Review of cameras

Olympus E-PL7 first impressions review

Scott Gietler
Initial impressions of the Olympus E-PL7 camera, and comparison to the E-PL5 & E-M10

Olympus E-PL7 Review

By Scott Gietler & Kelli Dickinson

 

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The Olympus E-PL5 mirrorless camera, with it fast-focusing and great image quality, has been a very popular camera for underwater photography, especially when combined with the economical Olympus E-PL5 underwater housing.

The E-PL6 was released in Japan, but some of the other distributors balked at releasing the E-PL6 in their country because the differences between the E-PL5 were so minor.

Now the Olympus E-PL7 has been announced. None of the upgrades are earth-shattering, they are all very minor but they do help make it a slightly better camera versus the E-PL5. Let's take a look at the key upgrades:

 

Olympus E-PL7 Features:

  • 16MP Sensor (Same as E-PL5)
  • Improved TruPic VII Processor (better than E-PL5, same as the OM-D E-M10)
  • 1/250th sync speed (same as E-PL5, better than the OM-D E-M1)
  • ISO LOW for ISO 100 support  - the E-PL5 lowest ISO was ISO 200
  • Improved Tilting LCD screen (flips down 180 degrees)
  • 3 axis image stabilization (vs E-PL5 dual-axis - which is also now used for video)
  • 24Mbps bit rate for video, vs 20Mbps on E-PL5
  • 81 auto-focus points vs 35 auto focus points on E-PL5
  • Wireless support

 

Be sure to check out Bluewater Photo's Best Settings & Shooting Guide for the Olympus E-PL7.

 

Olympus E-PL7 for wide-angle sunballs

The new changes on the E-PL7 means that we can now photograph sunballs at F22, 1/250th, ISO 100. This is a nice improvement for photographers who want to do serious underwater wide-angle photography.

 

Olympus E-PL7 versus OM-D E-M10

The E-PL7 and the E-M10 actually have very similar specifications, with the biggest differences between that the slightly more expensive E-M10 has an electronic viewfinder and a built-flash, both of which are nice features. I recommend getting the E-PL7 if you want to get the money-saving Olympus brand underwater housing, and the E-M10 if you want to use the much better quality Nauticam E-M10 housing.

 

Olympus E-PL7 PT-EP12 underwater housing - BIG CHANGES!

The Olympus PT-EP12 underwater housing is available in the US for $750, buy it here. Olympus surprised everyone by making some big changes to the PT-EP12 housing.

The new housing is definitely smaller, easier to hold and has a larger shutter release. Buttons are tired and labeled nicely as they have been in the past, and a new control knob on the front of the housing corresponds to the new control dial on the top of the camera making exposure changes quick and easy.

New Standard Port

The most apparent change is that they've redesigned the front port. No longer does the housing include the large standard port which worked with the 14-42mm II R, 9-18mm and 60mm macro lenses. Olympus ignored the usefulness of these lenses and redesigned the port for the newer, smaller 14-42mm EZ lens. As always they continue to stand behind the idea that this port is "not removeable" and thus will not be offering the older standard port as an option to purchase for the housing. This is a huge disappointment for many people.

In addition, in the USA the E-PL7 is only being sold as a kit with the original 14-42mm II lens or body only. So users who buy this kit and the housing will be disappointed. To use the camera in the housing users will also have to purchase the 14-42mm EZ lens which is being sold separately for a whopping $350 USD.

Using Third Party Lens Ports

Luckily Olympus did not change everything on this housing. The new port maintains the same diameter and design as the original standard port, which means that all third party ports will still work great with the PT-EP12 housing. What we recommend is to purchase the E-PL7 camera as body only, then purchase the lenses you plan to use underwater, such as the Olympus 60mm Macro, the Olympus 9-18mm or Panasonic 8mm Fisheye. You can get third party ports for all these lenses and they work great with the E-PL7 underwater.

Wide Angle Port Options

For the Olympus 9-18mm and Panasonic 8mm domes from Precision and Zen already exist allowing for perfect, sharp results. Use the Precision or the Zen 4" dome for the 8mm Fisheye Lens. For the 9-18mm, 12-50mm or standard 14-42mm II kit lens the Zen WA-100-EP dome is perfect. Tests with the housing confirm that the zoom gear for 14-42mm / 9-18mm still work perfectly.

Olympus E-PL7, Panasonic 8mm FE ISO200, F4, 1/60

Macro Port Options

To use the Olympus 60mm underwater with great results you'll want to purchase two pieces from Zen. You'll need the FP-100 port designed for the 45mm macro lens and the ER-EP-25 Extension Ring, which extends the FP-100 port so it works with the Olympus 60mm Macro. You can also use the 12-50mm lens behind the flat port. Olympus' UW mode controls allows you to shoot at Wide and Tele, not full zoom control or the dedicated macro mode.

Using the 14-42mm EZ Lens

From tests with the housing the 14-42mm EZ lens would only be recommended if you are looking for a very easy to use, simple, single lens set up with the housing. Olympus is not making a zoom gear to function with this lens. This means that you are limited to shooting at 14mm or 42mm by utilizing Olympus' built in Underwater WIDE and Underwater TELE controls, which automatically zooms the lens with a touch of a button on the camera. Unfortunately this also presets the camera to P Mode, Underwater White Balance, Flash at Fill-In and ISO Auto. You can override these settings to any others in a matter of seconds, but it does get annoying, and does not allow for quick changes at a moments notice.

In addition, the smaller flat port with the 14-42mm EZ lens does allow for the use of some wet lenses for both wide angle and marco. This makes the camera set up more similar to a compact camera, where you can change from wide to macro underwater with the use of wet lenses, like the UWL-04. However you are still limited to shooting full wide or full zoom, so do not have the flexibility of intermediate zoom ranges for portrait type shots. Stay tuned for wet lens tests.

E-PL7 lens selection for underwater

For underwater, most people will end up using the following lenses:

  • Panasonic 8mm fisheye - for ultra-wide angle
  • Olympus 9-18mm fisheye, for general wide-angle and sharks
  • Olympus 14-42mm EZ lens - for those wanting a simple single lens system
  • Olympus 60mm lens - for small fish, macro, supermacro

For more details and lens choices, visit our guide to the best mirrorless lenses for underwater.

 

 

Olympus E-PL7 Settings & Shooting Guide

Visit Bluewater Photo to view our detailed Settings & Shooting Guide for the Olympus E-PL7.

 

Olympus E-PL7 conclusions

The Olympus E-PL5 has been an extremely popular and recommended camera for underwater photography, and the E-PL7 will follow in its footsteps nicely, especially when paired with the economical Olympus brand housing.

We recommend this camera for those wanting the great quality of the micro-four thirds sensors and interchangeable lenses. It works best with the lenses recommended above. Alternately this is a great option for folks looking for a higher quality single lens system as an upgrade from a compact camera, planning to shoot mostly auto mode.

Users who want a better quality housing and more port choices will want to either go for the Nauticam OM-D E-M10, or the high-end Olympus OM-D E-M1 with 4 OM-D E-M1 underwater housing choices.

The camera is available now. In the USA it will be $599 body only, or $699 with the 14-42mm kit lens.

 

Further Reading

 

 


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Sony RX-100 III Review for Underwater Photos

Scott Gietler
Pros and cons of the new Sony RX-100 III and its new 24-70mm lens

 

Sony RX-100 III Review

Focusing on Underwater Photography and Video

By Scott Gietler

 

 

 
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History of the Sony RX-100 III

When the Sony RX-100 was released in June of 2012, it had a huge impact in the underwater photography field. It packed a huge sensor it a tiny size (very pocketable), it did great video, it could do TTL in manual mode, and it worked great with all wide-angle lenses, inlcuding my favorite lens, the UWL-04 fisheye lens.

 

The RX-100 II came out in June/July of last year, but offered little in terms of new features.  It claimed a new "back-lit" sensor, although I noticed little difference in underwater photos.

Now less than a year later, Sony has announced the RX-100 III. Although it adds a better video bit-rate and adds an electronic viewfinder, it also changes the lens from a 28-100mm lens to a 24-70mm F1.8-2.8 lens, which may or may not be a good thing, depending on what you want to use the camera for.

 

With a wet macro lens, a longer focal length will always give you more working distance and more magnification, so you will see astep back in these areas. In addition, we have generally seen 24mm lenses not work as a well with wide-angle wet lenses as 28mm lenses do. We tested this in the pool, and you can see our summary of the results below.

 

sony RX-100 III review for underwater photography

 

 

Sony RX-100 III pros and cons for underwater photography

 

Sony RX-100 III Pros:

Increased bit rate for video

  • The bit rate for video increased from 28Mbps to 50Mpbs, if you use the new XAVC format. However, the Sony RX-100 and RX-100 II already took very good video, so I'm not sure if the majority of shooters will utilize the higher bit-rate offered. There is also a new 120fps mode (120fps in Europe) that can be slowed down in an editor for slow-motion video.

New electronic viewfinder included

  • Electronic viewfinder is now included. The EVF can be useful in very bright-light conditions. However, the underwater housings do not support the EVF, so this feature is not useful for underwater photos. On land, I've tried the EVF and it is bright and fairly sharp, and will be a welcome addition for certain shooting conditions.

Lens is brighter at the long end

  • New 24-70mm F1.8/2.8 lens is brighter (F2.8) at 70mm than the old lens on the RX-100 / RX-100 II. This wil be beneficial for low-light shooting indoors, but for underwater photography I actually prefer the longer lens of the RX-100 and RX-100 II. Also, I don't find myself shooting wide-open very often underwater anyways when I zoom in.

3-stop ND filter included

  • If this is your camera for shooting creative waterfall shots, or in extremely bright conditions, then this feature will be useful.

 

Cons of the RX-100 III for underwater

Larger and less pocketable

  • 10% larger and 20% heavier than the RX-100. When holding the 2, the RX-100 III is noticeable heavier. Although it is still a small camera, I would consider it "semi-pocketable", instead of slim and truly pocketable like the RX-100

Cost

  • The RX-100 III is 45% more costly than the RX-100

Less macro capability

  • The 24-70mm lens will not give as much magnification as the 28-100mm lens will. The RX-100 can take a photo 3 inches across, the RX-100 II can take a photo 4 inches across, which is quite poor for macro. When using the Bluewater +7 macro lens, I am able to take a photo 1.37 inches wide at maximum magnification with the RX-100. With the RX-100 III, I can take a photo 1.78 inches across, which is a noticeable loss in magnification from what I was able to get with the RX-100/RX-100 II. I also have a little less working distance with the RX-100 III. 

Less reach for shy subjects

  • 24-70mm lens gives less working distance for shy subjects. For gobies, mantis shrimp, jawfish, etc. I like to zoom in to at least 100mm, preferable 120 - 140mm.

Wide-angle lenses

  • The RX-100 and RX-100 II work very well with the UWL-04 fisheye lens, my favorite wide-angle lens. The RX-100 III with the 24-70mm lens only works with a couple of wide-angle lens - the best angle of view was a wide-angle G-series lens.

Battery Life

  • Slightly less battery life than the RX-100

Image quality & focus speed is not any better for a higher cost camera

  • The DXO Mark scores for the RX-100 III are actually slightly less than the RX-100 II in the dynamic range and color bit measurements. These differences are tiny and for all intensive purposes, IQ is the same in all 3 cameras imho for underwater use.
  • The auto-focus speed of the RX-100 and RX-100 III are similar, based on the tests I've been doing in dark indoor conditions.

 

 

Sony RX-100 III underwater housings

The Ikelite RX-100 III housing, the Recsea RX-100 III housing, and the Nauticam RX-100 III housing are all currently on the market.

 

Ikelite RX-100III Housing

 

Ikelite RX-100III underwater housing

The Ikelite housing is acrylic and less expensive, while the other brands are made of aluminum with more highly-designed controls.

 

 

Recsea RX100 III housing

Recsea RX-100III underwater housing

I used the Recsea RX-100 III underwater housing in the pool, and I found the housing easy to use and the controls well made. The was a diagram showing the function of the controls, which made it easy to find the menu and play buttons when I needed them.

Read our detailed review and specs for the the Recsea RX-100 III Housing.

 

Nauticam RX100 III Housing

 

Nauticam RX-100III underwater housing

I also briefly used the Nauticam housing in the pool. The housing is small and very well made, with a leak detector and well-labeled controls. The control dials worked well when I needed to adjust the aperture and the shutter speed. I also did some wide-angle wet lens tests that I'll be publishing this week. The Dyron super-wide angle lens worked the best, with sharp, ultra-results. The Bluewater WA-100 wide-angle lens and the Inon UWL-100 lens gave similar, less wide results (but still very sharp and much wide with no wide-angle lens).

Read our detailed review and specs for the the Nauticam RX-100 III Housing.

 

 

Sony RX-100 III underwater photos

I managed to jump in the pool and take some photos with the RX-100 III, I really enjoyed using the small setup. I was very impressed by the sharpness, color and low-noise levels.

sony rx-100 III underwater photos
 

In the pool with a water gun. Sony RX-100 III, Recsea RX-100 III housing, ambient light. F8, 1/400th, ISO 400. Photo: Scott Gietler.

View more underwater photos from my Sony RX-100 III underwater pool session.

 

 

Additional Photos

sony rx-100 III underwater photos

Shark in St. Maarten. Sony RX100 III, Nauticam RX100 III housing, SeaLife Sea Dragon strobe on automatic, F4, 1/250. Photo: Caryn Bing

 

sony rx-100 III underwater photos

Puffer in St. Maarten. Sony RX100 III, Nauticam RX100 III housing, SeaLife Sea Dragon strobe on automatic, F2.8, 1/30. Photo: Caryn Bing

 

sony rx-100 III underwater photos

Turtle & diver in St. Maarten. Sony RX100 III, Nauticam RX100 III housing, SeaLife Sea Dragon strobe on automatic, F4, 1/80. Photo: Caryn Bing

 

sony rx-100 III underwater photos

Wreck & open water background in St. Maarten. Sony RX100 III, Nauticam RX100 III housing, SeaLife Sea Dragon strobe on automatic, F2.8, 1/40. Photo: Caryn Bing

 

 

Sony RX-100 III Conclusions

We will be testing this underwater further to update our initial thoughts. If you are doing professional-level video, or using the camera extensively for creative indoor and outdoor photos, you may be interested in the RX-100 III. I recommend sticking with the RX-100 or RX-100 II if you are solely focusing on underwater photography. You can always speak with the experts at Bluewater Photo for detailed advice.

 

 

Further Reading

 

 

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Canon 70D Review for Underwater Video

Brent Durand
Lighting-Fast Autofocus, Smart AF Modes and Other Cool Features

 

Canon 70D Review for Underwater Video


Lighting-Fast Autofocus, Smart AF Modes and Other Cool Features

By Brent Durand

 

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When Canon first announced the 70D, it seemed like a standard upgrade with minor improvements from the 60D but with one difference – the new Dual Pixel CMOS AF technology. I was excited to learn that the new sensor would allow the use of phase detection autofocus in live view mode instead of the contrast detection system currently in use. Not only is this is a huge advantage for videographers who use live view, but also an improvement on the camera’s autofocus for still shooters.

So what does this mean for underwater photographers and videographers? Keep reading to see why this camera rocks, and why I expect it to be a prelude to what we’ll being seeing in future Canon DSLRs (7D Mk II, etc). 

 

Key Features

  • 20.2 megapixel APS-C CMOS sensor and DIGIC 5+
  • 19 point cross-type AF System and 7 fps shooting
  • Dual Pixel CMOS AF technology
  • Instant sharing and remote control with Wi-Fi
  • ISO 12800 (H:25600)
  • Vari-angle 7.7cm ClearView II LCD touch screen
  • Intelligent viewfinder
  • Full-HD movies
  • *UHS-I card required for maximum burst duration
  • Full range of underwater housings, ports & accessories

 

 

Autofocus Basics

Modern DSLRs use an advanced phase detection autofocus system when shooting through the viewfinder, which provides fast and accurate focus at many different AF points. When light enters the lens it is bounced off a mirror and through two sensors on opposite sides of the lens before meeting on the image sensor. This happens for each AF point! The photo is in focus when both of the images are precisely overlaid. If the images do not match up, the camera knows exactly how far front focused or back focused it is and immediately adjusts the lens in one smooth movement. Voila, fast autofocus.

Before the Canon 70D, DSLR video shooters (who use live view) did not benefit from phase detection autofocus, since DSLR LCD displays use a simpler contrast detection AF system. With this system, the camera detects contrast to focus, and adjusts the lens back and forth until the correct position (focus) is achieved. This is much slower than phase-detect autofocus.

The Canon 70D is the first camera to use the fast phase detection AF in live view mode. Videographers can now happily rely on fast, accurate and smooth autofocus when shooting video!

 

Lightning-Fast Autofocus

Autofocus on the Canon 70D is extremely fast when shooting stills. After diving the 70D with my Canon 100mm 2.8L macro lens on the 70D followed by the same lens on my 5D Mk III, I could see the difference. The autofocus is simply faster and the focusing is smoother, even in darker underwater shooting conditions.

The 70D’s fast autofocus can be attributed to Canon’s Dual-Pixel CMOS sensor, which delivers fast sensor-based autofocus. The new sensor has two photodiodes on each pixel that are read independently for phase detection autofocus and then together to produce the final image. This creates highly accurate AF without compromising on image quality. To quote Canon’s website:

Unlike other methods of sensor-based autofocus, which allocate either autofocus or imaging functions to pixels on the sensor, the pixels on the EOS 70D’s CMOS sensor can be used as imaging pixels and phase detection AF pixels. As a result, no additional imaging processing is required around pixels dedicated for AF, which ensures both quick acquisition of focus and maximum image quality.*

Cool? Definitely!

 

 

Filming Underwater Video

The Canon 70D offers a variety of recording sizes for underwater video. Amateurs will generally want to shoot at a recording size of 1280x720 (HD) in order to save memory space, create ease of editing and easily upload to sites like Facebook, YouTube and Vimeo. Advanced shooters with powerful computers will want to try out the 1920x1080 (Full HD) recording along with All-I compression for best editing and post production.

Autofocus is where the 70D excels when shooting underwater video. The phase detection autofocus in live view delivers reliable focusing even in low light. When combined with the proper autofocus mode (+Tracking, Flexi-Zone – Multi and Flexi-Zone – Single) the diver can guide the AF to keep sharp focus on the right part of the frame. The record start / stop button is conveniently placed, however the button or lever will be different depending on the underwater housing.

 

Canon 70D Sample Underwater Video:

 

Underwater Housings

 

 

Ikelite 70D Housing Details

Buy Ikelite 70D Housing

 

 

 

Nauticam NA-70D Housing Details

Buy Nauticam NA-70D Housing

 

 
 

 

 

 

Buy Recsea Housing for Canon 70D

 

 

 

 

Conclusion

The Canon 70D is a great mid-range DSLR for those interested in Canon. The camera has many cool features like WiFi, vari-angle touch screen, and a 20.2 megapixel sensor, but the real selling point is the fast and reliable autofocus for video. This enables beginner videographers to capture high-quality shots without relying on manual focus. This technology is a game-changer and even with the older autofocus sensor of the 7D (only 19 AF points), the camera is a fantastic option for underwater shooters.

 

* Reference:  http://cpn.canon-europe.com/content/education/technical/eos_70d_technology.do

 

About the Author

Brent Durand is an avid California beach diver, photographer and writer dedicated to capturing unique underwater, ocean lifestyle and adventure images. Brent is editor of the Underwater Photography Guide. Make sure to follow UWPG on Facebook for updates on everything underwater-photography.

 
 
 

Further Reading

 


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Olympus OM-D E-M1 In Depth Review

Kelli Dickinson
E-M5 Comparison, Underwater Image Tests & Housing Options

 

Olympus OM-D E-M1 In Depth Review

with E-M5 Comparison and Underwater Image Tests

Text & Photos by Kelli Dickinson

 

 
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Last September Olympus announced the next release in the OM-D line of micro four-thirds cameras. The first camera, the OM-D E-M5, was released in March 2012 and surpassed all expectations, becoming one of their most popular cameras to date. The E-M5 works wonderfully underwater, providing high quality images and dSLR-like controls in a smaller, compact body.

The new E-M1 was designed with the professional shooter in mind. This camera strives to further blur the line between mirrorless and dSLR cameras. This new body is not a replacement for the E-M5, but a new flagship mirrorless camera for Olympus. It offers improvements across the board including a more SLR-like body style, a "buttons for everything" approach, improved processor and even more flexibility for customization.

 

OM-D E-M1 Quick Specs

 

  • 16 Megapixels

  • Micro 4/3 Lens Mount

  • Flash Sync Speed: 1/320s

  • Max ISO:  25,800

  • Max Shutter Speed:  1/8000

 

The new E-M1 has the same micro four-thirds sensor as the E-M5, with an effective 16 mega pixels. It has been improved though, with the new TruePic VII processor giving better image processing and improving quality overall.

The big change with this camera comes with the innovative new auto focusing modes. The new "Dual Fast AF" utilizes both Phase and Contrast detection auto focus depending on what AF mode and what type of lens is on the camera. For most shooters this means that when using the native Micro Four-Thirds lenses, you have improved contrast detection autofocus in S-AF mode. In C-AF, the camera uses both contrast and phase detection allowing for faster continuous focusing and focus tracking at 6.5fps burst mode. With Phase detection, the camera also focuses much more quickly with the original Olympus Four-Thirds lenses from their dSLR line. The contrast detection grid has been increased to 81 focus points that are smaller and cover more of the total image. When using phase detection there are 37 AF points.

Olympus has brought back the ISO100 that was available in the original PEN E-PL1. They list it in the camera as ISO LOW, and the E-M1 can shoot up to ISO 25,600. It has an increased max shutter speed of 1/8000th, and most exciting, a new increased flash sync speed of 1/320th.

The overall body style has changed significantly, moving away from the slim look of the E-M5 and other PEN models. The E-M1 looks and handles much more like a dSLR camera with a large grip and more buttons for easy control and customization of the camera functions.

A new larger electronic viewfinder with more magnification makes composing your images even easier. This viewfinder is as close to an optical viewfinder as I have seen in any mirrorless camera. The camera body is weather sealed - dust proof, water resistant and freeze proof - making it a very versitle and rugged set up. Olympus is also beginning to release the PRO line of micro four-thirds lenses that will offer new and better options than the current line available.

 

For a complete look at the specifications check out our E-M1 Initial Thoughts article.

 

Real Time Use

I have been shooting the E-M5 for the past year and a half, so I'm already familiar with Olympus' menu set up and controls. This made it was a breeze to switch to using the new E-M1. The main improvement I found topside is the change in body style, allowing a much better grip (without having to puchase the optional extended grip). Overall, the two cameras feel very similar. The biggest change is the addition of more customizable buttons. Taking a "buttons for everything" approach with this camera Olympus is providing the shooter with the ability to create a setup for extremely streamlined shooting - provided you take the time to set the functions where you want them and can remember what button controls which function. Underwater I see this as being extremely useful since no one wants to spend extra time scrolling through menus to find and change settings, provided access for all of these buttons is available with the UW housings.

Just like with the E-M5, the two top dial controls make it easy to adjust settings. The buttons on the camera are well placed for easy access and the overall layout of the system makes sense. The 2 x 2 control system is neat, allowing for quick changes. Simply switch the lever between 1 and 2 and the two control dials change from operating the Aperture and Shutter Speed to controlling ISO and White Balance (and of course, these options can be customized).

 

Nauticam OM-D E-M5 Housing

Nauticam has released the NA-EM1 housing for the new E-M1 camera. They took a new approach with this camera in treating it more like a dSLR. The housing includes built-in handles, a dSLR style port release, improved camera tray, nicer zoom knob and of course, well thought out placement of controls to make using it underwater a breeze. The shutter release has been redesigned to work smoothly when holding on to the handles, and (just like the dSLR housings) it is a larger lever style. In addition, Nauticam made the AEL/AFL control a lever to take advantage of customizing features like focus lock using that control.

The control dials are well placed for easy use and shooting one handed is not difficult. Overall buoyancy of just the camera and housing (with 60mm macro lens & port) is just slightly negative, but not bad.

With the E-M5 housing, I would hold on directly to the housing (vs the right handle), so I found it took a little adjusting to holding onto the handles and being able to easily control everything. With the new handle design the rear buttons for accessing the menu are slightly further away, making it necessary to have both hands on the rig when doing any menu changes. However, for shooting and composition, everything that is needed can be accessed with one hand (if programmed to specific buttons).

For a full review of the housing with detailed pictures, check out the article on Bluewater Photo's website <COMING SOON!>

 

Olympus OM-D E-M5 Housing

Coming Soon!

 

Aquatica OM-D E-M5 Housing

Coming Soon!

 

 

E-M1 Camera Compared to the E-M5 with Image Tests

Tech Specs:

I took both cameras in housings into the pool and also did several tests topside to flush out the real differences in performance between the E-M5 and E-M1. While the E-M1 has definite improvements over the E-M5, the E-M5 still held its own, and wins on overall size and affordability.

 

Image Quality

Dynamic Range - The E-M1 has a greater dynamic range than the E-M5, with slightly more detail in both highlights and shadows before they clip to white or black. Notice the ability to shoot up to 1/320th with the EM-1 can allow for more flexibility in gaining those nice sunbursts from bright clear water.

 

E-M5 @ ISO200 F22 1/250th

E-M1 @ ISO200 F22 1/320th

 

Flash Sync Speed

The E-M1 also holds an advantage over the E-M5 with the increased flash sync shutter speed of 1/320th vs the 1/250th. While 1/250th works great for most things, in bright clear water the additional speed really helps for creating better sunballs. I tested this in the pool with the 8mm Panasonic Fisheye Lens. While the E-M5 still does a good job, there is slightly more detail in the E-M1 sunball thanks to the faster sync shutter speed.

100% Crop of Sunburst from E-M1 wide shot above (1/320th)

100% Crop of Sunburst from E-M5 wide shot above (1/250th)

 

ISO Range

The E-M1 promised improvements in the overal quality of higher ISOs and it delivers. Paired against the E-M5 you can see that it retains more detail and slightly less grain as the ISO count rises. The differences are slight, however. Both cameras still produce a lot of noise after ISO 800 and the image quality degrades quickly as the ISO increases.

 

Below: 100% Crop of EM1 (top) & E-M5 (bottom) @ ISO200

 

Below: 100% Crop of EM1 (top) & E-M5 (bottom) @ ISO800

 

Below: 100% Crop of EM1 (top) & E-M5 (bottom) @ ISO1600

 

Below: 100% Crop of EM1 (top) & E-M5 (bottom) @ ISO6400

 

Focus Speed

Low Light Focus - Macro

The new E-M1 definitely focuses faster than the E-M5. I tested the focusing with the 14-42mm kit lens topside and also did some tests with the 60mm Macro lens. The 60mm lens often has the more trouble focusing, especially when changing focus from a very close subject to something further away. Underwater I tested the focus in a shadowed area of the pool on a monochromatic drain with the hopes of providing a more difficult-to-focus-on subject. While both cameras sometimes experienced focus hunt when doing this, the E-M1 was able to lock focus much quicker, often with zero hunting. During topside tests in a dark room the EM-1 locked focus on average 1/10th of a second faster than the EM-5.

 

Tracking Focus

A big improvement that Olympus states with the E-M1 stems from the new on-chip phase detection AF. When using any native Micro Four-Thirds lens with the camera in continuous AF mode, the E-M1 utilizes both Phase and Contrast detection AF, allowing the camera to maintain focus on a moving subject. This only works with the Low burst mode on the camera, which shoots at about 6fps. Just like the E-M5, the High rate burst mode locks focus on the first frame and does not adjust for subsequent images. I tested the continuous focus on cyclists down the beach path as they rode by me. My first impression was that there is still room for improvement with the continuous focus overall. The camera kept refocusing prior to me pushing the shutter down completely, often locking focus then going out of focus before I was ready to take the photo and resulting in my set of exposures being completely out of focus. The typical results I saw were that several of the series would be out of focus and several would be in focus. However, compared to the E-M5, which locks focus and does not refocus at all, this is a big improvement. Below is the main image of one of the cyclists, followed by 100% crops of the key frames where focus was best.

 

Cyclist riding by, I tracked focus on her face as best as possible (ISO200 F8, 1/320th)

 

Frame 1 of the series

 

Frame 4 of the series

 

Frame 6 of the series

 

 

Physical Differences: E-M1 vs. E-M5

 

Front view of OMD comparision. E-M1 (left) is slightly taller than E-M5 (right)

 

Immediately it's easy to see that the E-M1 is bigger than the E-M5. It is still much smaller than a dSLR, however. It is slightly taller but the most noticeable size difference is the width. This is due to the included molded grip that comes standard on the camera. The E-M1 is .16 lbs (2.54 oz) heavier than the E-M5. When shooting topside these size differences are not that noticeable, however it does translate to a larger housing underwater.

 

Nauticam size comparison (left to right) E-M5, E-M1, D7100

 

From the picture above you can easily see that the Nauticam housings for the E-M1 and E-M5 are similar in size (when not counting the handles). Both housings are significantly smaller than your average dSLR - like the Nikon D7100 housing pictured.

 

Control Placement

The control placements, dials and buttons are very similar with a few major changes. Both cameras utilize the dual control dial set up, allowing the user to easily change both aperture and shutter speed with a single dial. The E-M5 goes a step further integrating a 2x2 system which allows those two control dials to change to difference functions at the flip of a switch.

 

Top view of OMD comparision. E-M1 (left) is roughly the same length as the E-M5 (right) but is thicker overall - mostly due to the larger molded grip.

 

The mode dial on the E-M1 has been moved to the right side of the viewfinder and now includes a mode lock like many dSLRs. On the left side where the mode dial is on the E-M5 we now have the On/Off switch and direct controls for the HDR and shooting drive modes as well as the AF and metering modes. Push either of these buttons and the two controls dials can now scroll through those settings.

 

 

Bigger Buttons

One major complaint about the E-M5 buttons is how tiny they are. Olympus has rectified this issue. Buttons on the E-M1 are about twice as large on the E-M1 and better placement makes them easier to use accurately. For example, Olympus moved the Playback button down below the multi-controller and away from the Fn1 button so there is no longer issue of accidentally engaging playback when trying to use the Fn1. Additional buttons allow you to assign more direct functions to the camera controls, which improve the overall flow of using the camera.

 

 

Price

The E-M5 definitely wins in price over the more expensive EM-1. Currently the E-M1 is being sold body only at $1399. The EM-5 comes body only for only $899, and with your choice of 14-42mm kit lens for $1099, or 12-50mm kit lens for $1299 - still less than E-M1 body.

 

Conculsion

Overall, this looks to be a great camera for both topside and underwater use. Quick focusing, high quality images with a wealth of customization ability and being backed by a large selection of lenses make the whole system a great choice.

 

VS. the E-M5

If you are torn between which of the two OM-D versions to choose, or thinking about upgrading from your current E-M5 it can be a tough choice. If size and budget are not an issue look at going with the E-M1, you'll gain some image quality and focus speed as well more customization options. That said, the E-M5 still offers impressive results for a fraction of the cost in a smaller size.

 

 

Additional E-M1 Resources

 

 

Further Reading

 

 

About the Author

Kelli Dickinson is an avid diver, manager of Bluewater Photo Store and an industry expert on mirrorless cameras and housing options. You can reach her by email at kelli@bluewaterphotostore.com. 

 


Where to Buy

Please support the Underwater Photography Guide by purchasing your underwater photography gear through our sister site, Bluewater Photo & Video. Click, or call them at (310) 633-5052 for expert advice!


 

Nikon D600 / Sea & Sea Housing Review - Macro

Victor Tang
Detailed Reviews of the Nikon D600 and Sea & Sea MDX-D600 Housing for Macro

Nikon D600 and Sea & Sea Housing Review

 

Detailed Reviews of the Nikon D600 and Sea & Sea MDX-D600 Housing

Part II: Macro

(Jump to Part I)

Text and Photos By Victor Tang

 

 

 
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The Nikon D600 has proved to to be an amazing tool for capturing wide-angle stills. In some ways this is not surprising, for the benefits of having a full frame (FX) sensor have been extolled since the Nikon D3 was first launched. The D600 undoubtedly proved its mettle behind a dome port, but what about a macro one?

 

 

Preparing The D600 For Macro

The Sea & Sea MDX housing requires two port components in order to have full lens functionality (including focus gears).

  • A Port Base. The Base attaches to your housing and accommodates up to half the length of your macro lens.
  • The actual Macro Port. This is the business end that the front element of your lens peers through.

Sea & Sea DX Macro Port Base.

Sea & Sea DX Macro Port 50 II

 

The Macro Port is screwed onto the Port Base via screw threads on the base of the Macro Port. This arrangement means that there is another potential flood point, and it proved so when I did a leak test for the first time and discovered water seeping though right where Port Base meets Macro Port. Thus the first lesson shooting macro with Sea and Sea housings has been learnt: do not over-tighten the Macro Port to the Port Base, as the O-ring will get distorted and water will enter. The build quality of the Base and Port is superb, however. Their aluminum alloy construction gives the system a solid feel - an assurance that the lenses are well-protected.

On my DX macro setup I employed two lenses: The Nikon 105mmVR and the Tamron 60mm macro. The Tamron is designed for DX cameras, so I chose to house the 105. The 105 also provides a similar field of view as the 60mm would give on my DX setup, which is a good starting point.

 

Shooting Macro

After commencing the first dive the immediate task was to familiarize myself with the focus point selector buttons, as I shift focus points frequently when shooting macro. I was not able to access the selector buttons when my right hand was on the housing handles, but by moving my hand into the space between the housing and handle the buttons were easy to reach. I really love the feel of the buttons on the Sea & Sea Housing, as they provide very tactile, reliable feedback. Every button also has a unique shape so it is easy to choose by feel. 

 

Solar Powered Nudibranch. Nikon 105VR. 2 Sea & Sea YS-D1 strobes. ISO100, F13, 1/250s.

 

Juvenile Common Seahorse. Nikon 105VR. 2 Sea & Sea YS-D1 strobes. ISO100, F25, 1/250s.

 

After firing a few test shots and reviewing them it became clear that compared to shooting with a DX crop sensor I would have to adjust my default settings slightly. Foremost is the difference in depth of field (DOF) between FX and DX. Shooting on an FX sensor with the same aperture setting as the DX counterpart will result in images with a depth of field (DOF) shallower than with a DX sensor. The result is that you have to shoot with a smaller aperture if you want the same DOF as in DX cameras when shooting with an FX sensor. Why is that? The math is complicated and of no practical use when actually shooting underwater so here is my “for dummies” explanation:

  • A FX sensor is one-third larger than a DX sensor, which means that to frame the same subject identically as in a DX camera, a FX shooter will have to move closer to the subject, making the DOF shallower. When moving closer, we need a smaller aperture to get a deeper DOF.

As I delved further into shooting more macro subjects one of the D600's flaws kept glaring at me through the viewfinder: the puny autofocus (AF) coverage. The AF points have been transplanted from the DX sensor D7000, and with the larger sensor of the D600 the spread of focus points is all clumped towards the center of the frame. Having been very used to having a far wider AF point spread, this presents an inconvenience since I often have to use the nearest point to focus and then recompose the shot. The AF-C 3D Tracking focusing mode is often helpful in this situation.

Even with these two nuances between the sensor sizes, the photo results are absolutely glorious! Colors are vibrant, there is better contrast, and the amount of detail that is recorded will satisfy any pixel peepers. In fact such fine details allow the versatility of cropping your photos more dramatically than without a noticeable degradation in image quality.

 

Pink Skunk Clownfish. Nikon 105VR. 2 Sea & Sea YS-D1 strobes. ISO100, F25, 1/250s.

 

 

Using the DX Mode Option

The D600 allows the user to specify how much of the sensor will be used to record images, which in this case means FX or DX mode, where a box will appear on your viewfinder telling you the boundaries of the image. Switching to DX mode allows you to recreate the same field of view as you would on a DX camera, allowing the photographer to achieve a tighter framing that may not have been possible if using the whole sensor. The downside is that instead of 24 megapixel resolution, DX mode drops it down to 10.5 megapixels and the maximum printable size of the photo will be smaller. Many may scoff at this and prefer to stick to FX mode, but in my view there are certain reasons why DX mode is still a viable option in some macro scenarios for the underwater photographer:

  • Although DX mode gives you only 10.5 megapixels, those pixels can still deliver outstanding quality. Bear in mind that the minimum needed to print in A4 is about 6 megapixels, and that your masterpieces taken in DX mode can still be featured in dive magazines or any internet screen. The smaller file sizes are also more manageable than large RAW files.
  • For photographers with ambitions to win competitions, cropping is usually frowned upon and will cost you points. Shooting in DX mode may give you the framing that you need without further cropping for that winning shot, and with the RAW file looking the same as the JPEG, there will be no penalty in the eyes of the judges.

Shooting in DX mode I have seen no discernible difference in image quality, in fact I would be hard pressed to tell them apart viewing them on LCD screens. Using DX mode on a FX camera is definitely an option to consider when all others have been exhausted, but if the situation calls for it you will not be upset. Examples below:

 

Chromodoris Magnifica in FX. Nikon 105VR. 2 Sea & Sea YS-D1 strobes. ISO100, F22, 1/250s.

 

Chromodoris Magnifica in DX Mode. Do you see any difference? Nikon 105VR. 2 Sea & Sea YS-D1 strobes. ISO100, F22, 1/250s.

 

Teleconverters

Another way to have a tighter field of view on FX cameras is to use teleconverters. Using a 1.4x teleconverter on any macro lens almost fully recreates the field of view that you would have on a DX camera. In order to accommodate a teleconverter in your macro setup you would need to get an extension ring to elongate the macro port. For 1.4x teleconverters like Kenko and Tamron, a Sea & Sea SX Extension Ring would suffice.

Shooting with a teleconverters does have its downsides, namely that your maximum (widest) aperture becomes smaller and the view through the viewfinder will be dimmer. However out in the field I have found this to be barely noticeable, and certainly not a hindrance. Autofocus is still quick and accurate and you would be hard pressed to see any degradation in image quality.

 

Goniobranchus Kuniei. Nikon 105VR and Kenko 1.4X Teleconverter. 2 Sea & Sea YS-D1 strobes, ISO100, F25, 1/250s.

 

Bicolor Blenny. Nikon 105VR and Kenko 1.4X Teleconverter. 2 Sea & Sea YS-D1 strobes. ISO100, F20, 1/250s.

 

Final Thoughts

Capturing macro subjects with the D600 has inspired me to further hone my shooting technique and to consider more factors before taking the shot. The shallower DOF inherent in a FX sensor makes getting subjects in focus slightly more challenging, but it brings with it new possibilities. When the patience pays off, however, the image quality, detail and color reproduction of the D600 will simply take your breath away.

 

Go to:

Part I:  D600 & MDX D600 for Wide-Angle

 

 

About the Author

Victor Tang is the founder of Wodepigu Water Pixel, an adventure dive company and photography consultancy with a nose for off the beaten track dive destinations.  When not stranded on shore with other pursuits as a musician and TV producer, Victor is on the prowl around Southeast Asia searching for new pristine waters to explore. His sister will always tease him for taking an oath never to take a camera underwater again after his first try in Malapascua, but lately he carries a camera anywhere he goes.

 

Further Reading

 


Where to Buy

Please support the Underwater Photography Guide by purchasing your underwater photography gear through our sister site, Bluewater Photo & Video. Click, or call them at (310) 633-5052 for expert advice!


 

 
 
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Olympus OM-D E-M1 Initial Thoughts

Kelli Dickinson
First Impressions of Olympus' New Mirrorless Camera

Olympus OM-D E-M1 Initial Thoughts


First Impressions of Olympus' New Mirrorless Camera

Text by Kelli Dickinson

 

Olympus OMD EM1 Camera

 

 
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Olympus recently announced the next installment in the super popular OM-D line of cameras. The first camera, the OM-D E-M5, was released in March 2012 and surpassed all expectations, becoming one of their most popular cameras to date. The E-M5 works wonderfully underwater, providing high quality images and dSLR-like controls in a smaller, compact body.

A few weeks ago Olympus announced the new E-M1, designed with the professional shooter in mind. This camera strives to further blur the line between mirrorless and dSLR cameras. This new body is not a replacement for the E-M5, but a new flagship mirrorless camera for Olympus.

 

AUTO FOCUS

Super Fast and Accurate

 

One of the biggest differences in mirrorless vs. dSLR cameras is the autofocus system. dSLR's use a phase detection system whereas compact and mirrorless cameras focus using contrast detection. The E-M1 offers both, the first mirrorless camera to offer phase detection focusing.

Phase Detection is available when using 4/3rds lens with adapter or with Micro 4/3rd lens in Continuous AF mode.

This should really improve the continuous autofocus capability of the E-M1 over previous models, something that has always been fairly slow and unreliable in Mirrorless cameras. The C-AF will utilize both contrast and phase detection focus when using a micro 4/3rds lens, allowing up to 6.5 frames per second on burst mode with continuous focus. Autofocus vs. the E-M5 in low light is significantly faster based on tests from Olympus.

Look for our image tests once we get one of the cameras in-house.

 

Olympus OMD EM1 Camera

 

IMAGE QUALITY

Sharper Images with More Detail

 

The E-M1 uses a new 16 megapixel Live MOS sensor with the True Pix VII image processor for excellent image quality. Here are some of the new features this camera offers:

  • Low Pass and anti-aliasing filters removed from the sensor, which should allow for sharper images, meaning improving image quality.
  • Chromatic aberration removal based on the attached lens is included.
  • The new sensor is designed to provide optimal resolution across a range of apertures.

 

PERFORMANCE

Professional Controls and Improved High ISO Performance

 

One big feature of the E-M1 is the ability to shoot up to 1/8000th shutter speed. Flash sync is up to 1/250th as with the E-M5 (up to 1/320th with some Olympus strobes). High ISO performance has been improved over the E-M5, offering less noise in low light situations when shooting at a higher ISO.

 

LARGE ELECTRONIC VIEWFINDER

Most Accurate Scene Depiction in an Electronic Viewfinder

 

In order to attempt to compete with the larger dSLR cameras that offer sharp, clear optical viewfinders, Olympus has worked hard to create the best Electronic Viewfinder available in the new E-M1. This viewfinder, larger than any previous Olympus camera, offers a clean, sharp image and uses improved LCD technology to dim and brighten the image. This immediately offers a more natural and accurate depiction of the scene in front of your lens. In addition, lag time on the viewfinder has been improved to beyond what the human eye can perceive at only 29 milliseconds, meaning the image appears and moves exactly as you would perceive without the camera - no delays.

 

Olympus OMD EM1 Camera

 

BODY & STYLING

Smaller than dSLR, Comfortable Grip and Advanced Weatherproofing

 

The EM1 keeps the small size of popular mirrorless cameras. It is slightly taller and longer than the EM5 and the most noticeable difference is the built-in grip, which makes the camera body noticeably thicker. Important features of the new E-M1 body include:

  • Magnesium Alloy body
  • The E-M1 leans more towards the look and styling of dSLR cameras with a larger built in grip and multiple dial control.
  • 2 x 2 dial control, just like the E-M5 but with a new feature. A selection lever allows for quick and easy control of multiple functions. With just the switch of the lever you can switch from standard control of aperture / shutter speed to the two dials controlling white balance and ISO. (Hopefully housing manufacturers will build in control for that lever!)
  • Mode Dial Lock. Olympus has built in a mode dial lock with the E-M1, something common to dSLR cameras. This lock is made so that multiple finger control is not required, simply push down and the button remains locked, pushed again and the lock is disengaged.
  • The camera body is significantly weather proofed and designed to be freeze proof, offering full functionality down to -10 degrees Celsius.

 

 

Olympus OMD EM1 CameraOlympus OMD EM1 Camera

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

OTHER COOL FEATURES

Built in wi-fi, in-Camera HDR and Advanced Interval/Time-Lapse

 

The E-M1 is jam-packed with some other nice features, most of which won't come into play for underwater use. They will, however, add to the camera’s value topside.

  • Built in WIFI - allows for control of the camera through an app on your android or apple phone. Improved control allows a multitude of functions, including live bulb preview allowing you to see results of a long exposure before the bulb ends, so you know if you like the results without having to wait for the processing.
  • In camera HDR - able to merge up to four frames in camera for instant HDR photos.
  • Interval and Time-Lapse shooting - the camera can shoot up to 999 frames of time lapse with interval shooting able to be set from 1 sec to 24 hrs
  • Improved art and scene filters.

 

Olympus OMD EM1 Camera

 

HANDS-ON TESTING

Better controls on the EM-1

Yesterday i got the chance to check out one of the pre-production versions of the new OM-D EM-1. The camera felt great in my hands, nicely weighted, small, but with a really comfortable hand grip. The first thing that stuck out to me was the redesign of controls and buttons. One of my biggest complaints about the E-M5 was the super small buttons. As a gal with average sized hands it was never a deal breaker, but for many of our customers the small buttons were a real pain. The new E-M1 has larger buttons, well placed for ease of use. In addition they've changed the style of the dials. The new dials look much more sturdy (not going to pop off the camera like so many of us had happen on the E-M5).

Faster focusing with the E-M1

This camera was a preproduction model, so the firmware wasn't completely updated, however you could tell that the camera was focusing fast - it will be interesting to test speeds against the E-M5 once we get the new ones in. I tested out the S-AF with standard contrast focus which seemed slightly faster than I'm used to with my OM-D, and then switched into the C-AF (continuous) mode where the new on chip phase detection focus can take effect. In a decently lit room the focus speed increased dramatically compared to what I am used to with the E-M5. The 60mm macro lens focused quickly and accurately between near and far subjects with little or no hunting. Of course the real test will come with the actual finalized camera in a low light focus test, but so far its looking pretty good.

Better high ISO on the E-M1

Running through a quick range of ISO changes, I noticed that the new E-M1 seems to handle high ISO much better with noticeable noise appearing around ISO 1600-3200, and it wasn't until 12800 that the grain really became too much for my tastes (again, full ISO tests against the full production release E-M1 and the original E-M5 to come soon!)

E-M1 electronic viewfinder changes

Lastly I switched between the LCD view and the electronic viewfinder to see the changes made there. I definitely noticed the improvements in terms of a high quality electronic viewfinder designed to look as close to what the eye would perceive as possible. Quick panning movements look fluid and natural and the image on the viewfinder is crisp and colors were accurate. Once I have some more time with the E-M1 I plan to do some in depth comparison's against the E-M5 and other cameras to really see how the viewfinder holds up.
 

CONCLUSION

More Pro Features that Advanced Shooters Look For.

 

The new Olympus OM-D E-M1 camera looks to have the makings of a great new flagship camera from Olympus for Mirrorless shooters. It will bring the mirrorless line of cameras one step closer to truly competing with larger dSLR cameras and offers professional controls in a small sized body. It looks to be just as good, if not better for underwater than the E-M5, with improved high ISO performance, button controls and processing power. Will it live up to these specs? The cameras are planned to start shipping late October or early November, and as soon as we can get for an extended period of time we'll put it through the full range of tests to see how it compares.

All in all my first hands on time with the camera didn't disappoint. If it holds up to focus speed and ISO tests, I know this will make a great step in the right direction of the mirrorless line, letting us take one more step towards the line that separates the larger dSLR cameras and our small mirrorless ones.

About the Author

Kelli Dickinson is an avid diver, manager of Bluewater Photo Store and an industry expert on mirrorless cameras and housing options. She has over 100 dives with the Olympus OM-D and PEN cameras. You can reach her by email at kelli@bluewaterphotostore.com.

 

Further Reading

 


Where to Buy

Please support the Underwater Photography Guide by purchasing your underwater photography gear through our sister site, Bluewater Photo & Video. Click, or call them at (310) 633-5052 for expert advice!


 

 
 
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Nikon D600 / Sea & Sea Housing Review - Wide-Angle

Victor Tang
Detailed Reviews of the Nikon D600 and Sea & Sea MDX-D600 Housing for Wide-Angle

Nikon D600 and Sea & Sea Housing Review


Detailed Reviews of the Nikon D600 and Sea & Sea MDX-D600 Housing

Part I: Wide-Angle

Text & Photos by Victor Tang

 

baitball

"Swirling" Taken at ISO1000 in ambient light. Manual Mode at F10 and 1/1000s. Tokina 10-17 Fisheye at 17mm.
 
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DSLRs with Full Frame (FX) sensors have been all the rage in the photography world, with no less than 4 new offerings from the 2 heavyweights (Canon and Nikon) in the past 18 months. Nikon stunned the world with its revolutionary 36-megapixel FX sensor in the D800, which has proven to be the tipping point for many underwater photographers who rationalize the D800 as a “future-proof” investment with a sensor on the verge of medium format image quality. The party did not end there, for in the same year that the D800 was launched Nikon came up with another FX offering: the D600. The D600 is essentially a D7000 on steroids, but with a FX sensor shoehorned in.

 

Nikon D600

Nikon D600

 

Nikon D600 Introduction

Billed as an “Enthusiast” instead of “Professional” camera, Nikon was betting that a hybrid of the ergonomics of the D7000 that proved so popular, coupled with a brand new FX senor would make an irresistible entry level FX offering. They were spot on, and in fact, may have been too successful. The technical tests and user reviews in the months after its launch proved that the D600 was so close to the D800 in image quality and noise levels that, at least on terra firma, serious hobbyists and pros who could live without some of the added features were migrating to the D600 as their primary body, utilizing the savings on possible lens investments instead. An analysis of the headline features of the D600 seems to support their choice:

  • 24.3-megapixel sensor. This is 2/3 the pixel density of the D800, which translates to smaller RAW files. The D600 has the highest pixel density of all other FX models on the market (aside from the D800).
  • Great Video Output of 1080p at 30fps. Same as the D800, with its associated smaller output files.
  • 2 SD Card Slots. SD cards are much cheaper than CF cards of similar memory size, and I have not experienced any card failures with SD. CF cards have died on me before.
  • Native ISO Range 100-6400. Identical to the D800, with tests proving that the D600 has a slight edge in noise levels at the higher spectrum.
  • 5.5fps with buffer rate at 22 files at 12 bit. The D800 gives 4fps with the 21-file buffer. However the smaller output size of the D600 means a faster and more reliable write capability (at least on paper).

The last 2 aspects are significant, for they mean that it might be possible to achieve photographic results that were once the preserve of really expensive cameras like the D3S and D4: high ISOs at the camera’s maximum shooting speed – good for shooting fast-moving subjects in ambient light. I made a decision to get a FX setup for underwater wide angle photography and since I was already using a D600 for above water applications, in a moment of pure boyishness I decided to go for it.

 

Sea & Sea D600

The Sea & Sea D600 Housing

 

The Sea & Sea D600 Housing

Once I decided to house my D600 it was time to select a housing. With a bewildering array of choices to suit every taste and budget, I tried as many housings as I could and it was down to either the Nauticam or Sea & Sea.

 

PROS:  My ultimate choice in the Sea & Sea turned out to be user specific and personal:

  • I really liked the way I can easily reach both command dial gears with my Asian-sized fingers to adjust aperture and shutter speed.
  • I can still easily reach the ISO button at the bottom left of the housing with my left thumb.
  • I can still use my Sea & Sea L-type cables from my other setup, so I do not have to get new ones.
  • Should I choose to go into video there is a convenient bulkhead just to right of the flash enclosure to install a monitor screen
  • The multi-controller pad buttons are in their “classic” position directly on top of the camera’s, its buttons are very easy to operate and I can differentiate it by feel. The focal point is often positioned in the center of the frame for wide-angle photography, so its placement on the housing was not that significant for me. I may rue this when I use it for macro work.
  • The port locking system has been tried and tested and felt extremely secure. It turns out that it takes more effort to change ports in between dives as it gets really tight, but somehow it gave me a better sense of security.
  • I could get one almost brand new at a good price, and the bluish color looked really cool.

 

CONS:  No housing is perfect however, and I found the housing lacking in some aspects:

  • As mentioned, certain buttons on the D600 cannot be accessed when using the housing, so if ever a need arises to change from FX to DX mode it would be changed through the menus.
  • There is no lever to actuate the lens release buttons on the camera, so changing lenses in between surface intervals requires at least a cotton bud to reach into the housing to release the lens. This also means that extra vigilance must be on hand to make sure hands are as dry as possible. I am glad to say Sea & Sea has solved this issue for newer housing models and I hope a retro-upgrade is available in the future.
  • There is no way to see the top screen showing the camera settings, which I have grown accustomed to with previous setups. This means pressing the info button more often or constantly peering through the viewfinder.
  • Sea & Sea recommends a plate be installed where the optical sockets are when using the pop-up flash, which prevents internal reflections from showing up in the photos. Using this plate means the pop-up flash will have to be constantly deployed throughout the dive, which would rob me of any ambient light shots, should the situation arise. I chose not to use the plate and so far have not encountered any of the issues Sea & Sea has forewarned.

 

Wide-Angle Settings

The sardine school has thankfully returned to Pescador Island (Philippines) and with hunting by pelagic fish already in full swing it was the perfect place to see if the D600’s capabilities would allow me capture good fish action. It was daunting yet exciting at the same time since I have not done this kind of shooting before, so I decided to place it safe and keep to certain settings:

  • Aperture between F7.1 to F9 as much as possible.
  • Stick to ISO settings at 800, 1600 and 3200. To be able to shoot at ISO3200 in non-pro cameras is revolutionary enough, so I set that as my limit. This is also when the U1 and U2 modes became handy.
  • Taking ambient light photos allows me to use shutter speeds as high as 1/1000 or higher to freeze action. This would really give the ISO capabilities of the D600 a good workout.

With my final choice set, it was time to bring my setup to where it belongs: underwater!

 

 

Out in the Field

 

Shooting Fast Action

Taking the housing underwater for the first time, with no strobes attached and with a Zen 200mm dome, I was slightly surprised by how neutrally buoyant this configuration was. Previous setups I have used, albeit with a 170mm dome and floats installed felt like they were striving to drag me down to the depths. One of the great joys of shooting FX is the bigger and brighter viewfinder, but the housing comes equipped with a viewfinder that actually reduces the view. I installed an Inon 45 degree viewfinder on the housing, and though claimed to only work on cropped sensor cameras, the resulting view was a complete picture end to end with the settings at the bottom seen clearly. No need to get another  “FX compatible” viewfinder if you are upgrading!

The first 5 minutes of the first dive was spent familiarizing myself with the controls, and it soon became clear that assumptions made when handling the housing on land do not fully translate to use underwater. My extensive use of the D600 above water made for a shorter acclimatizing period but there were still a few hiccups, the primary one being the increased difficulty of accessing the ISO button. But after a few practice runs it became second nature. The command dial levers are large and the grooves deep enough to afford traction for the thickest of gloves, its operation so smooth that I have accidentally shifted the settings more than I intended. The shutter lever was a dream to use, its feedback so supple that you definitely know when you have achieve half-shutter position.

Before entering the thick of the action I elected to do a few test shots at ISO 800 and the results were very clean with no discernable noise penalty even when reviewing at pixel level. Being able to use higher shutter speeds also helps to freeze motion and mitigate any motion or camera blurs.

 

Oops! Taken at ISO 800 in ambient light. Manual Mode at F8 and 1/200s. Tokina 10-17 Fisheye at 14mm (notice the vignetting).

 

100% crop reveals low noise levels.

 

At this juncture I would like to say that the Tokina 10-17 fisheye lens works really well and produces crisp sharp images. However, because this lens is meant for cropped sensors it has to be vigilantly kept at the 15mm focal length and above to eliminate vignettes at the corners. This must be constantly reaffirmed during the dive, for the zoom knob may be inadvertently shifted during the dive. To be safe it may be best to start off the dive with the lens at 16mm, the difference in field of view not dramatic enough to be a hindrance. All in all the Tokina is a wonderful lens for wide-angle photography for FX without a doubt. Just be careful.

At ISO 1600 noise does start to creep in but still very respectable, and at the pixel level possibly equivalent to my trusty D300 at ISO 640! I would be hard pressed to see the noise on pictures posted on the web and that also means prints up to A3 are still definitely possible.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Photo Left:  Taken at ISO 1600 in ambient light. Manual Mode at F8 and 1/800s. Tokina 10-17 Fisheye at 17mm.

Above: 100% Crop. All is still fine!

 

 

 

 

 

Shooting at ISO 3200, noise levels are predictably present at the pixel level but the amount of detail retained is still very impressive.

 

Coming through! Taken at ISO 3200 in ambient light. Manual Mode at F8 and 1/4000s. Tokina 10-17 Fisheye at 17mm.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Photo Left:  Recovering from the onslaught. Taken at ISO 3200 in ambient light. Manual Mode at F8 and 1/4000s. Tokina 10-17 Fisheye at 17mm.

Above:  At 100%. Still very usable

 

 

 

Being able to shoot at a higher FPS means that the photographer may be able to capture unique school formations that one might not be able to capture otherwise. Photo opportunities occur in a blink of an eye with fast-moving subjects, and it’s often worth it to keep the camera facing the general direction of the action and shooting from the hip if there’s quick action, hoping for the best. This is where a camera like the D600 may help you capture a special moment that passed all too quickly. If the behaviors of the subject can be anticipated, frame up the shot and just pull back the shutter lever and leave the rest to the camera - chances are high that the shot you hoped is in the bag. To top it off, the autofocus was spot on almost on every shot, my single out of focus shot was when I somehow managed to switch the camera to manual focus, which is a testament to the frantic pace of the sardine school between six to twenty meters deep.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Photo Left: Its raining sardines. Taken at ISO 3200 in ambient light. Manual Mode at F10 and 1/4000s. Tokina 10-17 Fisheye at 17mm.

Photo Right: Doughnut Formation. Taken at ISO 800 in ambient light. Manual Mode at F8 and 1/500s. Tokina 10-17 Fisheye at 17mm.

 

Throughout my experience with the sardines there was a constant need to adjust settings, especially shutter speed and ISO sensitivity, and by the second dive I was able to feel around the housing and change the settings I desired while also trying to observe the unfolding action. This says a lot about the ergonomic design of the housing. All the controls were very responsive and easy to activate underwater. One control I always had trouble to find out of sight was the lever to close the pop-up flash and disengage the strobes, and I wished that Sea & Sea could have made the lever a little bigger to facilitate the change from flash to ambient light photography.

 

Sardine Terra Cotta. Taken at ISO800 in ambient light. Manual Mode at F8 and 1/500s. Tokina 10-17 Fisheye at 17mm.

 

Using Strobes

Turning my attention to close focus wide-angle photography using strobes to light up the foreground, the sensor sensitivity was dialed down to ISO100. The images produced were simply superb. The Tokina fisheye had more than enough sharpness to do the image sensor justice. Just looking through the D600’s LCD screen upon playback the vast improvement over my previous setups in sharpness and detail is very obvious. In fact it seems that the LCD screen at times could not effectively display the sharpness and detail the sensor is capable of, and on first glance its seemed that the image was blurry and out of focus. Only upon zooming in does the splendor of the image become apparent, the amount of detail captured on a whole new level. Just that took me a while to fully comprehend and appreciate.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Photo Left: Hanging on. Taken with 2 Sea & Sea YS-D1 at ISO100 Manual Mode at F13 and 1/250s. Tokina 10-17 Fisheye at 16mm.

Photo Right: Reef Scene. Taken with 2 Sea & Sea YS-D1 at ISO100 Manual Mode at F18and 1/250s. Tokina 10-17 Fisheye at 17mm.

 

There were grumbles that the relatively slow maximum flash sync speed, at 1/200sec, would be a major flaw of the camera especially when taming sun balls. There is an option to bump that up to 1/250sec in line with most DSLRs, and although flash power is reduced it is more than adequate to activate your strobes optically. One quirk that happened was that the camera seemed to lag noticeably when shooting single stills, which left me in bewilderment as this lag was not present when shooting at high speed with the sardine school or topside.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Photo Left: Wonderful contrast and detail. Taken with 2 Sea & Sea YS-D1 at ISO100 Manual Mode at F7.1 and 1/250s. Tokina 10-17 Fisheye at 17mm.

Photo Right: Feather Star. Taken with 2 Sea & Sea YS-D1 at ISO100 Manual Mode at F7.1 and 1/250s. Tokina 10-17 Fisheye at 17mm.

 

Conclusion

The Nikon D600 is a phenomenal tool for wide-angle underwater photography. The images that it produces are simply breathtaking and would be more than ample for most photographers (except possibly for those that need the absolute highest resolution to make very large prints). All aspects of the camera work in tandem to ensure an enjoyable shooting experience.

A great camera is useless underwater unless there is a great housing system to complement it, and with the Sea & Sea D600 housing a very able partnership can be established. The ergonomics are well thought out, and with a depth rating of 100m the housing is robust enough for any dive plan you can throw at it. This is a combination that will give you many years of service churning out one great photo after the next.

 

Go to:

Part II:  D600 & MDX D600 for Macro

 

 

About the Author

Victor Tang is the founder of Wodepigu Water Pixel, an adventure dive company and photography consultancy with a nose for off the beaten track dive destinations.  When not stranded on shore with other pursuits as a musician and TV producer, Victor is on the prowl around Southeast Asia searching for new pristine waters to explore. His sister will always tease him for taking an oath never to take a camera underwater again after his first try in Malapascua, but lately he carries a camera anywhere he goes.

 

Further Reading

 


Where to Buy

Please support the Underwater Photography Guide by purchasing your underwater photography gear through our sister site, Bluewater Photo & Video. Click, or call them at (310) 633-5052 for expert advice!


 

 
 
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Nikon D7100 camera review & features

Scott Gietler
UWPG reviews & looks at the features of the new Nikon D7100. Should you get it?

Nikon D7100 review

24 megapixels, no low-pass filter, 51 auto-focus points will make this a great camera for underwater photography

By Scott Gietler

 

 
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Nikon had a winner with the popular Nikon D80 back in 2006, and they followed it up with even better models such as the D300, D90, D300s, and D7000. Many photographers purchasing their first dSLR purchased one of these models, and have been patiently waiting for a good reason to upgrade. Many photographers spoke about “waiting for the D400”, but the time of waiting may end for some.

Nikon has put its best sensor and best auto-focus system into the D7100, and appears to have merged the D70/D80/D90 and the D200/D300 lineups. With 24 megapixels, the body of the Nikon D600, the latest CMOS sensor with Expeed 3 processing, and additional video enhancements, the D7100 is poised to set the new standard for cropped sensor dSLRs.

 

 

nikon d7000 review

In this Nikon D7100 review we will cover:

  • Key specs and features
  • Body and Handling
  • High ISO tests
  • Detail compared with the D7000
  • Auto-focus speed tests
  • Sample images
  • D7100 Underwater housings (jump to housing reviews)
  • Recommended Lenses & Strobes
  • Conclusions

 

Key Nikon D7100 specs:

  • 24 megapixels, vs 16 megapixels on the D7000
  • 6000 x 4000 pixels
  • 1/250 sync speed, 1/320th in auto-fp mode; flash recycles quickly
  • Removal of the low-pass filter means sharper images, more detail and 100% crop (assuming the image is in focus and the lens can resolve that much detail)
  • 51 Auto-focus points, versus 39 on the D7000. The Nikon D300 and D300s have much better auto-focus capability than the D7000. The D7100 improves upon the excellent D300 auto-focus.  Macro photographers will see a nice improvement.
  • 1.3 crop factor for stills & video - this is really nice, especially when you want less angle of view than your lens delivers.  For example, when using the Tokina 10-17mm fisheye or for wildlife videography
  • AUTO-ISO capability has been improved. This is huge for topside action and ambient light photography, because you can program the camera to react quicker to changing light conditions.
  • SPOT white balance in live view mode - this could be great for underwater video, You can choose the spot on the screen you want to use for white-balancing. This will make white-balancing for many more much more convenient and accurate, especially for video.
  • Dual SD card slots
  • 1080p video, up to 60fps, MPEG-4 and H.264 format
  • Ultralong battery life, CIPA rated to 950 shots

The D7100 also has some nice features such as:

  • Uncompressed HDMI video output
  • LCD size of 3.2 inches (versus 3 inches on the D7000)

 

Availability: Now
Price: $1200 body, $1600 with 18-105mm lens

 

Jump to Underwater Housings for the D7100

 

Nikon D7100 1.3x crop mode

The 1.3x crop mode of the Nikon D7100 is poised to be a very useful feature of this camera, for times you wish your lens wasn't so wide, or that you had more reach.

You basicaly see a cropped portion of the sensor in the viewfinder, giving you the equivalent field of view of a 1.3x version of the lens. So instead of shooting with a 10-17mm fisheye lens underwater, it will be like shooting with a 13-22mm lens. Instead of shooting with a 60mm lens, it will be like using a 78mm lens. For wildlife photography, shooting at 400mm will now be like shooting at 520mm.

The autofocus and exposure will be acting on the cropped portion of the lens. You'll be able to compose your picture more easily. You'll only have 15 megapixels instead of 24 megapixels, but who cares? 15 megapixels is still a huge number.

Also, when used in 1.3x crop mode, your D7100 can take photos at a rate of 7 frames per second, a nice bump the 5fps offered by the Nikon D7000.

 

NIkon D7100 auto ISO mode

Auto ISO is an excellent feature that more photographers should use. It basically tells your camera to boost the ISO until desired shutter speed was reached. The problem was, previously, if you are using a zoom lens, you always need a faster shutter speeds for longer focal lengths. The Nikon D7100 has added some functionality to address this issue.

I find auto ISO mode indispensible for wildlife photography. For example, for hummingbirds, I set a minimum shutter speed of 1/800th. The camera will automatically raise the ISO until this shutter speed is achieved, up to whatever maximum ISO that I set. Magic!

nikon d7100 review auto-iso
Hummingbird from Venice Beach, California. F4.5, 1/800th, ISO 2500, Nikon 200-400mm lens @400mm, taken in Av mode using Auto ISO

 

Fitting the D7100 into the D7000 / D600 underwater housings

The dimensions of the D7100 are very, very close to the D7000. However, several buttons and key contols are placed in different positions.  You can see the comparison photos here. Still, the aperture & shutter speed dials and the shutter release look to be in the same positon, so it is possible that you could get very basic functionality of the D7100 in some of the D7000 underwater housings. But the camera tray will probably give you some difficulty in attaching.

It is much easier to fit the D7100 into a D600 housing. We were able to fit the D7100 into a Nauticam D600 housing, and the many of the key controls like image review, aperture/shutter speed dials, and the shutter worked.

 

Nikon D7100 underwater housings

Ikelite and Nauticam both have D7100 housings out, and we expct Aquatica, Sea & Sea, and Hugyfot soon. The Ikelite D7100 housing will be shipping around April 19th, and is the best value at $1,500, and will also have their excellent TTL capability built into the housing. You can watch the Nauticam D7100 housing product video. We expect the Sea & Sea D7100 housing, and Aquatica D7100 housing will have similar excellent ergonomics as their D800 housings have (both housings will be ready in early July), and the Hugyfot will have their Hugycheck vacuum-check system built in to the housing.

 


Kelp forest from the Channel Islands, California - taken by the Nikon D7000. I'm sure the D7100 will not disappoint underwater!

 

Adobe Lightroom support for the Nikon D7100 & a hack

So you want to open up your Nikon D7100 files in Adobe lightroom? Adobe Lightroom does not yet support the Nikon D7100 raw files, but there is a great hack listed here that works great. It basically fools lightroom into thinking that the photo came from a Nikon D5200, which pretty much has an identical sensor.

 

Nikon D7100 - detail compared with the D7000

 

In my real-world shots taken with the D7000 and the D7100, I found that it was difficult to notice a large improvement in the details of the 100% crop. I up-resized the D7000 files so they would be the same number of pixels across as the D7100 files, which I thought was a more fair comparison. For certain subjects, I did notice more detail in the D7100 files, but it was not across the board. I did the tests with the Nikon 60mm F2.8 lens because of its excellent resolution.

nikon d7100 resolution tests compared with the nikon d7000
Photo of a mural taken with a Nikon 60mm F2.8 lens. F5, 1/400th, ISO 200. See the 100% crops below

 

nikon d7100 resolution tests compared with the nikon d7000
100% crop, taken with the D7000. Image upsized 20% so it is the same pixel width as the D7100 image below.

 

nikon d7100 resolution tests compared with the nikon d7000
100% crop, taken with the D7100. Resolution is great with both cameras.

 

nikon d7100 resolution tests compared with the nikon d7000
100% crop, taken with the D7000, upsized by 20% so it is the same pixel width as the D7100 photo below.

 

nikon d7100 resolution tests compared with the nikon d7000
100% crop, taken with the D7100. Resolution is great in both images, but appears to be slightly better in the D7100.

 

 

Nikon D7100 sample images

Nikon D7100 review sample images
Egret looking for food. Nikon 60mm AF macro lens, uncropped. F3.2, 1/800th, ISO 100

 

Nikon D7100 review sample wildlife images
Ducks hanging out. Nikon 60mm, F3.2, 1/500th, ISO 200

 

Nikon D7100 review sample images
Duck about to jump in. F3.2, 1/640th, ISO 200

 

 

Nikon D7100 review 100% crop sample images
Egret photo from above, 100% crop

 

Nikon D7100 review 100% crop sample images
Duck photo from above, 100% crop. Detail looks great!

 

nikon d7100 wildlife photo
Hummingbird moth in Marina del rey, taken at night, with Nikon 18-200mm lens, pop-up flash. F10, 1/250th, ISO 800

nikon d7100 wildlife photo
Hummingbird moth in Marina del rey, taken at night, with Nikon 18-200mm lens, pop-up flash

nikon d7100 wildlife photo
Hummingbird moth in Marina del rey, taken at night, with Nikon 18-200mm lens, pop-up flash

 

Nikon D7100 high ISO tests

The D7100 appears to be just as good as the D7000 at high ISO, even though it has a smaller pixel size, which means decent to good images at ISO 3200 and ISO 6400. If you're looking to shoot with very high ISOs, you may want to be shooting with the D600, D800 or Canon 5D Mark III.

I am very, very happy with the high ISO performance of this camera, as I was with the D7000. I shot the D7000 at ISO 6400, and took the same shots with the D7100 at ISO 6400, leaving the high ISO noise reduction to normal. I then downsized the D7100 jpegs to be the same size as the D7000 jpegs, which I thought was a more fair comparison. I could not see any significant difference between the 100% crops of these shots.  See the sample images below.

 

Nikon D7100 ISO 6400 sample images
Tree in the nearby park, Nikon D7100, ISO 6400
Nikon D7100 review ISO 6400 high ISO sample images
ISO 6400 from above, 100% crop. F8, 1/800th

 

 

Nikon D7100 review ISO 6400 high ISO sample images
ISO 6400 photo from the same spot, taken right afterwards with the Nikon D7000, 100% crop. F8, 1/800th. Both of the ISO 6400 shots were taken in JPEG mode, high ISO noise reduction on normal. We'll be doing some more high ISO tests during the week.

 

Nikon D7100 auto-focus speed tests

The Nikon D7100 camera has an improved auto-focus system, with 51 auto-focus points, and better low-light capability in the center of the sensor. But how does this translate into the real world?

I tested the auto-focus between the D7000 and the D7100 in low-light, with various lenses including the 60mm, 60mm + 1.4x teleconverter, 18-200mm VR, and the 200-400mm VR. Across the board, I noticed faster auto-focus and less hunting with the D7100, especially when using a teleconverter. This was a welcome discovery because I did feel that my camera’s auto-focus took a step backwards when I switched from the D300 to the D7000.

I also did some night photography with the Nikon D7100 and the 18-200mm lens. I had a sola 800 red light focusing on the subject (a hummingbird moth), and the camera focused quite well. You can see the images in the sample image section.

 

 

Best Nikon D7100 lenses, topside

For landscape photography, I like the Nikon 10-24mm, or the Sigma 10-20mm – depending on your budget.

For wildlife photography, the 80-400mm VR will be a staple for most people. If you have the budget, the 200-400 F4 VR lens is excellent for wildlife with a great bokeh, and older versions of the 300mm F4 or 300mm F2.8 should also be checked out if quality of shots is more important than flexibility.

For portraits, picking up an inexpensive 50mm F1.8 lens is a must.

For general purpose travel, you can use the 18-135mm kit lens, although I prefer the extended reach of the 18-200mm VR.

People who want to cover indoor events or do street photography will probably want to pick up a fast F4 or F2.8 zoom lens in the 16-35, 17-55, or 24-70 range.

 

Best strobes

The Sea & Sea YS-D1 strobes would be the go-to strobe for most people, due it is amazing power and small size. A second contender would be the Ikelite DS-160 strobe, with its superior recycle rates, great color temp for wide-angle, and the ability to do TTL with any housing with the optional Ikelite TTL converter cable. Its only downside is the much larger size and weight vs the YS-D1, and its proprietary battery back vs the 4AA batteries of the YS-D1. Learn more about strobe positioning underwater.

 

Nikon D7100 compared with past models

Photographers upgrading from a compact or mirrorless camera are in for a pleasant surprise if they upgrade to the Nikon D7100. Owners of previous Nikon dSLRs like the D80, D200 or D300 will enjoy the additional detail in their photos, high ISO capability, and low-light auto-focus speed. D7000 users probably have less of a reason to upgrade, as detail and ISO performance are similar, although the auto-focus improvements are very nice.

 

Which underwater photographers should get the D7100?

We expect the NIkon D7100 to be the top choice for new underwater photographers looking to upgrade to a dSLR. People who especially love macro may want to upgrade their older Nikon to the D7100. And it will certainly tempt some macro photographers who had been previously looking the at the Nikon D800.

Underwater photographers focused on wide-angle will find the D7100 an excellent choice, although they may also be looking at the Canon 5D Mark III or the NIkon D600 for improved dynamic range.

 

Nikon D7100 concerns

With 24 megapixels on a DX size sensor, the pixel size is getting small. This is equivalent to 54 megapixels on a full-frame sensor (24 x 1.5 x 1.5). The main concern with small pixel size is the dynamic range being recorded by the sensor - especially for the wide-angle underwater photographer. High ISO noise had been a concern, but as you can see in the above tests, the Nikon D7100 high ISO performance looks quite good. We'll be doing some dynamic range testing soon.

 

Nikon D7100 conclusions

So far - we really like the camera, it feels very similar to the D7000, yet has a little better resolution, a little better focusing, and some other nice features that make it a nice upgrade for people shooting a D200 or D300 / D300s, or a great choice for first time dSLR users.

The D7100 again raises the bar for cropped sensor dSLRs, with its excellent low light auto-focus capabilities, excellent picture quality at ISO 6400, and the largest number of megapixels of any DX format camera. It is possibly the best choice out there on the market for serious amateurs, and we anxiously await Canon’s response. For underwater photography, the D7100 will serve the needs of most serious hobbyists, and many professionals who don’t need the increased sensor size and cost of a full-frame camera.

 

Housing Options

 

Aquatica AD7100 Housing Details

Buy Aquatica AD7100 Housing

 

 

 

Nauticam NA-D7100 - DETAILED REVIEW

Buy Nauticam NA-D7100 Housing

 

 

 

Sea & Sea MDX-D7100 - DETAILED REVIEW

Buy Sea & Sea MDX-D7100 Housing

 

 

Ikelite D7100 Housing Details

Buy Ikelite D7100 Housing

 

 

Further Reading

 

 

 


Where to buy your photo gear

Support the Underwater Photography Guide

Please support the Underwater Photography Guide by purchasing your underwater photography gear through our sister site, Bluewater Photo & Video. Click, or call them at (310) 633-5052 for expert advice!


 

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Book through our sister company, Bluewater Travel

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Canon 5D Mark III Review

Todd Winner
A Review of the Canon 5D Mark III from the perspective of an underwater photographer

Canon 5D Mark III Review

A first look at the Canon 5D Mark III from the perspective of an underwater photographer

By Todd Winner

 
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Initial Thoughts

I've been shooting with the Canon 5D Mark III for the past few weeks and I have to say that I am extremely impressed with the camera. This is simply a fun camera to shoot with. I've been shooting with a Canon 7D for the past couple of years and the 5D Mark III really feels like a full-frame version of the 7D. The button layout is almost identical except for a few changes. The body is solid and well-built and is exactly what you would expect from a professional camera. It's incredible in low light with a native ISO range of 100-25600 and an expanded range all the way to ISO 102400! With that, you can practically shoot in the dark.

Borrowing the auto focus from Canon's flagship EOS-1D X, the 5D Mark III shares the newly designed 61-Point High Density Reticular AF. I have only briefly explored the AF capabilities, but it has performed well both in low light and fast action. The 5D Mark III now has a dedicated auto focus menu tab, making it faster and easier to get to the sophisticated auto focus system. With up to 6 fps continuous shooting, it is fast enough to shoot most anything you put in front of it. The images off the 22.3 megapixel full frame CMOS sensor are clean and punchy with excellent color across the ISO range. The 14-bit A/D conversion along with the next generation DIGIC 5+ Image Processor delivers stunning processing speed while keeping noise to a minimum. 

(Jump to 5D Mark III Underwater Housings).

 

Tiger shark, 5D Mark III, EF 16-35mm II at 16mm, 1/160 sec, f/8, ISO 320.

 

Shooting Video

Video has been greatly improved over older Canon models. We now gain better low light performance and cleaner images, which is perfect for underwater ambient light footage.  The moire and alias problems have also been fixed from the older models. The 5D III offers an all-i frame codec which should offer better results for fast motion and also hold up better in post-production. Plus, the camera has a dedicated headphone output and the ability to adjust audio levels manually.

 

Testing The Mark III In The Bahamas

I had the opportunity to shoot with the new Nauticam NA-5DMKIII in the Bahamas last week with both the Canon EF 8-15mm f/4L fisheye and the EF 16-35mm f/2.8L II. The housing feels very similar to my Nauticam 7D, so it was easy to adjust to. I love the feel of the new aperture and shutter speed knobs. They're very easy to spin with just your fingertips and work well with gloves on. Instead of having all push buttons, they have designed levers for some of the more frequently used controls, such as the image review and ISO buttons. This is a truly outstanding feature, and the ISO lever is particularly useful when shooting video to adjust manual exposers.

The Canon 5D Mark III also comes equipped with a CF and SD card slot. I loaded up the SD slot with one of the new Eye-Fi Pro X2 cards and programmed the camera to write small jpegs to it. Although the Eye-Fi card cannot transmit wirelessly from underwater, as soon as I came up, I had images to review on my iPad. How cool is that?!  

Tiger Beach in the Bahamas is always a great destination for sharks and dolphins. You can read more here about diving Tiger Beach.

 

Canon 5D Mark III lenses for underwater

Canon 5D Mark III Wide-angle

For wide angle, my two favorite lenses are the EF 8-15mm f4L fisheye and the EF 16-35mm f2.8L II.  The 8-15mm gives you either a full frame fisheye at the 15mm end or a circular fisheye at the 8mm end. The lens focuses incredibly close and can be used behind a mini dome.  By adding a 20mm extension ring and a Kenko 1.4 teleconverter, you can increase the versatility of this lens giving you a similar focal length to the Tokina 10-17mm on a cropped sensor camera.  Mini domes work great with fisheyes for the majority of shooting but if you want the most from your split shots use a larger dome like a 8” or 9”. Read our Canon 8-15mm fisheye lens review.

The Canon 16-35mm is a fast rectilinear lens with a good zoom range.  It is nice for shooting wrecks and other subjects that have straight lines as well as subject that require the longer reach of the 35mm range.  Rectilinear lens require a large dome like a 8” or 9”.  I have been using the 16-35mm without a diopter on a 8”, with good results.  The 17-40mm is very similar in image quality to the 16-35 at smaller apertures.  It is a nice alternative for about half the price. Read more about dome port optics to understand dome port size and the need for diopters.

Canon 5D Mark III Macro

For macro, my lens of choice is the EF 100mm f2.8L IS.  It focuses very fast and is incredibly sharp. It has a reproduction ratio of 1x1 but I like using a flip dioper with the subsee +5 and +10 diopters when more magnification is needed.

 

Caribbean reef shark, 5D Mark III, EF 8-15mm at 15mm, 1/125 sec, f/9, ISO 160.

 

canon 5d mark iii review for underwater photography
Canon 8-15mm fisheye lens at 8mm, F5.6, 1/40th, ISO 160

canon 100mm macro lens underwater photo
Canon EOS 5D Mark III, EF 100mm F2.8L Macro, 1/160, F9, ISO 100. Taken on our northern Sea of Cortez photo workshop.

 

Canon 5D Mark III underwater settings

 

  • Set your image quality to RAW.
  • I shoot almost all of my images with manual exposure settings so ISO, shutter speed and aperture are going to be based off of the scene. I always recommend using the lowest ISO that will give your desired shutter and aperture.  There have been a number of test that show Canon sensors being cleaner (less noise) at ISO 160 and multiples of 160 over the other ISO settings.  I typically try and use 160, 320, 640, etc over the other settings.
  • Having both a CF and SD card loaded in the camera, I use the CF card as my main recording and playback and set the SD to auto switch when the CF is full.  Using the SD card inserted in the camera does slow down the write speed to the CF card a bit but I don't notice the drop in speed being a big issue.
  • Picture style does not effect RAW images.  It does however change the way the JPEG preview images look on the back of the camera's LCD screen and they do get burned into your video footage.  I usually use the neutral setting.  This gives a somewhat flat looking image on the back of the camera but the histogram is probably closer to the RAW file and I'm going to be editing color, contrast and sharpness in post anyway.
  • I use auto white balance a lot on the 5D Mark III.  The camera is very good at getting the setting right.  White balance also gets burned into the video footage so it's important to get it right in camera.  Unfortunately, when shooting video, the auto white balance can change as you pan across a scene.  For video, I typically use the kelvin adjustments.  I also turn off or disable highlight priority and lens aberration correction.
  • The last setting I would suggest if you have a control on your housing is to use back button focus.  With back button focus you use a dedicated button to auto focus with your thumb.  You disable the auto focus from the shutter button in the custom controls menu.  Now I can start and stop auto focus independently from shutter release.  This can be very useful for pre-focusing action shots and off center compositions.  You can of course move your focus points to other areas in the frame but I find back button focus a more effective technique once you get use to it.
     

Additional Canon 5D Mark III underwater photos

canon 5d mark III review
Hatching octopus, Palos Verdes, 1/200 f/11, ISO 160, Canon 100mm F2.8L lens

 

canon 5d Mark III underwater photo
Sea Lion, Eureka Oil Platform, Long Beach F9, 1/200th, ISO160, Canon 16-35mm II @16mm

 

Conclusion

So, should you upgrade? If you're after exceptional image quality and performance, this is a great camera to consider. However, the list price of $3499 USD will keep it out of reach for many. The 5D Mark II is still available at a much lower cost and offers similar image quality, but lacks the sophisticated auto focus and other improvements. The 7D is about half the cost of the 5D Mark III and offers excellent auto focus and frame rates, but not the same image quality of the 5D. If you are shooting with any of the other APS-C dSLRs you will see improvements in all areas. If it's in your price range, especially if you are already invested in EOS full frame lenses, you will not be disappointed by this camera.

 

Underwater Housings for the 5D Mark III

 

Ikelite 5D Mark III Housing Review

Aquatica A5D MKIII Housing Review

Nauticam NA-5DMKIII Housing

Sea & Sea MDX-5D MKIII Housing

 

 

Bottle nose dolphin, 5D Mark III, EF 8-15mm at 8mm, 1/250 sec, f/13, ISO 320.

 

About the Author

Todd Winner is the technique editor for Underwater Photography Guide and an instructor and trip leader for Bluewater Photo Store in Santa Monica, CA. You can see more of his work at www.toddwinner.com

 

Further Reading

 


Where To Buy

Please support the Underwater Photography Guide by purchasing your underwater photography gear through our sister site, Bluewater Photo and Video. Click, or call them at (310) 633-5052 for expert advice!


 

Initial Thoughts on the Olympus PEN E-PL5 & XZ2 Cameras

Kelli Dickinson
A brief review of the Olympus PEN E-PL5 and XZ-2 cameras, as released after the Photokina show

Initial Thoughts on the New Olympus PEN  E-PL5 & XZ-2 Cameras

By Kelli Dickinson

 
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Olympus just released a whole new group of cameras after the Photokina show in Germany. Among these are newer models of several popular underwater cameras. These include the new PEN E-PL5, PEN E-PM2 and compact Olympus XZ-2. Did Olympus make enough changes to these new cameras to make them a better choice than their predessor? Here are our initial thoughts: 

 

Olympus PEN E-PL5

 

The new Olympus PEN E-PL5 boasts an new 16 megapixel sensor, a nice improvement over the E-PL3's 12. In addition, the continuous shooting mode has been increased to a very fast 8 frames per second, but just like with previous models, both focus and exposure are locked based on the first frame. 

As always, the new Olympus E-PL5 claims to have faster auto-focus with a new high speed imager system… which we have tested, and it is quite fast. The camera comes with the same 14-42mm IIR kit lens as previous models, and includes all the same controls and features as the previous cameras. ISO capability has been increased to 25,600, but how the camera handles at higher ISO's compared to previous models still needs to be tested. 

The new E-PL5 brings back the good old .MOV recording format, meaning all you Mac users can shoot and edit video again as it saves with the option of H.264 compressor or  AVCHD system. 

Great additions for topside shooting include touch screen capabilities and a new LCD screen that can flip 180º up so you can see the screen from the front of the camera, (does not go all the way up when the flash is attached). 

In general, I think the E-PL5 will be a great step up from the previous PEN models. It will be the best option if you're looking for a high quality mirror less camera in a good quality housing that won’t break the bank. As always it uses the micro-four thirds mount, so all the lenses like the new 60mm macro, Panasonic 8mm fisheye and more will work great with this camera underwater!

Compared to the Olympus OM-D

The Olympus OM-D E-M5 costs $400 more, and comes with an electronic viewfinder, excellent 5-axis image stabilization, and 2 control dials - none of which the E-PL5 has. Choosing one of these great cameras will be a tough decision!

Mural

A photo of a mural using the 14-42mm kit lens, at 42mm, F7, 1/320th, ISO 200

In this 100% crop of the mural, we see stunning detail.  Nice EPL-5!

Olympus E-PL5 Underwater Housing

The housing for this camera has not been released yet, but we believe it will follow in the tradition of Olympus' high quality polycarbonate housings which offer full control of the camera, and the ability to change out the port to support a dome for wide angle lenses. 

 

PEN "Mini" E-PM2

Unfortunately, while some good improvements have been made in the new PEN Mini over the original model, we have been told that Olympus will not be making a housing for this camera. Happy users of the E-PM1 looking to upgrade should look at the new E-PL5.

 

Olympus Stylus XZ-2

The XZ-2 seems to be just the next step in a solid line of compact cameras. The new camera includes new 12 MP CMOS sensor, upgraded from  the XZ-1's 10MP CCD. This new sensor claims to produce images with less noise and more detail. The XZ-2 also shoots full HD video but now the recording format is the better .MOV that works on both Mac and PC systems, with H.264 or MPEG-4AVC compression, versus the Motion JPEG format for the XZ1. Other important features remain the same as the XZ-1 with the same fast and bright 1.8 iZuiko lens and 4x optical zoom. Low light capability is still great because of this fast lens, and good ISO handling. 

One really nice improvement lies with the front control ring around the lens. In the XZ-1 this ring was limited to only the primary function based on what mode you were in (aperture control in A Mode, Shutter control in S mode). The new XZ-2 offers more flexibility with customizable functions, giving you direct access to the most important setting including ISO, aperture and shutter speed. In addition the ring can also be used to zoom and focus.

For topside, Olympus continued its general camera evolution by including touch screen functions and a swivel / tilt LCD screen. The hot-shoe acts as an accessory port to attach different flashes, an electronic viewfinder, microphones etc. 

The XZ-2 looks to be a basic evolution of the XZ line with increased megapixel count, better recording format and improved control for important camera functions. We recommend the new Sony RX100 or Canon G12 for compact options over the XZ2. 

 

XZ-2 Housing

While this has not been released yet, we believe the housing will offer full control of the camera like the XZ-1 and hopefully include the ever helpful 67mm threads, great for adding accessory macro and wide angle lenses. 

 

About the Author

Kelli Dickinson is an avid diver, manager of Bluewater Photo Store and an industry expert on mirrorless cameras and housing options. You can reach her by email at kelli@bluewaterphotostore.com. 

 

Further Reading

 


Where To Buy

Please support the Underwater Photography Guide by purchasing your underwater photography gear through our sister site, Bluewater Photo and Video. Click, or call them at (310) 633-5052 for expert advice!


 

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