.

I felt a bit sorry when I had to explain why the bulkhead was not a workable solution and if you have a look at the youtube video you will understand why, this has been shot by my fiance’ on an iPhone so apologies for the portrait format and occasional shake.

Right so if you didn’t manage to hear the audio or understand the subtitles here is the plain text explanation.

The bulkhead has a single X pin that connects to the center of the RX100 multi-shoe, now this is the same interface that is on the newer Nex and on the A7. The Sony multi-shoe has a complex 21 pin interface that used with compatible accessories can trigger an external TTL flash.

In order for an external device to be recognized the interface of the connector need to connect to the 21 pin slot not just to the center. Nauticam bulkhead adapter is not so complex and only connect only on the center pin.

So the result is that the external connection is not recognized and if you leave the flash set to fill flash, as you would do with an optical connection, the internal RX100 flash pops out and fires away negating the benefit of the electrical connection.

So in order to make it work you need to set the internal flash to OFF. As the pin on the multi-shoe is always live this works perfectly so when you press the shutter the nikonos interface triggers the external strobe which is what should happen.

The little but significant inconvenient is that if you set the flash to off the LCD goes pretty much black as the RX100 has live view on the LCD and only lights up when you half press the shutter. This means is practically impossible to compose any shot unless you have a really bright focus light or there is sufficient ambient light. In any case for a close focus wide angle shot that you will take with this camera with apertures between f/8 and f/11 the screen will look pitch black as in the video even if you set the LCD to sunny weather.

Whilst the A7 and Nex have an option to disable live view in the LCD, the RX100 does not have such option so you are pretty much done and this accessory is not worth buying as it also introduces an additional point of failure for the housing and one for each strobe.

So the supposed big advantage of the Mark II goes out of the window, time to despair? Not at all!!!

As previously anticipated in my first impression post https://interceptor121.wordpress.com/2013/07/27/sony-rx100m2-first-impressions/

I had the impression that the internal flash was recycling much faster than the original RX100, well I have done some tests and I can confirm what imaging-resource has measured: the flash recycling time at full power goes from 7.2 sec of the RX100 down to 4.4 seconds of the Mark II.

Now this is significant because after your shot you need anyway 2 seconds to recharge the strobes and look at the image preview after the shot and probably another 2 seconds to recompose the shot, at that time the RX100 Mark II will be ready to shoot again at full power.

The improved CIPA rating of the Mark II also means well in excess of 200 shots at full flash before having to change the battery so there is no big deal that the electrical option is not workable, get yourself a twin set of Inon Z240 (my current favourite) or Sea and Sea YS-D1 and you will have no issues compared to any other compact as the RX100 Mark II has the highest CIPA rating of all compacts on the market that are good underwater.

In fact the most significant improvement of the RX100 Mark II in addition to the better performance in low light is certainly the strobe recycle time, from 7.2 to 4.4 is nearly a 40% improvement and the Mark II is faster to recycle than a Canon S120 although not as fast as the G15 or as fast as the Panasonic LX7 or Olympus XZ2. However we are talking about 1.2 seconds difference I doubt that is such a big deal

Clearly the RX100 Mark II is the best compact camera for both still and videos and I look forward to shooting more stills with it.

 

Barbados: First Sony RX100 Mark II Feature

So after a few months since I got the Nauticam housing I finally had the time to get in the water and try it on.

I was in Barbados for a week and although the diving was not exactly outstanding I did have enough to test the camera behavior.
The link to the videos are here for YouTube at 1080p

or if you prefer Vimeo at 720p

The footage was all taken at 1080p50 the highest mode of the RX100. The RX1oo can work in both PAL and NTSC standard but I chose the PAL mode just to avoid the annoying NTSC message at startup. The clip has been edited with iMovie 9.0.9 and then exported in 1080p25 using Xencoder codec for quicktime in high profile. Youtube then reconverts it to its own specifications, but at least I have the highest possible starting point.

As mentioned the RX100 shoots at shutter speed of 1/100 in 50p mode and this suited me fine in case I wanted to produce a 60p clip for viewing on the computer as currently no online system supports it.

As discussed in the previous post I shot all wide angle in camera Program mode. This allowed me to use the left control wheel button to call the white balance set menu that in video is not available. I set the picture format to 16:9 so that would show similar on the screen. I did notice that when I actually started the movie recording the crop of the active steadyshot kicked in with a reduction of field of view of around 9 degrees or a 1.14 zoom equivalent.

However the active steady shot was well worth it as I have not used any stabilization for any part of this clip and therefore not introduced any extra cropping.

The wide angle shots with the RX100 are an absolute breeze when you use a filter and there is no need for custom white balance until it gets too deep to actually use a filter. I struggled getting decent results with custom white balance, the 9900 K error came pretty much every time except when in shallow water and balancing on sand. Also the results were off with too much magenta tint to the point I had always to correct it.

Ultimately I kept the filter and the camera in Auto White balance and did not bother doing a custom reading at all. The results were excellent.

SS Stavronikita
SS Stavronikita AWB

In deeper water the filter started making the image a bit dark so I took it off and used a temperature setting of 9900K with Magenta and Amber at the maximum.

For close up at distances over 20cm I still shot in program and had good results. When getting super close or macro I used Movie mode in Aperture priority mode with aperture set at f/11. Towards the end of the clip you can see a shot of a small pink frogfish that is done like that. The close up on the eye is shot with two stacked Inon UCL165 the depth of field is really small as you can see but still workable considering I hand held the camera at all time.

Pink Frogfish f/11
Pink Frogfish f/11

When I shot this arrow crab I had left the camera in program mode so it chose an aperture of f/5.6 you can see that whilst the mouth is in focus the arrow is not

Arrow Crab
Arrow Crab f/5.6

Similar situation with the pedersen shrimp where not everything is sharp in focus

Pedersen Shrimp
Pedersen Shrimp f/5.6

Obviously I am being very exigent with my footage and in normal condition this is already good to very good.

So what I liked and what I did not like about the RX100 Mark II:

I liked:

  • The ergonomics and ease of use are outstanding
  • The camera performs incredibly well with a filter in auto white balance
  • The manual focus with peaking works extremely well
  • Dynamic range and colors are outstanding and not just for a compact
  • Image crisp even in the corners at f/1.8 compared to the Mark I this is extremely significant
  • The active stabilizer was great and meant to manipulation in post
  • Battery life is incredible
  • Performance in low light is excellent and better than the Mark I the camera never reached the ISO MAX of 800 I had set hitting a top of 640 at 30 meters
  • Autofocus at wide end in bright conditions is superb

The only think I hated was the custom white balance results an absolute disgrace, to the point that there is no benefit doing it. Not only that the few parts of the clip I had used it and correct it were still a bit off and required correction in post to a small extent.

Also to consider some of the topside capabilities of the RX100 Mark II just to give an idea though this is not exactly the same location have a look as this shot with a Nikon D7100 with sigma 17-70 in comparison with the RX100 Mark II

Nikon D7100 Beach Landscape
Nikon D7100 Beach Landscape

RX100 Beach Landscape
RX100 Beach Landscape

There is a difference but considering the size of the RX100 and the fact it fits in a pocket I don’t think there can be that many complains. Obviously once you look at specific lenses for the DSLR things change but in the 28-100mm all purpose range I would say that the gap is not as much as double as the price of the two set ups.

So is the Sony RX100 the best compact underwater video set up? Definitely

Is the Mark II better than the original RX100? Yes and well worth an upgrade for video

How does it compare with the Panasonic LX7? The dynamic range and the colors are superior and produces footage that is simply better and sharper. Where the LX7 excels is at macro in clear waters, this is not because of magnification as the RX100 and LX7 perform exactly the same with diopters, and this is because of the LX7 amazing autofocus. However with a bit of silt or other objects in range there is need to switch to manual focus and there the RX100 is actually superior when using peaking even if the depth of field is actually less, the manual focus on the LX7 with the magnifier is not as good unfortunately.

So my ranking for video is:

1. Sony RX100 Mark II

2. Panasonic LX7

3. Sony RX100

I would also add that for stills the LX7 is even more rewarding at macro range due to the performance of autofocus.

Any questions please drop a comment