Nauticam

  • It Used To Be Not If, But When!

    Anything taken underwater that has an air-space within it will have a tendency to leak. This sad fact of life used to be never more true than with cameras. There was even the once ironically named Society of Nikonos Flooders! So the philosophy of underwater photography combined with the realism of the likelihood of a flood coined the advice, “It’s not if, it’s when.”

    So why does something that is designed to keep the water out, let the water in? Well, it’s all down to the fact that you need to access a submarine housing from time to time, whether it is to renew a battery or replace a memory card. The seal at the point of entry is usually effected by an O-ring that sits it a groove and abuts another surface when the unit is closed up. If the point of contact between the O-ring and these surfaces is not scrupulously clean and smooth, free of any foreign bodies like hair or grit, the seal will be broken and water at the pressure of depth will hose through the so-caused gap.

    The O-ring must be lightly greased. This does not help it seal but simply allows the O-ring to flex and move as the two surfaces are offered up to each other. Too much grease can in itself cause a leak. You should just put on enough to make it glisten.

    Passing a clean O-ring between your lips can help you detect if it has any grit or hair clinging to it and you might do this before you re-grease it. O-rings are often supplied with camera housings as spares but the original will never wear out. You would need to damage it with a sharp object for it to need replacing.

    So keeping the opposing surfaces smooth and clean and placing a clean lubricated O-ring between them should maintain a perfect seal – but bad things can still happen. Using the wrong type of grease can cause a leak. If you use silicone grease on a silicone O-ring, it can cause it to swell or start to dissolve. Use the right grease - an environmental silicone - even on neoprene O-rings.

    Don’t leave your rig in a fresh water rinse tank. Other divers may not be so careful about your precious kit and a careless collision with another object being rinsed could cause some catches to come undone.olympus_tg4_package_1

    Isn’t there a better way? Well, yes there is. If you want a compact camera, what about the Olympus TG4 in an Olympus housing? You will need to maintain the main O-ring of the housing in much of the same way as you would any other make of housing but the TG4 has a second line of defence in the event of an ingress of water into it. The Olympus TG4 is itself an amphibious camera and can be used down to 15 metres deep just as it is. Put it inside it’s housing and, should the housing be found to leak, you will only need to ascend to 15 metres deep and later, open the housing and rinse it in some fresh water and dry it, before you are ready to reinstall it in its housing, first having discerned what caused the leak in the first place.

     

    nauticam_na_g7xIf you go for a compact in a more elaborate housing, buy a Nauticam and spend the additional £191 on a vacuum leak-test kit. These vacuum leak test are available on bigger more expensive Nauticam housings for bigger and more expensive cameras and nobody in their right mind would eschew the chance to never suffer another leak again.

    The vacuum leak test as an integral part of a housing was first introduced by Hugyfot. These housings are available only for more expensive cameras but when they were first introduced many years ago, several owners suffered flooded cameras. The problem was that these housings are securely sealed and locked using bolts. These bolts were sometimes not fastened tightly enough and when the clamshell housing was pushed together by the intense pressure found at depth, the bolts could work loose. When the diver ascended to a lesser pressure, the two halves of the clamshell housing could become loose and a flood was the result. The Hugyfot vacuum leak-test was the answer to this problem (now included as standard equipment on all Hugyfot housings) and Nauticam has more-or-less adopted a similar system.hugyfot_canonmk3_front

    This is how it works: The camera is sealed inside the housing with a lightly lubricated O-ring to seal out water, as usual. A pressure sensor within the housing confirms it is working and a (red) LED signals that the air inside the housing is at the same pressure as outside.

    The air is then vacuumed out of the housing via a special one-way valve using the pump provided. The pressure sensor inside detects that the air pressure is suitably reduced and a green LED shows. Green is good.

    The user then waits to see if the green light remains or whether a red light will show instead. It is recommended to wait around 20 minutes. If no air has leaked in, no water will leak in. Depressurizing the interior of the housing has a secondary benefit. Outside air pressure pushes the two parts of a clamshell housing together so firmly that you need not do up any bolts or close catches (should you forget) and you literally cannot prize the two parts apart without letting air back into the housing via the valve provided.

    nauticam_5dsrSo this cured at one stroke, the problem of Hugyfot users not fastening the housing bolts sufficiently, as well as ensuring there was going to be no leak. Hugyfot cured this design/user defect at one stroke.

    Underwater photographers find that winking green light to be very comforting on a dive and never open the valve to let air into the housing until they are out of the water and done using the housing. Now it’s not not-if-but-when, it’s green ensures your costly camera will survive!

     

     

     

  • Dome Ports for Underwater Cameras

    Serious underwater photographers shoot their wide-angle pictures from behind dome ports. What’s that all about?nauticam4.33domeport

    A dome port has no effect when viewing through it with the same medium (air) on both sides but once you put the outer surface in contact with water the refraction between that and the air in front of the camera lens comes into play. What happens is that a virtual image is formed ahead of the dome port and the camera lens is allowed to focus on that instead of the real subject some distance ahead. The effect is to produce an image that is more saturated in colour. The problem comes when you realise that this virtual image is curved and the distance in front of the lens is quite close.

    Some photographers get disappointed when they find that their expensive wide-angle lenses are no longer giving images that are sharp from side to side and resort to fitting them with high-strength dioptre close-up lenses in order to get them to focus close enough to get this virtual image sharp.

    That’s because most expensive wide-angle lenses are rectilinear designs that have a very flat field-of-view, something that is admirable when using them solely in the medium of air. At the same time, few focus close enough.

    That’s why you’ll see top underwater photographers using full-frame fish-eye lenses behind dome ports. Often these give very disappointing results in air but in conjunction with a dome port their aberrations actually become an advantage. A curved field-of-focus is a positive bonus where trying to make a sharp record of a curved virtual image.

    Dome ports come in different diameters with a different radius to their curve. The bigger the dome port the further in front of it the virtual image is formed and the easier it is to get the camera lens positioned at the right point behind it. That said, big dome ports can be unwieldy to use, hence the popularity of mini-domes. The smaller domes produce their virtual image much closer to the front of the port and it’s really important that the front node of the lens is positioned in the correct place relative to it.

    The front node is not something you can see. It’s an optical term. Camera housing manufacturers have done empirical tests with most popular lenses to confirm what spacer ring might be needed to allow the dome to be positioned in the right place relative to the camera. They provide lens/port charts for this purpose and your underwater photography equipment dealer will have that information if you cannot find it on-line.9inchzendome

    Dome ports can be made of acrylic material, polycarbonate or glass. Glass is the most expensive and the most hard wearing but if you are unlucky enough to scratch or chip it, there is nothing you can do apart from clone out the unwanted mark in your pictures, later with software on your computer.

    Polycarbonate is inexpensive and lightweight but the same applies as glass should you damage it. Acrylic ports have an advantage in that the material has the same refractive index as water so minor scratches become invisible in your shots underwater unless you happen to take a picture into the sun. Acrylic is very easily scratched but in the same way it is very easily polished.

    Simply take a piece of fine grade abrasive as used in finishing the paintwork of cars and gently cut back the scratch until they are has become an evenly matte surface. Then polish it back to clear acrylic using some proprietary silver polish wadding. It takes some elbow grease but you will be rewarded with a dome port that is immaculately clear of marks.

    Some say that glass ports are optically superior to acrylic ports. I have owned and used both including an optically coated glass port that I imported specially from Japan and can tell you that the pictures taken with both this and a top quality acrylic dome are indistinguishable.

    A manufacturer like AOI makes a range of glass and acrylic dome ports for Olympus system compact camera housings so the choice is yours.

    You may find that a large glass port is easier to use for those over-and-under shots taken at the surface because droplets of water are less likely to cling to the glass. A large dome port certainly helps get those type of pictures because, remember, the lens has to focus on a nearby virtual image for the under part and the over part is in air, probably at infinity. You need to use very small lens apertures to get the huge depth-of-field needed or a split close-up lens that affects only the bottom part of the lens. These rarely fit on fish-eye lenses.

    Some underwater photographers report good results using smaller domes for these over-and-under pictures but invariably they are in bright sunshine that allows them to use the smallest lens aperture with perfectly calm water, but they normally need to make an exposure adjustment in digital post-processing to get both halves of the picture in balance.

    The important thing to remember is that when buying a port, you will need the right extension ring to position it correctly relative to the lens. Alas, it’s not something you can confirm by taking a picture when in the equipment sales room and not underwater.977685_632320780114194_1262934048_o

  • 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!

     

  • Vacuum Leak Tests

    Photographing a Dugong in Egypt The Author photographing a Dugong in Egypt
    In a career as an underwater photojournalist spanning twenty-one years I made around three-hundred individual dive trips. That amounts to more than six-and-a-half -thousand dives and virtually every one was made armed with a camera. Would it surprise you to know that in the process I flooded a couple? Well, you might think that two floods in that many dives is not a bad average but I can tell you that every one left me cringing. It’s not just the cost of replacing the camera but it’s the cost of missing out on the pictures while you are so disarmed. How do floods occur? Inevitably it’s a case of user error. All you need is a badly seated main O-ring or some foreign body to drop on to it just as you close up the housing and it’s “Goodnight, Nurse!” Putting the camera into its housing after reloading a freshly charged battery of a new memory card should be straightforward. It is if you are in a clean environment such as a well-lit hotel room and nobody distracts you while you do it. However the world is not a perfect place and substitute those idyllically serene conditions for the rolling deck of a dive boat in a rough sea or the gloomy interior of an island hut and operational accidents can happen. Some people take their housings into the sea for a first dive without their camera installed. I see little point in this since the housing must be cracked open in order to install the camera later and that is when O-rings might pop unobserved or  a stray strand your girlfriend’s hair might float into the place where it can cause chaos. As a busy professional, I always carried a duplicate camera and lens with me in case the worst happened. I might see tell-tale bubbles escaping from the housing while underwater and lose a dive but at least I could carry on afterwards. To flood two cameras on the same trip is tantamount to carelessness.
    The author photographing a Great Hammerhead (Picture by Bob Semple) The Author photographing a Great Hammerhead shark (Picture by Bob Semple)
    With a little compact camera in a transparent plastic housing you can always check for a leak by gingerly immersing it in the fresh water rinse tank. The sight of a few drops of water that can be removed before they do any real damage will reveal a leak. Not only that but a cursory examination of the O-ring in its groove through the transparent plastic will show up any break in the watertight seal. Not so with machined aluminium housings. One just had to be fastidious in preparation and have faith in your ability to do it right. A leak detector merely sets off a loud siren should it detect water inside the housing. By then it is usually too late and only adds more crisis to the drama as you try to get back to the surface before the precious camera inside is lost for good.
    Leaksentinel unit Nauticam Vacuum Valve
    Gradually I evolved from shooting on 35mm film to digital cameras and from there inevitably ended up working with full-frame DSLR cameras. These became so expensive to buy that there was no way I could warrant the expense of doubling up but technology came to my rescue in the form of the vacuum leak-test.
    Nauticam Leak Detector In Use Pumping out the Air from the Housing
    Instead of testing for leaks with water that will ruin the camera should you get it wrong, you test for leaks prior to diving using non-destructive air. This is by and large how they work although different makes of equipment have intermediate lights using different strategies. After sealing up the housing with the interior full of air at ambient pressure, a warning light indicates that. It is red. You then pump out the interior through a special valve in the bulkhead of the housing using the pump supplied. Once the interior pressure-sensor determines that a suitably low pressure has been reached, the indicator light shows green. Green is good.
    Nauticam traffic lights Indicator Lights. Green is Good, Red is Bad!
    Leave the housing for at least twenty minutes. If any air leaks back in, the warning light changes to red. Red is bad. If that happens you should reopen the housing and see what is amiss. It’s not a test of the housing. It’s a test of how well you closed it up after installing the camera. During the last seven or so years that I had the benefit of the vacuum leak test on my camera housing, I never lost a camera. Twice in that time I got a red light but was able to rectify the problem before it was too late. In previous years I would only have discovered the fault once I was under water with depressing results.
    Leaksentinel by Vivid Housings Sentinel Vacuum Leak Test
    I recommend anyone with a valuable camera to get the advantage of a vacuum leak test installed. Both Hugyfot and Nauticam, makers of camera housings, can supply them although it is an extra cost with Nauticam. There is also and after-market version called the Leak Sentinel that can be fitted to a wide range of housings. I can confirm that I always slept well in my cabin or hotel room while that little green light winked all night but I woke up with a start both times a red light began to flash. Green is good. A by-product of depressurising the housing is that the fittings are pulled tight and it is impossible to open unless you purposefully release the air-input valve. This means that both lens port and back are secure from accidental opening, for example in the fresh-water rinse tank, the site of many an accidental flood. I recommend you get a housing with a vacuum leak test or get one fitted and be released from the stress of waiting for a flood. After all, the saying goes, it’s not ‘if’ but ‘when’. John Bantin is the author of Amazing Diving Stories.

  • 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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