Review of cameras

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 Photos from Komodo & Alor, Indonesia

 

Be sure to read our photo essay 'Nikon D7100 Photos from Komodo and Alor' to view incredible macro photos from some of the best reefs in the world.

 

Nikon D7100 underwater photos

 

 

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

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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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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!


 

Canon S110 and Canon G15 mini-review

Scott Gietler
The new Canon S110 and Canon G15 specs, comparison, and mini-review

Canon S110 and Canon G15 cameras announced

Revolutionary or Evolutionary? Read on to find out

By Scott Gietler

 

 
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The Canon S100 and Canon G12 are two of the most popular cameras on the market for underwater photography. How will their replacements, the Canon S110 and Canon G15 stack up?  Manufacturers often make "improvements" that have unintended consequences for underwater photography.

 

Canon S110 - basically the same as the Canon S100

No big news here - Canon took the S100, took away the built-in GPS, and added wi-fi. The controls are the same, but the body was changed ever so slightly - probably just enough to make the metal S100 housings not work with the S110. We'll post the test results as soon as we get an S110 in-house. 

canon g15 review for underwater photography
Canon G15

 

Canon G15 - revolutionary F1.8 - F2.8 lens

The new Canon G15 has a new, very bright F1.8 - F2.8 lens. The Canon G1X was a disaster for underwater photography because it lacked the ability to take close-up photos. We'll be anxious to see how the new lens on the G15 performs. 

The Canon G12 is one of our two favorite compact cameras (the Sony RX-100 is the other), hopefully Canon didn't restrict the macro capability of the Canon G15 too much, and the G15 can take the G12's spot. According to the official specs on the Canon website, the macro capability on the G15 is the same as the G12.

 

Canon G12, Canon G15 differences:

  • Canon G15 has a much brighter lens (both cameras have a 28-140mm lens), which will have some great benefits for indoor and ambient light photography, including the ability to blur the background when zoomed in to 140mm. The Canon G12 lens has a F2.8/4.5 aperture.
  • 12 megapixels instead of 10
  • Canon is claiming faster auto-focus. We will have to wait and see!
  • Canon G15 is slightly smaller
  • Full HD 1080p video recording; lens can zoom & focus while recording
  • Offers an HDR mode
  • Upgraded CMOS sensor
  • ISO dial has disappeared
  • No more articulating LCD screen
  • Retail price of $499

 

Initial thoughts on the Canon G15 and S110

It appears that the Canon S110 and Canon G15 will continue to be solid choices for underwater photography, with great macro and wide-angle wet lens capability, but with increased competition from the Sony RX-100. We'll continue to update this article once we handle the cameras ourselves.

Update: Nov 23th 2012 - our partner Bluewater Photo has just posted a Canon G15 quick review for underwater photography

 

Canon G15, S110 underwater housings

  • Ikelite, Nauticam and Recsea have underwater housings for the Canon S110; all 3 housings support wide-angle and macro wet lenses
  • Ikelite and Recsea have released Canon G15 housings; both housings support macro lenses, only the Recsea housing supports a fisheye lens
  • Recsea Canon G15 Housing Review

 

Further Reading

Sony RX-100 review

Canon S110  & Canon G15 underwater settings

 

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!

Here are direct links to the housings mentioned above: Ikelite G15, Recsea G15, Ikelite S110, Nauticam S110, Recsea S110 housing


 

Olympus OM-D E-M5 Camera Review

Kelli Dickinson
An underwater photographer's review of the new Olympus OM-D E-M5 mirrorless camera.

Olympus OM-D E-M5 Camera Review

By Kelli Dickinson

 
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The Olympus OM-D E-M5 camera sets a new standard in the mirrorless camera line with improvements that make the gap between the mirrorless cameras and entry level dSLRs even smaller. 

Overall easy to use, this camera has a little something for everyone with Olympus' standard set of auto functions, art, and scene modes. For the more advanced user, the OM-D really shines. Improvements in focus speed, image processing, flash sync speed, and more make the E-M5 a great choice if you're looking to take your photography to the next level. 

 

E-M5 Specifications

  • 16 MP, 4608 x 3456 max resolution
  • Micro-Four Thirds CMOS sensor (17.3 x 13mm)
  • ISO 200 - 25600
  • Electronic Viewfinder with 100% coverage
  • 3" LCD Tiltable screen
  • Touchscreen capabilities
  • Micro Four-Thirds mount with a wide variety of lenses
  • Minimum Shutter speed 60 sec, max shutter speed 1/ 4000th
  • Accessory flash sync speed 1/ 250
  • Video recording at 1080i 60 (1920 x 1080 resolution) 
  • Extensive weather proofing

 

Body Style

 

 

The E-M5 harkens back to Olympus' OM-D style SLR film cameras. A retro-styled body sets this camera apart from the previous mirrorless cameras from Olympus and other manufacturers. Still maintaining a small size, it offers dSLR-like controls through two control dials. These dials are well placed, making them easy to use for quick setting adjustments. 

 

 

Unlike the other Olympus PEN models that have geared toward a more streamlined, compact look with fewer buttons, the EM-5 features a standard array of buttons, a large mode dial and two customizable function buttons. The only downside I have found is that the standard array of buttons on the small sized body results in small buttons which could be more difficult to control with larger hands. 

In addition, Olympus did not include a pop-up flash, but continued with the accessory flash that attaches to the hot-shoe on the camera like the latest PEN models. While this can be nice, as you only have to have the flash when you need it for shooting, when coupled with the bump from the new Electronic Viewfinder the flash can make the camera seem a bit top heavy. 

 

 

Changes from previous Olympus mirrorless cameras

The previous PEN mirrorless cameras moved from a more classic design to a streamlined look over the years, but the E-M5 brings back the classic lines. The E-M5 has a 16MP sensor vs 12MP, which is much better at handling high ISOs. The E-M5 also has control dials for changing settings, where as all PEN models have used buttons or a single wheel on the back of the camera. The E-M5 includes a tilting screen like the previous model (E-PL3) has, but this LCD is larger at 3" and includes touch screen capabilities. 

 

Features

Electronic Viewfinder and LCD

 

One major improvement in the camera design is the addition of an electronic viewfinder. This viewfinder offers 100% coverage of the image. The viewfinder is clear and bright, offering a great alternative to shooting though the LCD screen. While using the electronic viewfinder, the LCD displays the important quick functions in a "Super Control Panel," allowing for easy and fast setting adjustments. A proximity sensor turns off the LCD when you bring the camera up to your face, saving battery life and your eyes. If you prefer shooting through the LCD, that is still easily accessible through the touch of a button. Live view disables the Super Control Panel, and those functions are brought up by pressing the OK button, just like with other Olympus models. If you like the look of the SCP, you can change the setting in the camera so that the SCP appears in the viewfinder by pressing the "OK" followed by the "Info" button. When using the camera in a housing, you can easily disable the automatic switch on the Live View and the EVF, allowing you to switch between the two simply by pushing the button on the camera (accessible with both Olympus and Nauticam housings).

 

ISO Image Tests

The E-M5 includes Olympus' Micro-Four Thirds CMOS sensor and has a 16MP resolution. Olympus has really made improvements in the low light sensitivity of the E-M5, which has ISO capability starting at 200 and going up to 25,600. The E-M5 performs well at higher ISO's than previous mirrorless models. 

 

At ISO 1600

 

At ISO 3200

 

At ISO 6400

 

At ISO 12800

 

At ISO 25600

 

Image Stabilization

In addition, Olympus has completely re-designed the built-in image stabilization on the E-M5. The new multi-directional image stabilization system offers stabilization over multiple axes. This allows for better performance and ease of shooting in low-light situations. 

 

This image was shot with the IS turned off at 1/20 F13.

 

This image was shot with the IS turned on at 1/20 F13.

 

Focus and Speed

The E-M5 improves the focus speed from previous Olympus cameras, and it holds up against other cameras on the market such as the Sony NEX series and Panasonic cameras (though the GX1 did beat out the E-M5 by fractions of a second during some of our tests). 

The E-M5 blew away all of the competition with a much faster burst mode, which shoots images at up to 9 frames per second without flash. One thing I did notice is that while shooting continuously and panning the camera, the focus does not hold as well as some higher-end dSLR cameras. 

 

Macro

The E-M5 ships with a choice of lenses. The first option is the standard 14-42mm kit lens that you find in their previous cameras. This lens works well for macro, focusing down to an image 3" across alone, and up to 1 3/4" when you add a Dyron 67mm macro diopter. This is great macro for a kit lens in general, though for an added bump you can upgrade to the new 12-50mm lens, which includes electronic zoom and a macro focus switch.

This lens is great. There are three modes on the lens, which are switched by sliding the zoom ring forward or back. Two relate to zoom control, electronic or manual, but the third locks the lens at 43mm and switches it into a macro mode. The macro mode is really what makes this lens a great choice over the less expensive standard kit lens for underwater photography. The macro function on the lens brings the focus down from a photo about 3.5" across to 1.25" across, which is fabulous for macro shooting. Add on a Dyron +7 macro diopter and you can get focus on an image less than one inch across. Nauticam will be releasing a port with control of this lens, though Olympus has not announced if it will support the lens in the housing. 

 

Video

The E-M5 shoots full 1080i 60 video with the H.264 HD compression that is found on many recent cameras. One major improvement over the previous PEN models is that Olympus has moved away from the AVCHD file storage format, which moved all video files into a well-hidden separate file. The E-M5 saves the files as .MOV files in the same folder as your images. In addition, you can also shoot in a motion .jpeg mode. 

Movie recording can occur from any still picture mode by simply pressing the red record button on the top of the camera. If you prefer something different, this function is customizable to any button through the custom menu system, so you can move the record function to another button for smoother video starts. 

One small downside is that if you do start shooting a video from any of the still picture modes, the camera automatically sets to Program mode, controlling the aperture, shutter speed and ISO. The focus mode will revert to whichever mode you had set when last in video (note: the default is continuous autofocus). In order to take control over your video settings the camera must be switched to the dedicated video mode.

With the focus improvements overall on the camera, the continuous autofocus has improved some with the new E-M5, however it is still noticeable because the camera hunts a tiny bit due to the contrast-detection autofocus system. However, while underwater the lag between the camera automatically adjusting the focus on Continuous autofocus is very noticeable and too slow to be of much use. I recommend using Single autofocus, and gently pressing the shutter button halfway down to re-focus. This focus is instantaneous with very little hunting (as you can see in the video below). 

 

Sample Underwater Video (taken with the 14-42mm kit lens)

 

One large improvement for video is the improved image stabilization built into the camera. The multi-axis mechanical image stabilization that the E-M5 was designed with really shines in video. Due to the multiple axis stabilization, Olympus boasts that it can cope with both the different types of movement caused by hand shake and by walking at the same time. To test this, I took two videos with the camera while walking down the street holding the camera in one hand. Take a look at the results below. 

 

Image Stabilization test video

 

 

Conclusion

Overall I have been very impressed with the E-M5. It is a big improvement from the current PEN series of cameras from Olympus and other micro four-thirds cameras on the market. Image handling and quality compares to that of the larger sensor NEX series of mirrorless cameras, and the design is well thought out. The dual dials for settings control are great and the return of an electronic viewfinder is will make many people very happy. Video quality is good, but if you are very serious about wanting stellar video I would say to look at the NEX-5n or NEX-7 which offer more options and control on video recording. 

 

Using the OM-D E-M5 Underwater

The E-M5 works fabulously underwater. I have been able to test out two of the housings options, Olympus and Nauticam. Both housings allow full functionality of the camera. Underwater the E-M5 still focuses quickly and accurately, which is even improved with the use of a focus light. The faster sync speed of 1/250 is great for both macro and wide-angle shots, allowing more creative lighting by stopping down to bring out black backgrounds in macro shooting and more control on the ambient light with wide-angle.

 

Underwater Housing Options

Nauticam Housing

The NA-EM5 housing fits the camera like a glove and is designed extremely well so that it is easy to use, and changing functions in the camera is a breeze. The housing is made out of machined aluminum with a good grip that makes holding onto the housing and taking pictures easy and very comfortable. Buttons mirroring the camera are organized on the housing in a way to make it easy to access and control underwater, even when wearing gloves. Nauticam placed the two control dials nicely so that you can easily adjust both without letting go of the housing, or your handle. 

 

Nauticam Housing Specs

  • Machined aluminum, nicely sized with a good grip, and well-placed buttons.
  • Includes Nauticam's classic port release system, making port changes quick and easy.
  • Zoom control is easy to turn with one finger, and works well with gloves.
  • All buttons are tiered for ease of use underwater.
  • Aperture and shutter speed buttons are easy to turn and well placed for easy manipulation and quick setting changes.
  • Viewfinder control button allows switching between the LCD and EVF (need to turn off the automatic LV sensor).
  • Included moisture detection system.
  • LCD window is large, and allows easy viewing of the LCD, which is tilted for an optimal viewing angle.
  • The EVF window has slight magnification, making it easy to view the full viewfinder.
  • Housing is designed for flash to be popped up, so there is no need to change the camera settings for UW mode (allowing for customization of the both of the Fn buttons).
  • Shutter is firm and easy to use - easy to get half-shutter focus.
  • Video record is a lever, easy to activate while keeping hand on housing and making it much easier to limit any shake at the beginning of the video.
  • Includes hot shoe mount and fiber optic ports (S&S and inon style).
  • Includes a bulkhead port for an optional bulkhead so that you can use sync cables from the hot shoe on the camera.
  • A wide variety of ports is available for both Olympus and Panasonic's Micro 4/3rds lenses.

 

Olympus Housing

 

 

The Olympus PT-EP08 continues in the style of previous Olympus housings, with the black polycarbonate body and red front on the port. One big improvement is an updated port system which allows for easy port changing. However at this time, Olympus has not confirmed if they will be creating new ports to fit the variety of lenses available for the E-M5. Right now they only have the port for the 14-42mm kit lens. The buttons are large and easy to manipulate, even in gloves. 

 

Olympus Housing Specs

  • Polycarbonate housing, clear backplate allowing some view into the o-ring with a good front grip.
  • Shutter lever is precise and easy to get half-shutter focus.
  • All the buttons are tiered, making it easy to use underwater, even in gloves.
  • Zoom control is placed well and easy to use with two fingers.
  • One downside: the aperture and shutter speed dials are not easily reached, and require moving the hand off the housing and using two fingers to turn.
  • Housing was designed to be more ergonomic, and to be used with the UW Mode activated so the flash will fire without being popped up. Unfortunately this also takes up one of the customizable Fn Buttons.
  • The location of the video start button required me to remove my hand from my handle, making smooth video starts difficult.
  • The port system was completely redesigned from previous housings, allowing quick and easy port changes, with a loud secure click on the locking mechanism.
  • Includes a hot shoe mount and 2 fiber optic ports.
  • Includes a button to switch between the EVF and LCD screen underwater.

 

Sample underwater images

F20 1/250 with YSD-1 strobes, 45mm macro lens

 

Uncropped, F22 1/250, 45mm macro lens

 

F22 1/250, Dyron 67mm +7 diopter, 14-42mm lens

 

For more great Olympus OM-D EM-5 underwater photos, read Jim Lyle's excellent report diving Cozumel with the Olympus OM-D E-M5.

 

Special Sale - Olympus Bundle

You can currently get an Olympus OM-D E-M5 housing & camera bundle for 35% off, it is quite an incredible deal, while it lasts!

 

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!


 

Sony RX-100 review

Scott Gietler
Sony RX-100 review for underwater photography, including focus speed, wet lenses

Sony RX-100 Review

A new leader in compact camera choices for underwater photography

By Scott Gietler

 

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The Sony RX-100 is an exciting option in the compact camera market. This very pocketable camera has become a staple for underwater use when paried with one of several RX-100 housings on the market. You can also check out our RX-100 M2 Review.

 

sony RX-100 review

 

sony rx-100 underwater photography underwater housings
The height and width of the RX-100 is almost the same as the small, stylish Canon S100 which Sony has "mimicked". It is slightly thicker than the S100. The front & rear control dials, and the function button are highly configurable - I reassigned the function button to ISO

 

Sony RX-100 - amazing specs

Here's the specs, and I think they speak for themselves. Quite amazing for a compact camera!

  • Large sensor, 3x the size of a Canon S100 / G12 sensor
  • 20 megapixels - very nice!
  • RAW, full manual controls, etc. (read more about Raw vs JPEG, and about why manual controls are important in underwater photography)
  • Electronic shutter allows for shooting with flash at high shutter speeds
  • Bright F1.8  28 to 100mm lens
  • 1080p 60fps video, full manual controls during video; movies look great
  • Controls are highly configurable
  • Very nice panorama and HDR modes
  • Great high ISO performance (reading about using ISO underwater)
  • $649 in the US

 

Great details in photos when pixel-peeping


100% crop of a Sony RX-100 photo, taken underwater. The full-size photo of the wine bottle can be seen just below this photo. Given that this is a 100% crop, the detail is amazing. You can see individual lines & dots of the half-tone printing style on this wine bottle very clearly, even the tiniest lines are not blurring together at all. The demarcation between the different colors is also very clean and crisp.

 

Sony RX-100 - great TTL in manual mode

 

Shooting the RX-100 camera underwater with YS-D1 strobes in TTL mode. See photo above for 100% crop of this photo.

 

We tested the RX-100 camera underwater with the new Sea & Sea YS-D1 strobe. The results were great, the exposures in manual mode were very good, and the YS-D1 exposure compensation dial worked very well. 

 

Sony RX-100 - great wet lens options

Performance with the Dyron +7 and Subsee +5 macro lenses was great, and we got amazing detail by stacking the Dyron +7 with the Subsee +5.

See the new Rx-100 wet lens test results

 

Photo taken with the Dyron +7 macro lens

 

Photo taken with Subsee +5 macro lens

 

Dyron and Subsee lenses stacked, very nice~

 

Macro tests on land

The macro performance is not as good as the Canon S95, S100 or G12 - but is more than acceptable with a wet diopter. 

  • No diopter - takes photo 3 inches across
  • With Subsee +5,  takes photo 2.3 inches across
  • With Dyron +7, takes photo 1.4 inches across
  • With Subsee +10, takes photo 1.4 inches across
  • Dyron +7 and Subsee +5, takes photo 1.06 inches across

Read more about the Subsee +10 diopter

Wide-angle wet lenses

This is one of the only compact cameras, other than the Canon S95, that has no vignetting with wet-mount fisheye lenses. Very nice!

 

No wide-angle lens used, camera at 28mm

 

Photo taken with Dyron fisheye lens, much wider!

sony rx-100 underwater photo
Photo taken with the Recsea RX-100 housing, Dyron 16mm fisheye lens. Very sharp! The dynamic range of this camera is quite impressive.

 

Sony RX100 Underwater Photos 

Sony RX100 underwater photo of Shrimp

Sony RX100 in Recsea housing, with strobe at F7, 1/250, ISO 200 

Sony RX100 Underwater Housing image of Octopus

Sony RX100 in Recsea housing, with strobe at F8, 1/125, ISO 200

 

Nauticam RX-100 underwater photo

Great dynamic range from the Sony RX-100!

nauticam sony rx-100 underwater housing

Great dynamic range and blue colors!

sony rx100 nauticam housing underwater photo

Beautiful lionfish photo taken by EunJae Im at 28mm with the Sony Rx-100, Nauticam housing.

sony rx-100 underwater photo with wet macro lens

Supermacro with the Nauticam housing, Subsee +10 diopter, great detail!

Sony RX-100 - tiny size, huge sensor

The RX-100 is about the same size as the Canon S95 or Canon S100, which means it is a truly pocketable camera. The sensor size is 3x the area of the Canon S100 or Canon G12 sensor, and about half the area as a mirrorless micro-four thirds camera sensor.

 

Sony RX-100 - focusing speed

Focusing speed is a little faster than other compact cameras like the Canon S100 or Canon G12. Some of our staff thought it focused significantly faster than other compacts. It is still not quite at the level of mirrorless cameras like the Olympus PEN, Panasonic GX1 or Sony NEX series.

 

Sony RX-100 - compared to S100, G12, Mirrorless cameras

If your main criteria is small size, great image quality, and good wet lens options, the RX-100 is the camera for you, if you don't mind spending a little more than you would for an S100 or G12 setup.

Mirrorless options from Olympus, Panasonic and Sony will be slightly larger, and cost more, but results with dedication macro and fisheye lenses will be better, and focusing will be faster.

 

Sony RX-100 battery life

The RX-100 is rated for 330 shots according to CIPA standards. This is much better than the 200 shots the Canon S95/S100 is rated for. The camera will last 2 entire dives underwater no problem, and may even last for 3 dives like the Canon G12 and the Sony NEX-5N does - but this will have to be tested.

 

Sony RX-100 flash recycle time

The RX-100 on land has an incredibly slow flash recycle time, especially on full power. So slow, in fact, that I thought this feature would kill the camera as an option for underwater photography. The camera has no hot shoe mount, so fiber optics must be used underwater to fire the strobe.

Luckily, the tests underwater with my Sea & Sea YS-D1 strobe were quite different. The camera flash recycled at an acceptable speed, and I was able to shoot at speeds in line with other compact cameras. Perhaps this is because the power of the YS-D1 strobe meant that the camera's internal flash didn't have to use as much power. The good news is - you are unlikely to miss an important shot. 

 

Sony RX-100 raw converter support

Adobe Lightroom now supports the RX-100 as of October 3rd 2012, so you no longer need to use Sony's raw converter, called Sony Image Data Converter.

 

Sony RX-100 Video Review

Check out Bluewater Photo's Sony RX-100 Video Review

 

Sony RX-100 underwater housing options

Our partner Bluewater Photo carries both the Recsea Sony RX-100 housing and also the Nauticam RX-100 housing. Both housings will be small, high quality aluminum housings with access to all of the controls. The Ikelite RX-100 underwater housing is an economical polycarbonate housing.

Check out Bluewater Photo's Sony RX-100 Housing Comparison Video

 

 

Further Reading & Resources

 

 

 

 


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!


 

Let us book your dive travel

Book through our sister company, Bluewater Travel

Please support the Underwater Photography Guide by booking your next dive trip through Bluewater Travel. It will never cost you more, and often less. Email them any dive travel question, or call at (310) 915-6677 for expert advice!

 

Canon S100: In-Depth Thoughts And Housing Reviews

Victor Tang
Everything you need to know about the Canon S100 camera and the best housings options on the market.

Canon S100: In-Depth Thoughts And Housing Reviews

Everything you need to know about the Canon S100 camera and the best housing options

By Victor Tang

 

 

 
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As a frequent diver and underwater photographer, lately I have observed that more and more people who go underwater are equipped with some kind of camera. In fact, I'd say it's rare for a diver to go out without one. This might be because of the increasing affordability of the hobby, or perhaps because of the knowledge that the underwater world is deteriorating and the collective desire to archive its current beauty. Naturally, compact cameras make up the bulk of the market, and some premium options even come tantalizingly close to dSLRs in terms of image quality. Canon has always been at the forefront of producing amazing compacts for underwater photographers, and the new S100 model promises to build significantly on the popularity of its predecessor, the S95

 

The S100 is slightly bigger than the S95 but comes with more features and still fits easily in your hand.

 

My first impression of the Canon S100 when I took it for a spin in Tioman Island was very positive. The camera proved to be good at capturing fantastic shots with vivid colors and great detail. While selecting your camera is only half the battle, the next step is finding a housing, which we will discuss in-depth further down in this article. There are many housings on the market for the Canon S100 for different tastes and budgets. Remember that not all housings are created equal, and in this article I will evaluate the differences between the “budget” and “premium” options. I'll specifically be looking at the S100 housings from Ikelite, Fisheye FIX and Recsea.

 

The S100 Familiarized

Many articles have been made available with reviews and technical specifications for the S100, including my own “First Impressions” article here on the Underwater Photography Guide. After having more time to tinker with the camera, here are some important insights to be added:

 

  • For a compact of this size, the ergonomics have proven to be excellent. The dials for aperture and shutter are well placed, allowing single-handed operation should the need arise. Selecting ISO requires a single touch on the RING FUNC button and using the rear dial to achieve the desired setting. 
  • The increase in zoom range from 3.8X to 5X gives a camera of this size greater flexibility than compact users may be used to. Of even greater importance is achieving a field of view of 24mm at its widest setting. Underwater this gives an effective field of view of 30mm, which instead of 35mm of the S95 and G12, allows the photographer to get closer to the subject and illuminate it better when employing strobes
  • Video output from the S100, especially in low light, is excellent due to the wide f2.0 aperture at its widest setting. This is especially helpful for users who are shooting video without using video lights. Coupled with the close focusing distance of 3cm means the S100 is able to take video clips fairly sized (8cm/3inches or bigger) macro subjects without adding external enhancements like macro lenses.
  • ISO settings of up to 400 can be selected without much loss in image quality and fine detail. Having upgraded the S100 from a 10-megapixel sensor to the 12-megapixel one, image detail is more effectively retained. These two qualities are great for newly minted photographers who may not have external strobes to light up their photos. Advanced users taking ambient light photography will also appreciate these attributes. In short, this camera is more forgiving than ever before out of the box.

 

Of course, there are some less favorable things to note:

 

  • The Live View on the S100 can lag very considerably in low light conditions, and it takes awhile for the camera to catch back up once it starts to lag. Adding a focus light, even with is turned on at all times, does nothing to rectify the situation. I had the luxury of having two S100s to work with, and both gave me the same results, so this could be a firmware problem that I hope will be rectified on the upgrade.
  • The lens “breathes” when it's focusing, shifting back and forth to achieve focus. This may result in incorrect framing of the subject when it is in focus, meaning the subject as seen on the LCD could be bigger or smaller than what the photographer intended.
  • The autofocus absolutely rocks… when it works, that is. When the S100 is put through its paces underwater the autofocus takes longer to lock on as compared to on land. When it does lock on, the focus accuracy is perfect only 70% of the time. This issue is exacerbated when deploying macro lenses, so users who are used to focusing “within the ballpark” and relying on the camera’s autofocus to achieve final focus accuracy may find it harder to get the results desired. Even when moving the camera back and forth and relying on your eyes to get focus accuracy, upon half-shutter the autofocus may make the image even more out of focus than before. Using focus check is a must when taking macro subjects. A firmware upgrade may solve these problems, but for now users may have to put more effort into achieving the perfect shot. Of course, it has to be mentioned that when focus accuracy is achieved the contrast and details in the image are excellent.

 

 

What the S100 is capable of. Whip boby taken with twin Sea & Sea YS-110a strobes at ISO 80. Manual mode at f8 and 1/250s. Subsee +10 macro lens.

 

S100 Housings: which one?

With a slew of underwater housings available, it's easy to get overwhelmed and become unsure which will be right for you. Each will allow for beautiful photos and of course keep your camera dry, but the devil is in the details as each manufacturer has different methods of allowing access to the camera controls.

 

Ikelite S100 Housing.

 

Canon actually markets their own underwater housing for the S100, but most buyers would opt to pay a little more to get the Ikelite offering. With a much tougher polycarbonate shell and better quality buttons and control levels compared to the dinky ones on the Canon housing, the Ikelite option will easily outlast your S100 and another one. Ikelite also manufactures their own accessories like external strobes and add-on lenses that integrate seamlessly with their housings, so there are no shortage of options should you want to take your photography further. With a maximum depth rating of 60 meters, the Ikelite housing is more than capable of operating within recreational dive limits, especially compared to the Canon housing's maximum depth of 40 meters. The Ikelite is a no-frills housing perfect for starting off your underwater photo adventures.

The Ikelite housing fits in the palm of your hand, with easy access to all the control buttons and levers. However, to use the control ring dial on the housing a plastic gear ring has to be installed on the front control ring itself. The gear ring is fairly tight and there have been cases where repeated dismantling and installing causes it to break, so if possible the gear ring should be left on the control ring. Setting the camera into the housing is a simple task of slotting the camera within the space marked out by the pylons and making sure the gear ring on the control ring on the S100 meshes solidly with the control ring dial on the housing. The lens port of the housing conveniently features a 67mm thread to allow the photographer to use “wet” macro and wide-angle lenses. 

 

67mm thread at the front of the lens port. 

 

Of all the controls on an underwater housing, that which activates the shutter button is arguably the most important, for the mechanism has to be tactile enough for the user to feel the “half press” detent on the camera but still offer enough resistance to ensure the shutter is not inadvertently fully depressed. A well-engineered shutter control should allow the photographer to activate half shutter to see if the subject is in focus and also utilize features like focus check for further fine-tuning and take the shot only when the photographer chooses to. Ikelite has opted for the shutter lever where the movement to depressing the shutter is akin to pulling a trigger on a pistol. 

 

How the Ikelite shutter lever depresses the shutter button.

 

Using strobes takes a little extra preparation, as the Ikelite housing does not come equipped with any method to trigger external strobes for both sync cords and fiber optic cable. The easiest way to use strobes with this housing is via fiber optic cable, the common method being to stick on a velcro removable pad embedded with an open fiber optic cable end, right in front of the camera flash unit on the top right hand corner of the housing. A more elegant route is to paste a strobe mask set like those offered by Sea & Sea. The strobe mask set allows you to use dedicated fiber optic cables for underwater strobes and ensures a reliable activation of the strobes when needed. If the photographer has two strobes it is also a simple task to get a rubber bush offered by Inon and slot two open fiber optic cable ends through the bush on the housing.

 

A bit of DIY work but gets the job done.

 

Now that we're prepared let's take the housing underwater!

 

Through the paces

The S100 Ikelite housing with the camera inside feels slightly heavy in the water but not enough to warrant rethinking the weights one uses while diving. When attempting to turn the camera on you will realize how stiff the controls are on the housing. In fact, all the buttons on the housing, save for the shutter lever, are extremely stiff and it takes some effort to use the buttons to access features on the S100. 

Another issue occurs when trying to use the zoom dial. There is no return spring on the level to get the zoom lever back to its neural position after using it. Should the user forget to manually shift the dial back to its original position the zoom lever on the camera stays permanently on the zoom in or out, causing the S100 to freeze up. When the camera “freezes up,” using any control on the housing will illicit a non-response from the camera and the shutter button will not allow any picture to be taken. If this occurs underwater you will need to check your zoom dial.

 

The zoom lever (middle) stuck at zoom-in position. It needs to be rotated back manually.

 

The 67mm female threads are well made and screw in very comfortably. However, at shallow waters (5 meters and shallower) and in good light there is a some glare from the housing that may impede your view of the LCD screen. This problem becomes worse if the photographer is taking macro subjects with macro lenses and manual focusing is needed.

The shutter lever and the front control dial work well underwater with no discernible issues at all. By now the Ikelite user will have realized that there is an omission on the housing that may come to be viewed as a deal breaker for potential buyers: there is no dial on the housing to rotate the rear ring on the S100. This means that the user is not able to easily manipulate both the aperture and shutter speed to get the desired exposure, with the photographer essentially having to have one at a fixed setting and use the front control ring to adjust the other. With these constraints in mind some possible compromises are suggested:

 

  • For the most hassle-free compromise, set the camera to aperture priority or Av mode using the front ring to control the aperture. This allows the camera to decide the correct shutter speed given the size of the aperture you want to shoot to get the right exposure.
  • For more advanced users you can set the front control ring of the S100 to set shutter speed, choosing a fixed aperture before going underwater. Why not set the ring to control aperture instead? This is because shutter speed is a more effective way of controlling ambient light than adjusting the aperture, simply because compacts have a limited range of aperture settings due to the small sensor size. Shutter speed also has the advantage of reducing camera shake and freezing motion. For example, should the photographer want to incorporate a sunburst in the background shutter speeds of up to 1/1000s can be used whereas the maximum aperture on the S100 is only up to f8, so if your shutter speed has been set too slow it is virtually impossible to capture the sunburst effectively. If using strobes shutter speed becomes more important because the photographer will usually set a small aperture for a deeper depth of field and uses the shutter speed to control the amount of ambient light in the background.
  • There actually is a way to use the rear dial to control the aperture or shutter. This involves holding down the ring function button and choosing the settings via the macro button and the flash control button. Unfortunately all the controls are on the right side of the camera, making it extremely difficult to make changes efficiently. A convoluted two-handed position is needed to make changes via the rear dial effectively, and with practice one can make it second nature, but it may take up too much time before the photo opportunity is spurned.

 

 

Fisheye FIX S100 Housing

At the other end of the spectrum is the S100 housing from Fisheye FIX. Instead of using clear polycarbonate, this housing is constructed using corrosion-resistant aluminum alloy and can be taken to a depth of 70 meters, which accounts for its heft over Ikelite and a price tag that is almost three times as much. However, FIX sweetens the deal with a few useful add-ons bundled along with the housing, providing not one but two lens adaptors with 52mm and 67mm screw threads, and more importantly for users needing to trigger external strobes, an optical cable adaptor that can be fitted over the flash port on the housing. There is no need to fit a gear ring on the S100’s front control ring, and the camera fits into the housing smoothly and tightly, with very little chance of an improper mount. The direct video record button on the housing is colored red, which is a nice thought from Fisheye as a visual cue to users what that button is expressly used for.

 

The FIX S100 housing. Great build quality at your fingertips.

 

The optical cable adaptor. You do get what you pay for.

 

There are three crucial differences between the Ikelite and FIX housings that deserve special attention: 

 

  • The shutter lever on the FIX, unlike the pullback trigger style of the Ikelite housing, is a vertical lever that mimics the operation of the shutter button on the S100 itself. Having a preference for either design is subjective, and if possible it is best to try out both housings to form your own impressions. The Ikelite shutter level feels more natural with regards to movement of the fingers, although I find it easier to achieve and hold the “half-shutter” position when using the FIX housing.
  • The zoom control lever has a return spring that nudges the zoom lever on the S100.
  • There is a rotary knob on the back of the FIX housing that allows you access to the rear dial. This means that the FIX housing allows you to operate the camera as you would on terra firma. Compared to the Ikelite, the FIX housing has a clear advantage in terms of ergonomics.

 

 

The dreaded red button.

 

The shutter lever operates “naturally."

 

Through the paces

Remarkably the FIX housing with its aluminum-alloy construction weighs slightly less than the Ikelite housing, but it becomes negatively buoyant underwater. Complementing the housing with strobes will almost certainly require you to take off some dive weights. All the control buttons and levers can be accessed with just your right hand and the housing is a breeze to use underwater. All the buttons are easy to press and both front and rear dials move freely, making fine adjustments on the camera quick and painless. Having a return spring on the zoom lever means that the camera never hangs anymore as the zoom lever is never stuck any extreme position.

The lens mount accepted all my wet lenses smoothly, and since both the 52mm and 67mm lens mounts are screwed onto the lens port externally, it is possible to employ both of them underwater. The FIX S100 is actually more compact than the Ikelite offering, which along with its great ergonomics makes this housing a breeze to use. 

The main (and arguably only) pitfall of the FIX S100 housing is how easily the user can inadvertently depress the direct video record while diving. The direct video button is situated just below the thumb rest, which makes it easy for the thumb joint to accidentally depress it. In almost every dive I have inevitably come up a few “candid” videos mixed in with my intended footage. I thought that after some time with the housing I would have learned to avoid the button, but after eleven dives it still occurs.

Recsea Canon S100 housing

recsea s100 underwater housing

 

Although we didn't get a chance to review the Recsea S100, the Recsea S100 is also an excellent choice, allow full control of both aperture and shutter speed. The housing offers a large front control dial, which allows for easy use with heavy gloves, a large rear control dial, and 2 housing o-rings for added security.

The Recsea S100 housing also allows for use of an innovative quick-adapt system, which allows for easy adding and removing of wet lenses.

You can read several Recsea S100 reviews on the Bluewater Photo store website.

 

Conclusion

The Canon S100 is without a doubt a very prudent choice among compact cameras for underwater photography, especially if your main requirements are superb image quality in as diminutive a package as possible. There may be some hiccups while deploying the camera underwater but with some patience there is nothing to stop the photographer from getting amazing pictures.

Now comes the question: which underwater housing should you invest in? The Ikelite housing offers superb value, particularly for divers delving into underwater photography for the first time. Most of these new underwater photographers will probably start off with the camera in auto or aperture priority mode, so not being able to use the rear dial may not be an issue. More experienced users, who do not mind to work the buttons for full manual flexibility and some extra preparations for use with strobes, will also find the Ikelite housing a compelling choice because the quality of the construction offers exceptional value for prolonged and heavy usage. 

The FIX housing and Recsea S100 housings presents what is arguably the last word in underwater housing quality and ergonomics for the S100. The high quality controls allow one-handed operation and with the inclusion of a rear dial rotary knob the housing allows total and easy manual operation. The lofty price tag may deter some buyers, but the conveniences offered by the housing will persuade some that the premium is worth paying for. The Recsea and FIX S100 housings will be greatly appreciated by advanced users needing the full access to manual operation of the S100 and aspiring photographers who have made the decision to use the S100 for the photographic needs for the long term.

 

About the Author

Victor Tang runs a small dive travel company, Wodepigu Water Pixel, that in addition to the usual places like Manado and Bali endeavours to bring divers to some of the more exotic and harder to reach dive locations in Southeast Asia.

 

Further Reading

 

 


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