Compact Cameras

  • Disappointments of an Underwater Camera Salesman

    Ocean Leisure Cameras specializes in underwater photography equipment. We try to match products to each customer’s needs.

    Recently, a young lady came in to buy an underwater camera. She professed to be a professional writer intending to supply articles to diving magazines. She wanted a camera that was very straightforward to use.

    olympus_epl7_packageA friend had previously lent her an Olympus EPL7 camera in a housing so she naturally asked for that. It’s a system compact with interchangeable lenses that can be matched to suitable lens ports. The salesman (an award-winning underwater photographer himself) would have been happy to take her money but once he got into explaining to her the intricacies of using it, it became clear that she just wanted to get into the water, press a button and get usable pictures. She also blanched at the price, even though the EPL7 in an Olympus proprietary housing represented remarkably good value.

    So the sales assistant then suggested she might be happier with a more basic compact camera instead. She was with him for about five hours, during which time he told her virtually everything he knew about successful underwater photography.fantaseag9x_camera_package_1

    She ended up purchasing a Canon G9X in a Fantasea FG9X housing that gave access to all the camera functions and with the possibility to add additional wet lenses later, when she felt she could afford them. It was a good choice. He also sold her an underwater strobe (a Sea & Sea YS03) with which he explained how she could get perfectly exposed TTL strobe-lit pictures. It appeared to be the perfect solution and within her limited budget although she was advised to buy a wide-angle or fisheye wet lens if she could have afforded it. She couldn’t. Both the EPL7 and G9X outfits are becoming difficult to obtain since they are coming to the end of their production runs. We hope that something else as good value comes on to the market.

    ys03_package_idas_1The company was surprised only a few days later to get an email from the customer, by now in the Caribbean, accusing it of selling her equipment that was totally unsuitable for underwater photography. She stated that she was not sold the camera she asked for (the Olympus EPL7) and that it was not possible to adjust the white-balance with the Canon she had.

    The G9X can be set up to provide a one-button manual white-balance setting – something she had been demonstrated during the hours of consultation in the shop. It can also be used to shoot RAW files, which is the professional way of shooting since many settings such as white-balance, contrast (and even exposure to a degree) can be decided on long after getting out of the water. Not only that, but the feature, properly used, should take care of a lot of the contrast and colour decisions.

    Sadly, this is a case of someone neither managing their expectations nor bothering to read the manual!idas_uwl04_1

    Famous underwater photographers like David Doubilet must despair when they hear stories like this. The years that he has devoted to learning his craft are dismissed by a new generation who think they can simply buy an item of equipment and immediately become endowed with talent such as his.

    I got my first job with a diving magazine (the very same one she intended to provide material for) because I could reliably take pictures that were correctly exposed, in-focus and nicely lit – a skill that was quite rare in the days of wet-processed film. Today, digital photography with its instant feedback from the camera’s LCD display means that it is possible to learn (by your mistakes) incredibly quickly, but learn you must. I worked as an underwater photographer for more than two decades and although I never considered I was a master of the art, I got results that were frequently published. Even so, I used a camera outfit that cost ten times as much as the budget this young lady decided she had.

    I contacted the editor of the diving magazine that this particular young lady said to which she was intending to contribute her work. He told me she was a good writer but that he’d told her she needed to be able to support her writing with good photography. He told her to buy a camera.

    It was disappointing that the editor of a magazine could think that merely buying a camera makes someone into an underwater photographer! Have the standards of magazine publishing dropped so low?

    Magazines pay extremely poorly nowadays. Not many make a living supplying original material anymore. Most take pictures for their own pleasure and are knocked out if they see their work in print. If they can get a few hundred pounds in contributor’s payment as well, that’s a bonus. For this young woman to make any return on her investment in the most basic underwater photography kit will take a great many pages published.

    Most Ocean Leisure Cameras’ customers take pictures underwater purely for their own pleasure. Digital photography has made getting good results easier than it ever has been. However, it does demand a degree of dedication in that one should be totally familiar with your camera’s functions and operation long before entering the water. Don’t buy underwater photography kit on your way to the airport and expect to come back with masterpieces in light and shade. As is so often said, “RTFM!”

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    If you're really set on wanting to be a competent underwater photographer and don’t have the time or inclination to take up an apprenticeship with a master, give us a call and we’ll try and put you in touch with someone who runs underwater photography courses.

  • Satisfied Customers Give Us Satisfaction Too!

    We received an email from Jakarta. It was from a family that had called in to Ocean Leisure Cameras while on their way to take their daughter to boarding school in Shrewsbury. It seems they don't have departments in Indonesian stores like Ocean Leisure Cameras so they wanted to get equipped with an underwater photography outfit to take home with them.

    Their message to us on returning home was that the results from the photography set-up we had suggested and supplied them with had exceeded their expectations in every way.  They were very happy indeed. In fact happy enough to write to us to tell us.

    So what did we sell them? The lady of the family wanted a camera that she could use in a fully automatic mode and was not going to be an imposition to carry on a dive with her. It appeared that cost was no object provided the camera and accessories would do what she wanted without her needing to develop much in the way of photography skills.

    The Canon G7X is a compact camera that employs a sensor that is among the biggest available in its class. This means it produces high quality files even when light levels are low and it can be set up for one button white-balance operation. An alternative might have been the Sony RX100.

    We combined this with a high quality Nauticam housing. nauticam_na_g7xThe lady and gentleman in question liked the idea of fitting a vacuum leak-test systemnauticam_vacuum_seal_check_system because it takes away the stress of wondering if the housing has been closed up properly and won't leak. The green light indicating this is very comforting.

    The lady expressed an interest in photographing whale sharks and we explained that the less water she had between the camera and her subject, the clearer her pictures would be. We supplied an i-Das UWL fish-eye lens that can be fitted directly to the front of the Nauticam housing via a 67mm adapter. This lens will allow her to get as close as possible and still include all of a whale shark in the picture. However we pointed out how the G7X needs to be used in conjunction with a short port and the zoom locked off by means of the lock on the Nauticam's zoom lever to stop it accidentally being zoomed forward. nauticam_n50_shortport2idas_uwl04

    At the same time, since they lived in Indonesia and were conveniently sited to visit its well-known macro dive sites where all manner of strange critters live, we suggested an AOI +12 dioptre macro lens. This too screws directly to the front of the housing.

    aoi_plus12_macrolens-1As for lighting, our suggestion that a Sea & Sea YS-D1 would be a good idea was met with the request to buy two since the gentleman of the family thought they would eventually progress to a double flash set up and getting an matching flashgun later in Jakarta might be virtually impossible. We were happy to oblige and provided a tray and arms with one-inch-ball mounting system.sea_sea_ysd1_a

    Of course this Indonesian family had an extensive budget but don't be put off by the cost. You could get equally satisfying results based on the economic Fuji XQ1 package fuji_XQ1_AOI_lensthat pairs the camera with a proprietary plastic housing, despite it being at an entry-level price. Be adding a lens mount base, this camera can be paired with the exact same auxiliary lenses and you don't need to have the top-of-the-range flashgun.

    If you want something in a price range between the two, what about the Olympus TG4? Its housing can too be combined with the lenses we mention (using a step-down adapter ring for the i-Das UWL fish-eye lens) and it confers the added advantage that the camera alone is water-tight to 15-metres deep so that takes a lot of pressure off the worry that you might not have closed up the housing correctly.olympus_TG4__fisheyelens

    However much or little your budget may be, we want you to go away with the equipment most suitable for your needs and that fits your budget. Come in to the store and discuss it with our knowledgable people. We take pleasure in making you pleased!

     

  • Small is Beautiful

    Nudibranch, a seaslug that carries its gills on its back. Nudibranch, a seaslug that carries its gills on its back.

    More and more people have become fascinated with the minutia of marine life found underwater and besides looking for what may be hiding in plain sight right under their noses in local waters are trekking off to distant lands for the unique and some would say very strange animals living in the mucky seabed around the islands of the Far East.

    Flamboyant cuttlefish Flamboyant cuttlefish

    I hasten to add that fauna on a macro scale can be found in all seas and neither should we overlook the Caribbean or Med.

    Miniature frogfish Miniature frogfish

    Although most compact cameras have a 'macro' mode, this can put the camera far too close to the subject to enable the photographer to shine a light on it. However, most underwater housings for compact cameras can, with or without the aid of an adapter,  be supplied with an ancillary macro lens that is fitted whilst underwater.

    Compact camera with AOI +12-dioptre macro lens fitted. Compact camera with AOI +12-dioptre macro lens fitted.

    There's a vast range of such lenses available, whether it be the well-known Subsea brand, from Inon or even more expensive Nauticam. One manufacturer that actually makes lenses for other brands is now supplying to the retail market through Ocean Leisure Cameras, with consequent and significant savings on the final price, and that is AOI. There are macro lenses for GoPro cameras too.

    Once you've fitted the lens underwater and made sure to dislodge any air bubbles that might have got trapped between lens and the front glass of the housing, start looking for a likely subject. The dive guides have sharp eyes and know what to look for so don't be afraid to accept help. Some of these critters are minute.

    Halimeda ghost pipefish Halimeda ghost pipefish

    The great thing about macro photography is that you can enter the water with your lights previously set up. Whether you use off-board flash or a continuous light source such as a powerful video light, you can perfect you lighting set-up before you find your subject.

    Don't forget, you can shoot video too.

    Once you've lined up on a likely looking beast, don't let the camera's auto focus try to get it sharp. Move the camera back and forth slowly until you see the subject come sharp on your LCD display. The halimeda ghost pipe fish normally hangs around on halimeda weed which it looks exactly like.

    The seahorse might be more easily recognised but they have the annoying habit of turning their faces away from danger so you will just have to keep still and wait until it's forgotten that you are there.

    Seahorse Seahorse. You'll have to be patient until it's forgotten that you're there.

    Stealth and patience are the name of the game. Your air will  last though, because you don't waste much energy in finning. You end up hovering around waiting to get the shot. If you lie on the seabed you must be doubly sure to avoid resting on any small creature. Some things might look like rubbish but they might be an animal cleverly disguised.

    Ribbon eel Colourful Ribbon eel

    It might be a bit of rubbish - but if it is it will certainly have an animal living in it! once you get into macro photography, it becomes something of an obsession. It's as if you can only see this other tiny world by means of photography.

    Nudibranch come in an assortment of colours. Nudibranch come in an assortment of colours and styles.

    A white light in the form of a flash or a video light will reveal things in their natural colours and, let's face it, it's a mystery as to why they are so colourful since the animals can't see it.

    It's remarkable that divers always seem to fall in love with nudibranchs. These are colourful slugs that wear their gills on their backs.

    I have photographed more than one hundred and fifty animals at one site alone. Take plenty of memory cards with you unless you can download your pictures between dives.

    The face of a frogfish. The face of a frogfish sitting on a sponge.
  • Close-Focus Wide-Angle

    A new buzz-word expression that has developed among underwater photographers is Close-focus Wide-angle or CFWA. What is it and how do you do it?

    Terrestrial photographers have been using wide-angle lenses for years and some caught on to the idea that by getting really close to your subject with a very wide-angle lens on your camera gave you  the steep perspective that added drama and put the viewer right in with the subject. Doyen of war photographers, Don McCullin was a great exponent of this technique. He used to say that you need to get close to the action, then closer still.

    Photographers often talk about the quality of the glass - their lenses. Underwater, the one aspect that tends to ruin the quality of our pictures is the poor quality of the water we are in. It's full of detritus and plankton. 30-metres of horizontal visibility is thought to be gin-clear whereas if that was all you had in air it would be considered a heavy mist at least. It's a great leveller and sometimes buying better quality cameras can be fraught with disappointment. We need better quality water first! So we use wide-angle lenses not often to get a wider shot but to allow us to get close to our subject without cropping out any part of it.

    Olympus TG4 with i-Das Fisheye lens Olympus TG4 housing with i-Das Fisheye lens attached.

    Whereas a fish-eye lens would be a strange choice for a terrestrial shot, underwater it can make complete sense, allowing you to get really close. The dome at the front makes a virtual image by the refraction of the light as it passes from water to the air inside the dome and it's this the camera focuses on. It used to be the province of only very expensive DSLR cameras in tailor-made housings but now you can get an i-Das fish-eye lens for many compact cameras and the route is open for CFWA pictures. Look at how the steep perspective of the close camera-to-subject position translates into much more interesting pictures! Here are some examples.

    Firstly I show you the final shot that was first published in many diving magazines throughout the world and later published in Shark Bytes after the background was simplified by computer retouching in Photoshop.

     

     

    A Great Hammerhead shark a few centimetres from the camera lens _FFF5723 _FFF5724 A Great hammerhead shark searching for prey (stingrays) hiding under the sand.

    With moving subjects, the trick is to hold your nerve and let the animal come to you. This Great hammerhead shark was searching for its natural prey, Southern stingrays, hiding under the sand in the Bahamas. The water was so shallow I was able to use natural light and shoot a series of pictures in quick succession.

    I didn't need to wait for any underwater flashgun to recycle and get ready for the next shot that can take one or two seconds, which is far too long a delay when recording fast moving subjects.

    The shark was maybe 6-metres-long from front to the tip of its tail and that length translates into an interesting perspective when the nearest part is only around 10-centimetres from the camera lens' dome.

    Naturally, you need to use a fast shutter-speed (I used 1/500 of a second) to freeze the movement, together with a small lens aperture, and I achieved this by increasing the ISO setting to get that. I simply adjusted the camera in advance to be sure the sand was correctly exposed, checking the result on the camera's LCD screen. I then shot a fast sequence of pictures as the animal passed.

    If you shoot in RAW mode, you can adjust the files at leisure later on a suitably equipped PC to get the exactly result you want.

    The i-Das fisheye lens will screw directly to the front of an Olympus  Tough TG4 camera's underwater housing or it will need an adapter ring to fit it to any housing that has a 67mm thread at the front of its port. It works best with the 28mm (equivalent) lens of the Sony RX100 Mk2 in its housing but you may need to zoom in to that equivalent setting with some later cameras such as the Sony RX100 Mk3 and Mk4. Come in to Ocean Leisure Cameras, the store within the store, and discuss your options with the experts. If you want to know more about the techniques of underwater photography, the Ocean Leisure book department has a wealth of resources and if you like the shark pictures you see here you can read about what it took to get such images, including plenty of pictures, in the new book Shark Bytes, also available from Ocean Leisure!

     

  • New Compact Cameras for Underwater Photography

    I have to admit that during my twenty-one years with Diver Magazine as its Technical Editor, I was never much of a fan of compact cameras for underwater use. I found that generally speaking, their response time and underwater white-balancing left a lot to be desired. Even using a compact to record my children on a beach holiday in the Maldives left me feeling frustrated because the time-difference between pressing the shutter-release and recording the image left me with lots of pictures of vacant sand where the fast moving kids were no longer present. All that has changed. For example, the latest range of Canon compacts, starting with the S120 and peaking with the G7X, has a wide range of manual white-balancing specifications for in-camera jpegs that can be activated with a single press of one button once that option has been chosen when setting up the camera. Not only that but each takes a picture almost instantaneously the shutter release is pressed. They both also shoot RAW files with all the advantages those represent when it comes to home computer post-processing but these take a little longer to record onto the memory card in the camera than a conventional jpeg.

    Canon G7X
    The Canon S120 is the latest incarnation in a long-running range of little cameras that have long been popular with divers and costs only around £490 when bought as a package with its proprietary housing, but the Canon G7X has a much larger sensor meaning it can be used at higher light-sensitivity (ISO) settings without any electronic noise disfiguring the pictures. This means it gives excellent results by the light available at greater depths. With a polycarbonate Canon proprietary housing, expect to pay around £700 for it. The fly in that particular ointment was until recently the fact that the only submersible housing originally available for the G7X was one that did not accept ancillary lenses. Without a wide-angle wet lens fitted, one had to stand off the subject further than would otherwise be normal and the ensuing loss in quality thanks to the extra water it shot through lost the G7X any advantage over the S120 it might have had. recsea_rx1003_rearAgain, all that has changed with the advent of housings for the G7X by third-party manufacturers and the soon-to-arrive Inon adapter for the proprietary Canon housing. These can accept both wide-angle and macro lenses that fit directly to them without resorting to any adapter. Of course a bespoke precision machined aluminium housing such as that made by Nauticam at around £765 comes with a cost differential that puts it beyond the budget of many people but the neat little Recsea housing bridges the gap between that and the polycarbonate entry-level version. (Incidentally, there will soon be an additional fitting available at extra cost that will finally allow you to fit wet lenses to this too.) recsea_g7x_frontThe Recsea housing costs around £475 meaning this package of G7X and housing totals approximately £975. The housing is machined in Japan from durable corrosion-resistant POM and acrylic and as such is lightweight. POM is an engineering thermoplastic used in precision parts requiring high stiffness, low friction and excellent dimensional stability. In common with many other synthetic polymers, it is produced by different suppliers with slightly different formulas and sold under various names such as Delrin etc. The Recsea housing is rated to operate down to 50m deep and its clear acrylic back-plate is kept closed on to its water-tight sealing O-ring by a dial locking system. It offers full access to all the regular camera controls including the rotating front ring around the lens. You can use it in full Manual mode with access to both shutter-speed settings and lens apertures. A camera strobe diffuser and strobe mask with external strobe connection mount is included.recsea_g7x_open It weighs a mere 678g out of the water yet it is conveniently just negatively buoyant with camera installed when diving. Most importantly, the fixed front port of the Recsea housing has a 67mm thread that allows the user to fit a wide-angle or macro lens. The Inon UWL-S100 ZM80 (around £350) and the Subsee +10 Close-up lens (around £210) are popular examples. There is also a similarly neat Recsea housing available for the Sony RX100 mkIII camera that employs a sensor of almost identical specification to the Canon G7X. Both these cameras offer an interesting compact solution with picture quality approaching that of the more bulky and commensurately more expensive micro four-thirds cameras in their own submersible housings. recsea_g7x_rearI anticipate seeing a lot on the camera tables of dive boats and can recognise that the G7X and Recsea combination will appeal to those travelling Economy class by air without too much carry-on baggage allowance because it weighs so little and takes up so little space. You can buy both Canon cameras and housings at Ocean Leisure Cameras.

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