A recent discussion on wetpixel with regards to mirrorless cameras vs DSLR seemed to highlight that electronic viewfinders are a major limitation vs optical viewfinders in high dynamic range scenes.
In reality an optical viewfinder does not have dynamic range is just the projection of what the camera lens is seeing through a mirror while an electronic viewfinder is a small screen limited to the 10 stops of dynamic range of the camera jpeg engine.
So there is no doubt that in certain cases the eye and the brain do a better job than a screen to manage certain scenes however to say that this is a limitation that cannot be overcome is a real stretch especially as now most images are taken with mirrorless cameras and have high dynamic range.
During my last Red Sea adventure I spent almost an entire dive shooting sunbursts. Sunburst can be tricky this is an excerpt from Alex Mustard Underwater Photography Masterclass
“At depth the overexposure at the edge of the sun ball is only in the blue channel, which creates an ugly cyan halo around the sun.”
Other situations for ideal sunburst are calm waters which I did not really have during my trip.
So possibly I had the worst conditions and most challenging for my camera, as you know I shoot a Panasonic GH5M2 and the micro four third format is frequently labelled as having very low dynamic range.
During lockdown I have practiced a lot of landscape and night photography and many sunrise and sunsets and I have learnt that actually my camera has a lot to offer if I do not fully trust the exposure tools.
The camera lies to you
The image displayed in camera and in the EVF is an output of the JPEG photo setting of the camera and shows what the manufacturer believes it is an optimal image. RAW converter do exactly the same thing and apply corrections to the raw data to show what they think looks good as a starting point for editing.
This image taken at around 18 meters so fairly deep shows a moderately clipped sunball in what was not calm surface water and a fairly dark foreground despite the strobe fired on the coal.
This image is instead the camera RAW data very close to linear and without correction. Note the cyan sunball and the very dark foreground.
This does look really dark indeed and to be frank the camera sees a lot in the dark.
The important part though is that this image is not clipped in the highlights and the darks are not crushed either.
The image can therefore be rescued to produce a decent result.
Is this image as pretty as one where the sun rays do a perfect star in calm shallow water? No.
Does it have an ugly sunball of death? No
Is it noisy grainy or lacks sharpness? Definitely not
Would you have taken this image if you believed the camera exposure settings? Probably not
How to take good high dynamic range images underwater with a mirrorless camera
There are a number of challenges to be overcome:
On some cameras the EVF may get so dark that you can’t see any of the foreground
The camera metering system reflects a jpeg not a raw image file
The image review afterwards may also be incorrect
You do not know how to edit such image to find out if it was clipped or not
Let’s take those challenges one by one.
Normally with a mirrorless camera if you try to expose so that the sunball is not clipped the display gets so dark that you can’t see the foreground unless you have a light.
Some cameras like mine have a metering mode called highlight weighted where the camera calculates exposure not on the middle grey but the highlights. This in turn allows us to calculate how much headroom is built in the exposure tool of the camera. I have calculated that for mine is 1 full stop. So the first step is to set your camera to the fastest shutter speed your flash can sync to (in my case 1/400) the lowest ISO (in my case 200) and the smallest aperture that does not go into diffraction (in my case f/10) and see if you can match that 1 stop overexposed and work from there with your aperture. Set the strobes to match your aperture in my case I set them to f/16 to start and then move to f/22 if needed if I am reasonably close otherwise I may go all the way to full power.
The second step is to switch back the camera to a normal multi metering mode and ignore entirely any warning of clipped highlights so you can compose the scene and shoot.
The jpeg review will show blinking highlights in abundance but you know that is not actually true.
Later in lightroom we apply the setting to remove the program bias and see if the scene was clipped
As you can see the scene is correctly exposed!
After some editing we are at what I consider a decent result
Here another example later in the day in another dive site an even more challenging backlit situation.
There is no doubt that the eye and the brain can do an easier job in those challenging condition to frame the shot however any camera including a DSLR will lie to you when it comes to the image review so ultimately you can push your equipment much further than you think if you know how.
Just back from a fantastic week. Cannot write a trip report on something I arranged however I am confident those will come from the participants.
The actual schedule ended up like this
Ras Umm Sid
I would have preferred a more aggressive approach to some sites however I decided ultimately to settle on something that was challenging diving wise but not extreme.
I used my Panasonic GH5M2 with the Canon EF 8-15mm and the Panasonic 8-18mm. Surprisingly I found I had more keepers with the 8-18mm this is due to the dolphin dive for which I took the risk of using the rectilinear lens and continuous autofocus which worked well.
The trip had a slow start at Temple followed by Ras Mohammed and some technical training on light at Beacon Rock.
After a dive at Dunraven and a better one at Small Crack where I took video we moved to Abu Nuhas where I decided to skip the last dive and go for a snorkelling trip hoping to get dolphins.
The dolphin came to play we had one hour with them swimming at speed around us and getting really close
It was the day of the wrecks including the Thistlegorm in order to support the group I was at the back which did not help visibility. We were mostly on our own though
Two additional dives on the Thistlegorm and we were back to Ras Mohammed after the adrenalin an easy dive at the lighthouse followed by sunset trip on a sandbar. This time I tried to get some better shots of the Thistelgorm exterior while I would say inside there was generally less fish to make the shot interesting.
Two dives at Shark Reef the current was pumping. We missed the snappers on dive one but they were there in full force with the batfish on dive 2. The group however ran out of air very fast trying to get the shots. Last dive was at Ras Ghoslani to have a break and finally a session of split shot that was not very successful due to waves however I did produce a decent one with quite some fish.
Usually the last day is a more restful however we had 3 dives and one sunset split session so actually a full day. Here dive one was focussed on sunburst but ended up also being dive two.
It was a great trip although I am not sure I took my best shots in all cases. The Thistlegorm was under par while the dives at Ras Mohammed and other sites other than Shark Reef were better than expected.
One thing that proved to be absolutely right was that the ability to influence the boat schedule and itinerary is essential. We were in the water always first, Egyptian boat have a tendency to get in the water very late for dive one and this means most of the following dives have the sun really high and not always the best conditions.
A few weeks ago I went diving in Swanage with BSOUP the British Society of Underwater Photographers that I have recently joined.
I was looking forward to some local diving so when I found out that they were organising a trip I managed to get on.
I drove there the night before and I was number two on the pier the next day.
It was a deceiving clear morning with perfect conditions on land.
I had two cameras one in the housing and one for land use so I took a few snaps.
Once parked on the pier I was informed by two friends that dive locally all the time that it was better to wait when the water level was a bit higher.
At that point it did look like a great day however there was a bit of wind.
I had my GH5M2 with the Panasonic 45mm macro that I acquired last year and has become my favourite macro lens.
I jumped in the water one of the first to find out the visibility was well maybe 1 meter? I could not see the LCD screen of the camera due to the suspended particles and had to use the viewfinder
One of the first things I say was this corkwing wrasse with a massive parasite near its eye.
Unfortunately I did not have a snoot or strobes suited for the challenge so I spend the first dive training myself on how to get the least amount of back scatter. Mind you when there are particles you will have backscatter not matter what you do.
Static subjects are ideal for testing so I had a go at some really simple stuff.
And again some anemone the object was to get the cleanest possible shot.
When I was reasonably happy I moved to some more interesting subject I gave up on blennies as I knew everyone would have shot some and besides my strobes were not the best for the situation and I found a cooperating cuttlefish.
I can tell you that to get this clean shot it took me quite a while but on reflection despite being very low I could not even see a hint of the surface so bad the conditions so I decided to get really close.
I wanted to emulate a profile of a person or perhaps an elephant not sure but I took a number of shots waiting for the tentacles to be in the right position and this is my best shot for the day.
I would say it is quite creepy but after all I had something decent and when I presented the shot in the club review at the sailing club it got some good feedback.
Now with that in mind let’s have a look at some shots taken in clearer water this is from Sorrento Peninsula.
You can see that clearer water improves contrast and sharpness as you would expect however as the UK shot was very close the gap is not as big.
And this is a shot from last time I was in the red sea
This is super macro so again suspended particles are not as important.
However if we look at a mid-range shot similar to the whole cuttelfish the situation is very different.
Here we are in Italy.
And finally here in the red sea.
For as much as we may love our local dive site there is a degree of adaptation but also a restriction on the variety of shots we can take.
When I was working as resident dive instructor I remember the guidelines we were passed one was really funny and said:
“if the visibility is crap you don’t say that to the guests what you say is today we are going to focus on macro” then you make sure you choose a site where there is some.
If like me you have been trying to make the most of your local dive site you deserve to get yourself in clear water where you can actually see further away than your arm. Of course we do have some good days in England sometimes 5 even 8 meters but I tale Egypt and their 25+ meters any day of the week!
A closing thought on conditions and land photography, in fact even if visibility is not an issue most times unless you have fog, overcast days, excessively clear days do not make great land pictures either so we can say we are always on a quest chasing light and conditions.
I believe we have finally got to the point where users are moving from DSLR to Mirrorless camera in mass. The release of the recent Nikon Z9 and Canon R5/R3 has definitely shifter land photographers to mirrorless.
Underwater photographers have been lagging mostly because of optics compatibility more specifically lack of compatible fisheye options for mirrorless. Some classic lenses like the Tokina 10-17mm do not work properly when used through an adapter and releasing fisheye lenses has not been a priority for Canon or Nikon. The good news is that 1st party full frame lenses like the 8-15mm fisheye do work through an adapter and generally all DSLR optics 1st party can be adapted to a mirrorless camera of that brand.
I have sold my last DSLR in 2016 and generally never looked back. I believe this can be a harder move for a bird shooter or a sport photographer but the latest flagship cameras have performance for everyone.
EVF vs OVF
In terms of image quality there are no significant differences between a mirrorless camera and a DSLR camera. Improvements in image quality are mostly related to sensor improvements regardless of the system that runs that specific sensor. There are however some significant differences between an optical viewfinder and an electronic one.
An optical viewfinder literally means looking through the lens with your eyes, the primary benefit of an optical viewfinder is the lack of lag. Some people say that optical viewfinder have higher dynamic range but that is not actually correct as an optical device does not really have dynamic range limitation and neither is true that the human eye has 30 stops of dynamic range and all those fantasies.
The key problems of an optical viewfinder is that when is dark you cannot see things until your eye adapts and this happens slowly so most DSLR users switch to live view which essentially means using your DSLR camera as a mirrorless camera and watching a video stream on your LCD.
The other ergonomic difference is that you don’t know how your shot turned out until you review it after you shoot as the OVF can’t play back images being an optical device only.
An electronic viewfinder instead is nothing else than a micro LCD or OLED screen that is showing you a video of what is going on and is also able to playback the images.
This has the great benefit of not needing to take your eye off the viewfinder as the image is played back as soon as you shoot. The price to pay is a small lag between reality and what you see on your EVF.
While an OVF is real time an EVF has a lag that depends on how fast the sensor is being read. This can mean a delay of more than 30ms on very cheap cameras with just an LCD down to 5ms for the fastest reading Nikon Z9 and the likes. In general below 20ms is normally good enough for underwater use but for fast moving subjects like birds in flight less than 10ms is better.
The other benefit of an EVF is that in dark scenes it can boost the display so you can see better than your eyes in the dark.
Electronic Viewfinder Myths
One of the biggest myths about EVF is that they give you a what you see is what you get view of the image before you take it.
This is unfortunately untrue and it is important to understand why.
In a photograph we have two exposure settings the aperture and the exposure time. ISO maps the amplification of the system and is not an exposure setting however it can be useful to brighten an image that is too dark by amplifying electric signal after light has been converted into current by the sensor.
Normally a camera operates with the lens wide open and with a fixed exposure time determined by the sensor readout frame rate.
Imagine that your camera has an f/2.8 lens and the sensor is reading at 60 frames per second. You have set your underwater shot for f/11 1/250. However your camera will not close the aperture to f/11 until you press the shutter and it is actually operating at 1/60 exposure time.
In order to simulate the image the camera will try and adjust the brightness of the EVF to make it lighter or darker so that you can see properly what you need to shoot. This has actually nothing to do with the shot that will come out.
Some cameras Sony, Canon, Nikon and Panasonic have a preview or exposure simulation setting that will close the aperture to the value you chose and simulate the shutter speed chosen in the video displayed to your on screen and if you operate in full manual the display will actually change brightness as you change your exposure settings. However this does not actually show an image exactly identical to the one you will shoot because of the limitation on the exposure time. It will show something close to that image and only if you select the option to simulate the exposure. Some cameras are actually unable to perform a full simulation and the brightness of the EVF will not be adjusted and may give the impression the image is very bright when it is not.
If you shoot with flash of course all of this goes out of the window as the camera assumes the flash will always sort things out and the display won’t be affected unless you force it too but of course it won’t be any near to the image you will take. In essence you need to wait until after you have taken the image to see very much like a DSLR.
Are mirrorless better for the underwater photographer?
Despite beliefs of hard core DSLR fans mirrorless are a better option for the underwater photographer for a number of reasons:
The EVF lag is no longer an issue as it used to be on old compact camera and the refresh is faster than your eye and brain can react to
You can see the image preview without having to take the eye off the viewfinder
If you need to shoot in ambient light you have exposure aids that will make sure your image is correctly exposed without trial and error
Is there a disbenefit to EVF? The EVD is a small screen and needs power to run this means that given the same battery capacity a mirrorless camera will have less autonomy however almost all decent cameras have over 300 shots autonomy and can get easily to 500+ so really there is no reason to hold back to DSLR.
In 2022 it is definitely time to move on.
If you are a DSLR shooter and see other disbenefit from a mirrorless camera leave a comment I want to hear from you.
Although COVID-19 vaccinations are starting to make a difference and travel is resuming is fair to say that we are still far from where we were in 2019 and it may take some time to get back there.
This means our diving travel destinations have been changing and there is much more local diving than before. Big countries like the US have a lot of diving and Caribbean destination on their doorstep those travellers have still quite a lot to choose in comparison to others.
For Europeans, in the geographical sense, there are options for short haul travel. Those do not compare to your macro trip to South East Asia or pelagic trips to South America or Maldives or similar, however you can get some pretty good shots.
In 2020 I had my first experience in Massa Lubrense and this year I was back there.
I wrote about it last year if you are looking for more details on the logistics so in this post I will focus on photography.
Getting back into RIB diving
After 1 year of forced stop from boat diving getting back into a RIB diving with 15 liters steel tanks was a bit of a shock, certainly better than shore diving but yet not exactly streamlines especially as I decided to get a semi-dry suit. Due to stock shortages in UK I was only able to fit into a Scubapro Nova Scotia 7.5mm that has a lot of buoyancy. The suit was definitely toasty but required a lot of weight to go down as it was brand new. Temperatures range from 26 degrees at the surface to 17 at depth in certain sites so after a chilling experience last year this time I was definitely ok.
I did 2 sets of 3 days diving clocking a total of 16 dives. The dives were all close to 60 minutes (time to get back on the RIB by procedure) and depth of 33 meters. I have to say I avoid decompression dives but really this destination does require you to dive deeper than what you expect in tropical destinations.
I had the new Panasonic GH5 Mark II that fits in the housing of the Mark I and two Sea and Sea YS-D2 strobes. I took only two lenses the Canon 8-15mm fisheye with metabones smart adapter and the new (for me) Panasonic 45mm 2.8 macro.
The visibility can be an issue on the Italian coast however you can mitigate the issue with good technique and photoshop. Interestingly water is always clearer at depth where of course you lack light so strobe power is important to get a good shot.
Banco di Santa Croce is the best spot to meet large grouper and has many sea fans and also macro life, eagle rays and other things to be found.
I find also very interesting the schooling fish even if this is usually not well behaved Barracuda who never spin around or a variety of sea bream
For me the most interesting wide angle though are the cave shots at Scoglio dell’Isca and Punta Campanella
Sunburst opportunities are abundant and due to the depth relatively easy scorpionfish or small sea fans are ideal.
The performance of the Canon 8-15mm on micro four thirds is just legendary!
Close Up and Macro
Afternoon dives at Puolo but also dives in Santa Croce or Mitigliano offer lots of close up opportunities.
It was the time of testing the Panasonic 45mm 2.8 on land I had the impression it gave better rendering of the Olympus 60mm and I definitely prefer it underwater.
It is not just macro a long lens gets interesting closeup of large groupers
Diving in Italy delivered again. I am seriously thinking a group trip would be worth it next year based on the itinerary I sketched last year.
Dates for 2022 would be 4-11 September outside of school holidays the diving is really calm as most Italian divers are back to work and the conditions are usually superb. If you are interested leave a comment and I will come back to you with costs and planned itinerary.
Disclaimer: there are many USB power banks on sale however most of them do not declare the maximum output current and therefore you cannot be sure that it will work in all situations I describe. The equipment I use does work and is proven by my daily experience, the suggestions are not prescriptive but if you choose your own parts you do do at your own risk
It has been some time since my post on chargers and recharge facilities. During the pandemic I have done a considerable amount of land based photography including wildlife, landscape and astrophotography so I have had the opportunity to develop the concept of portability further on the field. So I wanted to share my experience with you all as some of the findings are beneficial in every day situation.
Charging your camera battery
Today some cameras can charge the battery in camera using USB. In almost all cases the camera needs to be turned off to allow charging, as a complete recharge of your battery can take a few hours I never use this method. I always rely on spare batteries typically 3 and a dual battery charger that can be powered using USB. I use Newmova they are cheap and cheerful for both my Panasonic and Olympus cameras.
Newmowa Dual USB Charger for Olympus BLH-1 and OM-D EM1 Mark II, OM-D E-M1X Camera £9.99
Newmowa Dual USB Charger for Panasonic DMW-BLF19 and Panasonic DMC-GH3,DMC-GH4 DMC-GH5, DC-GH5S(DMW-BLF19 Dual USB Charger) £9.99
With 3 batteries you can have two in the charger if needed and one in the camera which means uninterrupted shooting for a long period of time depending on your use.
I also use battery grips in particular for my Olympus camera. Battery grip provide the most benefit when you are not wanting to interrupt shooting while swapping batteries. I usually set the camera to use the grip battery first and the camera as back up which means you can then insert another battery in the grip and keep shooting. I do not recommend using a battery grip as a sole source of power as at the end you can can go through 2 batteries relatively fast if you use quick burst shooting. The other dis-benefit of the grip is the one battery is always locked inside the camera so you need to increase your total battery stock to 4 if you use a dual charger. The grip is very useful to shoot verticals and provide weather sealing but overall is not my favourite option and I only use it for specific session on my Olympus camera because I only have 2 batteries.
There are some working 3rd party battery grip like this one that function AS LONG AS YOU USE ORIGINAL OEM BATTERIES.
Neewer Battery Grip Compatible with Panasonic Lumix G9 Camera Replacement for DMW-BGG9 with Shutter Release Focus Point Control Joystick £59.99
I have not seen versions for Olympus camera and the original battery grip is expensive. I got mine second hand for a good price.
Again if you only have two batteries or you want to rotate 4 batteries a battery grip is a good option if you don’t mind the extra weight.
I use a relatively simple USB power bank as I do not have PD capable cameras. This power bank has a decent capacity but more importantly it can output 4.5A using two outlets.
This power bank has also a light included very useful for your night photography. You can also use it to charge your phone but with two outlets means you can power two dual USB chargers and effectively charge 4 batteries twice until it runs out (typical battery less than 2000 mAh).
This power bank can also be used as constant power supply for cameras that take a dummy battery and do not support powering through USB.
DMW-DCC12 USB Power Cable kit DMW-DCC12 DC Coupler Dmw-Blf19 Dummy Battery (BLF-19 Battery Replacement) Compatible with PANASONIC DMC-GH3 DMC-GH4 DMC-GH3K DMC-GH4K DC-GH5 GH9 and more Digital Cameras £22.99
Using the power bank with this fake battery kit means I can run my GH5 in video for days (8.72x batteries equivalent charge).
IT IS VERY IMPORTANT THAT YOUR POWER BANK OUTPUTS MORE THAN 3A OTHERWISE IF YOU USE MECHANICAL SHUTTER THE CAMERA MAY GO IN SHUTTER VIBRATION AND SUFFER PERMANENT DAMAGE
Some well know power bank from respectable brands like anker and even rawpower themselves only outputs 3A current total so when the mechanical shutter is used and the camera draws more current you run into issue. This also happens when you set a custom white balance and the camera triggers the mechanical shutter. So if you have such power bank you are limited and hence I do not recommend them.
If you also use flash you can use the same chargers I already linked in the previous article
Prices have dropped to £7.99 for the micro USB and £9.99 for the dual USB C and micro USB input. 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). The USB C version has a stronger output for AAA batteries that I do not use and it does not charge faster standard AA so don’t be mislead.
Another useful accessory if you do astrophotography in humid or cold environment is a lens warmer. There are two versions I recommend the one with the temperature regulator as the strip gets to 50 C and this can increase dark current noise in your shots.
COOWOO Lens Heater Warmer Dew Heater with Temperature Regulator Strip for Ice Fog Universal Camera Telescopic Bottle Heating (Black)
Amazon.com links for my American followers
EBL 40Min Smart Fast USB Battery Charger for AA AAA Ni-MH Rechargeable Batteries
DMW-DCC12 USB Power Cable kit DMW-DCC12 DC Coupler Dmw-Blf19 Dummy Battery (BLF-19 Battery Replacement) Compatible with PANASONIC DMC-GH3 DMC-GH4 DMC-GH3K DMC-GH4K DC-GH5 GH9 and more Digital Cameras
Neewer Battery Grip for Panasonic G9
RavPower 16750 mAh 4.5A dual USB power bank
NewMowa Olympus dual charger
NewMowa Panasonic dual USB charger
COOWOO Lens Heater Warmer Dew Heater with Temperature Regulator Strip for Ice Fog Universal Camera Telescopic Bottle Heating (Black)