Underwater Photography Blog

Scott's Underwater Photography Blog

Please click on the title to see the full article, and to leave comments. You can receive this underwater photography blog via RSS Feed.

-----------------------------------------------------

Full Article: Fantasea Line FRX100 VI Housing for the Sony RX100 VI Introduced!

Fantasea Line is proud to announce the world's toughest, lightweight housing for the Sony RX100 VI.  The housing is now taking orders! 

 

About the FRX100 VI Limited Edition Housing

The FRX100 VI Limited Edition Housing features a stylish and ergonomic design, specifically created for the Sony RX100 VI digital camera. 

The housing's flat port features a 67mm thread, allowing the use of "wet" wide angle and macro conversion lenses, thus capturing both macro and wide angle images during the same dive.

The housing allows operating the camera lens within an ideal focal range of 24-66mm*.This focal range enables utilizing the most powerful capabilities of the camera for underwater photography. 

The housing is manufactured to the highest professional standards of function, style and durability. It is depth rated to 60m/200 feet and features ergonomically designed and labeled controls. The Fantasea FRX100 VI Limited Edition is the ultimate waterproof home for the Sony RX100 VI. 

The FRX100 VI Limited Edition Housing is ideal for outdoor and underwater photography. Underwater photographers can dive or snorkel and capture all the excitement of this fascinating world, while outdoor photographers also have the option of capturing the action of activities such as white water paddle sports, sailing, boating, surfing, fishing, hunting, backpacking and camping. 

The FRX100 VI Limited Edition Housing is shock resistant and protects the camera from water, sand, dust, frost and other damaging elements.

The FRX100 VI Limited Edition Housing was designed to be compatible with a complete accessory system, enabling photographers to enhance the quality of their images.

Check out the Fantasea Line FRX100 VI Limited EditiionCamera Housing at our sister company, BlueWater Photo!

Features Highlights:

Allows operating the lens zoom within 24-66mm*, the ideal range for UW photography 

Depth rated to 60m/200 feet 

Ergonomic design

Made from durable injection molded Polycarbonate

Full access to all essential camera controls and functions with clearly labeled controls 

Dedicated video control button for easy video filming in any shooting mode

Shock resistant 

Double O-ring main seal 

Special cold-shoe mount for lighting accessories 

Removable double fiber optic cable connection 

Removable flash diffuser

Removable anti-glare hood for the LCD screen 

Easy and secure installation of camera 

Moisture Detector and Alarm 

Lens Port Cover 

Hand Strap 

67mm thread on flat port allows for mounting conversion lenses 

Compatible with a wide range of underwater photo accessories

Weight (with camera on land): 900g

Weight (without camera on land): 600g 

Dimensions (without accessories): 15.5 x 14.5 x 12 cm \ 6.25 x 5.75 x 4.75 inch (WxDxH) 

Manufacturer’s warranty 

* In depths greater than 40 meters, maximum focal length is limited to 60mm

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

Full Article: Exploring the Salish Sea

About a year and a half ago I upgraded from a Light and Motion Bluefin housing and Sony video camera to the Panasonic GH5 and Nauticam housing. In that time I’ve put the GH5 through its paces on approximately 250 dives in Puget Sound and elsewhere around the globe. As a video shooter I really appreciate being able to shoot at 4k60p. The greater resolution allows for subtle zooming effects without loss of image quality as I output video at 1080p. 4k also helps with image stabilization which I find critical. Youtube is filled with jumpy videos and I’d never want to be in that category! The higher frame rate can also be reduced in half to provide dramatic slow motion effects.

In my video “Exploring the Salish Sea 2018” I began experimenting with snoot techniques to isolate macro subjects. Puget Sound is mostly muck diving and a mucky background isn’t the best thing to emphasize, especially when so many colorful creatures inhabit the area. While the snoot adds an extra frustrating complication to the process, the results are worth the struggle when stubby squid, grunt sculpins, nudibranchs, sea spiders and wolf eels are seen in intricate detail. 

One additional piece of equipment I added to my setup is the SmallHD 501 monitor in a Nauticam housing. I quickly found out trying to view the screen on the back of the GH5 was mostly impossible as the angle was too great in most cases to view properly. The monitor, on a ball mount with extended clamp, allows me to move it around for the perfect angle to frame subjects. In addition, I’ve enabled focus peaking, exposure peaking and a histogram to really help with focus and exposure.

The winter months provide the best visibility in Puget Sound and I collect video clips from dives during this time with a goal to get at least one good scene per dive. After each dive I import clips into Final Cut Pro on an iMac to build a library of scenes. Final Cut Pro allows you to keyword clips and I go through this process to help organize clips into logical groups. When it comes time to put clips on the timeline I search by keyword, say stubby squid, and Final Cut Pro will list all the stubby squid clips. From here I can determine the best scene and favorite them. Having the editor show me all clips I have favorited becomes the basis for the initial rough cut. Then it’s just a matter of finessing the timing, and applying the polish of color correction and other effects to produce the final cut.

Equipment Used:

Editor: Final Cut Pro X

Full Article: Wide Angle and Macro with the Nikon D850 and D500 in the Sea of Cortez

The Nikon D850 and the Nikon D500 are two fo the most capable cameras on market currently for use in underwater photography. Let's take a look at the results when both of them are used on a recent dive trip - The D850 for wide-angle, and the D500 for macro.

Equipment Used - Wide Angle

Equipment Used - Macro

The 46 megapixel full-frame sensor on the D850 and its excellent auto-focus capabilities makes it ideal for wide-angle photography. The 16-35mm lens is a fast focusing lens, sharp behind a dome port, and able to zoom in for skittish subjects like bull sharks, hammerhead sharks, or mobula and manta rays.

The D500, on the other hand, is ideal for macro and supermacro with its cropped sensor, and it retains many of the advantages of the D850. Using both the D850 and the D500 on a trip means not having to change ports & lenses, and being able to quickly swap setups if necessary.

Both the 16-35mm and 105mm lenses used are AF-S lenses, which means they have an internal auto-focus motor. That is important, because AF-S lenses focus faster than lenses whose auto-focus is driven by the camera body, and it important when trying to capture behaviour shots.

Straight out of the camera photos from the D850 look noticeably better than either the D500 or the D810, possibly due to its brighter pixels and better low-light capabilities.

Autofocus in the 3D tracking mode was used with the D850 for wide-angle, and spot focus in continous focus mode was used with the D500.

For settings, see the captions below each photo.

Trip Details and Underwater Photography

Our Explore Baja, Sea of Cortez trip in early October 2018 on the Rocio Del Mar was to take us from San Jose del Cabo in the south all the way to Puerto Peñasco in the north – a distance of around 600 nautical miles over 12 days.  The biodiversity of the Sea of Cortez is world renowned and we were all excited to get underway and begin our journey of underwater exploration.  Exactly what you will see in this diverse bit of ocean is always unpredictable, but you can always rely on some amazing encounters with creatures both large and small.  This was perhaps a less predictable trip than usual, with a hurricane forecast to move across the Baja peninsula in the middle of our cruise.  A little juggling of the usual itinerary became necessary, but we were confident in the crew’s assurances that we’d still get in plenty of dives and see an incredible array of marine life. 

Onboard ship, the days start early, with a pre-breakfast dive as soon as the sun pokes its head over the horizon, before any day boats have even left port.  We encountered very few other divers the whole time we were there – one of the benefits of exploring in such a sparsely populated region.  

Playful Sea lion in the Sea of Cortez
F7, 1/250th, ISO 500. All wide-angle photos used the Nikon D850, 16-35mm F4 VR lens

 

Our second day of diving ended with a spectacular night dive.  We watched hundreds of mobula rays feeding on the plankton attracted to bright lights positioned by the crew in nearby shallow waters.  Again and again they swooped down over our heads in formation, then up into the lights only to circle back around, fan out across the sand and swerve in unison for another fly by. 

Hundreds of Mobula Rays feeding during the night dive, taken with strobes. The water was stirred up full of plankton, so the only shots that came out good were when the mobulas were up higher.
F7, 1/125th, ISO 640

 

Often the last dive of the day was at dusk, a time of increased activity on the reef when the hunting and mating action intensifies as the last yellow rays slant through the water.  We would surface to the deep orange glow of sunset and the swirling spirals of thousands of sea birds coming home to roost, mimicking the movement of the schooling fish below.

Sea Lion hunting
F10, 1/250th, ISO 320

 

The food on board was great – plentiful and always beautifully presented, with lots of Mexican flavors and wonderful desserts every evening.  A couple of very pleasant evenings were spent dining in the open air on the top deck with a fabulous barbecue buffet accompanied by plentiful margaritas.

One day, a huge pod of dolphins surrounded the boat and the captain turned full circle and slowed to their pace so they would play longer with us.  “Hurricane protocol” necessitated a day holed up in the Bay of La Paz, but with 12 days of diving we did not feel too cheated by Mother Nature and were happy to be avoiding the brunt of the storm.

Our luck with rays continued at La Reina – we were privileged to witness the return of the giant Pacific mantas to the Sea of Cortez.  Ducking from some ripping currents, we were awestruck by their effortless grace and calm, easy movement.  Our photographs and video clips will be used to help researchers monitor and learn more about the behavior patterns of these gentle giants and hopefully lead to some protections for the species.

Manta ray just cruising.
F8, 1/250th, ISO 320

 

Conditions at El Bajo were spectacular – a little too calm for the hammerheads’ taste, but we were treated to a beautiful view of the whole dive site with barely any current and watched intently as turtles came in for their cleaning rituals.

At several sites we had a lot of fun lying in wait for the signal blennies to perform, the pike blennies to show some aggression and the jawfish to rise up briefly into the water column.  All the dive sites provided opportunities for both macro and wide angle images and every day we had a presentation and image reviews to hone our skills and better capture the amazing creatures and scenes we were witnessing.

Signal Blenny raising his fins to "signal".
F20, 1/200th, ISO 200. All macro photos used the D500, 105mm VR lens

 

No trip report from the Sea of Cortez would be complete without mention of the playful sea lions encountered at several of the dive sites we visited.  When I found myself lying on the sand waiting for a giant jawfish to emerge from its hole, getting dive bombed by frisky sea lions with a school of barracuda swirling overhead, I could not help thinking this is as good as it gets!

Frisky Sea lions goofing around.
F8, 1/250th, ISO 200

 

From the very beginning of our adventure, to the time we all left the boat, the crew went out of their way to help in any way they could and to ensure that a fantastic time was had by every guest.  All in all, it was a great trip with a really fun group from across the US and Europe, and some lasting friendships were made. 

 

More Underwater Photos:

Crown of Thorns, taken with a low sun right before sunset. Strobes were in close.
F13, 1/200th, ISO 320

 

Hydroid close-up. I had to point my strobes inward to get a black background, otherwise my strobes lit up the ground behind the hydroid.
F22, 1/250th, ISO 125

Join an Explore Baja trip

We are running an "Expore Baja" trip again, join us for Explore Baja 2019, or Explore Baja 2020!


Full Article: A Family Humpback Adventure in Moorea

“Get ready” our guide William said excitedly, in his characteristic French accent. “It’s a juvenile, playing on the surface.” We could see fins and a fluke splashing about not too far away. Adrenaline pumping, I prepped my mask, pulled on my fins, grabbed my camera. 

Ever since convincing my fiancée Lisa, my sister Jenny, her husband Alex, and my parents Mary and Derek that we should book the whole boat for one week for this Bluewater trip, I had been nervous that it would not live up to expectations. The first day of the trip had involved a long swim with no in-water encounter, and many hours fruitlessly searching for more whales among large-ish ocean swells. 

But this morning, our second day out on the boat, the wind speed was low, the water was calmer, and there was an animal the size of a truck splashing around in the water. Just for us.

Our First Encounter

“Slide into the water quietly – don’t make any splashes. Keep your fins under the surface. And remember to stay together and follow me. OK we go.” 

We slid into the water and followed William, and after a short-ish swim, he slowed down and we came up next to him. And all of a sudden, like magic, there it was, the prehistoric-looking nose materializing out of the brilliant blue water and coming straight for us! 

William had told us to stay still if we had a whale come up to us, so we did our best to just float there without any movement. I watched it come closer and closer, lining up the shot on my LCD screen. This is when I experienced my first case of true whale awe.

Whale awe: a palpable, visceral sense of awe which permeates your entire being with a childlike sense of wonder, and amazement that you are IN THE WATER WITH A WHALE! As the whale approaches you, you feel an insistent need rising in you to yell out loud, to scream in exaltation, and wonder at the sheer beauty and grace of one of Mother Nature’s finest creations.

It was soooo close that I could barely hold in my whale awe; I was only a few seconds away from screaming into my snorkel like a maniac. It kept on coming. My heart was pounding in my chest like the rollicking bass-line of the Iron Maiden classic, the Trooper. Closer still. My breath was quick and ragged, and my throat dry. Closer still…and at what seemed to be the last second, the whale turned and passed us, giving us a really good lookover. 

 

Then it circled around underneath us for another look before heading off. It was insane, in the best way possible. Off the hook. Ill. Groovy. Ridonkulous. Bonkers. Cray-cray. Whatever the cool kids say these days. Actually, I looked it up, and I think it’s this (courtesy of Online Slang Dictionary):

Crunk (adjective)

Extremely fun; exciting; wild.

So yes, it was crunk

On the surface, we had our first collective exaltation.

Collective exaltation: In a group 3 or more people, everyone pops their head above the water, pulls out their snorkel and does some form of screaming, whooping or yelling to indicate their amazement.

We returned to the boat full of excitement, and were back in the water 15 minutes later. This time we got to watch it playing on the surface, though it did not come as close.

Endless Breaching

After lunch we continued our search, and although there were no more good opportunities to get in the water, we were treated to an amazing show of breaching humpbacks. One after another after another. This was fortunate because it turns out to be quite difficult to get a good photo of a breach!

Maman et bebe

Early on the next day, we heard the magical words for the first time. “Maman et bebe” shouted William. Mom and baby - we would get very used to this phrase, very quickly. “Get ready!”

Get ready: hurriedly stuff away your hat, sun buff/face gaitor (very important) and topside camera, spit in your mask, get on your gear ASAP…and then wait at least 15 minutes before going in.

We waited to see if they were in their resting period. We would know that if we saw the baby surface in the same spot multiple times in a row.

Resting period: when humpbacks sit maybe 20-30 ft below the surface, resting, and come up to the surface for a breath every 20 minutes or so (6-7 mins for calves). When resting, they don’t move, or move very slowly, so even a poor swimmer like myself can keep up with them.

After a few minutes of staring intently at the same patch of ocean, the baby came up right where we wanted it to. Resting period!

We slid into the water, and after a moderate swim, we found ourselves looking down onto the mom and calf. It was only our group, with no other boats around.

Then, some movement – the baby was coming up for a breath! It was like watching an alien spacecraft, a small shuttle taking off from the mothership and rising towards us. It was magical the way it slowly pumped its tail fluke. It came right up, on the far end of the group from me, took a breath and swam up to them. Even though I was a bit disappointed that I was on the wrong end of the group, it was so cool…and it was right in front of my dad!

I fought the temptation to kick hard to get clear of the group – I knew that I needed to stay motionless and we had to stay together, so as not to cut the encounter prematurely short. So I waited, enjoying the experience with the best sensor ever created.

Best sensor ever created: human eyes and brain. Seriously, the dynamic range, resolution and low light performance is out of this world!

After visiting the front of the group, the baby circled all the way around us, so I got a nice look, and then it went right under us.

After dropping down, the mom and baby moved along, though not particularly fast. Unfortunately, very slow for a whale is the equivalent of very fast for a human. 

We got back on the boat so full of excitement that we could barely contain it. “We’ll find them again” promised William. 45 minutes later, I was back in the water with the baby right in front of me. It was surreal. Sublime. I could barely contain my whale awe.  

 

A Chaotic Encounter

Our next encounter for the day was with two adults. We got in the water and quickly found them resting below, just at the edge of sight. So we waited. And waited. Then, next thing you know, we looked up and there were people everywhere.

Fortunately, William was amazing, and got us to a point away from the mass of people. The whales came to the surface, seemingly unperturbed by the excitement. We stayed together as a tight group, while the people behind us, now behind the whales as well, created a general underwater ruckus.

General underwater ruckus: a large group of people, with some kicking on the surface, some freediving, some chasing the whales, and guides yelling at people to stay with their group, etc.  

A Marathon Swim

Just as we thought the day couldn’t get any better, we heard the call: “Maman et bebe! Get ready!

There were three other boats in the area; this meant we would have lots of swimming, through – you guessed it – more general underwater ruckus. As it was the end of the day and our group was tired, only Alex and I went with William. We got into the water and went for a long swim. Next thing you know, we were sitting on the surface just ahead of the mom and baby, who were down about 30’ below. They were swimming along at such a leisurely pace that you could barely tell they were moving. But kicking to keep up with them took all the strength and energy I had.

It was worth it as the baby launched up towards the surface to take a breath. William had us in the perfect position, and it came right up to us. Everyone else was far enough away that it was like a private encounter. The baby’s movements were energetic and playful as it lunged up to the surface for breath, and quickly flicked its fluke up and down to circle us. 

Not only was it beautiful, but it was just the reprieve my lungs needed. As soon as the baby went back down again, I let out a big groan. It was time to stop floating and start kicking in earnest. We plowed on for another 6 minutes or so, and then the baby came back up for another breath. At this point we had been going for about 25 minutes, and I was exhausted.

All too soon, it was over, and we were back to swimming. My lungs were on fire and my legs were screaming at me. I tasted my lunch again (fortunately it had been a nice lunch). I felt every day of my 33 years, especially those days during the past 2 months driving around Alaska which involved minimal levels of cardio exercise, many hours of sitting, and above-average levels of sugary or salty snacks. 6 minutes later, my breath even more ragged, the baby came up again. This time, the mother came with it. If they thought about or noticed me at all, they surely must have thought I was dying, and probably felt some sympathy for the sick-sounding swimming monkey. I was close enough to get a couple of decent photos, and then they went down again. 

Alex tried to help by taking my camera, but at this point I was more cooked than a well-boiled Nova Scotian lobster, and probably just as red-looking. That was it. What an amazing encounter.

Could it Get Better?

After day 3, we told ourselves it couldn’t possibly get any better. For day 4 we had very calm water and minimal wind, so we decided to circumnavigate the island. This is where we really had the advantage over the day boats – we could go far offshore or go far from harbour to go looking for an amazing, private encounter, while they had to play it safe.

We had a quiet start to the day, but about 2 hours in we found a mom and baby pair all for ourselves. They surfaced right in front of us, all 6 of us. Talk about a family experience!

With this pair the baby was pretty shy, and did not come to check us out. So instead of following them, we decided to get back in the boat and go looking for more.

Triple Threat

3 hours later it paid off in spades, as we found ourselves alone, with our whole group in the water, above THREE adult humpbacks. We watched and waited, and then, rising up like benthic behemoths, they surfaced no more than 10 feet from our group. Insane! Crunk!

We waited above them as they spent their next 20 minutes resting, though unfortunately one of them went off, leaving two. Then Henri pointed down, and we saw them coming up. Straight up. Right towards us.

I’m not scared of whales or being in the water with them – we just need to follow our side of what I like to think of as the unspoken pact.

Unspoken pact: give the whales their space and treat them respectfully – stay together in a group (no freediving), don’t make sudden movements, don’t rush towards them or chase them. Let them decide how close they want to come to you. You can position yourself where you think they will come up, but then leave it up to the whales. Then they will hold up their side of the pact – not smacking us puny humans out of the way with their massive tails or flippers, either from annoyance or from being scared or spooked.

But even thinking this as much as I could, I was still nervous. They were coming so close!

Look Mom – No Hands

By this point I had been so busy taking photos of whales when they were close that I hadn’t had a really great uninterrupted eye-to-eye moment. So although I lined up one photo, it was a bit absentmindedly. I spent most of the encounter getting in some excellent non-camera enjoyment, including looking the closest school-bus-sized adult in the eye!

Non-camera enjoyment: spending most or all of your time and attention using your best sensor ever to just watch the whales, feel the emotions they bring up in you, and log every detail of the experience in your memory. 

They surfaced 6 feet in front of me, and it was beyond words. So much better without worrying about taking photos. I felt a level of whale awe I did not realize was possible. This time I could not stop myself from yelling into my snorkel. I was probably trying to say WOOOWWWWWW but it sounded more like uuuurrrggrgrgghhghghg. As soon as the whales were past, every one of us raised our heads out of the water, spat out our snorkels and engaged in a frenzied collective exaltation. I even included some expletives, which I never use around my parents!  This ridiculous encounter had just bested all other amazing ones of the trip.

As we got back to the dock, none of us could stop talking about how great of a day we had had. It went beyond our wildest imaginations. Surely it couldn’t get any better, right?

Could it Get Better? Part 2

We told William that for our final day, we’d prefer to skip out on encounters with moms and babies with other boats around. There were only two things we wanted – to get in the water with a singing male, and to find pilot whales. First though, we encountered a big pod of spinner dolphins while leaving the harbor. William advised us that they are quite shy, so there was no point trying to get into the water with them, so we enjoyed from the surface.

We then headed off the West end of the island, putting in the hydrophone. We heard two males singing, which was really cool. Of course, the problem with a singing male is that he sings facing down in the water, and you can’t see him. We didn’t have any luck, so we decided it was time to look for pilot whales! We spent about 2 hours heading offshore and looking around, but didn’t see any signs.

We headed in for lunch and came across another mother and baby. “Get ready!” In we went, and we were shortly joined by one other group. However, they followed the rules and the unspoken pact, stuck close to their guide and left us lots of distance. And we were treated to an amazing spectacle – mom and baby at the surface, baby nursing. They were so calm, and quite near to us and the other group. Not close enough for a really great shot with my fisheye lens though (and no way I was going to try to sneak closer, in the process risking messing up the encounter for my family and the other group).  

After getting back on the boat, we told William we wanted to spend more time looking for pilot whales. So we headed out for another hour. As we were motoring out across the blue water of the open ocean, I saw something jump, far off in the distance.

I pointed the direction and we turned that way. A couple of minutes later, we saw something dark stick out of the water and then go back down. Some kind of whale tail. That was promising!

And suddenly, we saw some dark backs with hooked fins sticking out of the water. Pilot whales!!! This was so exciting that I could barely contain myself, as I suffered a strong case of pelagic exhilaration.

Pelagic exhilaration: you are so excited that you actually found <insert cool pelagic> and can get into the water with it/them that you don’t even know what to do. You start putting your topside camera into your dry bag, but then stash it somewhere to be able to take photos. Then you grab your mask to get it ready. But you decide that you want to take a photo so you grab your topside camera. And you’re so excited that you can’t get a stable shot because you’re just thinking about getting in the water. But you really want that topside shot. And your fiancée gets annoyed with you because you are bumbling around frantically trying to do everything, and yet accomplishing nothing other than getting in the way of the others.

We slid into the water and headed for some pilot whales. The water was full of particulates, so visibility was poor. But we found whales! They were friendly, in that they just hung out in the water and watched us, but they didn’t get too close nor let us approach too close either. But it was still nice, as it allowed me to continue to develop my skill at non-camera enjoyment.

Then an oceanic white tip found us, and came in for a look. I am not scared of sharks, but as this was my first encounter with one of these, I was a bit nervous. It was very curious, and bold. William had already briefed us though on what to do - stick together very closely, and keep an eye on it, and we would be OK. 

We got on and off the boat a couple of times, and then sighted a humpback! How cool would that be to see humpbacks and pilot whales in the water together?

I grabbed my camera and flicked the on/off switch on my housing to check the battery. That is when I suffered a powerful setback.

Powerful setback: When the power switch for your camera housing falls off.

Crap. After making sure my housing was still watertight and stashing the loose pieces, I scrambled into the water. We came across the humpback quickly, but there were no pilot whales close, and the visibility was still poor. 

After this, we got into the water one more time. This time we came across something unexpected – a few rough-toothed dolphins. They were too far off for a great picture.

Finally, exhausted, spent and having consumed many mouthfuls of saltwater in the excitement, we were finished. Somehow, Day 5 had managed to top day 4! So we headed back in to shore. En route to the harbour we came across a mom and baby with 3 boats of people in the water. We watched from the boat, knowing that whatever happened, it would not match what we’d already seen this week.

It was seriously the trip of a lifetime - unbelievable on so many levels. And very accessible, as my parents who are in their 60s got lots of great encounters (with some towing and help from the amazing guides). The guides/boat captains William and Henri were fantastic, and we could not have asked for more. Indeed, we could have gotten a lot less out of this trip and it would still have been the best family trip ever.

Although this is listed as a photo trip, I think it’s much more useful to think of it as an experience trip. Experience something amazing like you’ve never seen before. And if you want, get some video and some photos to remember the trip by. But make sure that the experience is your top priority.

As I learned on this amazing trip, the only thing better than having a great experience is sharing that experience with one or more people who matter to you. If you can get a friend to go with you, or even better, a group of family and friends (6 to take the whole boat for yourselves) then you will build shared memories and experiences to truly last a lifetime. There's no real way to describe how fantastic it was being in the water with my whole family, and having two huge adult humpbacks surface right in front of us. I have no doubt we will be talking about this trip fondly in 10, 20 years, and beyond. 

So what are you waiting for? Sign up for one of Bluewater’s humpback trips!


Moorea Humpback Snorkel Trips

August/September 2019 - $2,995 per person

 

Silver Bank Humpback Trip

March 28 - April 4, 2020 - Starting from $3,795

 

Equipment & Settings Used

I shot an Olympus OM-D E-M1 with an Olympus 8mm fisheye lens and a Nauticam housing. The fisheye made sure I could be very close to the whales while still getting the whole whale in the frame. And as the visibility was decent but not amazing, the fisheye helped get the sharpest photos possible (ie least amount of water between camera and subject).

Shooting with a fisheye lens, especially on a crop-sensor camera, I was much more concerned about shutter speed than depth of field. f/5 on a micro-four-thirds camera gives a depth of field closer to what f/10 gives you on a full frame camera. If the shutter speed was a bit slow and the photo had motion blur, then it was no good. But if the aperture was a bit low, it wouldn’t have as much of an effect. So I shot in shutter priority at either 1/125 or 1/160 sec, and adjusted ISO if my aperture opened up too much.

Post-processing

I did not do anything particularly complicated. The main tip I would have for shooting subjects like this in really blue water is to modify the white balance by warming up the temperature. It’s easier to show than explain.

 

The other thing to keep in mind is that in some cases, black and white will give you a more dramatic photo than color. This is the most true when you really want to emphasize light, shape and texture, and color is a distraction from that. Black and white can also work very well with subjects which are a bit further away, and are being "lost in the blue." So after you adjust your photos with color, I would highly recommend taking a few minutes to try some of them out in black and white. You may be surprised with what you find!

Gear Links

Additional Reading

If you want to learn more about my experience on the trip, drop me an email at bryan@uwphotographyguide.com. I’d be more than happy to chat!

-Bryan

 

Full Article: Story Behind the Shot: Octopus Sunball

For me, diving and photography started roughly around the same time. After getting certified in California in early 2014, I was in such awe of the beauty underwater that I had to share it with my family. So, I purchased my first compact camera and began taking photos. I read every article I could get my hands on – especially those by the Underwater Photography Guide, and The Underwater Photographer, by Martin Edge, more times than I can count. After several years with my compact camera, I upgraded to a Nikon D7200 and dual Sea & Sea YS-D1 strobes, which is what I shoot now. 

Finding the Octopus

The octopus encounter which led to my winning shot in the SoCal Shootout 2018 was unlike anything I’ve ever experienced before. I went out on Saturday with the Sundiver Express to the front side of Catalina. About 15-20 minutes into my first dive (at Little Gieger), I spotted him. At first, the octopus was very shy and tucked himself back into the rocks, so I ignored him and tried to shoot a nearby sea fan instead. But after about 3 shots, he started walking along the pinnacle.

At that point, he didn’t seem to care about me at all; he had food on his mind. For the next 30 minutes, I watched him hunt. Every couple of steps, he would dig his tentacles into the reef and inflate like a balloon – turning solid white as he searched for food.

Composing the Shot

To create an interesting background for the shot, I moved to the opposite side of the octopus and placed the sun at his back. Because he was moving around so much, I had to keep re-adjusting the settings for each shot to get the water color and sunburst I wanted. In general, I shot between f18-f22 and 1/200 to 1/320 on ISO 200. The strobes were at the 10-2 positions, 2-clicks below full power. To keep backscatter to a minimum, I angled the strobes straight down at the reef so that the front edge of the light would hit the octopus and not the water. The octopus’s hunt was an amazing sight to witness and I feel very grateful and blessed to have been there for it.

Check out all the winners of the SoCal Shootout 2018, hosted by Bluewater Photo

Full Article: 7 Tips for Great Sea Lion Photos

For many years I admired from afar the playful images of California sea lions coming out of the Sea of Cortez, Mexico. They were imprinted in my mind; I could only imagine the personal interaction with such playful and curious creatures, and the underwater experience that came with it. So when the opportunity came to make the Sea of Cortez my work space, I didn’t have to think twice.

Territorial bull male guarding the harem at La Reina, La Paz.
Canon 5DIII, Aquatica housing, Sigma 2.8 15mm fisheye lens. f/8, 1/250 sec, ISO 320.

 

California Sea Lions of the Sea of Cortez, Baja California Sur, Mexico

Upon my first arrival to the sea lion colony of Los Islotes, a grin from ear to ear spread across my face as our group was surrounded by the distinctive barks, growls, and grunts from the 500+ sea lions that inhabit this small volcanic rock island. Our grins quickly turned into hysterics as we watched them waddle, jump, and push each other off the rocks.


Juvenile sea lions practising territorial battles at Los Islotes, La Paz.
Canon 5DIII, Aquatica housing, Sigma 2.8 15mm fisheye lens. f/9, 1/250 sec, ISO320.

 

During my years as an underwater photographer, nothing has filled my heart more than my interactions with California sea lions, experiencing all of their playfulness and curiosity. These guys play, nibble, roll, chew on your camera, and push up against your face; before you know it, your dive time is up, and you just can’t wait to get back in the water with them.

Spending most of my days now in the water with California sea lions has taught me some key lessons and techniques. So here are my top 7 tips to help you capture some great underwater images of these playful puppies of the ocean.

A happy juvenile sea lion of Los Islotes, La Paz.
Canon 5DIII, Aquatica housing, Sigma 2.8 15mm fisheye lens, 2x YS-D1 strobes. f/9, 1/250 sec, ISO320.

 

1. If They Play with You, Play Back!

With a curious and playful nature, sea lions generally won’t leave you alone in the water and are always more than happy to be in front of the camera. That being said, juvenile sea lions are like big puppy dogs of the ocean, and will lose interest quickly if you don’t interact with them. So remember to take in the moment, interact with them, spin when they spin, let them play, and fire off some snaps within those moments - you can make a friend for the whole dive. 


Photographer capturing a sea lion laying in the canyon of La Reina, La Paz.
Canon 5DIII, Aquatica housing, Sigma 2.8 15mm fisheye lens. f/7.1, 1/250 sec, ISO 320.

 

2. Know What You Want to Shoot Before You Get in the Water

These guys move, and fast. This means that changing between camera settings when interacting with a sea lion is nearly impossible. I generally get into the water with an idea of the image I want to try and capture - whether it’s a portrait, a silhouette, them playing together, or them interacting with divers.


 
California sea lion coming in for a closer look at Los Islotes, La Paz.
Canon 5DIII, Aquatica housing, Sigma 2.8 15mm fisheye lens, 2x YS-D1 strobes. f/6.3, 1/250 sec, ISO 320.

 

3. Set a High Shutter Speed

Because of sea lion's fast and rapid movements underwater, a fast shutter speed is required. Shooting with the Canon 5d iii, my strobes sync at 1/250th of a second. But in ambient light shots, even higher shutter speeds can be required.

 

Juvenile sea lion at Los Islotes, La Paz, coming in for a chew on the camera.
Canon 5DIII, Aquatica housing, Sigma 2.8 15mm fisheye lens, 2x YS-D1 strobes. f/10, 1/250 sec, ISO 640.

 

4. Close Down on Aperture (Increase F-stop)

Closing down on your aperture with these quick moving subjects also helps keep them in your focus points. I usually start at f/9 and will close it down if required; this in turn means some sacrifice with having to shoot a higher ISO.

Juvenile sea lion inside the cave at Los Islotes, La Paz.
Canon 5DIII, Aquatica housing, Sigma 2.8 15mm fisheye lens, 2x YS-D1 strobes. f/11, 1/160 sec, ISO 320.

 

5. Use Strobes When Close

Sea lions play near the surface, and generally aren’t found much deeper than 7m. Most days are bright and sunny here in La Paz, which gives us plenty of ambient light to work with. And if the sea lions are closer than around 2 m, adding some low amounts of artificial light helps bring out the detail in their fur and more of their colour. It also helps freeze their motion for the image. While conditions are normally excellent during the summer months, there is always potential for backscatter, so keeping your strobes out helps minimise this.

Portrait of a juvenile sea lion at Los Islotes, La Paz.
Canon 5DIII, Aquatica housing, Sigma 2.8 15mm fisheye lens, 2x YS-D1 strobes. f/9, 1/250 sec, ISO 640.

 

6. Go for Portrait Shots!

Portrait shots are one of my favourite images to capture - those big bulging eyes, tiny streamlined ears, and of course, their super sensitive whiskers. As they move around so rapidly, when I try for portrait shots I generally shoot blind and move the camera around with them. This also keeps them interested, with having a big weird flashing thing waving about in front of them. Strobe power and positioning is crucial for portrait shots, so pulling your strobes in tighter and a little higher to the camera helps make sure the light completely spreads over their face and nose.

 


Juvenile sea lion taking a well deserved nap at Los Islotes, La Paz
Canon 5DIII, Aquatica housing, Sigma 2.8 15mm fisheye lens. f/10, 1/250 sec, ISO 640.

 

7. Look for Sea Lions Napping on the Surface

There is something so cute about a sea lion napping at the surface, and this makes for great over/under shots. Sleeping at the surface means they aren’t looking for interaction and we need to respect that. Approach them very slowly and cautiously, and make sure they are comfortable with you being there. During the shot above, I was heard breaking the surface of the water. He opened his eye, checked me over for a second, and then went straight back to drifting along.


My Equipment:

For Sea Lions I shoot with the Canon 5d III with a Sigma 15mm 2.8 fisheye lens, inside an Aquatica housing with an 8” Dome Port and two Sea & Sea YS-D1s. 


Where:

Among other locales, California Sea Lions inhabit the Sea of Cortez all year round, between Los Islotes, San Rafaelito and La Reina. The volcanic rock island of Los Islotes is a more known colony with over 500+ individuals. Being a prominent breeding ground with more active juveniles makes this site ideal for photography opportunities.


Raft of sea lions taking in some sun at San Rafaelito, La Paz.
Canon 5DIII, Aquatica housing, Sigma 2.8 15mm fisheye lens. f/9, 1/250 sec, ISO 320.

 

When:

California sea lions breed once a year, and during this time the male sea lions become more territorial. Although the occurrences of actual attacks on divers are next to none, to safeguard against this and to let them do their thing during breeding season, Los Islotes is closed to tourism during the months of June, July, and August.

Sea Lion heading back for the island of San Rafaelito.
Canon 5DIII, Aquatica housing, Sigma 2.8 15mm fisheye lens. f/11, 1/250 sec, ISO 320.

 

How:

My recommendation is to go with a well-established operator with experienced guides who understand and respect sea lion behaviour. You can join me at Pro Photo Baja (www.prophotobaja.com) with the Cortez Club, as we run daily specialised photography excursions to the sea lion colony of Los Islotes. 

 

Book your Sea of Cortez Trip!

Bluewater Travel can help you plan and book the perfect Sea of Cortez dive trip. Visit Bluewater's Sea of Cortez Scuba Diving page or email bookings@bluewaterdivetravel.com.

Bluewater is also offering the following Sea of Cortez group trips:

 
 Sea Lion racing against a Giant Pacific Manta Ray, La Reina, La Paz
Canon 5DIII, Aquatica housing, Sigma 2.8 15mm fisheye lens. f/9, 1/250 sec, ISO 320.

Additional Reading:

Full Article: Cave Photography in Mexico's Lesser-Known Cenotes

For me, photography is a way to show others what I’ve seen underwater; how beautiful underwater scenes are, as well as underwater creatures. After 12 years of shooting images underwater, I decided that cave photography was my next step to take. To become a cave diver, you must pass the certification course by mastering several skills - including perfect buoyancy, finding your way out of a cave in zero visibility, following a strict navigation code and being able to dive with 2, 3 or 4 tanks. So, it takes some time, a lot of effort, and many, many practice dives.

Cave Diving in Cenotes

Diving into full darkness is challenging, and it's necessary to have a good light and 2 or more backups; otherwise you will see nothing at all! As a cave diver, you get to see very amazing formations that very few people (even other divers) have the chance to see. However, carrying a 12kg (26.4 lb) camera/strobe setup and 1.7kg (3.75 lb) light is complicated when diving in cenotes. Going through restrictions, low visibility zones, and diving with 3 tanks with a large camera makes things more complicated than just cave diving. Also, not all cenotes have facilities to make things easy, such as stairs to get into the water, so taking care of your photo gear is a very serious task.

Cenotes have a long history back to the Mayans and before. For Mayans, cenotes were sacred places, representing a fresh water source, but also an entrance to the “underworld”. Some of them were used for sacrifices, as well as offerings to the Gods. It is important to always keep in mind that when diving in a cenote, you’re not only diving in a fresh water cave, but also in a very ancient cave system that millions of years ago was above water. Additionally, you’re entering into a Mayan sacred place where respect must be shown to the ancestors. And this respect must go beyond the Mayans, towards structures that were created millions of years ago and are very fragile and delicate.


In a cenote you must not touch, must not take away, and must not leave anything. Most importantly, a lot of respect must be shown to all the safety factors required for diving in an overhead environment where your level of training must not be exceeded; without the proper training and equipment, your own life may be at risk.

Getting in the Water

Some cenotes may not have nice facilities such as an access road, parking area, or tables or benches to assemble your gear. But when you go underwater, it worth it. Such is the case of D’Zonot Ila Cenote.

Here you need to use ropes and pulleys to take all your diving and photo gear down about 12m (40’) through a small opening to the water, and gear-up on the water. However, when you see what’s beneath the surface, it’s hard to believe.

Some other cenotes are even less inviting. They make you not want to go in the water at all, because all you can see from the surface is a small pond of murky water.

When entering the water, visibility is almost zero and you must rely on a line attached to a tree next to the pond. Even worse, you have to follow the line down for about 2 minutes before the visibility gets better. But once you do, the water clears up so much that you feel like you’re flying!

Some cenotes have a different type of entrance, basically a hole on the ground. They can go very deep, like El Zapote, which runs straight down as a cylinder until 90 feet of depth. At that point, you can see a very typical type of stalactite in the form of a bell, which is why this place is sometimes also called “Hell’s Bells.”

El Zapote cenote, also known as Hell’s Bells. Nikon D-810, Sea & Sea Housing, Nikon AF-S 16-35mm f/4G lens @ 16mm, 2x S&S YS-D1 strobes. 1/100 sec, f/11, ISO 100.

 

Life in Cenote Cave Zones

Underwater life in cenote cave zones can be quite different from areas where there’s light. In areas of light you can find small freshwater fish, but how about in the dark cave sections? Amazingly enough, even in the absolute darkness of a cave there’s life. It really makes you wonder how a fish or shrimp or other crustacean can live in such darkness.

In some cenotes there’s a fish that is both beautiful and ugly at the same time, called “the White Lady” (Typhliasina pearsei). These very shy fish live in the cave zones of many cenotes. Despite being blind, they are still shy of diving lights because the heat from the lights bothers them. They are not easy to photograph since bubble noise, water disturbance and lights all make them aware of the diver’s presence. Shooting this type of fish requires much patience, low air consumption, and of course a safety-conscious buddy to keep their eye on you and the line as it's easy to get caught up chasing the fish!


 White Lady (Typhliasina pearsei) – a blind cave fish. Nikon D-810, Sea & Sea Housing, AF-S VR Micro-Nikkor 105 f/2.8G, 2x S&S YS-D1 strobes, Sola Photo 800 focus light. 1/200 sec, f/25, ISO 160.

 

Macro photography in a cenote is more challenging than in the ocean. This is due to the complete darkness, and the fact that you must keep your main light covered in order not to disturb the sensitive creatures. I only use a small red focus light, but this makes it even more challenging just to find these elusive subjects.

What I Love About Cave Diving in Cenotes

Cave diving in cenotes provides a sensation of loneliness, tranquility, silence, and some doses of adrenaline. Additionally, it is the opportunity to observe how wonderful mother nature is, materialized in beautiful, ancient formations. Diving in a cenote will always give you something to remember.

Light reflections where stalactites enter the cenote’s water create magnificent images - at some points producing the illusion of floating or flying objects.
 

Light reflections of stalactites entering the water. Nikon D-810, Sea & Sea Housing, Nikon AF-S 16-35mm f/4G lens @16mm, 2x S&S YS-D1 strobes. 1/125 sec, f/7.1, ISO 125.


Another marvelous aspect of diving in cenotes is the haloclines. A halocline is the point of separation between salt water and fresh water. It creates the sensation of flying above the water line. Due to differences in density, light reflects differently in each type of water.

Diving above a halocline. Nikon D-810, Sea & Sea Housing, Nikon AF-S 16-35mm f/4G lens @17mm, 2x S&S YS-D1 strobes. 1/160 sec, f/7.1, ISO 100.


I enjoy every moment and every bit of scenery cenotes have to offer. The more complicated the access and entrance are, the more beautiful scenes you see. In Mexico we have the world’s largest underwater cave system, “Sac-Actun”, which gives me the opportunity to constantly explore this wonderful underwater world.

Impacts of Human Activity

Unfortunately, cenotes do not avoid the impacts of human activity, and water pollution has become an issue in some. The clarity of the water has disappeared near the cities, and garbage is sometimes present in the cavern areas. Large hotels and attraction parks have modified the original landscapes and hurt cenote health. Much of the original fauna has moved to safer and quieter areas. We must care for this fragile underwater system,  or many millions of years of geological formations and geological history will be gone for future generations!

Book your Cenotes Trip!

Bluewater Travel can help you plan and book the perfect cenotes dive trip, including excursions to Cozumel, Isla Mujeres and more. Visit Bluewater's Yucutan Scuba Diving page or email bookings@bluewaterdivetravel.com.

Photo Equipment Used

Additional Reading:·        

Full Article: Nikon Z Series Camera Pre-Review

Nikon just announced their first foray into the mirrorless market, with their new Z-series cameras. They are releasing two models, each with the same camera body size and full-frame sensor size, but with different sensor resolutions and other technical specs. The Z7, which Nikon calls "The Perfectionist" is a 45.7 MP beast with a full-frame sensor and "revolutionary autofocus". The Z6, which Nikon calls "The All-Arounder" is a 25.4 MP camera with its own impressive array of specs, and a significantly lower price tag. Both cameras will be available at the end of September.

With Canon nipping at Nikon's heels with its new mirrorless Canon EOS R, and the recent releases of the Sony A7R III and Nikon D850, underwater photographers will have many tough decisions to face in coming months. 

Jump to a Section

New Lens Mount System   |   Lens Options for Underwater Photography

Z6 and Z7 Key Specs  |   Z6 vs High-End Crop Sensor Mirrorless Cameras

Z7 vs Top Full-Frame DSLR/Mirrorless Options  |   Conclusion 

 Underwater Housing Options   |  Where and When Can I Get These?

 

Quick Intro - 4 Amazing Things about the Z6/Z7

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

1) They will work with most exisitng Nikon FX lenses (with an adapter), and the auto-focus will be good. This is huge

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

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

4) The Z7 has auto-focus capability over 90% of the screen, that is a huge improvement over existing dSLRs.

New Lens Mount System

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

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

Lens Options for Underwater Photography

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

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

Z6 and Z7 Key Specs

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

  

Nikon Z6 

Nikon Z7 

Price 

$1,999.95

$3,399.95

Sensor Size

35.9 mm  x 23.9 mm

35.9 mm  x 23.9 mm

Effective Pixels 

24.5 MP

45.7 MP

ISO 

100-51200 (Expands to 50)

64-25600

(Expands to 32)

Image Stabilization 

5 Axis image sensor shift, up to 5 stops

5 Axis image sensor shift, up to 5 stops

Autofocus 

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

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

Flash Sync Speed 

1/200

1/200

Burst Shooting 

12 fps

9 fps

Movie Modes 

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

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

LCD Screen 

3.2” tilting, 2.1 million dots, touch screen

3.2” tilting, 2.1 million dots, touch screen

Electronic Viewfinder (EVF)  

100% coverage, 0.80x magnification, 3.69 mln dots

100% coverage, 0.80x magnification, 3.69 mln dots

Environmentally Sealed 

Yes

Yes

Battery Life (CIPA) 

310

330

Weight (inc batt) 

675 g (1.49 lb / 23.9 oz)

675 g (1.49 lb / 23.9 oz)

Dimensions 

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

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

 

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

Z6 vs High End Crop-Sensor Mirrorless Options

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

  

Nikon Z6

Panasonic GH5 

Olympus E-M1 Mark II 

Price 

$1,999.95

$1,999

$1,699

Sensor Size 

35.9 mm  x 23.9 mm

17.3 mm x 13 mm

17.4 mm  x 13 mm

Effective Pixels 

24.5 MP

20 MP

20 MP

Max Resolution 

6048 x 4024

5184 x 3888

5184 x 3888

ISO 

Auto, 100-51200 (Expands to 50)

Auto, 200-25600 (Expands to 100)

Auto, 200-25600

(Expands to 64)

Image Stabilization 

5 Axis, up to 5 stops shake reduction

5 Axis, up to 5 stops with compatible lenses

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

Autofocus 

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

Contrast Detection, 225 pts

Contrast & Phase Detection, 121 pts

Flash Sync Speed 

1/200

1/250

1/250

Burst Shooting 

12 fps

12 fps

60 fps electronic / 15 fps mechanical

Movie Modes 

4k @ 30 fps. 1080 @ 120 fps

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

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

LCD Screen Size 

3.2” tilting

3.2” fully articulated

3” fully articulated

Screen Dots 

2,100,000

1,620,000

1,037,000

Touch Screen 

Yes

Yes

Yes

Electronic Viewfinder (EVF) Coverage 

100% coverage, 0.80x magnification, 3.69 mln dots

100% coverage, 0.76x magnification, 3.68 mln dots

100% coverage, 0.74x magnification, 2.36 mln dots

Storage Types 

Single XQD

Dual SD/SDHC/SDXC

Dual SD/SDHC/SDXC

Environmentally Sealed 

Yes

Yes

Yes

Battery Life 

310

410

440

Weight 

675 g (1.49 lb / 23.9 oz)

725 g (1.60 lb / 25.57 oz)

574 g (1.27 lb / 20.25 oz)

Dimensions 

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

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

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

Advantages

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

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

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

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

Limitations

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

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

 

Z7 vs Top Full Frame Mirrorless/DSLR Options

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

  

Nikon Z7

Sony A7RIII 

Nikon D850 

Price 

$3,399.95

$2,999

$3,299.95

Sensor Size 

35.9 mm  x 23.9 mm

35.9 mm x 24 mm

35.9 mm x 23.9 mm

Effective Pixels 

45.7 MP

42.4 MP

45.7 MP

Max Resolution 

8256 x 5504

7952 x 5304

8256 x 5504

ISO 

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

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

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

Image Stabilization 

5 Axis, up to 5 stops shake reduction

5 Axis, up to 5.5 stops shake reduction

No in-body stabilization

Autofocus System 

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

399 phase detection /425 contrast detection pts*

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

Autofocus Working Range

-4EV

-3EV

-4EV

Flash Sync Speed 

1/200

1/250

1/250

Burst Shooting 

9 fps

10 fps

7 fps (9 with battery grip and D5 battery)

Movie Modes 

4k @ 30 fps, 1080 @ 120 fps

4k @ 30 fps, 1080 @ 120 fps

4k @ 30 fps, 1080 @ 120 fps

LCD Screen Size 

3.2” tilting

2.95” tilting

3.2” tilting

Screen Dots 

2,100,000

2,100,000

2,359,000

Touch Screen 

Yes

Yes

Yes

Viewfinder 

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

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

SLR, 100% coverage, 0.75x magnification

Storage Types 

Single XQD

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

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

Environmentally Sealed 

Yes

Yes

Yes

Battery Life 

330

530 (VF)/650 (LCD)

1840

Weight 

675 g (1.49 lb / 23.9 oz)

657 g (1.45 lb / 23.2 oz)

1005 g (2.22 lb / 35.45 oz)

Dimensions 

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

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

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

 

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

Advantages

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

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

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

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

Limitations

The battery life of the Z7 is severely lacking when compared to the A7RIII, and especially the D850. It may mean changing the battery out after every dive, which is a pain. Additionally, it will need to be seen if the autofocus system can live up to the specs and outperform the phenomenal AF system of the D850. And the camera having only one card slot, even if it is XQD instead of SD, will be a concern for people who are used to using two cards.

 

Conclusion

The Z series cameras are an exciting development in the world of photography, both for mirrorless and DSLR shooters. Although they don't blow the competition away, they are clearly well placed to be very competitive in the high end crop-sensor mirrorless world and the full frame DSLR/mirrorless world. It will be interesting to see future developments in this space, as the Z mount promises to make better and better full frame image quality available in smaller and smaller mirrorless packages. 

Underwater Housing Options

Housings are currently being released, including the Nauticam Z7 Underwater Housing and the Ikelite Nikon Z7 Underwater Housing. Sea & Sea has also expressed that they will develop a housing. These housings will also work for the Nikon Z6. Ports will be the same ports used for dSLRs, and will support using standard Nikon lenses with the adapter.

 

Nauticam Z7 Underwater Housing

Ikelite Z7 Underwater Housing

Aquatica Z7 Underwater Housing

Sea & Sea Z7 Underwater Housing

 

When and Where Can I Get These?

Check out our sister company Bluewater Photo Store's announcement here. The cameras themselves will be available at the end of September, but stay tuned for what underwater products will be offered on Bluewater Photo. 

Full Article: 2018 Ocean Art Underwater Photo Competition Announced!

The Underwater Photography Guide is proud to announce that it is accepting entries for the 7th annual Ocean Art Underwater Photo Competition.

Ocean Art is one of the most prestigious underwater photo competitions in the world. A long list of prizes valued at over $77,000 also makes it one of the richest, attracting pro to amateur photographers across the globe. Sixteen categories ensure all photo disciplines and cameras compete fairly, while the 75+ winning images create a portfolio of the best underwater photos of the year.

Ocean Art prizes are provided by almost 30 scuba diving resorts, liveaboard dive yachts, and underwater photo gear manufacturers. Grand prizes include a choice of an Indonesia liveaboard itinerary on the S.M.Y. Ondina, an Indonesian liveaboard itinerary on the M.Y. Oceanic, a 7 night liveaboard trip to Palau on the Solitude One, a trip aboard the Pelagic Fleet, a 7 night liveaboard trip on the M.V. Bilikili in the Solomon Islands, 7 nights on the Solomon PNG Master, a 7-night package with Villa Markisa, a 9 night package with Experience Lembeh, and a variety of gift certificates from Bluewater Photo. Premium travel prizes are provided by Siladen Resort & Spa (Indonesia), Solitude Liveaboards & Resorts (Indonesia), Aiyanar Beach and Dive Resort (Philippines), Atlantis Dive Resort (Philippines), Volivoli Beach Resort (Fiji), Manta Ray Bay Resort (Micronesia), Crystal Blue Dive Resort (Philippines), Spirit of Freedom Liveaboard (Australia), El Galleon Dive Resort/Asia Divers (Philippines), Aquamarine Diving (Indonesia), Atmosphere Resorts (Philippines), Eco Dive Resort (Indonesia), Scuba Cozumel (Mexico), Blackbeard’s Cruises – Allstar Liveaboards (Bahamas), and scuba travel agency Bluewater Travel. Premium gear prizes are provided by Sea & Sea, Think Tank Photo, and Ikelite.

Ocean Art 2018 consists of 16 categories, including a Novice DSLR category, 3 compact camera categories and 3 mirrorless camera categories, giving underwater photographers of all levels a chance to win a great prize. Unique categories include Supermacro, Cold/Temperate Water, and Nudibranchs, while the more traditional categories include Wide-Angle, Macro, Marine Life Portraits and Marine Life Behavior. The Underwater Art category encourages creativity in post-processing. 

Winners from each category will be able to rank the prizes they would like to receive, making it more likely that each winner will receive a prize they desire.

Judges include world-renowned underwater photographers Tony Wu, Martin Edge, Marty Snyderman and Scott Gietler. Martin Edge is the author of The Underwater Photographer, a top-selling book on underwater photography. Marty Snyderman is an Emmy winner with work appearing in top publications like National Geographic. Tony Wu is a renowned underwater photographer and author of Silent Symphony. Scott Gietler is the owner of Bluewater Photo, Bluewater Travel and the Underwater Photography Guide.

Photos must be submitted before the deadline of 23:59PM PST on November 30, 2018.

We look forward to your participation. Information can be found on our Ocean Art Photo Competition page at http://www.uwphotographyguide.com/ocean-art.

For press inquiries, please contact:

Nirupam Nigam
Managing Editor, Underwater Photography Guide
Email: info@uwphotographyguide.com 

The Underwater Photography Guide is the #1 visited resource worldwide for underwater photographers and scuba divers to learn and improve their underwater photography. It publishes highly-regarded tutorials, technique tips, in-depth gear reviews, underwater photo news, and organizes educational photography workshops around the world. For more information, please visit http://www.uwphotographyguide.com or follow on Facebook (facebook.com/underwaterphotographyguide.com), Instagram (instagram.com/uwphotographyguide) and Twitter (twitter.com/uwphotography).

Full Article: Diving in Italy: Interview with Pietro Formis

Pietro Formis is an Italian underwater photographer with an amazing portfolio of images. We caught up with him to talk about diving in Italy and get some of the story behind some of his best shots. We really enjoy everything he shared and hope you do too! - UWPG Editors

 

UWPG: What inspired you to start diving and taking photos underwater?

Pietro: I started diving thanks to my father. He invited me to take an open water diving course with him, and from that day my life truly changed. I started taking pictures underwater almost immediately with a small compact camera, and then things came along naturally from there. 

 

UWPG: Are you a full-time professional photographer, hobbyist, or both?

Pietro: I’m a free-lance photographer. Last year I quit my old job and now I’m focusing mainly on photography, especially underwater photography, leading photographic trips and workshops in Italy, the Philippines, the Red Sea, and Indonesia. 

 

UWPG: Where is your favorite place to dive in the world?

Pietro: This is difficult to answer… probably the Italian village of Noli, in Liguria, in the Mediterranean Sea. It isn’t known as the best spot in the world, but it is where I took some of my best photos. I dive there anytime I can, almost weekly during the year.


UWPG: What about the diving in Italy makes it special?

Pietro: Italy is a very diverse country; we have thousands of kilometers of coasts, snowy mountains, wetlands, dry lands, forests, lowlands, rivers, caves, volcanoes, history, culture, modernity and tradition.  

Even under the surface of the sea we have this kind of variety: from North to South we can find murky waters suitable for "muck dives", as in the Adriatic Sea; crystal waters and spectacular caves in Sardinia; colored walls of gorgonians stretching from the Ligurian Sea to Sicily; and historical wrecks and submerged ruins such as the city of Baia, near Naples, just to name few. The marine ecosystems are influenced by the Mediterranean temperate climate, with a strong seasonality and variability from cold winters to hot summers.

 

UWPG: What is your favorite freshwater location in Italy to dive? What is there to see there? 

Pietro: Usually I dive in different fresh water spots to search for a specific subject, such as newts in small ponds,freshwater crab and snakes in rivers and streams, or some special and elusive species such as the Sea Lamprey. These picture are usually taken in a few inches of water.

 

 

Alternatively, a very special place to dive with scuba gear, for the evocative scenery, is the Orrido di S. Anna (Piedmont), a submerged canyon characterized by green waters and beautiful lighting. 


UWPG: What sets you apart from other underwater photographers?

Pietro: I cannot tell you exactly what distinguishes me. What I can tell you is that I always try to take images that make the observer dream and that stimulate his or her imagination, curiosity and knowledge about the subjects portrayed. 

 

UWPG: What is your favorite photographic style and/or technique?

Pietro: I love macro, wide angle, split shots, natural light… I love all photographic techniques but the one I enjoy most is definitely the close focus wide angle (CFWA).

 

UWPG: Do you have tips for taking close-focus-wide-angle underwater photos? 

Pietro: First of all: get close! (it seems obvious, but every inch makes the difference). 

Then, pay attention to lighting. Positioning strobes is the biggest challenge, as avoiding backscatter isn’t the only goal. 

Try to enhance the subject by emphasizing its characteristics, accentuating or softening the shadows, think in a three-dimensional way in order not to illuminate unwanted areas (for example in photographs on sandy bottoms) and change the position of the strobes accordingly.

 

UWPG: What is your favorite way to light macro photos?

Pietro: I usually use 2 strobes, but I like strong contrasts and I often set one of the two strobes to have much more power than the other.

For the same reason I like using a snoot, as it emphasizes the shadows and gives a sense of drama to the pictures. It is a must in situations with a white sandy bottom. I like to use it to isolate subjects from the background, but I love less the "white ring" effect which tends to produce very repetitive images.

 

UWPG: What is your favorite image and the story behind it?

Pietro: I think it is one of my latest pictures, “Mediterranean Monster,” showing a large monkfish (longer than a meter) with an open mouth, its sharp teeth in sight. It is an image of a marvelous creature, albeit monstrous; it is truly fascinating, an incredible predator, unfortunately seen more often at the fish market than in its natural habitat. 

These fish reach sexual maturity after several years and reach a considerable size (up to 2 meters), that is if they are not caught before! It is a fish that is usually found in the depths, but during spring (thanks to the colder water temperatures) it can also be found in shallow waters.

I love to photograph these types of subjects – fantastic creatures, monstrous yet fascinating, inspiring fear and, for once, appreciation for what they are: an evolutionary miracle and not just a fish recipe. 

 

UWPG: What has been your favorite underwater experience?

Pietro: I think photographing Humpback Whales in the waters of Reunion Island. It was amazing to see these gentle giants appearing from the deep. It is something I would definitely do again.


UWPG: What is your chosen underwater photography equipment?

Pietro: I use a Canon 5DMKIII in a Nauticam Housing. I use Nauticam housings because of their solidity. I often dive in difficult conditions: muddy waters and sand. I'm sure that in every scenario I can trust my housing. I also love the port locking system and housing locking system, as they are easy, fast and reliable. 

Of course I love the ergonomics as well: you have all the controls at your fingertips, and you can change settings while you're looking through the viewfinder. 

I use Inon and Sea & Sea strobes and a FIX Neo 2200 video light (for continuous lighting). 

*Editors note: While the Canon 5DKIII remains an excellent DSLR camera, be sure to check out our underwater review for the next in the lineup, the Canon 5D Mark IV

 

 

UWPG: Do you have any tips for our readers?

Pietro: Enjoy underwater photography, share experiences with other photographers, and participate in competitions…but give competitions their right value (it’s only a game). Don’t think too much, shoot as much as you can, and don’t look back, as the best shot will be the next one. 

Don’t change your gear too often - the best shots will come when you have a good feel for your camera, housing and strobes.

  

 

Gear Links:


Additional Reading