Camera Reviews

Detailed camera reviews for underwater photo and video, including specs, key features for u/w photography and camera comparisons.
Nikon entered the mirrorless market with their new Z-series, featuring a full-frame sensor, some great specs and a bold lens mount redesign.
By Nirupam Nigam

Nikon Z6 and Z7 Camera Review for Underwater Photography

Nirupam Nigam
Nikon entered the mirrorless market with their new Z-series, featuring a full-frame sensor, some great specs and a bold lens mount redesign.

Photographed in Socorro, Mexico by David Sancho. Nikon Z7 in a Nauticam Z7 Housing, Nikon 16-35mm F4 VR lens, 8-inch dome port, dual YS-D2J strobes, Nauticam TTL converter. f/8, 1/200, ISO 200

 

As many major camera manufacturers have rolled out their first full-frame mirrorless camera over the past year, the global photographic community has waited with bated breath (and some skepticism) for the Nikon Z series flagship cameras – the Nikon Z7 and the Nikon Z6. This is because Nikon is taking the first step towards raising the question – are DSLRs obsolete? Promising specs that rival the Nikon D850 and a long-term investment into the new Z-mount lens system, Nikon suggests a changing of the guard. But is the Nikon Z series proof that DSLRs could be on their way out?

The team at the Underwater Photography Guide has decided to test this theory by taking the Nikon Z7 diving in rugged, cold waters on the West Coast of the United States. The verdict? …Say hello to the full-frame mirrorless era; the Nikon Z-series is spectacular! 

Though the Nikon Z7 and Z6 join an increasingly crowded field of full-frame mirrorless cameras like the Canon EOSR, Sony A7R III, and Panasonic S1R, the Nikon Z7 may quite possibly be the best all-around mirrorless camera on the market. The Z7, which Nikon calls "The Perfectionist" is a 45.7 MP beast with a full-frame sensor and "revolutionary autofocus". The Z6, which Nikon calls "The All-Arounder" is a 25.4 MP camera with its own impressive array of specs, and a significantly lower price tag. Beyond the difference in resolution, there is very little separating the Z6 from the Z7. Therefore this review is for both cameras. 

 

 

 

The Nikon Z6/Z7 is available now at Bluewater Photo!


Jump to a Section

 

 Z6 and Z7 Key Specs  |   Z-Mount   |

 

|   Underwater Performance   |   Pros and Cons   |   Recommended Lenses   |   

 

 |   Z6 vs Competition   |   Z7 vs Competition  | 

 

|   Who Should Buy?   |   Underwater Housing Options   |   Conclusion   | 

 


 

 

Quick Intro - 4 Amazing Things about the Z6/Z7

There are four things you need to know right off the bat about the Nikon Z6 and Z7 cameras:

1) They will work with most existing Nikon FX lenses (with an FTZ adapter), and the auto-focus will be good. This means most of your old DSLR lenses can be migrated over to this system. Housing manufacturers are accommodating for the FTZ adapter as well! It is important to note that autofocus sometimes doesn't work with third-party F-mount lenses and the FTZ adapter.

2) Built-in 5-axis image stabilization. Now all of your lenses are stabilized, and the ones that already have IS built-in are even better. This is a big differentiator from the Canon EOS R mirrorless camera.

3) The new lens mount supports lenses with an aperture of F 0.95. That's a lot of light!

4) The Z7 has auto-focus capability over 90% of the screen, meaning a lot more of the image is available for focusing.

Z6 and Z7 Key Specs

Here's a quick breakdown of key specs for the Z6 and Z7. 

  

Nikon Z6 

Nikon Z7 

Price 

$1,999.95

$3,399.95

Sensor Size

35.9 mm  x 23.9 mm

35.9 mm  x 23.9 mm

Effective Pixels 

24.5 MP

45.7 MP

ISO 

100-51200 (Expands to 50)

64-25600

(Expands to 32)

Image Stabilization 

5 Axis image sensor shift, up to 5 stops

5 Axis image sensor shift, up to 5 stops

Autofocus 

Hybrid phase-detection/contrast AF with AF assist, 273 pts

Hybrid phase-detection/contrast AF with AF assist, 493 pts

Flash Sync Speed 

1/200

1/200

Burst Shooting 

12 fps

9 fps

Movie Modes 

4k @ 30/25/24 fps. 1080 @ 120/100/60/50/30/25/24 fps

4k @ 30/25/24 fps. 1080 @ 120/100/60/50/30/25/24 fps

LCD Screen 

3.2” tilting, 2.1 million dots, touch screen

3.2” tilting, 2.1 million dots, touch screen

Electronic Viewfinder (EVF)  

100% coverage, 0.80x magnification, 3.69 mln dots

100% coverage, 0.80x magnification, 3.69 mln dots

Environmentally Sealed 

Yes

Yes

Battery Life (CIPA) 

310

330

Weight (inc batt) 

675 g (1.49 lb / 23.9 oz)

675 g (1.49 lb / 23.9 oz)

Dimensions 

134 x 100.5 x 67.5 mm (5.3 x 4 x 2.7″)

134 x 100.5 x 67.5 mm (5.3 x 4 x 2.7″)

 

The most important distinctions between the two cameras are the sensor resolution and autofocus - both are markedly better on the Z7. Additionally, the Z7 has a native ISO of 64, expandable down to 32, which is better than the Z6's native ISO of 100 (expandable down to 50). This means the Z7 will pull out more details from the shadows and highlights than the Z6. Other than that, the cameras are almost the same, including the same physical dimensions and weights. 


New Lens Mount System

One of the big advantages of the Z series is Nikon's new "Z Mount", which has a 17% higher diameter than Nikon's classic full-frame F Mount (55mm vs 47 mm), as well as a shorter flange focal distance (16mm vs 17.5mm). These will allow for Z-series lenses to be wider, letting in more light and allowing a max aperture size of f/0.95. Other benefits include improved edge-to-edge image sharpness and virtually no distortion, even with the aperture wide open. Additionally, it allows for the lenses to be smaller and more compact than Nikon's standard F Mount full-frame lenses.

Note also that Nikon released an FTZ Adapter which will allow F Mount lenses to be used on the Z6 and Z7 camera bodies (though of course when using this you will miss out on the advantages of the Z mount). Nikon has announced that the FTZ Adapter is fully compatible with 90 lenses, and 360 lenses in total can be used with it. (Full AF/AE supported when using FX or DX AF-S Type G/D/E, AF-P type G/E, AF-I type D and AF-S/AF-I Teleconverters). Of course, it remains to be seen how the FTZ Adapter will work with 3rd party F-mount lenses popular for underwater use (eg Sigma, Tokina).

 

Underwater Performance

 

Build

The most enticing thing about the Z6 and Z7 is the build. It’s excellent. The weather sealing seemed tough enough in the variable weather conditions experienced during testing – no problems there. More importantly, the Z7 is much smaller and lighter than the D850 (675g vs 1005g). If I’m traveling or diving, the Z7 wins hands down every time. 

My biggest complaint with the Nikon D850 has been that it is just too big underwater. The Nikon Z7, even in an Ikelite housing (which tends to be less streamlined than other manufacturers), was a breeze to handle, even from shore. Ikelite introduced a trim rail with this housing that could be enticing for videographers as it makes the system neutrally buoyant for wide shots with a large dome. 

Ergonomics

Except for the function buttons that are a little hard to access on the forward, right side of the camera, the button placement is very well thought out. I found myself have no issues with finding buttons or functions, even without reading any manuals. I very much enjoyed the “info” menu button that allowed quick access to a menu with all the quick settings that you might need in the spur of the moment.

Migrating from another Nikon system, I think this camera is very intuitive. In fact, I felt that the Z7 had the quickest learning curve of any camera I’ve picked up, to date. But don’t take my word on that, of course. Everyone learns differently.

 

Electronic Viewfinder

The Electronic Viewfinder on the Nikon Z6 and Z7 seems to be all the rage. And indeed, it is the highest quality of any available on the market. The dynamic range is adequate to estimate exposure correctly, usually without looking at your first shot. I still recommend turning live view off in darker water to properly see potential subjects. The refresh rate is excellent. There is very little, if any lag. The exciting thing for underwater photographers is that you really don’t need to take your eye off the viewfinder for a whole dive. Images can be reviewed, and all settings and menus can be adjusted right in the viewfinder. 

 

Image quality

The image quality on the Z7 is just unstoppable. At first you might think that 45.7 MP is more than enough pixels in one camera. But in reality, every bit of that information is useful. When you have so many megapixels on a full-frame sensor, you’re left with an almost unreasonable ability to crop your photo and produce a large, beautiful image of the most minute details. Take the image below of this black-eyed goby and a 100% crop of the same image. Even the color pigments in the skin are of the highest level of detail. Detail like this will open new worlds for macro photographers. It’s like having a portable microscope. 

The built-in 5-axis image stabilization works quite well. It extended my range by a couple of stops, and low-light, hand-held shots did not suffer much motion blur.

The auto white balance and color rendering on this camera performed much better the auto white balance on the Sony A7R III – a camera that has had auto white balance issues in the past. Though this can be corrected in post-processing, it’s nice to have raw files with accurate colors straight out of the camera. 

The one area where image quality was lacking on this camera is the level of noise. There’s definitely more noise than what is desirable, even at low ISOs (without using the NR function). However, this is entirely due to the fact that there are so many megapixels stuffed onto the sensor. Because the grain is so small, the noise is very easily removed in post-processing. So this could even be seen as a positive for workability.

 

Autofocus

The autofocus on the Z7 has been given quite a bad rap on the internet. I think it’s unwarranted. Overall, I found the autofocus underwater to be better than the Sony A7R III and slightly worse than the D850. I personally thought that the difference between the AF on the Z7 and D850 was so small, it could only make a difference in an insignificant fraction of the shots I took. What impressed me so much about the Nikon Z7’s autofocus was its performance in low light. I was 50 feet deep, with 5 ft of whale snot viz, at sunset, without a focus light, and the AF locked in quickly and easily on every shot. 

I do recommend using larger focus point options like the wide-s AF area if you are working with quicker subjects or continuous AF. There are so many autofocus points on the Nikon Z7 that it can take a while to hunt for the right point if you’re using a single AF point. On the flipside, it’s great to have 90% autofocus point coverage on the Z7.

Unfortunately, Nikon did not migrate their 3D tracking Auto Focus mode from the D850 to the Z7, which is a bit of a blow to the system. This was a great tool for a lot of both wide angle and macro photography. The Z7’s continuous AF mode doesn’t perform as well as hoped either. But don’t get me wrong, it’s still great. If I was really into shooting fast moving subjects, such as with a lot of pelagic animals, I might consider the Nikon D850 over the Z7.

 

Dynamic Range 

Unfortunately, this is one of the places where the Nikon Z6 and Z7 fall short of the D850. Though they are still excellent performers, the flash sync speed is 1/200s which makes taking good sun ball shots a little harder. The native ISO of 64 on the Z7 does make up for this a little bit. 

However, the most concerning issue is banding. In very low light situations, like diving in the Pacific Northwest, underexposed areas can have slight, barely noticeable banding. This is due to the phase detection autofocus points. In most topside photography this wouldn’t be a problem. But in underwater photos with large dynamic range, it can be.

 

Video

The video on this camera can be considered on par with the Nikon D850. This puts it at the top of the line for most underwater video systems – certainly rivalling the Sony A7R III. The color rendering is thankfully as good as the Nikon D850. But the best feature on the Z7’s video is the autofocus full-time function. It outperforms the D850 and most other competing cameras. I did, however, have a little bit of trouble with this function in very low light. The most exciting thing for videographers using the Nikon Z7 is that it’s a full-frame camera with 4k video, capable of outputting video at 10 bits. Many cameras with this capability are over 10 times the price. An NLog color profile is also available for the Nikon Z7, which will bring out more details after post-processing.

 

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • Amazing image quality 
  • Very high resolution
  • High functioning electronic viewfinder (EVF)
  • Smaller than competing DSLRs

 

Cons

  • Banding in low light (due to hybrid AF system)
  • Noise at low ISO (due to high resolution)
  • AF slightly lower performing than the D850
  • Battery life
  • Single XQD slot

 

Lens Options for Underwater Photography

As this is a new lens system, Nikon only has a few Z mount lenses available. However, they have mapped out their offerings for the next three years, which is quite informative.

As can be seen here, although there are a lot of exciting lenses for topside use, many are prime lenses in mid focal ranges so not well suited to underwater photography. And although there are some nice wide angle zooms (14-30mm f/4 and 14-24mm f/2.8), there is no fisheye lens and no macro lens planned for at least the next couple of years. Additionally, Nikon has not released their Z mount design to 3rd party lens manufacturers, and it may be some time until Z mount lenses are seen from popular underwater photography lens manufacturers like Tokina and Sigma. So this means that, for the time being, much of the underwater use of these Z series cameras may require use of the FTZ lens mount adapter.

 

Recommended Underwater Lenses with the FTZ Adapter

Macro

  • Nikon 60mm 2.8G Macro: Great all around lens and especially great for blackwater diving
  • Nikon 105mm 2.8G VR Macro: Great for small and shy subjects, giving you more working room than the 60mm and essential for super macro
  • Nauticam Super Macro Converter: the Nauticam super macro converter (SMC-1) is a wet diopter perfect for taking sharp super macro images. In fact, it is the strongest, sharpest diopter on the market. For the best super macro results, use it with the Nikon 105 mm 2.8G VR lens. 

 

Wide Angle Fisheye

 

Wide Angle Rectilinear

  • Nikon 16-35mm 4.0: Great for large animals and extremely sharp lens, but requires a larger dome to get sharp images
  • Nikon 20mm 1.8G: Small, compact, sharp, doesn't need as big a dome as the 16-35 mm

 

Nikon Z6 vs High-End Crop-Sensor Mirrorless Options

The Nikon Z6 has very similar specs to the top crop-sensor mirrorless options for underwater shooting, the Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II and the Panasonic GH5. (Check out our detailed UWPG reviews of the Olympus E-M1 Mark II and Panasonic GH5 for more info). Perhaps the most important distinction is that the Z6 has a full-frame sensor, which makes its price point quite compelling.

  

Nikon Z6

Panasonic GH5 

Olympus E-M1 Mark II 

Price 

$1,999.95

$1,999

$1,699

Sensor Size 

35.9 mm  x 23.9 mm

17.3 mm x 13 mm

17.4 mm  x 13 mm

Effective Pixels 

24.5 MP

20 MP

20 MP

Max Resolution 

6048 x 4024

5184 x 3888

5184 x 3888

ISO 

Auto, 100-51200 (Expands to 50)

Auto, 200-25600 (Expands to 100)

Auto, 200-25600

(Expands to 64)

Image Stabilization 

5 Axis, up to 5 stops shake reduction

5 Axis, up to 5 stops with compatible lenses

5 Axis, up to 5.5 stops; 6.5 with compatible lenses

Autofocus 

Hybrid phase-detection/contrast AF with AF assist, 273 pts

Contrast Detection, 225 pts

Contrast & Phase Detection, 121 pts

Flash Sync Speed 

1/200

1/250

1/250

Burst Shooting 

12 fps

12 fps

60 fps electronic / 15 fps mechanical

Movie Modes 

4k @ 30 fps. 1080 @ 120 fps

Cinema 4K @ 24 fps, 4K @ 60 fps, 1080 @ 60 fps

Cinema 4K @ 24 fps, 4K @ 30 fps, 1080 @ 60 fps

LCD Screen Size 

3.2” tilting

3.2” fully articulated

3” fully articulated

Screen Dots 

2,100,000

1,620,000

1,037,000

Touch Screen 

Yes

Yes

Yes

Electronic Viewfinder (EVF) Coverage 

100% coverage, 0.80x magnification, 3.69 mln dots

100% coverage, 0.76x magnification, 3.68 mln dots

100% coverage, 0.74x magnification, 2.36 mln dots

Storage Types 

Single XQD

Dual SD/SDHC/SDXC

Dual SD/SDHC/SDXC

Environmentally Sealed 

Yes

Yes

Yes

Battery Life 

310

410

440

Weight 

675 g (1.49 lb / 23.9 oz)

725 g (1.60 lb / 25.57 oz)

574 g (1.27 lb / 20.25 oz)

Dimensions 

134 x 100.5 x 67.5 mm (5.3 x 4 x 2.7″)

139 x 98 x 87 mm (5.47 x 3.86 x 3.43″)

134 x 91 x 67 mm (5.28 x 3.58 x 2.64″)

Advantages

The main advantages of the Z6 are a much larger sensor size, higher resolution, and faster autofocus.

Although the resolution of the Z6 is somewhat better than that of the GH5 and E-M1 Mark II, the full-frame Z6 sensor is significantly larger. This means it has much larger pixels than either of these competitors, giving it significant advantages in dynamic range and low light performance. The larger sensor also means that for a given f-stop value, the depth of field on the Z6 will be shallower than the GH5 or E-M1 Mark II. This can make shooting macro, where a large depth of field is often desired, more difficult. In order to compensate, the Z6 will have to use a higher aperture to get the same depth of field, making lighting more challenging.

The autofocus will also make the Z6 significantly better at getting action shots and finding focus in low light conditions. The use of an XQD card, instead of an SD card, provides advantages in processing speed and storage size, though some may find it a disadvantage that they can't use their existing SD cards. 

The camera body is almost identical in weight and dimensions to that of the Olympus E-M1 Mark II, coming in a bit heavier and a bit thicker, but not by much. 

Limitations

The major downsides to the Nikon Z6 are the relatively poor battery life and the limited lens selection (unless using the FTZ converter). With 310 shots per charge, it has less than 75% of the battery life of the E-M1 Mark II, meaning lots of battery swaps between dives. Although the flash sync speed is slower, the lower minimum ISO makes up for this when wanting to stop down for bright sunball shots. Only having one card slot will be seen by some as an additional disadvantage. 

Although the Z mount will allow Z series lenses to be smaller than equivalent DSLR lenses, the lenses still have to be made for a full-frame sensor. This means that they will, for the most part, be larger than their mirrorless micro-four-thirds equivalents. For example, the Nikkor Z 24-70mm f/4 is a bit larger and heavier than the Olympus Pro 12-40 (24-80mm full frame equivalent) f/2.8 lens, meaning the upcoming Nikkor Z 24-70 f/2.8 lens should be significantly bulkier than its Olympus "equivalent."

 

 

Z7 vs Top Full Frame Mirrorless/DSLR Options

The Z7 has similar specs to the Nikon D850 and Sony A7RIII, the leading full-frame options for underwater photography. (Check out the UWPG reviews for the Nikon D850 and Sony A7RIII, as well as a head-to-head comparison of the D850 vs the A7RIII). 

  

Nikon Z7

Sony A7RIII 

Nikon D850 

Price 

$3,399.95

$2,999

$3,299.95

Sensor Size 

35.9 mm  x 23.9 mm

35.9 mm x 24 mm

35.9 mm x 23.9 mm

Effective Pixels 

45.7 MP

42.4 MP

45.7 MP

Max Resolution 

8256 x 5504

7952 x 5304

8256 x 5504

ISO 

Auto, 64-25600 (Expands to 32-102400)

Auto, 100-32000 (Expands to 50-102400)

Auto, 64-25600 (Expands to 32-102400)

Image Stabilization 

5 Axis, up to 5 stops shake reduction

5 Axis, up to 5.5 stops shake reduction

No in-body stabilization

Autofocus System 

Hybrid phase-detection/contrast AF with AF assist, 493 pts

399 phase detection /425 contrast detection pts*

153 AF pts (99 of which are cross-type)

Autofocus Working Range

-4EV

-3EV

-4EV

Flash Sync Speed 

1/200

1/250

1/250

Burst Shooting 

9 fps

10 fps

7 fps (9 with battery grip and D5 battery)

Movie Modes 

4k @ 30 fps, 1080 @ 120 fps

4k @ 30 fps, 1080 @ 120 fps

4k @ 30 fps, 1080 @ 120 fps

LCD Screen Size 

3.2” tilting

2.95” tilting

3.2” tilting

Screen Dots 

2,100,000

2,100,000

2,359,000

Touch Screen 

Yes

Yes

Yes

Viewfinder 

Electronic, 100% coverage, 0.80x mag, 3.69 mln dots

Electronic, 100% coverage, 0.78x mag, 3.69 mln dots

SLR, 100% coverage, 0.75x magnification

Storage Types 

Single XQD

Dual SD/SDHC/SDXC (1x UHS-II/I and 1x UHS-I)

Dual (1x SD, 1x XQD) SD/SDHC/SDXC/XQD

Environmentally Sealed 

Yes

Yes

Yes

Battery Life 

330

530 (VF)/650 (LCD)

1840

Weight 

675 g (1.49 lb / 23.9 oz)

657 g (1.45 lb / 23.2 oz)

1005 g (2.22 lb / 35.45 oz)

Dimensions 

134 x 100.5 x 67.5 mm (5.3 x 4 x 2.7″)

126.9 x 95.6 x 73.7 mm (5 x 3.88 x 3”)

146 x 124 x 78.5 mm (5.8 x 4.9 x 3.1”)

 

*Although the specs for the A7RIII look strongest on paper, in testing we found the Nikon D850 autofocus out-performed it.

Advantages

The main advantage of the Nikon Z7 is D850 level performance, with the smaller size and weight of the A7RIII and smaller lenses than would be found on a DSLR. Additionally, the in-body 5-axis image stabilization will be very useful for shooting video, as compared to the D850's lack of in-body stabilization.

Using the FTZ adapter gives the Z7 access to most of the great wide angle and macro lenses the D850 can use. Though also note that the A7RIII can use the Metabones adapter to get access to Canon lenses; this means the wide angle lens options should be roughly equivalent between the Z7 and the A7RIII, but the macro options may be better for the Z7.

The use of an XQD card instead of an SD card provides benefits in processing speed and storage size, though some may find it a disadvantage that they can't use their existing SD cards.

Having lenses with wider maximum aperture, that have improved edge-to-edge sharpness even when shooting wide open will be quite useful for underwater photographers shooting in low light conditions, using ambient light shots, or wanting really shallow depth of field. 

Overall, we found the image quality on the Z7 matched the image quality on the D850 and was better than the Sony A7R III. 

Limitations

The battery life of the Z7 is severely lacking when compared to the A7RIII, and especially the D850. It may mean changing the battery out after every couple dives, which is a pain. Additionally, from our testing we found that the hybrid phase detection autofocus on the Z7 just doesn't perform quite as well as the Nikon D850 autofocus.

We were also disappointed to see slight banding in some of our photos - the ones taken with high dynamic range. One card slot on the Z7, even if it is XQD instead of SD, will be a concern for people who are used to using two cards.

 

Should You Invest in the Nikon Z7?

Overall, we think the camera ecosystem is worth the investment. As manufacturers have started to focus on very high-end mirrorless setups, full-frame mirrorless systems are where much of the innovation in photography will likely be. With an FTZ adapter, Nikon has introduced a nice way to transition high-quality F-mount glass options to the new system of Z-mount glass. With the potential for f/0.95 speed lenses, Nikon has set itself up for success, even if it isn’t here yet. If you are an underwater photographer looking for the very best, I don’t think you could go wrong with this camera. If you are a professional underwater photographer looking for a smaller system, this could be it. If you are an amateur looking to upgrade, I think this should be a serious consideration as you will have the best tools at your disposable for a light build. But if you’re on a bit of a budget, I would look at the Nikon Z6, which has a lot of the same specs and a smaller sensor resolution of 24.5 MP, for a much smaller price. Would I switch from the D850 to the Nikon Z7? Probably not – they’re a bit too similar of a camera, at a similar price point.

 

Underwater Housing Options

Some housings are now available for the Nikon Z6 and Z7, including the Nauticam Z7 Underwater Housing, the Ikelite Nikon Z7 Underwater Housing, and the Sea & Sea Z7 Underwater Housing. Aquatica has also expressed that they will develop a housing. Each housing works with both the Nikon Z6 and Nikon Z7. Ports will be the same ports used for dSLRs, and will support using standard Nikon lenses with the adapter.

 

 

Nauticam Z7 Underwater Housing

High-end photographers love Nauticam housings for their functional, ergonomic, customizable, and durable designs. The Nauticam NA-Z7 housing offers full control of the camera, and full support forwith both native Z-mount lenses and F lenses with the FTZ Adapter. Comfortable to use and easy and intuitive to shoot, this housing is crafted from high quality aluminum to handle any bumps or bruises it picks up along the way. As it uses the DSLR-sized N120 ports, there is no need for port adapters. This makes it easy for any Nauticam DSLR shooter to transition to shooting the Z7!

The Nauticam Z7 housing is available now at Bluewater Photo!

 

Ikelite Z7 Underwater Housing

Ikelite offers the most affordable Z7 housing, which is the only offering less expensive than the camera itself (by a significant margin, too). Manufactured in the USA, and made of a corrosion-free ABS-PC (polycarbonate) blend, this housing is both durable and light, making it great for travel. This housing offers full control of the camera, with controls designed specifically for ease of use, and is great for all budgets and shooting styles!

The Ikelite Z7 housing is available now at Bluewater Photo!

 

 

Click here for our full Ikelite Z7 Underwater Housing review

 

Sea & Sea Z7 Underwater Housing

 

The Sea & Sea MDX-Z7 underwater housing is compact and lightweight, manufactured from high-quality aluminum. It is smaller and much thinner than that of the D850, as well as other Nikon DSLR housings, reducing weight and size for travel. Heavy-duty moulded grips are comfortable to use, buttons and knobs are all well labelled and glow in the dark for ease of reading the camera controls during a night dive. It also uses the DSLR port size, so you can reuse your old DSLR ports with your new Z7 or Z6!

The Sea & Sea Z7 housing is available now at Bluewater Photo!

 

Aquatica Z7 Underwater Housing

Aquatica is known for producing top-quality housings. They machine their housings from a solid block of aluminum, and then anodize and powder-coat them. This creates a robust housing that can handle anything you or nature throws at it. Stainless steel control shafts and buttons ensure reliable operation, and great ergonomics are always a major part of the design. 

The Aquatica Z7 housing has not been announced yet, but is available for pre-order at Bluewater Photo!

 

Conclusion

There is no doubt that the Nikon Z6 and Z7 are amazing underwater cameras. They are the top-of-the-line camera, period. If you are an experienced, high-end mirrorless shooter – the Nikon Z7 is going to blow your mind. If you are a professional looking for the best of the best – it’s either the Z7 or the Nikon D850. In short summation, our underwater tests yielded image quality on par with the Nikon D850. The only areas where the Z7 fell short is autofocus and battery life. Both issues are a product of the mirrorless design. A hybrid phase detection/contrast autofocus system, despite having 493 points, didn’t quite match the D850. Moreover, the lack of a 3D autofocus tracking mode was a bit of a letdown. But overall, we can’t say that our images suffered due to a slightly lower performing autofocus. Battery life fared better than expected as long as the Z7 was set to sleep after a short length of time. But the Z7 truly shined in its image quality, image stabilization, color rendition, video capability, EVF quality, and compact size.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Nirupam Nigam is a dedicated underwater photographer and fisheries scientist. While growing up in Los Angeles he fell in love with the ocean and pursued underwater photography in the local Channel Islands. He received degrees in Aquatic and Fisheries Science and General Biology, as well as a minor in Arctic Studies, at the University of Washington. Now he works as a fisheries observer on boats in the Bering Sea and North Pacific. When he is not at sea, he is traveling with his fiancee and taking photos. Check out more of his photography at www.photosfromthesea.com!

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How will Fujifilm's highest resolution APS-C camera, the X-T3, perform underwater?
By Nirupam Nigam

Fujifilm X-T3: Taking Fujifilm Underwater

Nirupam Nigam
How will Fujifilm's highest resolution APS-C camera, the X-T3, perform underwater?

Underwater photography does not take well to underdog manufactures. This is entirely because underwater photographers require a massive support system with significantly more equipment required in the baseline toolkit. It’s easy to name the big players in underwater photography – Nikon, Canon, Sony, Olympus, and Panasonic (in that order). We often forget that there’s more out there. In fact, some of the legends of the film days still exist. One of these that appears on the radar intermittently is Fujifilm. And Fujifilm might just be putting its first toe in the underwater world with the X-T3. 

Before the release of the Fujilm X-T3, the specs on the X-T2, lens selection, and housing options just didn’t quite make it a viable option for underwater photographers. The X-T3? Well, the specs improved and X mount lenses have improved. It now even surpasses similarly priced cameras in many aspects. Will it be a popular camera for underwater photography? Probably not. But for those who love Fuji’s retro design, high quality APS-C glass, and film-style JPEG rendering – this could be a very unique camera to take underwater. 

 

Underwater accessories for the Fujifilm X-T3 are available now at Bluewater Photo!

 

 

 


 

 

Jump to a Section

 

Quick Specs   |   Pros for UW Photography   |   Cons for UW Photography

 

Underwater Lenses   |   Underwater Housings   |   Conclusions

 

 


 

 

Quick specs:

26.1 MP BSI X-Trans CMOS 4 sensor (APS-C)

425-point hybrid contrast/phase detection autofocus system

Improved AF tracking (from the X-T2)

Dual UHS-II SD card slots

20fps with an electronic shutter; 11fps with a mechanical shutter; 30fps in 1.25X crop mode with an electronic shutter

3.69M-dot EVF (electronic viewfinder)

10 bit internal video capture at 4K/60p (1.18x crop). 4K/30p can be used with full sensor size

F-Log color profile internal video recording

No image stabilization

Native ISO 160-12800

Max sync speed with flash: 1/250 sec

5.2 x 3.7 x 2.3" / 132.5 x 92.8 x 58.8 mm

1.19 lb / 539 g

Retro dials and buttons

 

Implications for Underwater Photography

Just from the specs sheet, a lot of interesting inferences can be made on how this camera might perform underwater. One thing is for sure – the Fujifilm isn’t your traditional underwater camera and it won’t appeal to traditional underwater photographers. But perhaps, underwater photography has gotten too “traditional”…

Pros

26.1 MP X-Trans CMOS 4 Sensor

At 26.1 megapixels, Fujifilm can now boast the highest resolution of any APS-C sensor out there. That’s a big deal. We’re talking excellent potential for post processing macro photos and getting amazing, high quality, 100% crops. With high resolution combined with the crop factor of an APS-C sensor, the X-T3 has the potential to be a macro powerhouse….with the right lens. Another cool thing about the X-Trans sensor is that it is made by Fujifilm. It’s a not-so-well-kept secret that Sony makes the sensors for many other major camera manufacturers. Because Fujifilm tries to replicate the color science and image quality from the bygone days of film, the Fuji-made sensor is one of the reasons that Fuji fans shoot Fuji. 

 

JPEG Rendering (Film Simulation Mode)

I might catch a little flak for this, but the JPEG rendering by Fuji is excellent. They also have additional settings where they try to replicate film in their JPEGs (film simulation mode). If you’re into film and Fujifilm as a brand, this is a great reason to shoot Fuji and skip the post production process. I’m also curious to see how this might materialize in underwater shots. 

 

Improved AF Tracking

The autofocus on the X-T3 is 1.5 times faster than the X-T2! Fujifilm is also claiming improved autofocus tracking over the Fujifilm X-T2. Initial reviews seem to indicate this is true. In fact, many are saying the AF tracking on the X-T3 is better than competing brands such as the Sony A6300 and equivalent to the Panasonic G9. The eye AF on the X-T3 is supposed to be especially good.

 

Electronic Viewfinder 

The specs on the Fujifilm’s X-T3 EVF is impressive – 3.69 million dot resolution, a display lag of 0.005 seconds, and a refresh rate of 100 fps. We hope these specs will also include a dynamic range good enough for underwater photography. By any rate, this could be a very functional EVF.

 

Ergonomics (Topside)

 Some photographers continue to shoot Fujifilm out of nostalgia. And Fujifilm makes it easy to live in the past with the build of their cameras. They’re retro – even the ISO has a designated dial. This makes them fun to use and a little more involved to control. But underwater? It’s hard to tell if this is a good or bad thing. Certainly, underwater housing companies have no desire to make a retro housing.

 

Cons

26.1 MP X-Trans CMOS 4 Sensor

The highest resolution out there of any APS-C sensor may not be something to boast about. Stuffing so many pixels on such a small sensor introduces the potential for noise issues. As we have not yet taken photos underwater to confirm this, it’s merely speculation. But I would predict that the Fujifilm X-T3 might yield too much noise in low light photos and high ISOs. But if you’re a film buff and shoot Fujifilm because of their history – well this might not be much of a problem.

The sensor is also an APS-C sensor and not a full-frame sensor. With many major manufactures beginning to gravitate to full frame mirrorless systems, Fujifilm will be hard pressed to do so as their line up of lenses is all built for APS-C. 

 

No Image Stabilization

To me, not having image stabilization underwater is a deal breaker. When shooting in a 3D, low light environment, it’s absolutely necessary to recover as many stops as possible in order to freeze the action. Although the video specs are good, I also think a lack of image stabilization will turn off underwater videographers. 

 

Available Lenses

The available X mount lenses for underwater photography are also a big turn-off for me. There are currently no fisheye X mount lenses compatible with available housings. I personally think fisheye lenses are an essential part of the toolkit for underwater photographers. However, Nauticam offers nice wet lenses like the WWL-1 to remedy this issue. Recently, there have been some exciting macro options for the X mount lens line up. In addition to the Carl Zeiss Touit 50 mm macro that could be used with the X-T2, there is now a Fujinon 60mm f/2.4, and a Fujinon 80mm macro. 

 

Post-Processing with RAW Files

Post-processing with RAW files from the Fujifilm X-T3 is actually pretty limited. When processing RAW’s from the T-X3 on Adobe software, wormy artifacts are rumored to appear in the final product. That’s not good. The solution to this is to process with a software like Capture One Pro. Not ideal if you’re an Adobe user.  

 

Implications for Video

Underwater videography with the Fujifilm X-T3 is bound to yield mixed reviews with videographers. The specs are exciting with the potential to take 4K video at 60p with a 1.18X crop. But to use the full sensor size you’re still only going to get 30 fps. 10-bit internal recording is great, and the F-Log profile will be appreciated by serious video shooters. But the lack of image stabilization kills the video potential that this camera could have had for underwater video. The Panasonic GH5, Sony A6400, Sony A7R III, and Nikon Z7 start to look like better mirrorless options for video. One thing to mention is that Fujifilm offers film simulation mode which introduce film-like picture profiles for both still and video. 

 

Available Lenses for Underwater Photography

X mount lenses are pretty limited when it comes to underwater photography. However, Fujifilm continues to make new lenses. Here is there roadmap in the near future: 

Wide Angle 

For rectilinear: Fujinon XF10-24mm f/4 R OIS wide angle zoom lens with the Nauticam 180mm Glass Dome Port and Zoom Gear (Nau-36441)

For (Almost) Fisheye: Fujinon XF18mm f/2 with the Nauticam Flat Port 13 and Wet Wide Lens 1 (WWL-1)

Macro 

Zeiss Touit 50mm f/2.8 macro lens with Nauticam Macro Port 45 + Nauticam Mini Extension Ring 20 + Aperture Ring (Nau-36422) or Nauticam Macro Port 32 + Nauticam Mini Extension Ring 30 + Aperture Ring (Nau-36422)

Fujinon 60mm f/2.4 macro lens with Nauticam Macro Port 45 + Nauticam Mini Extension Ring 20 + Aperture Ring (Nau-36422) or Nauticam Macro Port 32 + Nauticam Mini Extension Ring 30 + Aperture Ring (Nau-36422)

 

Fujifilm X-T3 Underwater Housing Options

Nauticam Housing for the Fujifilm X-T3

Fortunately, it’s easy to make a choice when it comes to underwater housings for the Fujifilm X-T3. There’s really only one reputable housing manufacture with an available housing and ports - Nauticam. 

Nauticam has made an underwater housing for the third generation Fujifilm X-T3. The housing is milled from a block of solid aluminum, then hard anodized. It’s a rugged and reliable piece of gear that will stand up to saltwater and the can take a beating.  The housing has a depth rating of up to 100m.

 

 

 

The Nauticam X-T3 Housing is available now at Bluewater Photo!

 

 

Who Should Take the Fujifilm Underwater?

If you’re a Fujifilm lover and have already invested in the Fujifilm X-T3 or X mount lenses, well you’re in luck because there are viable underwater options! Otherwise, this system caters to a niche type of photographer. If you suffer from nostalgia of the film days and need a digital camera that ergonomically brings you back a few years – this is the system for you. If you’re in the mood of sticking it to the establishment and Sony sensors, then this is also the camera for you. And if, for whatever reason, you want extreme resolution on an APS-C sensor (rather than shooting with a larger sensor), this is definitely the camera for you. More than anything else, its an intriguing camera system. The film simulation picture profiles have a lot of potential for interesting, film-like artwork. If you really end up liking them, then it also cuts out the long process of editing raw files. But your photography certainly wouldn’t be mainstream in the underwater world. And even though I don’t think this camera quite competes with other systems for underwater photography purposes, it’s not to say that the autofocus isn’t excellent and the image quality isn’t great. It’s just a non-traditional underwater system with more limited accessorizing options than other underwater photographic systems. 

 For a long-term investment in underwater photography. I might recommend another manufacture for the availability of lenses, housing manufacturers, and extensive support system. For competing brands, Sony, Panasonic, Nikon, Canon, or Olympus might have more extensive options on the table. But if you’re really a fan of Fujifilm or want to try something different, the Fujifilm X-T3 is certainly not limited to land lubbers. 

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Nirupam Nigam is a dedicated underwater photographer and fisheries scientist. While growing up in Los Angeles he fell in love with the ocean and pursued underwater photography in the local Channel Islands. He received degrees in Aquatic and Fisheries Science and General Biology, as well as a minor in Arctic Studies, at the University of Washington. Now he works as a fisheries observer on boats in the Bering Sea and North Pacific. When he is not at sea, he is traveling with his fiancee and taking photos. Check out more of his photography at www.photosfromthesea.com!

SUPPORT THE UNDERWATER PHOTOGRAPHY GUIDE:

The Best Service & Prices on u/w Photo Gear

 

Visit Bluewater Photo & Video for all your underwater photography and video gear. Click, or call the team at (310) 633-5052 for expert advice!

 


The Best Pricing, Service & Expert Advice to Book your Dive Trips

 

Bluewater Travel is your full-service scuba travel agency. Let our expert advisers plan and book your next dive vacation. Run by divers, for divers.

 


Initial thoughts and photos from a weekend underwater with the Nikon Z7
By Nirupam Nigam

Why the Nikon Z7 is My New Favorite Underwater Camera

Nirupam Nigam
Initial thoughts and photos from a weekend underwater with the Nikon Z7

Be sure to check out our full Nikon Z7 underwater camera review - click here!

 

My weekend began with the pleasant surprise – there was a Nikon Z7 and Ikelite housing sitting at my doorstep, ready to be taken out diving! As one of the most significant camera releases of the year, I had high hopes for Nikon’s new flagship full-frame mirrorless camera. After the releases of the Canon EOSR and Panasonic S1/S1R full-frame mirrorless cameras, I admit my head is beginning to spin with all the new options, features, and dreams of an increasingly nitpicky community of photographers. With much controversy surrounding the release of the Nikon Z7 – like whether or not its performance could live up to other full-frame mirrorless cameras and the similarly priced Nikon D850 – I was itching to take it underwater. 

 

Topside Tests

This past weekend in Washington’s beautiful Olympic Peninsula was great for pushing the camera to the limits of its capability. I spent Saturday driving through forests, beaches, rain, hail, and sunshine. First I spent some time testing the Z7’s low light performance and low ISO capability with scenic rainforest waterfalls. Shortly afterward, I was fortunate to get a chance to test the autofocus capability with some elk. From there I went to a sunny sunset at the beach to test the Z7’s dynamic range. 

 

Underwater Tests

On Sunday I took the Nikon Z7 diving with an Ikelite Z7 Underwater Housing, dual Ikelite DS-161 strobes with a DL1 DS Link Nikon TTL converter, and an Ikelite 45 degree viewfinder. For wide-angle I shot with a Nikkor 8-15mm (circular) fisheye lens and a Ikelite compact dome port. For macro I shot with a Nikkor 105mm f/2.8 macro lens and a Ikelite macro port. Both lenses are the original Nikon F-mount and not the new Z-mount lenses. Conditions were abysmal with 5-10 ft of snotty visibility and lackluster life in an anoxic Hood Canal…..perfect for testing a camera! Thankfully I forgot my focus light and really got to take the Z7 to the extremes of its lowlight potential. 

 

My final verdict? The Nikon Z7 might just be my new favorite camera! Here’s why:

 

What Performed Well

 

Image Quality

It quickly became clear to me that the image quality on the Z7 is just unstoppable. At first you might think that 45.7 MP is more than enough pixels in one camera. Well, I quickly realized that it was just the amount I needed. When you have these many megapixels on a full-frame sensor, your left with an almost unreasonable ability to crop your photo and produce a large, beautiful image of the most minute details. Take the image below of this black-eyed goby and a 100% crop of the same image. Even the color pigments in the skin are of the highest level of detail. Detail like this will open new world’s for macro photographers. It’s like having a portable microscope. 

 

I also like the auto white balance on this camera much better than the auto white balance on the Sony A7R III. I know white balance is a secondary thought for many people, but I found that with some of my photos with the A7R III, even post processing didn’t make the difference I desired. The Nikon Z7 produced accurate colors every time. 

 

Autofocus

The autofocus on the Z7 has been given quite a bad wrap on the internet. I think it’s unwarranted. Overall, I found the autofocus underwater to be better than the Sony A7R III and potentially slightly worse than the D850. And I personally thought that the different between the AF on the Z7 and D850 was so small, it could only make a difference in a 0.5% of the shots I took. What impressed me so much about the Nikon Z7’s autofocus was its performance in lowlight. I was 50 feet deep, with 5 ft of whale snot viz, at sunset, without a focus light, and the AF locked in quickly and easily on every shot. The only thing it struggled with was a small cave (also without a light)!

I do recommend using larger focus point options like the wide-s AF area if you are working with quicker subjects. There are so many autofocus points on the Nikon Z7 that it can take a while to hunt for the right point if you’re using a single AF point. On the flipside, it’s great to have 90% AF focus point coverage on the Z7. 

 

Build

The most enticing thing about this camera is the build. It’s excellent. The weather sealing seemed tough enough in the variable weather conditions I experienced – no problems there. But the important thing for me was that the Z7 was much smaller and lighter than the D850 (675g vs 1005g). If I’m traveling or diving, the Z7 hands down wins every time. 

My biggest complaint with the Nikon D850 was always that it was just to big underwater. In a sense, my dive would be impeded by the effort of lugging the thing around. But the Nikon Z7 in the Ikelite housing was a breeze to handle, even from shore. I experienced excellent trim with the Ikelite housing as well – something that the company put a lot of thought into. 

 

Image Stabilization

Built-in 5-axis image stabilization. Who could beat that? The D850 can’t!

 

Usability

Except for the function buttons that are a little hard to access on the forward, right side of the camera, the button placement is very well thought out. I found myself have no issues with finding buttons or functions without reading any manuals. I very much enjoyed the “info” menu button that allowed quick access to a menu with all the quick settings that you might need in the spur of the morning.

Migrating from another Nikon system, I think this camera is very intuitive. In fact, I felt that the Z7 had the quickest learning curve of any camera I’ve picked up to date. But don’t take my word on that, of course. Everyone learns differently.

 

FTZ Adapter

The FTZ adapter allows for traditional Nikon F-mount lenses to be used with the Z-mount. It makes the set up a fair bit bulkier, but the capability of using a huge assortment of F-mount lenses is a lifesaver. There just aren’t any good Z-mount lenses out yet.

 

The Z-Mount?  

Theoretically the new Nikon Z-mount should be an improvement to the camera. It’s wider which allows for more light and the possibility of an ultra-fast f/0.95 lens. But this hasn’t happened yet…. As of today there are only three Z-mount lenses out and none of them are super appealing for underwater photography.

 

Video

I’ve heard the video is better than the Nikon D850. Overall the color rendering seems quite nice, but I really need to test the video function a bit more. The great feature on the Z7’s video is the auto focus full-time function. It outperforms the D850 and most other competing cameras. I had a little bit of trouble with this function in low light underwater, but overall, once you get the camera stable it works quite well. This camera has the potential to replace the Panasonic GH5 as a favorite for underwater video. 

 

Electronic View Finder (EVF)

I grew to love this piece of equipment. The ability to change settings, watch the resulting changes in exposure, and playback photos without taking your eye off the view finder is a godsend.

 

What Has Room to Be Improved

 

Image Quality

Don’t get me wrong, the image quality with the Z7 is amazing. One small complaint I had about the system was the level of noise. There’s definitely more noise than what is desirable, even at low ISOs (without using the NR function). However, this is entirely due to the fact that there are so many megapixels stuffed onto the sensor. Because the grain is so small, the noise is very easily removed in post processing. So this could even be seen as a positive for workability. 

 

Dynamic Range Performance

For the most part the low light performance with the Z7 was excellent. However, the dynamic range leaves a bit to be desired compared to the D850. In very low light situations, like diving in the Pacific Northwest, underexposed areas can have slight banding. This is due to the phase detection autofocus points. In most topside photography this wouldn’t be a problem. But in underwater photos with large dynamic range, it can be.

 

Autofocus

Unfortunately, Nikon did not migrate their 3D tracking Auto Focus mode from the D850 to the Z7. This was a great tool for a lot of both wide and macro photography. The Z7’s continuous mode doesn’t perform as well as hoped either. But don’t get me wrong, it’s still great. If I was really into shooting fast moving subjects, such as with a lot of pelagic animals, I might consider the Nikon D850. 

 

Lens Selection

As I mentioned before, lens selection for Z-mount lenses is limited to three lenses that have little underwater use. I’m optimistic for the future of these lenses, but for now I’m content to use F-mount lenses underwater with the FTZ adapter. 

 

Flash Sync Speed

The flash sync speed is only 1/200th which can make good sun ball shots a little harder. However, the native ISO is a low 64. So overall, it evens out. 

 

Battery Life

The battery life isn’t great. With normal usage I think I would be fine using the camera for two dives, and maybe even a third. It’s definitely a good idea to have a spare battery with this camera.

 

Single Card Slot

I have mixed feelings about a single XQD card slot. XQD cards are expensive, though they are quicker at processing photos. So this is a progressive move, but it would be nice to have an SD card slot as well, like with the D850.

 

Thoughts on Ikelite’s Z6/Z7 Housing

Overall, I think the Ikelite 200DL housing for the Nikon Z6 and Z7 is a very capable piece of equipment. The dives that I took it on included a small climb down to the site and a long(ish) surface swim. It definitely was less exhausting to walk and swim with than if I had a Nikon D850 with any of the current available housings. But it is still a relatively large and heavy set up, so it can help to have a handle or lanyard to grab on to. 

Underwater, all the controls are there, and I didn’t feel like I had to search for any dial, button, or knob at any time. It was very intuitive to use from set up to the dive to taking it apart. The on-off switch can be a bit difficult to use, but with the Z7 I usually turn it on before I put it into the housing. Then I just leave it on and let it sleep (which really doesn’t seem to waste any battery). It is also important to change the ISO control button or add it to the “info” menu on the camera so that you don’t have to press the iso button and dial at the same time underwater.

Ikelite worked hard to get the trim right on this camera. Underwater, even with strobes, it's nearly neutral and I really didn't feel like I needed floats. On top of this, Ikelite has introduced a trim weight rail that enables the housing to be perfectly neutrally buoyant with their larger dome - a great option for underwater video.

 

Ikelite DL1 DS Link Nikon TTL Converter

With the Ikelite housing, I used the Ikelite DL1 DS Link TTL converter which was attached to both Ikelite DS-160s and the camera’s hotshoe. I was surprised with how efficient and accurate the TTL really was. Combined with the DS-161s ultra-fast recycle times, I highly recommend using the TTL converter if you’re going to do any burst shooting underwater.

 

Ikelite Viewfinder with Nikon Z7’s EVF

 I used an Ikelite 45 degree magnified viewfinder that worked with the electronic viewfinder on the Z7. It was an interesting experience changing all my settings and reviewing my photos without taking my eye off the viewfinder. This really makes it possible to do a whole dive with your eye on the viewfinder, shooting photos. In some ways, I’d prefer to enjoy the dive as well every now and then without a viewfinder. But if you’re shooting in a high-pressure situation, the EVF with the 45 degree viewfinder is perfect for making that quick settings change in the heat of the moment. 

 

Should I invest in the Nikon Z Series?

Overall, I think camera ecosystem is worth the investment. As manufacturers have slowly begun to focus on very high-end mirrorless set ups, full-frame mirrorless systems are where much of the innovation in photography will likely be. With an FTZ adapter, Nikon has introduced a nice way to transition high quality F-mount glass options to the new system of Z-mount glass. With potential for f/0.95 speed lenses, Nikon has set itself up for success, even if it isn’t here yet. If you are an underwater photographer looking for the very best, I don’t think you could go wrong with this camera. If you are a professional underwater photographer looking for a smaller system, this could be it. If you are an amateur looking to upgrade, I think this should be a serious consideration as you will have the best tools at your disposable for a light build. But if you’re on a bit of a budget, I would look at the Nikon Z6 which has a lot of the same specs with a smaller sensor size of 24.5 MP for a much smaller price. Would I switch from the D850 to the Nikon Z7? Probably not – they’re a bit too similar of a camera at a similar price point.

 

Conclusion

Overall, I was blown away by the performance of this camera – both topside and underwater. It’s smooth ergonomics and usability opens up access to spectacular low light performance, image quality, image stabilization, video, and autofocus. I went into this weekend skeptical of the camera’s performance from the reviews I read online. But I truly believe the Nikon Z7 is the start of a new generation of cameras that will put anything made in the last decade to shame. The images speak for themselves. This is my new favorite camera.    

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Nirupam Nigam is a dedicated underwater photographer and fisheries scientist. While growing up in Los Angeles he fell in love with the ocean and pursued underwater photography in the local Channel Islands. He received degrees in Aquatic and Fisheries Science and General Biology, as well as a minor in Arctic Studies, at the University of Washington. Now he works as a fisheries observer on boats in the Bering Sea and North Pacific. When he is not at sea, he is traveling with his fiancee and taking photos. Check out more of his photography at www.photosfromthesea.com!

SUPPORT THE UNDERWATER PHOTOGRAPHY GUIDE:

The Best Service & Prices on u/w Photo Gear

 

Visit Bluewater Photo & Video for all your underwater photography and video gear. Click, or call the team at (310) 633-5052 for expert advice!

 


The Best Pricing, Service & Expert Advice to Book your Dive Trips

 

Bluewater Travel is your full-service scuba travel agency. Let our expert advisers plan and book your next dive vacation. Run by divers, for divers.

 


Notable features and lens additions to the new Panasonic S series scheduled to come out early 2019
By Nirupam Nigam

Panasonic S Series: What Every Underwater Photographer Should Know

Nirupam Nigam
Notable features and lens additions to the new Panasonic S series scheduled to come out early 2019

This year’s theme in the world of photography is undeniably full-frame mirrorless. Although the idea took half a decade to catch on after Leica and Sony’s initial releases, full-frame mirrorless cameras are now spearheading the evolution of photographic technology. In the past year we’ve seen announcements from Nikon and Canon releasing their first flagship full-frame mirrorless options in an effort to compete with Sony’s ever-evolving alpha cameras. Late last year, Panasonic announced its entry in an increasingly competitive field with the new Panasonic Lumix S Series. And now, the Panasonic S1 and S1R are just around the corner! 

 

The Panasonic S1 and S1R are available now at Bluewater Photo for pre-order!

The S-series Niche

Mirrorless systems have a history of being the bridge between amateur and professional photographers. A first step into a world of interchangeable lenses for a budding photographer, or a step down to a more compact and portable system for a seasoned professional. The Panasonic S series is different. This is Panasonic’s attempt to introduce a new flagship model of professional camera. One of the first indications of this is the price. The Panasonic S1 body will be retailing for a steep $2,499.99 and the Panasonic S1R body will be $3,699.99. The second indication is Panasonic’s marketing theme for the S-series – “Through the Eyes of Professionals,” featuring many seasoned professionals thrilled over the prospects of the series. But will the promised goods be enough to woo everyone else? And most importantly, will S-series be a worthy competitor in underwater photography? 

Notable S-Series Features

World’s First 4k 60p Full-Frame video!

This is a big deal for Underwater Videographers. The Panasonic GH5 and G9 have long held the titles for best mirrorless cameras for underwater videography. They were made to target people shooting video featuring 4K at 60P and bitrates to 400mb/s. The results are really phenomenal. Click here to see an example. 

Now Panasonic is bringing this video capability to its S-series and pairing it with a full-frame sensor. As the world’s first full-frame systems to shoot 4K at 60p, there is no doubt that the Panasonic S1 and Panasonic S1R cameras will be the best underwater video systems of the year (among compact, mirrorless, and DSLR cameras).

 

Dual Image Stabilization

The Panasonic S-series will be equipped with dual image stabilization – a combination of in-body image stabilization (IBIS) and lens-based optical stabilization. Again, this is carried over from the G9. Excellent image stabilization will be a real godsend for low light performance by allowing photographers to shoot at lower ISOs with slower shutters. Now that this image stabilization is being combined with a full-frame sensor that already has high performance at high ISOs, the camera is free to be pushed to the limits of low-light capability.

 

Dual Card Slots

Panasonic is equipping their S-series with one XQD and on SD slot. This is a must for underwater videographers shooting 4K and pelagic photographers shooting in burst. It’s also where Nikon has attracted criticism for only offering a single card slot. 

 

High Resolution Mode

Like the new Olympus OM-D E-M1X, the S-series is introducing a new multi-shot high resolution mode (presumably hand-held). In this mode, the camera will take eight images with small sensor shifts to be stitched together to create an extremely high-resolution image. This is made possible by its dual image stabilization system and will presumably be possible hand held.

 

Contrast-based Autofocus

In many ways, Panasonic is sticking to the tried-and-true in their S-series as can be seen in video performance and image stabilization. However, this also holds true for their autofocus which remains a contrast-based autofocus system. Although Panasonic is proud of contrast-based autofocus efficacy in its micro four thirds systems, it remains to be seen if it is enough to stand up to the phase detection autofocus systems spearheaded by competition. Sony is making particularly notable strides with its phase detection autofocus in the Sony A7R III. This could present an issue for many underwater photographers who rely on quick autofocus as the use of manual focus is restricted underwater. Only time will tell if Panasonic can truly keep up with their competitors when it comes to autofocus.  

 

A Low Resolution and High-Resolution Model

Panasonic is modeling the Nikon Z Series (Z6/Z7), with its release of two flagship models defined by resolution. The Panasonic Lumix S1 is expected to have a 24 megapixel sensor whereas the S1R is expected to have a 47 megapixel sensor. Accordingly, the S1 has a 96 megapixel high res mode and the S1R has a whopping 187 megapixel high res mode. Beyond that, there are relatively few differences. 

 

The L Mount Lenses: a partnership to topple Sony’s Empire

Sony has the distinct advantage of a variety of lenses available for use (especially underwater) with its full-frame mirrorless system. Though these lenses were slow to develop, they have proved effective underwater with the Sony 16-35mm f/4 and the Sony 90mm f/2.8. Nikon and Canon have been slow to develop good underwater lenses on their full-frame systems which is a real hinderance for underwater photographers.

 

…..In comes Panasonic's announcement of a groundbreaking partnership with Leika and Sima! 

Instantly introducing many new options for underwater photographers, Panasonic has decided to announce an alliance with Leica and Sigma. The Lumix S Series will incorporate Leica’s previously established L Mount. This will open the Lumix S1 and S1R up to all established Leica SL lenses and ultimately Sigma’s expanding and diverse mirrorless lens line-up.

 

Three New Panasonic S Series Lenses Released

Panasonic has announced the release of three new S series lenses, along with the release of the S1R and S1 cameras:

  • 50mm f/1.4 prime
  • 25-105mm standard zoom f/4
  • 70-200mm telephoto zoom (aperture not yet released)

These, along with the previously established Leica L Mount series, provide a wide range of focal lengths covering nearly all top-side imagery. With the adaption of the Leica L mount, the S Series will also be compatible with some already established lenses that are great for wide-angle underwater photography, such as the Leica 18mm f/2.8 and the Leica 16-35mm f/3.5-4.5.

 

Ten New Panasonic S Series Lenses by 2020

Panasonic has also announced that by 2020 they will release eight additional lenses for the Lumix S1R and S1 cameras, bringing the total S Series Panasonic Lens options to ten. The specifications for these lenses have yet to be released but with Sigma’s involvement, they seem quite promising.

 

Fourteen New Sigma S Series Lenses in 2019

To compete with the multitude of Sony E Mount lenses that were released last year, Sigma has promised 14 new L Mount lenses in 2019 to add to the arsenal of lens options for the Lumix S1R and S1 systems. Furthermore, they will provide lens adapters for the Canon EF and Sigma SA mount lenses. In total, with the release of the new Panasonic lenses, Sigma lenses and the already established Leica lenses, there will soon be an arsenal of glass at your fingertips for the Panasonic S Series shooters.

 

A video from the L Mount Partnership

 

 

Panasonic Lumix S Series for Underwater Photography and Videography

The release of the Panasonic Lumix S series may well put Panasonic at the top of professional grade full-frame mirrorless systems. Certainly, there are already many advantages to the Panasonic over its competitors including lens selection, dual image stabilization, a high res mode, dual card slots, and 4k 60p video. Great image stabilization is a must for underwater photographers who shoot in low light conditions with a lot of movement. If dual image stabilization enables the high res mode to be used in underwater environments, then the high-res mode might have serious implications for the artform. Dual card slots will be a great feature for videographers and pelagic underwater photographers who often shoot in burst modes. The additional space and the ability to shoot high performance cards will be welcomed. The only reservation I have about this series is the continued use of contrast based autofocus. A quick autofocus is imperative for underwater photographers who have restricted use of manual focus, work in low light conditions, and are constantly in a state of 3D movement. Sony, Nikon, and Canon all do well with their innovative phase detection autofocus. Although Panasonic has been confident in its mirrorless autofocus performance in the past, it might be time to rethink their autofocus when switching to full-frame. However, with the S-series not officially out, it is impossible to tell how the autofocus performance truly compares to its competitors. The only thing we can do is wait and see. 

And finally video….. The Panasonic Lumix S Series is a no brainer for underwater videography. It really doesn’t get better than this. The S-series introduces the first 4K 60p video in a full-frame camera. Shooting in 60p is essential in an underwater environment with a lot of 3D movement as it enables the videographer to slow down video in post processing and still retain a fluid image. However, capturing 4k video in 60p requires a ton of processing power. Something that hasn’t been accomplished in a full-frame system until now. I can’t wait to see the amazing results produced from this system. 

 

 

 

The Panasonic S1 and S1R are available now at Bluewater Photo for pre-order!

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Nirupam Nigam is a dedicated underwater photographer and fisheries scientist. While growing up in Los Angeles he fell in love with the ocean and pursued underwater photography in the local Channel Islands. He received degrees in Aquatic and Fisheries Science and General Biology, as well as a minor in Arctic Studies, at the University of Washington. Now he works as a fisheries observer on boats in the Bering Sea and North Pacific. When he is not at sea, he is traveling with his fiancee and taking photos. Check out more of his photography at www.photosfromthesea.com!

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Newly updated! Features, Wet Lens Options, Underwater Photos, Videos and Housings
By Bryan Chu and Contributors

Sony RX100 V and VA Review

Bryan Chu and Contributors
Newly updated! Features, Wet Lens Options, Underwater Photos, Videos and Housings

The Sony RX100 line of cameras is one of the most popular compact camera options for underwater shooters. A large image sensor, great feature list, and variety of underwater housing options have kept the RX100 cameras a top choice in the compact camera field.

There are a number of significant improvements to this camera including 24 fps burst shooting, double the time shooting at 960 frames per second (very slow motion video) and 4K video with 5K oversampling (for even better quality 4K). Are the improvements to this camera significant enough to consider upgrading your compact rig? How does it compare to other compact options? Read on to find out.

We asked some users of the Sony RX100 V and RX100 VA* in the Underwater Photography Guide community to contribute their best shots and advice for this camera. These photos really show the sensor's dynamic range, crisp and quick auto-focus, and great overall image quality. 

*The Sony RX100 VA is very similar to the RX100 V, with only minor upgrades. Because of this we will be referring to the RX100 VA as the RX100 V throughout the review.

Jump to section:

Sony RX100 V Specs   |  Underwater Photography Features   |   RX100 VA Upgrade   |   Wide Angle Shooting

Macro Shooting   |   Underwater Videography Features   |   Limitations and Downsides

   Underwater Housing Options  |   To Buy or Not To Buy?   |   Conclusion

 

Specs

Key Upgrades from RX100 IV

  • New 20.1-megapixel 1-inch Exmor RS BSI CMOS sensor
  • New BIONZ X image processor and front-end LSi (faster camera operation and image processing speed)
  • 315-point phase detection autofocus system
  • Anti Distortion Shutter dramatically reduces rolling shutter effect when recording video 
  • 24 fps RAW burst with AF tracking for up to 150 photos. Wow!
  • New AF-A mode allows camera to switch between single and continuous AF (usually found on DSLR AF systems)

Sony RX100 V Complete Specs

  • 20.1-megapixel 1-inch Exmor RS BSI CMOS sensor
  • 315-point phase detection autofocus system: focuses in 0.05-sec
  • AF-A autofocus mode in addition to AF-S and AF-C
  • New BIONZ X image processor and front-end LSi (faster camera operation and image processing speed)
  • ISO range 125 - 12800
  • 24 fps RAW burst with AF tracking for up to 150 photos. Wow!
  • Anti Distortion Shutter dramatically reduces rolling shutter effect when recording video 
  • ZEISS® Vario-Sonnar® T* 24-70mm, f/1.8 - 2.8 Lens with 10 elements in 9 groups and a 0.17 ft (5 cm) minimum focusing distance
  • Adjustable LCD screen - 2.95 inches (3.0type) (4:3) / 1,228,800 dots
  • 100% coverage viewfinder
  • WiFI and NFC connectivity
  • Dimensions: 4 x 2 3/8 × 1 5/8 inch (101.6 x 58.1 x 41.0 mm)
  • Weight: Approx. 10.5 oz (299 g) (Battery and Memory Stick Duo are included) / Approx. 9.6 oz (272 g) (Body Only)

It’s clear that Sony’s focus with the RX100 V camera was adding technical capabilities, and they have made some impressive additions to the spec list. The high-speed shooting mode can now do 24 fps burst shooting in jpeg and RAW, with full autofocus and autoexposure. The autofocus is incredibly quick; 0.05-seconds with 315 AF points. This is a vast improvement over the RX100 IV. And the 4K video quality has been amped up several notches, with oversampling from 5K footage, reduction in rolling shutter, and the option to shoot extended super slow motion at 960 fps for twice as long as with the RX100 IV.

Sony RX100 VA Upgrades from the RX100 V

  • Image processor updated, which will make an improvement to image quality
  • Shooting in 24 fps burst mode with full AF/AE (auto-focus/auto-exposure), the buffer size has been increased from 150 jpegs to 233 (50% improvement)
  • "My Menu" functionality allowing you to register menu items for instant recall and customize menus. You can also make button assignments for up to 30 functions to retool the camera interface for your shooting preferences.
  • "Zone" added as an option for autofocus area
  • Display lag time in EVF (electronic viewfinder) reduced
  • Proxy movie mode (captures 720p footage alongside 4K capture)
  • Custom button can now control one of 62 camera functions, instead of the previous 44
  • High precision eye autofocus feature (improvement over original)
  • A number of other functionality improvements

 

Implications of RX100 VA upgrade for Underwater Photography

The updated image processor of the RX100 VA, with a potential for improvements to image quality, is of course a nice thing to have. It also means that file storage underwater could be more seamless with less lagtime. 

As far as the burst mode buffer upgrade, unless you tend to shoot fast action in ambient light conditions or with video lights, and run out of buffer with the 150-image size, this change will not affect your underwater photography. It could be useful for topside photography, although 150 images at 24 fps already gives you 6 seconds of continuous burst shooting. But there may be some situations where the extra 3 seconds of continuous burst shooting could help you get the shot you want. And although the reduction in EVF display lag time is nice to have on land, that won't affect underwater shooting as the EVF can't be used underwater.

The changes to menu functionality is another upgrade that is significant for underwater photographers. The ability to customize button assignments should help avoid having to cycle through menus when you have to change settings quickly to adjust for new shots or changing conditions. This will allow for a better shooting experience underwater.

Overall, this update looks more like a firmware update than anything else, and with the exception of the customizable button functionality is not expected to have a noticeable effect on underwater photography functionality. If you are looking to buy an RX100V, this will be the new version available, and there's no reason not to get it. But there might not be much reason to think about upgrading from an existing RX100V - if the advantage of a long lens sounds interesting, it would be better to go for the new Sony RX100 VI.

 

Underwater Photography Features

Lens

The 24-70mm F1.8/2.8 lens is the same as used in the RX100 IV. It is faster (F2.8) at 70mm than the lens on the RX100 / RX100 II, which is beneficial for low-light and indoor shooting. However, for underwater photography, I don't normally shoot with a wide open aperture, especially at the longer range of 70mm. Overall I would prefer the 100mm reach of the RX100 and RX100 II over the RX100 V's speed, as that allows for better photos of shy subjects and better macro shooting. 

Autofocus

The completely redesigned, 315-point phase detection autofocus (AF) system is lightning fast. By combining high-speed phase-detection AF with extremely accurate contrast-detection AF, this hybrid system allows the camera to lock onto and capture moving subjects in merely 0.05 seconds. This improvement is most noticeable when shooting in Continuous AF mode. Note that phase detection autofocus systems are typically found on dSLRs and higher-end mirrorless cameras, but not on compacts (until now).

Sensor and Photo Quality

The DxoMark sensor rating of the Sony RX100 V is 70, very good for a compact camera. The sensor is rated the same as the RX100 IV, slightly better than the RX100 II & III (both got 67), and about equal to the Canon G7X (got a 71). The sensor rating takes color depth, dynamic range, and low-light ISO performance into account. The image quality of this camera is rated by DPReview to be almost identical to that of the RX100 IV. That is to say, the images and video are outstanding; professional level photos and video can be taken with this camera.

Strobes, Flash and TTL Capability

Strobes are external flashes for use underwater. They help make your photos sharper, and more importantly, restore true colors to marine life. (When lit only by ambient light, subjects lose color through all the water between them and the surface, and between them and your lens). Check out this article about strobes for more information.

Through-the-lens (TTL) is a strobe setting where your camera controls your strobe power based on its own light metering. The internal flash trigger is transmitted to your strobes via fiber optic cables, and your strobes fire with a corresponding strength. You can get optical TTL when using fiber optic cables with the Sea & Sea YS-03, YS-01, YS-D1, and YS-D2 strobes. You can also use the Inon Z240, Z330, S2000, or D2000 strobes. TTL works in all modes - P, A, Tv, and manual mode.

One notable downside of the RX100V is that if you are using a strobe, you'll have to wait 1 - 4 seconds for the internal flash to recycle, as there is no way to turn down the internal flash power. (Note: the Canon compact cameras have this option). This may limit you in situations where you want to take multiple exposures quickly. One of our users found that they would have internal flash delays at the tail-end of dives after taking almost 200 photos.  

White Balance Capability

Although the Sony RX100 V does not have "1-touch" custom white balance, the custom white balance is like that of the RX100 IV; good and easy to use. The custom white balance function uses a small circle in the center of the photo to evaluate the white balance, instead of using the entire screen, which is very nice. You can store the white balance setting in 3 different banks. You can't set the white balance in video mode, but you can start and stop video in any of the camera modes so that is not really a big deal in our opinion. 

Wide Angle Shooting

As with all compact cameras, the RX100 V's lens covers somewhat wide-to-mid-range focal lengths. The capabilities can be greatly improved for wide angle shooting by using wet lenses, which connect to the outside of the camera housing and increase the angle of view.

RX100 V Wide-Angle Wet Lenses

A wide-angle wet lens increases the field of view, which means that for shooting a given subject at a certain size in your photo, you have to be quite a bit closer to it. Although this can be a hassle with a skittish subject, what it does mean is that you get less water between the camera and your subject. And less water means a clearer subject, as well as better lighting from video light, photo light or strobe, which means much better colors. A wider angle also allows for more dramatic shots, especially with large subjects like oil rigs, kelp forests and wrecks.

Macro Shooting

The 70mm max focal length of the native lens of the RX100 V does not provide as good reach for macro shooting as the 100mm length of the RX100 and RX100 II. A wet macro lens increases the magnification of the camera lens, allowing you to shoot macro images of much smaller subjects than with just the camera alone.

RX100 V Macro Lenses

The RX-100 at 100mm can take a photo 3 inches across, while the RX-100 V at 70mm can take a photo 4 inches across. When using the Bluewater +7 macro lens, you can take a photo 1.37 inches wide at maximum magnification with the RX-100. With the RX-100 V, you can take a photo 1.78 inches across, and you also have a little less working distance with the RX-100 V. So while you can still get good macro shots, you get more magnification with the first two RX-100 versions than with the later versions.

Underwater Videography Features

The RX100V takes extremely high quality video, which rivals that of significantly more expensive cameras (including those dedicated for video). It has SLog2 gamma and focus peaking, and takes very high quality 1080p HD video (without even getting into the even higher resolution 4K option). Here is a great video taken in the Galapagos by Juan Quinteros, with the RX100 V in HD video mode.

4K Video

If you have the right memory card, the RX100 V can shoot in 4K, at a 100Mbps bit rate. It actually collects about 1.7 times as much information as required for basic 4K movie output, and this oversampling effect results in even higher quality 4K video than that of the RX100 IV. Improvements have also been made to drastically reduce the "rolling shutter" effect from that of the RX100 IV.

Photo Capture function lets you select a moment from a 4K movie in playback and save it in the form of a highly detailed still image file of over 8 megapixels. Likewise, you can create a 2-megapixel still image file from a Full HD movie that has been recorded.

Slow Motion

In slow motion mode, the camera can take ~4 seconds of 960fps footage in quality priority mode (which we recommend, or ~7 seconds in regular mode), that will take 64 seconds to replay at 60fps. A neat feature is that there are two recording modes for slow motion: start trigger and end trigger. Say that you have a sea lion swimming around you and blowing bubbles, and you want to capture in slow motion the moment it opens its mouth and starts letting bubbles out. If you use start trigger, you have to anticipate the action, and hit the MOVIE button before the sea lion opens its mouth. But if you use end trigger, you can keep the sea lion in view while the camera writes to the buffer, and then hit the MOVIE button after the sea lion has blown its bubbles. The camera will then record slow motion video of the 4-6 seconds prior to hitting the MOVIE button, thus capturing in slow motion the exact moment the sea lion first opened its mouth!

Here is a sample slow-motion video taken with the RX100 IV. The slow motion video capabilities of the RX100 V are identical to those of the IV, except for the ability to take slow motion videos that are twice as long.

Filmed by Scott Gietler and Tommy Stylski of Bluewater Photo at 960fps.

Limitations and Downsides

Battery Life

The CIPA rating of 220 shots is a significant reduction from the RX-100 IV (280) and from the competition (265 for the Canon G7X mark II). That’s not to say that you can only get 220 shots from one battery in this camera – testing is done with high flash usage and the LCD screen remaining on after each shot. Especially when shooting in burst mode, you can get quite a few more shots on one battery; the point is that this camera will not get as far on one battery as its predecessor or as its competition. What this means from the standpoint of shooting underwater, and as shared by a couple of users from the community, is that you may want to swap out your battery between each dive to make sure you don't run out of juice underwater (or at least once every second dive). And this could have larger ramifications for those who take lots of underwater video.

Limited 4K Video Shooting Length

There is a 5 minute recording limit when shooting in 4K video mode, to prevent overheating (same as with the RX100 IV).

Size

The RX100 V is the same dimensions as the RX-100 IV, but both are 10% larger and 15% heavier than the original RX-100. So although it is still a small camera, it is best classified as "semi-pocketable" instead of slim and truly pocketable.

Cost

The RX100V is more costly than all the other RX100 models, and significantly costlier than the Canon G7X II. 

Shooting Limitations

As mentioned above, the limited reach of the 24-70mm lens makes it more difficult to take photos of macro subjects or shy subjects. The flash recycle time of 1-4 seconds reduces the ability to take multiple shots quickly while using strobes.

Sony RX100 V Underwater Housings

Since the RX100 V has the same dimensions as the RX100 IV, all housings for the RX100 IV except for the Nauticam version fit the RX100 V. There are six underwater housings available for the Sony RX100 V. Each have different pros and cons, most importantly around pricing and ergonomics, and all offer a wide range of accessories available through Bluewater Photo.

Nauticam RX100 V Underwater Housing

The Nauticam RX100 V housing is milled from a block of solid aluminum, then hard anodized. The result is a rugged and reliable piece of gear that will stand up to saltwater and the daily rigors of diving. Since the housing accesses all of the camera controls, including the front control ring, the user can take advantage of the enhanced programmability in the RX100 V. The housing also has a 67mm port and can support multiple wet wide angle lens options, including the Nauticam WWL-1.

Purchase the Nauticam RX100 V Housing

Recsea RX100 IV, V Underwater Housing

As always Recsea housings are made of high quality machined aluminum with excellent controls and full camera functionality. The Recsea housings fit the camera like a glove, offering the smallest housing on the market without losing any functionality. Easy to use, adaptable with many different wet wide angle and macro lenses, and including strobe connections, the Recsea housing is the perfect tool for taking your Sony RX-100 IV or V underwater.

Purchase the Recsea RX100 IV, V Housing

Recsea RX100 IV, V CW Underwater Housing

Recsea offers a high quality polycarbonate housing for the Sony RX100 IV, which is compatible with the RX100 V. Designed with the same precision engineering as the high quality aluminum RX100 IV Housing the new CW housing comes at a much lower price, great if you are on a budget. The new CW housings come with 67mm threads built in which means you can attach some lenses without an adapter.

Purchase the Recsea RX100 IV, V CW Housing

Acquapazza RX100 IV, V Underwater Housing

Acquapazza is a high quality aluminum housing made in Japan. Small and easy to use, it allows for full access to the camera features, with split out button and dial controls. Built in 67mm threads allow for easy attachment of wet lenses. Acquapazza housings are available in a number of different anodized colors.

Purchase the Acquapazza RX100 IV, V Housing

Fantasea RX100 V Underwater Housing

The Fantasea Sony RX100 V housing is made of tough plastic, creating a lightweight and sturdy housing. Controls are easy to access and very clearly labeled. The housing is also compatible with flash accessories, plus wide-angle and macro wet lenses and other gear. A cold shoe mount makes it easy to attach a focus light, video light, a GoPro or other accessory. If you are looking for a lower priced housing, this is an excellent choice.

Purchase the Fantasea RX100 V Housing

To Buy or Not To Buy?

The RX100 V/VA is clearly an excellent option for compact shooters, and will allow you to get awesome photos. The question though is whether it's worth the higher price tag than its competitors. Here is a quick breakdown of some of the key comparisons between the RX100V, the RX100IV and the Canon G7X II.

 

RX100 V (VA)

 

RX100 IV

G7X II

MSRP

 

$999

$899

$699

Sensor Rating

 

70

70

71

Lens specs

24-70mm

F1.8-2.8

24-70mm

F1.8-2.8

24-100mm

F1.8-2.8

Autofocus

315-point phase detection (much better)

Contrast detection

Contrast detection

Flash recycle time

Slow

Slow

Quicker

Viewfinder

 

Yes

Yes

No

Video modes

4K/30p with 5K oversampling and reduced rolling shutter

1080/120p

4K/30p

1080/120p

1080/60p

Slow motion video

960 fps for 4-7 seconds

960 fps for 2-4 seconds

No

Battery Life (CIPA)

 

220

280

265

Burst Shooting

 

24 fps

16 fps

8 fps

 

The camera you should choose ultimately depends on what you are looking for and how much you have to spend. 

Consider the RX100 V if:

  • You want the faster autofocus
  • You want the highest quality 4K video possible
  • You want to shoot long slow motion clips 
  • You want to shoot extremely fast bursts (consider the RX100 VA for a nice image buffer and better processing power)
  • You are OK with swapping your battery out more often (potentially every one or two dives, especially if taking lots of video)

Consider the RX100 IV if:

  • You want to shoot 4K video and you are OK with some rolling shutter effect and missing the 5K oversampling
  • You want to shoot slow motion clips and 2-4 seconds is enough for you
  • You want to shoot fast bursts
  • You want a bit longer battery life
  • You want to save some money 

Consider the G7X II if:

  • You want to save a significant amount of money
  • You are fine shooting 1080/60p video without 4K or slow motion
  • You want the extra range of the 100mm lens instead of 70mm for macro or shy subjects
  • You want a faster flash recycle time to use your strobes more quickly on consecutive shots
  • You want more battery life than the RX100 V
  • You are good with having a burst shooting mode of 8 fps

If you already have the RX100 IV, then the only reason to spend the money to upgrade is if you are really wanting the very best 4K video, you have problems with autofocus, or you want to take longer slow motion video clips. The good news if you do decide to upgrade is that most housings for the RX100 IV are fully compatible with the RX100 V.

Remember that whichever compact camera you choose, adding strobes and wet lenses will allow you to make significant improvements in your potential for taking high quality images. And if your choice is between upgrading compact camera or adding a strobe or a wet lens, your money may be better spent adding one of those to your current setup.

You can read our full review of the Canon G7X II here and our full review of the RX100 IV here.

Conclusion

The Sony RX100 V (and VA) boasts fantastic image quality, amazing 4K video quality, and the ability to take phenomenal slow motion video. A wide array of underwater housings and lenses provide a lot of options that cover multiple budgets and intended uses. All of this makes the Sony RX100 V one of the best choices for underwater photographers looking to get the maximum photography and videography options from a compact rig. The specs are so good on this camera that a competent photographer with the right gear can take photos that challenge the quality of those from more expensive and bulkier mirrorless rigs, as can be seen from the sample photos provided from our community throughout this article. The question is not whether this camera is worth the price tag, but whether it is the best way to spend limited money that could potentially be spent elsewhere.

Additional Reading

Additional User Photos

 

 

 

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Sony introduces a macro powerhouse - the Sony RX100 VI
By UWPG Editors

Sony RX100 VI Underwater Camera Review

UWPG Editors
Sony introduces a macro powerhouse - the Sony RX100 VI

Sony has announced the newest model in their premium compact RX100 lineup - the Sony RX100 VI. Along with the fantastic image quality, burst shooting speed, and other impressive specs of the RX100 V, the RX100 VI brings with it a few key upgrades: a telephoto lens, improved autofocus, improved video capabilities, and a touch screen. Although slightly more limited than the Sony RX100 V for choice of shooting macro or wide angle underwater in a given dive, the new 24-200mm f/2.8-4.5 lens lets macro lovers reach new frontiers in super macro photography.

US retail price: $1,199.99

 


 

 

 

Purchase the Sony RX100 VI at Bluewater Photo

 

 


 

 Key Specs and Upgrades   |   Features   |   Camera Comparison Chart   |   

 

|   Best Lenses   |   Best Housings   |   Sample Photos   |

 

|   Underwater Settings   |   Conclusion   |

 

 


Key Specifications

  • 20.1MP Exmor RS stacked CMOS image sensor with DRAM chip 
  • Upgraded BIONZ X image processing system 
  • Increase magnification which uses 24-200mm f/2.8-4.5 lens
  • Lightning fast AF perfomance (Fast Hybrid AF system)
  • 315-point phase-detection AF points 
  • High speed shooting @ 24fps AF/AE tracking
  • 4K Video
  • Slow motion 

Key Upgrades from the RX100 V

  • 24-200mm f/2.8-4.5 lens (vs 24-70mm f/1.8-2.8 lens)
  • 0.03 sec autofocus (vs 0.05 sec)
  • High Resolution 4K Movie Shooting with full pixel readout and no pixel binning - plus 4K HDR for instant HDR workflow

 

Sony RX100 VI Features

Enhanced Optical Zoom

The key upgrade of the Sony RX100 VI is the new 24-200 mm f/2.8 – 4.5 lens. This has been upgraded from a 24-70mm f/1.8-2.8 lens on the previous RX100 V. The zoom and optical quality of this new lens has the capability of producing stunning, detailed macro and super-macro images – especially when paired with a wet lens. However, it comes with its challenges. When zoomed out, the lens extends relatively far – requiring a long port. A long port makes it impossible to add desirable wide-angle accessories such as wide-angle wet lenses. This being said, some housing manufacturers are coming out with multiple port options that can accommodate for both wide-angle and macro shooting by switching ports between dives.

Improved Autofocus

Autofocus speeds have increased to 0.03 second autofocus from 0.05 sec. The RX100 VI also comes with 315-point phase-detection AF points. These autofocus improvements are a huge help to anyone looking to take the RX100 VI to the full extent of its super-macro capability. Good autofocus is imperative for capturing super-macro images where even the slightest movement can drastically change the composition of the shot.

 

High Resolution Video

The Sony RX 100 VI is also proving to be a supermacro powerhouse in the video world. Consistent with Sony’s commitment to improving its video capability in multiple camera lines, the RX100 VI has been upgraded to be able to shoot 4K movies with full pixel readout and no pixel binning. It can also shoot 4K HDR. This video capability is a milestone for video in compact camera set ups as it is ideal for shooting macro and super-macro video. Keep in mind shooting 4K will require an SDXC card.

 

Speed

The Sony RX100 VI’s burst shooting can capture 24 frames per second with continuous autofocus and a buffer of about 100 shots. This capability places the RX100 VI among the fastest compact cameras on the market. Therefore, the RX100 VI is also an ideal camera for quick-action underwater photographers – specifically those shooting waves or quick pelagic animals.

 

Sony Rx100 VI vs The Competition

Is It Worth the Price? 

This brings us to the biggest downside of the RX100 VI - the price tag. At a retail price of $1200, it is significantly more expensive than the $1000 cost of the RX100 V (now marked down to $950 on the Sony website). This pushes it up into the price range of mirrorless cameras, for what may amount to relatively paltry improvements for underwater photography usage. So if you are looking at this camera primarily for underwater use, you will get better value with the RX100 V, RX100 IV or Canon G7X Mark II. But if you are looking for an improved compact camera for heavy topside use, the telephoto lens, autofocus, and touchscreen control could be worth the hefty investment. After all, although this camera is priced like a mirrorless, it is still a premium compact camera which you can fit into a modestly sized jacket pocket. It's also important to consider the amazing macro capability of the RX100 VI. If you are an avid macro and supermacro photographer, it just might be worth the price.

Who Should Consider Purchasing this Camera?

Macro photographers. The RX100 VI is a macro and supermacro powerhouse. The zoom and detail is almost unbeatable when compared to other compact cameras.

As with any upgrade, Sony had a specific market in mind with it's new upgrades - street photography. The significant increase in zoom is perfect for street photographers wishing to remain inconspicuous while taking close photos of their subjects. Although it might detract from wide-angle underwater photos, this camera could be perfect for underwater dive trips with a lot of topside excursions or animal life such as whales, dolphins, and birds. The excellent burst shooting capability will further enhance quick action topside wildlife photos when combined with the telephoto lens. 

Check out the RX100 VI Camera at our sister company, BlueWater Photo!

 

Best Lenses for the Sony RX100 VI

As mentioned, due to the extension of the lens when fully zoomed, different ports are necessary when shooting with macro or wide angle wet lenses and the RX100 VI. This means that the type of wet lens used will need be chosen prior to diving and limits the diver to shooting either macro or wide-angle during a dive – not both.

Macro

Macro wet lenses allow you to get even closer and more detailed photos than the already capable 200 mm zoom on the RX100 VI. A strong diopter such as the Nauticam Super Macro Converter or the Kraken KRL-03 +12 can be a great way to open up the realm of super macro photography. Going for something with a little less magnification such as the Bluewater +7 is an easier option for beginner macro photographers.

Bluewater +7 Macro Lens - The Bluewater +7 is a high-quality two-element macro lens made of optical glass. It is UV-coated and anti-reflective. It offers a much cheaper price point than the Nauticam lenses, although it also offers slightly less magnification. Slightly less magnification is great if you are just starting out in the world of macro photography. The zoom capability of the RX100 VI is very good, so this can be all that you need to take beautiful macro photos. Bluewater +7

Nauticam Compact Macro Converters (CMC-1 & CMC-2) - Both Nauticam CMC lenses offer amazing sharpness, with varying strengths of magnification. 4.5 & 2.8 average magnification respectively, it's great to have both within your quiver of lenses for maximum versatility while diving and shooting macro. Nauticam CMC-2 or Nauticam CMC 1. These are the highest quality macro lenses for taking supermacro images with the RX100 VI.

 

Wide Angle

Without a wide angle wet lens, compact cameras tend to struggle in the area of wide angle underwater photography. A wide angle wet lens allows the photographer to take photos with a wider field of view and get closer for more color and detail in the image.

Fantasea UWL-09 Wide Angle Lens - This wide-angle option provides a great 130-degree Field of View, allowing you to switch over to wide angle for reefscapes, large animals coming in close, etc. Image results are sharp from corner to corner with minimal abberations. In addition, the lens will focus through out the zoom range of your camera. 

Kraken Sports KRL-01 - The KRL-01 was designed to work with a variety of cameras at 24mm focal length, and features full zoom through capability. It has a multi-layer BBAR coating for anti-reflection and improved optical clarity. It is even compatible with micro 4/3 and full frame cameras, providing a great choice for anyone who may upgrade in the future. The KRL-01 offers a whopping 145-degree filed of view!  

 

Underwater Housings for the Sony RX100 VI

A wide range of high quality housing are already available for the Sony RX100 VI. Top brands include Nauticam, Recsea, Fantasea, Sea & Sea, and Ikelite. 

Nauticam RX100 VI Housing

Price: $1,100

Nauticam housings are crafted from high quality aluminum, with controls and dials designed for great ergonomics. This housing features the N50 standard port system which allows for a full range of zoom with the lens. This compact port system allows the shooter to change ports like a Mirrorless or DSLR camera, in order to achieve the best quality optics underwater.

Watch our video review of the Nauticam RX100 VI Housing here.

Order Now!

Additional Nauticam Housing Accessories:

 

Nauticam N50 Short Port With Bayonet Mount

Price: $180

The Nauticam N50 Short Port with Bayonet Mount is designed to allow for fast port changes underwater when using a camera housing with the N50 port system and wet lenses such as the WWL-1 and CMC along with the Nauticam bayonet system. A short port is necessary for these wet lenses as the normal N50 port that is included with the housing is long enough for the full range of zoom, but too long for wet wide angle lenses. 

Pre-order Now!

 

Nauticam N50 Original Short Port

Price: $180

The original Nauticam N50 Short Port is great for threading wet wide angle lenses such as the AOI UWL-09 and Kraken KRL-01 onto your RX100 VI Nauticam Housing for amazing wide angle images. The thread is 67mm, and fits with many wet wide angle lenses. A short port is necessary for these wet lenses as the normal N50 port that is included with the housing is long enough for the full range of zoom, but too long for wet wide angle lenses

Pre-order Now!

 

Nauticam Flip Diopter Holder

Price: $220

If you're a macro junkie, Nauticam's flip diopter holder will enable you to capture amazing macro photographs with underwater diopters. The diopter screws into a universal 67mm thread and is flipped in front or away from the port at will. 

Pre-order Now!

 

Ikelite RX100 VI Housing

Price: $495

This housing is crafted from lightweight, strong ABS Polycarbonate and ready for any in or near water use such as scuba diving, pool photography, surf photography and more.The Sony RX100 VI has an extended zoom lens in addition to many other new features. To make it useable underwater with such a long zoom range, Ikelite has developed a new removeable port for the Ikelite Sony RX100 VI Underwater Housing. 

Watch our in depth review of the Ikelite RX100 VI Housing here.

Order Now!

 

Fantasea RX100 VI Housing


Fanstasea offers an excellent underwater housing for the Sony RX100 Mark VI camera.  Fantasea has been known to produce robust, sturdy, and lightweight underwater housings at an affordable price.  They design their underwater housings to have great ergonomics.

Order Now!

 

Recsea RX100 VI Housing

Recsea offers high quality polycarbonate housing for the Sony RX100 VI. Designed with the same precision engineering as the high quality aluminum housings, the new CW housing comes at a much lower price, great if you are on a budget.

Pre-order Now!

 

Sea & Sea RX100 VI Housing

Sea & Sea has been known to produce high quality aluminum underwater housings. Their build quality is top notch and their housings are durable and sturdy.  The ergonomics of their housins is great and well thought of. 

Pre-order Now!

 

Sample Underwater Photos

Mid-Range Photo Capability

 

 

Macro and Super Macro Capability

 

 

 

Underwater Settings for the Sony RX100 VI

Check that these key function are set on your camera menu before diving with the Sony RX100 VI:

  • The most important menu setting is to make sure the AF Illuminator is turned off, otherwise your camera will have trouble focusing once inside the underwater housing.
  • Select Raw & JPEG so that you can easily share JPEGs but also edit RAW files more effectively
  • Select AVCHD for video file setting
  • Set creative style to vivid if you want more reds to come out underwater in your JPEG or neutral if you will be editing all your files
  • Turn on Auto Review if you want to view each photo immediately after capturing it. The suggested time is 2 seconds.
  • Flash mode: fill flash, flash compensation to 0.0
  • Red Eye Reduction: off

Memory Recall Function: Due to the RX100 VI's amazing zoom capability, when in a housing in a standard port, the lens can actually hit the port glass when zoomed in all the way. Using the memory recall function you can set the camera so that it "remembers" specific zoom levels and does not hit the port. This will allow you to easily switch between wide angle and macro on a standard port. In order to use memory recall, put your camera in manual mode. Then zoom in with the camera in the housing, so that the lens does not hit the port glass, but enough to take a macro photo. Go into the menu and go to panel 9 under the camera icon. Click memory and then click a number (at the top of the memory panel) to save your settings. When you need to access your setting in memory recall, switch the dial at the top to MR and your settings will show up. You can set individual settings for shooting wide angle, macro, and mid-range photos as you can save three different memory recall settings. 

Shooting Macro

Remember that apterture controls your depth of field, choosing a larger number aperture will mean more of the image will be in focus. For starting settings on the RX100 VI we recommend at least F8. In addition we always recommend using a focus light when shooting macro in order to help your camera lock focus more quickly and accurately.

Best Macro Settings with a strobe (no wet lens):

  • Manual Mode
  • Auto White Balance
  • F8
  • 1/500s
  • ISO 80

Make sure you are zoomed out all the way for best focusing and image quality. If using a strobe, Auto White Balance delivers accurate color balance - just remember to set the internal flash to forced flash mode and your strobe to TTL (or manual if you're comfortable with more adjustments).

Remember that shooting at an aperture of F8 will allow for much of the subject to be in focus. You can also experiment with opening the aperture down to F2.8 for a shallow depth of field.

Best Super Macro Settings with a strobe (using a wet lens):

When shooting with a macro diopter, you will want to zoom in to create as much magnification as possible of the subject. Because of the increased magnification, stop down the aperture to create more depth of field. Our recommended starting settings are:

  • Manual Mode
  • Auto White Balance
  • F11
  • 1/500s
  • ISO 80 

Shooting Wide Angle

Remember that shutter speed controls the amount of ambient light in the photograph. The faster the shutter speed, the less light in the background. This is important primarily when shooting wide angle with a strobe. Zoom the camera all the way out and get closer to your subject for best lighting. Shooting with a wet wide lens* allows you to get a wider field of view while being very close to your subject and is recommended for the best wide angle shots.

Best Wide Angle Starting Settings, with a Strobe:

  • Manual Mode
  • Auto White Balance
  • F6.3
  • 1/125s
  • ISO 80
  • Camera on Forced Flash (not auto or it may not flash!)
  • Strobe on TTL (auto controls) or Manual with Preflash (adjust power as needed)

*Some wet wide lenses may vignette on the RX100 VI (dark corners), if this is the case zoom in as little as possible until the vignetting is gone.

Use strobe power to control the light on your subject, adjust shutter speed to control the light in the background.

Shooting Wide Angle with Ambient Light:

  • Adjust your aperture and shutter speed from the settings above to properly expose the foreground (ie: let in more light).
  • Shoot with the sun behind you for better colors and less shadows.

For shooting creatie wide-angle such as a sunburst or silhouette, stop down the aperture to F11 and/or increase your shutter speed to 1/1000s or faster. This will decrease the light entering the camera and help freeze the water to capture stunning sun rays.

Conclusion

The release of the RX100 VI presents new and exciting opportunities for the compact underwater photographer in an ever-developing field. Its super macro capability is unparalleled in the macro world, especially when paired with wet macro lenses. Accordingly, improved autofocus makes shooting macro a breeze. And when this AF is paired with the RX100 VI’s burst mode, the camera becomes a formidable tool for quick-action pelagic photography. To top it off, the enhanced 4K video capability is enticing for super-macro video shooters and photographers looking to expand their artform into the real of video.

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Olympus introduces new technologies in its updated flagship camera with exciting implications for underwater photography
By Nirupam Nigam

Olympus OM-D E-M1X Camera Announced!

Nirupam Nigam
Olympus introduces new technologies in its updated flagship camera with exciting implications for underwater photography

The rumors are true! After two years of anticipation, Olympus has introduced a major update of their flagship camera with the Olympus OM-D E-M1X – blurring the line between micro four thirds systems and larger professional cameras. This new model introduces a tantalizing glimpse of an array of new photographic technologies that will be increasingly common in years to come. Some of the most innovative of these features include AI-based intelligent subject detection autofocus, handheld ultra-high resolution (50 MP) shooting, 5-axis in-body image stabilization with up to 7.5 shutter speed steps compensation, weatherproofing, live neutral density filter (in-camera), PRO capture electronic shutter, dual battery slots, and dual UHS-II SD card slots. The implications for underwater photography could be tremendous. However, only time and testing will tell. 

Although Olympus has geared the OM-D E-M1X towards sports and wildlife photographers with new features, an increase in physical size and price has rendered the camera almost without a specific niche. This can be a blessing if you’re an avid Olympus user looking to upgrade professionally or a curse if you are looking to purchase a new professional system at this price point.

For underwater photographers, the E-M1X’s upgrades have the potential to significantly expand the artistic horizons of mirrorless users. Improved image stabilization and the in-camera neutral density filters have the potential to improve long-exposure underwater photographs. Handheld ultra-high resolution shooting could yield echelons of detail never before attained by four thirds systems. We can’t wait to get this camera in the water and see what it really can do!

U.S. Retail Price: $2,999.99 - Available February, 2019


 

Purchase the Olympus OM-D E-M1X at Bluewater Photo

 

 


Jump to section:

Key Features     |     Upgrades from the OM-D E-M1 MK II    |   

 In-Depth Look at Features     |    Underwater Photography and Video     | 

   Best Lenses    |    Underwater Housings    |    Conclusion    |   Underwater Photos


Olympus OM-D E-M1X Key Features

  • 20.4 Megapixel Live MOS Sensor

  • TWO TruPic VIII Dual Quad Core Processors 

  • 121 point cross-type (Dual F.A.S.T - Contrast and Phase Detection) autofocus

  • AI-based intelligent subject detection autofocus

  • 5-axis image stabilization with up to 7.5 shutter speed steps compensation

  • 50 MP High-Res Shot Mode (Handheld)

  • ISO range of 64-25600

  • 1/8000 high speed mechanical shutter

  • 1/250 shutter sync for flash

  • 15 fps sequential shooting with mechanical shutter/60 fps sequential shooting with silent electronic shutter

  • PRO Capture Lag-Free Electronic Shutter Mode

  • Focus Bracketing and Stacking

  • 4K Cinema Video (4096x2160) at 24 fps (max rate 237 Mbps)

  • 4K Video (3840x2160) at 30/25/24 fps with OM-Log Mode

  • FHD video up to 1080/120p

  • Dual SD card slots that support UHS-II cards

  • Dual hand-grip battery slots and batteries

  • Vertical grip

  • Extensively weather sealed (Dust, splash, and freezeproof) – IPX1 rating

  • 400,000 shot shutter life

  • 997g/2.2 lb weight (with 2 batteries and 2 memory cards), 144.4mm X 146.8mm X 75.4mm

Olympus OM-D E-MX1 Key Upgrades from OM-D E-M1 Mk II

  • TWO TruPic VIII Dual Quad Core Processors (upgraded from one)

  • TWO SD card slots that support UHS-II cards (upgraded from one)

  • TWO hand-grip battery slots and batteries (upgraded from one)

  • Vertical grip

  • AI-based intelligent subject detection autofocus

  • Live neutral density filter (in-camera) – hand held!

  • 5-axis image stabilization with up to 7.5 EV compensation

  • 50 MP High-Res mode is now hand held!

  • Extensively weather sealed (Dust, splash, and freezeproof) – IPX1 rating

  • 120 fps in full HD video upgraded from 60fps

  • Olympus’s first Log video profile – OM-Log

  • Improved autofocus targeting for video

  • Increased electronic viewfinder magnification

  • Field Sensor System: GPS, barometer, compass, and temperature sensors

An In-Depth Look at these New Features

AI based intelligent subject detection autofocus. OM-Log. Live ND filter. Olympus packed the OM-D E-M1X full of cutting-edge technology (and a few techy buzzwords to go with it).  As an underwater photographer, it is important to break down each of these new features and their implications on underwater photography and videography. Because this camera has yet to be fully released, one can only guess at the full underwater capability of these features. All signs point to even more potential than the OM-D E-M1 Mk II!

 

Who needs one when you can have two?

Olympus clearly seems to think that having two of something is the best solution to a problem. This is most apparent in the E-M1X’s large increase in size. It now has two batteries housed in two hand-grip battery slots. This means lots of battery life which is great, but also almost twice the weight (an increase from 574 g to 997 g). Extra battery life means more time for taking more photos. In order to accommodate for a need for storage space, the E-M1X now has two UHS-II slots. This will be welcomed by sports photographers and wildlife photographers who rely on quick burst shooting and processing. To efficiently process all this data, Olympus decided to add an additional processor to the mix. With double the battery power, storage space, and processing power, the E-M1X has a very sturdy foundation quick-action photographers.

A.I. Autofocus

It looks like artificial intelligence has taken ahold of Olympus mirrorless systems as well. Despite having the same AF, capability as the E-M1 MK II, the E-M1X has had its algorithm updated to detect subjects using machine learning. The E-M1X can use data from the live view and recently captured images to better detect and lock-in on subjects. Although not relevant for underwater photographers – the E-M1X can also track autofocus in automobiles, trains, and planes. We hope that future models will also be able to track people, wildlife, and most importantly – fish! For video, face and eye detection has been significantly improved.

 

Image Stabilization

The E-M1X’s image stabilization is where the Olympus is really pushing the boundaries of photography. With 5-axis stabilization and an improved 7.5 shutter speed stops (up from 6.5) of compensation, taking low-light, hand-held photos could not be easier. This will be particularly useful in underwater photography and video where the 3-dimensional environment is always in motion. The E-M1X’s improved stabilization is also the basis for its ultra-high resolution and neutral density capabilities. 

Live Neutral Density Filters

The Live ND mode is a new feature that allows you to take long exposure images without a ND filter or tripod. To create this effect, the camera compiles multiple frames together to give the impression of a slow shutter speed photograph. This could have very interesting implications for underwater photography. 

 

Ultra High-Resolution (50 MP) Mode

Perhaps the biggest limitation of the E-M1X is its large physical size and small micro four thirds sensor. Olympus tries to make up for this with its 50 megapixel mode where it takes 8 photos and compiles them into a 50 MP photo. This works in both RAW and JPG and can also be used to create a 25 MP photo. With the E-M1 MK II, this could only be done with a tripod. But with improved image stabilization, high-res mode can be done handheld! This means that it may finally be useful underwater. 

 

Weather Sealing

As discussed before, the E-M1X is significantly larger than the E-M1 MK II. However, it is also weather sealed to an IPX 1 rating. This mean that drops of water sprinkling for 10 minutes should have no affect on it. In the event of a flood at depth, this could save the camera in the right circumstances. The E-M1X is touted to be splash proof, dust proof, and freeze proof. It even has a super sonic wave filter on the sensor for dust reduction.

 

Video Improvements

Although video is much the same with the E-M1X as it was with the E-M1 Mk II, there have been a couple nice improvements with the system. Full HD (1080 p) can now be shot at 120 fps – great for high-speed videography. The most significant improvement is the addition of Olympus’s new Log profile – OM-Log. This will be great for capturing more detail in shadows and highlights to be brought out in post processing. 

Implications for Underwater Photography

The Olympus OM-D E-M1X has the potential to do great things in the realm of underwater photography. Improvements in autofocus and image stabilization hint at a new beginning for pelagic, lowlight, and long exposure underwater photography. Although artificial intelligent tracking autofocus is relatively limited when it comes to animal subjects, it has been fairly successful with automobiles, planes, and trains. It stands to reason that AI autofocus will soon be expanded to other subjects (hopefully functioning underwater as well). Whether or not a firmware update is available in the future – only time will tell. Similar tracking abilities, however, are already found in competing cameras, so functionally the E-M1X’s autofocus is good but not the greatest. The AF improvement will definitely be welcomed by those who like to photograph quick moving, pelagic subjects such as sharks, rays, sea lions, etc. It is worth noting that increased processing power and storage space will also be welcomed by this type of photographers.

Image stabilization is really where the E-M1X shines. Beyond improvements in general underwater photography and videography, the high-res (50 MP) mode may now be used underwater. This could be great for macro photographer looking to capture minute details and small subjects such as nudibranchs, reef fish, and invertebrates. The live neutral density mode may also be a useful feature underwater. Because this feature can also be hand held, it might be used to capture interesting “long exposure” perspectives of moving subjects and reefs underwater. 

The camera’s build is both a bane and a boon for underwater photographers. For those looking for a small micro four thirds set-up, this is not your camera. However, compact photographers and mirrorless photographers looking to upgrade professionally should definitely consider it. The E-M1X is still smaller than larger Nikon and Canon DSLR systems. The increased battery life and storage space is a nice improvement as it makes it less likely that there will be a need to change out batteries or cards between dives. Weather sealing also helps protect the camera from flooding situations and splashes from waves and wind.

Implications for Underwater Video

Although there are not many improvements in the E-M1X for underwater video, there are still a couple notable changes that could affect underwater videography. An improved in-body image stabilization will certainly improve underwater video quality. Full HD at 120 fps is create for videographers shooting quick subjects. As with other Log profiles, Olympus’s newly introduce OM-Log profile is applied to the color profile before compression. This means in situations of high dynamic range (like underwater), highlights and shadows will retain more details that can be brought out in post processing. 

 

Best Lenses for Underwater Use

The Olympus OM-D E-M1X features a standard Micro 4/3 lens mount, allowing it to use all Olympus 4/3 lenses, plus those from 3rd parties like Panasonic. Below are our recommendations for fisheye, wide-angle and macro lenses.

Fisheye Lenses

There are two choices for fisheye lenses, ideal for capturing reefscapes, big animals, wrecks, close-focus wide-angle and other large underwater scenes. The new Olympus 8mm Pro fisheye offers the best image quality and lightning fast speed of f/1.8. The Panasonic 8mm fisheye lens has long been our go-to lens, delivering great photos with a full 180 degrees of coverage and widest aperture of f/3.5. Both lenses have a very close focusing distance, you can practically focus on the dome port!

If you are unsure about getting a fisheye lens because of its limited topside use, the good news is that Olympus' latest firmware for the E-M1X includes in-body distortion correction for the Olympus Fisheye lens. You can view the effects of the distortion correction in Live View while taking your photos, allowing you to use the fisheye lens as a wide angle lens as well.

Wide-Angle & Versatile Lenses

The E-M1X has many different wide-angle and mid-range zoom lenses to suit every underwater photographer. For wide-angle shooting, helping capture subjects like whales, sharks and sea lions, the newer Olympus 7-14mm Pro lens and the classic Panasonic 7-14mmare your choices. Similar to the fisheye lenses from these brands, the Olympus will deliver slightly better image quality, but at a higher price. Wide-angle shooters will love the Olympus or Panasonic 7-14mm; choose Olympus for the best possible optic quality. The Olympus 9-18mm lens is a great choice for those on a budget who still want a good wide-angle lens.

Kit lenses are an affordable way to get your camera in the water while also providing mid-range focal lengths ideal for shooting models in a pool. The Olympus 12-50mm is a great choice for ocean shooting, with a nice zoom range as well as built-in macro mode for capturing those small subjects.

The Panasonic 12-35mm F/2.8 lens is popular for underwater videographers, as it is a great focal length for underwater video, and the bright F/2.8 aperture is important for video. The Olympus 12-40mm Pro captures high quality images with an F/2.8 aperture and professional level glass and is another great option for underwater videography.

Macro Lens

The best option for shooting macro with the Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II, is the Olympus 60mm macro lens. This lens delivers sharp 1:1 macro images and can be used with wet diopters outside your port in order to magnify your smallest subjects into great supermacro images. If that lens is too much, or you like shooting slightly larger macro, we recommend the Panasonic 45mm macro. This lens is a bit more money than the 60mm, but offers more flexibility in larger subjects. However, it is not ideal for super macro.

 

Olympus OM-D E-M1X Underwater Housings

A wide range of housing options for the E-M1X will be available from most major underwater housing manufacturers. Housings will likely be available from Olympus, Sea & Sea, Aquatica, Ikelite, and Nauticam. Natuicam offers the top-of-the-line and most ergonomic option - often coming at a price. Sea & Sea and Aquatica make solid mid-range options. Ikelite and Olympus are excellent choices for photographers looking for a budget housing.  

Compatability

 

The Olympus OM-D E-MX will not be compatible with the E-M1 MK II housings due to differences in body size. 

 

Conclusion

The Olympus OM-D E-M1X is a unique addition to Olympus’s OM-D micro four thirds mirrorless camera line. Its new features have the potential to yield dividends for underwater photographers. With an already wide selection of high-quality micro four thirds lenses, excellent dynamic range and high ISO performance, fast AF, 4K video, and great image stabilization, recent updates make this camera even more enticing. The handheld high-res (50 MP) mode and live ND modes have the potential to transform macro, wide-angle, and long exposure underwater photography. Improved AF, storage space, battery life, and processing power will be cherished by quick pelagic photographers. Olympus’s new OM-Log profile is sure to welcomed by videographers. 

However, an increase in size and price exacerbate what was already a sore spot on the E-M1 MK II. Being significantly larger than the MK II, the E-M1X still has a small sensor relative to its size. The price leaves it competing with low-end DSLR and other high-end mirrorless set ups such as the Sony A7R III and Nikon Z7. But if the size and price can be overlooked, the OM-D E-M1X is a modern camera that could open up new types of photography with the help of cutting-edge technological improvements. 

Underwater Photos (From E-M1 MK II)

Because the Olympus OM-D E-M1X has not yet been released for testing, here are some photos from the Olympus OM-D E-M1 MK II:

Sample Wide Angle Photos

A member of the UWPG community, Lynn Wu, shared a selection of fantastic wide angle photos taken with the OM-D E-M1 Mark II.

Sample Macro Photos

 

The Olympus O-MD E-M1X is available now at Bluewater Photo! 


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Nirupam Nigam is a dedicated underwater photographer and fisheries scientist. While growing up in Los Angeles he fell in love with the ocean and pursued underwater photography in the local Channel Islands. He received degrees in Aquatic and Fisheries Science and General Biology, as well as a minor in Arctic Studies, at the University of Washington. Now he works as a fisheries observer on boats in the Bering Sea and North Pacific. When he is not at sea, he is traveling with his fiancee and taking photos. Check out more of his photography at www.photosfromthesea.com!

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Sony introduces its next mirrorless Alpha line camera - the a6400
By Nirupam Nigam

Sony a6400 Announced!

Nirupam Nigam
Sony introduces its next mirrorless Alpha line camera - the a6400

Sony has recently announced its newest model of Alpha line APS-C (crop sensor) mirrorless camera – the Sony a6400. The name might cause a little confusion as the Sony a6400 is actually the next camera in line after the Sony a6300 and Sony a6500. However, an in depth look at the specs indicates that the a6400 is more of an upgrade to the a6300 than the a6500 – so the name makes sense.

Among Sony’s wide range of mirrorless systems, the a6400 is a great option for photographers looking to take high-quality photos with high-quality lenses but desire a lighter price point and a more compact system. Being an APS-C mirrorless camera, the a6400 is significantly smaller and cheaper than the popular full-frame mirrorless Sony A7R III. As an E-mount camera, the a6400 is compatible with all the excellent lenses currently available to other E-mount systems such as the a7, a9, and NEX series.

U.S. Retail Price: $899 (for the body only) – Available February, 2019


 

Purchase the Sony a6400 at Bluewater Photo

 


 

Jump to section:

Key Features     |     Upgrades from the a6300    |    For Underwater Photography    |    For Underwater Video

Best Lenses    |    Underwater Housings    |    Conclusion    |   Underwater Photos

 

Sony a6400 Key Features 

  • 24.2 MP APS-C Exmor CMOS Sensor

  • Latest BIONZ X Processor

  • Lightning quick autofocus acquisition of 0.02 sec

  • 425 phase detection contrast-detection AF points covering approximately 84% of image area

  • Real-time Tracking for object tracking

  • High-speed continuous shooting at up to 11 fps

  • Improved buffer size for JPEG and RAW

  • Advanced High-Resolution 4K with Fast Hybrid Autofocus

  • Interval recording for time-lapse videos

  • 180-degree fully tiltable LCD touch screen

* View the full details for each of these highlights on the Sony a6400 website.

 

Sony a6400 Upgrades from the Sony a6300

  • More of a “sports oriented” focus system – better real-time autofocus tracking and better eye detection autofocus

  • Better low-light autofocus – working range of EV -2 to 20 (expanded from -1 to 20)

  • New-generation BONZ X processor

  • Upper ISO limit increased from a default of ISO 25,600 to ISO 32,000

  • Buffer capacity almost doubled – Sony claims 99 extra fine JPEGs, 46 raw files, or 44 raw+JPEG

  • Support for HD proxy video recording 

  • Can now shoot video with Hybrid Log Gamma (HLG), S-Log2, or S-Log 3 picture profiles for HDR-ready footage

  • Loss of MP4 file format for video shooters – only XAVCS and AVCHD formats available

  • 180-degree fully tiltable LCD touch screen – great for vlogging (screen flips up, not to side)

Sony a6400 for Underwater Photography

The Sony a6400 is a solid upgrade from the Sony a6300; Each upgrade will have a different implication for underwater photography. With improvements in real-time autofocus tracking, image processing, and buffer capacity, it is clear that Sony intended to build-up the a6400’s “sports photography” capability. This will come as a godsend to any underwater photographer that specializes in shooting large, quick pelagic animals. The better low-light autofocus is an overall improvement that benefit all underwater photographers – especially those shooting in cold-water, low-light conditions. 

Despite these upgrades, there are some real benefits to shooting the Sony a6500 over the a6400. The a6500 has built-in image stabilization (IS) that is not available in the a6400. Built-in IS can significantly improves image quality when taking photos underwater in a 3D environment with a lot of movement. The a6500 also has better support in its housings for external battery packs. The a6300’s batter life is good for a mirrorless camera at 350-400 shots, but not as good as a DSLR. It stands to reason that the a6400’s battery-life will be similar. It would be useful to have external battery packs in the housing so the battery would not need to be changed after every dive or every other dive.

 

Sony a6400 for Underwater Video

The Sony a6400 is a good choice among mirrorless cameras for use in videography. The video capability is not very different from the a6300. The a6400 will be able to shoot up to 4k resolution at 30 frames per second with no pixel binning. 1080p can be shot up to 120fps – great for quick action video. The biggest upgrade will make HDR shooters happy – the a6400 can now shoot video with Hybrid Log Gamma (HLG), S-Log2, or S-Log 3 picture profiles. HD proxy video recording is also a new feature that enables videographers to capture lower quality footage for streamlined editing and replace it with full resolution footage during rendering. It is important to note that the a6400 will no longer support an MP4 file format – only XAVCS and AVCHD.

 

Sony a6400 Best Lenses

Macro

Standard / Mid-Range

Wide-Angle

Fisheye

Sony a6400 Underwater Housings

A wide range of housing options for the a6400 will be available from most major underwater housing manufacturers. Housings will likely be available from Aquatica, Fantasea, Ikelite, and Nauticam. Natuicam offers the top-of-the-line and most ergonomic option - often coming at a price. Fantasea and Aquatica make solid mid-range options. Ikelite is an excellent choice for photographers looking for a budget housing.  


 Compatability

The Sony a6400 will likely not be compatible with the a6300 or a6500 housings due to differences in body size. 

 

Conclusion

As with the a6300 and a6500 before it, the Sony a6400 will likely be an excellent APS-C mirrorless camera - smaller than DSLR's and increasingly popular full-frame mirrorless systems, but still yielding excellent image quality and focus speeds. Sony E-mount lenses are becoming more versatile and increasingly excellent in their image quality. If you want most of the quality found in Sony a7 systems but balk at the size and price tag then the Sony a6400 is for you.

Should you upgrade from the Sony a6300? That could go either way. If you tend to shoot large and quick pelagic animals requiring a large buffer and quick focus tracking, then yes - an upgrade is a good idea. However, if you are looking for an all around improvement in image quality, battery life, and video, you still may want to take a look at the Sony a6500 over the Sony a6400. 

Standing alone the Sony a6400 packs a powerful punch. With lightning fast focus, upgraded processing, support for hybrid log gamma, 425 auto-focus points, Sony E-mount lenses, and 24 MP - you really can't go wrong whether you're taking underwater photo or video.

 

Underwater Photos

Because the Sony a6400 has not yet been released for testing, here are some photos from the Sony a6300 and Sony a6500 for comparison:

Sony a6300

Sony a6500

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Nirupam Nigam is a dedicated underwater photographer and fisheries scientist. While growing up in Los Angeles he fell in love with the ocean and pursued underwater photography in the local Channel Islands. He received degrees in Aquatic and Fisheries Science and General Biology, as well as a minor in Arctic Studies, at the University of Washington. Now he works as a fisheries observer on boats in the Bering Sea and North Pacific. When he is not at sea, he is traveling with his fiancee and taking photos. Check out more of his photography at www.photosfromthesea.com!

SUPPORT THE UNDERWATER PHOTOGRAPHY GUIDE:

The Best Service & Prices on u/w Photo Gear

 

Visit Bluewater Photo & Video for all your underwater photography and video gear. Click, or call the team at (310) 633-5052 for expert advice!

 


The Best Pricing, Service & Expert Advice to Book your Dive Trips

 

Bluewater Travel is your full-service scuba travel agency. Let our expert advisers plan and book your next dive vacation. Run by divers, for divers.

 


Sony makes updates to the original RX100 V with their new RX100 VA model
By Bryan Chu

Sony RX100 VA (RX100M5A) Announced

Bryan Chu
Sony makes updates to the original RX100 V with their new RX100 VA model

 

See our full Sony RX100 V and RX100 VA review here!

Sony recently announced they are updating the RX100 V camera with a new version called the RX100 VA, which has some impressive upgrades including a new processor. This is not a replacement or upgrade to the RX100 VI, but rather a unique hybrid of the popular RX100 V combined with the new processor, promising the best of both worlds for underwater shooters. It replaces the RX100 V which is no longer available.

Upgrades from the RX100 V

  • Image processor updated, which will make an improvement to image quality
  • Shooting in 24 fps burst mode with full AF/AE (auto-focus/auto-exposure), the buffer size has been increased from 150 jpegs to 233 (50% improvement)
  • "My Menu" functionality allowing you to register menu items for instant recall and customize menus. You can also make button assignments for up to 30 functions to retool the camera interface for your shooting preferences.
  • "Zone" added as an option for autofocus area
  • Display lag time in EVF (electronic viewfinder) reduced
  • Proxy movie mode (captures 720p footage alongside 4K capture)
  • Custom button can now control one of 62 camera functions, instead of the previous 44
  • High precision eye autofocus feature (improvement over original)
  • A number of other functionality improvements

Implications for Underwater Photography

The updated image processor, with a potential for improvements to image quality, is of course a nice thing to have. It also means that file storage underwater could be more seamless with less lagtime. 

As far as the burst mode buffer upgrade, unless you tend to shoot fast action in ambient light conditions or with video lights, and run out of buffer with the 150-image size, this change will not affect your underwater photography. It could be useful for topside photography, although 150 images at 24 fps already gives you 6 seconds of continuous burst shooting. But there may be some situations where the extra 3 seconds of continuous burst shooting could help you get the shot you want. And although the reduction in EVF display lag time is nice to have on land, that won't affect underwater shooting as the EVF can't be used underwater.

The changes to menu functionality is another upgrade that is significant for underwater photographers. The ability to customize button assignments should help avoid having to cycle through menus when you have to change settings quickly to adjust for new shots or changing conditions. This will allow for a better shooting experience underwater.

Overall, this update looks more like a firmware update than anything else, and with the exception of the customizable button functionality is not expected to have a noticeable effect on underwater photography functionality. If you are looking to buy an RX100V, this will be the new version available, and there's no reason not to get it. But there might not be much reason to think about upgrading from an existing RX100V - if the advantage of a long lens sounds interesting, it would be better to go for the new Sony RX100 VI.

You can see our detailed review of the original RX100V for more information about this excellent compact camera!

 

RX100 VA Underwater Housings

Since the RX100 VA is the same size as the RX100 V, it will work in the same housings as the RX100 V.

There are six underwater housings available for the Sony RX100 VA. Each have different pros and cons, most importantly around pricing and ergonomics, and all offer a wide range of accessories available through Bluewater Photo.

Nauticam RX100 V/VA Underwater Housing

The Nauticam RX100 V housing is milled from a block of solid aluminum, then hard anodized. The result is a rugged and reliable piece of gear that will stand up to saltwater and the daily rigors of diving. Since the housing accesses all of the camera controls, including the front control ring, the user can take advantage of the enhanced programmability in the RX100 V. The housing also has a 67mm port and can support multiple wet wide angle lens options, including the Nauticam WWL-1.

Purchase the Nauticam RX100 V Housing

Recsea RX100 IV, V, VA Underwater Housing

As always Recsea housings are made of high quality machined aluminum with excellent controls and full camera functionality. The Recsea housings fit the camera like a glove, offering the smallest housing on the market without losing any functionality. Easy to use, adaptable with many different wet wide angle and macro lenses, and including strobe connections, the Recsea housing is the perfect tool for taking your Sony RX-100 IV or V underwater.

Purchase the Recsea RX100 IV, V Housing

Recsea RX100 IV, V, VA CW Underwater Housing

Recsea offers a high quality polycarbonate housing for the Sony RX100 IV, which is compatible with the RX100 V. Designed with the same precision engineering as the high quality aluminum RX100 IV Housing the new CW housing comes at a much lower price, great if you are on a budget. The new CW housings come with 67mm threads built in which means you can attach some lenses without an adapter.

Purchase the Recsea RX100 IV, V CW Housing

 

Fantasea RX100 V/VA Underwater Housing

The Fantasea Sony RX100 V housing is made of tough plastic, creating a lightweight and sturdy housing. Controls are easy to access and very clearly labeled. The housing is also compatible with flash accessories, plus wide-angle and macro wet lenses and other gear. A cold shoe mount makes it easy to attach a focus light, video light, a GoPro or other accessory. If you are looking for a lower priced housing, this is an excellent choice.

Purchase the Fantasea RX100 V Housing

 

Check out our full Sony RX100 V and RX100 VA review here

 


 

You can order the RX100 VA Camera at Bluewater Photo!

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Bryan is an editor for the Underwater Photography Guide. He loves any activity that takes him out into nature, and is especially fond of multi-day hiking trips, road trips to National Parks, and diving. Any kind of diving. He discovered the joy of underwater photography on a Bluewater trip to the Sea of Cortez, and after "trial and erroring" his way to some level of proficiency, has been hooked ever since. He has not done nearly as much diving as he would like, but has so far taken underwater photos in a diverse range of places, including BC, the Sea of Cortez, Greenland/Iceland, Northern Norway, the Galapagos and French Polynesia.

After working as a chemical engineer at a major oil & gas corporation for 9 years, Bryan finally had enough (and it didn't help that he was living in landlocked Edmonton, Canada with frigid winter temperatures and no real diving to speak of). He and his girlfriend decided to pack up their things and travel the world; they started their journey mid-2018 and will visit a number of great dive locations along the way. He is very excited to expand his underwater photography experience and skills while experiencing new cultures and exciting parts of the world. Though he is also a bit worried about the following equation that has so far defined his dive travels: Corporate job ($$) = Dive travel ($) + Underwater Photography ($). Taking away the left side of that equation seems like it might put things a bit out of balance. But as he reasons, what's the point in life if you can't take some big risks and have some fun along the way?

You can find more of his photos on Instagram at @bryandchu and check out his travel and relationship blog at www.bryanandlisa.ca

SUPPORT THE UNDERWATER PHOTOGRAPHY GUIDE:

The Best Service & Prices on u/w Photo Gear

 

Visit Bluewater Photo & Video for all your underwater photography and video gear. Click, or call the team at (310) 633-5052 for expert advice!

 


The Best Pricing, Service & Expert Advice to Book your Dive Trips

 

Bluewater Travel is your full-service scuba travel agency. Let our expert advisers plan and book your next dive vacation. Run by divers, for divers.

 


Dissecting the world’s best choices in underwater photography
By Nirupam Nigam

The Nikon D850 vs the Sony A7R III for Underwater Photography

Nirupam Nigam
Dissecting the world’s best choices in underwater photography

If underwater photography is the reason you get out of bed in the morning, then no doubt, by now you have realized that the caliber of your artistry is defined by the images you create and not the equipment you use. That being said, having nice equipment certainly helps. Having the best equipment helps even more. Right now, without a doubt, the best cameras available for underwater photography are the Nikon D850 DSLR and the Sony A7R III Mirrorless full frame cameras. 

As can be expected, both cameras are equipped with top of the line resolution, sensors, processing power, dynamic range, etc. But what is most historic about this comparison of cameras is the comparison itself. For the first time, a mirrorless camera is now a direct competitor with a DSLR for the prize of world’s best underwater camera. This isn’t merely a comparison of brands or specs – it’s a comparison of photographic engineering. 

Jump to a Section

Mirrorless vs DSLR   |   What is Top of the Line?   |   Image Quality

Performance   |   Processing Power   |   Focus

Video   |   Ergonomics   |   Lens and Housing Availability

Recommendations Based on Photographic Style

 

The Nikon D850 and Sony A7R III is available now at Bluewater Photo!

Mirrorless or DSLR

Before the release of the D850 and A7R III, mirrorless cameras had been thought of as the bridge between compact cameras and DSLRs. But the development of mirrorless cameras with full frame sensors (instead of crop sensors) introduces a conundrum for hardcore DSLR users. Mirrorless specs are starting to become indistinguishable from full frame DSLR specs. So wherein lies the difference? Well now it’s mostly physical – mirrorless cameras don’t have a reflex mirror and thus have smaller bodies. They are also more effective when using the LCD than DSLRs. That being said, the autofocus and low light sensitivity tends to be better in DSLRs. 

What constitutes as top of the line?

With light speed advances in camera technology, it can often be difficult to determine what constitutes as “top of the line” camera system engineering. Recent focus by industry giants has made it clear that improved resolution, low-light sensitivity, processing power, and autofocus are the centerpiece of recent efforts to improve photographic and videographic technology. Developments in resolution and low-light sensitivity materialize as improvements in image quality. Whereas, developments in processing power and autofocus materialize as improvements a camera’s performance. The world-class image quality and performance of these cameras ultimately results in a versatile tool that can take on almost any underwater photographic situation.

Image Quality

Winner: Tie*

Sensors for a New Age

Image quality is a direct consequence of the performance of a camera’s sensor. The frontiers of image quality were pushed further into the realm of impossibility when both cameras made history as the first DSLR and mirrorless cameras in their respective categories to achieve a DxOMark sensor rating of 100. 

A backlit full-frame Exmor R CMOS Sensor of the A7R III continues to offer 42.4 megapixels of resolution with a native ISO of 100. The Nikon D850 backlit CMO sensor now offers a whopping 45.7 megapixels of resolution with a native ISO of 64!

What does this mean for underwater photography?

These recent sensor improvements have resulted in two cameras that offer both exceptional dynamic range and resolution. Being able to shoot with a low native ISO enables you to photograph scenes with high dynamic range (contrast), without losing information (details). This means that in an overexposed or underexposed photo, details in shadows and highlights can be extracted more easily during post processing. This is great in situations where you might be shooting directly into the sun (e.g., sunballs), or in particularly low light environments where you might need to bump-up the ISO. A low native ISO also reduces the amount of noise in an image which is again important in low light environments or while taking long exposure photos. 

 

Perhaps the most revolutionary aspect of the A7R III and D850’s sensors is the ludicrous megapixel count of 42.4 and 45.7 MP respectively. To the average underwater photographer, such large file sizes may not seem necessary. However, I found that shooting at full resolution with both cameras changed my photography style. Macro photography becomes a particularly more forgiving artform. This is because you can crop almost anything while retaining resolution. Diving with the D850 or A7R III is more akin to taking a microscope underwater than a camera. Even the most boring photo of a fish or octopus can become a beautiful depiction of the almost invisible photophores or eye parasites! Because the resolution is so large to begin with, most crops will still be a relatively large file! There is also the added benefit of being able to print high quality prints for professional use. 

*Although the Nikon D850 has a slightly lower native ISO and a slightly higher megapixel count, the image quality of both cameras is comparable in most cases. 

Performance

Processing power and autofocus performance are two important metrics for underwater camera performance. Because of constant improvements in photo resolution, modern camera systems must have comparable processing power to write information onto a storage device. Otherwise, a camera will slow down and need to buffer while the photographer risks missing photo opportunities. This is particularly important when photographing underwater pelagics or other high-speed scenes in burst mode. 

Likewise, fast and accurate autofocus is essential to underwater photography as manual focus modes are not always accessible. Particularly with moving subjects in both wide angle and macro photography. Almost all underwater photographers have experienced the frustration of watching a small fish or crustacean disappear out of frame as the lens continues to hunt. Who knows, in a few years this might soon be a thing of the past!

Processing Power

Winner: Sony A7R III (But the Sony A9 is the real winner)

The Sony A7R III has an updated BIONZ X image processor that is 1.8 times faster than previous versions of the A7R series. This enables the camera to shoot continuously at 10 frames per second with a 76 RAW image buffer up from 5 fps with a 23 image buffer! However, if shooting sports or quick pelagics is the core focus of your photography, consider the Sony A9. The A9 has the fastest shooting speed of any full frame camera on the market at 20 fps and a 241 image buffer.

The Nikon D850 is only slightly slower than the A7R III with 7 frames per second burst mode and a 51 image buffer. But don’t be quick to rule it out when comparing it to the A7R III as processing power is not the only metric of performance. 

It is worth noting that the benefits excellent processing power can only be reaped with a highest performance SD cards.

Focus

Winner: Nikon D850

The autofocus of the Nikon D850 is unbeatable. The Multi-CAM 20K autofocus module is Nikon’s best. It includes 153 focus point – 99 of them being cross sensor types and 55 being user selectable. Cross type sensors increase accuracy and minimize focusing errors resulting in an almost magical ability to track focal points. The dedicated autofocus engine also helps the camera process autofocus calculations at a quicker rate. With the ability to focus down to -4 EV, the lowlight AF performance is great for underwater photographer – especially macro photographers who wish to do away with their focus light in the presence of shy subjects. The combination of these capabilities results in focus modes that just might change how underwater photos are taken. For instance, the 3D-tracking AF mode will focus on a single point and intelligently follow that point as the subject moves around the frame. This mode changed my shooting experience completely. I stopped having to worry about the timing and placement of my focus points and began to completely focus my attention on composition – letting the camera take care of focus. Macro photographers in particular will benefit from this ability, especially when shooting small subjects that move around a lot. I except that we will be seeing many more photo of non-stationary macro subjects in the next few years as the underwater photography community adapts to these advances in AF.

One of the Sony A7R III’s strongest improvements was in its autofocus. It has 399 phase-detection AF points and 425 contrast AF points – 400 more contracts points than the A7R II. This has resulted in AF significantly quicker than the A7R II. However, the A7R III cannot match the AF speed of the Nikon D850 by any means. When shooting wide-angle, the A7R III’s AF speed is sufficient and you won’t see a considerable difference in performance from the Nikon D850. Macro photography is where the A7R III’s AF performance cannot match the D850s. When shooting macro, I found the A7R III could spend a considerable time hunting for focus points – especially in low light situations. 

Video 

Winner: Sony A7R III

One of the pride and joys of Sony’s mirrorless cameras are their video capability. The video performance of the A7R III is something to behold. The A7R III offers 4K resolution, 5-axis stabilization (reducing wobbles in hand-held videography), 120 fps @ 1080p, hybrid log gamma compatibility, a Super 35 mode, among other upgrades. Combined with increased battery life, the Sony A7R III is a formidable tool for underwater videographers. Check out our underwater video test where we were particularly impressed by the A7R III’s capability. 

 

The Nikon D850 should be commended for its 4K video with improved underwater white balance. However, Nikon has never had quite the reputation for video as compared with Sony. And Sony went all out for the A7R III.

Ergonomics and Handling 

Winner: Tie

When it comes to ergonomics and handling, both cameras have their pros and cons. One of the most obvious benefits of mirrorless cameras over DSLRs is their size. The Sony A7R III is 5.0 x 3.8 x 2.9 in. (127 x 96 x 73.7 mm) and 1.45 lb (657 g) vs the Nikon D850 clocking in at 5.75 x 4.88 x 3.11 in. (146 x 124 x 79 mm) and 2.22 lb (1005 g). Although weight varies based on lenses, housings, ports, and accessories; generally, I found the Nikon D850 to be heavier both above and underwater. While I did not use float arms when testing the cameras, I think it’s possible to use the Sony A7R III without floats. On the other hand, using the Nikon D850 without floats was fatiguing to the point where it affected my shooting ability. The underwater drag of the of the Nikon D850 is also slightly more than the Sony A7R III. This makes it easier to dive off the shore, in current, and in surge with the A7R III. However, the A7R III is still a large camera for a mirrorless camera. If size is a real factor in your camera decisions, I would consider the Olympus OM-D EM-1 MK II for a smaller but high-quality mirrorless camera. 

Navigability, on the other hand, is superior in the Nikon D850 over the Sony A7R III. The A7R III’s menu system remains confusing when compared to the D850’s, making it more difficult to change settings on the A7R III. It is also necessary to make a few essential, but difficult to find setting changes before taking the A7R III underwater (e.g., automatic photo replay after capturing and image). 

It is important to note that the view finder on the D850 functions much better than shooting in live view, whereas live view is best on the A7R III. One camera is not better than the other – it is a merely a matter of preference.

Lens Availability

Winner: Nikon D850

Nikon has a strong legacy of excellent quality and availability of full frame lenses. This is particularly notable in the wide-angle category when compared to the options for the A7R III. Wide angle photographers should know that there is no dedicated fisheye for the A7R III. However, the 28mm prime lens can be coupled with the fisheye conversion lens to give the widest possible angle of view. 

Check out our full reviews of the Nikon D850 and Sony A7R III for a full list of lens recommendations. 

Housing Availability 

Winner: Tie


There is no lack of high quality, functional, underwater housing for both cameras! Housings are available by leading brands such as Nauticam, Ikelite, Acquapazza, Aquatica, and Sea & Sea. 

Check out our full reviews of the Nikon D850 and Sony A7R III for a full list of housing recommendations.

Final Verdict? It Depends on You

When comparing cameras, there can never be a winner or loser. Cameras are tools. Different tools are made for different tasks. So the best question to ask is not what camera is better, but instead, what type of underwater photographer are you? If you can answer that question then you can better understand what camera would be suited for your needs as a photographer. 

For the Wide-Angle Photographer: Nikon D850 or Sony A7R III with a Metabones adapter 

Because image quality and autofocus in wide angle are so similar with both cameras, the Nikon D850 is the choice camera for wide-angle photographers due to lens availability. The Nikon 8-15mm, Tokina 10-17mm, Nikon 16mm 2.8 fisheye, Nikon 16-35mm 4.0, Nikon 20mm 1.8G and Sigma 15mm 2.8 fisheye lenses are all excellent wide-angle choices for the D850. Nikon’s low light focus performance is also better which can benefit in limited-visibility wide-angle photography. 

The A7R III is limited to a fisheye conversion lens with the Sony 28mm prime lens, the Sony 16-35 mm f4, and wide angle wet lenses. However, when using the Metabones adapter with Canon lenses, more high-quality lens options open-up. This can make the A7R III rival the D850. 

For the Macro Photographer: Nikon D850

Photographers looking to take split second macro photos with difficult lighting situations and tough subjects will want to consider the Nikon D850. As it can be difficult to take macro photos with full-frame cameras, I was surprised with how exceptional and effective the D850 was. The focus is the quickest and most effective we have seen for a macro set up! Combined with 3D-AF tracking, this camera will do all the worrying about focus for you. All you need to do is compose your image. The D850’s effective low-light sensitivity means quick focus without a focus light if you’re shooting sensitive macro subjects. 

But what was most apparent was that the Sony A7R III has not yet broken some of the last remain shackles of mirrorless cameras. The Sony 90 mm macro lens is a great lens, but the camera will hunt for focus. It is noticeably slower than the D850. 

Regardless, what is most noticeable about these two cameras when shooting macro is the resolution. One could argue that the resolution itself adds 100 mm of focal length to any lens you shoot with as you can still pull high quality images from extreme crops. The details captured by these cameras will astound you.

For the Pelagic/Action Photographer: Sony A7R III/Sony A9

When a speedy tuna or shark makes a quick pass at your camera, the one thing that can make or break your encounter is the frame rate in burst mode on your camera. Although the A7R III shoots 2 fps higher than the Nikon D850, the Sony A9 is the real winner here. 20 fps is just astounding. The A9 was developed specifically for this purpose. It’s amazing processing power enables you to take hundreds of shots before the camera needs to stop to load files. 

For those worried about the A7R III’s autofocus – the autofocus is much more effective shooting wide than macro. In most pelagic situation there is a good amount of light so the AF will function like the D850.

For the Underwater Videographer: Sony A7R III

As mentioned before, the A7R III’s video capability is exceptional. Underwater videographers will want to consider this camera if they are looking for something with great 4K capability, but would also like the ability to shoot excellent, top of the line images. 

For the Casual Photographer: Sony A7R III

Both cameras require completely different diving styles entirely. The A7R III is the least intensive of the two cameras to shoot. Because everything is composed using the LCD screen, I found that I had ample opportunity to watch my subjects without needing to spend all my time looking through a viewfinder. In fact, when compared to shooting with the Nikon D850, I felt like I could actually experience the dive and take photos at the same time. The D850 requires a lot of concentration on looking through the view finder and eats up your ability to just enjoy the dive. The A7R III is lighter and slightly more streamlined which makes for a better swimming experience. 

For the Beach Diver: Sony A7R III

Aforementioned, the Sony A7R III is lighter and slightly more streamlined than the Nikon D850. I found it easier to beach dive with and get through surf.  

For the Fashion Photographer: Nikon D850

Fashion photographers often can manipulate conditions to their desire and need the crème de la crème of tools to worth with. The Nikon D850 is going to be the camera of choice due to low light performance, lens availability, and image quality. Areas where the A7R III excels, such as burst shooting, video, and physical size, are not as much of a priority in a studio. 

The Nikon D850 and Sony A7R III is available now at Bluewater Photo!

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Nirupam Nigam is a dedicated underwater photographer and fisheries scientist. While growing up in Los Angeles he fell in love with the ocean and pursued underwater photography in the local Channel Islands. He received degrees in Aquatic and Fisheries Science and General Biology, as well as a minor in Arctic Studies, at the University of Washington. Now he works as a fisheries observer on boats in the Bering Sea and North Pacific. When he is not at sea, he is traveling with his fiancee and taking photos. Check out more of his photography at www.photosfromthesea.com!

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