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Full Article: The Unforgettable Red Sea

*This article was originally published on Brook's personal site, http://www.waterdogphotography.com/*

For Europeans, the Red Sea is as common a dive destination as the Caribbean is to US Citizens. Although the Red Sea is less frequented by US divers, it is one of the world’s gems when it comes to diving. The crystal blue waters, abundant sea life, beautiful coral gardens and shipwrecks loaded with precious cargo make this one of the world’s best dive destinations.

 

 

Sha’ab Abu Nahas reef is famous for hosting several shipwrecks. The reef lies just north of Hurgada. Perhaps the reef’s most famous wreck is the Giannis D, a cargo ship which ran aground in 1983.

 

 

However, the Chrisoula K, which sunk in 1981 is full of Italian floor tile and has very interesting structure which is easily penetrated.

 

 

The Kimon M which sunk in 1978 is an exciting wreck which lies on its starboard side at the bottom of the reef and the Carnatic is a skeleton of a wreck that sunk in 1869 and offers wonderful photo opportunities.

 

 

If these wrecks don’t satisfy your appetite for wreck diving, then the SS Thistlegorm should do the trick.

 

 

A world class wreck, the Thistlegorm is full of World War II cargo, including trucks, motorcycles, a tank, two locomotives and lots of army boots, ammunition, and more. The holds are easily penetrated and offer a fascinating glimpse into another time.

 

 

 

Further north is the marine protected area, Ras Mohammed National Park. Just 30 km south of Sharm El Sheikh, the park has beautiful terraced coral reefs covered in fishes and other marine life.

 

 

The best dive sites in the park are Shark and Yolanda reefs. Shark reef has steep walls with soft corals and at certain times of the year, great schools of fish.

 

 

Its next door neighbor, Yolanda, is strewn with a cargo of bathroom fixtures from the ship wreck for which the reef was named. 

 

 

Within swimming distance of Shark Reef is Anemone City, a reef covered in anemones and anemone fish.

 

 

Ras Umm Sid reef offers snorkeling as well as diving, with a large shallow shelf of hard corals and a unique dive site called Temple. 

 

 

The Red Sea is diveable year round with the warmest months being June- August, and the coldest, January-February. The average water temperature is 74 degrees (23C). Direct flights from London to Hurgada are available, where many live aboard operations are docked. Divers can also fly in to Sharm El Sheikh and dive from live aboard, or the resorts based there.

Full Article: Swimming with Dinosaurs in Mexico

You’ve done it all and seen it all underwater, right?  Challenge!  How about 12’ crocs up close and personal?  If you are struggling with ‘just another pretty reef’ diving – and are willing to suffer a bit of rough and ready – then a trip to Chinchorro Bank has to be the remedy for you.  The bank is a shallow expanse of reefs, mangroves and a bit of dry land, 30 miles off the southernmost Caribbean coast of Mexico, just north of the border with Belize.

The ‘getting there’ is not too bad – a flight to Cancun and a five-hour drive to Xcalak (which if you have heard of, you are the only one).  The way to do this trip is with a day or so in Xcalak at the beginning and end, with a few days in between out at Chinchorro Bank, with the crocs.  The diving from Xcalak is fairly run of the mill Caribbean diving, other than the chance of seeing a manatee (we did) and the virtual certainty of seeing a massive school of tarpon – numbering in the hundreds and with some fish over two meters in size.

 

 

The reason for this trip, however, is not Xcalak itself but rather the time out at the bank.  The crossing is the usual – a pleasant hour and-a-half or an unpleasant two and-a-half (it’s called ‘weather’).  One arrives at the bank in a relatively sheltered area, with about a dozen stilted fishermen’s huts.  To call these ‘basic’ would quite frankly be kind.  If you need five-star, wi-fi, TV, thrice-daily showers, a bed, etc – then this is not the trip for you.  Life is very communal in the small hut, with hammocks strung pretty much wherever one can string a hammock.  Food is fine – it comes when it comes, but there is no pretending this is a culinary tour.

 

 

So why do it?  There are about five-hundred reasons – and they live in the murky water in the middle of the mangroves.  No one knows exactly how American crocodiles first got to Chinchorro, but it is quite unlikely they are leaving anytime soon.  The fishermen’s huts are in the clear, open-water on the leeward side of the island.  When the fishermen come in from their daily excursions, they clean their catch and give the scraps to the crocs.  This long-standing routine has made the crocs rather reliable in coming out of the swampy back-water (not all of them, but at least a few), from late-morning through the end of the day.

One scuba dives on the healthy nearby reefs in the morning – to see the reefs, but more importantly to spear the lionfish which are used to wrangle the crocs in for a closer look.  The whole area is a marine park, so it is only the invasive lionfish that visitors are allowed to take (while the fishermen have broader, grand-fathered fishing rights).  It is then back to the ‘chalet’ for an afternoon of croc encounters.  This is done in the chest-deep water just next to the hut, because that is where they expect to be fed as usual.

 

 

Seeing a croc from in the water for the first time is a heart racing experience.  Over a few days, one gets more comfortable at enjoying and filming these incredible creatures in what feels like a very natural setting.  It would be tough to say that one ever feels completely safe, but the in-water guide makes it feel manageable as time goes on.  If you are the type of person who listens to the instructions of experienced guides, you should be alright – if not, you might want to practice writing with your other hand before you go.

 

 

The bottom line is that this is an incredible experience that few will ever see – so a ‘must do’ for anyone who can cope with a bit of inconvenience for a truly unique interaction with these awesome, evolution-be-damned creatures.

 

 

Full Article: Best Underwater Settings for the Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II Camera

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Olympus has long been a forerunner in high quality mirrorless cameras, with models that not only work well topside, but also work wonderfully underwater. The OM-D E-M1 further pushed the quality of these cameras with more professional body style and functionality. Now, with the release of the E-M1 Mark II camera, Olympus continues to improve on these great mirrorless cameras.

Learn about the E-M1 Mark II in our full Review.

The OM-D E-M1 Mark II offers 4K video recording, improved autofocus, a megapixel increase from 16 to 20 MP with improved image processing, improved battery life, and faster sequential shooting, among many other upgrades. The only downside is that the high shutter sync speed of 1/320th on the E-M1 was reduced back down to 1/250th with the Mark II.

Below I've compiled several good starting camera settings for different shooting situations. Folling that is a list of the most important, or required settings that are crucial to change on your E-M1 Mark II when shooting underwater. Last, we'll take an indepth look at the menu system of the OM-D E-M1 Mark II so you can fine tune your camera for the best underwater shooting experience.

Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II Shooting Settings

Settings for Macro with the 45mm or 60mm Lens:

  • Manual mode, F16-22, 1/2500th, ISO 200

  • Auto white balance, camera flash on "fill in flash", Strobe on TTL

    • Or set the strobe to manual power and adjust power as needed

    • For manual power set the on camera flash to manual to save battery life (see below for instructions)

  • TIP: Shoot at lower F stops like F5.6 or F2.8 to try to get some better bokeh and a blurred background

  • TIP: You'll need to open up your aperture to around F8 when shooting fish; at F22, your strobes won't "reach" very far and the photo will look black.

  • ** These settings are also useful with the 12-50mm lens in Macro Mode **

Settings for Macro using a standard zoom lens (14-42mm / 12-50mm) with a wet diopter:

  • Manual mode, F16-22, 1/250th, ISO 200

  • Auto White Balance, camera flash on "fill in flash", Strobe on TTL

    • Or set the strobe to manual power and adjust power as needed

    • For manual power set the on camera flash to manual to save battery life (see below for instructions)

  • Zoom all the way in

  • Shoot at lower F stops like F8-F11 to try to get some better bokeh and a blurred background, you can open up to F2.8, but will have a very small depth of field

  • Remember working distance is limited when using a wet diopter, move carefully to avoid spooking your subject and get very close.

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Settings for Wide Angle with 8mm Fisheye or 9-18mm lens:

  • Manual mode, F8, 1/125th, ISO 200 

  • Auto White Balance, camera flash on "fill in flash", Strobe on TTL

    • Or set the strobe to manual power and adjust power as needed

    • For manual power set the camera flash to manual to save battery life (see below for instructions)

  • Important: use the shutter speed to control your ambient light (background exposure). A slower shutter speed (e.g. - 1/60th will let in light when shooting in darker waters, a faster shutter speed will allow less light in when shooting in bright conditions).

  • TIP - when the sun is in the photo, set the shutter as fast as possible (1/250th), and you'll need to stop down your aperture to F16 or F22 to avoid blowing out the highlights

  • TIP - for ambient light photography, you may need to open your aperture to F5.6 or F4 and increase the ISO to ISO 400, 800 or 1600 to let in more light.

Note: These settings also are great for starting points for shooting with a kit lens (14-42mm), and for fish portraits with the 60mm macro lens.

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Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II Set Up for Underwater Use

The E-M1 Mark II works well straight out of the box, and some of the features that needed to be changed in previous models are now set default, making it an even easier transition to underwater.

1) Live View Boost - this is very important due to the way we shoot underwater. Many shots, macro specifically, are taken with very little ambient light coming into the camera. If left off the LCD on the camera would appear black, making it impossible to compose your image. The E-M1 Mark II offers the ability to set the Live View Boost depending on your shooting mode. Here are our recommendations:

  • Manual Mode - ON1 - this is the default and means your LCD will not display the exposure settings, but rather will show a bright screen for the best viewing. Note - this is actually the camera default.
  • Bulb Time / Live Composite - you can skip for underwater
  • Others - ON1 - this is for any other setting (P / A / S and Art Modes). Since these are auto settings, which should adjust other settings automatically you should always be able to compose based on the LCD, but to be safe turn ON the Live View Boost to always have a bright easy to see screen image.

2) EVF Auto Switch - the E-M1 Mark II offers an electronic viewfinder and the camera is set up to automatically switch between the LCD and the EVF when you put your eye up to it. This is problematic underwater, as the rear housing door will trip the sensor and the view will always be on the EVF. Follow these steps to disable the Auto Switch.

Custom Menu -> I: EVF -> EVF Auto Switch -> OFF.

3) The Flash - if you are shooting with an underwater strobe, do not forget to attach the accessory flash to the camera. All uw strobes fire via fiber optic and require the flash to fire from the camera.

4) Flash Modes - if you are using a strobe with TTL you will use the single lightning bolt "Fill in Flash" mode on the camera however, if you are planning to use the strobe in manual mode* you can save battery life by changing the flash mode to "Manual Value" through the quick menu. This is also beneficial because using the internal camera flash at a lower power means less recycle time and helps eliminate any delay on being able to take a picture.

OK -> scroll to flash icon -> scroll over to select "Manual Value Flash" -> Press Info to change flash power -> scroll to 1/64th power -> OK to confirm

*Remember - if you change the flash mode on the camera, you are also changing the pre-flash. When shooting manual flash on the camera, make sure you are using a no pre-flash mode on your strobe.

5) Rear Control Buttons - the default setting on the E-M1 rear arrow key buttons controls only the focus point, limiting the functionality of those buttons. You can customize two of the buttons instead to gain quick, one-touch access to important features.

Custom Menu -> B: Button/ Dial/Lever -> Button Function -> Key Function (option with the four arrow key icon) -> Direct Function -> OK

Now you have access to change the right and down arrow key controls on the back of the camera. (Up gives control of Aperture / Shutter Speed without the dials and Left gives control over the focus point, these are NOT customizable). You have the same options for both customizable buttons, I suggest reviewing each and picking the ones that best suit your needs. For example, I left my camera at the default to have direct access to the flash mode via the right arrow key and direct access to the sequential shot/ timer mode for the down key. (The sequential shot is not something used much underwater but I find i use it alot topside, so it was important to have direct access for me.)

6) Rec View - this sets the length of time an image review is displayed after taking the picture. Default is 0.5 seconds. For underwater use, 2 seconds is usually recommended so you have a chance to quickly gauge that exposure and focus look good before taking another picture. If 2 seconds is too long, set it to what you desire, or simply press the shutter halfway down to cancel the review after taking a photo.

 Set Up Menu (wrench icon) -> Rec View

7) Picture Mode - the default is natural, but jpeg shooters may prefer Vivid

NOTE: this does not affect RAW files

Accessible through the SCP / Quick Menu or Shooting Menu 1

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OM-D E-M1 Mark II Button & Auto Focus Set Up:

The auto focus set up on the E-M1 Mark II is very similar to the E-M1. The camera will work smoothly right out of the box, for for more control, you can set up an advanced autofocus system to aid in your underwater photography.

Set Up for Nauticam Housings

The Nauticam Housing is designed much like their DSLR housings with built in handles and a leverl style shutter release. They reposition buttons to make a more streamlined user experience and help you have the right controls within easy reach. Here are our recommendations to take full use of the AEL / AFL button and advanced focus options.

Button Functions (Custom Menu -> B: Button / Dial / Lever -> Button Function)

Previously you had to assign, or reassign some buttons to create an advanced autofocus system, now that is no longer needed. Scroll through the options in the setting to choose special functions you'd like control over. For example Fn1 is well placed on the Nauticam housing to act as your "One Touch White Balance" control... Here are the options I selected:

  • Fn1 - One Touch White Balance (useful for video and ambient light shooting)
  • Fn2 - MF - this allows you to quickly switch between Manual Focus and your current focus mode (S-AF or C-AF). This comes into play when using the AEL / AFL focus lock feature.
  • REC - I leave this as record, for quick movie capture.
  • AEL / AFL - I leave this as is so you can have access to the focus lock function
  • All other customizable buttons - I have not changed any of those, you can view the options and decide what works best for your shooting style.

Focus Settings for the Nauticam Housing - use this advanced set up to allow you to split out the focus from the shutter release. This can be extremely useful for macro shooting.

  • AEL / AFL - set the Auto Focus Lock settings to separate focus from the shutter based on the focus mode on the camera.
    • S-AF - Mode 1 - this is the default, standard focus on a camera. Press the shutter half way to focus, all the way to take a photo. I leave S-AF as default for topside and underwater wide angle shooting, when I don't want to miss a focus, and am often needing to refocus between shots.
    • C-AF - Mode 3 - this separates the shutter release from the auto focus so you can refocus the camera from the AEL/AFL button and not risk taking a photo. I use C-AF primarily for video, so it is helpful to be able to refocus mid clip and not risk having the clip split by taking a photo.
    • MF - Mode 3 - same as C-AF, this separates the shutter release from the auto focus so you can lock focus and then take as many exposures as you like without refocusing the camera. When using this mode on Manual Focus you get the ability to both manually focus the camera with a focus gear in the housing, or use the AEL/AFL for auto focus. It is a perfect set up for shooting macro.

Now that you have set up these modes, you can shoot a picture "normally" (half shutter to focus) when in S-AF mode. Simply press Fn2 to swith from S-AF to MF focus mode and now when you press the shutter release halfway nothing happens. Focusing is done through the AEL/AFL button, or manually with a focus gear on the lens. This is perfect for macro shooting when a macro lens, like the 60mm, may hunt some and not lock exactly where you want. A minor adjustment towards or away from the subject brings your focus in line much easier than trying to refocus the lens. In addition, by using Fn2 to switch between focus modes, you have both a wide set up (or topside) and a macro set up ready to go at the touch of a button. You will not have to dig through the menu to fix focus options again.

Using the 1:2 Lever on the Camera - the 1:2 lever is a nice addition to the Olympus Cameras, allowing quick change of controls without many button presses. You can ignore this feature or assign it however you like, here are the functions to set this up.

  • Custom Menu -> Fn Lever Settings -> Fn Lever Function
    • I chose to leave this on Mode1 which means when you flip the lever it changes the function of the two primary control dials on the camera. Mode 3 may also be useful if you switch between video and photo shooting and want more than the quick record option or clicking the mode dial around to the dedicate movie mode.
    • Switch Function - OFF - I do not use the HDR / AF button on the left of the camera when underwater, so I don't have the 1:2 affect the modes of that button.
  • Fn Lever / Power Lever - If you want to be able to have single hand control, you can move the ON/OFF function from the dedicate power lever to the 1:2 lever switch. I don't need this, so just leave that option at Fn for function control.
  • Dial Function - here is where you can select which specific function each dial controls based on the position of the 1:2 lever. This is broken down all the way to specific shooting mode, giving you a lot of control on the set up of the camera. My primary shooting mode underwater is Manual, so scroll down to the M option and click OK. I don't change the 1 position function (Shutter and Aperture.. but you can flip them if you prefer aperture on your rear dial). Then press INFO to get to the function options when the lever is in the 2 position. I choose WB (white balance) and ISO. Click OK to save.
    • Now that this is set up, you can test it. In manual mode, with the lever in position 1 the shutter speed and aperture number will be green, or active. If you rotate the dials you'll see those change. Now flip the lever to position 2 and you'll notice that the ISO and WB icons are now green. If you rotate the front dial ISO changes. Click OK to save. If you rotate the rear dial, you can select a White Balance mode. OK to save. To get back to shutter and aperture, just flip the lever to position 1.
    • You can set it up as you like for all other shooting modes (P / A / S / Menu / Playback)

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Set Up for Olympus Housings (PT-EP14)

Improvements have been made on the Olympus housing, making it a nice option for those on a budget. However, unlike Nauticam, Olympus does not move controls around much on the housing, so some compromises have to be made regarding set up.

You can set up an advanced auto focus system by splitting out the focus function from the shutter, but as the AEL / AFL button is not repositioned, it is somewhat harder to reach and not recommended for use in this scenario. Instead, reassign the Fn1 button to control AEL / AFL, then follow the mode set up below.

In addition, with the change of the accessory flash, you no longer have to use Olympus' dedicated underwater mode to get the flash to fire. This means you do not have to assign that function to a button, and gives you more custom control over how your system is set up.

Preparing the Camera for the UW Housing - follow these steps to ensure the camera is ready to be installed in the housing.

  • Remove the camera strap and any filters from the lens.
  • Remove the Eye Cup from the Electronic Viewfinder

If you leave those items attached you may not be able to install the camera (strap for example). Others, like a filter or the eye cup, can put pressure on the housing and lead to a flood.

Focus Settings for the Olympus Housing - use this advanced set up to allow you to split out the focus from the shutter release using the Fn1 button for focus. This can be extremely useful for macro shooting.

  • Button Function -
    • Fn1 - AEL / AFL - because the Fn1 button is better positioned to use for focusing.
    • Fn2 - MF - this allows you to quickly switch between Manual Focus and your current focus mode (S-AF or C-AF). This comes into play when using the AEL / AFL focus lock feature.
    • REC - I leave this as record, for quick movie capture.
    • AEL / AFL - you can ignore or assign for one touch White Balance.
    • All other customizable buttons - I have not changed any of those, you can view the options and decide what works best for your shooting style.
  • AEL / AFL - set the Auto Focus Lock settings to separate focus from the shutter based on the focus mode on the camera.
    • S-AF - Mode 1 - this is the default, standard focus on a camera. Press the shutter half way to focus, all the way to take a photo. I leave S-AF as default for topside and underwater wide angle shooting, when I don't want to miss a focus, and am often needing to refocus between shots.
    • C-AF - Mode 3 - this separates the shutter release from the auto focus so you can refocus the camera from the Fn1 button and not risk taking a photo. I use C-AF primarily for video, so it is helpful to be able to refocus mid clip and not risk having the clip split by taking a photo.
    • MF - Mode 3 - same as C-AF, this separates the shutter release from the auto focus so you can lock focus and then take as many exposures as you like without refocusing the camera. When using this mode on Manual Focus you get the ability to both manually focus the camera with a focus gear in the housing, or use the Fn1 for auto focus. It is a perfect set up for shooting macro.

Now that you have set up these modes, you can shoot a picture "normally" (half shutter to focus) when in S-AF mode. Simply press Fn2 to swith from S-AF to MF focus mode and now when you press the shutter release halfway nothing happens. Focusing is done through the Fn1 button, or manually with a focus gear on the lens. This is perfect for macro shooting when a macro lens, like the 60mm, may hunt some and not lock focus exactly where you want. A minor adjustment towards or away from the subject brings your focus in line much easier than trying to refocus the lens. In addition, by using Fn2 to switch between focus modes, you have both a wide set up (or topside) and a macro set up ready to go at the touch of a button. You will not have to dig through the menu to fix focus options again.

Using the 1:2 Lever on the Camera - the 1:2 lever is a nice addition to the Olympus Cameras, allowing quick change of controls without many button presses. You can ignore this feature or assign it however you like, here are the functions to set this up.

  • Custom Menu -> Fn Lever Settings -> Fn Lever Function
    • I chose to leave this on Mode1 which means when you flip the lever it changes the function of the two primary control dials on the camera. Mode 3 may also be useful if you switch between video and photo shooting and want more than the quick record option or clicking the mode dial around to the dedicate movie mode.
    • Switch Function - OFF - I do not use the HDR / AF button on the left of the camera when underwater, so I don't have the 1:2 affect the modes of that button.
  • Fn Lever / Power Lever - If you want to be able to have single hand control, you can move the ON/OFF function from the dedicate power lever to the 1:2 lever switch. I don't need this, so just leave that option at Fn for function control.
  • Dial Function - here is where you can select which specific function each dial controls based on the position of the 1:2 lever. This is broken down all the way to specific shooting mode, giving you a lot of control on the set up of the camera. My primary shooting mode underwater is Manual, so scroll down to the M option and click OK. I don't change the 1 position function (Shutter and Aperture.. but you can flip them if you prefer aperture on your rear dial). Then press INFO to get to the function options when the lever is in the 2 position. I choose WB (white balance) and ISO. Click OK to save.
    • Now that this is set up, you can test it. In manual mode, with the lever in position 1 the shutter speed and aperture number will be green, or active. If you rotate the dials you'll see those change. Now flip the lever to position 2 and you'll notice that the ISO and WB icons are now green. If you rotate the front dial ISO changes. Click OK to save. If you rotate the rear dial, you can select a White Balance mode. OK to save. To get back to shutter and aperture, just flip the lever to position 1.
    • You can set it up as you like for all other shooting modes (P / A / S / Menu / Playback)

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Olympus OM-D E-M1 Specific Menu Settings

The Olympus E-M1 Mark II has an extensive menu system, with the ability to control, customize or select many options to create the perfect camera for your shooting style. The menu layout is essentially the same as the E-M1, though the color / style has changed, and there are now more options available. We will get a detailed list of these options up shortly, but for now just refer to the settings above for specifcs, or the E-M1 article for a review of what each menu option controls and if it is important for underwater photography.

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Full Article: Canon 6D Mark II Camera Review

Celebrating the National Camera day, Canon USA Inc., has timely announced their new full-frame camera, EOS 6D Mark II.  The camera has been designed for the advanced-amateur photographers. It has been 5 years already since its predecessor, 6D, has been released and both topside and underwater photographers are thrilled with this announcement.

The camera is packed with great features such as 26.2 MP CMOS sensor, the dual pixel AF similar to the the 5D Mark IV, DIGIC7 Processor, touchscreen, wifi/gps and a lot more. 

This is a promising full-frame camera and we are expecting to produce great results underwater. 

Status: To be released end of August 2017

MSRP: $1,999.00

 

Jump to section:

6D Mark I| Specs    |    Full Frame or Crop Sensor    |     Best Lenses    |    Underwater Housings

 

 

Canon 6D Mark II Specifications:

  • 26.2 MP Full-frame CMOS Sensor
  • DIGIC 7 Image Processor
  • High-speed Continuous Shooting at up to 6.5 fps
  • Optical Viewfinder with a 45-point All Cross-type AF System
  • Dual Pixel CMOS AF with Phase-detection 
  • Full HD 60p Video
  • ISO 100-40000
  • 3.0-inch Vari-angle Touch Screen LCD
  • Built-in Wi-Fi
  • NFC3
  • Bluetooth
  • GPS technology
  • Dust- & Water-resistant

 

Do you Buy a Full Frame or Crop Sensor?

Full frame cameras are becoming more and more popular among underwater photographers.  Many photographers are upgrading systems to full frame and many brand new photographers are purchasing full frame as their first camera system.  But even with the popularity of large sensors, the crop sensor has a strong place in the mirrorless and DSLR market, and actually excels in many areas of undewater photo and video.

So which is the right camera for you?  Here's a quick breakdown:

 

Pros of a Full Frame Sensor

  • Larger sensor is more sensitive to light.

  • Better performance at high ISOs, specifically with electronic noise and color.

  • Less depth of field at the same apertures results in smoother bokeh.

 

Pros of a Crop Sensor

  • Cheaper than full frame camera body.

  • The standard 1.6 crop factor (1.5 on Nikon DX) essentially magnifies the image, bringing you closer to that shark swimming in the distance or to filling the frame with a small nudibranch.

  • You can use a lower aperture to achieve the same depth of field as a higher aperture on a full frame sensor. This is beneficial for three reasons:

1.  Most lenses deliver their best image quality in mid-range apertures.
2.  Higher apertures become prone to diffraction.
3.  Lower apertures allow more light to hit the sensor, which helps bring more vibrant color from video lights (when shooting video), while maintaining necessary depth of field for the shot.

 

Have more questions?  Contact the experts at Bluewater Photo, who can guide you to the perfect camera setup for your shooting style and budget.

 

Best Lenses for the 6D Mark II

The Canon 6D Mark II uses a full frame sensor, making it compatibly with Canon's EF lenses plus compatible 3rd party lenses. Underwater photography generally falls into two categories: wide-angle and macro. The lenses below are best for shooting in these styles with the Canon 6D Mark II (and all Canon full frame DSLR bodies).

 

Macro

Canon EF 100mm f/2.8L Macro IS USM

This smooth and fast lens should be in every experienced (Canon) underwater photographer's bag. It provides the magnification needed for shooting small macro subjects and the tiniest subjects when combined with a diopter on the outside of the housing port. View some photos shot with the Canon 100mm Macro lens on full frame bodies.

 

Wide-Angle Fisheye

Canon 8-15mm Circular Fisheye

This is one of several fisheye choices for 6D Mark II shooters. A sharp fisheye at 15mm, you can also shoot this lens at 8mm without a dome port shade in order to produce circular fisheye images. Check out some examples in Wide-Angle in Bunaken or read or full Canon 8-18mm Lens Review.

 

Alternative Fisheye Lenses

Other great fisheye lens choices for the Canon 6D Mark II will be the Sigma 15mm and the Tokina 10-17mm fisheye lens (between 15-17mm since this is an APS-C lens). The Sigma will likely deliver better image quality, however the Tokina is very convenient if you already have it in the camera bag.

 

Rectilinear Wide-Angle

Canon 16-35 f/2.8 III Ultra-Wide Zoom Lens

It's safe to say that this is the best choice for those who are buying their first wide-angle lens and don't have a strict budget. Most underwater shooters use rectilinear wide-angle lenses for shooting subjects that don't come close enough to fill the frame with a wide fisheye lens: sharks, whales, sea lions, dolphins, etc.

 

Canon 16-35mm f/2.8L II Wide-Angle Lens

The most popular rectilinear wide-angle lens for Canon full frame DSLRs has been the Canon 16-35mm f/2.8 Mark II. This lens sat at the top of the selection for the last few years in terms of corner sharpness, speed, and price... although that will change as more new shooters purchase the version III.

 

Canon 11-24mm f/4L Ultra Wide-Angle Lens

Want the widest lens you can buy? The Canon 11-24mm offers a much wider field of view than 16mm. This perspective is great for reefscapes, massive wrecks and very wide shots where you do not want the distortion of a fisheye lens. The downside is that this lens is larger, heavier and more expensive than the other wide-angle lens choices.

 

Alternative Rectilinear Wide-Angle Lenses 

Underwater photo and video shooters on a budget will be looking towards the Canon 16-35mm f/4L or the Canon 17-40 f/4L USM wide-angle lenses. And unless you're a pixel-peeper with critical details in the corners of your images, it will be hard to tell the difference in IQ between these lenses and the popular 16-35mm f/2.8L II (we haven't tested images with the new 16-35 III yet). The quality of the dome port you are shooting through will make a much more significant difference. These lenses are also much lighter and sport 77mm filter threads instead of 82mm - which is significant for topside filter use.

 

Underwater Housings

There is still no announcement from manufacturers yet but we are expecting housings these companies.

 

Nauticam

 

Aquatica

 

Sea & Sea

 

Ikelite

 

AquaTech

 


View all the cameras, lights and accessories at Bluewater Photo.


 

 

Full Article: Creative DIY Bokeh

You would expect a 15 year old girl to be begging her mother to buy her nail polish so she can lighten up her nails with the snazziest new trend. However, in my case, I’m begging for nail polish for my underwater photography craze… yes, you read that right. So, how exactly does nail polish correlate to underwater photography? 

My name is Indigo Bolandrini, I’m 15 years old and a underwater photography addict. I live in a small town on the coast of the Red Sea, and since I was 11, diving has always been my passion. I’m not your ordinary 21st century girl, I prefer to spend my free time diving, editing photos and making a mess in my mum’s kitchen with my DIY projects. My room is filled with posters ; of diving things, not Justin Bieber, and my closet has more wetsuits than dresses.

 

 

Well, let me explain. I love macro photography, it’s challenging, brings out even the smallest detail, and hey, it’s pretty awesome. I love to experiment with techniques to enhance my macro photography and make it glow, compared to standard macro photography. This ranges from my DIY snoots with carved out shapes to double exposure. However, my all time favorite DIY technique is my ‘nail polish slates’. For those who haven’t already kind of figured out what it is, It is a clear piece of plastic with nail polish and glitter combined. I hold this behind my subject, which with a wide aperture, creates a beautiful color frenzy bokeh. It’s easy, cheap and most of all, beautiful.

 

 

It is extremely easy to make, all you need is:

  • Nail polish (color of your choice )
  • Glitter
  • Super glue
  • Small plastic square
  • Sharp scissors 
  • Sand paper 

 

 

Just spread the base color of nail polish onto the plastic slate, go glitter crazy and then add a top coat of super glue to make sure the glitter stays on.You would need scissors and sand paper if you have to cut the plastic slate yourself – as I did in my case.

It might get a bit messy while making it, but it will for sure add shimmer to your photos!

 

 

What I like to do is make a few small square slates, each with a solo color, alongside have a bigger one with a mix of colors or a rainbow pattern ( which is in my dive club at the moment ) I then puncture a small hole in each corner and run string through it so it iss easy to access underwater

 

Sample Photos:

 

 

 

Full Article: Acting Snooty!

Snoot photography can be a fun and rewarding way to up your game in underwater photography.  Besides being a quirky word, a snoot is a tool photographers use to manipulate light. Underwater, it is most often used in macro photography, but can be a valuable tool for wide angle shooting, especially in less than stellar conditions.  Take a look at the following images to get an idea of what a snoot can do. The image below was taken using two strobes to light the subject.  Although the image is not a bad one, it is a little bit busy and can be made much better.

 

 

This image is of the same Harlequin Shrimp just moments later, using a snoot with the light coming from directly overhead.

 

 

You can see how the light illuminates the subject without lighting the surrounding environment.  This has the effect of isolating the subject so that it stands out.  This can be especially valuable when you have a very busy background, or the animal is in a place where it is hard to visually separate it from its environment.  There are several different types of snoots, and each one works differently, although they all give similar results.

The Retra LSD Ultimate Light Shaping Device  focuses the light from your strobe down to a point that can be shaped like a spotlight on a small object.  This will block the light from reaching the surrounding area, isolating the subject.  It has templates that you can use to customize the shape of the light (such as a square, or different sized circles.)  With the focus light on your strobe turned on, it is easy to focus on the subject, as the light coming down through the snoot will illuminate the area that will be lit. The closer the snoot is to your subject, the more pronounced the circle of light will be. This Melibe nudibranch, for example, has the snoot very close to it giving the light a hard edge. 

 

 

Another type of snoot is made by Reefnet and uses fiber optic technology to direct the light to your subject. This snoot works by sending the light from your strobes through a bundle of fiber optic cables toward your subject.  The advantage of a fiber optic snoot is that you have the ability to articulate the light in any direction you want.  You can move the bendable arm so that the light is coming from any direction.  It is also a bit more compact than the Retra, although the quality of the light is not as rich.

The following image of a Doto greenmayeri nudibranch was taken using two snoots;  the Reefnet Fiber Optic Snoot with the light coming from underneath the nudibranch, as well as the Retra LSD with the light coming from above.

 

 

Lighting the nudibranch this way required an assistant to help hold the snoots, and the effect is that the nudibranch looks as though it is lit from the inside, without lighting up much of its surrounding environment.

There are many other snoots on the market such as the 10 BAR snoot.  This one takes the light from your strobe and directs it through graduated tubes to make it smaller.  It is also possible to make a homemade snoot this way using graduated PVC.  The principle is the same:  the light from your strobe is made a smaller diameter so that just your subject is lit.

Another advantage of using a snoot is that you can backlight your subject.  Sometimes you have an animal that has an interesting shape, but that shape can be lost using strobes.  Take this Rhinopias frondosa, for example.  It has a lot of detail that can easily get lost against its environment.  I was lighting it with one strobe (from the right) so that the animal's own shadow would help isolate it from its background.  It worked, somewhat, but the image has a lot of distractions.

 

 

This Rhinopias was lit using just a snoot from behind and slightly face on.  It is a much more dramatic and interesting image.

 

 

Some animals are more translucent than others, and lend themselves better to front lighting or backlighting.  This Ceryece elegans nudibranch was shot using a snoot both from the front and from behind.  When the light comes from different directions, the animal has a completely different look. 

 

 

 

Full Article: Taking Vintage Lenses Underwater

 

In the constant quest for new and unique images, photographers in general come up with any number of interesting ways to make their photographs stand out. Underwater photographers are no exception. Generally this leads to two things. Lots and lots of experimentation and failure, and/or some fantastic creations.

 

Taken with the Nauticam SMC macro lens

 

There is seemingly an increasing trend in photography to use vintage lenses on digital mirrorless and dslr bodies. These lenses can be difficult to use, may not have the best optics, but many of them give a look and 'feel' to an image that is almost impossible to recreate with the technical perfection of the best modern lenses. Theoretically, almost any vintage lens can be used underwater, it is just a matter of finding the correct adapters for digital bodies, configuring ports properly, and understanding the limitations of whatever piece of glass is being used.  

 

Photo by: Nicholas Samaras

 

To achieve the most out of these lenses, photographers should shoot them at their widest aperture. Also remember, they are not meant to provide clinical, razor sharp images (The pictures included have all been downsized for the web so are much sharper than they appear here). They're supposed to provide a unique and potentially ethereal look. Embrace their imperfections. These lenses would all get terrible scores on DXO Mark and DPReview, just something to keep in mind. The two lenses represented here are the Trioplan 100mm f2.8 (the most popular of these lenses due to its remarkable optical qualities), and the Zeiss Tessar 50mm f2.8, which was recommended to me initially by Scubazoo's Jason Isley. The latter can be found on ebay for a whopping $40, while original version Trioplan's range anywhere from a few hundred dollars, up to around a thousand.

Lens Comparison:

-Trioplan 100mm f2.8 Vintage Version (There is a new, kickstarter created version)

Mounts

  • M42 / Pentax mount
  • EXA / Exakta mount
  • M39 Leica screwmount
  • Praktina mount
  • *Adapters are needed to mount on Nikon/Canon/etc
  • Weight: 600 gr
  • Minimum Focusing Distance: 110cm (43.3 inches)
  • Aperture range f2.8-f22

    

-Zeiss 50mm f2.8
Mounts – M42, Exakta
  • Optical Formula – 4 elements in 3 groups (Tessar)
  • Closest Focusing Distance – 0.35m/1ft
  • Filter Size – 49mm
  • Aperture Blades – 5
  • Weight – 170g
  • 12 Aperture Settings from F2.8 to F22    
  •  

    Both lenses have natural minimum focus distances that are just unrealistic to use underwater. The solutions to this are extension tubes (which bring the minimum focus distance closer), diopters (which allow closer focusing), and wet lenses which do the same.

    Another attribute of these lenses is the incredibly smooth and soft out of focus areas when not trying for the bubble bokeh look.

     

     

    As difficult as these lenses can be to use, especially if you don't have custom made focus gear, they can unleash a lot of creativity. Not being able to rely on autofocus and being locked into shallow DOF and one single focus plane means the photographer is forced to get creative to produce an interesting image. This type of image and image making may not be to everyone's taste, but for those looking to add something new to their portfolio, or just want to have some fun with vintage glass, this may be the way to go.

    For questions on vintage lenses under, port configurations, or any other underwater photography questions, please email me at matt@bluewaterphotostore.com

    *Thank you Helen Brierley, Jason Isley, and Nicholas Samaras for use of their fantastic photographs.

     

     

    More Photos:

    Photo by: Nicholas Samaras

     

    Photo by: Nicholas Samaras

     

    Photo by: Jason Isley

     

    Photo by: Jason Isley

     

    Photo by: Jason Isley

     

    Photo by: Jason Isley

     

    Photo by: Helen Brierley

     

    Full Article: Nikon 8-15mm f3.5-4.5 Full Frame Fisheye Lens Pre-Review

    It was a long time coming, but Nikon has finally released another full frame (FX) fisheye, this time an 8-15mm 3.5/4.5 zoom. Full frame Canon shooters will be familiar with this lens as Canon has long had the Canon 8-15mm f4L Fisheye lens

    The lens does not telescope so retains the same barrel length throughout the zoom range. It also has Nikon’s optical coating for increased optical performance

    In reality, on full frame, this new Nikon lens (like the Canon counterpart) is really only an 8mm circular fisheye, or a 15mm fisheye. Any focal length between that will have vignetting, so you would have to crop, meaning you’d be better off just zooming all the way to 15mm.

     

    The 8mm circle is a nice addition to a portfolio but can quickly become gimmicky so shooters should keep this in mind. I would wager most users will keep the lens at the 15mm focal length.

    The lack of a lens hood and the small size of the lens overall means that it can be used behind very small dome ports (4”) as long as the photographer remembers that the lens will have to be stopped down to keep corners acceptably sharp. The smaller the dome, the closer the virtual image (which is what the lens is actually focusing on, so the distortion will be greater, requiring greater depth of field). It will have to be stopped down behind a big dome as well (such is the nature of a fisheye lens on full frame) but the bigger the dome, the better the corners at any aperture (due to the virtual image being further away). One of the biggest advantages of fisheyes is how close they can focus. The minimum focus distance of the new 8-15 is 6.3”. This means it will focus right on the glass of whatever dome port the lens is used behind so if a 4” dome is used, the close focus wide angle opportunities should be fantastic if the photographer can get the lighting correct.

    For split shots, reefscapes, or any image where important subject matter lies in the corners of the frame, photographers will benefit much more in terms of overall image quality by using a larger dome. Somewhere in the 8-9 inch range (or bigger).

    The full frame fisheye options for Nikon now consist of the dated Nikon 16mm f2.8, the Sigma 15mm f2.8 fisheye, the Tokina 10-17 f3.5 fisheye (only between 15mm and 17mm), the Nikon 8-15mm f3.5-4.5, and (if you can find one) the Nikonos 13mm. Optically, I expect the 8-15mm to be superior to all other options with the exception of the Nikonos 13mm which is a water contact lens and specifically designed to shoot underwater. It should be a fantastic lens for underwater use and I expect it to be extremely popular among full frame shooters. I doubt DX users would find any real benefit over the Tokina, with the possible exception that this new lens should handle chromatic aberration far better than the Tokina. The Tokina is renowned for having less than stellar control over chromatic aberration (especially in high contrast areas of an image). I can’t wait to get it in the water and put it through its paces!

    There is no exact release date available yet, but the lens is slated to be released sometime this month (June 2017).

    For any questions on this lens, port selection, or any underwater photography questions in general, please email me.

    Using the Nikon 8-15mm fisheye underwater with a teleconverter

    We expect many underwater photographers will wish to use the Nikon 8-15mm fisheye lens with a telecoverter on a full frame camera, giving them the equivalent of the Tokina 10-17mm on a cropped sensor camera - making the lens a 11mm - 21mm fisheye. We will be testing both the Kenko 1.4x teleconverter and the new Nikon 1.4x teleconverter, however use of these teleconverters will depend on manufacturers making the appropriate zoom gear. In the past, Nauticam has made zoom gears for using the Canon 8-15mm fisheye lens with a 1.4x teleconverter, and 3rd party manufacturers have made Sea & Sea versions.

    Nikon 8-15mm Lens Specifications:

    Physical

    • Weight: 485 g
    • Diameter: 78 mm
    • Length: 83 mm

    General

    • Mount Type: Nikon F-Bayonet
    • Focal Length Range: 8-15mm
    • Lens Mount: Nikon F (FX)
    • Max Format Size: FX/35mm 

    Optics

    • Elements: 15
    • Groups: 13
    • Three ED with two aspherical elements, Nano Crystal and fluorine coatings

    Aperture

    • Maximum Aperture: f/ 3.5-4.5
    • Minimum Aperture: f/ 29

     

    Sample Circular Fisheye Photos at 8mm (full frame)

    Photos taken with a Canon full-frame dSLR (5D Mark II & Mark III), Canon 8-15mm fisheye at 8mm, 6 inch glass dome port. We expect photos with the Nikon 8-15mm fisheye to look similar at 8mm, when used on a full-frame camera.

    canon 8-15mm circular fisheye photo

     

     

    canon 8-15mm circular fisheye photo

    Sample Fisheye photos at 15mm (Full Frame)

    Photos taken with the Nikon D810, Tokina 10-17mm fisheye lens at 15mm, Zen 4-inch glass mini-dome. Photos taken with a fisheye lens on a cropped sensor dSLR at 10mm would look identical.

    Tokina 10-17mm fisheye underwater at 15mm

     

    Full Article: Lightroom Tips & Tricks: The Spray Can Tool

    One of the challenges of keeping your images organized and easy to locate stems from having a well-defined strategy for adding ‘keywords’ and ‘metadata’ to your images. I wanted to share with you one of Lightroom’s most useful tools for quickly adding this information to your images. Getting into the habit of labeling your shots is a worthwhile investment of time and this useful tool should make the work fast and simple.

     

    Saving Time: Now and In the Future

    As an underwater photographer, you likely shoot a lot of images, and with that comes the challenge of how to keep track of them all. One of the most important things you can do once you upload your images off the memory cards is to take the time to catalog those images, after making a backup or two of course. There are perhaps as many ways to file and store your images as there are fish in the sea, but that’s a different topic for a different day, but there is one thing that we should be doing as part of our cataloging process, it is keywording those images.

    In Adobe Lightroom, when you take the time to add keywords, you can quickly go back and find your images at a later date.

    Adding keywords while the files are being imported to Lightroom makes the most sense. When I import images from a dive, I will create a general set of keywords that apply to all of the images. For example, a trip to La Paz, Mexico may include keywords such as Mexico and October, Dive etc. So far, so good...I covered a fe wof the general keywords and applied them to perhaps 1000 images.

    But what about the individual images within those 1000 files that might require a unique set of words such as Whale Shark, Baja, Snorkel, Split, Scuba, Sea of Cortez, Dolphin, Shark, Food and Sunset , to list a few examples. Adding these keywords may require a lot of additional time, as I need to apply certain words to certain images, but not all images, spread out amongst the 1000 images I uploaded.

     

    Fast and Easy: The Spray Can

    Lightroom has a great tool, which allows you to save time and apply those keywords in a simple way….it’s called the Spray Can . Find the Spray Can in grid view while in the Library Module.

     

    How do you use it? It couldn’t be any easier. Simply select the spray can to access a dialog box that allows you to select or enter the keywords you wish to apply, and then start running your mouse over the images with the left mouse button held down. Do you want to apply a star rating to a selection of images, how about a color code or new metadata? You can do those too with the spray can. You do not even need to click on each individual image...simply run the spray can over an image with the mouse button held down and the keyword is applied...you can even apply multiple keywords at the same time. Could it get any easier?

     

     

    This feature, in my opinion, is one of the best time saving tools in all of Lightroom for what can easily be called the most time consuming and at the same time, one of the most important tasks. Making the addition of keywords to your images should be a part of your workflow, and this is just one of many ways to help make that process both fast and easy.

    Full Article: Fantasea FA6500 Housing Review

    Fantasea, known for the great performance and fantastic value of their compact camera housings, has entered the mirrorless housing game with the Fantasea FA6500. This new interchangeable port housing works with both the Sony a6500 and Sony a6300. For this review, I shot the Sony a6500 on 30 dives during the Bluewater Photo workshop in Anilao, Philippines.

    The Sony a6500 is Sony's powerful 24.2 megapixel APS-C mirrorless camera, with a fast 425-point autofocus system, 5-axis image stabilization and 4K recording at high framerates. Be sure to read our First Look at the Sony a6500 article (full review to be published in next week).

    The Fantasea FA6500 closely resembles other Fantasea housings, however is packed with new features designed specifically for the a6500 and a6300, including camera tray, interchangeable ports, wet lens system compatible with several lens combinations, flash trigger and more. Let's take a closer look.

     

    Jump to section:

    Housing Features    |    Overview & Controls    |    Underwater Review

    UCL-09LF Macro Diopter    |    UWL-09F Wide-Angle Wet Lens    |    FA6500 Housing Accessories

    Conclusion    |    More Underwater Photos

     


    Purchase the Fantasea FA6500 Housing


     

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


    Fantasea FA6500 Features

    • Full access to all essential camera buttons & functions with clearly marked controls

    • Depth rated to 60 meters / 200 feet

    • Shock resistant construction

    • Ergonomic design

    • Double O-ring protection for a perfect watertight seal

    • Moisture Detector and Alarm, Hand Strap and Body Cap included at no additional cost!

    • Interchangeable lens port and lens gear system is available, allowing for the use of a wide range of lenses

    • Double fiber optic cable port

    • M16 port for a variety of connections, including HDMI, vacuum valve or electronic strobe triggering bulkheads

    • Shutter release extension available for easy access when using housing tray and handles

    • Additional optional housing accessories are available

    • Manufacturer's warranty

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

    FA6500 Housing Overview and Controls

    The Fantasea FA6500 is Fantasea's first mirrorless housing, yet it feels as nice and easy to use as their compact housings while still providing full access to all camera functions, controls and a wide variety of lenses. 

    The polycarbonate construction is solid, the buttons have wide plastic caps so that your fingers don't hurt when pressing them repeatedly, and everything is very clearly labeled. I enjoyed the fact that most controls are placed in a similar layout as on the camera body, which maintains familiarity built while using the Sony a6500 topside. The knobs have large ridges that provide great traction on the fingers.

    My (strangely favorite) buttons are the flash pop-up and depress buttons, convenient when switching between photo and manual video modes. Why? The camera's max flash sync speed is 1/160, and the a6500 limits you to that shutter speed when the flash is popped (actually a nice feature). For shooting 1080p video at 120fps, I wanted a shutter speed of 1/250, and pressed down the flash in order to make those higher shutter speeds available.

     

    Accessory Highlights

    The FA6500 housing has a M16 port for a variety of accessories, including HDMI output (e.g. for video monitor) or a vacuum valve. It also has a cold shoe mount for focus light on top of the housing (like all cold shoe mounts, check that accessories are mounted tightly before every dive). The dual fiber optic cable connectors are located on top of the housing, which is nice because you don't have extra light hitting your subject when using only one cable.

    Fantasea will soon be releasing an LCD Screen Magnifier, LED Flash Trigger and Quick Release Bayonet System.

     

    Port and Lens System

    The Fantasea a6500 housing features a bayonet system for changing ports and lenses. Simply unlock the port, twist about 1cm and then pop it off. A camera lens release button is located on the right side of the port opening, making lens changes quick. There's no need to open the back of the housing to change lenses.

    I set up the housing with the Fantasea FML Flat Port 34 and Sony 16-50mm Power Zoom kit lens, as this provided a versatile system for both macro shooting with the UCL-09LF diopter and wide-angle shooting with the UWL-09F conversion lens. While the lens isn't as sharp as some other Sony lenses, it was fantastic being able to change from macro to wide-angle mid-dive. The flat port 34 has a 67mm thread mount, so your other 67mm accessories are compatible.

    View the Fantasea Port Chart for full lens and port compatibility.

     

    Inside the Housing

    Opening the FA6500 is simple. Just depress the red safety lever, twist the latch, and pull the housing open on the left side hinge. There are two o-rings sealing the housing back, which provides an extra layer of security against floods. 

    To insert the a6500 camera, simply mount it on the tray and insert the tray into the sled, then lock it down. The tray does not block the battery compartment and is easy to tighten/loosen with fingertips or a coin.

     

    For the review, I set up the Fantasea FA6500 on Ultralight Control Systems tray and handles, switching between Sea & Sea YS-D1 strobes and Kraken Hydra 5000 video lights.

     

     

    FA6500 Housing Performance Underwater

    The first thing I noticed with this sytem was the excellent buoyancy of the polycarbonate housing. I was using 4x jumbo Stix Floats and the rig was just slighly negative and easy to swim around with. Pitch was neutral as well - no front float or sink.

    The buttons have nice action and did not induce fatigue, although everyone has different hand sizes, ergonomic preferences, etc. I did find myself placing my thumb on the back of the housing to stabilize the rig when depressing the shutter to focus and shoot. This was necessary in order to keep the system aimed and stable while applying enough pressure on the lever. This is a trend for me on several mirrorless housings, so can't be considered a negative.

    The housing knobs were easy to turn ergonomically with finger/thumb tip, which is nice - no need to take your hand off the housing to grab them with fingers and thumb. Heavy-use buttons like playback and display stood up to the 30 dives and still feel like new - no jamming up.

     

     

    Video recording is done through the small button on the right back side of the housing. Its low profile makes it easy to slowly press with the thumb, resulting in less camera shake and pressure that might shift the careful framing of a super macro shot.

    The FA6500 ships with an extended shutter release lever, which I ended up installing after the first few days of the trip. Most divers will be able to install this on their own, if desired, as it's held with just a single screw on outside of the housing. I enjoyed the ergonomics much more with the longer lever.

    Advanced shooters will be happy to know that the AEL button has been shifted slightly to the right, making it reachable for back-button focus operation.

    There are a couple inconveniences with the system, however I attribute those to the Sony gear design and not the housing. The first is the electronic zoom slider of the Sony 16-50mm lens, which makes it tough to reach a desired field of view (a bit like zooming a compact camera lens) and is prone to being bumped out of place. The second issue, where the pop-up flash pauses the camera in order to recycle and cool down, has been addressed by Fantasea through a new flash trigger. No more need to watch the best composition to move away while waiting for the flash to recycle! Be sure to revisit and read my complete Sony a6500 camera review for more insight on the camera itself, which will be published on UWPG in the next week or two.

    [EDIT] Fantasea has told us that the 16-50mm zoom gear is designed to work with the manual zoom ring on the 16-50mm lens, not the electronic zoom slider. We haven't had a chance to test this, but it makes sense as the manual zoom ring is more accurate for zooming than the electronic zoom slider.

     

    Fantasea UCL-09LF Macro Diopter

    I used the UCL-09LF frequently during our Anilao workshop. The Sony 16-50mm lens is versatile, however the minimum working distance is often too far away (25cm) for crisp macro shooting. Adding the UCL-09LF not only adds +12 magnification, but it reduces the working distance, allowing you to get closer and fill the frame with your subject. Shooting through less water also results in crisper images.

    This specific lens and diopter combo requires you to zoom in a bit in order to move past the vignetting at 16mm. Once you do that, you have the flexibility to zoom the lens in and out depending on the size of your subject and desired working distance (which varies depending on zoom / field of view).

    The diopter delivers sharp images, however my first instinct is that the Sony 16-50mm isn't as sharp for macro shooting as the Sony 90mm macro lens. I look forward to testing the diopter on that lens in the near future. But like I mentioned above, the 16-50mm is more versatile, so lens/port selection will really depend on the photo subjects you have planned during the dive.

     

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

     

    An emperor shrimp crawls across a large cucumber. Sony a6500, Sony 16-50mm lens, Fantasea FA6500 housing, Fantasea UCL-09LF diopter, dual Sea & Sea YS-D1 strobes. @47mm, ISO 100, f/25, 1/160. Photo: Brent Durand


    Fantasea UWL-09 Wide-Angle Conversion Lens

    The Fantasea UWL-09F is a glass wide-angle wet conversion lens that allows you to zoom in and out while using the lens. The first benefit of this lens is that you can add and remove it underwater. The second is this zoom ability, allowing you to zoom out for a wide reefscape perspective and zoom in for more distant subjects like a sea lion or dolphin.

    The UWL-09F requires you to zoom in very slightly to avoid vignetting, but after that the image quality stays impressively sharp from edge to edge. The photo below is shot at 21mm and uncropped.

     

    A nudibranch reaches out across a sponge. Sony a6500, Sony 16-50mm lens, Fantasea FA6500 housing, Fantasea UWL-09F wide-angle conversion lens, dual Sea & Sea YS-D1 strobes. @21mm, ISO 320, f/13, 1/80. Photo: Brent Durand


    Fantasea FA6500 Housing Accessories

     

    Fantasea plans to release the following products for the FA6500 housing next month:
    • A Dome Lens Port designed for wide angle lenses such as the Sony E-mount 16mm F2.8 lens and the VCL-ECF2 Fisheye converter.
    • A Lens Port Extension Ring designed to help accommodate longer lenses such as the Sony E-mount 10 - 18 mm Zoom lens.
    • Lens Gears and Light Shielding pads designed for a variety of Sony E-Mount lenses.
    • A LCD Screen Magnifier compatible with all Fantasea Housings which provide an enlarged and enhanced view of the cameras LCD screen
    • Universal Flash Trigger Compatible with all Hotshoe equipped cameras. Thereby allowing for longer camera battery life and enhanced continues shooting modes.
    • New and improved Fiber Optic cables.

     

     

    Conclusion

    The Fantasea FA6500 is a solid, functional housing that delivers the best performance to value ratio out there. If you have a budget as you plan and purchase a Sony a6500 mirrorless camera rig, then this housing is a great option.

    The compact size and light weight make the Sony a6500 and Fantasea housing attractive to DSLR shooters who are looking for easier travel and less bulk while diving. The versatility of using wet lenses for super macro and wide-angle on the same dive is very cool, and a setup I would highly recommend for advanced shooters looking to maximize photo opportunities throughout every minute underwater. That said, I would definitely also look to the Sony 90mm macro lens (and compatible port) if you're into the small critters.

    The image quality, autofocus speed and other custom features make this a great system for compact shooters looking to upgrade. 

    There just aren't many cons with the system. It can be used as a small snorkel camera with a handstrap or built up as a professional video rig with external monitor, tripod and lighting system.

     

    Order the Fantasea FA6500 housing at Bluewater Photo.

     

    Fantasea a6500 Housing Underwater Photos

     

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


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

     

     

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

     

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

     

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

     

    Disclosure: Fantasea loaned UWPG the gear reviewed in this article.