Camera Reviews

Detailed camera reviews for underwater photo and video, including specs, key features for u/w photography and camera comparisons.
Sony introduces the newest member of their highly acclaimed RX100 lineup - the Sony RX100 VI
By Bryan Chu

Sony RX100 VI Announced

Bryan Chu
Sony introduces the newest member of their highly acclaimed RX100 lineup - the Sony RX100 VI

Sony has just announced the new 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.

The US retail price of the RX100 VI is $1200, and it is available now for pre-order at BlueWater Photo

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

Implications for Underwater Photography

Drawbacks of Increased Zoom

Although increasing the lens zoom range to 200mm could in theory provide significant improvements for macro photography, the larger physical size of the lens when fully zoomed in creates challenges with underwater housing dimensions. This could nullify any potential gains. 

When zoomed out, the RX100 VI body has the same width and height as the RX100 V, but has 1.8 mm more depth; hopefully, this will be a small enough difference that RX100 IV/V housings can be used with this camera. But the real issue occurs when the new lens is fully zoomed in, because at this point it extends out farther than the lenses of previous RX100 models. So, to allow the RX100 VI zoom to fully extend, a new housing/port design which provides this extra space for the lens would be required. However, a change like that would reduce the ability of the camera to take wide angle photos. This is because the extra housing/port length would extend significantly beyond the end of the lens when zoomed-out for shooting wide angle. A longer port could get in the way of wide angle photography with the native lens, as well as prevent the use of a wet wide angle lens due to optics issues.

Potential Fixes

There are a couple of options to deal with this. The first is to have two separate ports for the RX100 VI housing; one very similar to the RX100 V housing dimensions for wide angle shooting (and macro shooting with wet diopters), and one that accommodates the fully zoomed-in lens for macro shooting only, while precluding wide angle use. The second option is to keep the housing dimensions the same or very similar to the current RX100 V housings. The first option seems like it may be more hassle than it is worth, while the second option would mean that the RX100 VI will perform almost the same underwater as the RX100 V. This means that, although the telephoto lens is exciting for topside use, the improved autofocus is likely the best and only significant improvement for underwater photography.

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. 

Who Should Consider Purchasing this Camera?

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 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!

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Bryan is an assistant 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 and the Galapagos. 

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 will start their journey mid-2018 and 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?

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Specs, features, thoughts from the UWPG community, sample underwater photos, and comparisons to the competition for the Olympus TG-5 compact camera
By Bryan Chu and Contributors

Olympus Tough TG-5 Camera Review

Bryan Chu and Contributors
Specs, features, thoughts from the UWPG community, sample underwater photos, and comparisons to the competition for the Olympus TG-5 compact camera

The Olympus Tough TG-5 is an award-winning camera known for its versatility, ruggedness, fantastic macro capabilities and high performance-to-cost ratio. Beginners will love the combination of simplicity, functionality and image quality this camera provides. Intermediate users will love the semi-manual aperture priority shooting mode, being able to add on a wet wide angle lens for excellent wide angle shooting, and taking amazing close-up shots of tiny subjects using the camera's native microscope mode. Advanced users with large and expensive underwater rigs may find this camera is the perfect companion to complement their large and bulky setup, both underwater and topside, or may find that some dives they just want a small and simple rig which can switch from ultra wide angle to macro in about 10 seconds.

As the latest camera from a brand that actively considers underwater shooters when designing its products, this camera is packed full of features useful to underwater photo and video shooters. Not only is the camera waterproof down to 50ft (15m), but it is designed with the Olympus PT-058 UW housing rated to 147ft (45m). This housing is the most affordable TG-5 housing on the market and accepts most popular underwater photo accessories.

The Olympus TG-5 also packs RAW photo recording for wide latitude when editing (including white balance), 4K video recording, 1080p video recording at 120fps (4x slow motion!), a super macro mode with minimum focus distance of 1cm, and automatic TTL flash control with Olympus and/or 3rd party underwater strobes.

For this review, we engaged a number of members from the Underwater Photography Guide community, both for their great photos and their advice about the camera. Along with contributing to this article, we have a number of feature articles written by TG-5 users that provide lots of great additional information. They are listed in the TG-5 User Feature Articles section at the bottom of this review.

U.S.A Retail Price TG-5:  $449.99

U.S.A. Retail Price Olympus TG-5 Housing:  $299.99


Bluewater Photo TG-5 Packages:

Olympus TG-5 Camera

Olympus TG-5 Underwater Housing PT-058

Olympus TG-5 and Housing Bundle

Olympus TG-5 Camera, Housing, and YS-03 Strobe Package

Olympus TG-5 Camera, Housing, and Kraken Ring Light Package

Olympus TG-5 Camera, Housing, and Kraken 3500 Video Light Package


 

Jump to a Section

TG-5 Specs   |   Body & Build, Controls, WiFi   |   Underwater Photography Features

Shooting Modes   |   Sensor & Image Quality   |   Sequential Shooting & Pro Capture

Shooting RAW   |   Microscope Mode   |   Lighting   |   Macro Shooting

Wide Angle Shooting   |  Videography   |   Compared with Other Cameras

Underwater Housing Options  |   Conclusion   |   TG-5 User Feature Articles

Olympus TG-5 Camera Specifications

Key Upgrades from TG-4

  • 12MP 1/2.3" BSI CMOS sensor optimized for low light (4000x3000 image resolution) **see sensor section below for further information**
  • Olympus TruePic VIII image processor 
  • Control dial added to top of camera
  • 4K @30p video recording (approx. 102 Mbps bit rate)
  • High Speed Movie mode with 1920x1080@120fps / 1280x720@240 fps / 640x360@480fps 
  • Pro Capture mode for 20fps image capture

TG-5 Complete Specs

  • 12MP 1/2.3" BSI CMOS sensor optimized for low light (4000x3000 image resolution)
  • Olympus TruePic VIII image processor
  • Waterproof (50ft without housing), shockproof, crushproof, freezeproof
  • Fast f/2.0-4.9 lens with 4.5mm - 18mm focal length (equivalent to 25mm - 100mm)
  • Sensor-shift image stabilization (up to 2.5 stops)
  • Minimum working distance 1cm (in super macro mode)
  • ISO range 100 - 12,800
  • 25 autofocus points with Single AF and Tracking
  • 4K@30p video recording (approx. 102 Mbps bit rate)
  • High Speed Movie mode with 1920x1080@120fps / 1280x720@240 fps / 640x360@480fps 
  • 4K timelapse video
  • Pro Capture mode for 20fps image capture
  • Shutter speed 4 sec to 1/2000 sec
  • Custom white balance (4 slots)
  • Built-in flash
  • SD storage (SD, SDHC, SDXC)
  • RAW and jpeg shooting
  • WiFi capabilities, including camera control via smartphone
  • Action track sensors record location, temperature, direction and altitude data 
  • Weight (approx): 250g / 8.72oz with battery & memory card 
  • Dimensions: 113mm x 66mm x 31.9mm (4.43in x 2.6in x 1.23in)
  • Battery life (CIPA): 340

Significant improvements have been made with image quality, video quality, burst shooting, and controllability, making the TG-5 a noticeable step-up from the TG-4.

 

Body & Build

The Olympus TG-5 body is very similar to that of the TG-4, with basically identical weight and dimensions (it weighs 3 grams more, and has 1 extra mm for length and width). At a weight of just over half a pound, and width of only 1.23 inches, this compact body fits comfortably in the “pocketable” category. 

The camera retains the ruggedness of its predecessor; it is waterproof to 50 ft, freezeproof to 14°F / -10°C, crushproof to 220 lbf / 100 kgf, and shockproof from 7 ft / 2.1 m.

It does have one important upgrade, which is that the lens cover glass is now anti-fog dual pane, which is designed to prevent lens fogging when the camera is put through significant temperature changes (as can happen when taking it underwater).

Controls

Most of the controls are the same as on the TG-4, but there is one major upgrade. A control dial has been added to the top of the TG-5! This makes it much easier to make important adjustments on the fly, for example changing aperture or exposure compensation. This is an important upgrade for TG-5 functionality. However, with different control configurations the TG-5 does not fit into TG-4 housings.

 

WiFi and Tracking

The TG-5's WiFi ability makes it easy to send your images to a tablet or mobile phone (via the Olympus Share app) for editing and posting to your social networks - no need to lug a heavy computer around with you. There is also built-in GPS, compass, temperature sensor and manometer (for altitude and depth) to allow the camera to automatically keep track of your adventure. Use the free Olympus Image Track app on a smart device to view and store your tracking data, synced with your photos. Easily export stills and videos with the extra data to relive and share your adventures. 

Underwater Photography Features

Shooting Modes

The TG-5 offers plenty of automatic modes, including P (which is full auto). Users wanting some manual control can shoot in aperture priority mode (A), which allows you to adjust the aperture setting you want, with the camera providing the corresponding shutter speed to get the right exposure. In both of these modes, as well as others, you can adjust exposure compensation, to give a level of artistic control over how your shots are exposed. 

The TG-5 does not have full manual mode. For users who don't use strobes, this will not be a problem or limitation in most situations. However, it may limit the ability to take particularly creative shots underwater. For users shooting with strobes, the lack of full manual mode will make it much harder to dial in their settings for more dramatic shots, like wide angle or macro photos where the subject is fully lit up but the background is black. 

Sensor and Image Quality

The Olympus TG-5 uses the same size 1/2.3" BSI CMOS sensor as the TG-4, although the TG-5 pixel count was reduced down to 12MP, from the TG-4’s pixel count of 16MP. Smaller pixels allow a sensor to capture more detail in a photo, which is why a higher megapixel count is often thought to correlate with higher image quality. So why did Olympus reduce the megapixels? This is for two main reasons. 

Firstly, less megapixels in the same sized sensor means each individual pixel is larger. Larger pixels create less signal noise than smaller pixels. This means that the larger pixels of the TG-5 result in better low light sensitivity; TG-5 images have less noise in the dark areas and shadows than TG-4 images. This improvement is amplified by the upgraded TruePic VIII image processor (the same as in the OM-D E-M1 Mark II, though without the E-M1 Mark II's dual quad core), which also does a better job at reducing noise than its predecessor. This effect is most noticeable when shooting at ISO levels above base ISO, which is especially relevant for shooting ambient light wide angle photography, and underwater video.

Secondly, less megapixels means less data, which leads to faster image processing - essential when recording 4K video and high-fps bursts. The TG-5 does have an upgraded image processor, but the lower megapixel count probably makes a bigger difference in processing speeds.

Larger pixels can also have higher dynamic range than smaller pixels. Higher dynamic range allows for better capture of high-contrast scenes (think: underwater reef scene with a sunball).

Also keep in mind that Olympus has a wide-range of nice OM-D mirrorless cameras. Shooters who are looking strictly for megapixel count will likely shop the mirrorless options, since they are more advanced cameras with better image quality. Check out our detailed reviews of the OM-D E-M1 Mark II and OM-D E-M5 Mark II for more information.

Lens

The lens has a great focal length range of 4.5mm - 18mm (equivalent to 25mm - 100mm on a full-frame camera). This is better than the Sony RX-100V (24mm - 70mm equivalent), and about the same as that of the Canon G7X Mark II (24mm - 100mm equivalent). The aperture is relatively fast, with an aperture of f/2.0-4.9. This is a bit slower than the RX100V and G7X Mark II, both of which have apertures of f/1.8-2.8, but is still pretty decent.

Compared to the SeaLife DC2000, which has an 11.6mm fixed focal length lens (31 mm full frame equivalent) the TG-5 lens provides a lot more flexibility. It is wider angle when shooting wide angle, and the added zoom allows it to work better with diopters for macro shooting. However, the TG-5 has an even bigger advantage for macro shooting, and that is with its microscope mode (see below). Also note the TG-5's versatile zoom range makes it a much more functional camera for topside use.

Sequential Shooting and Pro Capture Mode

The sequential shooting speed for the TG-5 is an impressive 20 fps, up significantly from the TG-4's top speed of 5 fps. This allows for much better capturing of that precise action moment. Aiding in capturing precise actions moments is Pro Capture Mode. The way Pro Capture Mode works is that, once the mode is selected, the camera will start recording images into the buffer as soon as you depress the shutter button halfway. Then, once you press the shutter button down all the way, it will record the 4 most recent images from the buffer, and then record images going forward from that point, all at the speedy frame rate of 10 fps. This means that even if you are a bit late hitting the shutter button when trying to get that precise action moment you want, you can still capture it using Pro Capture Mode.

 

Shooting RAW and Effects on Sequential Shooting

As with the TG-4, the TG-5 can shoot in RAW format as well as in jpeg. The standard image format used in compact cameras is jpeg, which is a compressed image file. When you take a jpeg photo, the camera takes in all of the raw data from the sensor, processes it by applying some standard adjustments, and then outputs a compressed image. During the compression process, some of the raw information from the image is lost, and cannot be retrieved. A RAW file, on the other hand, is an uncompressed file in which all of the raw data from the sensor is kept. This gives you a much better ability to make post-processing adjustments after taking your photos (for example with Adobe Lightroom or Photoshop, or even with the free Olympus app). 

So, why not just shoot RAW all the time? RAW files are significantly larger than jpegs, which means that when shooting at high sequential shooting rates, RAW capture can limit the speed and overall amount of photos captured. RAW files also take up more space on your memory card, and on your computer. Additionally, RAW images without any post-processing tend to look flat, so shooting in RAW requires some level of commitment to post-processing.

Note that with the TG-5, RAW capture does limit the overall amount of photos that can be captured in one burst of high sequential shooting.

  • When shooting RAW at 20 fps, the camera can capture about 20 shots at 20 fps, but then slows down to a rate of a few fps.
  • When shooting in jpeg mode, the TG-5 can continue to shoot at 20 fps until the SD card runs out of space.
  • When shooting RAW at 5 fps, the TG-5 can shoot 40 images before filling the buffer and slowing down, which should be more than enough to capture an action sequence. 

However, in some cameras, shooting in RAW can slow the camera down much more significantly. In the case of the SeaLife DC2000, shooting in RAW has been reported to slow sequential shooting down to one shot every few seconds.

Microscope Mode

Microscope Mode is a camera setting which allows you to get really close to very small subjects. In normal shooting mode, you cannot focus on a subject that is closer than 10 cm from the camera. However, in Microscope Mode, you can focus on a subject as close as 1 cm!

Using the camera's optical zoom in Microscope Mode allows you to take a photo with up to 7x magnification (35 mm equivalent), which really enables some amazing macro shooting of very small subjects. For comparison, the standard for micro-four-thirds macro shooting, the Olympus 60mm f/2.8 macro lens (used with a mirrorless camera like the OM-D E-M1 or E-M5), has a maximum 2.0x magnification (35 mm equivalent). So the 7x magnification of the TG-5 is absolutely phenomenal. Additional use of the digital zoom allows overall magnification of up to 28x, although at a significant cost to image quality.

With the Focus Stacking function, available in microscope mode, the camera shoots a number of images, automatically shifting the focus in each image. It then combines these photos into a composite image with a large depth of field, so that the image is in focus all the way through. 

Focus stacking is a nice function for using on land, when you can keep your camera and subject totally still. Underwater, there are likely very few situations where it would be particularly usable, if at all. None of the great macro photos shared in this review by UWPG members were taken using focus stacking.

With Focus Bracketing, the camera will automatically shoot a series of images, with each image having a shifted focus point. You can set up to 30 shots for bracketing use. This function could be more applicable underwater, especially for photographers using video lights for their lighting, rather than strobes.

To learn more about macro shooting with the TG-5 underwater, see the macro section below.

Lighting

Strobes, Flashes 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 (also see TG-5 package with 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 and auto modes.

One notable downside of the TG-5 when using with strobes, is that on max power the internal flash recycle time is about 4 seconds (meaning you will have to wait that long in between taking photos with the strobe). Often the flash should not be firing at max power though, meaning typically less time between shots. There is also an option to turn down the power of the internal flash using the flash compensation function, which will reduce the flash recycle time further, meaning even less down-time between shots. UWPG community member Travis McElveen was able to reduce the recycle time down to about 2-3 seconds between shots when reducing the flash power to 1/1.3 and 1/1.6 flash compensation. So, compensation makes it significantly better, but it may still limit you in situations where you want to take multiple exposures quickly. 

UWPG community member Travis McElveen also shared his experience using two Sea & Sea YS-03 strobes in concert with a wet wide angle lens. He found the YS-03 strobes to be nice starter strobes for using TTL and shooting the camera in auto. However, as he started using a wet wide angle lens, learned more about strobe positioning, and needed more light, he decided that he needed more powerful strobes, and also ones with manual control options. He is now considering a set of Inon Z-240s or Inon Z-330s, to get more power and more manual control.

To learn more about strobe options, check out some recent strobe reviews on UWPG:

Focus and Video Lights

Many UWPG community members opted for the simpler (and often cheaper) setup of using constant lighting from a focus or video light. 

From Bruce Scarbrough: The video light I used was the Sola 3000, which I purchased from BlueWater Photo as part of a package deal. I found the light to work quite well when shooting within a reasonably close distance (e.g, 5 feet or less) from the subject. I did not use a wet lens or other camera accessories (e.g., filters, etc).  All pictures and video were shot with TG-5 camera/housing/light package assembled straight out of the box. I would like to eventually purchase a wide angle wet lens for the camera.


From Charles Rawlings: I typically use a housed Nikon but have found that the Olympus TG-5 compliments my art when used in Microscope mode. For lighting I use a video light – the Light and Motion SOLA 1200 – easier to aim for these close up small subjects. I use the housing for the TG 5 plus base and one strobe arm for the video light.

I love my housed Nikon with dual strobes but many of these shells are the size of a pea or smaller and live in delicate soft corals and gorgonians. My housed rig would be exceedingly difficult to maneuver into place without disturbing the coral animals – in other words they would retract. The Olympus is much more maneuverable and causes much less of a disturbance plus allowing close-ups comparable to housing rigs with diopters.

What I do when shooting is get close and hold very steady to allow the auto focus to work. I typically shoot vertical with the light tucked into the camera just over the lens so as to fully light the subject and not so much the background. The one big drawback for me in using the light is the difficulty if not impossibility of achieving a black background like you can with strobes.

 

Check out our focus and video light article for more info about the many options out there.

Macro Shooting

With other compact cameras, the only real way to take great macro photos of small subjects is to use a wet macro lens (also known as a wet diopter). However, with the TG-5's amazing Microscope Mode, macro shooting can be done without using any wet wide angle lens. As mentioned in the above section on Microscope Mode, the TG-5 can focus on a subject only 1 cm away, and by using the optical zoom can get a magnification of 7x without using the added digital zoom capabilities. 

If you want to get even more macro functionality, to shoot super-macro, the Bluewater +7 macro lens gives very good results. We recommend stacking 2 of these lenses for supermacro.

As mentioned by UWPG community user Charles Rawlings, who does a lot of macro shooting with a housed Nikon rig with two strobes (you can see his work here: www.livingmollusks.com and www.livingshells.com), he uses the TG-5 to complement his much more expensive Nikon rig when shooting pea-sized subjects because "the Olympus is much more maneuverable and causes much less of a disturbance, plus it allows close-ups comparable to housing rigs with diopters."

 

Wide Angle Shooting

As with all compact cameras, the TG-5'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 (or, for some options, to the camera body itself if not using a housing) and increase the angle of view. However, that's not to say that this camera cannot take nice wide angle photos without a wet wide angle lens. Here's another nice example from UWPG community member Bruce Scarbrough, taken without a wet wide angle lens.

TG-5 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, large animals, reefscapes and wrecks.

We recommend using the UWL-04 fisheye lens, which with its 165 degree wide angle of view will allow you to create stunning wide-angle shots. Other great options to consider are the Kraken KRL-01 and KRL-02 wet wide angle lenses, which provide 145 and 150 degree angles of view, respectively. Olympus also offers a wet wide angle lens, the PTWC-01, which provides a 100 degree angle of view. Note that a step-up ring (52mm > 67mm) is necessary to be able to use the Olympus and Kraken KRL-01 wet lenses with the Olympus TG-5 housing.

UWPG community member Tom Caruso shared his in-depth experience using the UWL-04 fisheye lens. 

My new favorite piece of equipment is hands down the UWL-04 wet-lens dome port.  As a photographer I use following mantra: Expose the unseen. Now that everyone seems to have an underwater camera these days, I try to focus on the shot that others aren’t. I actually enjoy the complexity of trying to get a good over-under shot. The lighting has to be just right, you need a subject out of the water AND you need a subject under the water (although it should be very near the surface).  The flexibility to go from super wide to super macro in 10 seconds is the greatest reason in the world to use this lens. 

UWPG community member Travis McElveen shared his extensive experience using a Kraken KRL-02 wet wide angle lens with his TG-5 rig.

The most noticeable benefit I've noticed from the Kraken is that I'm much more able to capture the scope of wide angle scenes underwater. Whether it's fissure cracks or rolling "hills" of coralheads or vertical walls, the wide angle lens really allows you to step back, so to speak, and take in more of an underwater landscape. Another much appreciated benefit, is the ease with which it makes composing wide angle shots. Without the wide angle lens, you really have to work at getting multiple subjects in one shot: a sunball, diver, interesting coralhead, fish, etc. The wet wide angle lens allows more flexibility in positioning those subjects and opens up the possibilities since you don't have to have your subjects so tightly grouped or inline. 

Wide Angle Shooting while Freediving

UWPG community member Pavol Ivanov is a freediving instructor who is getting a lot of use out of his TG-5! Here is what he has to say.

In freediving use, we mostly use the wide angle option to really capture the perspective of space and movement underwater. Based on a recommendation from Bluewater Photo, I use the UWL-04 wet wide angle lens, which offers a very wide fish angle view of up to 165 degrees. Although I found some blurry edges in some occasions, in general it works quite well. The UWL-04 offers super wide angle and lets you come really close to the subject, offering great photo quality, and the lens in manufactured to perfection.

The Olympus housing PT-058 works really well, it is not heavy, but yet feels sturdy and well made, and it allows access to all functions of the camera very easily, even the GPS logging function. The UWL-04 lens can be screwed on directly on the housing without any extra ring.

Videography

The video options of the TG-5 got a serious upgrade from the TG-4. For top quality video, the TG-5 offers ultra HD 4K video (3840x2160) recording at 30 fps (approx. 102 Mbps bit rate) or 25 fps. Note that when shooting in Microscope Mode, resolution is limited to 1080p at 60fps. For making neat timelapse videos, the quality options are 4K 3840x2160 or 1280x720. 

UWPG community member and photography instructor Tom Caruso took a neat video of a sea turtle when snorkeling in Hawaii. He left his TG-5 on the bottom by a sea turtle, which got interested in its own reflection in the UWL-04 wet wide angle lens dome.

Video of sea turtle checking out UWL-04 wet wide angle dome. Olympus TG-5 with UWL-04 wet wide angle lens, in high speed movie mode, shot at 720p. 

The TG-5 also offers high speed movie mode, allowing you to shoot 1920x1080@120fps (equivalent to 4x slow motion). At lower resolutions you can shoot higher fps rates: 1280x720@240 fps, and 640x360@480fps.

UWPG community member and free-diving expert Pavol Ivanov took a very cool slow motion video of a bubble ring rising through the water column. 

Slow motion video of bubble ring rising through the water column. Olympus TG-5 with UWL-04 wet wide angle lens, in high speed movie mode, shot at 1280x720@240 fps. 

Tom Caruso also took a nice slow motion video of an eagle grabbing a fish out of the water. This is a good example of using high speed mode to capture wildlife behavior. Here is what he shared.

While in Alaska I was able to capture super slow motion video of a bald eagle pulling a fish out of the water at 480 frames per second. It turned a 3 second event into a 38 second video. The 4K video is equally impressive, but takes up lots of memory so I travel with 2 extra chips and a 2 TB hard drive.

Slow motion video of eagle grabbing fish. Olympus TG-5 in high speed movie mode, shot at 640x360@480 fps. 


Camera Comparison

Should you Upgrade from the TG-4?

The TG-4 became extremely popular with its semi-manual shooting modes, RAW image capture, image stabilization and (especially important for underwater photo/video shooters) microscope mode for super macro. The camera can shoot a crisp image of the back of the lens cap! The Tough TG-5 builds on this strong foundation with upgrades that follow the trends of high-ISO shooting performance, low light performance, 4K video recording and burst recording. So if you have a TG-4 and those are important functions to you, especially for video, then it's certainly worth considering upgrading to the TG-5. However, if you are quite happy with the performance of your TG-4, then it may not be worth the expense of getting a new camera and housing.

Compared to Sony RX100V and Canon G7X Mark II

When compared to other popular compact rigs like the Canon G7X Mark II or Sony RX100V, the TG-5 falls short on many of the specs, including sensor size and image quality. However, it has clear advantages in cost, as the TG-5 camera/housing bundle it is significantly cheaper than G7X Mark II bundles and less than half the cost of RX100V bundles. It also stands out for its simplicity and macro shooting, with the outstanding microscope mode allowing great macro shooting without wet macro lenses. This further helps to keep things simple and low cost.

The TG-5 also has the huge advantage of the camera itself being waterproof, freezeproof, dustproof, and splashproof, allowing it to be used in any environment without a housing (as long as you don't take it too deep underwater). Finally, don't forget the options to attach Olympus' add-on fisheye and telephoto lenses directly to the camera body. 

Compared to SeaLife DC2000

On price point and functionality, the TG-5 competes most directly with the SeaLife DC2000, which features a larger 1" sensor and simple piano key control, at the same price point (camera + housing). However, the DC2000 also has a set focal length of 11.6 mm (31 mm full frame equivalent), with no zoom capabilities. This does not limit it too much underwater, as wet lenses can be used to provide macro and wide angle functionality, though that does add to the cost and complexity. Topside, it is a significant limitation when compared to the 25-100mm full frame equivalent zoom range of the TG-5 (not to mention the TG-5's availability of add-on telephoto lenses). So if you are wanting the cheapest available option to take great macro and decent wide angle photos underwater, without adding wet lenses, the TG-5 has the upper hand. Same goes for having the camera for topside use. 

UWPG community member Katy Kulakowski did a lot of research before choosing to purchase a TG-5 instead of the SeaLife DC2000. Here is her thought process:

With a lot of research, both cameras seem great and it was a very difficult call, especially since I was also looking at higher end cameras. As a brand new photographer (coming from camera phone and go pro), I wanted a camera that would give me the most options for my life. It needed to work well below freezing, and stand up to the heat of wherever I choose to travel. 

Olympus, as a company, has a good reputation in the business rather than only going after a niche market. Overall image quality on dry land and u/w was said to be great and many people would beam about the TG-5's macro capabilities without using a macro lens. Above land, the TG-5 offers not only zoom functioning, but also the availability of an add-on telephoto lens. I really liked how versatile this camera was and that it didn't come with the feeling of buying into a brand; maybe the telephoto lenses will be Olympus specific but I can choose any accessories I want for my dive housing. The camera itself gives the user enough options to take the first steps into controlling their camera, but without task-loading the user too much. Manual mode would have been great but, for all I have going on, it would have been more frustrating since I just don't have time to really learn how to use that feature.

This camera does not disappoint! I took photos of elephants and landscapes, then stuck it in a river to snap a picture of fish before quickly going back to landscapes. Two days later, it was used for dives and sunsets, and the colors before using any editing software were incredible. 

Compared to Mirrorless Options

If you are thinking about mirrorless options, be prepared for a significantly higher price tag. That will get you improvements in many areas, including sensor size, image quality, low light performance, improved autofocus, and getting to use dedicated fisheye and macro lenses, to name a few. However, it also comes with a number of drawbacks other than cost: size, weight, and a loss of the ability to switch between wide angle and macro shooting in a matter of 10 seconds or less while underwater. Check out our reviews of the OM-D E-M5 Mark II and the OM-D E-M1 Mark II for a couple of the more popular options out there.

Tom Caruso shared his thoughts on why he switched from a large underwater rig to a TG-1, and has stuck with the TG cameras all the way through to the TG-5. 

I must confess that I no longer have a desire to travel with a large DSLR/mirrorless camera in a housing. As with any camera, the price you pay is not always commensurate with the quality of photos you get.  Only when a photographer knows how to get the most out of their rig will they consistently take good photographs.

Olympus TG-5 Underwater Housings

Unfortunately, the Olympus TG-5 does not fit in the older TG-3 and TG-4 underwater housings. The camera body sizes are very similar, but the TG-5 has a larger finger grip and the new control dial on top.

Below are some great housing choices from our sister company, Bluewater Photo. Check out the housings and be sure to reach out for the best recommendations on accessories like macro and wide-angle lenses, lights and strobes.

Olympus PT-058 TG-5 Housing 

The Olympus underwater housing is compact and lightweight, with great ergonomics. It is rated to a depth of 45m (147 ft), and all camera controls can be accessed from the housing with ease. It can accept a variety of wet lenses for both wide angle and macro shooting, and most importantly, it is very affordable!

UWPG community member and TG camera expert Tom Caruso shared his thoughts on the housing: 

The PT-058 housing is a superior design over the flawed PT-056 model. Specifically, the zoom control on the housing worked in reverse of the camera zoom control lever.  This was very frustrating, so I’m glad to see that fixed. Since I shoot in Aperture Priority mode it is nice to have a distinct knob on the housing for this feature. The optical cable adapter now allows for two cables to be attached. Previous models required a splitter if you were using dual strobes.

Purchase the Olympus TG-5 housing

 

Ikelite HousingIkelite TG-5 Housing

Ikelite housings are made from an ABS polycarbonate blend, making it both lightweight and strong. This durable housing is rates for depths of 60m (200 ft). It features a side-mounted shutter release and a new zoom control, for easy operation. The housing port has a 67mm thread, making it compatible with multiple wet lens options, both wide angle and macro. Along with the Olympus housing, this is the most affordable TG-5 housing available.

Purchase the Ikelite TG-5 housing

 

RecSea Aluminum Housing

Recsea TG-5 Aluminum Housing

The RecSea aluminum TG5 housing is a high-quality housing. The aluminum construction provides additional strength and durability, increasing the depth rating to 100m (330 ft). However, this added strength comes at a cost; this housing is significantly heavier and more expensive than the previous composite material options. Dimension-wise, it is compact, with great ergonomics; all camera controls are easily accessible from the housing. Additionally, it has a 67mm port thread to accept a variety of wet lens options (wide angle or macro).

Purchase the RecSea TG-5 Aluminum housing

 

Nauticam housing

Nauticam TG-5 Housing

The Nauticam TG-5 housing, constructed from milled aluminum, was designed with a focus on ergonomics. It offers features found in their high end DSLR housings. 

  • All controls are clearly labeled, with an easy-to-identify bright red video recording button.
  • The patented rotary lock system is used, facilitating easy opening and closing, while still providing a secure latch system that will not accidentally be disengaged
  • Sculpted thumb grip and shutter lever make it comfortable to hold and use underwater
  • Depth rating of 100m (330 ft)

The housing includes a 52mm threaded port, allowing addition of different wet lenses (macro and wide angle) to expand your underwater shooting ability. In addition both a cold shoe and M10 mount offer multiple mounting points for additional accessories. Dual Fiber Optic Connections are included, with holes that fit the standard Sea & Sea style plug or bare ended fiber optic cables.

Purchase the Nauticam TG-5 housing

Conclusion

The Olympus TG-5 is a great compact camera for underwater shooters who want a simple system on a budget. The camera is the perfect topside adventure companion, making it a smart purchase for the dive boat even if you already have a big camera system. It's even a nice companion to have underwater alongside your big camera rig, as you never know when you'll be shooting wide angle on your main rig and come across an awesome macro subject like a seahorse or nudibranch. The TG-5's upgrades in low light performance deliver better image quality, with less noise than the popular TG-4 when shooting underwater video and ambient light wide-angle, both of which often require shooting with ISOs above the base 100.

Microscope mode allows for fantastic up-close macro shots, without requiring the use of any wet lenses. Adding a wet wide angle lens to the equation allows for ultra-wide fisheye shots with excellent quality. RAW image capture is an essential feature for photographers who really want to edit their photos. Although the TG-5 does not have full manual mode, it does have aperture priority mode and exposure compensation, which still provide significant artistic freedom. As a bonus, the added control dial on top of the camera makes it that much easier to make quick adjustments to aperture and exposure compensation on the fly. 4K video (at 30fps) is available for those that really want the resolution, and 120fps (at 1920x1080) is available for those that are more interested in slow motion effects. 

This camera is the top choice for anyone looking to get into underwater photography and take some great photos, without spending a huge amount of money or having a large, complex rig to carry around. The combination of specs, features, add-on options and ruggedness, for the low price of camera and housing, make the TG-5 stand out from its competition.

TG-5 User Feature Articles

We have a number of feature articles written by contributors to this article which talk more about their specific experiences with the camera. There is lots of great additional info in each of them!


Bluewater Photo TG-5 Packages:

Olympus TG-5 Camera

Olympus TG-5 Underwater Housing PT-058

Olympus TG-5 and Housing Bundle

Olympus TG-5 Camera, Housing, and YS-03 Strobe Package

Olympus TG-5 Camera, Housing, and Kraken Ring Light Package

Olympus TG-5 Camera, Housing, and Kraken 3500 Video Light Package


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Bryan is an assistant 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 and the Galapagos. 

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 will start their journey mid-2018 and 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?

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Full, in-depth review of Nikon's full frame camera - the D850 - covering new features, video, and recommended lenses and housings
By Aaron Halstead

Nikon D850 Review

Aaron Halstead
Full, in-depth review of Nikon's full frame camera - the D850 - covering new features, video, and recommended lenses and housings

While working on this Nikon D850 review, I thought - what a fantastic time to be an underwater photographer. The days of having to sacrifice and compromise are nearing an end, and here to usher in this new era is the Nikon D850. Read on to learn more about what is arguably the best camera for underwater photography on the market.....

 

Jump to a Section

Key Features  |  Full Specs  |  Overview

Autofocus  |  Autofocus Modes  |  Video Features

Compared to D810  |  Pros and Cons  | Should I upgrade 

Recommended Lenses   |   Dome Port Optics   |   Recommended Housings

Conclusion   |  Additional Images 

Nikon D850 Key Features

  • High resolution
    • 45.7 megapixel full-frame BSI (back-side illuminated) sensor
  • Exceptional autofocus 
    • Shares the AF system as the Nikon D5
    • 153 AF points, 99 cross-type sensors and a dedicated AF processor that can focus down to -4 EV 
  • Speed
    • 7 fps shooting with a 51 shot buffer
  • Incredible image quality 
    • Great dynamic range and ISO Performance
  • Video
    • This camera easily boasts the best feature set of any Nikon DSLR camera. 
    • True full frame 4K 30fps video and 1080p 120fps slow-mo

NIkon D850 Full Specs

  • 45.7 megapixel, backside illuminated full-frame sensor  
  • 7 frames per second and a 51 shot buffer
  • ISO 64-25600 (expandable to 32-102,400)
  • 4K UHD video 3840 x 2160 at 30/25/24p
  • 1/8000 to 30 second shutter speeds
  • Flash sync speed of 1/250 
  • 4K and 8K timelapse 
  • 120 fps slow-motion 
  • Focus peaking
  • Zebra stripe highlight detection 
  • Focus stacking
  • Wireless connectivity 
  • Rugged body with weather and dust sealing 
  • TTL exposuring metering using RGB sensor with 180k pixels 
    • Matrix
    • Center-weighted
    • Spot
    • Highlight-weighted 
  • Same autofocus sensor module as the D5/D500
  • 153 AF points, 99 cross-type sensors 
  • Dedicated AF processor that can focus down to -4 EV 
  • Autofocus fine tuning
  • Full-frame 4K UHD video 
  • Great dynamic range and ISO Performance
  • Great battery life
    • Up to 1840 stills or 70 minutes of video per charge
  • Silent shooting modes
  • Tilting touch screen monitor 
  • Dual XQD/SD card slots
  • Bluetooth

The Nikon D850 is available now at Bluewater Photo!

Overview

With specs like these, you might ask yourself, what’s the catch.  To be honest, there really isn’t one. The Nikon D850 delivers.  A combination of resolution, dynamic range, ISO performance, exceptional autofocus and a speedy 7 frames per second is nothing short of spectacular.

With improvements across the board, you are getting more tools to help you nail your shots, whatever they may be.  By combining the sensor’s exceptional dynamic range with a base ISO of 64, you get more control to balance vivid reefscapes with the brightest sunballs, while maintaining exceptional colors and detail throughout.  When the diving isn’t all clear skies, sunshine and great viz, you get plenty of room to bump the ISO to capture more detail and light in the darkest of wrecks, caverns, and caves. The amount of detail able to be pulled up from shadows is quite astonishing.

 The NIkon D850 handles combining the smallest of critters and strongest macro diopters with ease, and does so effortlessly with it’s incredibly fast and accurate autofocus even dim, fading light.  Not only is the autofocus extremely accurate, it’s also remarkably fast, absolutely one of the best autofocus systems available, matched only by the D500 and D5 in the Nikon world.

For the fast-paced, high intensity action you get 7 frames per second coupled with an array of autofocus and auto-iso options; letting the camera do some of the heavy lifting for you allowing you to focus on the rare encounters you traveled halfway around the world to experience. The 51 image buffer is pretty amazing considering each image is 45.7 megapixels! The buffer ensures that there will be no slowdown in your photo taking for image processing. The lag between taking burst shots and reviewing them is greatly reduced as compared to the D810. 

For the cases when, despite your best efforts and practice, you couldn’t quite nail the shot with absolute perfection, you still have one remaining tool at your disposal:  a hefty 45.7 megapixel raw file. In addition to being able to print massive images, this extra resolution can come in handy in some other situations too.  

  • Did you forget to change your strobe batteries and are now forced to shoot natural light, far above your standard ISO, as a one in a lifetime event unfolds in front of you?  

  • Did you jump the gun on that sea lion as it buzzed by, leaving the subject smaller in the frame than you wanted?  

  • Did your subject flee as you were inching closer before you were able to fill the frame?  

This much resolution gives you room to touch up in post, cropping and reframing as needed. In the event that you need to shoot with an ultra-high ISO (such as a dead strobe), the camera can still produce stunning images if you don’t need the absolute, full resolution. Downsampling the image will easily eliminate a lot of the noise with resolution to spare, rendering a useable image. Accepting a “less than full resolution” image where you would otherwise end up with nothing is a tradeoff I would make every day. Even at half resolution, you still have an incredible 20 megapixel images to work with!  

 

 

 

 

Autofocus 

There are a few things worth digging deeper into with regards to the autofocus of the D850.  This camera has the same autofocus system as the flagship Nikon D5. This high-performance sensor module (the Multi-CAM 20K) combines 153 focus points, of which 99 are cross type sensors, with a dedicated AF engine.  Of these 153 focus points, 55 are user selectable.

Cross type sensors are more accurate and help to minimize focusing errors, while having more sensors helps the camera track focus in the different autofocus modes. When you combine these focus points with the dedicated AF engine, the camera is able to speed up the autofocus calculations - much like a current computer gets faster with more CPU cores or threads. The end result is faster and more accurate focusing and tracking, essential for both fast-moving and high speed shooting.

It’s also worth noting the low-light performance of the autofocus, as we often shoot in dim underwater conditions. The D850 is able to focus in the center point down to -4 EV, and -3 EV at all the other AF points. This is roughly the equivalent of a dark moonlit night, with the light given off during a full moon being around -2 to -3 EV. Although we recommend using a focus light, it’s nice to have that extra flexibility to not use one when you’re shooting shy subjects.

 

 

D850 Autofocus modes 

  • Auto-area AF
    • The camera will detect subjects and focus on them accordingly.  
    • Letting the camera choose very critical settings is not recommended, though your results may vary. 
  • Single-point AF
    • The camera focuses on a single point selected by the photographer.  
    • Best used when you want very specific control over what is in focus, such as macro or super macro, when your subjects are fairly still.
  • Group-area AF 
    • The camera uses all the points in a group to determine focus.  
    • Like single-point, this is useful for still subjects such as macro and super macro, and is useful when camera is having a hard time getting focus with single point. Priority is spread across multiple points, so the camera does its best to keep them all in focus.
  • Dynamic-area AF
    • The camera focuses around a single point, using 9, 25, 72, or 153 of the neighboring points to continuously maintain focus. 
    • Great for fish and other moving subjects, allowing you to frame the image and still allow for some movement.  Priority is weighted toward a single focus point so this relies on you keeping the AF points over your subject.
  • 3D-tracking AF
    • The camera focuses on a single point, and attempts to intelligently follow the subject as it moves across the frame using all 153 focus points.
    • Great for fish and erratically moving subjects.  This mode allows you to lock focus and follow the subject as it moves throughout frame.  This is really powerful and allows flexibility to quickly adjust your framing without having move the focus points on the camera, potentially missing the shot.  

Although the focusing is very accurate, often able to snap and lock on very quickly, the camera will still occasionally hunt.  As underwater photographers, there is going to be particulate floating in the water so it’s not uncommon for the autofocus to get confused.  With the latest Nikon glass, such as the Nikon 105mm f/2.8G or Nikon 60mm f/2.8G lenses, when the camera does need to hunt to focus, it’s able to do so much faster than the previous generation lenses and cameras* - so it’s worth noting that there is a lens component to the autofocus performance as well.   

*From my experience with the D850/D500 (which shares the same AF engine) and an older D90, although the Nikon 105mm f/2.8G could be able to hunt for focus as fast on an older body (since the AF motor is built into the lens), it doesn’t. The details are not 100% clear, but the speed of hunting is 3-5 times faster on the D850/D500 - so if you are upgrading from a couple generations old camera, you’ll be getting much faster autofocus speeds (in addition to much more accurate focus) with the same lenses.

Focus Stacking

Focus stacking is an exciting new feature offered by the Nikon D850 - though limited in terms of underwater use. It will automatically take up to 300 shots at different focal points, and the photos can then be combined in post into one photo where the complete subject is in focus. It can be very useful for macro / supermacro photography.

Native ISO

The native ISO range of the Nikon D850 is now 25,600 ISO, an increase of the 12,800 ISO of the D810. The D850 uses a new back-lit sensor which offers better low-light performance. 

On the low end, ISO 64 is a welcome option for shooting in bright conditions, which is also available with the Nikon D810 but not the D800. ISO 64 is gorgeous and the detail, color, and dynamic range at that ISO allow for better image quality than any other system underwater.

However, shooting at ISO 25,600 is not necessary underwater. The D850 does improve on the high ISO performance from the D810, which is impressive considering the bump in resolution. While the dynamic range does suffer as it does on any system, it is still quite nice.

Video features

The D850 is the first Nikon camera to offer full-frame 4K video, something few other cameras support.  Previous Nikon cameras would only use subset of the sensor resulting in a crop factor while the D850 is able to use the full width of the sensor.  This means you aren’t losing any FOV, which is great for wide angle video while options are still there to enable the DX crop of 1.5x for macro to allow for tighter framing.

  • Best underwater white balance performance of any Nikon DSLR. If underwater video performance was keeping you from switching to Nikon, be prepared to reconsider your options!
  • 4K 30 fps full frame video with a bitrate of 144Mbit
    • Full frame or DX crop
  • 1080p 120 fps
    • This automatically uses a DX crop
  • Video compression using H.264/MPEG-4
    • More manageable file sizes over M-JPEG
  • Flat color profile (unfortunately, no log gamma profile for better tonal reproduction)
  • Separate video settings in the camera allow easy switching from video to stills
  • Video frame size and rate
    • 3840 x 2160 (4K UHD); 30p (progressive), 25p, 24p
    • 1920 x 1080; 60p, 50p, 30p, 25p, 24p
    • 1280 x 720; 60p, 50p
    • 1920 x 1080 (slow-mo); 30p x4, 25p x4, 24p x5
  • Improved settings allow easily setting white balance using the Live View

 

Compared to D810

The Nikon D850 improves upon the Nikon D810 in almost every way, making it the best camera on the market for underwater photography. Most importantly, the increase in resolution does not result in a compromise of dynamic range! The D850 does this with its new backlit CMOS sensor expanding the megapixels from 36.3 MP to 45.7 MP. The higher resolution is welcome, although only people who are shooting very close subjects underwater with the best lenses at the optimal apertures will notice the difference. The image dimensions change from 7360x4912 pixels on the D810, to 8256x5504. Ultimately you need to decide if you really need additional megapixels – not everyone does. In DX mode, the sensor will crop down nicely to 20 megapixels, perfect for using the Tokina 10-17mm fisheye lens, or for greater reach with long/macro lenses. Of course you can always crop in post, but some photographers may prefer to compose in camera at the final resolution.

D810

  • 36.3 megapixels
  • 51 AF points, 15 cross-type 
  • 5 fps 
  • 28 shot buffer
  • Up to 1200 still images per charge 
  • -2 EV to +19 EV detection range for AF 

D850

  • 45.7 megapixels 
  • 153 AF points, 99 cross-type, dedicated AF engine 
  • 7 fps (or 9 fps topside, with a battery pack)
  • 51 shot buffer 
  • Up to 1840 still images per charge 
  • -4 EV to +20 EV detection range for AF 
  • Improved low and high ISO performance
  • Improved dynamic range
  • Larger viewfinder  
  • Many video upgrades
    • Full frame 4k video
    • 120 fps slow-mo video in 1080p
    • Focus peaking
    • Zebra exposure stripes

 

Nikon D850 Pros and Cons

Pros

  • Across the board, the D850 improves on the already very capable D810
  • Massive resolution
  • Fast and accurate autofocus
  • Great dynamic range and ISO performance
  • Improved weather-resistance capability
  • Best video features of any Nikon DSLR

 

Cons

  • Expensive
  • Large travel size
  • Need larger dome ports (or corrector ports) and high quality lenses to best make use of the high resolution
  • No pop-up flash. This was removed to increase weather-resistance, but it takes away the possibility of shooting with strobes and fiber optic cables in case your sync cords flood or your flash trigger stops working.
  • Overall, this is Nikon’s best video setup, but probably not “the best” setup for full time video.  There are several limitations to combining video settings, such as not being able to use zebra stripes and focus peaking together and not having focus peaking in 4K.



 

Should I upgrade?

 This is a fantastic camera all around, but this may not be the perfect fit for everyone.  The best approach to determine if this is a good fit for you is to fully understand what you are looking to do with it.  Do you shoot with available light?  Do you rely heavily on your autofocus?  Do you shoot colorful reefscapes? Wrecks?  Macro or supermacro?  Do you print your images? Do you need high frame rates to capture rare interactions or behavior?  Do you shoot a variety of stills and video?   Do you travel, and are you willing to do so with a bulkier ports to capture the highest quality images you can?  If you answer yes to just a few of these, the D850 won’t disappoint.Compact and mirrorless users will need to make sure they are ready to make the jump to a full DSLR setup.  If you do, however, prepare to be blown away.  With the exception of the Nikon D5,  or with Cannon, the 5D Mark IV/Canon 5DSR, there are very, very few rivals to this camera - this is about as good as it gets!  

Nikon D850 Lens Recommendations 

While those 45.7 MP images can be amazingly detailed, giving you some extra flexibility in post, it’s going to be more challenging to fully utilize them. To take full advantage of the D850's resolution, you need great optics throughout both lenses and ports. If your ports or glass are limiting your image quality, it doesn’t matter how many megapixels your camera has.In general, the lens reccomendations follow the D810 with the Nikon 8-15mm being a notable addtion to that list.

Macro:

  • Nikon 60mm 2.8G Macro
  • 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

Dome port and water contact optics

With a little background in optics and understanding of how lenses and ports work underwater, or more specifically, what happens to light as it travels from one medium to another, it starts to become clear that dome ports are not the solution for everything.  

To get sharp images with a dome port and wide-angle rectilinear lenses you generally need a big dome, and enough light to shoot at a higher f-stop to get sharp corners.  The alternative is to use optics that were designed to be used in water.  These corrector ports, or water contact optics, are designed for this air to water barrier in mind, and as a result give some of the best quality currently possible.  This allows you to shoot wider apertures while maintaining image sharpness in the corners. 

Nauticam has been aggressively exploring this area and with their latest offering, the Wide Angle Conversion Port or WACP,  is able to deliver sharper images where dome ports struggle.  Although this is extremely sharp, it’s limited to a 130 degree FOV, so it’s not a replacement for a fisheye lens.  

Underwater Housing Options

 Aquatica D850 Housing


Aquatica has recently announced their housing for the new flagship camera from Nikon, the D850. They have truly taken steps in the right direction with this model. The housing itself is 12% lighter than the previous D800 and D810 models, but continues to boasts the same depth rating and ergonomic controls.
The Aquatica D850 housing is available now at Bluewater Photo!

Nauticam D850 Housing

Nauticam is known for producing functional, ergonomic, customizable, and durable housings. The new Nauticam D850 is no exception. All the levers, buttons, and wheels on the aluminum housing are clearly labeled so there is no guessing as to what button you are pushing or wheel you are spinning.The NA-D850 features the patented Nauticam bayonet port lock mechanism and the electro-optical converter like the one found on the D500 and the D5 housings. This allows the use of fiber optic cables on a camera that doesn't have a pop up flash. There is also a new lever that falls under the left middle finger that makes toggling between the autofocus modes very quick and easy.

The Nauticam D850 housing is available now at Bluewater Photo!

Sea & Sea D850 Housing

The Sea & Sea Nikon D850 Housing is the smallest aluminum housing, with easy to reach controls, bulkheads for sync cords, and an optional vacuum check system and internal TTL converter. It is 11% lighter than the Sea & Sea D810 housing, which was already a very light housing. One of our favorite features of the housing is that all of the controls now have a spring to prevent slip of the controls, even if they wear over time or if the camera dimensions vary slightly. Lenses can be changed without taking the camera out of the housing.
 

The Sea & Sea D850 housing is available now at Bluewater Photo!

Ikelite D850 Housing


Several excellent housings are now available for the D850, but most will cost you more than the price of the camera, even without a port. Thankfully for those on a budget, longtime U.S. housing manufacturer Ikelite now offers a very affordable alternative that still offers high quality and supports a wide range of lenses and accessories. And, it boasts their new, much improved “dry lock” port system, making it easier than ever to change ports, along with a new vacuum check system, both of which are designed to protect your delicate camera like never before. 

 

The Ikelite D850 housing is available now at Bluewater Photo!

Conclusion

The D850 manages to add to the success of the D810, giving you improvements to all the tools you use as an underwater photographer. While this comes at the cost associated with a top-of-the line system, this is a versatile and extremely capable system. The combination of image quality, resolution, and autofocus performance leaves little to be desired.  

With the D850, you really are in the best position possible to capture anything thrown at you, and to capture that in the highest quality possible. As it is always best to get it right in camera, with the D850, you get the best tools available to maximize your chances of capturing those special moments. A lot of photography is understanding trade offs, and with the D850, you simply have more to work with all around.   

Questions?

Give us an email (info@uwphotographyguide.com) - we’re happy to help answer any questions you have! For sales questions, be sure to email the friendly staff at sales@bluewaterphotostore.com.


Additional Images

Special thanks to Liz Garcia  for sharing some of the amazing images she's captured with her D850.  Be sure to stop by her Instagram page to check out more of her images! 

 

Sample Wide Angle Images 

Sample Macro Images 

 

 

... while still keeping a great amount of detail in the image. (Another 100% crop of the images above)

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Aaron Halstead is an avid diver, critter enthusiast and underwater photographer living in Southern California. He is pretty addicted, send help.

More work can be found on his InstagramWebsite, or Facebook page.

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!

 


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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.

 


In-depth review of Sony's next full frame mirrorless camera - the A7R III - covering new features, test video, and recommended lenses and housings
By Nirupam Nigam

Sony A7R III Camera Review

Nirupam Nigam
In-depth review of Sony's next full frame mirrorless camera - the A7R III - covering new features, test video, and recommended lenses and housings

With the release of the Sony A7R III, now is the time to be a mirrorless photographer. In fact, one could argue that we have entered a new photographic era – the mirrorless era. In 2015 the flood gates of mirrorless technology were fully released with Sony’s new models of mirrorless cameras featuring full frame sensors – the Sony A7, A7R, and A7S lines. These cameras offered the chance to shoot with a high-quality, DSLR-sized sensor and the advantages of a smaller, mirrorless body. Sony decided to give consumers the option to pick the body that was right for their shooting situation with the A7 being touted as an all-around camera, the A7R being geared towards high resolution, and the A7S featuring good light sensitivity (great for video shooters). In 2016, these initial introductions were finetuned in the A7 II models which had a wider variety of available lenses and better overall specifications. Then came the Sony A7R III....

Jump to a Section

Full Specifications   |   A9 vs. A7R III   |   Upgrades from the A7R II      

Full List of Upgrades   |   Pixel Shift Feature   |   Photographic Performance

Auto Focus   |  Photo Pros and Cons   |   Recommended Photo Settings

Video Performance   |   4K Video Test Footage   |   Should I Upgrade?

Recommended Lenses   |   Recommended Housings   |   Conclusions

More Sample Underwater Images

 

Sony A7R III Full Specifications

42 MP Back-Illuminated Full-Frame Exmor R CMOS Sensor

Updated BIONZ X Image Processor

Gapless On-Chip design

Anti-reflective Sensor Coating

UHD 4K30p Video with HLG, S-Log2 and S-Log3 Gammas

5-Axis SteadyShot INSIDE Sensor-Shift Stabilization

399 Phase-Detect Auto-focus Points

425 Contrast AF points (400 more contrast point than a7R II)

0.5" 3.69M-Dot Quad-VGA OLED Electronic View Finder (EVF)

3.0" 1.44M-Dot Touchscreen Tilting LCD Monitor

Shoot up to ISO 102,400

Silent Shutter Mode

New Low Vibration Shutter Design

Weather-sealed body to resist dust and moisture

Anti-Flicker function 

Built-In Wi-Fi Connectivity with NFC

Bluetooth connectivity 

Type C USB Port

Resolution: 42.40 Megapixels

Sensor size: 35mm (35.9mm x 24.0mm)

Viewfinder: EVF / LCD

Dual SD card slots 

No internal flash

Native ISO: 100 - 32,000

Extended ISO: 50 - 102,400

Shutter speed: 1/8000 - 30 seconds

Dimensions: 5.0 x 3.8 x 2.9 in. (127 x 96 x 73.7 mm)

Weight: 657g

 

 

The Sony A7R III is available now at Bluewater Photo!

 

New Releases: The Sony A9 vs. the Sony A7R III

In 2017, Sony took a different strategy entirely – they decided it was time to beat the DSLR giants out of their own market. It was time to prove once and for all that mirrorless cameras truly are the future of photography. They did this with the release of the Sony A9 and the Sony A7R III. With the fastest shooting speed of any full frame camera (20 frames per second and 241 shot image buffer), the Sony A9 is Sony’s direct response to the Nikon D5, Canon 1DX II and other quick shooting DSLR’s. The catch in the A9 is the steep, DSLR-level price of $4499.99. The Sony A9 is very much a niche camera – sports photographers and underwater photographers who specialize in shooting quick pelagics should definitely consider it. 

The Sony A7R III, on the other hand, is the best choice for the all-around underwater photographer looking for unbeatable full frame resolution and image quality. The 42 MP back-illuminated full-frame Exmor R CMOS Sensor cannot be beat! Not to mention a much cheaper price point of $3198.00. Moreover, the A7RIII boasts improved auto focus and processing power. The updated sensor can process 1.8 times faster than previous versions of the A7R series. 

Sony A7R III Upgrades from the Sony A7R II 

Although the A7R III is not vastly different than the A7R II, its release fixes many of the small issues that needed improvement in the A7R II. Perhaps the two most significant improvements for divers are the much longer battery life and the improved auto focus. With the A7R III a diver can now shoot approximately 650 shots a full battery – up from 290. The Hybrid AF has been updated to include 399-point focal-plane phase-detection AF as well as 425-point contrast detection. That’s 400 more contrast detection points than the Sony A7R II. Other nice additions include a 2nd memory slot, faster continuous shooting (10 fps instead of 5 fps), and true slow-motion video in full HD. 

The Sony A7R III has a new front-end LSI (large scale integrated) processor and a faster BIONZ processor, allowing many aspects of the camera to work faster. The sensor is the same as in the A7R II – but this is certainly nothing to complain about! In terms of image quality between the two cameras, you’re not going to find much of a noticeable difference. 

Overall Sony A7R III Upgrades:

Battery life almost doubled (a much-needed upgrade!)

2nd SD card slot added. One slot is UHS-I, one slot is UHS-II

Continuous shooting now 10fps instead of 5fps

120fps video supported in 1080p mode versus 720p mode in the A7r II

EVF resolution increased from 2.4M to 3.69M

425 Contrast AF points (400 more contrast point than a7R II)

Max ISO 32000 instead of 25600

RAW buffer 76 images instead of 23 images

5 axis stabilization rated to 5.5 stops from 4.5 stops

Low light auto-focus rated to -3EV from -2EV

New Hybrid Log Gamma profile for 4K video (useful for new 4K HDR TVs)

New S-Log3 profile which allows 14 stops of dynamic range

New Pixel shift mode for improved sharpness & dynamic range for still landscape shots on a tripod

Bluetooth support added

Same sensor! And still 42.4 megapixels. 4K video is still 30p

Improved ergonomics: Larger 1280 X 960 viewfinder, touch control on the rear screen, and most importantly for topside shooting – an AF point joystick

Pixel Shift Feature

One interesting new feature with the Sony A7R III is the pixel shift feature. In this feature, the camera takes two photos, 1 second apart, and shifts the pixels by 1 for the second photo. Then it combines the results for approximately four times the resolution in your image. This is certainly a cool new feature for still photography, but since subjects must be completely stationary, there is little use of this feature for underwater photographers. 

 

Sony A7R III Underwater Performance

Photographic Performance

Over the past few months, the staff at the Underwater Photography Guide has been able to take the Sony A7R III underwater in Southern California to test whether it truly lives up to expectations. Verdict? It lives up to the name. In fact, the most notable aspect of this camera is in the name – R stands for resolution. The 42.4 megapixel resolution, while not different than the A7R II, quite literally adds another dimension to underwater photography. Photos can be cropped with almost no consideration for loss in quality! A simple photo of an octopus or headshot of a Garibaldi can be cropped into abstract works of art (see examples below). The caveat is that a lot of storage space will be needed to work with RAW files if you are an avid photographer. Likewise, make sure that you have a high speed/high performance SD card when shooting. Large RAW files will require this or your camera will take a significant time to buffer and you’ll miss that shark swimming right past you! Raw buffer has been increased to 76 images from 23 images, which should help ease the pain of having to wait for images to write on the card before taking your next shot. 

 

 

Auto focus

Although auto focus speeds have certainly been improved with the A7R III, it does not quite live up to high-end DSLR models like the Nikon D850. That being said, it is still faster than many other mirrorless models and compact models. When shooting with the A7R III, I preferred to use single autofocus (AF-S) as it enabled me to focus on a point and move the camera to compose my shot.

Pros and Cons

Pros

As with any camera in the Sony A7 lineup, the overall advantage of the Sony A7R III is having all the size and functionality benefits of a mirrorless system with the image quality of a full frame DSLR. One of my favorite things about shooting mirrorless systems is not having to look through viewfinders all the time. Using an LCD leads to increased awareness during the dive which can really help you compose a shot. Now that the battery life has been doubled, even some of the mirrorless drawbacks are being upgraded into non-issues. The addition of 400 more contrast detection AF point makes composing much more versatile. 

Cons

For a mirrorless system, the Sony A7R III is a relatively bulky set up underwater. Though a far cry from the size of a high end DSLR, it can still take some work to maneuver around while diving. However, I still had no issues taking it beach diving and through the surf. One issue that we were surprised about was that the white balance seemed to appear particularly warm and purple when shooting underwater. This can be corrected by shooting in RAW and changing the white balance in post processing. However, I found one or two of my images to be difficult to work with when I tried to modify the white balance. 

Recommended Settings for Underwater Photography

The Sony A7R III should not be taken underwater straight out of the box. You will need to modify certain settings first. Make sure that auto review is on for long enough for you to review your photo after you have taken it. This is essential for seeing whether you need to recompose the next shot or move on. 

Perhaps the most important setting to change is the live view setting. The default live view setting will display what the actual photo exposure should look like at current exposure settings, without strobes. For the most part, this results in a black screen while taking underwater photos and you’re left guessing about your composition. Turning the live view display off will brighten the screen regardless of actual lighting conditions and allow you to see what you are composing underwater in low light. 

For a full list of recommended settings, please see our recommendations for the Sony A7R II until we release and updated set of recommendations for the Sony A7R III. Due to similarities between the cameras, the recommendations for the A7R II should be sufficient for the time being. 

 

Sony A7R III Video Performance 

For divers who value a camera that can deliver both still images and videos, the A7R III is a dream. Shooting in video mode offers great low-light performance, 4K video, focus peaking, and easy custom white balance.

For people shooting only professional video, you may be better served by the not yet released Sony A7S III, which will have better low-light capabilities and hopefully better bitrates, codecs, and the potential 4K at 60p. The A7R III only supports 8-bit codecs, while cameras like the GH5 support 10 bit codecs which allow for a billion color combinations vs 16 million for an 8-bit codec. Unfortunately, the A7R III doesn’t offer 4K video at 60p.

Other nice features include the improved 5-axis image stabilization, which does a great job of reducing the jitters and wobbles of hand-held videography. As most underwater videographers know, good image stabilization is essential to getting underwater video that doesn’t make you feel like you’re in a washing machine as swell and current are conditions topside videographers don’t have to deal with.

Like the A7R II, the A7R III can output uncompressed 8-bit 4K video to an external recording over HDMI, like the Atmos Shogun. 8MP screen grabs can be captured while recording 4K video.

You can shoot slow motion 120 frames per second video in full HD mode now (1080p). The A7R II limits you to 720p.

If you are experienced with more advanced video editing, the new Hybrid Log Gamma compatibility means that playback on new HDR televisions is more easily supported, without having to color grade. The Sony A7R III also supports both S-Log 2 and S-Log 3. If you are not familiar with S-Log profiles, it is like shooting stills in "Raw format", except for video - the video output looks flat and needs editing to bring out the full colors and dynamic range, but offers the potential for much greater dynamic range.

The A7R III also has a couple of 4K video modes; it can take 4K video in either full-frame mode or Super 35 mode. In Super 35 mode, an 18 megapixel crop of the sensor is used, resulting in sharper images and video with less aliasing and moiré. Lenses like the Canon 8-15mm fisheye are the equivalent of using a 12-22.5mm lens in Super 35 mode. Super 35 mode can also give better high ISO performance, particularly above ISO 3200.

So far, we have not noticed any rolling shutter or over-heating issues. The increased battery life was a much-needed improvement for underwater video. 

 

Underwater 4K Video Test

In January 2018, I took the A7R III underwater for a 4K video test in Redondo Beach, CA.  I had the opportunity to take some beautiful footage of mating squid and other creatures that were around to feed on them. Overall, I found the 4K video to be phenomenal with excellent dynamic range and detail, especially in low light environments like a night dive. Taking video is very intuitive, especially in the new Nauticam housing for the A7R III. Keeping the video shutter separate from the photo shutter makes switching between the two very intuitive.

The Sony A7R III is perfect for compact and mirrorless users thinking about upgrading to take better video. The camera offers much more control over video than a compact set up with the ability to change exposure and aperture (depth of field) while taking video. For amateur video editors the file format is particularly easy to work with as video files are stored in an .mp4 format. The A7R III has proven to take very accurate color while shooting video; to illustrate this fact, the color and white balance have not been corrected in the video below.

 

This video was captured with the Sony A7R III in a Nauticam housing with a Sony 28mm lensKraken KRL-01 wet wide-angle lens, and a single Kraken Hydra 2500 Macro light. For more information behind our 4K video test read our full article.

 

Should I Upgrade…

From a Compact Camera?

Compact camera users have a very difficult choice when it comes to thinking about upgrades from their set up. There are many nice lines of higher end compacts, more traditional mirrorless cameras, and low to high end DSLRs. Higher end compacts, such as the Sony RX 100 series, result in nice, quality image but they compromise on lack of control or choice of lens. Mirrorless cameras other than the Sony A7 series, like the Olympus OMD and PEN lines, are generally much cheaper than the A7R III and with image quality that is much better than compact series cameras. Olympus has a great selection of micro four-thirds lenses. However, the A7R III’s 35mm full frame sensor is a far cry better than sensors in other mirrorless cameras. A DSLR is also something to consider if you want the best image quality, versatility, and options money can buy. But that comes at a price and size. I would consider the A7R III if: 

You do not want to compromise on image or video quality

You are not too price sensitive

You want to shoot video

You don't want to lug a full size DSLR system around

 

From a Mirrorless Camera?

Photographers using a micro-four thirds or Sony Nex or A6000 series mirrorless camera will be pleasantly surprised by their upgrade to the A7R III. In return for a slightly larger setup, they will experience a noticeable improvement in image quality, video quality, responsiveness and focus speed. The bokeh / background blur from the full-frame sensor will also give an entirely new element to their creative photos and videos. I would consider the A7R IIII if:

You want higher resolution images that you can crop down to almost any size

You don’t like using DSLR viewfinders underwater

You want a little more AF speed

You want to focus on shooting more video

 

From a DSLR?

Is your DSLR feeling a little bulky? Have you been thinking about looking for a new camera that shoots 4K? Consider the A7R III. The body and housing are smaller, although some of the lenses and dome ports are not necessarily smaller than the DSLR equivalents. The Sony setup will not necessarily be much less expensive either. I would consider the A7R III if:

You’re tired of looking through a viewfinder underwater

You want to shoot nice, professional 4K video

You’re thinking of moving from a cropped sensor DSLR to a full frame

You want higher resolution images that you can crop down to almost any size

 

Best Lenses for Underwater Use

Resent releases of lenses for the Sony A7 series has made the repertoire of underwater lenses much more versatile. Sony A7R III users have an excellent set of choices for shooting macro, wide, mid-range, and fisheye. 

 

Wide-Angle Lenses

The Sony 16-35mm F4 lens is the top wide-angle lens choice for photo and video. If you’re looking for something even wider to get nice close-focus wide-angle (CFWA) shots of reefs there are a couple of options for shooting fish-eye. The 28mm prime lens with a fisheye conversion lens will give the widest possible angle of view. The fisheye conversion lens can be used behind a large or small dome port, while the Sony 16-35 mm F4 les is recommended for use with an 8-inch dome or larger.

Wet wide-angle lenses are a great option with this camera. We recommend the Nauticam wet wide-angle lens or the Kraken KRL-01 wet wide-angle lens with the 28mm prime lens. All of these options are very sharp and will result in stunning wide-angle photos. 

 

 

Mid-Range Lenses

The Sony 24-70mm F 4 or the Sony 28-70mm F3.5-F5.6 are good choices along with the 35mm F2.8 portrait lens.

 

Macro Lenses

For underwater photography, the Sony 90mm macro prime lens is the best choice for small fish and macro subjects. It is exceptionally sharp and produces high quality images. A 50mm macro lens is available, but probably not the best option for underwater photography.

Canon Lenses

Canon lenses can be attached to the Sony A7R III with the Metabones or Photodiox adapters, but auto-focus is generally better with Sony lenses. Lenses like the Canon 8-15mm, 16-35mm, and 17-40mm work well. The Canon 8-15mm fisheye lens is recommended when shooting video using Super 35 crop mode. You can also use the Canon 100mm lenses.

 

Lenses for Underwater Video

When in Super 35 mode we recommend the Sony 16-35mm F4 lens or the Canon 8-15mm fisheye lens. For closer shots use the Sony 24-70mm or the 28-70mm zoom lens. 

 

Underwater Housings for the Sony A7R III

 

Does it fit the A7R II Housings?

In order to accommodate for a larger body and more ergonomic controls, the A7RIII is fitted with a 74mm depth body rather than 60mm in the A7R II. Unfortunately, the A7R III is not compatible with A7R II housings.

 

Nauticam A7R III Housing

In Stock -  $2,850

Nauticam is leading the pack with their excellent A7R III housing. A wide range of lenses and ports are supported, but you pay a premium to get this maximum flexibility. Use of the metabones adapter is supported. Along with previous versions of the Nauticam A7 housings, the new housing also supports the use of several Nikonos lenses. Overall, we found the Nauticam housing to be sturdy, safe, and intuitive. All controls are within finger distance of the grips - including rotating dials for aperture and shutter speed adjustment. The housing includes a moisture alarm and can be modified to include a vacuum seal as added protection against a flood. 

Order Now!

 

In Stock - 1,695

The Ikelite Sony A7R III housing, made of polycarbonate, is a great value at a significantly lower price point than its competitors. Most common lenses are supported as well as the use of the metabones adapter.

Order Now!

 

Acquapazza A7R III Underwater Housing

We anticipate an ergonomic and well-designed housing for the Sony A7R III by Acquapazza. It will feature a double o-ring seal for the back door, an optional angled LCD viewing window, adjustable vari-anlge grips, M14 and M16 accessory ports, a trigger type shutter lever, a zoom/focus knob, and 16 colors to choose from.

 

Aquatica A7R III and Sea & Sea A7R III Housing

Aquatica and Sea & Sea both make smaller machined aluminum housings, and we expect the Aquatica to be at a particularly sweet point in price for a light-weight aluminum housing. The Sea & Sea A7R II housing supported an optional TTL converter. The Aquatica housing is expected to include a flash trigger. Both housings will support using the metabones adapter.

We'll update this article as release dates for the housings are better known.

Conclusion

The Sony A7R III is an amalgamation of all that is good in modern photographic technology. By making constant changes and improvements to their A7 line cameras, Sony has managed to create a multifaceted super-camera that truly has it all. There is no other company in the world that could offer you a mirrorless sized camera with a full frame sensor yielding 42.4 megapixel images! With the addition of longer battery life, 120 fps full HD and 4K video, the Hybrid Log Gamma profile, 400 more contrast AF points, faster AF, and 5 axis stabilization, the Sony A7R III is sitting at the top of its market. Whether or not it can make waves in the DSLRs markets, only time will tell. As far as underwater photography goes, it will be some time before enough kinks get worked out that the Sony A7R III will have a seat at the table with the true full frame DSLR hard-hitters. Regardless, the Sony A7R III is an all-around excellent camera with exceptional video capabilities that is sure to satisfy any customer looking for the best in what mirrorless technology has to offer.

More Sample Underwater Images

Macro Underwater Images

Wide-Angle Underwater Images

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. 

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.

 


Newly Updated! Features, Image Stabilization Tests, Hi Res Shot Mode, Underwater Photos, Videos, Lens Options, Housings and Comparisons to the Competition
By Bryan Chu and Contributors

Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II Review

Bryan Chu and Contributors
Newly Updated! Features, Image Stabilization Tests, Hi Res Shot Mode, Underwater Photos, Videos, Lens Options, Housings and Comparisons to the Competition

Since its introduction in 2013, the Olympus OM-D E-M1 has become a mainstay of the mirrorless world, especially for underwater photographers. Olympus released their updated version of their flagship offering, the OM-D E-M1 MK II, right at the end of 2016.

The new version has many exciting features and upgrades from the E-M1; most notably a higher quality image sensor with 25% higher resolution, a significantly improved autofocus system, improved image stabilization, very fast sequential shooting, a 50MP hi-resolution mode and 4K cinema video. Is it worth upgrading to this camera from your existing rig? How does it compare to other mirrorless options available? Read on to find out.

We asked a user of the OM-D E-M1 MK II in the Underwater Photography Guide community to contribute her best shots and advice for this camera. The images really demonstrate the quality of sensor, fantastic autofocus and great image quality that is possible when using this camera.

Jump to a Section

OM-D E-M1 MK II Specs   |   Photography Features   |   Lens Options for Underwater 
Sample Wide Angle Photos   | Sample Macro Photos   |   Videography   |   Limitations
Underwater Housing Options   |   Compared with Other Cameras   |  Conclusion

 


The E-M1 Mark II is available now at Bluewater Photo! Also check out the comprehensive Nauticam Ultimate OM-D E-M1 Mark II Package and Olympus Ultimate Package for E-M1 Mark II.


Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mk II Specifications

Key Upgrades from OM-D E-M1

  • 20 Megapixel Live MOS Sensor with TruPic VIII Dual Quad Processor
  • Advanced 5-axis Image Stabilization
  • 121-Point Dual Fast Autofocus
  • 50 MP Hi-res Shot Mode
  • 15 fps mechanical sequential shooting/60  fps electronic sequential shooting
  • 4K Cinema Video (4096x2160) at 24 fps (max rate 237 Mbps)
  • Two SD card slots instead of one; one slot supports UHS-II cards
  • Longer-lasting battery

Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II Complete specs

  • 20 Megapixel Live MOS Sensor with TruPic VIII Dual Quad Processor
  • Advanced 5-axis Image Stabilization
  • 121-Point Dual Fast Autofocus
  • Focus Bracketing and Stacking
  • 50 MP Hi-res Shot Mode
  • 15 fps mechanical sequential shooting/60  fps electronic sequential shooting
  • 4K Cinema Video (4096x2160) at 24 fps (max rate 237 Mbps)
  • 4K Video (3840x2160) at 30/25/24 fps
  • FHD video up to 1080/60p
  • Two SD card slots instead of one; one slot supports UHS-II cards
  • 1/8000 high speed mechanical shutter
  • 1/250 shutter sync for flash
  • ISO range of 64-25600
  • Lightweight and weatherproof body
  • 3 inch fully articulating touchscreen monitor
  • 574 g (1.3 lb) camera body weight, including SD card and battery
  • Ports: Headphone, microphone, USB 3, HDMI, remote, flash sync
  • Built-in WiFi
  • Longer-lasting battery

Olympus clearly put a lot of development into the specs and features of this camera, really pushing to make it more competitive with dSLR range cameras; it sure is an impressive list.

Body and Build

The camera body is a bit larger than that of the E-M1 (a bit taller and a bit thicker), with a weight of 574 g compared to the original’s 497 g. The body is very strong and solid-feeling. I actually knocked my E-M1 Mark II off of my kitchen counter and onto the floor, and although it made a lot of noise, it does not seem to have affected camera operation.

EVF & LCD

The electronic viewfinder (EVF) remains the same as that of the E-M1; 2.36M-dot with 0.74x equivalent magnification. The LCD has been upgraded from the 3” tilting touchscreen of the E-M1 to a 3” fully articulating touchscreen, which is great for videography. Note that the only issue here is that when extended out and tilted up or down, it will interfere with the microphone, headphone and HDMI/USB ports (depending on which way it is rotated). 

Controls

The controls remain very similar to those of the E-M1, which is to say, fully customizable, with the 2x2 switch to allow the two dials on top to control aperture, shutter speed, white balance and ISO. What this customization means for the underwater photographer is that essentially all functions you need to change while shooting underwater can be done using dials, buttons and switches; no need for having to go into pesky menus mid-dive to change key settings. 

Photography Features

Sensor and Photo Quality

The DxoMark sensor rating of the Olympus OM-D E-M1 MK II is 80, which is a major improvement from the E-M1’s score of 73. It also ranks significantly higher than the Olympus OM-D E-M5 MK II (73), and is also better than the Panasonic DC-GH5 (77). The reasons cited for the high score include lower noise, wider dynamic range and improved color discrimination. It is fairly competitive with the Nikon D500 (score of 84), but falls quite short of full-frame dSLR options like the Nikon D750 (score of 93).

Image Stabilization

The advanced 5-axis sensor shift (in-body) image stabilization has been increased from a spec of 4 stops with the E-M1 to 5.5 with the E-M1 MK II. Additionally, when paired with an Olympus Lens with in-lens stabilization (currently offered by the 12-100mm F4.0 Pro and the 300mm F4.0 Pro lenses), the stabilization goes up to a whopping 6.5 stops. Here is a sample photo shot hand-held at night using this setup. 

As can be seen from the sample photo, the advanced Image Stabilization allowed for a very stable photo, even taken with hand-held with a 2 second exposure! If we go by the rule of thumb that you can shoot a stable hand-held photo at a shutter speed of 1 over the 35mm equivalent focal length of the lens, then without image stabilization we would expect to be able to take an image this sharp at a minimum shutter speed of about 1/70 s. Shooting at a 2 second exposure means that we are getting approximately 7 stops of image stabilization!

Note that the IS does not always work this well when shooting handheld, but it often does. I found over two thirds of my photos shot handheld and using these settings turned out sharp, while once I got into the 3-4 second exposures, especially at higher focal lengths, things got a lot more blurry. So if you are shooting “on the edge” of the IS specs, you may need to take multiple hand-held shots to get the photo you want. The point is, the IS on this camera really delivers.

Burst Mode Shooting and Pro Capture Mode

The burst mode options for this camera are phenomenal, and all of these specs are for shooting combined RAW + JPG. Using single autofocus mode (S-AF, where the camera locks focus on the first photo and holds it there for the burst), the camera can shoot up to 15 fps with mechanical shutter, or an astonishing 60 fps with electronic shutter. The electronic shutter is silent, and the shutter release can be quite sensitive – while on an orca trip in Norway I unknowingly took hundreds of photos of waves (with a few orcas) while thinking I was just holding focus on the next point I expected an orca to pop out of the water. At 60 fps it takes less than 20 seconds to take over 1000 photos, which fills up your SD card very quickly!

To use continuous autofocus mode (C-AF, where the camera refocuses between each shot), with full autoexposure, you have to take a significant reduction in speed, down to 10 fps with the mechanical shutter and 18 fps with the electronic shutter. However, this is still significantly faster than the original E-M1.

Pro Capture mode is the same as shooting with the electronic shutter at 60 fps or 18 fps, but with the added benefit of “pre-capturing” photos from right before you press the shutter release. The way it works is that, once you half-press the shutter release the camera starts storing photos to a buffer, and then when you fully depress the shutter release, it captures the 14 photos (increased to 35 photos with the latest firmware update) right before the shutter release and adds them to the front of your burst series. This allows you capture “perfect moment” action photos even if you are a bit late on hitting the shutter release. 

This feature could be useful for photographing behaviour shots underwater. However, note that this would need to be done using some sort of continuous light source such as a video light, or shooting near the surface using ambient light, as strobes are not able to keep up with shooting multiple shots per second. So, for many underwater photographers this will greatly restrict how useful this feature can be, but that does not diminish its usefulness for topside photography.

Hi-res Mode

High Res mode was introduced by Olympus in the E-M5 MK II, but it is still worth mentioning here. In this mode, the camera takes 8 photos, each with the sensor slightly shifted, and then combines them into a composite 50 MP photo. This mode works both in RAW and JPG, and can also be used to create a lower resolution 25 MP photo.

Unfortunately, hi-res mode only works with the camera on a tripod or solid surface; hand-held is not good enough. I tried a few times to use hand-held, but although it took a hi-res photo, it turned out quite blurry. And when using the camera on a small Gorillapod, I had to put on a few seconds of time delay to make sure any camera shake from depressing the shutter had subsided before the photo was taken. So with underwater photography, even if you plant the camera on a tripod, it is hard to imagine any scenarios where using this mode would be feasible (unless at a dive site with absolutely no water movement, and you were able to keep totally still when using it). Note that the smallest aperture (highest F-stop) that can be used during hi-res mode is F8.0.

As can be seen from the sample photos, hi res mode delivers a significantly higher resolution photo than "normal" mode. Due to the requirement for using a tripod, you may not find yourself using the mode too often. However, when you do use it for that special photo, it will deliver dSLR-like quality.

ISO Performance

As noted in the DxoMark sensor rating, the OM-D E-M1 Mark II has similar levels of noise to the original E-M1 at low ISO levels, but above ISO 800 the Mark II is better. Unless you are shooting ambient light photos in low-light conditions, the improved high ISO performance won’t matter too much for underwater photography. However, it is an improvement for topside usage. 

The other item of note with the ISO is that on the E-M1 the ISO LOW setting is equivalent to ISO 100. On the E-M1 Mark II the ISO LOW setting is equivalent to ISO 64. This provides a potential additional 0.64 stops of light reduction to get more detail when shooting bright sunballs or other subjects.

Flash Sync Speed

Unfortunately, the flash sync speed was reduced to 1/250 for the E-M1 MK II, which is a step down from the 1/320 capability of the original E-M1. This takes away the ability to stop down light from bright sources like sunballs by about 0.36 stops. However, as mentioned above the change to the ISO LOW setting provides an additional 0.64 stops of light reduction, so the overall ability of the E-M1 Mark II to capture detail in bright objects like sunballs is a bit better than that of the original E-M1.

Autofocus 

The autofocus system combines contrast detection with 121 cross-type on-chip phase detection points; a significant upgrade from the original E-M1’s 81-point hybrid system. This means less great photos “missed” due to the autofocus having issues locking on to the subject, hunting, or focusing on the background. 

Detailed autofocus testing and comparison between the E-M1 Mark II, Panasonic GH5 and Sony A7RII was done in our GH5 review. The testing was done with the Olymus 60mm macro lens.

In comparison, the Olympus E-M1 Mark II matched, and sometimes beat the GH5. In low light, the Olympus would focus from infinity down to its minimum distance on average of 1 second, and from minimum focus distance out to infinity in about 1.3s. When refocusing the camera at a similar distance from the previous shot, the E-M1 Mark II averaged around .7s. There was little to no hunting for focus, and we only saw that happen when trying to focus on an extremely low contrast subject. In good light, focusing was nearly instantaneous, a huge improvement for this camera over the older bodies.

What this means is that, compared to the E-M1, expect significantly less autofocus and hunting issues when using the 60mm macro lens underwater, and of course less missed action shots of bigger subjects due to autofocus issues.

Battery Life

The new batteries used for the E-M1 MK II are significantly larger than those of the E-M1, and pack more punch. The E-M1 had a CIPA-rated battery life of 350 shots, while the E-M1 MK II has a rated life of 440, which is a 25% increase. Note that the CIPA rating is based on photos taken with heavy flash and LCD screen use, so especially if you are shooting in burst mode you will be able to take many more than 440 photos on a battery. What the rating does allow for is relative comparison between battery life of different cameras. 

The biggest improvement for underwater photographers is around the way the camera displays remaining battery power. With the E-M1 it was a relatively inaccurate system with 3 bars on it. The E-M1 MK II gives a percentage reading along with 4 bars, which makes it much easier to know when you have to open the housing and make a battery swap between dives. Olympus also claims the new charger will charge an E-M1 MK II battery in half the time it took the E-M1 original battery charger.

Focus Bracketing and Stacking

Focus bracketing allows you to take multiple photos in which the focus point is shifted. Theoretically this could be useful when shooting macro, if you want to try out different focus points on the same photo. However, if you are shooting macro with strobes then this mode will be very difficult to line up with your strobe recycle time. Additionally, when shooting macro you typically want to the eyes of the subject to be in focus, so getting a series of shots with other parts of the subject in focus instead won’t provide much benefit.

Focus stacking is an option which seems to have a lot of potential for macro, but although more useful than focus bracketing, it also is probably not very practical for underwater use. In this mode, the focus position is automatically shifted to capture 8 shots which are then composited for a single JPEG image that is in focus all the way from the foreground to background. Again, this would only really work if using a video light rather than strobes, and unfortunately it only provides a JPEG image, rather than a RAW image. Additionally, it would have to be for a photo where you really want the whole image in focus. Or, it could allow you to shoot at wider aperture values, allowing you to maybe get away without using strobes, but without strobes you would lose out on some of the color. So, although an interesting feature, it seems quite limited for underwater use.

Time Lapse Shooting

Time lapse is a neat function which was also available on the original E-M1. I have not seen anyone use it underwater, but if a tripod were rigged up at a dive site where the camera could be left for awhile, there is some very interesting potential for using it in certain situations to create some BBC Blue Planet-like footage. Here is a sample topside time lapse taken of an iceberg while on a Greenland dive trip. 


Timelapse video taken using OM-D E-M1 Mark II, Olympus 12-100mm F4.0 IS Pro lens. 4K/5 fps video, 2:30 time interval over 3.5 hour time period. Iceberg, Tasiilaq harbour, East Greenland.

Best Lenses for Underwater Use

The Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II 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 update for the E-M1 Mark II 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-M1 Mark II 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 7-14mm are 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.

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

Videography

4K and Cinema 4K Modes

The E-M1 Mark II is the first Olympus camera to feature 4K video (3840x2160) capability, with options to shoot at 30/25/24 fps (approx 102 Mbps). They also went a step above, with 4K Cinema Video (4096x2160), which shoots at 24 fps with a max rate of 237 Mbps. HD video can be shot at 1080/60p but has been noted to be lower quality than the competition. There are also no options for shooting slow motion or anything higher than 60 fps.

4K Cinema Video is very high quality and makes the OM-D E-M1 Mark II competitive in the video realm. However, especially at the normal 4K and 1080 levels, the quality does not stack up to the competition. In terms of doing high quality video for cinema or documentary usage, although the E-M1 Mark II is markedly improved from the original E-M1 or anything else offered by Olympus, the more video-focused Panasonic GH5 offers many more features and may be a better choice (and it also uses the same lens system).

Image Stabilization

Although image stabilization was already mentioned in the photography section, it is worth re-mentioning it for videography. The 5.5 stops of in-body stabilization, combined with the 1 stop of lens stabilization on the 12-100 and 300mm pro lenses and the electronic image stabilization included with video mode make for very smooth video. Wonderfully smooth, really. Here is a sample video showing 4K taken from a helicopter, with no IS, combined lens/in-body IS only, and combined lens/in-body IS with digital IS. 


4K Video Image Stabilization Test. OM-D E-M1 Mark II, Olympus 12-100mm F4.0 IS Pro lens.

Although the E-M1 Mark II is not as strong on video features as some of its competitors, it really stands out with class-leading image stabilization, which as you can see in the helicopter video can turn a very bumpy video situation into an extremely smooth product. 

Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II Limitations and Downsides

The largest downside to the E-M1 Mark II is the price. At a price point of $1800-2000, it is similar in cost to some cameras in the dSLR category, but it still has the much smaller micro-four-thirds sensor. It’s not to say that it is not worth the money, but it is significantly more expensive than the original E-M1, as well as the highly rated E-M5 Mark II. What this means is that it loses the price advantage that micro-four-thirds cameras have up until now provided.

Underwater Housings Options

Unfortunately, due to the relatively minor differences in size and controls layout, housings for the E-M1 cannot be re-used for the E-M1 Mark II.

There are a good number of housing options available, which are listed below.

Nauticam housing

Nauticam Olympus E-M1 Mark II Underwater Housing

As is typical with Nauticam, this is a high quality aluminum housing which provides full camera control. Although the housing is more compact it does not sacrifice anything with functionality or ergonomics. More importantly, buttons and dials have the same quality and feel as with Nauticam's DSLR housing offerings. 

As is standard in previous housings, this one includes the option for a vacuum monitoring system along with the built-in leak detection. A new feature is an option to reset the vacuum detection system directly from the port mount, making lens changes that much easier. It also gives access to Nauticam's wide range of useful accessories. 

Purchase the Nauticam E-M1 Mark II housing

 

Aquatica housing

Aquatica E-M1 Mark II Underwater Housing

Aquatica is known for building durable and dependable housings. The E-M1 Mark II housing is compact and small, with similar dimensions to the E-M1 housing, providing the advantage of a nice, low-profile option for the user. It was designed for good ergonomics, ensuring all controls are accessible in all dive conditions. It also provides flexibility with strobe firing options, allowing for fiber optic, Nikonos or Ikelite connections.

Purchase the Aquatica E-M1 Mark II housing

 

Sea & Sea E-M1 Mark II Underwater Housing

Sea & Sea MDX housings are built from corrosion-resistant aluminum which provides great protection for your camera. Unfortunately, the housing for the Olympus EM1 Mark II from Sea & Sea is still not yet available and we are still waiting for the details regarding this.

Pre-order the Sea & Sea E-M1 Mark II housing


Olympus housing

Olympus PT-EP14 E-M1 Mark II Underwater Housing

The Olympus PT-EP14 housing is built from polycarbonate material, making it very lightweight. The ergonomics of this housing are great, and all camera functions can be controlled through it. It has also a removable lens hood which helps enhance the visibility of the LCD and viewfinder. Along with the Ikelite housing, the Olymus housing is the most affordable option.

Purchase the Olympus E-M1 Mark II housing

Ikelite Housing

Ikelite E-M1 Mark II Underwater Housing

The Ikelite housing is compact and offers Ikelite's latest upgrades and ergonomic controls. The housing is built from ABS-PC which provides strength and corrosion free performance with minimal maintenance. Along with the Olympus housing, the Ikelite housing is the most affordable option.

Purchase the Ikelite E-M1 Mark II housing

The Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II Compared with Other Cameras

The E-M1 Mark II is clearly an excellent all-around camera. However, with all of the options out there, is it the right camera for you? What about compact cameras? The Panasonic GH5? The OM-D E-M5 Mark II? Or the Sony A7R III?

Compared to compact cameras; Sony RX100V / G7X Mark II

The E-M1 Mark II focuses much faster and offers both a true fisheye lens and a true macro lens, which you won't get on the compact cameras, for true professional level underwater photos. Although the compact cameras are both solid options, the E-M1 Mark II will allow for a higher level of underwater photography, and also much more flexibility and quality topside (with a noted exception being the RX100V's impressive slow-motion video feature). 

For more information on compact options, see our RX100V review and G7X Mark II review.

Compared to other Micro Four Thirds

There are a number of very competitive offerings in the micro-four-thirds space. Here are some of the latest offerings, with the original E-M1 listed for comparison.

  

Panasonic GH5 

Olympus E-M1 Mark II 

Olympus E-M1

Olympus E-M5 Mark II 

Price 

$1,999

$1,999

$1,299

$1,099

Max Resolution 

5184 x 3888

5184 x 3888

4608 x 3456

4608 x 3456

Effective Pixels 

20 MP

20 MP

16 MP

16 MP

DXOMark Sensor Rating 

77

80

73

73

ISO 

Auto, 200-25600 (Expands to 100)

Auto, 200-25600

(Expands to 64)

Auto, 200-25600

(Expands to 100)

Auto, 200-25600

(Expands to 100)

Custom White Balance 

Yes (4 Slots)

Yes (4 Slots)

Yes (4 Slots)

Yes (4 slots)

Image Stabilization 

5 Axis, supports Dual IS 2, up to 5 stops with compatible lenses

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

5 Axis, up to 4 stops

5 Axis, up to 5 stops shake reduction

Autofocus 

Contrast Detection, 225 pts

Contrast & Phase Detection, 121 pts

Contrast & Phase Detection, 81 pts

Contrast Detection, 81 pts

Flash Sync Speed 

1/250

1/250

1/320

1/250

Burst Shooting 

12 fps

60 fps electronic / 15 fps mechanical

10 fps

10 fps/5 fps

Hi Res Shot Mode 

No

50 MP

No

40 MP

Video Formats 

MPEG-4, AVCHD, H.264

MPEG-4, H.264, Motion JPEG

H.264, Motion JPEG

MPEG-4, H.264, Motion JPEG

LCD Screen Size 

3.2” fully articulated

3” fully articulated

3” Tilting

3” fully articulated

Screen Dots 

1,620,000

1,037,000

1,037,000

1,037,000

Touch Screen 

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Electronic Viewfinder Coverage 

100%

100%

100%

100%

EVF Magnification 

0.76x

0.74x

0.74x

0.74x

Viewfinder Resolution 

3,680,000

2,360,000

2,360,000

2,360,000

Storage Types 

Dual SD/SDHC/SDXC

Dual SD/SDHC/SDXC

Single SD/SDHC/SDXC

Single SD/SDHC/SDXC

Environmentally Sealed 

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Battery Life 

410

440

350

310

Weight 

725 g (1.60 lb / 25.57 oz)

574 g (1.27 lb / 20.25 oz)

497 g (1.10 lb / 17.53 oz)

469 g (1.03 lb / 16.54 oz)

Dimensions 

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″)

130 x 94 x 63 mm (5.13 x 3.68 x 2.48″)

124 x 85 x 45 mm (4.88 x 3.35 x 1.77″)


Although not included on the above table, note that the GH5 offers substantially more features for producing cinema or documentary level videos. 

Consider the OM-D E-M5 Mark II if:

  • You want a cheaper option for micro-four-thirds
  • You want the smallest and lightest camera body option
  • Getting to use the micro-four-thirds system is more important than having the latest and greatest specs, and you're willing to sacrifice a bit of image quality for size and cost
  • You want the 40 MP hi res shot mode

Conside the Panasonic Lumix GH5 if:

  • You are looking to produce high quality cinema or documentary level videos, and want the additional specs, features, flexibility and video quality for 1080p or 4K shooting 
  • You want better autofocus than offered in cheaper micro-four-thirds options

Consider the OM-D E-M1 Mark II if:

  • You want the very best sensor/image quality available in the micro-four-thirds system
  • You want better autofocus than offered in cheaper micro-four-thirds options
  • You want the very best image stabilization available
  • You want to shoot ultra high quality Cinema 4K Video
  • You want the best battery life
  • You want 50 MP hi res shot mode
  • You want lightning-fast burst shooting and pro capture mode

For more information and direct head-to-head comparisons between the GH5 and the E-M1 Mark II, see our GH5 review. For more info on the E-M5 Mark II, check out our E-M5 Mark II review.

Compared to the Sony A7RIII

The Sony A7RIII is a larger and much more expensive setup ($3198 for just the camera body), with the lenses being larger than the micro-four thirds lenses; however, the image quality of the full-frame A7RIII sensor outperforms the micro-four thirds sensor (by a long shot; the DXOMark rating is 100!), and the A7RIII has significantly better professional video capability. 

Conclusion

The Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II is an excellent camera for underwater photo / video and will become one of the top choices for those purchasing a mirrorless camera. A wide selection of lenses, excellent dynamic range and high ISO performance, fast autofocus, 4K video and versatility set the bar high. Many of the specs are the best available in the Micro-four-thirds system. For those already using the Olympus system who have been waiting for better video options, Cinema 4K video is all that and more. And the image stabilization capacity of this camera cannot be beat, especially when synced with a compatible IS lens. 

The price point is high compared to previous micro four thirds options, and brings the camera more into the dSLR price range. However, the E-M1 Mark II still maintains the advantages of a smaller/more compact body and smaller and cheaper lenses and housings, an advantage which cannot be overstated.

Although the E-M1 Mark II sensor is the highest rated of available micro-four-thirds cameras, it still does not compare well to full-frame sensors for dSLR cameras or for the Sony A7RIII. However, as mentioned above, it does have major advantages over those systems in terms of cost and size. 

For those wanting to take professional-quality underwater photos without spending dSLR money or lugging around dSLR-sized rigs, you can't go wrong with this camera. Especially for macro shooters, the small size, ease of use and low price of the Olympus 60mm macro lens, not to mention the ideal focal length (120mm full frame equivalent) makes the E-M1 Mark II an excellent choice. Outside of the micro four thirds system, only a Canon or Nikon dSLR with a dedicated macro lens offers real competition in the areas of size, price and quality. 

The E-M1 Mark II is available now at Bluewater Photo! Also check out the comprehensive Nauticam Ultimate OM-D E-M1 Mark II Package and Olympus Ultimate Package for E-M1 Mark II.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Bryan is an assistant 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 and the Galapagos. 

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 will start their journey mid-2018 and 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?

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An in depth review of the GoPro HERO6 featuring amazing technological improvements in underwater video!
By Todd Kortte

GoPro Hero 6 Review

Todd Kortte
An in depth review of the GoPro HERO6 featuring amazing technological improvements in underwater video!

GoPro cameras are among the quickest, easiest, ergonomic, and powerful tools for capturing underwater memories of your underwater experiences.  The small profile and technological capabilities of the GoPro line make them a great series of cameras for all levels and forms of use. Often underestimated, GoPros can create broadcast quality video, and are even used in Hollywood for certain shots in TV and Film.  Used correctly you can produce astonishing results.  But which GoPro should you invest in and why?  What GoPro should you take with you on your next underwater vacation or dive adventure?  Many divers these days own the Hero4 or Hero5.

The recent release of the GoPro Hero6 Black is making strides in underwater videography, so is it really worth the upgrade for your underwater use?  

The GoPro Hero6 Black boasts significant improvement over previous versions of the GoPro.  Improvements that specifically benefit underwater use.  This is good news for scuba divers! Our team is conducting underwater video tests on the Hero6 Black, and making direct comparisons to the Hero5 Black.  So far in what we have discovered, there is no reason for any diver to jump in the water with any version of the GoPro less than the Hero6!  The improvements in 4K, Stabilization, Auto Exposure, Auto White Balance, Global Tone Mapping, and Color Accuracy are all giant steps ahead of all previous versions of the GoPro.  Upgrading to the Hero6 for underwater use is strongly recommended. 

Below are descriptions of the new advancements in the Hero6, along with videos showing side-by-side comparisons between the GoPro Hero5 Black and the GoPro Hero6 Black using the exact same settings.  You be the judge and let us know which camera you think is better.  For me, it's clearly the Hero6.  The Hero6 may look exactly like the Hero5, but without a doubt, what's inside the Hero6 clearly makes it the best GoPro camera to date for underwater use.

Purchase: GoPro HERO6 Black

Availability: Now

U.S. MSRP: $399.99

 

Shop GoPro on Bluewater Photo for all the housing, accessory and shooting tips you need to bring home excellent underwater video.

 

 

Jump to section:

Specs   |   Features Overview   |   Technological Improvements

4K   |   Stabilization   |  Auto Exposure

Auto White Balance   |   Color Accuracy and Global Tone Mapping   

GoPro HERO6 Accessories   |   Conclusion

Full GoPro Tutorial Series

GoPro HERO6 Specifications

  • Waterproof camera with a depth rating of 33ft (10 M) *without housing sold seperately
  • Simple 1 button control
  • Wifi + Bluetooth
  • Advanced wind noise reduction
  • Voice Command
  • Video stabilization
  • Touchscreen Display
  • Auto Upload to Cloud
  • GPS - Location Capture
  • Great low-light performance
  • Raw + WDR Photos
  • Wide-Angle Glass Lens
  • 30 fps burst with a new Auto Burst mode!
  • Video Resolution: 
    • 4K Video @ 60fps
    • 2.7K Video @ 120fps
    • 1440p Video @ 60fps
    • 1080p Video @ 240fps
    • 720p Video @ 60fps

Features Overview

  • Twice the Performance - The all-new GP1 chip delivers the best image quality in a GoPro yet with twice the overall performance
  • 2-Inch Touch Display - Controlling the settings, preview and playing back your shots taken will all be done through the 2 inch touchscreen display
  • Touch Screen Zoom - Get closer to the action simply by touching the screen (note will not work inside the Super Suit)
  • Rugged + Waterproof - The GoPro Hero6 Black is designed to be durable.  It is also waterproof up to 33ft or 10 meters without using a housing. 
  • Improved Low-light Performance
  • Hands Free Operation - new hands free control with simple voice commands (will not work underwater)
  • Advanced Video Stabilization - It can capture awesome smooth video even it is handheld, mounted to your gear or using different mounting accessories
  • GoPro QuickStories - let your devices do the work, GoPro Hero6 can automatically transfer your footage to your phone via the GoPro App, then edit and add music and effects so you can share immediately!
  • Wear it. Mount it. Love it. - Capture amazing moments in a new way using multiple options of GoPro mounts and accessories.

Loss of underwater "narrow" field of view setting: 

Unfortunately, shooting macro video got a little more difficult with the GoPro Hero6. The "narrow" field of view setting was used in the Hero5 to take macro footage; it is necessary for use with the macro lens. In the Hero6, this setting is replaced by a touch screen slider that is used to adjust how narrow the field of view is. Unfortunately, when the Hero6 is placed in the Super Suit housing, the slider cannot be moved. Essentially, you can't switch between wide and macro underwater. If you wish to shoot macro with the Hero6 then you need to slide the slider to narrow before the dive, place the camera in the housing, and then leave the camera running without making any changes the whole dive. We are hoping that a future firmware update will be made to fix this problem. 

Check out our suggested fix for macro video with the Hero6: 

http://www.uwphotographyguide.com/gopro-hero-6-underwater-macro

 

New Technological Strides 

4K

4K is a buzz word these days – everyone wants to shoot 4K resolution.  The Hero6 offers large improvements in 4K technology since the Hero5.  These improvements are significant for those serious about their 4k.  The Hero6 can shoot 4K at 60 frames per second resolution with no stabilization, and at 30 frames per second WITH stabilization.  The Hero5 is limited to only 30 fps at 4K resolution and DOES NOT have stabilization.   Winner in the 4K category clearly goes to the Hero6!

 

4K Comparison Test GoPro Hero5 vs Hero6 from Todd Kortte on Vimeo.

Recommended Resolution

Keep in mind that 4K is also more difficult to edit.  The file size can be 4-8x larger (depending on your frame rate) than shooting 2.7k or 1080.  4K resolution is 3840x2160. 2.7K resolution is 2704x1520. 1080, also known as HD, has the resolution of 1920x1080.  You need a powerful computer and powerful graphics card to edit 4K.  Most social media sites play your videos back at 720p or 1080p.  If you have no use for 4K resolution, I would recommend shooting at 2.7k and editing your files down to 1080 in your post production editing software.   You can post your 1080 file on social media for your friends and followers.

 

Stabilization

The Hero6 claims improvement in video stabilization over the Hero5.  Surprisingly, the Hero5 was the first GoPro to even have video stabilization!  The Hero4, Hero3, and any previous versions of the GoPro have no option for video stabilization and resulted in very shaky and difficult to watch underwater videos.  Most editing software programs have a stabilization option you can use with your videos from older versions of the GoPro. Often the results are not very appealing.  They end up looking warped and distorted.  Adding stabilization to the Hero5 was a much-welcomed improvement to the GoPro.  For us divers, having stabilization greatly helped reduce the shakiness that is an inherent problem of our underwater hobby.  The Hero6 has shown more stability over the Hero5 making this category a bonus for topside and underwater videos.  Another reason to jump into the Hero6.  Winner in this category goes to the Hero6.  

 

Stabiliaztion Comparison Test GoPro Hero5 vs Hero6 from Todd Kortte on Vimeo.

Stabilization Tips

While there is stabilization built into the camera, I would not recommend attaching your GoPro to your wrists, mask, or holding it in your hand.  Get a selfie stick and add a float so your setup is neutrally buoyant to the point where it can stay in one place if you let go of it underwater.  You want to do everything possible to keep the camera from moving too much.  Current, surge, swimming... this all creates shaky underwater videos that are difficult to watch later.  Do anything you can to keep the camera steady underwater.

 

Auto Exposure

Not only does the auto exposure on the Hero6 have more control than the Hero5, but thanks to the increased frame rate of the image processing, the Hero6 is able to shift from dark to bright regions significantly faster.  How does this benefit the underwater user?  Things happen quickly underwater and you need a camera that can quickly adjust from light to dark in the constantly moving underwater world.  A bright fish swimming close to your underwater lights can throw off your exposure.  Shooting up into the sunlight while following your subject can do the same.  A fish swimming from the sunlit part of a reef into the darker area of a reef forces your camera to think quickly and adjust for best results in colors.  The ability of the GoPro to adjust quicker and smarter to the constantly changing and unpredictable underwater world is another big plus for the Hero6!

 

Auto Exposure Comparison Test GoPro Hero5 vs Hero6 from Todd Kortte on Vimeo.

 

Auto White Balance 

The GoPro Hero6 introduces an incredible and much needed improvement in automatic white balance!  The difference from previous models alone is every reason to ditch your old GoPro and upgrade to a Hero6.  No other version of the GoPro can do what the Hero6 does… NO FILTERS NEEDED!  That's right!  The creators of the GoPro Hero6 greatly enhanced the auto white balance to do scene detection with much more accurate color detection across a broad range of environments and lighting conditions. This has resulted in a camera that can capture the natural colors of underwater shots without the need for ANY UNDERWATER FILTERS!!!  This improvement makes the Hero6, without any doubt, the GoPro you should be using in the water.

 

Auto White Balance Comparison Test GoPro Hero5 vs Hero6 from Todd Kortte on Vimeo.

Every GoPro before the Hero6 had a hurdle to jump when shooting underwater video – the auto white balance had difficulty compensating underwater, resulting in blue and green tinted videos. You were either forced to use a filter, or when using underwater video lights, just deal with the white balance shifting the colors in your video to shades of green and blue in the middle of your shot.

While every new version of the GoPro has produced better white balance results, the jump the Hero6 has made is a huge improvement.  This is great news for the world of underwater GoPro users!  For this reason alone, you should upgrade immediately. Hands down, the Hero6 wins this category by a landslide.

 

Color Accuracy and Global Tone Mapping

Other than the auto white balance being the biggest reason to upgrade, improvements in color accuracy and detail from global tone mapping make the Hero6 stand out as the ONLY GoPro you should be taking underwater!  The global tone mapping in video mode allows high-contrast shots with bright and dark regions to have improved exposure and retain details across the entire scene.  The level of detail of underwater video has drastically improved over the Hero5.  Colors are more accurate to how we see the real world.  You can instantly see in the side-by-side video comparisons the richer and more vibrant colors with the Hero6.  Again, the Hero6 wins.

Global Tone Mapping Comparison Test GoPro Hero5 vs Hero6 from Todd Kortte on Vimeo.

 

GoPro HERO6 Accessories

 

Super Suit Housing

*A must-have to venture below 33 ft (10m)

The GoPro Hero6 is waterproof down the 33ft (10m) without the housing, due to a more robust build than previous GoPro models. New waterproof features include a new removable lens cover and rubber seals to protect the battery / Micro SD card compartment and the HDMI / USB compartment.

This is great for snorkeling, but for scuba divers and freedivers it is necessary to use the Super Suit housing, which is rated down to 197ft (60m).

To insert the Hero6 into the Super Suit dive housing, you need to first remove the waterproof lens cover by twisting to the left and popping off. Then just drop the camera in and lock the latch.

GoPro Hero6 Super Suit Housing

 


Micro SD Card

GoPro recommends using a Class 10 memory card. For underwater video, we recommend a card with 64GB memory so that you can record video all day without changing cards. The Max-Flash Hyperspeed Micro SD cards are fast enough to capture 4K at fast framerates and a great companion to your HERO5. They come with a SD Card mount so that you can insert the card into your computer or card reader.

Max-Flash Hyperspeed 64GB Micro SD Card

Max-Flash Hyperspeed 32GB Micro SD Card

 

 

Spare Battery

GoPro Hero4 Battery

The battery in your GoPro Hero6 will last one to two dives, depending how much you're shooting. Buying one or two extra batteries allows to you change it out during your surface intervals. GoPro Hero5 batteries are compatible with the GoPro Hero6.

 GoPro Hero6 Spare Battery

 

 

Dual Battery Charger

GoPro Hero4 Dual Battery Charger

If you're shooting a lot on dive trips, don't hesitate on this. The alternative is to charge the batteries one at a time through the GoPro, which isn't always ideal or easy on tight schedules packed full of diving. 

GoPro Hero6 Dual Battery Charger

 

 

SeaLife Aquapod

SeaLife Aquapod

Capture your best selfie yet with the extendable Aquapod. Made by SeaLife, the Aquapod is designed for underwater use. Not only can you capture that selfie, but you can get the camera closer to your subject, whether it is something small or something skittish that you can't approach.

SeaLife Aquapod

 

 

GoPro Multigrip Handle

GoPro Multigrip Handle

Adding a handle like the Beneath the Surface Multigrip handle adds stability and is an easy way to hold your GoPro while diving, or any other activity. Often, if handholding your GoPro, you'll see your fingers wrap around into the picture. This problem is solved with the handle.

GoPro Multigrip Handle

 

 

GoPro Tray and Handles

GoPro Handles and Tray

Attaching your GoPro Hero6 to a tray and handles will make the camera easier to hold on to and much, much more stable underwater. In addition, the handles serve as a mounting point for video lights. Below are a few of our favorities:

Ultralight Tray & Handles for GoPro

R Innovations Tray & Handles for GoPro

Beneath the Surface Angled Double GoPro Tray

 


Video Lights

i-torch fishlite video light

Bring color back into the picture with use of video lights. Even a high-powered light will only illuminate a subject a few feet in front of you, so these are most useful for macro and close focus wide-angle video. Adding a video light to your GoPro setup will allow you to shoot professional-quality video on your next dive! Below are a few of our favorites: 

Kracken Sports Hydra 3500

Dual Light Value Package

Be sure to visit Bluewater Photo to learn about more video lights, whether professional high-lumen or small and affordable.

 

Conclusion

The GoPro Hero6 is a must-have upgrade from the Hero5. If you are torn about upgrading or wondering if the $100 increase from the HERO5 is worth it – watch our side by side comparisons and you be the judge. In these comparisons, the GoPro Hero5 and the GoPro Hero 6 were filmed with the exact same settings. They reveal the true quality of technological improvement. 

The GoPro Hero6 builds on the HERO5’s improvements on sharpness and image quality with superior white balance, color, auto exposure, stabilization, and resolution. Throughout the history of the product, the GoPro has been an extreme sports video camera first with its underwater functions as a bit of an afterthought. The GoPro Hero6’s underwater ability is not an afterthought – it is exceptional. With improvements in white balance, exposure, and color, the major kinks of underwater GoPro videography have now been worked out. You are looking at a diver’s dream GoPro. 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Todd Kortte is an actor in Hollywood and has a passion for the underwater world.  He brings his experience and knowledge from working on over 150 different shoots in Hollywood to the underwater filming and editing genre.  Todd has published underwater films, has won 8 film festival awards with his underwater work, and is a 3-time winner in the Bluewater Photo SoCal Shootout for the Edited Video category

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.

 


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

Sony RX100 V 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 RX100 V 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. 

Jump to section:

Sony RX100 V Specs   |  Underwater Photography Features   |   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 this 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.

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 III, IV, V Underwater Housing

The Fantasea Sony RX100 IV 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 IV Housing

To Buy or Not To Buy?

The RX100 V 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

 

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
  • 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 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

 

 

 

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!

 


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Taking the Nikon D850 Underwater for the first time
By Matthew Sullivan

Nikon D850 First Underwater Impressions

Matthew Sullivan
Taking the Nikon D850 Underwater for the first time

Check out our updated full review of the Nikon D850 for Underwater Photography here! 

 

For most underwater shooters, the D850 may well be the best DSLR ever made. In the past there has always been a compromise between speed and high resolution. No more. The D5 autofocus system that the D850 inherited, plus the 7 frames per second will be more than enough for just about every situation underwater. The dynamic range and ISO performance will be hugely appealing to wide angle shooters, and the resolution to allow insane detail and ability to crop heavily will appeal to macro shooters. 

 

Jump to Section:

KEY FEATURES       |      UNDERWATER PERFORMANCE       |       SENSOR       |       AUTOFOCUS/SPEED
ISO PERFORMANCE     |     RECOMMENDED LENSES     |     UNDERWATER HOUSINGS         CONCLUSION

 


The Nikon D850 is available now at Bluewater Photo!


 

KEY FEATURES:

The highlights that will be important to underwater shooters and differentiate the D850 from its predecessor the D810

  • 45.75 megapixel Full Frame BSI (Back-Side Illuminated) Sensor 
  • The world's best autofocus system taken from the Nikon D5 (153 AF points, 99 cross type) 
  • Can focus center spot down to -4EV
  • Improved low and high ISO performance over the D810/Improved Dynamic Range. 
  • 7fps, 51 shot raw buffer 
  • True full frame 4K video 
  • Max flash sync speed 1/250s 
  • XQD/SD card slots

 

UNDERWATER PERFORMANCE

Recently I took the Nikon D850 and the new Nauticam D850 housing out for a few dives in SoCal. Most of my recent underwater photography has been with the Nikon D810 and Nikon D500. The D850 is sort of a mashup between those two cameras so there wasn't much of a learning curve. Below I've touched on several of the areas that I feel will be important to underwater photographers interested in the Nikon D850.

 

INCREDIBLE SENSOR

The 36 megapixel sensor in the D810, for a long time, was held up as the gold standard for DSLR image quality. It was hard to imagine any improvement over that camera in terms of image quality, but the D850 seems to have succeeded. The resolution of the upgraded sensor is staggering and the dynamic range is at least as good, if not better, than the D810. Which is nice considering the higher resolution sensor, and the fact that underwater photographers often have to deal with high contrast scenes underwater, especially for wide angle shooting.



A coldwater gorgonian attached to a piling of the Eureka Oil Rig off Southern California. Not the most exciting of scenes but it shows the potential for the dynamic range in the D850. I definitely could've pulled more details from the shadows as there is plenty of detail there and the highlights aren't blown. Nikon D850, Nauticam Housing, Nikonos 13mm, 2x Retra Flash w/Wide angle diffusers on 1/4 power. 1/15, f5.0, ISO 320

 

AUTOFOCUS SPEED

The Nikon D810 and the Nikon D4 had the same autofocus system. However, the D4 was noticeably faster, especially in low light. With that said, I was expecting the D850 autofocus to lag noticeably compared to the D5 (which I have not used) and the D500 (which I have used extensively). The latter two cameras have entirely separate processors JUST for the autofocus, while the D850 does not. The D850 legitimately surprised me. I spent a while shooting Bluebanded Gobies on some recent dives. For those who have dived California, Bluebanded Gobies are a well known subject. The are beautiful, but excruiatingly painful to photograph. They are small, skittish, live in the typically dark California waters, and like to hang out in the dark, beneath overhangs. The D850 locked onto the small fish pretty much instantaneously without the need for a focus light.


Bluebanded Goby. Nikon D850, Nauticam Housing, Nikon 105mm VR, 2x Retra Flash on 1/8 power w/wide angle diffusers. 1/250, f6.3, ISO 64


 -My two preferred modes for the D850 when shooting macro are (AFC-3D) 3D tracking and Dynamic 9 Point AF (AFC-GRP 9). 3D tracking locks onto the subject and then follows it around the frame and Dynamic 9 Point activates 9 autofocus points that are movable in a group around the frame. For wide angle shooting, especially of fast animals, I like to use Continuous AF (AFC-Auto). It does a much better job of keeping up with moving subjects than I ever could myself. 3D tracking is also nice in these instances but i found it to not be quite as competent as AFC-Auto in this circumstances.

ISO PERFORMANCE

After the autofocus performance, the high ISO capabilities of the D850 were what interested me the most. Obviously at low ISO's, the D850 shines. However, high resolution bodies historically don't usually fare as well as their lower resolution relatives at increased ISOs because of the smaller pixel size. The D810 was never a camera I enjoyed pushing very far into high ISOs, and I absolutely hated to go above ISO 800. The D500 in my opinion can be pushed a bit more. The shot below with the D850 was taken in near darkness at ISO 2500. Yes, there is clearly noise present, but nowhere near as horrendous as I anticipated and the dynamic range even at this high an ISO is still remarkable as plenty of detail could be pulled from the shadows. It does not match up to the pro bodies cameras like the D4 (and the D5 is even better), but it also has drastically more resolution so the fact is can even be mentioned in the same sentence as the other two is quite remarkable. 

 

Diver beneath the Oil Rigs off Southern California. Taken on an extremely dark and cloudy day. Nikon D850, Nauticam Housing, Nikonos 13mm, Natural Light, 1/200, f4, ISO 2500

 

Recommended Lenses:

To get the most out of such a high resolution sensor, the best quality Nikon lenses will need to be used.

Macro:

  • Nikon 105mm 2.8G VR Macro 
  • Nikon 60mm 2.8G Macro

Wide Angle Fisheye:

  • Nikon 8-15mm 3.5-4.5G Fisheye - Best fisheye overall for Nikon FF 
  • Sigma 15mm 2.8 Fisheye - The budget option but focuses very close, is quite sharp and much cheaper than the other lenses listed. Be careful though, not every copy of this lens is sharp and the D850 high resolution sensor will show any flaw in the lens.
  • Nikon 16mm 2.8 Fisheye - Sharper, more expensive than sigma, but does not focus as close

Wide Angle Rectilinear:

  • Nikon 16-35mm 4.0 - The mose popular and versatile choice but requires a big dome port for acceptable image quality 
  • Nikon 20mm 1.8G - Small, compact, sharp, doesn't NEED as big a dome as the 16-35

 

UNDERWATER HOUSINGS:

 

Nauticam Nikon D850 Housing - $3,800

Ikelite Nikon D850 Housing - $1,695

Aquatica Nikon D850 Housing - TBA


Sea & Sea Nikon D850 Housing - TBA

 

CONCLUSION:

The closest competitors to the D850 are the Nikon D810, the Canon 5D Mark IV/Canon 5DSR, and the new Sony A7R III which is not yet available. The D850 may well be the best DSLR ever made for underwater photography and it will be hard to really find fault with it. I'm having trouble myself resisting buying one. Anyone purchasing a D850 and corresponding housing should rest assured they have a camera that can produce images with market leading quality.

Thank you to Bluewater Photo for providing the test camera and Nauticam housing for use on this initial review, and I hope you can join me a trip next year (1 spot left on the Anilao trip I'm running next month)

 

RELATED ARTICLES:

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Matthew Sullivan is an underwater and conservation photographer based out of Los Angeles, CA. For more of his pictures follow him on Instagram.

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

 


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The new addition to Canons full-frame cameras with specs and recommended lenses.

Canon 6D Mark II Camera Review

The new addition to Canons full-frame cameras with specs and recommended lenses.

Celebrating the National Camera day, Canon USA Inc., has timely announced their new full-frame camera, EOS 6D Mark II.  The camera has been designed for the advanced-amateur photographers. It has been 5 years already since its predecessor, 6D, has been released and both topside and underwater photographers are thrilled with this announcement.

The camera is packed with great features such as 26.2 MP CMOS sensor, the dual pixel AF similar to the the 5D Mark IV, DIGIC7 Processor, touchscreen, wifi/gps and a lot more. 

This is a promising full-frame camera and we are expecting to produce great results underwater. 

Status: To be released end of August 2017

MSRP: $1,999.00

 

Jump to section:

6D Mark I| Specs    |    Full Frame or Crop Sensor    |     Best Lenses    |    Underwater Housings

 

 

Canon 6D Mark II Specifications:

  • 26.2 MP Full-frame CMOS Sensor
  • DIGIC 7 Image Processor
  • High-speed Continuous Shooting at up to 6.5 fps
  • Optical Viewfinder with a 45-point All Cross-type AF System
  • Dual Pixel CMOS AF with Phase-detection 
  • Full HD 60p Video
  • ISO 100-40000
  • 3.0-inch Vari-angle Touch Screen LCD
  • Built-in Wi-Fi
  • NFC3
  • Bluetooth
  • GPS technology
  • Dust- & Water-resistant

 

Do you Buy a Full Frame or Crop Sensor?

Full frame cameras are becoming more and more popular among underwater photographers.  Many photographers are upgrading systems to full frame and many brand new photographers are purchasing full frame as their first camera system.  But even with the popularity of large sensors, the crop sensor has a strong place in the mirrorless and DSLR market, and actually excels in many areas of undewater photo and video.

So which is the right camera for you?  Here's a quick breakdown:

 

Pros of a Full Frame Sensor

  • Larger sensor is more sensitive to light.

  • Better performance at high ISOs, specifically with electronic noise and color.

  • Less depth of field at the same apertures results in smoother bokeh.

 

Pros of a Crop Sensor

  • Cheaper than full frame camera body.

  • The standard 1.6 crop factor (1.5 on Nikon DX) essentially magnifies the image, bringing you closer to that shark swimming in the distance or to filling the frame with a small nudibranch.

  • You can use a lower aperture to achieve the same depth of field as a higher aperture on a full frame sensor. This is beneficial for three reasons:

1.  Most lenses deliver their best image quality in mid-range apertures.
2.  Higher apertures become prone to diffraction.
3.  Lower apertures allow more light to hit the sensor, which helps bring more vibrant color from video lights (when shooting video), while maintaining necessary depth of field for the shot.

 

Have more questions?  Contact the experts at Bluewater Photo, who can guide you to the perfect camera setup for your shooting style and budget.

 

Best Lenses for the 6D Mark II

The Canon 6D Mark II uses a full frame sensor, making it compatibly with Canon's EF lenses plus compatible 3rd party lenses. Underwater photography generally falls into two categories: wide-angle and macro. The lenses below are best for shooting in these styles with the Canon 6D Mark II (and all Canon full frame DSLR bodies).

 

Macro

Canon EF 100mm f/2.8L Macro IS USM

This smooth and fast lens should be in every experienced (Canon) underwater photographer's bag. It provides the magnification needed for shooting small macro subjects and the tiniest subjects when combined with a diopter on the outside of the housing port. View some photos shot with the Canon 100mm Macro lens on full frame bodies.

 

Wide-Angle Fisheye

Canon 8-15mm Circular Fisheye

This is one of several fisheye choices for 6D Mark II shooters. A sharp fisheye at 15mm, you can also shoot this lens at 8mm without a dome port shade in order to produce circular fisheye images. Check out some examples in Wide-Angle in Bunaken or read or full Canon 8-18mm Lens Review.

 

Alternative Fisheye Lenses

Other great fisheye lens choices for the Canon 6D Mark II will be the Sigma 15mm and the Tokina 10-17mm fisheye lens (between 15-17mm since this is an APS-C lens). The Sigma will likely deliver better image quality, however the Tokina is very convenient if you already have it in the camera bag.

 

Rectilinear Wide-Angle

Canon 16-35 f/2.8 III Ultra-Wide Zoom Lens

It's safe to say that this is the best choice for those who are buying their first wide-angle lens and don't have a strict budget. Most underwater shooters use rectilinear wide-angle lenses for shooting subjects that don't come close enough to fill the frame with a wide fisheye lens: sharks, whales, sea lions, dolphins, etc.

 

Canon 16-35mm f/2.8L II Wide-Angle Lens

The most popular rectilinear wide-angle lens for Canon full frame DSLRs has been the Canon 16-35mm f/2.8 Mark II. This lens sat at the top of the selection for the last few years in terms of corner sharpness, speed, and price... although that will change as more new shooters purchase the version III.

 

Canon 11-24mm f/4L Ultra Wide-Angle Lens

Want the widest lens you can buy? The Canon 11-24mm offers a much wider field of view than 16mm. This perspective is great for reefscapes, massive wrecks and very wide shots where you do not want the distortion of a fisheye lens. The downside is that this lens is larger, heavier and more expensive than the other wide-angle lens choices.

 

Alternative Rectilinear Wide-Angle Lenses 

Underwater photo and video shooters on a budget will be looking towards the Canon 16-35mm f/4L or the Canon 17-40 f/4L USM wide-angle lenses. And unless you're a pixel-peeper with critical details in the corners of your images, it will be hard to tell the difference in IQ between these lenses and the popular 16-35mm f/2.8L II (we haven't tested images with the new 16-35 III yet). The quality of the dome port you are shooting through will make a much more significant difference. These lenses are also much lighter and sport 77mm filter threads instead of 82mm - which is significant for topside filter use.

 

Underwater Housings

There is still no announcement from manufacturers yet but we are expecting housings these companies.

 

Nauticam

 

Aquatica

 

Sea & Sea

 

Ikelite

 

AquaTech

 


View all the cameras, lights and accessories at Bluewater Photo.


 

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Chino Mendoza , is an avid diver and underwater photographer and tries to go everytime he can.  He is based in Manila which is a few hours Anilao which is the “critter capital of the Philippines”  He likes to shoot macro and his favorite subjects are nudibranchs and frogfishes.

Get in touch with him via email at lorenzo@bluewaterphotostore.com

View Chino's work:  Facebook     |     Instagram

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!

 


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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.

 


Detailed review of the Sony a6500 mirrorless camera for underwater photo and video, tested for macro and wide-angle across 30 dives in the Philippines.
By Brent Durand

Sony a6500 Camera Review

Brent Durand
Detailed review of the Sony a6500 mirrorless camera for underwater photo and video, tested for macro and wide-angle across 30 dives in the Philippines.

The Sony a6500 was announced very soon after the a6300; so close in fact that the camera was just becoming available as I was shooting for our a6300 camera review. Needless to say, the Sony a6500 features some nice upgrades.

The a6500 is Sony's flagship APS-C mirrorless camera, packing a robust set of photo and video features into a very affordable camera body. The camera is much smaller than the full-frame mirrorless Sony a7R II, making it a great choice for those who are looking at mirrorless cameras for their impressive image quality in a small body.

I shot the Sony a6500 in the Fantasea FA6500 housing across 30 dives during Bluewater Photo's spring workshop in Anilao, Philippines, leading to the insights in the review below.

Price:  $1,398

 


Purchase the Sony a6500 at Bluewater Photo




Jump to section:

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

Best Lenses    |    Underwater Housings    |    Conclusion    |    More Underwater Photos

 

 

Sony a6500 Key Features

  • 24.2-megapixel APS-C Exmor CMOS sensor 

  • 425-point phase detection autofocus points

  • 4D Focus picks up both space and time to capture moving subjects quickly with new clarity

  • BIONZ X™ image-processing engine delivers blazing speed and performance, combined with new front-end LSi

  • ISO 100 - 25,600 (expandable to 51,200)

  • 5-axis in-body image stabilization

  • 2.95" wide-angle LCD monitor with brightness control for sharp vivid color in any light

  • Touch screen focusing

  • Electronic XGA OLED Tru-Finder™

  • 4K video recording with no pixel binning (sampling from full sensor for increased detail)

  • 11 FPS burst

  • Built-in WiFi for easy sharing

  • Battery life approximately 350 shots using LCD screen

 

Sony a6500 Upgrades from the a6300

  • 5-Axis Image Stabilization

  • Touch Screen Focusing

  • Newly Developped Front-End LSi (image processing algorithm)

  • Higher quality 4K video recording (Super 35 feature now uses 6K of data before recording at 4K)

 

A nudibranch reaches out towards the camera. Sony a6500, Sony 16-50mm lens, Fantasea FA6500 housing, Fantasea UCL-09LF diopter, dual Sea & Sea YS-D1 strobes. @24mm, ISO 100, f/22, 1/160. Photo: Brent Durand

 

Sony a6500 for Underwater Photography

I used the Sony a6500 for both macro and wide-angle, photo and video, in Anilao a few couple weeks ago. I shot exclusively with the Sony 16-50mm power zoom kit lens, which when combined with Fantasea's macro diopter and wide angle conversion lens, presented a versatile camera setup.

Image quality of the a6500 is excellent, as you can see in the sample photos throughout this article, however I do think there is some clarity to be gained by shooting higher-quality lenses like the Sony 90mm macro and Sony 16-35mm wide-angle (f/4 or brand new f/2.8 version).

The color delivered into Adobe Lightroom was a little warm for my preferences while using Bluewater's rental Sea & Sea YS-D1 strobes (camera set to auto white balance), so I created an a6500 preset to set each image at 5000k as an editing starting point. After this, the color really popped (a true hat tip from a guy who shoots Canon DSLRs on land!).

The a6500 defaults to showing the blinking highlight alert during image review, which I find very useful (along with the histogram). This alert has a lower tolerance than Adobe Lightroom, meaning that if an area is just slightly blown out and flashing on the a6500 LCD screen, there may still be recoverable info in the pixels once the .ARW file is opened in Lightroom.

Camera Controls:  The Sony a6500 default control functionality is very intuitive, and that is without programming the custom C1 and C2 buttons on top right of the camera.

Camera Operation & Processing:  The a6500 takes a few seconds to boot up, and controls also take a split-second to respond. This lag will be unnoticeable (or even much faster than normal) for most compact and mirrorless shooters, but might might bug some DSLR shooters who are used to buzzing in between settings, photo to video, and menu changes. This is the only reason I point it out.

Max Sync Speed:  This is 1/160s on the Sony a6500. The camera actually limits your shutter speed to 1/160 when the pop-up flash is up, which prevents you from bumping up the shutter by accident. For shooting video at 1/250s (manual setting for recording at 120 frames per second), I simply pushed the flash down, which then opened up the full range of shutter speeds.

Autofocus: 4D autofocus performed accurately on the Sony a6500 for both wide-angle and macro. There is a definite improvement in ability to lock focus when shooting macro, but note that I was using the 16-50mm (I had used the 90mm for reviewing the a6300). Given that the a6500 was marketed as the fastest camera in the world at launch, I would expect nothing less.

This said, there were a couple times where I was using a diopter and beyond the maximum working distance, and the single AF lock let me fire images even though the subject was clearly not in focus. Once I moved the camera within range the system regained accuracy.

Moving a single AF point around the frame is a multi-step process, unfortunately. You must push the function button, push set once the AF area is selected, then push the M area once selected, and then move the focus point around the frame. The focus point stays active until you need to use the rear control dial to access another setting, like ISO. At that point you would need to reactivate it through the process above (note: you could program ISO to the C1 or C2 button in an effort to keep the focus point active constantly). 

I shot the a6500 using Single AF.  I did try tracking a few different times on some very camouflaged subjects (network pipefish, ghost pipefish, juvenile sweetlips) but found it wasn't any more successful delivering images than Single AF. The tracking works much better on subjects with a clear contrast difference from their background.

Battery Life:  The Sony a6500 battery lasted about two macro dives with the pop-up flash set to Fill Flash. When shooting video, I would recommend changing the battery after every dive.

 

Known for macro, Anilao also is home to gorgeous reefs. Sony a6500, Sony 16-50mm lens, Fantasea FA6500 housing, Fantasea UWL-09F wide-angle conversion lens, dual Sea & Sea YS-D1 strobes. @18mm, ISO 320, f/13, 1/100. Photo: Brent Durand

 

A mototi octopus crawls across the sand while hunting. Sony a6500, Sony 16-50mm lens, Fantasea FA6500 housing, dual Sea & Sea YS-D1 strobes. @33mm, ISO 100, f/14, 1/160. Photo: Brent Durand


Sony a6500 for Underwater Video

The Sony a6500 is a powerful video machine. 4K at 30fps and 1080p at 120fps make the a6500 versatile for beginners and pros alike, those making long-form films or those aiming for short clips.

If you're a casual video shooter, simply push the red button when the action starts. More advanced shooters will be pleased to know that the Sony a6500 features 4K Super 35 mode (popular in the a7 II series), which records video across the entire 6k sensor (full pixel readout, no binning). This oversampling results in crisp 4K (3840x2160p) imagery, and when combined with flat gamma curve profiles like S-Log 3, contains much more dynamic range to work with while editing and color grading. The a6500 records 8-bit, 4:2:0 4K at up to 100Mb/s. Adding an external HDMI recording device increases this to uncompressed 4:2:2 4K (although still 8-bit).

The closest video competitor in this camera class is the new Panasonic GH5.

White Balance:  Sony does not offer 1-touch manual white balance on the a6500. Read our complete Guide to Manual White Balance on the Sony a6500.

Sony a6500 Video Settings:  I set the camera to record in XAVC S HD format, 120fps at 100Mb/s. Why no 4K? Aside from the fact that my laptop can't process it, most of us can't view true 4K resolution anyways. There is a valid argument that you'll see better image quality when shooting 4K (and resizing to 1080p during post), however the maximum frame rate on the Sony a6500 is 30fps. Since I only use short unedited clips for social media (and was looking for action to replay in slo-mo), shooting 1080 at 120fps made far more sense.

Image Stabilization:  The new 5-axis image stabilization in the a6500 body is apparent when filming underwater video. It's most noticeable when handholding the system, rotating around the subject, and slowly moving in and out. The IS serves to minimize the shake, resulting in smooth motion. I didn't notice it as much when the camera was filming on a tripod.

Autofocus:  Video autofocus is fast and accurate. The autofocus found and held subjects well for both macro and super macro shooting, although it did shift focus off my selected subject a few times when confused (e.g. from colmani shrimp eye to antennae bristles when they moved in front of eye, and then back to eye when the antennae was moved again). This is very normal when using autofocus with distracting elements in the frame or backgrounds of similar contrast/patterns as the subject.

While I recorded quite a few video clips during our dives in Anilao, we'll save the detailed pro-level video review for a separate article to come soon.

 

A nudibranch reaches out across a sponge. Sony a6500, Sony 16-50mm lens, Fantasea FA6500 housing, Fantasea UCL-09LF diopter, dual Sea & Sea YS-D1 strobes. @39mm, ISO 100, f/16, 1/160. Photo: Brent Durand


Sony a6500 Best Lenses

Macro

Standard / Mid-Range

Wide-Angle

Fisheye

Additional Lens Options

Individual housing manufacturers may offer macro and wide-angle wet lens options. For example, Fantasea a6500 housing shooters can use the Sony 16-50mm lens inside a small flat port, donning the UCL-09LF macro dioptor or UWL-09F wide-angle conversion lens depending on the shot.

 

Shooting a zoom lens with wet lens conversion setup makes you ready for anything. Sony a6500, Sony 16-50mm lens, Fantasea FA6500 housing, Fantasea UWL-09F wide-angle conversion lens, dual Sea & Sea YS-D1 strobes. @23mm, ISO 320, f/13, 1/100. Photo: Brent Durand

 

Sony a6500 Underwater Housings

 

Aquatica Sony a6500 Housing  $1,650

Aquatica designed this housing to retain the small, easy-to-use size of the a6500. Robust in build with ergonomics at the forefront of design, this housing features various strobe connectors, M16 bulkhead for a monitor, vacuum capabilities and many other great features.

Learn more about the Aquatica a6500 Housing.

 

Fantasea Sony a6500 Housing  $980

The Fantasea FA6500 fits both the a6500 and a6300, with a functional and sleek design that blends ergonomics with great value. A wide range of accessories, including TTL converter and wet lenses complement the housing.

Learn more about the Fantasea a6500 Housing.

 

Ikelite Sony a6500 Housing  $975

The Ikelite a6500 housing delivers great value in their iconic polycarbonate housing, complete with an integrated TTL circuit that's powered by the strobe - no extra batteries needed. A wide range of ports complements the a6500's arsenal of lenses.

Learn more about the Ikelite a6500 Housing.


Nauticam Sony a6500 Housing  $1800

The Nauticam NA-A6500 housing is precision engineered to provide the most ergonomic control of the camera. Nauticam has moved camera controls to positions at the fingertips and offers many accessories to build this kit for beginners and pros alike.

Learn more about the Nauticam a6500 Housing.

 

Conclusion

The Sony a6500 is a great camera in a small package. The flagship Olympus and Sony a7 II series are big cameras, and while the performance is there, their housings look more like those of DSLRs than small mirrorless cameras.

Excellent image quality, fast autofocus, video image stabilization and a quickly growing selection of lenses make the Sony a6500 a great choice for underwater photo and video shooters. Housing prices start at $975 and go up from there, so you can build a very affordable underwater system around the a6500 - a huge PRO in my book.

Less experienced shooters will not see many cons with the a6500. Shooters coming from DSLRs will need to adjust to the slightly slower operating speed (menus, startup, button controls) and the fact that everything in the LCD screen and EFV is digital instead of the real scene reflected in a mirror.

In short, if you're looking for a compact and powerful interchangeable lens camera system at a great price, then the Sony a6500 is for you.

 

More Sony a6500 Underwater Photos

Hawkfish, while common, are a fun portrait subject. Sony a6500, Sony 16-50mm lens, Fantasea FA6500 housing, Fantasea UCL-09LF diopter, dual Sea & Sea YS-D1 strobes. @28mm, ISO 100, f/16, 1/160. Photo: Brent Durand

 

Anemone shrimp are commonly found with eggs. Sony a6500, Sony 16-50mm lens, Fantasea FA6500 housing, Fantasea UCL-09LF diopter, dual Sea & Sea YS-D1 strobes. @41mm, ISO 100, f/29, 1/160. Photo: Brent Durand

 

A friendly green turtle hangs out for a portrait. Sony a6500, Sony 16-50mm lens, Fantasea FA6500 housing, dual Sea & Sea YS-D1 strobes. @37mm, ISO 100, f/16, 1/125. Photo: Brent Durand

 

Two clownfish swim the same path through their host. Sony a6500, Sony 16-50mm lens, Fantasea FA6500 housing, dual Sea & Sea YS-D1 strobes. @25mm, ISO 125, f/16, 1/160. Photo: Brent Durand

 

A nudibranch perches on a rock as current rips by. Sony a6500, Sony 16-50mm lens, Fantasea FA6500 housing, Fantasea UCL-09LF diopter, dual Sea & Sea YS-D1 strobes. @45mm, ISO 100, f/20, 1/160. Photo: Brent Durand

 

Disclosure: Fantasea loaned UWPG the gear reviewed in this article, which was returned after the review.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Brent Durand is a weekend wanderer and story teller from California.

Brent is an avid diver and adventure photographer, and shoots underwater any time he can get hands on a camera system. He can be reached at brent@uwphotographyguide.com.

Follow Underwater Photography Guide on Facebook or Instagram.

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.

 


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