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Full Article: Diving Cebu, Philippines

The Philippines is a must on every diver’s bucket list, especially underwater photographers. There are many reasons for this, but above all is the outstanding diversity of marine life to dive with.  

This is why I selected Cebu, Philippines, as the destination to conduct one of my underwater photography workshops last February. I knew for a fact the area would provide my students with a diverse, rich, and interesting photography experience. 

The workshop included 14 members of varying experience in underwater photography. The diving itinerary included dive sites known to provide the best underwater photography opportunities – including Negros, Apo, Sumilon, Malapascua, and Gato. 

My Photo System of Choice

My photo system of choice was the Sony a6500 mirrorless camera accommodated inside a Fantasea FA6500 Housing and a variety of Fantasea FML ports. Strobe lighting was supplied by a dual Ikelite DS-160 strobe system. 

My macro setup included the Sony 90mm f/2.8 macro lens, a lens capable of producing great super macro shots even without a wet lens, as well as a dedicated focus gear, which proved to be very useful since manual focus was often essential in order to capture the perfect the image. I was also equipped with the Fantasea AOI UCL-09F +12.5 super macro wet lens for extra magnification when shooting tiny subjects.

My wide-angle lens was the Canon 8-15mm f/4 L fisheye lens.

In order to avoid focus hunting in low light conditions, especially in dark sand dive sites, I used the Fantasea Radiant 3000F Light. To scan the area in search for small subjects, I selected the powerful narrow beam, and then switched to a red light whenever attempting to focus on the subject. The Radiant’s 120 degree wide beam mode also served me well for capturing videos, both macro and wide.

I installed the Fantasea UMG-02 LCD Magnifier on my housing for an enlarged, clear view of the camera screen. This proved to be especially useful in macro dives, as I was capable of better identifying the details and focus points on the screen. Furthermore, I mostly aim to shoot subjects from “eye level” and since small species are often found on the sand in this area. The tilted UMG-02 LCD Magnifier is very helpful when shooting from a low level in an upwards angle. 

Negros Island

Upon landing in Cebu, we headed south to Negros Island and arrived at the Atlantis Dumaguete resort, which is situated at the beach of Dauin on the Southeast coast of Negros. This is the perfect area to start a diving holiday. Most of the dives around the resort are carried out in sheltered bays, providing easy and comfortable diving conditions. It’s also an excellent macro photography destination.

Dauin is dived at easy entry sites that offer a varied selection of small marine animals rather than large reefs. When diving from shore, you’re most likely to notice many signs on the road indicating where the nearest dive beach is. At every site where diving is allowed, there is a ranger who monitors diving activities, making sure that there is no fishing and that the environment is well protected.  A small fee is collected from divers visiting these dive sites. When diving here, you’ll encounter quite a few artificial reefs established by the local dive operations. My personal recommendation would be to focus on the great macro opportunities this area has to offer.

The sand at Negros is very dark and serves as an appealing background for underwater images.  It is important to take into consideration that most of the special marine life is found scattered along the sand patches rather than on top of the reef.

Among the photogenic marine species that can be found at Dauin are a huge variety of nudibranchs, ghost pipefish, anemone crabs, mantis shrimps, blue ring octopuses, and my favorite – flamboyant cuttlefish.

Finding the Right “Critter Spotter”

During each dive, we separated to groups of 2-4 divers, to avoid overcrowding and fin impacts. We aimed to remain in the same general area to benefit from exchanging information with each other whenever finding anything unique.

The key for a good dive at Dauin is finding a good “critter spotter” capable of finding the very best photo subjects the area has to offer. Some of the local dive guides are known for being such good spotters that they’re booked months ahead by divers who book their services in advance. Once you’ve got your hands on an experienced critter spotter it’s important to follow a few guidelines to get the most out of your time with them. First and foremost, make sure to master your diving skills. The less your guide must deal with your buoyancy, equalizing difficulties, and any other diving difficulties, the more they will be able to focus on searching and finding exactly what you came for!

Second, make sure to inform your dive guide ahead of the dive which subjects you’re most interested in finding and photographing. There’s nothing more annoying than having to leave a rare tiny shrimp you’ve almost perfectly captured just to find out that the guide was so eager to show you a sea turtle…more so if you were geared with a super macro lens! 

It can even be a good idea to familiarize your guide with your photo gear. This is especially true for the lens options you have, so that they have a better understanding of the size of subjects you’re looking for and the distance you’re capable of shooting them from.

Finally, once you’ve nailed a shot of a subject they’ve found for you, don't forget to share your sense of success with them and thank them for a job well done. Rightfully rewarding a guide for their efforts is a great way get them excited before the next dive. Some of my spotters even asked me for those images we’ve captured together and shared them with their colleagues and friends with great pride!

The Art of Diving with a Group

When diving in a group, the challenge is to capture the images you want without being overrun and overwhelmed by the other divers. Naturally, whenever a good subject is found, every photographer wants to shoot it. Because everyone shares the same objective, it’s important to plan for the best solution for the group. For example, while one photographer is shooting a subject, others can shoot it at the same time from a different distance and angle. Alternatively, while one photographer is occupied with the subject, others can take advantage of the opportunity to look for different interesting subjects nearby. This is probably a better way of utilizing your time rather than hanging around and exerting pressure on the photographer, reducing the chances that anyone ends up with satisfying images. If you’ve found an additional point of interest, it will also surely motivate the photographer to finish shooting quicker and move on to the next spot...

Camera Settings for Negros Island

Since there’s so much to shoot on each dive, one does not want to run out of battery power during the dive. This is especially true in Negros. It’s important to reduce battery consumption as replacing batteries on a small boat or on shore during the breaks between dives is far from ideal. 

First, shooting with a higher ISO will allow less strobe power for each shot and reduce the chance of having to replace batteries after each dive. It will, however lower the quality of the photo and add noise to the image. Another way to avoid battery drain is to consider canceling the auto review of images on the screen and browse through images only when needed. Turn off your camera when searching for the next subject and only turn it back on when it's your turn to capture images. While waiting for your turn to capture a special subject, try setting up your frame on a nearby object so you’re ready when you reach the main attraction. 

Photographing Nudis

When photographing a Nudibranch, make sure that the focus point is set either on its front two rhinophores or on the exposed gills on its back. If photographing the Nudibranch from its front, try positioning your lens within a straight 90-degree angle so the front of the Nudibranch is focused and the rest of its body gradually blurs out. Another option is shooting them from the side, thus having more details of their body in focus. Whatever you do, avoid shooting them from the top. Take into consideration that some of the nudibranch species here are extremely small, such as the sheep nudibranch. The first time I was shooting one, I had no clue what I was looking at and only figured it out when reviewing the image on the camera screen and zooming in. I was more prepared for the next shot, that’s for sure…

Apo Island

After diving in Dauin, it is a good idea to visit a small nearby island – Apo. The cruise to Apo Island takes less than an hour on the local Banca boat, a great experience in itself. Apo Island is more exposed to currents, making the diving here quite different from the diving in Dauin. The reef is pretty healthy and offers some good wide angle photo opportunities. On top of that, the strong currents make macro photography more difficult when trying to focus on small marine species. All the more reason to get equipped for a wide-angle dive!

Apo Island offers a very nice reef with a wall that drops from about 10 to 50 meters (33-165 ft). The wall is very much alive and packed with corals. On Apo, you will find quite a few Banded Sea Kraits (sea snakes) swimming up and down along the wall. The sea snakes must surface in order to breath so try following them on their way down to the reef, increasing the chances one will stick around for a while. If you stay out of its way, it will scan the reef right next to you in search for pray, providing you with plenty of great photo opportunities. Try capturing the lovely reef in the background of the snake, perhaps with a nice sun ball on top. Other interesting subjects include groups of Razor Fish and underwater bubbles that appear as a result of volcanic activity. Apo Island is also a very good place to meet sea turtles, rays, frogfish and a variety of small critters, such as crabs and nudibranchs.

Whale Sharks in Oslob

The next stop on our trip was the Whale Shark site at Oslob, Cebu Island. Oslob is a small fishing village that became very famous due to the Whale Shark program that has been conducted here for the last 10 years or so. According to the stories, up until 20 years ago, the local fisherman of Oslob used to fish Whale Sharks. Once Whale Shark fishing was outlawed, in order to avoid accidently catching Whale Sharks in their nets, the fishermen began attracting them away from the fishing grounds by throwing krill to the water. This led to a situation in which Whale Sharks often frequent the Oslob Bay area in order to feed on the krill. Naturally, as soon as the rumor spread out, many tourists began arriving each day to swim and scuba dive with the largest fish in the world. Today the program is being run by the government. They now supervise the activity, tag, and document the Whale Sharks that visit the spot, and monitor how this affects their habits and migration.

As soon as the boat arrived at the site, a few Whale Sharks started swimming up to the boat, circling us and then swimming back to the small feeding Banca boat. 

The Whale Shark program dictates a few regulations that need to be followed. Divers must be accompanied by a licensed instructor. It is forbidden to use any artificial lights, such as strobes or video lights. Divers must keep a distance of at least 1 meter (3 ft.) from the Whale Shark and feeding Banca boat. 

Unlike the dark volcanic sand of Negros, the bottom here is composed of bright white sand that can be easily stirred up. The maximum depth is 10 meters (33 feet) with very poor visibility close to the bottom, but clarity close to the surface. The Whale Sharks don’t mind the divers at all. Most of the time they are busy taking turns feeding on the krill thrown to the water from the boats. In my opinion, it's amazing to see such a beautiful, huge yet gentle critter swimming next to you. However, the whole experience feels unnatural and lacks the surprise of running into a Whale Shark while swimming or diving in open water. After about half an hour, I found most of the divers on my group circling a small reef on the bottom or heading back to the boat.

 

As for photo tips, I strongly suggest using the widest lens possible here and shooting in shallow water for better light and visibility. At some point, try to get a split shot of the Whale Shark and the island in the background. I used the burst mode and spent a while working on this frame, leaving me with quite a few images to delete later… 

It’s also a good idea to set the shutter speed above 1/250 to avoid motion blur as you’ll be shooting without a strobe. 

My personal point of view on the Oslob experience is that although we are interfering with nature and feeding Whale Sharks is a bad habit, it's still much better than what used to happen here. It was only 20 years ago when these gentle giants were slaughtered and sold. If we ask the locals to protect the marine life, we should probably support other ways for them to make a living. The sooner the locals figure out that they can benefit from the well being of marine animals, the sooner they will be motivated to protect them. I hope one day this will include an end to whale shark feeding!

 

Sumilon Island 

Sumilon Island is about 30 minutes away from Oslob. It's a great diving destination with a beautiful reef and a good place to meet some pelagic marine animals coming in from the deep. We had two dives on both the Eastern and Western sides of the island. The highlights were a huge number and variety of sea anemones and clown fish, as well as large schools of fish that came in from deep water, close to the reef. 

Here I used the Canon 8-15mm fisheye lens – especially for CFWA (Close Focus Wide Angle) shots of abundant corals formation and the colorful anemones. At one point, a Blacktip Reef Shark passed by, but it was too far for our wide-angle lenses.

As we were gearing up for the second dive, we noticed a huge dark blotch coming towards us in the water. We began guessing what it is – a whale shark? A school of mackerel? Upon entering the water, it turned out to be a very large school of jacks that circled us for a few minutes, allowing us to photograph them from every possible angle. 

 Malapascua 

After a nice visit to the waterfalls and the warm natural volcanic lakes of Cebu, we headed up north for a new adventure at the island of Malapascua. We had three objectives in mind: to dive with the magnificent Thresher sharks, to meet the most beautiful fish in the sea – the mandarin fish, and to find the 'holy grail' of the Philippines – the pigmy seahorse!

When traveling from Negros to Malapascua, dedicate a full day for the trip. This includes a drive up to Dumaguete pier, a ferry ride to Cebu, and crossing the island from south to north. This is followed by another ferry to the small island Malapascua. Trust me, it’s worth it! For my group of divers, this was, by far, the best part of the trip.

Thresher Sharks at Monad Shoal

After checking into the dive center, we setup our equipment and prepared ourselves for an early morning wake-up. At 04:45 am, a group of half-awake divers gathered for a short briefing, followed by an hour-long boat ride out to Monad Shoal to watch the sunrise from below the surface. The reason for such an early wake up (and there should be a good one when you’re on holiday!) was to make it on time to meet the rare thresher sharks that often visit Monad Shoal around sunrise.

Monad Shoal is an underwater mountain rising to about 26 meters (85 feet) at its summit. It’s best to dive here with Nitrox to allow for a longer bottom time and a higher chance of meeting the sharks. We were very lucky and were visited by two sharks coming up to a cleaning station, with a third one swimming at a distance not far behind! 

This is one hell of a photographic challenge. Strobes are not permitted when shooting the sharks. Considering the depth and lack of ambient light at this early time of the day, it is quite dark. Based on this, I chose to shoot only videos on this dive.

Gato Island

After successfully meeting our main goal for the day, we boarded for two dives at Gato island. It turned out to be one of the best dive sites we’ve visited so far!  During the dives we spotted frog fish, seahorses, white tip reef sharks, a very shy cat shark, loads of crabs, shrimps, nudibranchs and moray eels – all of which was spread over a beautiful and colorful reef complete with a cavern that allows a swim through from one side of the island to the other!

The Search for Pygmy Seahorses

The next goal was to find a Pigmy Seahorse. Following advice we got from the Evolution dive center, we headed out for a dive at Deep Slope, where we easily found a pigmy seahorse. The seahorse was too small for most of the photographers to get a decent picture of it, except those equipped with a good macro lens and great eyesight!

Gear

To capture a worthy image of the Pigmy Seahorse, you must first have great macro capabilities, meaning a quality macro lens. I used my Sony 90mm macro lens together with the Fantasea AOI UCL-09F +12.5 super macro wet lens for extra magnification. If using a focus light, it’s a good idea to use a red color beam to avoid scaring off the Seahorse.

Angles

There are several angles you can use to shoot the Seahorse. If shooting parallel to the sea fan, you can get a nice side view image. However, if you’re lucky enough to have the sea horse seated towards the edge of the sea fan, you can capture it from an upfront angle.

Finding a Focal Point

To find the seahorse on your screen so you can focus on it, try mentally marking some unique elements next to the seahorse that can be found when looking through the camera screen. If that doesn’t help, focus on the sea fan, shoot, and hope for the best! To increase your chances of having it focused in the frame, it’s best to position yourself as parallel as possible to the sea fan and to use a small aperture, keeping as many elements as possible in focus. 

Upon leaving the seahorse, we also encountered some frogfish, mantis shrimp, and a school of striped eel catfish.

The World’s Most Beautiful Fish

I decided to dedicate the last dive of the trip to the chance of witnessing mandarin fish mate. Every evening, during the very last moments of day light, mandarin fish tend to gather in search of a mating partner. We were determined to be there to see it …

We descended as the sun was setting at the best mandarin site of the island. When we spotted a mandarin fish near a few table corals, we circled around the coral head in anticipation for the show. We used only red light and the fish didn't seem to mind as the courting dance began. For almost an hour, a male mandarin fish and two females were attempting to impress each other in a series of fast movements. At some point, two of these fish began swimming together out of the corals and eventually mated in front of our eyes. It was an amazing sight and all of us divers were screaming in happiness when the much anticipated moment finally arrived! 

Conclusions

Diving in the Cebu area is a wonderful value-for-money experience for advanced photographers who wish to expand and upgrade their photo archives. Marine life and seascapes around this area are diverse, unique, and interesting. There are many opportunities to polish your photography skills in a controlled environment featuring both macro and wide-angle subjects. No doubt I’ll be back in these waters for another photography workshop soon!

Full Article: Frozen Perspectives: Behind the Scenes on Greenland Iceberg Photo Composition and Post-Processing

I recently went on an amazing ice diving trip to dive with icebergs in East Greenland, which I wrote about in this article. If you have not read it yet, I would recommend you start there, and then come back to this article.

It was a unique trip for many reasons, but one that makes it particularly interesting for underwater photography discussions is that I did 17 dives on the same dive site. Sounds boring, right? Well actually, it allowed for a large amount of experimentation and creativity, and provided me with a great opportunity to plan out and then hone my shots until I got exactly what I was looking for. With the unique light conditions, there were also lots of things to think about during post-processing. So let's talk about some of these photos.

Photo from Below

The first thing to keep in mind was that all of my wide-angle photos were taken with the Olympus 8mm F1.8 fisheye lens. A fisheye was the perfect lens to use for this type of subject, as it allowed me to stay close to the iceberg, while also getting a nice perspective of the full size of it. But it also meant with the extra wide field of view that there was much more opportunity for me to get my bubbles in my photos. 

My first photos were exciting, except...they all had this big pesky dark area around the bottom of them.

I guess that's what happens when you take downward or level-facing photos in a low-light environment. "Duh", I thought to myself. I know better than that. Get down low and shoot upwards-facing photos. Easy, right? Well yes, my photos were better, except...they all had this big pesky cloud of bubbles in them! It was cold, I was breathing quickly and I just kept getting bubbles in my photos. I don't have the best examples of this, as I already deleted most of them, but here is one example. 

Big pesky cloud of bubbles: bubbles from exhaling which somehow always manage to end up somewhere really annoying, which precludes you from easily removing them in post-processing.


As I got my breathing under control, I started figuring out how to keep bubbles out of the photos. Sitting at 40 feet of depth, with the bright light of the icehole above, even if I held my breath for a decent amount of time, I was still going to get bubbles. So what I started doing was observing where the divers were, planning on my shot, and then swimming away from where I wanted to shoot up from. After getting my breath under control, I swam to the spot I wanted and held my breath while I composed the photo.

Note: holding your breath while diving should only be done if you are an experienced diver, and only in controlled circumstances. Holding your breath while you ascend towards the surface can cause serious injury, and is done at your own risk. It should never be done by inexperienced divers, or divers with buoyancy issues. 

I used one trick that I have been doing for awhile now to make sure I was maintaining my depth safely, which I would highly recommend. I have an Oceanic Geo as my spare dive computer, so I just strap it around one handle on my housing. Then I can watch my LCD screen and my depth at the same time, allowing me to stay at the right depth safely while composing my shot. (This can also be useful when you need to monitor bottom time or keep away from a depth limit while trying to shoot a moving subject - I got a lot of use from this in the Galapagos.)

So, now I was shooting up from below, and I had the pesky bubbles under control. The next thing I had to do was figure out what position I needed to be in. I really liked getting a photo from the bottom of the iceberg, getting the iceberg going up and into the photo, with the mini-iceberg, both iceholes and all of the "ice interfaces" I could get. I also wanted a couple of divers at different levels of the photo. So, I figured out where I needed to take my photo, got all of my settings down, and waited for other divers to get into position. As they were coming into view, I backed away from my spot, did a couple of big breaths, and then swam in and took my shot (note: those bubbles on the left were from another diver, not me!). 

Using the same technique, I lurked at the bottom a bit away from the icehole, waiting for a diver to enter or exit so I could get their silhouette. And then, as I waited, I saw not one but three divers lining up for the icehole. Awesome! Doing the same thing with my bubbles and swimming, I got myself into position and took another upwards photo I was very happy with.

Lessons About Changing Conditions and Black and White

During the first week of the trip, I took some photos that I was really happy with. Come the second week, I thought that I already had wide angle on this relatively small dive site "under wraps." My reasoning was that I had a bunch of great shots from different angles and perspectives already, and that as the weather was warming up, more melt was occurring and more plankton growing, so the visibility was worsening. On top of that, the broken-up ice surrounding the iceberg that was really cool for photos was melting, leaving more clear water. And the days were overcast rather than sunny. No good, right? This was a textbook example of intermediate photographer overconfidence.

Intermediate photographer overconfidence: when you are a decent enough intermediate photographer that you feel you are past the beginner mindset of always taking as many new photos as you can, but you are not experienced enough to know all of the great photos that can be taken of the available subjects at your dive site. So, after taking a bunch of good shots, you falsely believe that you figured out all of the best angles and perspectives, and get complacent. 

Fortunately, as we had new divers join us for the second week, and I was buddied up with one to help show her around, I decided I might as well switch from macro to wide angle. I mean, I would not have done a good job showing her around if I just hunted around in the kelp next to the iceberg for critters.

As we did a loop of the iceberg, I did some dive modeling for her at first, but then started getting interested in a new opportunity that the changing conditions was bringing about. The melting of ice in the area between the iceberg and the sea ice, although I thought it was all negative, was also letting more light in under the ice. It was also forming smooth patches of open water which actually looked pretty cool.

I started swimming below her and to the outside of her, looking for photo opportunities with the open water. As we came around a corner, I saw one of the professional photographers in the group, Alex, facing upwards taking a photo of the clear water. Immediately I saw my opportunity and swam as hard as I could to separate him from my dive buddy and compose my shot. I knew I would only have a very short window, so I did not fiddle with settings but instead just got things lined up (and this is why it's important to be intermittently testing your settings throughout the dive). I took my photo, and was extremely happy with it! 

During post-processing, I wanted to show off to my girlfriend Lisa (who is a non-photographer). I brought up the photo, so pleased with the lovely blue stripe, the nice blue coloring and the beautiful patch of open water. I asked her what she thought. She said "not bad." In my head, I immediately started looking down on her with my best photographer's hauteur. What? Not bad? No, it's more than not bad. It's amazing! Do you even know anything about photography??

Photographer's hauteur: A false feeling of superiority photographers can get towards non-photographers around photography and, especially, their own work. 

I tried my best to swallow my wounded pride, and asked her why it was only "not bad." She said she thought it could be better as she didn't like all the color. What about black and white? I scoffed in my head, thinking that she could not be more wrong, but clicked the "black and white" button just to see. My jaw dropped. That was exactly what the photo needed to really make it pop.

Fortunately I had not voiced my photographer's hauteur, or else I would have had to engage in a course of boyfriend atonement

Boyfriend atonement: when the boyfriend in a relationship dismisses the girlfriend's opinion without giving it due respect or consideration, and then has to make numerous apologies and backtracks while eating his humble pie. Much more common than the related girlfriend atonement, for some reason.

So why was black and white better than color for this photo? Texture. What I missed but Lisa picked up was that the color of the photo was nice, but the texture was even better. And having all of that blue color in the photo was making things really busy and taking the eye away from the lovely texture. It was too distracting. Once the black and white conversion was done, the texture popped, ultimately making the photo pop even more. 

On the topic of black and white conversion in Lightroom, rather than just putting the saturation down to -100, I used the lightroom option of converting from Adobe Color to Adobe Monochrome. This gave me a more dramatic result than just taking out the saturation. It also gives you options to change how light or dark each individual color channel becomes when converted, which can make for some very cool effects. However, in this case, I liked the default setting so much that I did not change anything.

Lessons on Dive Modeling

After a handful of dives where I was able to get some photos I was really happy with, I had a chat with one of my dive buddies, Kansas, about doing some dive modeling for each other. We planned out a series of shots that I really wanted - him swimming along the iceberg close to the surface, right at the front of the berg where there was a really cool blue mini iceberg. And with him shining a dive light towards me. I am a big fan of a dive light being in the photo.

We finalized our plans and got in the water. He lined up to start his first pass as I turned on my camera. I looked at the settings and realized that I was in "P" mode. I tried to adjust modes, but no matter how hard I tried to turn the "mode" button, it would not turn. Oh no. I had committed a grave camera setting error. And Kansas was getting ready to start with the modeling. My heart was racing as I kept thinking about what a fancy camera doofus I was. The night before I had cleaned my camera housing in the shower and pressed all of the buttons and dials on the camera. I must have changed the mode to "P" and then pressed the mode lock button. But now I had 7mm 3-finger gloves, with my fingers already getting cold, and I was not 100% sure. 

Fancy camera doofus: a photographer who has a fancy underwater camera setup but makes a major novice mistake, leading people to observe "it's a shame that person spent all that money on that underwater camera setup when they can't even do the basics properly."

I knew the dial can be a bit stiff, so I thought that maybe I just couldn't get enough of a grip. And the last time I had this issue, I remembered clicking and unclicking the mode lock button, reefing on the mode dial, and eventually breaking the mode dial off. I did not want a reoccurance of that. If this was in warm water I don't think it would have been an issue, but in this situation I decided I just had to go with "P" mode. The f-stop was sitting at about 1.8 and shutter at 1/160. Not good. I increased the ISO to 400 and at least that gave me an aperature of F/3.5 with the 1/160 exposure. If I had been in manual mode I would have gone down to a 1/100 or 1/80 shutter, which would have bumped my aperture to F/7.1, which would have been ideal. With ISO I knew not to go over 640, as at 800 and above the OM-D E-M1 gets noisy. And 400 was better than 640.

Kansas did his first pass and then started his second pass. I needed him higher, but no matter how much I waved, I could not get his attention. This was because he was being a good dive model, and not looking directly at the camera. During the second pass I got some nice photos, but I still needed him higher. He turned to me after the second pass, at which point I signalled up. He looked at me. Up! He looked at me. I kept pointing up and he kept looking at me. Frustrated with the camera settings and with communication issues, I started waving my arms over my head and pointing up. He saw and pointed up, and then swam higher. Perfect. 

Here is the series of three photos which I was most happy with. But after my girlfriend helped me see the power of black and white, I switched one of the series to black and white, and I really like it as well. Although it does not have any of the blue, the texture is still amazing, and putting it in black and white somehow causes me to imagine what it would look like with color. Sometimes photos that cause you to imagine are better than photos that show you everything. In this case, I like the blue photos a bit better, but not by much.

I then did some modeling for him, pointing my dive light towards him. After the dive, we had a debrief, and he told me that he could not see me signaling him because I was sitting in the dark area under the ice, I had on black gloves and a black drysuit, and I was signalling right in front of my drysuit. So, of course, he had no idea what I wanted. And later in the trip, when he looked over his photos, he told me a lot of them were no good because my dive light was too bright; I had pointed it too close to his camera, and it had washed out some of his photos. 

Key lessons:

  • Always make big signals away from your body, so the other person can distinguish them rather than having them lost in your black drysuit
  • Consider using a dive light to signal if you need your model's attention and they are looking away
  • Point your modeling light a fair bit off from the photographer's camera, unless you have a very low power setting you can use
  • It never hurts to do a quick check of camera settings, battery life and functionality before each and every dive

Kelp in Front of Iceberg

After taking my very exciting second round of wide angle photos, with the nice and clear open water, again I suffered from a case of intermediate photographer overconfidence. Now I've figured out all of the angles, right?

Wrong. On his second dive at the dive site, Franco had me doing some dive modeling. I saw him lying down in kelp that lined the rocks around the iceberg, which was interesting, but I could not really watch him as I was supposed to look forwards and upwards for modeling. I just thought he wanted to get as low as possible to get a nice angle, but when he showed me his photos after the dive, I saw that he was lighting up the kelp along the bottom, with the iceberg above and in the background. D'oh! I totally missed that opportunity.

The next day I decided to try to emulate the photo. I remembered he was just using one strobe, so I tried to do the same thing. Anyway, it was tough enough lying down in the kelp and getting one strobe positioned and adjusted right, especially with all of the particulates in the water. I tried all kinds of shots, but each time I kept shooting with my strobe from the side. Any time I brought it in enough to light up a decent patch of kelp, I got way too much backscatter in the side of my photo. So I had to keep it far away and angled out. So, of course, each time my shot was not particularly great. But I kept trying anyway, for a full dive. Here is the best I came up with. 

I showed my photos to Franco, and he very nicely told me that I needed to use a strobe from above. That would create even lighting on the kelp, and if I put it high enough, would ensure it was far enough away from the particulates to minimize backscatter. Ah-ha!

I went for another dive, experimenting with using one strobe from high above. My first goes were not great, and to give you an idea of the particulates in the water, here is what I started with at one spot I settled into.

After a number of shots resembling this, I realized that although the kelp looked decently lit up, my strobe was too close. I moved it higher and also opened my aperture up, meaning I could get less light from the strobe to have a similar exposure on the kelp. That worked to drastically reduce backscatter, but now the kelp was underexposed.

I upped my strobe power, and just at that moment I saw Kansas swimming by. I waved to him frantically, signalling I wanted him to dive model for a pass of the iceberg. He got my signals and went for a pass. It was all coming together!

I excitedly started taking photos, but realized I still had too much backscatter coming in. 

I hurriedly took a deep breath and lifted off from the kelp, frog-kicking and helicopter-kicking my way to a new "clean" patch of kelp and getting set up just as Kansas turned around for his last pass. I hurriedly composed my photo to have the mini iceberg in full and the icehole on one side of the photo, with the edge of the iceberg on the other, and Kansas part-way along the iceberg, with minimal backscatter. Bingo!

So as I was processing my photos, maybe an hour or so after the black and white discovery with my previous favorite photo, I shared this photo with Lisa as well. I was quite proud of it, and even made a joke - should this one also be made into black and white? Actually, I had already checked that, but the photo wasn't nearly as good without the green of the kelp. This time I was sure I had her beat, that the lovely green and blue would win out.

However, in a repeat of the last tough feedback, she told me the photo was "alright." Again, I was aghast. My photographer's hauteur flared up in righteous indignation. I asked what could possibly be wrong with my ever so lovely photo. The blue of the iceberg. The black diver silhoutte. The lovely green kelp lining the bottom of the photo. The mini iceberg in all its glory. What could it be??

"Too much blue." Oh. Too much blue? "Yeah, it takes away from the green and makes the photo too busy. Can you just get rid of some of the blue?"

My world again shaken, I went into the hue/saturation sliders and took down the blue and aqua values to -60 apiece. There it was. Much better, again. 

What I really like about having less blue and aqua is that it makes the kelp really pop. The texture and much quieter blue in the background supported the kelp, instead of competing with it for attention. Well, call that a lesson learned. Listen to the experts, and also listen to the non-photographers with no emotional attachment to your photos!

Split Shot

On the second week of the trip, each day a bit more open water cleared up between the iceberg and the sea ice. This gave us the opportunity to try for some split shots, though we certainly did not have ideal split shot conditions. We found a spot with enough open water that a good amount of light was reaching the side of the iceberg below the water. We then had to cut some of the sea ice away so that someone could crouch on the ice to take the shot a safe distance away from the overhang of the iceberg, as the last thing you want is to become an iceberg pancake.

Iceberg pancake: seems pretty self-explanatory.

It was a grey, overcast day, and the snow coating the iceberg above-water made for a very bright and reflective topside. The underwater section, although shallow, was quite dark. Adding to the challenges, there was a few-foot-deep layer of fresh water sitting on top of the seawater, and whenever the freshwater/saltwater interface got disturbed, it created a murky haze. And it was cold!

I decided to take my photos from the sea ice, rather than being in the water, as I did not want to be messing around with keeping myself in position as well as the model, and kicking stuff up. Remembering that with a split shot I needed to have a very wide depth of field, I dialed up the aperture to f/18, and tried my best to adjust shutter and ISO so that I could get the underwater section dark but not so dark as to lose details, and the over-water section bright and overexposed, but not so bad that it couldn't be recovered. I also tried shooting HDR brackets (so exposure +/- 2 ev). This turned out to be quite useful, as although I could not composite the photos very well, I at least got some good exposure bracketing to work with later.

One of the professional photographers, Franco, wanted to try some split shots the next day, but was shooting macro. this day. So we agreed that he would dive model for me, and I would take some shots with my fisheye. That way he could see how they turned out, and adjust as needed the next day. Talk about pressure - I really did not want to screw this one up!

When he showed up under the water, I was pretty nervous, but managed to take a bunch of bracketed shots. With the bright white day it was hard to read the LCD, and the viewfinder on my housing started fogging up. Fortunately I had already figured out my settings close enough that the bracketing covered me. Each photo I submerged the whole dome underwater, focused on the iceberg next to Franco, and then raised the dome half out of the water and took the shot. I did this to make sure the underwater was in focus, while also ensuring there were no pesky droplets of water sitting on the dome.

The best photo I got out of a series of close to 100 photos (including bracketing, meaning I took about 30 shots) was this one. 

Yes, I know what you're thinking, but fortunately Franco taught me about this very useful gradient filter tool in lightroom, and I was already familiar with using the dust and scratches filter selectively in photoshop. Using those tools it took me about 15 minutes to turn the photo into something more usable.

Here's an instructional video I put together explaining how to adjust levels in Lightroom, use the Lightroom gradient filter to bring in above-water iceberg detail, and then use Photoshop to selectively apply the dust and scratches filter to remove the particulates from the dark water.


Instructional video on how to fix split shot by selectively darkening iceberg above-water, and then removing particulates/backscatter below water.

Where are the Strobes?

You'll notice that in most of my photos, I did not use strobes. With any of the shots taken from a distance, strobes would only have created backscatter and lit up passing jellyfish. But with the ones I was shooting where I was close to the iceberg, I certainly could have used strobes.

I would love to say that not using strobes in those shots was all about me making some complex artistic decisions, but for a number of those shots this was not the case. The first few photos I took from below were done as I was still getting fully comfortable under the ice. Between locking in my buoyancy, monitoring depth to keep bubbles out of the photo, getting used to the cold water, dealing with regulator issues and so on, I decided to leave my strobes up top. This allowed me to have a simpler rig with less risk of getting tangled, but more importantly it decreased my task loading.

Let's talk a bit about that, because it's a very important concept. In my past life I investigated industrial incidents, and learned about the effects of task loading with respect to causing accidents. I also experienced it myself firsthand, on my previous summer trip to Greenland (when I was much less experienced). The first dive of the trip, I went in with a full camera rig, and as I was still getting used to diving in -1 C/30 F water for the first time in my life, I started turning on my camera, positioning my strobes and adjusting things. I lost track of my depth and popped to the surface. I was not that deep, but still, not something that you want to happen. 

It's not just the task loading of turning on the strobes and getting them set. Even more so, it's taking test shots and adjusting them to get the right lighting for each photo. Combine that with adjusting exposure in the camera based on light conditions, keeping bubbles out of my shots, and the very high base task loading of ice diving in the first place, and there was just too much. Making it worse, dive times were often pretty short, in the 25-45 minute range, and I needed enough overlap with other divers to be able to compose my shots based on where they were swimming.

The point is, with everything going on down there, using strobes would have significantly reduced my ability to just take nice ambient-light photos. Especially when you consider that most of my photo composition depended on me lining photos up based on where the other divers were swimming, not on any pre-arranged modeling. I needed to be quick and nimble and to be able to take photos quickly, without having the re-take them to get my strobes right. It also let me shoot in aperture priority mode, so I could react to the moments with good compositions as they showed up, without having to take multiple photos to adjust manual settings with changing light conditions.

Overall, I was quite fine with losing out on the strobes in favor of higher quality ambient photos. My belief is that it paid off, allowing me to get better overall photos, while being more comfortable (and thus safer). Here's one of my favourite photos from the trip, which I only had a few seconds to line up, and no time to mess with strobes.

Other Lighting Considerations Under the Ice

Lighting under the ice is a bit different to work with. In general it is quite a bit darker than you would expect, with some key points that are quite bright (ie icehole, ice interfaces). So, you have to work hard to maintain the right balance between not blowing out the bright spots, but not underexposing too badly the darker areas. As mentioned above, I did my non-strobe shooting in aperture priority mode, adjusted to -0.3 or -0.7 exposure compensation, to keep my shutter speed high enough and not blow out the whites of the bright areas too badly. So my photos were overall a bit dark, but I could lighten them up fairly easily in Lightroom by bumping up the shadows, without losing the details of the ice interface or icehole.

Some people on the trip used strobes to light the iceberg, and when I was there in the summer of 2015 I did the same thing. My experience with using strobes on icebergs was that it really depended on the type of ice. White ice is white and dimpled like a golf ball, while blue ice is more clear and forms really neat structures. I had the pleasure of diving on some blue icebergs in the summer, and they were spectacular. But for lighting, I had a very hard time lighting up the blue ice because it just seemed to absorb a lot of the light. This iceberg had some blue stripes, but was mostly white ice. My experience with white ice was that it was pretty easy to light up, but as it is quite reflective, it was also fairly easy to blow it out. 

As all of the light coming down into the water goes through ice or snow on its way there, along with making it dark, I found this made everything look quite blue. My camera auto white balance worked fine for bringing out the blue colors, but trying to custom white balance for something white like the iceberg or a white tank looked very off. 

One thing I wish I had done more from the beginning was to increase my ISO. With the E-M1 I have found ISO 400 looks fine, ISO 640 is still pretty good, but ISO 800+ is where I start to notice a drop in quality. Shooting higher ISO would have allowed me to get sharper images, by bumping up the shutter speed a bit (I was shooting borderline at 1/50 and 1/60 sec a lot) and increasing the f-stop to increase my depth of field. 

Conclusion

I learned a few very important lessons on this trip, which I will hopefully commit to memory going forward.

  1. Control your bubbles and learn to plan shots so you can exclude them from the photo
  2. Park your intermediate photographer overconfidence and try to approach every shoot and every dive site as a learner. Take chances, try new things, and always be thinking about new angles and perspectives. Don't get complacent!
  3. Park your photographer's hauteur and seek out a non-photographer for their opinion of your photos. Or, at least get someone who is not emotionally attached to them the way you are. This can hurt, because you care about your photos a lot. But it is also the best feedback you can get, and will greatly improve your photography. So take a deep breath, take a good dose of vulnerability, and go ask for another opinion, even if you're scared!
  4. Even if you don't think black and white fits, try it out with some of your photos just in case. You never know when it might add that extra "oomph" that you didn't know was missing.
  5. Experiment with your strobe positioning and camera positioning. Don't get stuck in one paradigm, like "strobes must come from the side of the photo for wide angle." Think about where they would best work to light your subject evenly and minimize backscatter.
  6. Don't be afraid to switch from 2 strobes down to 1 if you are having problems with backscatter in water with high particulates
  7. When unsure, take lots and lots of photos, as you never know which one might work particularly well with some surprisingly powerful post-processing techniques.

Thanks for reading and I hope this gives you some ideas. If you have any comments or questions about composition, post-processing, cold water diving, gear, arctic trip planning or anything else then drop me a line at bryan@uwphotographyguide.com

Also check out Northern Explorers if you want to learn more about the Greenland trips offered, as well as other arctic expeditions.

Gear Links

Shoot me an email (bryan@uwphotographyguide.com) if you plan on trying out any of these items or have any questions about the gear I used. My OM-D E-M1 rig is what I learned underwater photography on and I would love to chat about my experience and what you might be looking for! 

Additional Reading

Full Article: Frozen Perspectives: A story of Greenlandic Ice, Critters, and Ice Diving Lingo

Note: I have provided some key ice-diving definitions for non-ice-divers, in Italics.

Cold and dark were the first two words that came to my mind as I dropped beneath the Tasiilaq Harbor sea ice for my first under-the-ice dive on an iceberg. This quickly turned into the Ice Diver's Litany, on high-speed repeat.

Ice Diver's Litany - It's cold. It's dark. My drysuit with all these undergarments is so restrictive. My hands are cold. My face is cold. Why am I doing this? Why aren't I on a Liveaboard in Raja Ampat, where I could be wearing 5 lbs instead of 35 lbs? Is it just me or is it hard to breathe? Why am I doing this? 

I had done ice diving before, and iceberg diving, but never together. I was breathing hard and dealing with nerves, as it was my first ice dive in over a year. It didn't help that the water was about as cold as it gets; -2 C (~28 F). As I got my bearings sorted out, got my safety rope untangled and took a real look at the iceberg, I realized I had just entered a breathtakingly beautiful world. Or maybe it was just the cold, pressing in from all sides, that was taking my breath away. Probably a bit of both.

What was I Doing?

I was on a two-week April iceberg diving trip in Tasiilaq, East Greenland, run by Sven and Anja of Northern Explorers. This was very remote diving; I got there via an international flight to Reykjavik, a small plane to Kulusuk, and a helicopter to Tasiilaq. The dive site was a short ride by snowmobile from the edge of town out onto the sea ice.

Why dive icebergs in April, instead of the summer? Amazing visibility. I had been on a previous trip in the summer, which was a fantastic experience. However, due to all of the plankton in the water, visibility was not good enough to really take in or photograph the full scale of the icebergs. In April, the surface water is still covered in a layer of sea-ice from the winter, which cuts off most of the light. This, combined with the frigid water temperatures, limits most of the plankton and algae growth. 

The trip itinerary included a mix of dives in the harbor and in a neighboring fjord, but due to poor snow, ice and visibility conditions, the group decided it was not worth leaving the harbor. Instead, I spent the two weeks I was there diving on one iceberg trapped in the sea ice in Tasiilaq harbor, and it sure was amazing.

Trip itinerary: The “ideal plan” for the trip, made months in advance, before seeing the actual ice conditions and iceberg locations, and assuming lovely springtime weather in Greenland. Similar to what you get on a tropical liveaboard trip, except that it’s nearly impossible to stick to. 

Equipment Issues

So, back to my first dive. I was breathing a bit raggedly, was over-weighted and unbalanced, and after a jaunt back to the surface to adjust some of my equipment, about 10 minutes later my regulator started free-flowing and I finished the dive. 

Free-flow: when too much of a good thing turns out to be a bad thing.

I was using a 12L steel tank with two valves, allowing use of two separate 1st stage regulators. On one 1st stage I had my main 2nd stage and pressure transmitter, while on the other 1st stage I had my octo, my BCD inflator, drysuit inflator and backup pressure gauge. That way if one 1st stage went, I could breathe well off the other 1st stage until I could get back to the icehole.

Icehole: a hole cut into the ice to allow people whose survival instincts are seriously compromised to jump into frigid water wearing dive gear. The more prolonged the time spent under the ice, the crazier and more addicted they become, unless they stay under too long and run out of air. 

 

My second dive, I took out some weights and rearranged things for better trim. I tried going on my octo instead of my main reg, as a professional photographer in the group had suggested it based on his experience. The octo lasted for a bit, and I got to start exploring the iceberg. Then it started to free-flow just a little bit. 

Octo: the cheaper 2nd stage regulator that you use for a backup from your more expensive main 2nd stage. Since its cheapness makes it harder to breathe on, it actually works better for ice diving than your main since it is more resistant to free flows.

Then I heard a hissing that sounded like a real free-flow, and found myself going up towards the ice. I realized my low pressure inflator hose for my BCD was frozen open and was making the hissing noise, The hissing was joined by what sounded like a squealing oink. I checked to make sure there were no angry pigs in the vicinity and then figured out that my BCD was fully inflated and releasing excess air through the pressure relief valve, and that was making the noise. I tried dumping and disconnecting my BCD as I bounced against the ice above me, and after a bit of flailing about, the hissing stopped. 

Ice-bouncing: an undesirable condition where air is being continually added to your drysuit or BCD. Before you know it, you find yourself in a cloud of bubbles with your head bouncing against the ice.

I went back to the surface, got the hot water treatment for my octo, and the free-flow stopped.

Hot water treatment: fixing a free-flowing regulator by turning off the air and pouring hot water onto it, before resuming the dive. Sometimes you may find yourself half-hoping the treatment fails so that you can just end your dive and warm up, but half-disappointingly, it always seems to work. 

More Issues

OK. Back we go. I went back into the icehole and around the side of the iceberg, with my regulator beginning to free-flow again. It was not a bad free-flow, so I decided I would stay shallow and within sight of the icehole, and keep going. I even managed to take a few photos. Then the octo got worse, blowing lots of bubbles in my face, so I decided to switch regulators to go back to the surface. As soon as it was out of my mouth it really started free-flowing in earnest, so I booked it back to the hole on my main reg. I had lots of air to spare, but at the rate it was going there was no point in hanging around under the ice. 

By the time I hauled out on the ice, I was cold and exhausted, and that was that for day 1. 

Hauling out on the ice: When an ice diver with frozen hands in an advanced stage of pain or post-pain numbness feebly claws and flops their way onto the edge of the icehole, using any technique their numbed mind can think of to get all their gear and 30+ lbs of weight out of the water. Except in cases of extreme physical strength, this action is always accompanied by assorted gasping, rasping, moaning and grunting noises of varying stridency, and sometimes choice use of expletives.

Day 2, we dove a second dive site that was up against some interesting ice formations. I was hoping to be done with regulator issues, but I never made it more than about 30 seconds under the ice without a free flow. I turned both of my second stages down, switched back and forth between regulators and gave them both the hot water treatment, but to no avail. Then, two fellows on snowmobiles came over and told us that a dogsled race was coming across the ice right next to our dive site. So, we had to move back to the iceberg dive site. Diving on the iceberg, I went on my octo again, and managed the free-flow for as long as I could. I was actually able to get decently comfortable with my buoyancy and trim, and check out the iceberg in closer detail. Once the free-flow got bad enough, I ended the dive.

Problem Fixed!

Day 3, we had a storm and were snowed out, so we had a rest day. Sven suggested I take the hoses off my 1st stages and open all the plugs, to see if there was any water inside. Lo and behold, the 1st stage I was running my octo, BCD and dry suit inflator from had some drops of water in it. A-ha! Found the culprit! I must have gotten some water in there on the first day, probably when switching between tanks, due to valve snow

Valve snow: snow which accumulates in the tank valve, especially for DIN tanks, either from blowing snow, the tank being slung into a snowbank, or from snow kicked up while the tank is on a sled being towed out to the dive site by snowmobile.

Testing the Limits of my Undergarments

Day 4, I got to the iceberg dive site full of optimism. I was the first one to be dropped off, so I went about clearing the icehole of accumulated snow and ice from the last couple of days. I used a shovel to scrape snow away and could see the nice rectangular shape of the icehole. Then, I stepped forward to reach further into the middle of the icehole and had a sinking realization.

Sinking realization: when you step onto a patch of snow and ice that you think is solid, but that turns out to be a thin layer covering a recessed part of the icehole that you forgot about. Before you can even get in a good “uggggh” you find yourself half-submerged in -2 C seawater. You immediately flail your way out of the icehole as ungracefully as possible and lie gasping on the ice thinking “how could this have happened?” over and over again.

After coming to grips with my sinking realization, I realized I had a real gong show on my hands.

Gong show: A situation generally characterized as having gone off-the-rails. In this example, it involved standing on a tarp in the middle of the sea-ice, taking off your boots and all your undergarments, wringing them out as best you can, and then putting them back on so you can still do your diving for the day.

Now that my undergarments were wet, I needed to get them out of the wind, but my drysuit had not arrived on the snowmobile yet. I also could not go back to clearing out the icehole (though my sinking realization had cleared out a good portion of it) as one of my boots was full of water, and I did not want to get my wrung-out socks wet(ter). So I just stood on the tarp in my one dry boot and a semi-wet sock and waited for the snowmobile to return, feeling like a real Grade “A” Genius.

Grade “A” Genius: Someone who did something so inept and downright stupid that you can’t help but be somewhat impressed by what they managed to pull off.

Once everything arrived and I explained my situation, I got into my drysuit and prepared for diving. I was very careful when setting up my regs to remove all valve snow, and even toweled everything off before installing. I got in the water, running on my octo. 

The dive was magic! Well, magic with one foot slightly colder than the other. The octo was solid with no free-flowing, and I made a 33 minute dive without any issues. And I got some great photos, especially once I got my breathing under control and stopped getting big clouds of bubbles in my upwards-facing photos. This is what I came out here for!

While I waited for the second dive, I suffered a strong case of iceblock foot on my wet foot.

Iceblock foot: when your foot feels like a block of ice, but still has just enough feeling that you can very sluggishly wiggle your toes around and feel a bit of pain. Due to the oncoming numbness, walking around feels like what you’d imagine if would feel like to walk around with a block of ice for a foot.

I swapped to a dry sock for the second dive, and it was even better. More comfort, better buoyancy, better breathing, better photos! 45 minutes - more than long enough to thoroughly freeze my fingers. And even more exciting was finishing up for the day, getting back to the house and thawing out my iceblock foot in the shower.

Hunting for Bugs and Jellies

I spent the next couple of dive days focused on macro shooting. First up was going for little amphipods which live in the iceberg, and then cool comb jellies floating around. I had issues with mask fogging, autofocus hunting, my BCD slowly inflating itself, and a leaking wrist seal, but managed to sort everything out and get some fun shots! We also dealt with the worst day of the trip, a very wet mushy day, and then a day with some pretty heavy horizontal snow.

Mushy day: when the temperature is a couple of degrees above freezing, and the weather alternates between giant, wet snowflakes that melt on contact, and big rain drops that get driven at a 45 degree angle by the wind. Soon enough, everything becomes wet and waterlogged, and everyone can't stop smiling about how awesome it is.

Horizontal snow: a wonderful weather condition in which a howling wind blows small, sharp flakes of snow horizontally across the ice, so that you need to cover your eyes if you’re facing into the wind. If you are good at seeing the positives, you will enjoy this more than a mushy day, because although everything gets pelted and covered with snow, things don't get miserably wet in the same way.

There were also lots of really cool nudibranchs in the area, which other people saw while I was hunting around for macro subjects, and which I saw when I was using my wide-angle gear. Of course. So, unfortunately no photos, but you'll have to trust me that they were really cool.

Changing Conditions

The ice was melting and the visibility dropping as we got into the second week. Each day there seemed to be more particulates in the water, a thicker murky layer of freshwater sitting at the surface, and more jellyfish around the iceberg. But with new conditions come new opportunities as well, and the opening up of clear water between the iceberg and the sea ice created new amazing photo opportunities.

We had some new divers join the group, and they got to go through some of the same equipment issues as we had. Now, with lots of free-flow and equipment issue experience under my belt, I dealt with new occurrences without breaking a sweat (and yes, you are right, it is very hard to break a sweat in -1 C water). New free-flows were just a minor nuisance; once a reg started to hiss, I just switched regs for a bit, being sure to face the offending reg down and hold it there until it thawed. A second bout of ice-bouncing was taken with aplomb, though it was hard to get used to that oinking squeal my BCD emits.

One of the new divers was a professional photographer who I got to do some fun dive modeling for (so we now had 2 professionals in the group). He took some phenomenal photos, which gave me some new ideas. And I also had my first experience of tea hands.

Tea hands: a situation wherein your wet gloves become filled with tea and you warm your hands up in said tea. This happens because in your dazed post-dive state you thought the thermos of tea was the thermos of hot water, excitedly poured it into your wet gloves and then shoved your hands in to get them thawed.

With all of the jellyfish, I took a very large amount of photos, trying to get a cool shot of a jelly next to the iceberg. It was more difficult than you would expect, because the particulates made lighting difficult, and any movements in the water near the jellyfish caused them to become misshapen (and who wants a photo of a misshapen jellyfish?). After many hand-numbing attempts, I was finally able to line up a really nice one.

Fun with Kelp

I was talking with both of the professional photographers, and getting lots of great tips. One of them, Franco, took some great photos of the iceberg with kelp in front of it, so I spent a couple of dives trying to line that up. It was tough, as I was having difficulty lighting from the sides in a way that was even and also avoided too much backscatter. Compounding the issue was a creeping visibility problem.

Creeping visibility problem: when you have to lie down in the kelp to take a photo, and doing so stirs up sediment sitting on and under the kelp. What seems to be a barely noticeable current then pushes the sediment forward and, conveniently, into your photo.

I combatted the problem by using my best kelp crawling and kelp hopping techniques.

Kelp crawling: slowly edging yourself forward through the kelp, trying not to touch or disturb anything while staying ahead of the creeping visibility problem.

Kelp hopping: using proper buoyancy techniques with frog and helicopter kicks to lift off of one bed of kelp and move forward into one closer to the iceberg, with minimal sediment disturbance, to begin anew the kelp crawling process in a fresh zone.

Split Shot Experimentation

As we got towards the end of the trip and the surface water cleared up more and more, we decided to take a shot at a split shot. The freshwater layer at the surface made it quite difficult, as any time it got disturbed it made things quite blurry. But I was still able to get something decent.

Challenges

This was a very challenging trip in a number of ways. Here are some of the top challenges for underwater photographers.

  • Cold hands and loss of dexterity - 7mm 3-finger gloves cut down dexterity a lot compared to warm water gear. But they still worked fine with everything on my housing. The problem was when my hands started getting cold, then my dexterity really took a hit, significantly slowing down my ability to make adjustments
  • Remoteness - if something broke or was not working, or if I forgot to bring something, I could not buy my way out of my problem. Instead, improvisation was required (for example, rolled up toilet paper instead of desiccant)
  • Cold drains battery life - I had to open my housing and change my battery after every dive. That was hard when it was snowing. But it made me very thankful for my Nauticam vacuum leak protection system! Keeping my rig in my AO cooler bag at least kept it off the ice and a bit insulated, which I think also helped.
  • Mask fogging - mask fogging seemed worse than normal. A couple of times I defogged and rinsed my mask only to have my mask freeze over with ice. Once in the water the ice melted but I had some fogging issues.
  • Regulator free-flows - I had to get used to dealing with them and swapping regs on the go, even after turning my regs down all the way (so they were harder to breathe). I also dried out each tank valve with my microfiber towel before installing my regs, to be sure I kept water out of my first stages. 
  • BCD inflator getting stuck open - this happened to me twice. I found it safer and better to just use my drysuit for buoyancy control, and have my BCD only as a backup in case of a dry suit flood. This is why Sven tells us not to go too deep - you never know what could happen with gear in really cold conditions.
  • Weather was very unpredictable so I had to get used to adjusting to changing conditions and changing plans
  • We only had a couple of dives per day, and I didn't last longer than about 45 minutes for any one (though our crazy professional photographer Alex did 90 minute dives)
  • Don't expect luxury! The food was great, but that was due to Anja's excellent cooking, not what was available in the grocery store. Lots of frozen veggies, some local meats, and some simple pastas and other things.

Key Tips for Arctic Underwater Photography

I could write a lot about what I have learned through all of my ice diving adventures leading up to this, but that's not the focus of this article. So I will leave you with a couple of key tips.

The most important thing for underwater photography in arctic waters is keeping your hands warm for as long as possible. Here is what I have learned about that:

  • 3-finger 7mm neoprene wet gloves are warmer than dry gloves with liners, and they give you enough dexterity to easily use your housing. This holds true in my own experience, as well as with other experienced divers and with Sven (Alex was using 3-finger wet gloves on his 90 minute dives).
  • You need a really warm undergarment to keep your core temp up, which will help keep your hands warm. For me (and a few others on the trip) the 4th Element Halo was amazing. I use it on top of a layer of 200 g/m2 Merino wool and Xerotherm top and bottom
  • Fill your wet gloves with hot water in between dives and right before you get in the water. Magic
  • Don't get wet gloves which are too tight (or wear too many layers of socks). If your hands (or feet) are getting squeezed by your gear, your body will reduce blood flow to them, making them even colder. 

Another very important topic is weather and travel planning.

  • Especially for any trips in spring, fall and winter, you never know what the weather is going to be like
  • Arctic weather can change week to week, but it also changes year to year. Sven observed very different April weather a few years ago when running trips. Now conditions are less predictable and more likely to change from year to year.
  • Try to avoid making too tight of a travel schedule. Give yourself lots of time for airport transfers in case your flights are delayed, and it's a good idea to have a buffer of a day at the start and a day at the end. Try not to have something important you have to get back to right away, so that if you are delayed you won't miss it.
  • If you really want to get great photos and can afford the time and money, book yourself for two weeks instead of one. All it takes is one storm to knock out a few days of your week-long trip. Two weeks gives you a lot more time to get comfortable in the water, plan your shots and get some nice weather.
  • All of the above might not apply; you may be able to book a very tight travel schedule for one week, get amazing conditions and never have any problems. But you never know!

Conclusion

This was one of the best trips I have ever done. The numerous gear malfunctions and two episodes of ice-bouncing, although not the most fun at the time, are great experience to have under my belt if something really serious does occur underwater. Although I would not have thought I would enjoy doing 17 dives in a row at the same dive site, that is exactly what we did here, and it was awesome. I actually left wanting to do still more. Why? Because it meant that we could take the time to scout and plan out shots, organize things with a dive model, and really explore all kinds of fun angles and perspectives. We could take shots, look at them on the computer and then plan out how to improve the next day. It also allowed time to check out interesting macro life and to take advantage of changing water and light conditions. 

But the most important reason for spending two weeks in a place like Greenland was the highly unpredictable weather conditions. When diving in the arctic, you never know if you are going to have a week of almost perfect weather, a good run of decent days, or a bad stretch of snow and poor weather. I had a total of 9 diving days of mixed conditions and 2 snow days where we didn't leave the house we were staying at. Some people were delayed getting their helicopter ride out of Tasiilaq, but all of my flights and connections went flawlessly. So keep in mind that the only sure thing about weather during an arctic trip is that it will be unpredictable.

Finally, as I left Greenland I got one final reminder of the unspoiled beauty of this place, out the window of the helicopter.

Thanks for reading and I hope this gives you some ideas. If you have any comments or questions about cold water diving, gear, arctic trip planning or anything else then drop me a line at bryan@uwphotographyguide.com. Or even if you are thinking about doing something like this in the future - I would be happy to share my experiences with building up my coldwater skills, choosing the right gear and choosing the right trip.

Also check out Northern Explorers if you want to learn more about the Greenland trips offered, as well as other awesome arctic expeditions.

Composition, Post-Processing and the Stories Behind the Photos

I wrote a follow-up article about some of the thought that went into these photos, as well as many lessons I learned about technique, composition and post-processing. Check it out here: Frozen Perspectives: Behind the Scenes on Greenland Iceberg Photo Composition and Post-Processing.

Gear Links

Shoot me an email (bryan@uwphotographyguide.com) if you plan on trying out any of these items or have any questions about the gear I used. My OM-D E-M1 rig is what I learned underwater photography on and I would love to chat about my experience and what you might be looking for! 

Additional Reading

Full Article: Nikon D850 Review

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

 

Jump to a Section

Key Features  |  Full Specs  |  Overview

Autofocus  |  Autofocus Modes  |  Video Features

Compared to D810  |  Pros and Cons  | Should I upgrade 

Recommended Lenses   |   Dome Port Optics   |   Recommended Housings

Conclusion   |  Additional Images 

Nikon D850 Key Features

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

NIkon D850 Full Specs

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

The Nikon D850 is available now at Bluewater Photo!

Overview

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

Autofocus 

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

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

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

 

 

D850 Autofocus modes 

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

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

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

Focus Stacking

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

Native ISO

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

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

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

Video features

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

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

 

Compared to D810

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

D810

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

D850

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

 

Nikon D850 Pros and Cons

Pros

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

 

Cons

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



 

Should I upgrade?

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

Nikon D850 Lens Recommendations 

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

Macro:

  • Nikon 60mm 2.8G Macro
  • Nikon 105mm 2.8G VR Macro
    • Great for small and shy subjects, giving you more working room than the 60mm and essential for super macro
  • Nauticam Super Macro Converter
    • The nauticam super macro converter (SMC-1) is a wet diopter perfect for taking sharp super macro images. In fact, it is the strongest, sharpest diopter on the market. For the best super macro results, use it with the Nikon 105 mm 2.8G VR lens.

Wide Angle Fisheye:

  • Nikon 8-15mm
    • Get creative with the full circular image, or zoom in for a more standard fisheye lens
  • Tokina 10-17mm
  • Nikon 16mm 2.8 Fisheye
    • Also a great lens, and a popular choice for full-frame
  • Sigma 15mm 2.8 Fisheye
    • Great lens, and a popular choice for full-frame and focuses closer then the Nikon 16mm

Wide Angle Rectilinear

  • Nikon 16-35mm 4.0
    • Great for large animals and extremely sharp lens, but requires a larger dome to get sharp images
  • Nikon 20mm 1.8G
    • Small, compact, sharp, doesn't need as big a dome as the 16-35 mm

Dome port and water contact optics

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

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

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

Underwater Housing Options

 Aquatica D850 Housing


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

Nauticam D850 Housing

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

The Nauticam D850 housing is available now at Bluewater Photo!

Sea & Sea D850 Housing

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

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

Ikelite D850 Housing


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

 

The Ikelite D850 housing is available now at Bluewater Photo!

Conclusion

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

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

Questions?

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


Additional Images

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

 

Sample Wide Angle Images 

Sample Macro Images 

 

 

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

 

Full Article: Sony A7R III Camera Review

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

Jump to a Section

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

Full List of Upgrades   |   Pixel Shift Feature   |   Photographic Performance

Auto Focus   |  Photo Pros and Cons   |   Recommended Photo Settings

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

Recommended Lenses   |   Recommended Housings   |   Conclusions

More Sample Underwater Images

 

Sony A7R III Full Specifications

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

Updated BIONZ X Image Processor

Gapless On-Chip design

Anti-reflective Sensor Coating

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

5-Axis SteadyShot INSIDE Sensor-Shift Stabilization

399 Phase-Detect Auto-focus Points

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

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

3.0" 1.44M-Dot Touchscreen Tilting LCD Monitor

Shoot up to ISO 102,400

Silent Shutter Mode

New Low Vibration Shutter Design

Weather-sealed body to resist dust and moisture

Anti-Flicker function 

Built-In Wi-Fi Connectivity with NFC

Bluetooth connectivity 

Type C USB Port

Resolution: 42.40 Megapixels

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

Viewfinder: EVF / LCD

Dual SD card slots 

No internal flash

Native ISO: 100 - 32,000

Extended ISO: 50 - 102,400

Shutter speed: 1/8000 - 30 seconds

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

Weight: 657g

 

 

The Sony A7R III is available now at Bluewater Photo!

 

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

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

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

Sony A7R III Upgrades from the Sony A7R II 

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

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

Overall Sony A7R III Upgrades:

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

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

Continuous shooting now 10fps instead of 5fps

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

EVF resolution increased from 2.4M to 3.69M

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

Max ISO 32000 instead of 25600

RAW buffer 76 images instead of 23 images

5 axis stabilization rated to 5.5 stops from 4.5 stops

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

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

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

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

Bluetooth support added

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

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

Pixel Shift Feature

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

 

Sony A7R III Underwater Performance

Photographic Performance

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

 

 

Auto focus

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

Pros and Cons

Pros

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

Cons

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

Recommended Settings for Underwater Photography

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

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

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

 

Sony A7R III Video Performance 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Underwater 4K Video Test

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

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

 

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

 

Should I Upgrade…

From a Compact Camera?

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

You do not want to compromise on image or video quality

You are not too price sensitive

You want to shoot video

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

 

From a Mirrorless Camera?

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

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

You don’t like using DSLR viewfinders underwater

You want a little more AF speed

You want to focus on shooting more video

 

From a DSLR?

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

You’re tired of looking through a viewfinder underwater

You want to shoot nice, professional 4K video

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

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

 

Best Lenses for Underwater Use

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

 

Wide-Angle Lenses

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

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

 

 

Mid-Range Lenses

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

 

Macro Lenses

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

Canon Lenses

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

 

Lenses for Underwater Video

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

 

Underwater Housings for the Sony A7R III

 

Does it fit the A7R II Housings?

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

 

Nauticam A7R III Housing

In Stock -  $2,850

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

Order Now!

 

In Stock - 1,695

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

Order Now!

 

Acquapazza A7R III Underwater Housing

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

 

Aquatica A7R III and Sea & Sea A7R III Housing

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

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

Conclusion

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

More Sample Underwater Images

Macro Underwater Images

Wide-Angle Underwater Images

Full Article: Guide to GoPro Filters for Underwater Video

*Quick Hero6 filter Note:  The GoPro HERO6 does not require a colored filter to correct the colors when used underwater. The improved Auto White Balance, and the addition of Global Tone Mapping on the Hero6 eliminates the need for a colored filter. Please read our full GoPro Hero6 Review and see our GoPro Hero6 Auto White Balance test video for more details. 

Underwater Video has been changing quickly. Divers want to share their underwater adventures on social media platforms and there no easier way to capture your moment than with a GoPro camera. The GoPro is a serious player due to its small size, great video quality, features for underwater & topside use, low price point, and wide range of accessories. There is a growing number of videographers building amazing portfolios with nothing but GoPro cameras. 

There are many different filters available for the GoPro HERO5, Hero4Hero 3+ and 3 that increase the camera’s versatility, allowing for more creative shots on land and underwater. Polar Pro makes an excellent range of glass filters for the HERO5 / Hero4 / Hero 3+ that we've used for the guide below. The filters snap onto the GoPro securely and easily, and the glass makes them very scratch resistant with higher optical properties than plastic. The range of filters includes:

 

  • Red Filter:  Used in blue water

  • Magenta Filter:  Used in green water

  • Macro Filter:  Used to shoot small subjects

  • Switchblade 5 Filter:  Flip between red filter for wide-angle and macro lens for small subjects

  • Polarizing Filter:  Used topside to control reflected light

  • Neutral Density Filter:  Used topside to slow the shutter speed

 

When to Use a GoPro Filter

GoPro filters are used in 10-80 feet of water to help bring out the correct colors in your underwater video. GoPro filters are used to bring red color back into your underwater video, making that washed out blue or green footage pop with more accurate colors.Technically, the filter reintroduces the red color spectrum back into the picture, allowing the camera to select a more accurate white balance.The alternative to filters is to use video lights, which also bring vibrant color back into the picture, however their range is only a few feet (1m). Filters and lights should not be used at the same time, as the picture will look very red!

Even though the GoPro HERO5 and GoPro HERO6 is waterproof down to 33 feet, we recommend using the Super Suit Dive Housing for freediving and scuba diving. The super suit requires filter kits built to the size of the HERO5 and HERO6.  You cannot use the GoPro Hero4 and Hero3 filters on the super suit. They are too small and will not fit. If you are using the HERO5 without the super suit, then filters from the Hero 4 and 3+ should fit. Want to learn more?

View all of our GoPro Tutorials and Articles.

 

Red Filter

Red filters compensate for the lack of red light in underwater scenes (since red is the first color to be lost when descending in water). This shift in available light will often confuse the camera's white balance metering, so the red filter helps deliver accurate, vibrant color in your video, as well as much-needed contrast. A red filter is designed to be used in tropical and blue water, optimized for use between 10 and 80 feet.

Best Use:  Ambient light (no video lights).  Blue water.

More Info & Purchase:

 

 

Magenta Filter

Magenta filters also compensate for the lack of red light but are optimized for green water between 10 and 80 feet. Not only do the filters bring color back into the scene, but they also help bring back the contrast needed for interesting video.

Best Use:  Ambient light (no video lights).  Green water.

More Info & Purchase: 

 

Macro Filter

Polar Pro’s macro filter provides 2.2x magnification for capturing video & photos of small subjects from a close distance. The GoPro has a minimum focus distance of 12 inches (you must be 12” or further from your subject for sharp images). This macro filter has a focus range of 2-18 inches, which allows you to move the camera closer to the small subject to fill the frame with more detail.

Best Use 1:  Shoot macro in combination with the Red filter (check out the Switchblade 5). No video lights are needed since the red filter brings the reds back into the scene.  Or flip up the red filter and use only the macro filter with video lights.  Or use just the red filter without the macro lens. The Switchblade is an ideal GoPro filter setup since you're prepared for anything.

Best Use 2:  With video lights, add the macro filter to capture small details – just make sure the light isn’t too strong, which will overexpose the scene.

Best Use 3:  Use it for macro shots topside!

More Info & Purchase:

*Note: The narrow view setting (used in macro) on the GoPro HERO6 can only be changed while it is outside the Super Suit housing. If you wish to shoot macro with the HERO6 then you need to slide the touch screen slider to narrow before the dive, place the camera in the housing, and then leave the camera running without making any changes the whole dive. We are hoping that a future firmware update will be made to fix this problem.  

 

Switchblade 5 Filter & Flip5 Pro package

* Highly Recommended for Underwater Video *

*GoPro HERO6 does not need a red filter to correct colors *

Polar Pro’s Switchblade filter combines their two most popular filters (red and macro) AND allows you to use them at the same time. As discussed above, red will correct the white balance of your shots while the macro filter will allow you to shoot subjects within 12 inches and help to fill the frame with the subject. With the Switchblade you can use red and macro at the same time!

Best Use 1:  Shooting macro subjects without a video light (red filter flipped down).

Best Use 2:  Shooting macro subjects with video lights (red filter flipped up).

Best Use 3:  Red filter only for wide-angle shooting without video lights.

The Flip5 Pro package includes 3 red filters for shallow, moderate and deep depths, plus a macro lens, and is recommended for more serious underwater video.

More Info & Purchase:

 

Polarizing Filter

Polarizing filters are a must in any landscape photographer’s bag, so it’s natural that you should have one for using the HERO6 topside during dive trips. The filter reduces glare (on the water, leaves, rocks, etc) and brings a bit of saturation and contrast into bright scenes (like sky and clouds). When out on location, you can hold this filter up to your eye to preview its effect and determine whether you’ll use it.

Best Use: Topside photo and video on sunny days.

More Info & Purchase: 

 

Neutral Density Filter

Neutral density (ND) filters are meant for topside use and are critical for certain video/photo situations. ND filters block light, making slower shutter speeds possible. The GoPro HERO6 uses a fast shutter speed by default, which freezes action very well. There are times, however, when some blur creates a sense of movement and enhances the action in the frame. The ND filter can be used to achieve this. Examples include moving pavement while driving and waves splashing against rocks.

ND filters are also very useful for timelapses, where slow shutter speeds (aka “dragging the shutter”) create slight blur, resulting in a smoother timelapse. Lastly, ND filters are very popular with drone operators, since they help reduce rolling shutter wobble.

Best Use 1:  Video & photos where frames need to be blurred to show speed or the passage of time.

Best Use 2:  Smooth video, especially for GoPro timelapses or when mounted on vibrating surfaces like a drone.

 

The Polar Pro filters provide many creative options for your GoPro HERO6 (as well as the HERO5, Hero4, Hero 3+ and 3) underwater as well as topside. They will make all the difference in your underwater video and open creative possibilities for many unique shots.

See product details for GoPro Filters for Underwater Video at Bluewater Photo: HERO6, HERO 5, Hero4, Hero 3+.

 

When to use a Video Light

We do not recommend using filters and video light at the same time. Your video will result in a pinkish hue and will not look natural. We do recommend video light without a filter.  Adding the white light from a video light replaces all the lost wavelengths of colors missing at depths underwater and will help bring out the best possible colors for your underwater videos. Adding 1 or 2 video lights will be the best way for you to get the natural colors and will result in the best chances to achieving a social media worthy video to post.

Video Lights come in different strengths. Underwater video lights are often powerful, even, and durable. They will look more powerful above water, but in most cases, underwater the light will fade in about 5 to 6 feet. The blue ambient light will quickly overpower the beam of white light from your video lights. After 6 or 7 feet, you will want to go back to your red filter when using a GoPro HERO5 or less. If you are using a GoPro HERO6, you do not need a red filter.  

Recommended Video Lights (base quality & value):

 

GoPro Filters Video Demonstration

 

 

View all of our GoPro Tutorials and Articles.

 

GoPro Camera Reviews

 

GoPro Tutorials

Full Article: Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II Review

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

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

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

Jump to a Section

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

 


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


Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mk II Specifications

Key Upgrades from OM-D E-M1

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

Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II Complete specs

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

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

Body and Build

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

EVF & LCD

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

Controls

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

Photography Features

Sensor and Photo Quality

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

Image Stabilization

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

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

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

Burst Mode Shooting and Pro Capture Mode

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

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

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

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

Hi-res Mode

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

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

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

ISO Performance

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

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

Flash Sync Speed

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

Autofocus 

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

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

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

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

Battery Life

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

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

Focus Bracketing and Stacking

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

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

Time Lapse Shooting

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


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

Best Lenses for Underwater Use

The Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II features a standard Micro 4/3 lens mount, allowing it to use all Olympus 4/3 lenses, plus those from 3rd parties like Panasonic. Below are our recommendations for fisheye, wide-angle and macro lenses.

Fisheye Lenses

There are two choices for fisheye lenses, ideal for capturing reefscapes, big animals, wrecks, close-focus wide-angle and other large underwater scenes. The new Olympus 8mm Pro fisheye offers the best image quality and lightning fast speed of f/1.8. The Panasonic 8mm fisheye lens has long been our go-to lens, delivering great photos with a full 180 degrees of coverage and widest aperture of f/3.5. Both lenses have a very close focusing distance, you can practically focus on the dome port!

If you are unsure about getting a fisheye lens because of its limited topside use, the good news is that Olympus' latest firmware update for the E-M1 Mark II includes in-body distortion correction for the Olympus Fisheye lens. You can view the effects of the distortion correction in Live View while taking your photos, allowing you to use the fisheye lens as a wide angle lens as well.

Wide-Angle & Versatile Lenses

The E-M1 Mark II has many different wide-angle and mid-range zoom lenses to suit every underwater photographer. For wide-angle shooting, helping capture subjects like whales, sharks and sea lions, the newer Olympus 7-14mm Pro lens and the classic Panasonic 7-14mm are your choices. Similar to the fisheye lenses from these brands, the Olympus will deliver slightly better image quality, but at a higher price. Wide-angle shooters will love the Olympus or Panasonic 7-14mm; choose Olympus for the best possible optic quality. The Olympus 9-18mm lens is a great choice for those on a budget who still want a good wide-angle lens.

Kit lenses are an affordable way to get your camera in the water while also providing mid-range focal lengths ideal for shooting models in a pool. The Olympus 12-50mm is a great choice for ocean shooting, with a nice zoom range as well as built-in macro mode for capturing those small subjects.

The Panasonic 12-35mm F/2.8 lens is popular for underwater videographers, as it is a great focal length for underwater video, and the bright F/2.8 aperture is important for video. The Olympus 12-40mm Pro captures high quality images with an F/2.8 aperture and professional level glass and is another great option for underwater videography.

Macro Lens

The best option for shooting macro with the Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II, is the Olympus 60mm macro lens. This lens delivers sharp 1:1 macro images and can be used with wet diopters outside your port in order to magnify your smallest subjects into great supermacro images. If that lens is too much, or you like shooting slightly larger macro, we recommend the Panasonic 45mm macro. This lens is a bit more money than the 60mm, but offers more flexibility in larger subjects. However, it is not ideal for super macro.

Sample Wide Angle Photos

A member of the UWPG community, Lynn Wu, shared a selection of fantastic wide angle photos taken with the OM-D E-M1 Mark II.

Sample Macro Photos

Videography

4K and Cinema 4K Modes

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

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

Image Stabilization

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


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

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

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

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

Underwater Housings Options

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

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

Nauticam housing

Nauticam Olympus E-M1 Mark II Underwater Housing

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

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

Purchase the Nauticam E-M1 Mark II housing

 

Aquatica housing

Aquatica E-M1 Mark II Underwater Housing

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

Purchase the Aquatica E-M1 Mark II housing

 

Sea & Sea E-M1 Mark II Underwater Housing

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

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


Olympus housing

Olympus PT-EP14 E-M1 Mark II Underwater Housing

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

Purchase the Olympus E-M1 Mark II housing

Ikelite Housing

Ikelite E-M1 Mark II Underwater Housing

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

Purchase the Ikelite E-M1 Mark II housing

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

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

Compared to compact cameras; Sony RX100V / G7X Mark II

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

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

Compared to other Micro Four Thirds

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

  

Panasonic GH5 

Olympus E-M1 Mark II 

Olympus E-M1

Olympus E-M5 Mark II 

Price 

$1,999

$1,999

$1,299

$1,099

Max Resolution 

5184 x 3888

5184 x 3888

4608 x 3456

4608 x 3456

Effective Pixels 

20 MP

20 MP

16 MP

16 MP

DXOMark Sensor Rating 

77

80

73

73

ISO 

Auto, 200-25600 (Expands to 100)

Auto, 200-25600

(Expands to 64)

Auto, 200-25600

(Expands to 100)

Auto, 200-25600

(Expands to 100)

Custom White Balance 

Yes (4 Slots)

Yes (4 Slots)

Yes (4 Slots)

Yes (4 slots)

Image Stabilization 

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

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

5 Axis, up to 4 stops

5 Axis, up to 5 stops shake reduction

Autofocus 

Contrast Detection, 225 pts

Contrast & Phase Detection, 121 pts

Contrast & Phase Detection, 81 pts

Contrast Detection, 81 pts

Flash Sync Speed 

1/250

1/250

1/320

1/250

Burst Shooting 

12 fps

60 fps electronic / 15 fps mechanical

10 fps

10 fps/5 fps

Hi Res Shot Mode 

No

50 MP

No

40 MP

Video Formats 

MPEG-4, AVCHD, H.264

MPEG-4, H.264, Motion JPEG

H.264, Motion JPEG

MPEG-4, H.264, Motion JPEG

LCD Screen Size 

3.2” fully articulated

3” fully articulated

3” Tilting

3” fully articulated

Screen Dots 

1,620,000

1,037,000

1,037,000

1,037,000

Touch Screen 

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Electronic Viewfinder Coverage 

100%

100%

100%

100%

EVF Magnification 

0.76x

0.74x

0.74x

0.74x

Viewfinder Resolution 

3,680,000

2,360,000

2,360,000

2,360,000

Storage Types 

Dual SD/SDHC/SDXC

Dual SD/SDHC/SDXC

Single SD/SDHC/SDXC

Single SD/SDHC/SDXC

Environmentally Sealed 

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Battery Life 

410

440

350

310

Weight 

725 g (1.60 lb / 25.57 oz)

574 g (1.27 lb / 20.25 oz)

497 g (1.10 lb / 17.53 oz)

469 g (1.03 lb / 16.54 oz)

Dimensions 

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

Conside the Panasonic Lumix GH5 if:

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

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

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

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

Compared to the Sony A7RIII

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

Conclusion

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

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

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

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

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

Full Article: Beginner's Guide to GoPro for Underwater Video

GoPro video cameras have become incredibly popular with divers over the last couple years, set up in a variety of ways to capture fleeting moments underwater. Pole cams, selfie poles, housing mounts, handles, trigger grips, dome ports, tray/arm setups, mask mounts, spear gun mounts and all sorts of other accessories are allowing divers to capture their underwater visions and share them online.

Let’s take a look at the basic functions of the GoPro Hero cameras and how to capture beautiful underwater video. 

Note:  I've revised this article for the HERO6 Black, but it still applies to all GoPro models 3 and above.

Read our GoPro HERO6 Review or view all of our GoPro Tutorials & Articles.

 

How do I Start Shooting Underwater Video?


Preparing the Camera

 You can shoot video with your GoPro almost right out of the box. Step one is to charge the battery. This is done by inserting the battery into the camera and then connecting the camera to a USB plug via the supplied cable. You can also buy a GoPro dual battery charger for a more convenient method of charging batteries.

 

Batteries

You should use a fully charged battery for every dive. You can plug the USB cord in between dives. Or it’s easier to purchase spare batteries, and swap out a full battery after each dive. You can probably stretch out one battery over 2 dives, but it's not worth worrying if the battery is going to die. Having a battery die on you underwater and missing out on a video of a lifetime is not worth trying to stretch out the life of a battery. With a fully charged battery, you can keep the screen at 100% brightness and set the "Auto Off" to "Never," and the "Screensaver" to "Never." This way the LCD screen will always be on and you can see what you are shooting. If you do not set this to Never, the default setting is 1 minute. After 1 minute, your GoPro LCD screen will go black and you will not be able to see what you are shooting.

 

Charge your batteries the night before your dive and make sure you create a system of where the fully charged battery and the used battery is located so you do not mistakenly put in the used battery between dives. It's always a good habit to power up your GoPro and check the battery before each dive.

 

What Micro SD memory card should I use?

Not all Micro SD cards will work in your GoPro, and every GoPro model is a little different. I have tried the wrong memory card before on dives and the camera will lock up in "saving mode." You don't want this to happen in the middle of your dive when there is absolutely nothing you can do about it. Check this link for the official Micro SD card recommendation for the version of your GoPro.

https://gopro.com/help/articles/Block/microSD-Card-Considerations

The higher your resolution and frame rate, the faster your memory card will fill up. I recommend at least a 32gb to 64gb memory card. Anything less will fill up fast. You should be able to make 3 or 4 dives on one memory card.  If you are on longer dive trips with several days of diving, I recommend downloading your files each day to a laptop or external hard drive.

 

Download latest GoPro firmware.

While your battery is charging on your new GoPro, take this time to download the GoPro App on your portable device. The app has a lot of great functions you will find very useful. The app connects your device with your GoPro and allows your GoPro to update the latest firmware.  Updating to the latest firmware will insure your GoPro camera is running at its peak potential.

 

Underwater Dive Housing

The Hero5 and Hero6 are waterproof up to 33ft. Anything past 33ft, you will need a dive housing. If you are using the GoPro Super Suit dive housing, you will need to remove the lens cover before putting the camera inside. The lens cover can be removed by twisting it to the left.  There are 3rd party dive housing where the removal of the lens cap is not needed.

GoPro Hero4 or Hero3 are not waterproof at all. You will need a dive housing to protect your camera from any source of water.

I recommend keeping your camera in a dive housing whenever possible to protect your GoPro from accidents that can easily happen on a dive boat.  

Also pay special attention to the white rubber O-ring on the back cover of the housing. Make sure it is free of hair, lint, dust, sand, or any other debris. A clean O-ring will prevent the chance of water leaking inside and flooding your camera. 

 

Start Recording Underwater Video

To turn on the GoPro Hero5 or Hero6 camera, hold the side mode button down for 2 seconds and release. Push the top button to start recording. Push the top button again to stop the recording. Small red LED lights will flash on front and back of the housing while actively recording video.

 

 

What Video Resolution do I use?

If you are just starting off and don't want to get into intense editing, stick with the default settings of 1080 resolution, 60 frames per second (fps), and Wide field of view. 1080 resolution is what you see on your TV at home and is also referred to as HD. The actual resolution is 1920x1080. 1080 resolution is easier to edit, and is also what you want to post on social media networks to share with your friends and followers.  

If you want to explore higher resolutions, I would recommend 2.7k or 4k. Keep in mind that 4K is difficult to edit. Higher resolutions like 4k require a powerful computer and powerful graphics card to review and edit. The file size can be 4-8x greater (depending on your frame rate) than shooting 1080. There are not many social media platforms where you can share 4K video. If you have no use for 4k, I would recommend staying at 1080 resolution. You can post your 1080 file on social media for your friends and followers.

 

What Frames Per Second should I use?

Frames Per Second (FPS) is the number of frames (pictures) the camera will be creating during every second of video. The more frames that are being shown per second, the smoother the video will be. Hollywood sometimes uses 24 fps in TV and Film to create a more cinematic and dramatic look. This does not work well in the underwater world. Higher frame rates produce better results.

60 frames per second (FPS) is what you should be using underwater.  30 fps is too slow and will result in a more blurred movement. 60 fps is the sweet spot. You can also slow 60 fps down in your editing process and get a slow-motion look.

You can experiment with higher frame rates like 120 and 240. This fps rate is best used in fast action events like a great white eating a tuna head off the side of a boat. Or it is nice to use when filming someone jumping into the water and seeing the splash in slow motion. When you slow down the playback in your post editing software, it creates a nice slow-motion video. Keep in mind that these higher frame rates also mean larger file sizes. This could really fill up your memory card, and could be difficult to play back on your computer. Most of the time anything over 60 fps is an overkill setting for underwater use.

 

Best GoPro Settings for Underwater

If you want to keep things simple I would start off using these settings.

Resolution 1080, 60fps, wide

Auto Exposure, Auto White Balance, Auto Shutter, Set your ISO to 400, Sharpness to High, Color to GoPro.  Turn Screensaver and Auto Off to Never.

If you want more control over color correction in post-production editing software, experiment with the ProTune options. Change the color to "Flat." This will give you more of a raw file that you can adjust in a more complex editing process. 

 

HERO5:  Be sure to check out our GoPro HERO5 Review and Best Settings for Underwater.

Hero4:  Be sure to read our GoPro HERO4 Review and Settings.

 

GoPro Studio for Underwater Video

Tutorial:  Editing underwater video with GoPro Studio 2.0.

 

When do I use a Red or Magenta Filter?

Note: No filters are needed on the GoPro Hero6 Black

Filters are used in underwater video to bring red light back into the picture, providing more color and contrast for the scene. Red filters bring the red color back into blue water while magenta filters are for green water. You can even use different filters at different depths, we recommend the Flip5 filter pro pack.

We do not recommend using filters with underwater lights or in shallow water with plenty of natural sunlight.  Your video will result in a pinkish tone and will not look natural.

To learn the specifics of using filters on the GoPro HERO5, HERO4, Hero 3+ and Hero 3, check out:

Guide to GoPro Underwater Filters

Video:  When to Use GoPro Filters Underwater

 

Should I use video lights?

Video lights are highly recommended when creating underwater videos. The white light from a video light adds missing wavelengths of light that are absorbed in the depths of the water. This will bring out the best possible colors and contrasts in underwater environments. Any light is better than no light. With a wide range of options and costs for underwater lights, the choice can be overwhelming. Use what you can and practice as much as possible.

Underwater lights are good up to about 5 or 6 feet away, depending on the number of Lumens of the light and the visibility of the water. The higher the Lumens on the light, the better. After 5 or 6 feet, the light is absorbed by the water and is overpowered by the blue ambient light that exists underwater. Subjects closer to your lights will have better results than those further away. The direction you point your lights will result in different outcomes (e.g., more or less shadow, softer or harder light, etc.). Experiment around with different angles, adjustments, and power settings until you create your own look and style.  

 

Learn more about lights for underwater video.

View more GoPro Underwater Mounts.

 

How do I Create a Time-lapse for my Dive Video?

Time-Lapse video is really simple with the GoPro Hero4, Hero5, and Hero6. There is a time-lapse setting. Push the mode button to time-lapse or navigate on the LCD touch screen to time-lapse options and select video. You will have an option for how often you want your GoPro to take a shot for the video. The options are in seconds and include .5, 1, 2, 5, 10, 30, and 60 seconds. The faster your scene is moving, the lower the number you want to use. The slower your scene is moving the higher the number you want to use. For example, use a .5s interval for a packing timelapse but a 5 or 10s interval for a sunset with moving clouds. I would recommend staying closer to a lower number on the seconds interval. It's better to have more frames and not need them. You can always speed up the video in editing software if the results are too slow.

Keep in mind that your camera needs to be very steady for a long period of time. Make sure your GoPro is secured tightly and is in a place where nothing can move or bump into your camera.

 

Quick Shooting Tips

1)  Wipe the lens cover on the GoPro and the lens inside the dive housing before every use to make sure no smears, dirt, lint or anything else is on the lens. Even a quick finger touch with sunscreen on your hand will leave a smear on your lens and ruin all of your shots. I wish someone had told me that when I started underwater video. Carry a dedicated small clean towel to clean the lens, and maybe even a can of compressed air is nice to have to blow out any unwanted debris like a small cotton fiber from a towel.  

2)   We all love macro, however your GoPro will only deliver a sharp image if 12 inches or further from the subject. To get closer, check out the PolarPro Macro & Red Switchblade Filter.

3)   Try to hold the camera as steady as possible. Sharp movement, shaking and vibration in your video will make even hearty sailors seasick. Make sure to be slow and smooth when panning the camera.

4) Swap out a fully charged battery before every dive so you won't have to worry about your GoPro dying in the middle of your dive.

5) Use the GoPro App to easily change your camera settings, control your camera, download latest firmware, and instantly review your video shots!

6)  Keep your GoPro at the same temperature as the outside. Bringing a cold GoPro from an air-conditioned hotel room or dive boat to the warm humid outdoors will fog up your dive housing. Keep moister out of your dive housing too. One small drop of water will heat up in your housing and cause it to fog up. 

7)   If you’re not using a tray and handles, make sure your knuckle isn’t visible in the image! Yes, I know this from personal experience.

Want more tips? Read our 3 Tips for GoPro Underwater Video.

 

What’s Next?

All photographers and videographers develop their own personal styles over time. These will lead divers to some of the best underwater photo destinations while also requiring different accessories. Bluewater Photo has listed some of these GoPro underwater video accessories to help you take it to the next level, and check out their amazing holiday specials on video lights.

 

Most of all, stay aware while diving and have fun!

 

 

Manatees at Crystal River by Brent Durand. Filmed with GoPro Hero 3

 

Underwater Videos with the GoPro HERO4 Silver

Anilao, Philippines

 

La Paz, Mexico

 

View all of our GoPro Tutorials & Articles.

 

GoPro Camera Reviews

 

GoPro Tutorials

 

Full Article: A Photographer's Journey with the Sony RX100 V

A Note From the Editor

The Sony RX100 V has established itself as one of the best compact camera systems currently on the market. Its excellent dynamic range, auto-focus, and overall image quality makes it a promising tool when put into the right hands. After reaching out to our dedicated readers and customers, we managed to find an individual who's hands certainly put this camera to good use. Jin Woo Lee, a college student from Florida, astounded us with the results he has managed to obtain from his first underwater camera - the RX100 V. In this article he talks about his journey to becoming the photographer he is today and his mindset through the learning process. - Nirupam Nigam (Managing Editor)

Check out our full review of the Sony RX100 V here!

The Journey Begins

My dream to become a marine biologist began with childhood trips to the aquarium in the heart of Seoul, Korea. My parents were very supportive of my passion, and bought me a fish tank while in elementary school where I would watch clownfish, blue tangs, blennies, etc., - an ocean in our living room. By middle school, I got my scuba diving certification in South Korea in the cold, 50 °F (10 °C) water.

My first significant dive experience was in Key Largo, Florida, at the start of college. All I could say was “wow!” Afterwards I made the decision to go to Jardines de la Reina, or the Gardens of the Queen, in Cuba rather than going back to Korea for spring break – the greatest decision of my life. I had not seen so many sharks underwater before. Not to mention a crocodile!  After a subsequent trip to Komodo National Park in Indonesia, I realized the GoPro’s limitations for capturing macro life and began to think about getting an underwater camera. 

Choosing the Right Camera

I spent a long time in choosing my camera. Due to my limited budget and knowledge of underwater photography, I decided to look into compact cameras rather than a fancy or huge DSLR or mirroless. Initially I rented an Olympus TG-5 and loved its macro capability. The first time I took underwater photos, I won 3rd place in a small underwater photography competition by Olympus in South Korea with the award being a brand-new TG-5. However, my preferences changed when one day I saw an underwater video from Mexico taken with the Sony RX100 V. It was clear from the video that the performance of the TG-5 was no match for the RX100 V. To this date, I am an RX100 V user and satisfied with its ability.

Learning the Basics

Since I got my camera, I have gone on multiple scuba trips. From Blue Springs to Revillagigedo, I have taken my camera on every dive since last September. My photography has primarily been of large creatures. Underwater photography was a challenge at first. I started by copying setting from online that resulted in dark photos. I had no idea what ISO, F-stop, and shutter speed was. I spent months taking photos, changing my settings until I realized the interaction between each of these elements. Sometime a change of settings resulted in a nice photo that I never expected; sometimes a failed photo is a lesson for the next dive trip! Through this method of trial and error, I could feel my skills getting better and better with each dive. 

Lighting and Lenses

Underwater lighting is critical in underwater photography. When I started I only used one strobe, which was not enough light. I had to position my strobe inward which created a lot of backscatter. After I got another strobe, I could finally get nice color in my shot and reduce the backscatter by positioning the strobes outward. Sometimes I even find that strobes are not necessary – especially in shallow water or while blue water diving when the subject is too far away.

I currently use the UWL-H100 lens (land and underwater wide conversion lens) from Inon. Although I don’t have experience with other lenses, I think the UWL-H100 works fine with the RX100 V. The center of the frame is sharp, however the corners can get a bit blurry. Also, you can’t zoom out with the RX100 V below a 29mm focal point as vignetting occurs between 24mm and 29mm. 

Post-Processing

Post-processing is also a necessary step of underwater photography. For me, it was a huge struggle to use Lightroom for the first time. However, after watching numerous videos and reading articles, I gradually improved my post-processing skills. I focus on correcting color and giving my images more depth. 

The Learning Curve

Not every dive has been perfect with my camera – sometimes I can make some pretty big mistakes. It’s part of the learning process. During my last trip in Jupiter, Florida, I forgot to dry the lens before putting it into the housing after cleaning it with cleaning spray. As soon as I went down and turned on my camera, I realized my lens was covered with vapor! I missed a couple of perfect opportunities… One time in Revillagigedo, I removed my lens cap and realized my housing was empty. Or course, there were plenty of playful mantas on that dive and they were gone by the next dive when I had my camera in the housing. 

Overall, I truly enjoying my hobby of underwater photography. It connects me to nature that I had only seen in documentaries. Even though I never had a passion for photography before, underwater photography has changed my life. I’m always thinking about what pictures I should take and where I should go. My next trip will be to the Ogasawara Islands, Japan will be to photograph sand tiger sharks, dolphin, and tuna. I already know what I’m going to bring with me: passion, gear, and a bit of luck.  

 


The Sony RX100 V is available now at Bluewater Photo!




Full Article: GoPro Hero 6 Review

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

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

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

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

Purchase: GoPro HERO6 Black

Availability: Now

U.S. MSRP: $399.99

 


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


 

Jump to section:

Specs   |   Features Overview   |   Technological Improvements

4K   |   Stabilization   |  Auto Exposure

Auto White Balance   |   Color Accuracy and Global Tone Mapping   

GoPro HERO6 Accessories   |   Conclusion

Full GoPro Tutorial Series

GoPro HERO6 Specifications

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

Features Overview

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

Loss of underwater "narrow" field of view setting: 

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

New Technological Strides 

4K

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

 

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

Recommended Resolution

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

 

Stabilization

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

 

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

Stabilization Tips

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

 

Auto Exposure

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

 

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

 

Auto White Balance 

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

 

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

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

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

 

Color Accuracy and Global Tone Mapping

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

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

 

GoPro HERO6 Accessories

 

Super Suit Housing

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

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

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

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

GoPro Hero6 Super Suit Housing

 


Micro SD Card

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

Max-Flash Hyperspeed 64GB Micro SD Card

Max-Flash Hyperspeed 32GB Micro SD Card

 

 

Spare Battery

GoPro Hero4 Battery

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

 GoPro Hero6 Spare Battery

 

 

Dual Battery Charger

GoPro Hero4 Dual Battery Charger

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

GoPro Hero6 Dual Battery Charger

 

 

SeaLife Aquapod

SeaLife Aquapod

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

SeaLife Aquapod

 

 

GoPro Multigrip Handle

GoPro Multigrip Handle

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

GoPro Multigrip Handle

 

 

GoPro Tray and Handles

GoPro Handles and Tray

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

Ultralight Tray & Handles for GoPro

R Innovations Tray & Handles for GoPro

Beneath the Surface Angled Double GoPro Tray

 


Video Lights

i-torch fishlite video light

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

Kracken Sports Hydra 3500

Dual Light Value Package

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

 

Conclusion

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

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