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Full Article: Sony a6500 Camera Review

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

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

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

Price:  $1,398

 


Purchase the Sony a6500 at Bluewater Photo




Jump to section:

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

Best Lenses    |    Underwater Housings    |    Conclusion    |    More Underwater Photos

 

 

Sony a6500 Key Features

  • 24.2-megapixel APS-C Exmor CMOS sensor 

  • 425-point phase detection autofocus points

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

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

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

  • 5-axis in-body image stabilization

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

  • Touch screen focusing

  • Electronic XGA OLED Tru-Finder™

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

  • 11 FPS burst

  • Built-in WiFi for easy sharing

  • Battery life approximately 350 shots using LCD screen

 

Sony a6500 Upgrades from the a6300

  • 5-Axis Image Stabilization

  • Touch Screen Focusing

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

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

 

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

 

Sony a6500 for Underwater Photography

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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


Sony a6500 for Underwater Video

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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


Sony a6500 Best Lenses

Macro

Standard / Mid-Range

Wide-Angle

Fisheye

Additional Lens Options

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

 

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

 

Sony a6500 Underwater Housings

 

Aquatica Sony a6500 Housing  $1,650

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

Learn more about the Aquatica a6500 Housing.

 

Fantasea Sony a6500 Housing  $980

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

Learn more about the Fantasea a6500 Housing.

 

Ikelite Sony a6500 Housing  $975

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

Learn more about the Ikelite a6500 Housing.


Nauticam Sony a6500 Housing  $1800

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

Learn more about the Nauticam a6500 Housing.

 

Conclusion

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

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

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

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

 

More Sony a6500 Underwater Photos

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

Full Article: Olympus Tough TG-5 Camera Preview

Olympus has just announced a follow up to the extremely popular TG-4 compact camera - the Olympus Tough TG-5.

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

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

Est. Availability:  Shipping by June 16, 2017

Est. U.S.A Retail Price TG-5:  $449.99

Est. U.S.A. Retail Price PT-058:  $299.99

 


Bluewater Photo TG-5 Packages:

Olympus TG-5 Camera

Olympus TG-5 Underwater Housing PT-058

Olympus TG-5 and Housing Bundle

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


 

 

Olympus TG-5 Camera Specs

  • 12MP 1/2.3" BSI CMOS sensor optimized for low light (4000x3000 images)
  • Waterproof (50ft without housing), Shockproof, crushproof, freezeproof
  • Fast f/2.0-4.9 lens with 4.5mm - 18mm focal length (equivalent to 25mm - 100mm)
  • Minimum working distance 1cm (in super macro mode)
  • ISO range 100 - 12,800
  • Olympus TruePic VIII image processor
  • 25 autofocus points with Single AF and Tracking
  • 4K @30p video recording (approx. 102 Mbps bit rate). 1080 @120fps High Speed Movie mode
  • Pro Capture mode for 20fps image capture
  • Built-in flash
  • SD storage (SD, SDHC, SDXC)
  • WiFi capabilities, including camera control via smartphone
  • Weight (approx): 250g / 8.72oz with battery & memory card 
  • Dimensions: 113mm x 66mm x 31.9mm (4.43in x 2.6in x 1.23in)

 

TG-5 Upgrades from the TG-4

The Olympus TG-5 is almost, but not quite, the same size as the Olympus TG-4. This means that owners of a TG-3 or TG-4 housing cannot use the TG-5 in their current housing. The TG-4 became extremely popular with its semi-manual shooting modes, RAW image capture, image stabilization and (especially important for underwater photo/video shooters) microscope mode for super macro. The camera can shoot a crisp image of the back of the lens cap, literally.

The Tough TG-5 builds on this strong foundation with upgrades that follow the trends of high-ISO shooting performance, low light performance, 4K video recording and burst recording. These improvements can largely be summed up with a few notes on the new TG-5 image sensor.

 

TG-5 vs. TG-4 Image Sensor & Megapixel Comparison

The Olympus TG-5 uses the same size 1/2.3" BSI CMOS sensor as the TG-4, although the TG-5 has 12MP while the TG-4 has 16MP. Why the reduction? This is for two reasons. First, less megapixels generally results in better low light sensitivity. The TG-5 images will have less noise in the shadows and dark areas of the images. Second, less megapixels also means less data, which leads to faster image processing - essential when recording 4K video and high-fps bursts. The TG-5 does have an upgraded image processor, but the lower megapixel count surely makes a bigger difference in processing speeds.

Also keep in mind that Olympus has a wide-range of nice OM-D mirrorless cameras, so shooters who are looking strictly for megapixel count will likely shop the mirrorless options since they are more advanced cameras with better image quality. Check out this Olympus OM-D E-M5 Mark II bundle deal.

 

Thoughts for Underwater Photography

The Olympus TG-5 will be a great compact camera for underwater shooters who want a simple system on a budget. The camera is the perfect topside adventure companion, making it a smart purchase for the dive boat even if you already have a big camera system. The TG-5's upgrades in low light performance will deliver better image quality with less noise than the popular TG-4 when shooting underwater video and ambient light wide-angle, both of which often require shooting with ISOs above the base 100.

RAW image capture is an essential feature for divers who really want to edit their photos. Manual aperture control in the TG-5 is limited to three settings, but I don't see this as a huge drawback. 4K video (at 30fps) is available for those that really want the resolution, and 120fps (at Full HD) is available for those that are more interested in slow motion effects. When shooting in Microscope Mode, resolution is limited to 1080p at 60fps.

The TG-5 will be competing with the SeaLife DC2000, which features a larger 1" sensor and simple piano key control at a slightly cheaper price (camera + housing). That said, the entire feature set and versatility of the Olympus TG-5, from super macro mode to WiFi apps, make it a solid choice for both beginners and experienced shooters looking for something small. Other compact camera options are much more expensive, including the Sony RX100 IV / V and Canon G7 X Mk II.


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Olympus TG-5 Underwater Housings

Unfortunately, the new Olympus TG-5 will not fit in the older TG3 and TG-4 underwater housings. The camera sizes are nearly identical, but do have some minor control differences as well as a larger finger grip. A new Olympus PT-058 TG-5 underwater housing will be available with the camera's release.

We also expect to see housing options from Ikelite, Recsea and Nauticam. The Ikelite housing price point will be similar to that of the Olympus PT-058 (see the Ikelite TG-4 housing for reference). The Recsea will be priced slightly higher and the Nauticam will likely be more than double. As above, we expect that the TG-5 will not fit into TG-4 housings from these brands.

We'll update this section as soon as we have more underwater housing information.

 

Related Reading:  Olympus TG-4 Camera Review

 


Bluewater Photo TG-5 Packages:

Olympus TG-5 Camera

Olympus TG-5 Underwater Housing PT-058

Olympus TG-5 and Housing Bundle

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


Full Article: Portraits from God's Pocket

A couple years ago, I would never have guessed my vacation time would be spent packing an ever changing assortment of dive gear into checked luggage and carry-on camera gear, hoping on a series of planes, diving, and then repeating that process all over again.  To further complicate airline luggage rules, you also have these bulky dry suits and undergarments to pack and you begin to think, why would people do this to themselves?  Put simply, because it's so worth it!

The nutrient rich waters of God's Pocket (Vancouver Island, British Columbia, Canada) offers some truly amazing and unique diving, full of colors and life I certainly didn't fully expect. Part of the thrill for me is discovering things I couldn't have planned for.  Sure, I had a list of things I wanted to see; giant pacific octopus, hooded nudibranchs, warbonnets in a bottle and wolf eels. But, playing tug of war with an GPO who took a quite-strong interest in my strobe, or discovering a type of anemone with miniature versions of itself clinging to its sides, or the wavy motions and sail of the sailfin sculpin; those are all safely cataloged in my internal dive logs, as stories I'll have to tell in the years to come.

 



Aaron's Underwater Camera Gear

 Nikon D90, Aquatica housing and ports, Sea&Sea YS-110a strobes, Retra LSD snoot, Nikon 40mm, Nikon 60mm, Nikon 105mm, Tokina 10-17mm, 1.4x teleconverter and various diopters and lights




 

 

 

 

 

Full Article: Nikon D820 Camera Rumors

Summer 2017 is shaping up to be the summer of prosumer full frame cameras. Canon is expected to announce a successor to the 6D while the rumors for Nikon's successor to the D810 are piling up.

The new Nikon camera will likely be labeled the D820, and is expected to continue the D810's focus on high ISO performance and a mega megapixel count. The specs below have been reported to and published on NikonRumors.com, and while they may easily change, they do seem very realistic.

 

Nikon D820 Rumors

Estimated availability:  Summer 2017

Sensor:  45-46MP sensor

No Built-in GPS:  This would be weird in the age of WiFi and NFC in most new cameras, and with the growing trend of amateur and beginner photographers purchasing these powerful prosumer full frame DSLRs.

Tiltable LCD Screen like the Nikon D750 and Nikon D500. This is a nice feature for Nikon video shooters, landscape photographers and those shooting from tough angles.

Memory:  Dual SD slots (SD & QXD).

 

Please note that these specs are far from guaranteed, but it's fun to speculate. 

We'll update this news article as soon as we know more.

- Brent Durand

Full Article: How to Shoot Your Way Out of a Slump

I recently checked Raja Ampat off my bucket list.  I wanted to see it all - fish schools thick enough to block the sun, coral gardens many acres large, and biodiversity like nowhere else on the plant - and Raja exceeded my every expectation.  And yet, after the first few days, I had only a select few photos that I was marginally happy with.

After about a dozen frustrating dives, I had to figure out where I was going wrong and how to fix the problem. The trouble was, in the face of such an incredible amount of life, I was out of my element.  I was having troubles picking out a coherent subject in the maelstrom of life.  And when I found something, there was often a diver in the background.  And then there was the visibility; at 20 meters it was okay, but it wasn’t my Kona gin. Anyone can shoot well on clear days in sunny, familiar waters.  Traveling forces you to try your best in the given conditions, because you might not get a do-over.  This article is meant to help you re-center your photographic zen when you find yourself out of your comfort zone.

Related: Read our Raja Ampat Scuba Diving Guide.

 

 

Isolate a Subject

One of the challenges in shooting a place like Raja Ampat is sorting through the cacophony to find a subject.  This was especially challenging at sites like Cape Kri, Melissa’s Garden, and Karaug Bayangan, where the fish form disorganized masses over lush but unbroken coral reefs.  Just pointing your camera at the cloud of fish isn’t going to capture the beauty.  You will still need to work to find an anchor for your photo’s story.

Start simple.  Find a large, sessile subject, and just expose it.  In Raja, that might mean a wobbegong or a particularly bright coral head.  Snap off a few simple portraits.  This will give you a few pics to take home, and it will start to pull your headspace out of the gutter.  With a few portraits in your back pocket, you can start branching out to get more complicated.  Close focus wide-angle shots are made for locations like Raja, but be sure to pick your subject carefully.  Not only does the subject have to look compelling, but CFWA relies on a working background, too.  I ended up having some luck finding a subject, and then just camping out waiting for the background action to align perfectly.  

 

 

 

Managing People

Whenever you are diving with others, they can either be a subject in the photo or a nuisance.  When living and diving in isolated, cramped quarters with a small group of others, a small annoyance can snowball into a fight if you aren’t careful.  Trouble can be quickly averted when photographers form something of an alliance.  On this trip, we all understood that all of our photos would benefit if we could work together.  We worked out a few hand signals that politely meant, “hey, you’re in my shot.”  If you were in the way, this meant to finish your photo and please move.  No offense, no egos, just excuse me for a minute.

A different sort of issue can arise over macro subjects, especially on muck dives, where a diver might want to camp on a rare subject.  Again, we all have to work together, so communication is key.  I recommend a rotation system for when a line is forming around a particular subject.  Agree beforehand that, if someone is waiting, you have x number of shots before you are expected to let the other person have a turn.  You can always go back, but it isn’t fair to hog the rarest creature on the reef.

 

 

Limited Visibility

This is a tough one, especially for wide-angle photography that relies so heavily on background color.  Sure, you can switch to macro and shoot for a black background, but then you will miss the larger opportunities and sweeping reefscapes.  For starters, forget about animals that are further away than a few feet.  Most of the reef sharks, while cool to watch, will be well outside of this range and not worth considering for good photos.  In really turbid water, it helps to stay with action that is as shallow as possible to make use of as much ambient light as you can.  Don’t forget to set your strobes wide and angled out.  Even so, you can expect to spend some time post-processing backscatter out of most of your images.  On the bright side, sunny days in the mid-morning and mid-afternoon produce beautiful God-rays among the speckles in the water.  Set your camera for a fast shutter-speed and shoot at 90° to the sun for the most dramatic shots!

 

 

Go Back to the Basics

Don’t get so tangled up in missing a few idealized photos that you forget to apply tried and true techniques to the beautiful spot you have found.  A solid portfolio from a location should include a healthy mix consisting of the following: split-shots, close focus wide angle, macro, snoot macro, models as the subject, models in the background, snell’s window, marine-life portraits, silhouettes, and black backgrounds.  If what you are doing isn’t working, then it is time to switch it up and try a different technique!

 

 

Accommodations 

I would be remiss if I failed to mention the incredible hospitality and unique accommodations of the SMY Ondina liveaboard.  The unique ship was fashioned using hand-tools from the forests of Sulawesi.  The plane-marks and cordage stuffed betwixt the floorboards are evidence of the extreme skill required to piece together such a work of floating art.  The crew/guides were equally amazing and were quick to drop what they were doing at the slightest hint of a request.  I cannot speak highly enough of the experience they provided.  To Fede, Hugo, Jobel, and the rest of the crew of the Ondina, cheers!

 

Full Article: Strobe Positioning for Wide-Angle Underwater

Mastering the light in an image is perhaps one of the most challenging skills we learn as photographers.  Underwater, that skill must be developed even more because of the limitations we face with available light, and technology. The strobes on your rig are versatile tools that can help make beautiful images when used correctly.  There are several positioning and lighting techniques that can help you become a proficient and talented underwater photographer.

Backscatter. Everyone worries about backscatter. But truly, there is one rule that you can use to avoid most backscatter issues and that is to be sure your strobes are back behind your dome port. The rule of thumb for me is that the heads of my strobes are no further forward than the handles on my housing.

 

 

There are many ideas out there on how to further avoid backscatter.  Since backscatter is caused by particles in the water reflecting the light from your strobes back into your lens, many people will turn their strobes slightly out or in, so that the angle of reflection bounces away from your camera lens.  You can try this too as it may be a solution for you, especially if you dive in lower visibility conditions.  However, I have had the exact same results with my strobes facing straight forward, so I prefer not to worry so much about the direction the light is going to bounce.  Instead, I will put more effort into how high the power is on my strobes.  Often, just turning the power down a bit on one or both strobes will reduce backscatter.

Strobe position is another hot topic and there are a lot of ideas out there.  How close should the strobes be to your housing?  How high or how low? What if you want to make a vertical image? What about close focus wide angle?  What about big animals?  Each circumstance merits consideration as the position of your strobes may require a change for each one.  The basic position that I use for a good majority of my work is to have the strobes about 8-12 inches away from the housing, facing straight forward, with the strobes at nine and three o'clock.

 

 

Variations of this are fine, but generally speaking this is the position I will use when I am just swimming around looking for my next subject.  Then, if something like a sea lion approaches suddenly, I am ready to shoot.

Tip:  A good rule of thumb for how close the strobes should be to your housing is to place them about as far apart as you are from your subject.  In other words, the strobes in the picture above are about 18-24 inches apart.  Using this rule, I should be about 18-24 inches from my subject to get proper lighting.

The height of the strobes depends on how large a subject you want to light.  If you are trying to light an entire reef, you might consider putting your strobes up above your housing so that the light can be cast evenly over a large area.  You can adjust the distance that the strobes are from each other according to how wide an area you want to light.  Keep in mind, however, that the light comes out from the strobes in a cone shape, and you want that cone of light to cross in the middle so that there is not a dark area in the middle of your image.

 

 

Vertical images can be a challenge and there are a couple of different ways you can light them up.  When you turn your housing so that it is vertical, you will have one strobe on the top at twelve o'clock, and one on the bottom at six o'clock.  This is just fine if you are shooting a large scene, or you are a few feet from your subject.  It becomes a problem when you are close to your subject, or you want to shoot something where one of the strobes (usually the one on the bottom) is too close to the subject.  This may result in part of the image being blown out.

Tip:  The solution to this is to turn the bottom strobe down (quite a bit) until the light on the top matches the light on the bottom.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Photo left:  Improperly lit with too much light from the strobe on the bottom.
Photo right:  Properly lit image with bottom strobe power set to 1/4 power and top strobe set to 3/4 power.

 

Another strobe position for vertical images is to move the strobes so that they are positioned at nine and three o'clock when the housing is turned into a vertical position.  This takes a bit of effort, but the reward is a properly lit image without having to adjust the power of your strobes as much.

Close focus wide angle photography is when you have a relatively small subject in the foreground along with something in the background such as a diver or the sun.  In these images it is important to light them so that the subject, surrounding area and the background light blend together.  You want the viewer to see the image as one beautiful picture, instead of noticing that you have used artificial light on part of it.

 

 

For example, the gorgonian fan in the image above was only a few inches from my dome port. It and the reef around it looks like there is no artificial light and the ambient light in the surrounding kelp forest blends with the light from my strobe.  It appears that the light comes from above all from the same light source.  That should be your goal in any close focus wide angle image. I achieved this by putting my strobes a little above my housing which was in vertical position, at about ten and two o'clock.  The strobe on the right is set at a slightly higher power than the one on the left because the reef was a bit further away on that side.

Lastly, big animals can be a challenge to light properly for several reasons.  In most cases, I expect to be from two to three feet away from a large subject such as a shark.  In this case, I will pull my strobes apart to about two feet and turn the power up to one stop under full power.  I will also meter for the ambient light at the depth I am shooting at.  A good guess for settings in clear blue water is f/8 and 1/125th with ISO at around 400.  This can vary greatly, but it is a good place to start.

 

 

This turtle was very close to my strobes and is entirely lit by them, while camera settings are adjusted for the bright sunlight at f/16, 1/320th and ISO 200.

 

 

This shark is also entirely lit by my strobes and I am about two or three feet away from it in this image.  The strobes are two feet apart, facing straight forward and set on the highest power.  My camera settings are exposed for the ambient light at f/9, 1/200s, and ISO 320.  Had there been no strobe light on the shark, it would appear as dim and dark as the reef in the left corner.

Photographers spend their entire careers mastering light in their images.  Utilizing a few tips such as these can help you on your way to conquering light in a way that will make your images stand out from the crowd.  Don't be afraid to experiment and change up the rules.  Sometimes we get hung up on how to accomplish a task, rather than experimenting with our equipment. The main goal is to make your images look like they are naturally and evenly lit.  Remember this and you cannot fail.

 

 This column originally published on Brook's blog, Waterdog Photography.


Full Article: The Shootout 2018 Team Captains Announced

Our friends at Wetpixel have just announced the judges of The Shootout 2018. Alex Mustard will be leading team Lembeh, while Keri Wilk will lead team Gulen Dive Centre. Both of these world-renowned professional underwater photographers will be working with their teams to ensure each diver produces the best images possible, helping their team shoot towards victory. You can join either team!

The first edition of the event, held simultaneously in Gulen, Norway and Indonesia's Lembeh Strait last year, pitted the two teams of underwater photographers against each other. Each team shot underwater images to build a portfolio for judging at the end of the event, where the Lembeh team inched out a win over Gulen.

The 2018 Shootout promises to deliver even more critter-filled diving, along with a host of live social media coverage from the event.

Dates:  June 15 - 23, 2018

Locations:  Gulen, Norway & the Lembeh Strait, Indonesia

What:  Photo workshop and Shootout where you can sign up to dive in either location, receive expert photo instruction all week and enter the contest with your team.

How to Sign Up:  Simply contact Gulen Dive Resort (Norway) or Lembeh Resort (Indo) to book your trip. OR, if you'd like to extend your trip, reach out to the dive travel experts at Bluewater Travel for advice and planning tips.

 

PRESS RELEASE

 

Two eminent pro underwater photographers join The SHOOTOUT as team captains for 2018

 

The SHOOTOUT, which will be held from 15 to 23 June 2018, will again pitch two teams head to head in a live underwater photography contest. A team from the beautiful Gulen Dive Resort in Norway will be competing with their opposing team at the equally beautiful Lembeh Resort in Indonesia. The first contest, in 2016, resulted in the narrowest of last-minute victories for the team from Lembeh.

The 2018 event is proud to announce that captaining the Lembeh team will be the world-renown professional underwater photographer, Alex Mustard and in the corner for Gulen Dive Centre will be another big hitter of the underwater imaging world, Keri Wilk. Keri captained the Gulen team in 2016, so he has a score to settle:

"If last year's 3-round nail-biter was any indication of what to expect, we should have another exciting battle on our hands," and he went on to state, "last year, Team Gulen showed the world that we could indeed compete with Lembeh. Next year, however, we aim to show that we can WIN!"

Both captains will not only be providing guidance to their teams on how to get the winning shots but also will be making tactical decisions about image selection. They will, of course, also be helping team members to create stunning imagery by extracting the very best of their photographic ability.

Alex says: "Team Lembeh won the last SHOOTOUT, so the pressure is on me this time! It’s such a fun event where the team has to all work together to ensure that everyone gets great images to be sure of success."

The SHOOTOUT will feature a program of live broadcasts and reports from the event, including video discussions with the captains and teams.

 

Both Gulen Dive Resort and Lembeh Resort are actively seeking team members to help them to win. If you think you have what it takes and would like to participate in what will be the most talked about and fun event in underwater imaging during 2018, please contact Gulen Dive Resort or Lembeh Resort directly.

Two continents, two hemispheres, two climates: ONE WINNER

The SHOOTOUT


 


Full Article: The Colorful Fish of Fiji

The nation of Fiji is comprised of over three hundred beautiful islands in the South Pacific ocean. The unique topography, where towering green mountains drop straight into a crystal clear ocean fringed with coral reefs, has attracted tourists for decades. Newlyweds kick their feet up and watch sunset, surfers take shade inside racing emerald tubes and, most importantly for us, scuba divers and freedivers explore the reefs below the surface.

Names like the Bligh Waters, Namena, Beqa Lagoon and Taveuni roll off photographers' tongues inspiring the lust for adventure in those listening to their underwater tales.

Fiji has been written about so many times in so many dive magazines that photographer Andreas Goldhahn and I have decided to take a different approach in telling the story; we leave it to the photos. 

Be sure to read Part I of this series, The Vibrant Soft Corals of Fiji.

- Editors

 

Lyretail (aka Scalefin) Anthias (Pseudanthias squamipinnis)
Camera: Nikon D7200
Photo: Andreas Goldhahn

 

Yawning Damselfish
Camera: Nikon D7200
Photo: Andreas Goldhahn

Bigeye Trevally (Caranx sexfasciatus)
Camera: Nikon D7200
Photo: Andreas Goldhahn

 

Pink Skunk Anemonefish (Amphiprion perideraion)
Camera: Nikon D7200
Photo: Andreas Goldhahn

 

Palette Surgeonfish (Paracanthurus hepatus)
Camera: Nikon D7200
Photo: Andreas Goldhahn

 

Schooling Bannerfish (Heniochus diphreutes)
Camera: Nikon D7200
Photo: Andreas Goldhahn

 

 Orange Spotted (aka long nose) Filefish (Oxymonacanthus longirostris)
Camera: Nikon D7200
Photo: Andreas Goldhahn

 

 Leaf Scorpionfish (Taenianotus triacanthus)
Camera: Nikon D7200
Photo: Andreas Goldhahn

 

Mirrored wrasse movement
Camera: Nikon D7200
Photo: Andreas Goldhahn

Angelfish in profile
Camera: Nikon D7200
Photo: Andreas Goldhahn

Stocky Anthias (Pseudanthias hypselosoma)
Camera: Nikon D7200
Photo: Andreas Goldhahn

 

Grey Reef Shark (Carcharhinus amblyrhynchos)
Camera: Nikon D7200
Photo: Andreas Goldhahn

 

About the Photographer

Andreas Goldhahn is an underwater photographer based in Munich, Germany. An 8 year veteran shooter, Andreas has been traveling the world documenting the underwater world with both a Nikon D500 and Nikon D7200, accumulating over 500 dives in the process. You can see more of Andreas' work on his Facebook page.

Full Article: Sony a9 Mirrorless Camera Preview

Sony has just announced a new flagship full frame mirrorless camera at an event in New York City. The Sony a9 boasts a 24MP CMOS sensor and 20fps burst, with big claims that aim to create strong competition with other cameras in the pro sports category - namely the Canon 1D X Mk II and Nikon D5. The camera looks sexy with the new Sony FE 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 GM OSS telephoto zoom lens attached.

The Sony a9 incorporates a full-frame stacked 24.2MP CMOS sensor paired with an upgraded BIONZ X image processor. 20fps shooting is possible without any blackouts between frames (blackouts break up autofocus on DSLRs due the drop of the mechanical shutter). The electronic viewfinder is the best in the Sony mirrorless camera lineup and the autofocus is incredibly fast, focusing (and calculating exposure) at up to 60 times per second.

The electronic shutter means no mechanical shutter vibration - something that macro and supermacro shooters will cherish.

Battery life, a nagging issue with those that shoot Sony underwater, has been improved 2.2x from Sony's previous full-frame camera models (a7 II series). Topside shooters can also use a grip for expanded battery life.

Video image quality is very impressive, delivering 3840x2160 4K video from full-pixel 6K readout with no pixel-binning.

4D autofocus, 5-axis image stabilization, dual SD media slots and other features are just the cherries on top with the Sony a9's impressive spec list. Drooling yet? I am!

Availability:  Pre-orders start April 21, 2017

Estimated Price:  $4,499 USD

 

Sony a9 Camera Specs

  • Full-frame 24.2MP stacked CMOS sensor with integral memory
  • BIONZ X processing engine
  • Continuous shooting up to 20fps with AE/AF tracking
  • 693-point wide-area phase detection AF
  • 5-axis image stabilization (up to 5 stops)
  • 4K video recording with no pixel-binning (oversampling at 6K full-pixel readout)
  • ISO 100 - 51200 (mechanical shutter), ISO 100 - 25600 (electronic shutter)
  • Viewfinder: 1.3cm electronic 3686k-dot Quad-VGA OLED Tru-Finder
  • Dual SD card slots. (lower slot UHS-II)
  • Sony E-mount lens compatibility
  • Dimensions (WxHxD): 126.9mm x 95.6mm x 63.0mm  /  5 x 3 7/8 x 2 1/2 inches
  • Weight (with battery & SD card): 673g / 1lb 7.7 oz

Sony a9 Recommended Lenses

Sony offers a nice lens selection for underwater photographers shooting the full-frame a9, both for photo and video.

 

Macro Lenses

  • Sony FE 90mm F2.8 Macro - The best option for Sony macro and supermacro shooters.

  • Sony 50mm F2.8 Macro - This lens is more of a mid-range when shot on full-frame, ideal for larger (yet still not wide-angle) subjects like big frogfish and stingrays.

  • Canon EF 100mm F2.8 Macro with Metabones adapter - This is the best macro lens out there but we haven't tested it with the adapter, so expect significant performance loss.

 

Wide-Angle Lenses

  • Sony FE 16-35mm f/2.8 ZA SSM II Vario-Sonnar T* - A fast, pro-level ide-angle lens for situations where fisheye field of view is too large or warped and when macro is too narrow.

  • Sony Vario-Tessar T* FE 16-35mm f/4 OSS Lens - A great wide-angle lens choice for those who don't want to buy the more expensive f/2.8 version.

  • Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8 II or f/4 with Metabones adapter - These are Canon wide-angle staples, and great if you're switching over, but if you're starting new we recommend the native Sony wide-angle lenses.

 

Fisheye Lenses

 

Thoughts for Underwater Photo and Video

The Sony a9 is going to be a fantastic camera underwater, although it's more camera than most shooters will need. Many of the key differences between the a9 and the a7R II involve high-speed autofocus, burst shooting and fast processing speed that only those currently pushing those limits will notice.

Keep in mind that the Sony a9 has both a mechanical and mirrorless shutter, so the body size is going to be closer to that of a DSLR than that of a small mirrorless setup.

Personally, I find the Achilles heel of the Sony system underwater to be the 90mm macro lens. I used this lens with the Sony a6300 in Lembeh Straight while leading a workshop last September, and the autofocus / lens combo simply didn't compete with the Canon 5D Mark III and Canon 100mm macro setup I owned in 2012-15. Granted, the Sony a9 has some serious AF upgrades, but then so do the competitors - the 5D Mk IV and Nikon D810.

There are two reasons I would choose the Sony a9 over the Sony a7R / a7R II and DSLR competitors:

Video: The Sony a9 condenses full-pixel image into 4K video with no pixel-binning. Bottom line is high-quality video with beautiful color tones, contrast and sharpness. The full-frame sensor will likely deliver more dynamic range and better image quality than even the hyped up Panasonic GH5. That said, we won't know for sure until we test it, since the GH5 records 4K 4:2:2 10bit (1024 RGB color levels) while the Sony a9 only records 4K at 4:2:2 8bit (256 RGB color levels). 

High-speed shooting:  This camera should excel for topside shooting with better AF tracking, 693 AF points, 20fps burst and the quick integral processing of the new stacked CMOS sensor. Naturally, this screams sports, however there are some applications underwater where this will prove invaluable. This includes ambient light wide-angle with fast subjects like sea lions and dolphins, as well as macro behavior shooting under constant lighting.

So what's the move? Call or email the experts at Bluewater Photo to further discuss your camera options.

 

Sony a9 Underwater Housings

We expect to see the first housings ship within 3-5 weeks of the camera release. Expect Ikelite and Nauticam to be first, followed by Aquatica and Sea & Sea in following weeks. For pre-orders and to be first to know about these housings, email Bluewater Photo and they'll keep you up to date.

Full Article: SeaLife Sea Dragon Fluoro Light

SeaLife has been well known in the diving industry to provide camera and accessories.  Recently, SeaLife has partnered with Fire Dive Gear to bring us their first fluorscent dive light.  This special dive light emits a blue light which makes fishes, corals and other organisms glow.

The Sea Fragon Fluoro Light is packed with with features.  The light offers multiple modes modes such as 4 fluoro mode, 2 white flood light modes and emergency mode.  It includes barrier filters for camera lens and for the divers mask to highten the divers experience.  The dive light has a depth rating of 100m and a dual o-ring system to make sure the it is waterproof.  

 

PRESS RELEASE

 

SeaLife Introduces Sea Dragon Fluoro-Dual Beam


Moorestown, NJ – SeaLife recently launched their first Fluorescent dive light, the Sea Dragon Fluoro-Dual Beam in partnership with Fire Dive Gear, one of the world’s foremost experts in Fluoro diving and imaging. Favored by divers for its spectacular show of color and impressive nighttime display of emitted energy, Fluorescence or "Fluoro" diving with specialized lighting has become popular. The new Fluoro-Dual Beam is available now at select SeaLife dealers.

Here’s how Fluorescence or Fluoro diving works: The light’s Royal blue LED’s emit blue light in the range of 450-460nm that is in the approximate wavelength range to “excite” the fish, reef and organisms into making a light filled energy response; SeaLife adds a finely tuned and proprietary dichroic filter that pinpoints the exact light wavelength to get the highest energy response from the underwater subject results, revealing vibrant fluorescent colors of underwater creatures.

Another innovation that SeaLife has packed into the new Fluoro-Dual Beam is that the light also offers an 800 lumen white light spot beam so it can be used as a dive light guiding you to your favorite Fluoro viewing area.

The Sea Dragon Fluoro-Dual Beam features two switchable beams that easily transforms from a blue fluoro 65° flood light to a white 800 lumen 15° concentrated beam with a push of a button. A rechargeable Lithium Ion 7.4V, 3400 mAh, 25Wh battery delivers power for a continuous 2 hours at 100% fluoro emission.  With its single button operation, the light can quickly adjust between four brightness modes: 100% fluoro flood, 50% fluoro flood, 100% white spot, and 50% white spot. Additionally, the Fluoro-Dual Beam has an emergency signal mode that is activated by holding the power button in for four seconds. 

Two universal, barrier filters are included to improve your experience in underwater fluorescent viewing and imaging. The mask filter fits over the dive mask to filter out the residual presence of blue light emitted by the light (it’s the response from the sea creature you want to see, not the blue light).  The second filter attaches to any underwater camera with a lens diameter up to 47mm. The user or person viewing the emitted light energy wears a yellow mask filter so they see only the fish or sea organism’s emitted energy and not the blue light the Sea Dragon Fluoro-Dual beam projects.    A yellow camera lens filter is also used to serve the same function on an underwater camera.

The Sea Dragon Fluoro-Dual Beam is depth rated down to 330ft/100m. The dual silicone O-ring battery component is independent from the Sea Dragon’s electronics, so the light will not be permanently damaged if there is accidental water intrusion.

The Fluoro-Dual Beam includes a Flex-Connect Single Tray, Grip and Sea Dragon Ball Joint Adapter (SL995) that connects the light to any underwater camera using the 1”/25mm ball joint mounting system. Like all Sea Dragon lights and strobe, the Sea Dragon Fluoro-Dual Beam can easily be expanded with Flex-Connect trays, grips, and mounting accessories.

 

The Sea Dragon Fluoro-Dual Beam will be available for shipment in March 2017 at the following price:

SL673                     Sea Dragon Fluoro-Dual Beam                           $499.95         
(Includes Flex-Connect Grip, Single Tray, Flex-Connect Sea Dragon Ball Joint Adapter, mask and camera barrier filters)

 

About SeaLife:

 SeaLife Underwater Cameras are the world’s most popular underwater cameras because of their ease of use and impressive imaging results.   SeaLife’s first camera was introduced in 1993. In 2000, SeaLife developed the world’s first digital underwater camera. In 2007, SeaLife developed the first non-housed digital underwater camera, and in 2013 SeaLife introduced the powerful Sea Dragon Lighting system and its innovative Flex-Connect tray, grip, arm, and accessory system. By 2014, SeaLife introduced the Micro HD, the world’s first permanently sealed underwater camera, followed by the Micro 2.0 in 2015. In 2017, SeaLife launched the new DC2000 camera which features manual aperture and shutter priority and RAW imaging format. SeaLife cameras, lighting and accessories are sold and serviced in over 60 countries around the world.   

 

For more information visit www.SeaLife-Cameras.com