Tag Archives: Underwater Photography

Sony RX100 Mark III – Is it worth upgrading?

UPDATED 23 July 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

RX100 Sensor Ratings
RX100 Sensor Ratings

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

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

Flash Recycling

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

Mark I: 7.2 seconds

Mark II” 4.4 seconds

Mark III: 3.3 seconds

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

Minimum Capture Area & Zoom

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

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

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

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

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

 

Lens Focal Range

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

two UCL-165 stacked
two UCL-165 stacked

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

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

Underwater Photography Conclusion

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

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

ND filter

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

Clear Image Zoom

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

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

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

Image stabilizer

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

Update 23 July 2014

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

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

Full Sensor Readout Video

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

Video Formats

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

HDMI connection

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

Video Auto Focus

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

Underwater Video Conclusion

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

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

Summary

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

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

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

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

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

Red Sea Workshop with Alex Mustard – Part III Sunbursts and the Caves

On the early morning of Day 3 we left the Thistlegorm for Ras Mohammed.

Dive number one would have been on Ras Zahatar, this dive site has some great opportunities for sunburst shots in the early morning but generally not a lot of fish as the location is quite sheltered and there is never too much current that I recall.

There are also some very nice gorgonian fans around the 22 meters mark however as soon as we jumped in it was clear it was going to be a competition to have some of it. Besides not having made clear arrangements for modelling with anyone it was going to be a quite technical session.

Since the arrival of digital sunburst shots have proven to be problematic for DSLR and mirrorless users. The issue is with the sunball itself there is an issue of highlights when you try to shoot a coral reef with the sunball in the frame and you are using a shutter speed of 1/250th or 1/320th that are typical DSLR sync speed.

Mirrorless cameras do even worst as usually the base ISO starts at 200 that makes it really difficult to capture this shot.

So the key is to put the sun behind something or have the rays in the frame but not the sunball. Something like this to give an idea

Soft Coral
The sunball just behind the soft coral gives a nice glow so even with a 1/250th shutter and f/8 at ISO 100 is possible to capture a captivating scene.

Few meters away there is a gorgonian with a red soft coral on top that is really exciting to see at naked eye. To me this reminds of a frogfish head profile. It is impossible to capture this scene at 1/250th f/11 ISO 100 it is just too bright you need to reduce at least two stops to get the sun properly however if you did that on a DSLR you would be shooting at f/22 and it is near to impossible to properly illuminate the coral with your strobes at the distance required.

That is where our RX100 compact comes to help as you can sync your strobes at 1/2000th this should give a black background around the coral, the coral properly lit in the foreground as I had the strobes at full power and the sunball in the frame as well without too  many glowing highlights, this is the resulting shot
Sunburst
Note that a model would not be visible in this shot and fish would be colorful only in front of the coral or close by anyway as discussed there was not fish to model for me and this was just technical entertainment. The image is quite strong but the lack of fish makes it less interesting.

I found some cooperating clown fish on this dive however they are those with the dark eyes so despite the eye contact the shot is not as strong as it would be with a better subject
Look Right in
This is taken with a single Inon UCL-165 a luxury of having a compact and being able to wide and macro on the same dive.

Anyway I was happy with the sunburst in the frame so that dive was well worth it.

Dive two was at Jackfish Alley, and proved to be the most entertaining of the day. Who knows this dive sites knows that there are two caves, the first is wide but very dark and at certain times has turtles inside. The second is really narrow but has few cracks the provides a cathedral light effect best experienced in other site of the Southern Red Sea. Anyway we got the briefing and Dr Mustard was going to be marshaling the queue of photographer in cave number 2.

Being familiar with the dive site I knew that cave 2 is quite narrow even for normal diver let alone this big troupe of photographer so I mounted my tripod legs on the tray with a view of working in cave 1 and then move to cave 2 after the chaos was over.

Well it was real chaos as you can see from the feature image divers in the way, bubbles silt, in short it was a mess.

So I spent some time in cave number 1, this cave is really dark and you can’t really shoot handheld. In cave number 2 you can use speeds of 1/25 or 1/30 up your ISO  and put the camera on a rock whilst you take the shot, in cave 1 this results in darkness unless you go to 4 digits ISO.

So my shot on cave 1 is taken at 0.4″ f/4 ISO100.
1st Cave@Jackfish Alley
The shot is taken with the camera on the tripod using self shoot so that there is no shake from the hand pressing the shutter, this means the picture is sharp as it can be and due to low ISO also very noise free. Unfortunately fish did not feature in the shot so this is again a fairly technical shot that is not as strong as it could be.

There were other interesting opportunities in smaller cracks like this one that I like quite a lot though is not a sensational shot.
Window
I like the fact that the two snappers are one silhouette and the other full color.

After the shambles of dive 2 we moved to Shark Reef where the first dive was really more to acclimatise with the site so won’t bore you with the pictures for that dive.

In the evening the sunset dive was at Ras Katy that would have been our regular evening spot from there onwards.

On day one I was playing with dapple light and reflections

Dapple at Ras Katy
Dapple at Ras Katy

 

This is me taking the shot above

Interceptor Shooting Dapple

As you can see I am nearly at the surface thanks to Damo for this picture.

Near surface can also be interesting like in this case

Test Shots dapple Reflections
Test Shots dapple Reflections

Here you can see part of the Snell windows together with the reef and the sunball. This shot can be made much more interesting if you focus on the reflections.

Anyway this was the end of day 3 of diving next post will be about Shark Reef and the schools of fish.

Red Sea Workshop with Alex Mustard – Part II Thistlegorm and Co

After the first day of fish portraits it was time to go and dive the Thistlegorm, this can be an amazing dive site but also very challenging as the wreck is not sheltered by any reef formation.

We got there early in the morning and attached to the wreck using the classic 3 point method: anchor, line on the bow and line on the stern we were all ready to go.

I have to say Dr Mustard prepared this very well and had a wealth of information on the wreck and the specific features.

The first dive was suggested to be a guide tour of the wreck from the outside with a limited penetration, the second would have been a penetration and the third dive a play with remote strobes (that I did not have).

As I had dived the wreck a number of times I decided to change the order so on dive number one went for a penetration of hold 2 and played a bit with the motorbikes.

There were already some others surrounding the bike as I went down so I played a bit with the divers themselves before being able to get in position.

Wreck Diving
It is amazing how much more interesting is a picture once you have a person in it. Eventually I got hold of the Bike in hold 2 also known as Elle’s bike. I looked around and there were some hatchet fish that I thought would have made the picture more interesting compared to the usual single fish in front of the bike.

Motorbike in Hold 2
I love the reflection on the fish that the strobe produced.

On dive 2 it was time to take some ambient light shots and I was expecting some divers to be around the stern that I could capture. Unfortunately the day boats had gone and the Thistlegorm was pretty empty so dive 2 was a bit of a waste as the boat itself says very little without a diver or a school of fish.

Thistlegorm Stern
Thistlegorm Stern

It could be the size of a RIB but you could not tell from here the massive size of the boat. It is quite dark at the 28 meters I took the picture so there is not a lot of color.

On dive 3 people that had them were playing with remote strobe. I fired a few shots when my cabin mate was placing his strobe, funny enough his remote strobe fired and I blackened him in lightroom so he is actually still there!
Trucks

The remote strobe creates the blue in the truck glass that would not be there otherwise.

Next trip I will take my third Z240 and the gorillapod, I have to get a remote trigger but I think this is relatively straightforward.

The briefing from Dr Mustard included map of all the bikes and trucks and suggestion for shots and strobe positioning really impressive detail there.

After 3 dives on the wreck we moved to Beacon Rock where the Dunraven rests not to dive the wreck but to experiment with dapple light.

This was a very productive dive for me I had some of the best shots in relatively poor conditions.
Dapple

The surface was not flat but this made it even more dramatic as the waves were breaking through.

There were also barracuda and goat fish shoals. The barracuda were not really cooperating so I focused on the goat fish

Special Guest

Goats

Meteor

I also had a 26º snoot this time so I played a bit with an octopus
Waiting in the dark

The good thing about the Inon snoot is that you can remove it and take normal shots with two strobes
This is the same octopus as before just to give you an idea

Side Shot

I was very happy with the performance of my RX100 Mark II one of the only two compact on the trip especially comparing to micro 4:3 that did not really look that much better.

Part 3 will be out soon with the first shots from Ras Mohammed

 

Red Sea Workshop with Alex Mustard – Part I

So finally the time had come to attend the Nauticam Try out with Alex Mustard.

If you have never done any of those workshops I would definitely recommend you one. It is not just the outstanding tuition but the fact that the boat will go to specific dive sites at specific times to take advantage of conditions and light for photography.

If you are keen to see the pictures this is the link to the set with the 30 images I like the most

Giant Moray

I used the RX100 for stills for the whole trip but then on the last dive I shot this short clip just to give an idea of what it was like. Note that I used the auto magic filter on the lens and by then I had ruined it a bit so the image is softer than it should be and not up to my usual standards, the purpose is to illustrate the diving style not the quality of my set up for video.

The trip started with a preliminary explanation on how things were going to work and after a static first evening on the boat we departed for Abu Nuhas the early morning after. Unfortunately the conditions were really rough so we ended up aborting and after a check dive at alternatives we went to the barge.

The objective was to shoot fish portraits, cardinal fish had eggs in their mouth, at least some of them were carrying them, so you could find yourself your fish and try to take some shots. It was apparent that due to the level of comfort of the fish I could not get close enough with my diopters to take a shot to fill the frame so I needed to crop quite a bit as in this shot.
Eggs

Hopefully the eggs are still visible. Anyway the rest of the gang had for 90% DSLR and were happily shooting portraits with their 100mm macro lens I was struggling getting anything decent so I decided to try something alternative as it was clear that if I was shooting fish mid water I would have been too far away to fill the frame.

This shot from Alex Tattersall gives you an idea of what should have come out with the right level of magnification that I could not achieve.

cardinalwitheggs

In some cases I did find more cooperative fish like those two.
BigEyes

So I put on the snoot and started looking for different things like in this shot taken with the Inon at 20º.
Grey Moray
Those little gray moray are endemic of the red sea and look quite cute. I then found a giant moray and took a series of shots this one being my favorite.
Giant Moray

The Inon snoot is a great piece of kit especially because you can go from 20º to 100º depending on the parts you combine. There are fiber optics snoot on the market that are sensational for macro but do no wide angle, the Inon snoot can do wide angle with 86º 53º 46º coverage and narrower beams of 26º and 20º for smaller things or special effects.

This is a picture of the snoot set that I would recommend to all Inon strobe users.

Wide angle Snoot
Wide angle Snoot
20 degree snoot
20 degree snoot
Inon snoot kit
Inon snoot kit

Obviously I could only capture semi static subjects with the snoot and the issue of fish portraits remains. The RX100 at 100mm equivalent requires 50cm focus distance that becomes 66cm in water. At this distance the capture area is rather large and unsuitable for smaller fish like the cardinals in the example so a solution would be to use an Inon UCL330 diopter to reduce distance to around 25-30 cm and therefore have a 2x magnification but I don’t have this lens anymore so can’t confirm. I will buy it again and do some more tests in a future trip.

I will post part II in the next days with some shots from the Thistlegorm so stay tuned

Why not to move to Micro 4:3 for Video

I have recently received a number of messages asking me why I am not upgrading to a micro 4:3 set up.

There are several reasons why I am not doing that even if my photo rig is nearly as heavy as a micro 4:3 or even a DSLR and have to do mostly with video not with stills.

I will try and touch on the key points in this post, please remember those are subjective and by no mean a criticism to other people that use 4:3 set up for video.

Note: my perspective is one of a typical non professional user that has limited time to get the best shots. This is not an absolute point of view it is  clear that if you are a ‘pro’ and have much more time to spend to get few seconds of footage many considerations do not apply.

Composition

The way I have learned to love underwater video is the composition opportunities that it gives. My main source of inspiration is John Boyle and his book that remains the only valid handbook for what I am concerned even if it is a little old.

One of the classics of underwater video is the sequence: wide-medium-close-super close. On a micro four third in order to have good quality you would choose a macro lens or a wide angle lens,  both those choices will prevent a number of shots you either do close and super close or wide and medium and maybe close but not super close.

With a camera with a fixed lens with a range of 28-100mm and wet lenses you can cover the whole spectrum of shots although you may need to swap lenses during the shot the possibility is there.

Optical Quality

Some users try to use one lens to catch all, usually the choice is a Panasonic 14-42mm or an Olympus 12-50mm. However this is not as exciting as it seems in the first place. I have run some comparisons on the optics on DXOMark assuming the 4:3 are on a Panasonic GH3 that really is a mini SLR you can see the results by yourself

Comparison Panasonic 14-42 vs RX100II vs Olympus 12-50
Comparison Panasonic 14-42 vs RX100II vs Olympus 12-50

The RX100II gives better quality than both those lenses and especially it does it at f/1.8 versus the f/3.5 of f/4 of the other lenses.

The RX100 does have issues of distortion and chromatic aberration at the edges because of the extensive correction but is overall sharper at wider aperture. This is very important for video that is shot at ambient light.

Wet Lenses

You can add M67 lenses to the Panasonic 14-42 and the 35 macro port (am talking about Nauticam ports here) the results will be worse than the RX100 as the starting point is worst. There is no M67 mount to use the Olympus 12-50mm lens, I will try to see if the flip diopter can do that without vignette but still this gives only 24mm against the 18mm of the RX100 with an Inon wet lens.

Video Quality

The only cameras that are decent are Panasonic as Olympus video is pathetic. However only the GH3/4 have anything better than a compact in terms of recording formats. The new Sony RX100 Mark III with 50 mbps 24/25p seems almost equally interesting.

Stabilisation

Micro 4:3 cameras do not have in camera stabilization in video mode and most of the lenses (the 14-42 is an exception) do not have optical stabilizers to contain costs. It follows that close ups are shaky and even wide angle has jumps.

Conclusion

With all the considerations above it follows the only real set up would be a lens with a stabilizer, the only available that can also shoot close up with a wet lens is the 14-42mm Panasonic. However this lens seems to have worst optical quality than the on-board lens of the RX100II (I have checked some real life shots myself). The only benefit left is the higher bit rate recording format and this is only if you go on a GH3/GH4, with higher recording formats available for the RX100 Mark III and with an announced Panasonic LX8 with potential 4K I personally do not see a reason to jump on the 4:3 wagon for video. I do believe though that if you take mainly stills there is a compelling reason for 4:3 as you can have one camera fitting almost everything and smaller to pack than a DSLR (but not that much and forget about 200-400mm f/2.8 tele lenses).

Snell Windows with your compact camera

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Both the Inon lenses produce sharp images with no defect.

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

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

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

Have fun shooting snell’s windows!

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

 

 

 

Tuition Day with Martin Edge

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pool Conditions
Pool Conditions

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

Frog at 28mm
Frog at 28mm

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

Frog at 50mm
Frog at 50mm

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

Frog single diopter
Frog single diopter

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

Frog Double Diopter
Frog Double Diopter

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

Octopus fisheye
Octopus fisheye

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

Octopus at 28mm
Octopus at 28mm

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

Octopus at 50mm
Octopus at 50mm

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

Octopus single diopter
Octopus single diopter

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

Octopus double diopter
Octopus double diopter

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

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

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

Falcon Fisheye
Falcon Fisheye

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

Family Fisheye
Family Fisheye

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

Child with dog
Child with dog

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

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

Lion Mouth Single Diopter
Lion Mouth Single Diopter

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

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

Lessons learned on the RX100

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

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

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

 

Increase the your rig’s buoyancy using floats or float arms

As you add up lenses and accessories to your underwater photography or compact video rig you start experiencing an increase in weight first on land and afterwards in water.

My current rig for photography weights in excess of 5 Kg (11 lbs) and in water this is very near to 2 Kg (4.4 lbs). The housing and the hardware are usually the main culprit but even strobes or lights can easily add weight. As you add more and more components the weight of your rig ramps up.

I use locline arms for video and this greatly helps reducing weight both in and outside water. My compact video rig is around 500 grams or 1.1 lbs in water but also very lights outside water. The Sola lights really help with their incredibly compact size. The heaviest items are the tray and handle and the lenses.

Sony RX100 Mark II Underwater Video Rig
Sony RX100 Mark II Underwater Video Rig

For my video rigs I use STIX jumbo floats on the tray and on the locline segments. Each one of those floats gives around 160 grams 5.6 Oz lift in water.

Stix floats are available as large and jumbo format more information directly on the 4th generation designs web site here

For stills I use aluminum arms as I find them more precise but also need longer arms and be able to sustain a heavier weight for a strobe outside water. Strobes frequently weight over half a kg with batteries, this is too much for a 1/2″ locline arm and stiffer 3/4″ segments are required. I don’t particularly like the 3/4″ segments and I prefer ball and clamp solutions. 3/4″ segment can hold easily a strobe but can’t be really too long.

This is my basic still set up I had for the Panasonic LX7

Photo Rig Front
LX7 Photo Rig Front

Even in this case I tried to use as many floats as possible to keep it light around the usual half Kg 1.1 lbs underwater weight.

For my RX100 I have two strobes and arms with 8″ and 5″ long segments.

The 5.5 Kg rig in hand
The 5.5 Kg rig in hand

As you can read this is 5.5 Kg on land and even with 6 Jumbo stix floats the underwater weight is over 680 grams or 1.5 lbs this for me is a bit too much to carry around so I started looking into alternative solutions.

Left Inon Mega M - Center ULCS 8" with 3 Jumbo Floats - Right ULCS 5" with 2 Large Floats
Left Inon Mega M – Center ULCS 8″ with 3 Jumbo Floats – Right ULCS 5″ with 2 Large Floats

The ultralight buoyancy arms provide too little lift in my opinion to be worth using so I looked at float arms in carbon or plastic material as an alternative. I came across Inon and Nauticam products and so I ran some comparison based on some metrics I have defined myself.

Update 16 March I also include Stix float arms now.

Those are:

  1. Buoyancy per $: how much lift do you get per $ spent
  2. Buoyancy per mm: how much lift do you get per mm effective length*
  3. Buoyancy per gram: how much lift do you get in relation to the on land weight of the arm

*effective length is measured from the center of the arm balls

I refer to US $ prices just for convenience the same would apply even more in UK/Euro terms so here are some results

Standard Float Arms

You would use standard float arms if you have an acrylic dome on an SLR or mirror-less or a plastic housing that gives considerable lift as those solution give limited lift in water ranging from 75 to 333 grams.

Arm Type Buoyancy Cost Total Weight Depth Rating
ULCS S + 2 Stix L 154 $57.50 101 40m/130ft
Stix 6″ L 142 $43.00 101 40m/130ft
Inon S 75 $75.95 142 70m/230ft
ULCS M + 3 Stix L 237 $66.75 146 40m/130ft
Stix 9″ L 260 $48.00 146 40m/130ft
Nauticam M 240 $80.00 200 100m/330ft
Inon M 135 $89.95 181 70m/230ft

I have compared an ULCS 5″ and 8″ segment with Nauticam 60 mm diameter and Inon arms of the same diameter 52 mm or 2″. Those are the results. Update the new graph also includes Stix arms made of aluminum with plastic balls  and their own floats.

Standard Float Arms Key figures
Standard Float Arms Key figures

In this category you can see that a STIX  arm with large floats beats a carbon or plastic float arms on all metrics in fact on the shorter segment nauticam does not even produce a float arm solution.

An ULCS 5″ segment with 2 large floats give a lift of 154 grams or 5.4 Oz and an 8″ segment a good 237 grams or 8.5 Oz, Stix arms offer 142 and 260 grams respectively in the 6″ and 9″ lengths.

This solution gives more lift in water and is lighter on land I see no benefits investing in a float arm in this range of buoyancy and for this reason I have not even considered ULCS buoyancy arms. A pack of large stix floats costs $25 for 4 units of 99 grams or 3.5 Oz lift each and those can be moved on your arm segments making it a very flexible option.

Mega Floats

I define as mega floats anything that offers at least 2 grams lift for each mm effective length. I put the Stix arms in this category even if they fall short in this metric as they are comparable and cost effective.

Each one of those solutions will provide in excess of 274 grams or 9 Oz lift in water.  In this category we have the ULCS arms with Stix jumbo floats as the most agile solution at 2.5″ or 63.5 mm diameter, this has the benefit of not requiring extra long clamps to fold two segments with floats fully. Nauticam and Inon both have segments with 90 mm and 97 mm diameter. Inon segments have an extra benefit compared to Nauticam for compact camera users using wet lenses as they can support up to 2 single lens holder for each segment as in the picture earlier in this post. Stix arms made of plastic are the cheapest in this category though can’t offer the same amount of buoyancy of carbon or ABS arms.

Arm Type Buoyancy Cost Total Weight Depth Rating
ULCS S + STIX J 274 $62.50 122 40m/130ft
STIX 6″ 284 $43.00 122 40m/130ft
Inon S Mega 390 $82.95 219 70m/230ft
Nauticam S Mega 375 $90.00 240 100m/330ft
Inon M Mega 650 $93.95 295 70m/230ft
ULCS M + STIX J 416 $74.25 175 40m/130ft
STIX 9″ 425 $51.00 178 40m/130ft
Nauticam M Mega 655 $120.00 275 100m/330ft

Those are the results:

Mega Float Arms Key Figures
Mega Float Arms Key Figures

Stix float arms score higher on a Buoyancy/$ metric and also lead the way in terms of buoyancy/weight ratio however the amount of lift offered is limited and this solution does score low on the buoyancy/mm metric. Especially in the medium segment around 8/9 inches you can see that there is not much difference on a buoyancy/$ between a 9″ stix arm and an Inon M mega.

You do get a problem with this big arms if you want to fold the segments on themselves. Currently ULCS provides the AC-CSB clamp for 2″ arm segments but even with that you can’t fold two mega arms.

Inon Mega + ULCS Large
Inon Mega + ULCS Large

Here a few example of the issue I mentioned a mega arm with a 5″ segment with float reaches maybe 30º and without the float around 20º

Mega float + 5" segment
Mega float + 5″ segment

Ultimately I do not think is a big issue as you can use the strobe adapter segment and still achieve all possible positions for your light anyway if you are concerned do get a couple of the longer clamps.

This is my rig with the float arms it does look neat compared to the version with STIX floats

Sony RX100 Mark II rig with Inon Mega float arms
Sony RX100 Mark II rig with Inon Mega float arms

Conclusion

Unless you have a plastic housing or a housing nearly neutral in water floats or float arms at 2″ diameter are not really effective, produce limited lift and are not a really cost effective way to add buoyancy to your rig. 2″ floats can be used to trim your rig in case larger floats are too buoyancy but are not a primary way to achieve the purpose. For example if I wanted to make my rig neutral I could add 2 large Stix floats on each arm.

Stix floats offer a lot of flexibility as you can take them off arm segments and put them elsewhere in a flexible way. Stix floats are also an option just within recreational limits 40m/130ft past this depth the floats loose buoyancy and eventually crush. Stix do offer custom materials float that resist greater depths on request.

Mega arms are a bit clumsy but do provide the lift needed and are cost effective even if a bit heavy on land. My preference if you use wet lenses is for the Inon arms, those are the most cost effective and provide the most lift and can also support lens holders. Inon arms are rated for 70 m/230 ft if you go deeper you need the Nauticam arms that ca go down to 100 m/330 ft. So for technical photographer float arms are really the only way forward in terms of off the shelf solutions. Obviously you can get bespoke solution using submarine grade divinycell but that is beyond the expertise and reach of a normal user.

How much lift do you need?

To calculate the buoyancy of your rig you can use manufacturers data sheets (Inon is brilliant, ULCS does provide some weights, housing manufacturers usually don’t). Failing that you can calculate this item by item using a graduated measuring container or last resort put your whole rig in water and use a luggage scale.

Caution

I balance my rig to have it neutral WITHOUT wet lenses this is for safety reasons. If you use a heavy wide angle wet lens and your rig is overall neutral the moment you take the lens off the port your rig will start to go up. Likewise if you had to loose your lens your rig would float and could escape to the surface. If you want to balance the overall rig you need to find a solution to balance the lenses themselves otherwise severe risks of runaway ascent chasing the rig could incur

Leak Sentinel V3 for RX100 Mark II – Review and Stress Bench Test

Following the failed test on the Nauticam Electrical Sync Cord bulkhead I was out in the market to check what else could be done with the M16 port on the RX100 Mark II housing.

I bumped into the leak sentinel while at the London Dive Show. As you may know Nauticam provides now a vacuum system with temperature compensation on all new micro 4:3 and DSLR housings. Also older models can be retrofitted but not the RX100 because essentially the moisture sensor is much simpler.

So if the Nauticam housing has already a moisture sensor why bother adding a vacuum test. The advantages are numerous:

  1. A moisture sensor still requires the housing to be put into water to be tested
  2. A moisture sensor starts beeping when water has already made its way into the housing, if you are in a situation where you have a mandatory safety stop or a deco stop you don’t want really to have the additional stress of a camera flood.
  3. With a leak sensor you can check the integrity of the housing before the dive and without putting it in water
  4. You can rapidly change battery and the likes and not worry if you have compromised the seal of your housing

With all of this in mind I went off and contacted Vivid housings

After an email exchange about the design of the product I was convinced that it was worth getting it so I ordered one and after just 3 days it turned up in my post directly from Slovenia.

The system comes with an M16 adapter to screw on the housing bulkhead. The best way to remove the cap on the Mark II housing is using a CR2032 battery like the one of the moisture sensor.

I set up the system on the housing as in the featured image and started my preparation. It takes 3 pump strokes to get a green light and the instructions say to add between half and a full stroke to make sure it is not on the edge. I had 4 full strokes.

I prepared the housing and camera in a room at 21C and waited 20 minutes before putting it in water at 15C.

I then put the camera in video recording mode for one hour, the Rx100 has a limit at 30′ so I had to record two files. After one hour the system was still showing a green light I took it out of the water and follow the depressurization procedure and extracted the camera. Measuring the temperature inside the battery compartment the sensor indicated 28C.

Now this made me think to the fact that this solution, although equipped with a temperature sensor, does not actually manage temperature compensation. If you know anything about physics you know that the following is true for an  gas also known as Gay Lussac law

the pressure of a gas of fixed mass and fixed volume is directly proportional to the gas’s absolute temperature

As our housing is rigid and not compressible this means that the ratio between temperature and pressure is constant.

This also means that if the temperature increases because the camera warms up with use the vacuum will drop (pressure increases), this could create a false positive.

I therefore performed the following steps

  1. I immersed in water at 32C and started shooting a video clip.
  2. After around 50 minutes the led started to alternate red and green. The camera has the temperature warning indicating a possible temperature close to 40 degrees
  3. I kept the camera in water pretty sure there was no leak and then at 60 minutes took it out of the water
  4. After few minutes outside water in a room at 21C the light went back to green
  5. The camera temperature in the battery compartment was 36C
Water Temperature Measure
Water Temperature Measure
Temperature warning
Temperature warning

The ambient pressure was 1016 mpa so I estimate I created around 750mpa inside the housing with 4 full strokes, however as the camera sustained an increase of 19 degrees from 21 to 40 the pressure sustained an increase of 6.5% bringing it in the warning area of the leak sentinel and generated a false positive.

Now there are a few considerations to be done:

1. If you shoot pictures even firing the flash is unlikely to get the camera as hot as when you shoot video
2. The water in the dive will seldom be 30C anyway
3. It is preferable to prepare the camera in a temperature as close as possible to the diving temperature and in the driest environment available
4. It is possible to estimate the amount of vacuum each pump strokes gives and compensate for the temperature changes

The worst possible scenario is a video camera housing prepared in an air conditioned environment this is the only scenario where temperature compensation is useful.

Generally the suggestion of the user manual to give one or half pump strokes should be changed. Say that I have a large housing and it takes 10 strokes to create the vacuum, I would suggest another 3 strokes is diving in warm water otherwise the possibility of false positives is increased.

Vacuum Pump
Vacuum Pump

For what concerns the RX100 and only for very warm water shooting a lot of video there is a theoretical possibility that the camera overheats, and if the housing had been assembled in a much colder room, this gives a false positive.

To minimize this possibility prepare your housing at the normal ambient temperature of your dive site is generally the best practice for tropical diving. I also do not recommend practices like preparing your housing in a cold air conditioned cabin, some people think they avoid condensation not thinking that a 20+ degrees thermal shock does do any good to the camera.

Ultimately at €200 including worldwide shipping I can definitely recommend the leak sentinel to all RX100 users. Considering the cost of your investment even at the price of the RX100 Mark II of $750/£649/€699 this is a good tool and more than anything give you the extra reassurance of having a watertight housing, and also helps you in all your situations where you have a battery change or you have to open the housing before the end of your day.