Tag Archives: Underwater Photography

Getting the best colors in your underwater video with the panasonic gh5

There is no doubt that the Panasonic GH5 is a very capable camera and in given conditions the video performance you can get is truly impressive.

Broadly speaking a video clip needs to be:

  1. Sharp
  2. Colorful
  3. Contrasty
  4. Clean

Those 4 characteristics are tightly related to:

  1. Resolution
  2. Color depth
  3. Dynamic range
  4. Low Noise

Resolution

Today everyone shoots 4K and after all resolution is well supported by almost any camera, broadly is unaffected by other factors and unless the noise is really high sharpness of your frame is not going to be a real issue shooting at 4K.

Color depth

In normal conditions and not underwater a camera can resolve many colors. However underwater due to the diffraction of light and selective absorption of colours the starting point is very different from land. So generally is not the camera that cannot resolve the colors but the colors that are missing to start with. This post will focus specifically on this aspect. The Panasonic GH5 can resolve 23.8 bits in RAW and therefore technically has less than 8 bits color depth – do not confuse this with the 8 or 10 bit recording setting.

Dynamic Range

Underwater scenes tend to have limited dynamic range, with the exception of sunbursts or shooting against the light this is going to be an issue only in specific circumstances of very bright scenes with shadows. In all scenes taken with video lights dynamic range is not an issue at all. The GH5 has 13 stops of dynamic range but rarely this is an important consideration.

Noise

Noise is an important consideration as when the noise goes up the camera looses the other characteristics, color, dynamic range and resolution will be affected when the camera is outside the sweet spot. Broadly speaking the Panasonic GH5 does not do well once you pass the ISO 1600 setting and I tend to cap the ISO in video at 800 in most cases.

Diving Conditions

To understand how those variables play we can see how the same set up reacts very differently in scene where there is less light and therefore the camera uses high ISO like this one.

The same camera with exactly the same equipment in brighter water produces this

So the reason for the above is that with less light there are less colours and the clip looks what it is really.

OK moving on to the main subject of this post how do I get the colors right? It is a combination of techniques and the trick is to use the right one in the right conditions.

Generally every site has specific conditions that change depending on weather, time of the day, visibility and other factors. So in broad terms a site will have more or less light and therefore more or less colours. It is therefore impossible to categorically define what to do at a given depth but is more about typical values. With this in mind we have typically 3 scenarios:

  1. Ambient light shots
  2. Artificial light shots
  3. Balanced light shots

Close up Shots

In general close up shots especially of small subject fall within the scenario 2 for which a video light with high color rendering is important as this will define the colours you see. With a lot of power it is possible to extend artificial lighting to larger subjects but eventually you run out of power due to distance or size of the subject.

Wide angle shots and seascapes

True wide angle shots are generally ambient light shots which also means when it gets too dark the colors will be missing and it will look blue not matter the equipment.

In order to make the most of ambient light shots for wide angle it is essential to balance the colours in water even when you use a RAW format on a still image because RAW files are not as RAW as you think and are actually compressed.

Custom White Balance

Using Custom White balance with a grey card it is possible to obtain decent results until the camera hits the maximum color temperature in the case of the Panasonic GH5 this is 9900K. Depending on conditions you may get to 10-12 meters and this still works, in darker water this stops working much sooner.

Chrisoula K Bow
Chrisoula K Ambient Light 5 meters

Color Filters

Color filters push the limit of custom white balance further down. Some add more or less 4 meters others up to 6-8 meters at the expense of an overall loss of light. Filters are useful when there is a lot of light because also help to keep the Panasonic Gh5 in the best aperture range (not smaller than f/11)

Filter in action at 10 meters

Right now there are predominantly 3 filters on the market:

  1. UR PRO
  2. Magic filter
  3. Keldan Spectrum

All those filters will improve the performance and color rendering of your footage, under the conditions that the loss of light is not pushing the camera above reasonable ISO values.

In terms of depth range the magic filter and the Keldan Spectrum -2 version can be pushed to 15 meters depth on a bright day in clear water. The URPRO is capable of getting a few meters more down to around 17-18 meters although it does generate an orange cast (as there is no red left) it is still workable.

FilterLight LossTypical Max Depth
Magic Filter1 1/2 stop15 meters
Keldan Spectrum -22 stop (WWL)15 meters
URPRO 2 stop18 meters

This image gives an idea of the 3 filters as you can see they are very different one from the other.

Keldan top URPRO bottom Magic filter

Balanced Wide Angle Shots

This is an entirely new technique that has started with the Keldan Ambient light filters. I wrote a whole piece on wetpixel

The principle is to use custom white balance with or without filter to obtain color rendering and then put filters on the video light so that the color of the light emulates the ambient light and therefore it only gives texture not color.

Keldan has developed a whole range of filters for various situation that match their light and therefore are not applicable to any other light.

As I do not own a set of Keldan I have done some tests and found that a gel of Cyan filter 2 or 3 stops makes my divepro G18+ practically ambient light in the conditions I dive into.

FilterCyan Strength
Magic Filter2 stops
Keldan Spectrum2 stops
URPRO3 stops

The above value are based on my experience use at your own risk especially with different lights.

Square Cyan 2 stops Round Cyan 3 stops

To give an idea I overlapped the filter to my iPhone lens

This is the shot without any filters

Original Shot

URPRO and Cyan 3 stops (darker)
Magic filter and cyan 2 stops accurate
Keldan and cyan 2 stops accurate

This example shows that the two filters cancel themselves the result is almost daylight with no cast which means in water if you use a video light or a strobe you will not see a red or orange spots on the image.

For those taking pictures the same combination remains true with Inon Z240 and Sea and Sea YS-D2

Example picture here

five in a row
My own filter and Cyan 3 stop note that the light is coming from the other side

One thing to take into account is that you need to find a way to hold the gel on the video light or the strobes. The flat surface strobe diffusers make this process easy, finding something you can use with your video lights is not easy and also the gels may melt after continuous use.

Artificial lights

It comes a point and a depth where filters stop working, this could be as shallow as 8 meters in green water. As the scene is dark using lights is what is required. There is nothing specific about this technique except making sure you don’t get burned highlights or backscatter. As it happens in photography using long arms (maybe not as long as for stills) is key to get good lighting on your subject.

My Camera Settings

I use CineLike D with saturation, sharpness and noise reduction to -5. I shoot at 24/25p AVCI 400 mbps and follow the 180 rules, it is entirely possible to shoot at 1/100 if you like more crisp look.

Clearly there are people out there that do not like filters and think white balance is best etc but I think a good read on magic filters explains it all.

http://www.magic-filters.com/need.html

CALLING OUT TO ALL IMAGE MAKERS 1ST INTERCEPTOR121 LIVEABOARD RED SEA 2020

Diving for images or video can be frustrating at times. I find this less so for macro and super macro where you are resort based and you can hire a guide with super sharp eyes that will help you find the right subjects. For wide angle it is a totally different story. Land based may preclude the best access to certain destinations whilst if you are on a liveaboard with divers there is a conflict of interest. The boat will typically run a fixed itinerary cruise and the result is that you will visit many times so more memorable than others and typically just once. The single dive you do may not be at the right time of the day and the ambient light may not be the best for what you trying to do.

I am self taught and I like to read books and experiment myself however some years ago I was invited by Nauticam to a Red Sea workshop with Alex Mustard.

I wrote some articles at the time you can find them all if you click this link https://interceptor121.com/?s=workshop

What I really liked about that workshop was the ability to steer the boat to the right sites, to be able to dive at the right time of the day and also to repeat dives on the best sites and omit the areas that were not promising. For me this had great value on its own.

Of course Dr Alex Mustard tuition was also superb however I have now done this workshop 3 times and I believe that element has become less interesting. I also happened to work in Sharm El Sheikh as resident instructor at the Marriot Hotel so all dive sites were already known to me as a diver at least.

On those workshops I found very useful the fact that you could see the work of others and learn from the group, I also like the fact that there was no competition so everybody was encouraged to share.

Needless to say that after years of diving the same sites I still find the Northern Wreck and reefs of the Red Sea one of the best imaging destination in the world so I thought how do I have the same experience without the workshop part and the related high costs – it costs almost double a standard diving trip to book Alex workshop and they are fully booked almost immediately.

A further issue that has occurred in time is that there are no flights to Sharm El Sheikh from UK and now majority of boats live from Hurghada. This seriously limits the workshop as you have a lot more navigation.

So my ideal requirements for such a trip would be:

  1. Boat to live from Sharm El Sheikh not Hurghada. I rather have indirect flights and burn land time vs consuming cruise time in transfers
  2. Need to be able to have full control of the itinerary
  3. Dive as a photographer with a loose buddy concept
  4. Have a good boat and logistics
  5. Have small number of people in the water – I think 20 is too much so I have set my target to 8 min 12 max

I reconnected with my old network and after looking around I have found a boat and a company that can help with this.

King Snefro is the only liveaboard fleet currently departing from Sharm El Sheikh and the boat of choice is the Snefro Pearl

Cruise Dates: 25 July to 1 August 2020

Price: €1250 or $1395 per Pax in twin cabin includes:

  • 32% Nitrox
  • Airport transfers
  • 12 Liter tanks
  • 3 meals, snacks and soft drinks, tea and coffee
  • Special imaging orientated dive briefing to make the most of the sites
  • Group image debrief – optional participation
  • Arrival on Saturday 25 July – check in commences at 1800
  • Check out Saturday 1 August – 1200 latest
  • For those whose flight leaves much later possibility of a stop gap in a beach resort before final departure

On to the dive sites:

Wrecks of Abu Nuhas

Giannis D

Gianni's D classic shot
Giannis D Classic Shot

Carnatic

Encircled
Silversides and diver in the Carnatic

Chrisoula K

Chrisoula K Bow
Bow of Chrisoula K

The Tugboat

Stay Away from my Eggs
Tiger cardinal fish with eggs

The Thistlegorm

Motorbike in Hold 2
bike on hold 2

Ras Za’tar (Optional site for sunbursts)

Sunburst
Suburst on Ras Za-tar

Jackfish Alley – Optional site for caves

1st Cave@Jackfish Alley
Cave 2 Jackfish alley

Ras Mohammed where at that time of the year you can have various shoals of fish

Bohar Snappers

Sunburst  Snap
Snapper Sunburst

Barracudas

Arrows
Arrows

Batfish

Schooling Batfish on Reef
Bats

Surgeonfish

Toilet Flush
Toilet flush

Instead of night dives we will do snorkelling session for split shots or sunset dives

Sunset Neat
Sunset on Ras Katy

I will be glad to help with ideas for the sites or the shots to take however this is not for beginners so if you don’t know even how to work out your camera works maybe it is not for you. The trip is open to photographers and vdeographers I will shoot both and will provide assistance as required. Below little sample of the video opportunity in Shark Reef

If you are interested in this trip deposit of 25% is due by September 23 2019 full payment by 25 January 2020.

Please use the form to express your interest. In case the cruise it is sold out I will operate strictly a first come first serve basis at time of writing there are five only three spaces left so hurry up. In case of cancellation I will also run a wait list. Please inquiry for any other details as well

Travelling light – Part I Chargers

Disclaimer: there are many USB chargers out there and not all of them have performance level adequate to support your underwater photography needs. Make sure that each USB-Type A outlet is at least 10W and that the total power equals 10xnumber of outlets as a minimum or your USB charging will be slow. If you get an USB-C charger make sure that the power allocated to the USB-A outlets is enough or your laptop will charge very fast but your batteries will take forever. The product I am suggesting here have been researched and I have tested them on the field I do not take responsibility if you get something different because it looks cheaper or newer. In case of doubt happy to take questions.

Few months ago I booked a shark diving trip. Looking at the boat specs I realised the vessel was smaller than those I have travelled in the past and therefore I was concerned that with many photographers on boat it would have really been a struggle to have all my chargers especially as there were only shared cabins. Furthermore many boats do not allow anymore to charge batteries in your cabin to reduce the risk of fires,

I put my items on a scale and I realised how much this whole set up weights

Charger spaghetti and one strip

I contacted the boat that told me strips were available for power but of course US format so not good for me. 1.8 Kg for a single AA battery fast charger, laptop power supply, phone charger, camera batteries charger. 1.8 Kg without even including the back up AA charger in the image below. Of course I can find a lighter strip or have a number of US adapters but you can see this is not heading in the right direction.

Chargers for a typical underwater photography typical trip

I recently bought a new MacBook Pro that only has USB C ports this has made me realised how powerful USB has now become with USB C you can deliver power to charge a large laptop as well as transfer at light speed images and especially videos. I will write another post on how to make your physical media management more effective but for now let’s focus on power.

At the same time in our home there is competition for charging tablets, phones and all sorts of other portable equipment by USB.

I thought would not be nice to have a multi USB charger? Do they even exist and the answer is yes. See below a product I bought for home and travel use that can power up to 4 devices.

Wall Charger, RAVPower 40W 8A 4-Port USB Charger with iSmart 2.0, Travel Adaptor for iPhone XS/XR/XS Max/8/8 Plus, Galaxy S9/S8/Note 8, iPad, Tablet, Kindle, Power Bank & More – Black

£15.99 to end all our struggles seemed a great deal. You can directly click the image above to buy it on amazon.

In US this is $16.99 so even cheaper

RAVPower USB Wall Charger 40W 8A 4-Port Multi-Port Travel Charger Charging Station, Compatible iPhone Xs Max XR X, iPad Pro Air Mini, Galaxy S9 S8 Note 8 Edge, Smartphone, Tablet and More

From there I started thinking is there a way to charge AA batteries using USB after all the current requirements are quite low?

So I found this other product that did the job and can charge 4 AA or AAA batteries for £14.99 on Amazon. Note that despite the misleading description the two chargers are identical except one has micro USB and the other also USB-C. The USB-C version is slightly bigger (70x90x23 mm USB version vs 97x114x34mm USB C)

EBL 40Min Smart Fast USB Battery Charger for AA AAA Ni-MH Rechargeable Batteries
EBL 2-hour Super fast AA AAA Rechargeable Battery Charger with Battery Intelligent Auto-detection Tech for 1-4 NiMH Rechargeable Batteries

Links to Amazon.com

EBL 40Min Smart Fast USB Battery Charger for AA AAA Ni-MH Rechargeable Batteries
AMAZON.COM
EBL 2-hour Super fast AA AAA Rechargeable Battery Charger with Battery Intelligent Auto-detection Tech for 1-4 NiMH Rechargeable Batteries
AMAZON.COM

From there I moved to camera batteries and I found another product that allows to charge two batteries at the same time as battery consumption for video is huge. £8.49 seems a bargain click and see for yourself!

Newmowa Dual USB Charger for Panasonic DMW-BLF19 and Panasonic DMC-GH3,DMW-GH4 (DMW-BLF19 Dual USB Charger)

DSTE Rapid Dual Battery Charger with Micro USB Cable for Panasonic DMW-BLF19E BLF19 Battery on Amazon US

The above for the Panasonic GH5/5 etc the following for other cameras

Nikon EN-EL15 for D8xx series on Amazon UK

Nikon EN-EL15 for D8xx series on Amazon US

Sony FW-50 for A7 series on Amazon UK

Sony FW-50 for A7 series on Amazon US

Olympus BLN-1 for OMD series on Amazon UK

Olympus BLN-1 for OMD series on Amazon US

Canon LP-E6 for 5D series Amazon UK

DSTE Dual USB Charger for Canon LP-E6 LP-E6N EOS 5D Mark II III 5DS 5DS R 6D 7D 60D 60Da 70D 80D 7D Mark II III XC10 EOS R BG-E22 Digital Camera Amazon US

When you hit the page you can also buy compatible batteries this is not recommended please buy original batteries there is a whole world of difference.

At this stage my travel charger was using 2 ports for AA batteries 1 for camera dual battery charger with one spare for the phone or other devices.

I though is there a charger that also has a UBC charging port so I can also get rid of the laptop charger and there is £27.99 on amazon click on the image to go directly there.

USB C PD Charger, RAVPower 60W 5-Port Power Delivery Desktop Charging Station with 1 Type-C PD Port up to 45W for MacBook, 4 iSmart 2.0 Ports for iPhone XS/XR/XS MAX-Black
Amazon.com Link

At this point streamlining was complete. As additional benefit the desktop charger has a removable power plug so you can get your cable for EU or US or any other country the device will work anywhere. The only item still to be worked on are video lights but with batteries of 99 Wh this is not yet possible.

I put all on the scale well it speaks for itself 1 KG less

Of course many people do not have USB C powered laptops yet but this is changing so I would recommend getting a charger with USB C however if you don’t want or need that there is also a charger without with 4 or 6 ports

USB Charger, RAVPower 40W 4-Port Desktop Charger Mains Plug with iSmart for iPhone XS XR XS MAX, iPad, Galaxy S9, Mobile Phones, Tablet -Black
Amazon.com link
RAVPower USB Charger, USB Charging Stations with 60W 6-Port Multi Plug Charger for iPhone XS/XR/XS Max, Galaxy S9 – Black
Amazon.com link

Of course you have put all eggs in one basket now but frankly it was the same also before if one of the charger would fail and besides you will find USB chargers on a resort or a boat as anybody as a phone. Worst case you can bring two power suppliers however this looks unnecessary to me.

I hope you find this useful feel free to share this page with your friends and use the links on here. I have looked into products in details those are the best ones that have the features you need (2.4A current at least 45W USC B won’t bore you with details but trust me this is what you need).

PANASONIC GH5 my underwater still rigs

The Panasonic GH5 is well known to be a great camera for video and I can confirm that see my latest videos

Clearly the camera is fantastic and with the right set up that I will cover in future posts it takes amazing video.

I wanted to start however from photography as the GH5 also takes great still images.

First and foremost macro. In general terms the lens choice of other micro four third also applies to the GH5 so my favourite lens is the Olympus 60mm. Alternatively if you don’t have that lens and you don’t have extremely small subjects you can get good results with a zoom lens I use the Pana 14/42 MKII but other work well too.

In terms of arms strobes nothing changes so my current rig is based on a Nauticam NA-GH5 housing and two Inon Z240. I have each arm set with 1x 8″ and 1x 5″ arm segments you will notice that the longer arms is closer to the camera this because in macro you will usually shoot above the sand so this makes it easier.

For wide angle the situation changes slightly as I use a 12″ arm segment as in the rig below.

GH5 with WWL-1 wet lens and 8+12 arm segments

For wide angle the arms return to a standard situation with shorter segment close to the housing. The same configuration applies if you shoot the 8mm fisheye.

In terms of floatation the GH5 housing is heavy with the 35 macro port is 720 grams and with the fisheye 620 grams. For macro I like my set up to be negative so less floats . For wide angle in case you take slow shutter speed shots I also use the tripod kit for the NA-GH5 this is not as good as a complete tripod but works well in wrecks

In the next posts I will talk about video as here there is a question about diopters and which ones do I use. Lights is also a topic of contention and will discuss few options there too

As always please ask questions if you wish

Nauticam WWL-1 with Macro Port 29 for Micro Four Thirds

Nauticam has recently released a new Macro port 29 that is shorter than the 35 and is designed for optimal compatibility with the following lenses and the WWL-1 Wet lens.

  1. Olympus M.Zuiko Digital ED 14-42mm f/3.5-5.6 II R
  2. Panasonic Lumix G Vario 12-32mm f/3.5-5.6 ASPH Mega OIS
  3. Panasonic Lumix G X Vario Power Zoom 14-42mm f/3.5-5.6 Power OIS

I have had the port and wet lens for a few days and those are my observations with the Panasonic lenses as I do not own the Olympus.

In general terms none of those lenses are amazing in terms of optical quality and only the Panasonic lenses are stabilized. This is not so important for still images but an advantage for video.

Photozone has tests of all the three lenses

Olympus Test

Panasonic Vario G X PZ Test

Panasonic 12-32 Test

The Panasonic power zoom is better than the Olympus however the lens has issue of vignetting and pretty high chromatic aberration. The Panasonic 12-32mm is surprisingly good and has similar resolution and less issues of fringing.

I attached the 29 Macro Port to my GX7 housing and took some tests shots in the sink with the WWL-1 petals touching the subject.

Panasonic G X 14-42 PZ Port 29
Panasonic G X 14-42 PZ Port 29

The image is wide and the corner sharpness is great with minimal to no chromatic aberrations.

The 12-32mm lens does not vignette at wide end and gives similar performance to the PZ lens with the benefit of increased field of view.

Panasonic 12-32mm Port 29
Panasonic 12-32mm Port 29

The shots are taken at f/4 ISO 1600.

For comparison I mounted the 4.33″ dome and the 8mm fisheye and took a similar shot.

8mm Fisheye
8mm Fisheye

The field of view is wider but of course distortion in the corners is very high to the point they become garbled.

Clearly if you do need a fisheye lens the 8mm is still the choice however the WWL-1 has the advantage that you can use the full zoom and a field of view of around 130° with a 28mm equivalent lens and around 135° with 24mm equivalent.

One thing that is interesting is the use of the 12-32mm with the Macro 29 port combined with the Panasonic GH4 in 4K.

The crop factor of 1.2x means that the focal length with this lens at 4K 16:9 is 31.38mm. This makes this port compatible with a number of flat wide angle lens of the old generation.

Specifically the old Inon UWL-100 would give a field of view of 100° equivalent to 18mm in 4K. The additional benefit is that you can use the Ikelite UR/PRO push on filter and the full zoom. At the tele end 83.7mm may be a bit short however the fact that you have a fully rectilinear lens and you can use a push on filter is a big advantage.

The Macro port 29 is also compatible in normal mode with the Inon UWL-H100 at 24mm equivalent as per image.

Inon UWL-H100 Port 29
Inon UWL-H100 Port 29

The field of view appears narrow as the lens can get closer to the subject compared to the WWL-1. The optical quality is excellent with minimum fringing.

In summary the Macro Port 29 is a must purchase for the following users:

  • 4K Panasonic GH4 video users
  • 4K Panasonic GX8 Users
  • HD and Still images micro four third users wanting a full wet lens set up

The 12-32mm lens also give almost the same field of view of the Panasonic 7-14mm with wide angle port at much lower cost when coupled with an Inon UWL-H100 allowing use at apertures of f/4 and f/5.6 with one to two stops advantages on the 7-14mm.

On a final note for the users of the Macro 35 port Nauticam has now released the zoom gear for the Panasonic 14-42mm II Mega OIS. This lens is better than all of those discussed in this post in terms of optical quality and it comes as kit lens on lower end Panasonic cameras. If you already have the Macro Port 35 and a kit lens or if you don’t have any lens or port this is definitely the best option in terms of cost and optical quality

Nauticam bayonet mount for wet lenses

Nauticam entered the wet lenses market with their SMC close up wet lens that was optimized for DSLR.

Then it released the CMC compact macro converter for compact cameras and micro four thirds and finally the Wet Wide Angle Lens I that is compatible with compacts, micro four thirds and also full frame cameras with 28mm equivalent lens.

Up to now all lenses were using the traditional M67 mount as most of the lenses, even the close up ones, are pretty heavy this means going for the dive with the same lens. Nauticam has developed the flip diopter adapter for flat ports to overcome this issue.

Flip Diopter on Nauticam RX100 IV
Flip Diopter on Nauticam RX100 IV

The flip diopter is a good solution for micro four thirds and DSLR but looks rather cumbersome on compacts as the image shows.

I asked Nauticam for a bayonet adapter and specifically if they could develop something for the Inon LD bayonet system that so far has been the reference for wet lenses for compacts and micro four thirds cameras.

LD mount converter on RX100 IV
LD mount converter on RX100 IV

Edward told me that due to the fact that the WWL-1 lens rear element is so large the Inon LD system was not an option so they went off and developed their own system.

M67 bayonet mount converter
M67 bayonet mount converter

I would like to thank Nauticam again for making those parts available before general availability.

Looking a bit closer to it you can see that due to the specific construction with two concentric rings you need a special tool to apply the adapter on the port.

M67 bayonet mount converter The large item is to attache the mount to the port
M67 bayonet mount converter
The large item is to attache the mount to the port

Obviously as the Nauticam lenses use an M67 thread new adapter needed to be developed.

Mount converter for CMC/SMC
Mount converter for CMC/SMC

Nauticam does not use ABS plastic and uses aluminum for all their parts.

Now that the items have a bayonet adapter there is a need for a lens holder to put on the arms.

Lens holder looks too big for a 5" arm segment
Lens holder looks too big for a 5″ arm segment

The lens holder is too big for a standard 5″ segment but looks in proportion with a longer segment.

Lens holder on 8" arm segment
Lens holder on 8″ arm segment

The adapter is larger than the LD mount and a bit big for compacts to the point that even with a tray the adapter tips the rig back.

Another challenge is that this system is designed for Nauticam lens that have protruding rear element so when used with standard lenses there is a gap between the port and the wet lens that can be counter productive, not the end of the world and frankly the Inon system has the same problem. This however means that if you wanted to use this system with a different wide angle wet lens this would be suboptimal.

I am waiting for Nauticam to ship me back the WWL-1 so I can show how that lens performs on this system.

Another observation of course is that if you use this system for wide angle the super heavy WWL-1 and the fact that the adapter only works on a normal segment means your rig will be very heavy in water. I am going to discuss with Nauticam the possibility to have the adapter on a float arm however their carbon arms do not have any mounting point to be used.

Stay tuned for a full review of this adapter with the new 29 macro port that looks very promising for video.

Leak Sentinel V4 and Vivid Housing Vacuum Valves

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

Bare Vacuum Valve

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

P1020804
Left Leak Sentinel V4 Right M14 Vacuum Valve

 

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

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

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

Leak Sentinel v4 Updated Review

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

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

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

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

The leak sentinel v4 costs €200 including shipping worldwide.

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

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

Nauticam NA-LX100 4K Video Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Nauticam NA-LX100 housing and port system review

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

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

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

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

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

LX100 housing preparation
LX100 housing preparation

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

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

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

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

UL-165
NA-LX100 UCL-165

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

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

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

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

UCL-100
NA-LX100 UCL-100

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

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

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

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

N50 3.5
N50 3.5″ Mini Dome

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

Optical quality is great.

LX100 Mini Dome 24mm
LX100 Mini Dome 24mm

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

N50 Short Port
N50 Short Port

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

SWANAGE (4 of 4)
Atlantic Ocean Anemones

SWANAGE (3 of 4)
Kelp?

Upside down
Upside down

SWANAGE (1 of 4)
Myst!

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

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

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

NA-LX100 rear buttons
NA-LX100 rear buttons

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Underwater Photography and Video: 1″ Sensor Compacts vs Micro Four Thirds

I am just back from the Red Sea underwater photography workshop hosted by Alex Mustard, this time I took the Panasonic GX7 with me instead of the Sony RX100 Mark II.

There have been a few posts on wetpixel and scubaboard to say that advanced compacts are all an underwater photographer will ever need considering also the luggage restrictions that are becoming increasingly more demanding these days.

As I have been on the forefront of the advanced compact shooters I thought of giving you my view on the subject. This is based on observations that I have made on this and last year workshop observing the images of around 35 different photographer. The kit in use went from a Sony RX100 Mark II all the way to full frame such as the Nikon D810, and included micro four thirds, cropped sensor SLRs as well.

In general terms I consider only 4 characteristics when I compare images between cameras and those are:

  1. Richness of color (color sensitivity)
  2. Contrast (dynamic range)
  3. Noise
  4. Sharpness

The following comparison may be useful to understand the differences between various cameras, I did it on Dxomark and I own all those 3 cameras so I have a good idea on how they fare.

Dxomark Comparison
Dxomark Comparison

 

Color

I already observed last year that when it comes to color there really is no perceived difference between the RX100 and a MFT camera. There is however a difference between compacts and MFT when you compare to a good cropped sensor like the Nikon D7100.

To make the point clearer this is a portrait shot with the RX100 Mark II

Look Right in

This is another portrait shot with the Panasonic GX7

Wings Open

Contrast

Here I am not talking about the contrast of the image the camera produces but the amount of contrast in the scene that the camera can deal with or dynamic range.

I am going to use two black and white images for comparison

Sony RX100 Mark II

Bats Photography

Panasonic GX7

From below

Again not much difference at all.

Noise

It can be useful to be able to shoot at high ISO however to be honest I have not yet found a reason to shoot at more than ISO 400.

This is  a Panasonic GX7 at ISO 400

Ras Katy

I looked at my RX100 shots and I could only find an ISO 160 shot

Arrows

I did not take split shots with the RX100 and so there was no need for high ISO. For me shooting at high ISO is a bit overrated as with stabilization you can shoot underwater landscapes at 1/25 without issue and for moving fish I use strobes for most.

Should you need higher ISO though there is around one stop improvement in a micro four third to a 1″ compact and nearly two with a cropped sensor.

Sharpness

This is probably the only real difference between a compact and a micro four third and to be honest is only visible on a 4K monitor or if you print or zoom into the image.

Schools of fish are a good way to check sharpness

This shot with the Sony RX100 Mark II is sharp

Meteor

However if we look at the Panasonic GX7 with the 8mm fisheye

Get together

We can see that there is a difference looking at the fish scales.

So in short if all you do is to look at images on the screen there really isn’t much in it, however if you have a high resolution screen or you print there is a considerable difference in sharpness between an advanced compact and a micro four third.

So what about video? If we consider HD there is no perceived difference in sharpness between clips taken with the Sony RX100 and the Panasonic GX7 until you go to High ISO.

At 4K I suppose we are back to similar considerations and micro four thirds should win but I have not done any tests so it is hard to say.

One thing that I do like about the Panasonic GX7 with wet lenses is that you can zoom through the entire range of the lens, whilst this is not an option on the Sony RX100.

So my conclusion is that if you are going on a trip and you are constrained by luggage limitations you can load camera, housing, wet lenses and two strobes in a back pack if you use a compact.

With a micro four third the strobes could end up in the luggage hold.

What about DSLRs? I found that if I compare shots with a good cropped sensor like the Nikon D7100 I can see difference in both colors, contrast the camera can cope and noise. The difference in sharpness seems to be less when you compare the panasonic 8mm fisheye with the tokina 10-17mm.

This should give an idea

Shoal of snapper in action

Obviously once  you are in the DSLR camp the size of the housing and its weight become the predominant consideration but so does the cost that doubles from a micro four third rig.