Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Purchasing a Mirrorless Camera System

Many people are upgrading from a compact camera to one of the new mirrorless cameras like the Olympus or Panasonic micro 4/3rds, or Sony Nex cameras.

There are some differences from buying a compact camera, mainly in terms of now having interchangeable lenses. You don't just switch from macro to wide angle with the one lens that's on the camera, you use different lenses and ports, and need to think through what kind of shots you're going to want to take while setting up the camera before a dive.

If you are going to buy a mirrorless camera, you are buying into a system. And that includes lenses, ports gears, tray/arms and strobes. The camera is going to end up being the least expensive part of it - and the part you are going to change out in a couple of years. You want to think about where you are going to be then in terms of what you can reuse and upgrade, and what the resale value is going to be like.

The Sony Nex5N is a great camera. There are very good wide angle options for it behind a dome port, and the lenses are fairly inexpensive. You just buy the 16mm and then add on the w/a or FE adapters to it. All three fit the Nauticam dome and you don't need a zoom gear. I would agree that the macro lenses are a bit limited, the 30mm hasn't worked out all that well underwater, but the wide angle shooting is very good.

Panasonic m4/3rds cameras have some very good lenses and shoot excellent video. We have found their cameras to be fussy when when working in optical sync with external strobes, particularly TTL. They are also more expensive. But they have more direct controls and better specs in many cases.

Olympus has very easy-to-use cameras and reasonably priced lenses. The new Olympus OM-D EM-5 camera is making many people sell their big DSLRs and move to this small, high-quality camera with great specs and imaging. They are filling in some gaps in lens offerings with new ones like the 12-50mm which does offer the ability to go from macro to a moderate wide angle view with the right port. The cameras seem to work very well in manual and TTL sync with external strobes.

But really, I would almost consider the housing before the camera; The Olympus housings are inexpensive at $599-799ish, as are the cameras. But adding ports to them is expensive. Your best options are the Zen dome at $499-799, plus the lens. that port may/may not fit a new housing. Although they do seem like they'll fit the new Oly OM-D housings, that may not be true in the future. And they are limited to 135', have plastic construction, will wear out much sooner and need service or replacement. Resale values are going to be much less percentage-wise.

10Bar and some other lines make good value aluminum housings. They have a good lineup of ports and features including a depth rating of 200'. They come with a 2 year warranty and can be serviced in Hong Kong. Their controls and construction aren't as good as Nauticam, the ports not as specific to certain lenses. But they do seem to work well for many divers wanting to keep costs down. However resale values are pretty low.

If you spend a bit more on a Nauticam housing, you are buying into a much broader system; many more ports and gear combos, both Pany and Oly lenses fit all the housings. They usually have a leak detector. The housings are rated to 200-300' and are much more rugged. They can be easily serviced and will last a long time.  They tend to be less bulky, have a much more ergonomic design, better, smoother controls and usually support all camera functions (the Oly's tend not to have the rear dial control). The ports have a locking bayonet mount that is almost impossible to mis-mount. They come in flat, dome and semi-dome designs. They tend to be less expensive as well. They will be a popular option on the used housing market and you'll be able to transfer your lenses and ports onto the next system, making it a much better value in the future.

The Nauticam housing for the OM-D ($1350) is very competitive with the Oly ($995) with all the above advantages.  And you are much more likely to be able to resell it at a decent price, and re-use all the lenses, ports and gears when you upgrade.

All of these manufacturers are constantly upgrading their lines. The cycle used to be one year, but now it's 6 months! There's nothing really wrong with saving a bit on a camera that's 6 months old and spending it on a better housing too.

Lighting is the most critical thing you will spend money on. Buy more than you need, start with one good strobe and add another. We like the Sea & Sea YS-D1 strobe a lot - all of us are shooting it now.

So be sure to think through your new system, think though how you want to expand it and upgrade it in the future, and what you want to do with your photos. It may give you better ideas towards where you want to take your present purchase.

Optical Ocean Sales Has a New Website!

Optical Ocean Sales
After patching together our old site for 8 years, it was time to make a change to an entirely new Optical Ocean Sales webstore! We've redesigned and reorganized the store so that it's fast and easy to find products and systems to improve your underwater photography.  

A Few New Features: New Home Page: Bright graphics greet and direct you to the main store pages. At the bottom, you'll find additonal information will help you including: Customer Care, and our all-new Education section (check out our new articles on the Panasonic G1X and YS-D1). You can also translate the site into several languages and currencies.

On our Graphic Categories Pages you'll find our new Housing and Port Locator. Just type in camera or lens to find recommended options.

Navigation is always available from the top tab "Shop Store" drop-down and left-hand Category menus on all pages.

Categories, Subcategories and Product Filters: All items are shown at the top level, then can be broken down by sub-categories, or by product filters. You can sort these results, or display them in 3 different modes. There is a "Quick View" of each item as you scroll over it.

We've updated product information and added hundreds of new, up-to-date items, with a "What's New" category of highlights. We've greatly expanded and updated our "System Packages" and added SEACAM offerings as examples. You'll find photographs, details, product options, prices and tabs with additional information on the Product Pages. There is a personal "Wish List" that you can add products to.

Our Checkout is now all on one page! There are four sliding sections that open and easily guide you  through the process, with additional options for shipping - now FREE for orders over $200 in the US.

You can log into your account to see orders and open an order communication with us.

Wow! Too many improvements to even show you. Just visit the store today and try them all out!

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Optical Ocean Sales Becomes SEACAM Dealer

SEACAMUSA, the exclusive North and South American distributor for SEACAM underwater housings and submersible strobes, is proud to announce the appointment of Optical Ocean Sales as a SEACAM dealer.

In recognition of their 9-years service to the local Northwest diving community and the passion for underwater photography by owner Jack Connick, SEACAMUSA owner Stephen Frink comments “We are very pleased to have Jack and his staff as members of the SEACAM team. We welcome their expertise and commitment to customer service to underwater photography in general, and the SEACAM product line in particular. We look forward to making SEACAM available to ever more consumers by their regional presence and contagious enthusiasm”.

Optical Ocean Sales retail showroom is located in Seattle, Washington, the only dedicated underwater photography equipment store in the Northwest. But their reach extends far beyond, with their online e-commerce store. Jack Connick has been a life-long photographer, with experience including over 25 years of experience as a professional graphic designer, art director, and underwater photographer. He has extensive diving and photographic experience, both in the tropics and in his cold home waters in the Pacific Northwest.

SEACAM is a premium line of aluminum housings and strobes designed and built in Austria by Harald Hordosch. Known for their quality optics, superb ergonomics, and robust performance; SEACAM is the brand preferred by professional photographers and discerning enthusiasts around the world.

For more information contact Optical Ocean Sales, LLC at 1800 Westlake Ave N., Suite 201, Seattle, WA 98119; or by phone at 1-800-359-1295 or 206-284-1142. Contact via OpticalOceanSales.com and email

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Focus Lights Beam Test

We conducted a beam test of most of the lights in our current focus and video light inventory recently. Lights from Light & Motion, iTorch, Big Blue, Fantasea and others were tested, setting them at a fixed position and a 5' distance from a wall, then photographing them at a set exposure and lens position. This is NOT a scientific test, but should give a good relative idea of the strength, beam width and evenness of the lights' output.

Download a .pdf file here with links to each light.

Expand to full screen and turn on "Show Info" to see names of lights.

Putting Your PEN in Place Underwater

The Olympus E-PL3 ($699) is a good camera and they've made some nice improvements over the E-PL2 this year in terms of speed; particularly AF, as well has now having full 1080i HD video now. The flash is now an external, which means that the housing had to become taller again. There is a nice tilt screen for above water shooting.

There are 3 housings that Optical Ocean Sales offers and one alternative.

Olympus made sort of a lame new port of the housing in the PT-EP05L this year. The housing is about the same design as previous years with plastic construction rated to 135'. It now has 4 very small LEDs that supposedly would be a focus light for macro, but the lights are completely dim, useless and bulky. The also added a metal screw on ring w/67mm threads which is good for macro. And they raised the price $200 to $799, which is overpriced for what it is.

I can't say I like this housing unless you also buy a Zen dome port ($499) which would give you good wide angle with the kit 14-42mm lens and very good wide angle shots with the 9-18mm lens. I think it also supports the new Olympus 12mm lens as well.

Another Olympus setup we're promoting as an alternative to the E-PL3 is the Olympus PEN E-PM1 camera and the PT-EP06 housing. Functionally about the same camera, not quite the software or direct controls, but it has the same sensor, video, lens and processor, etc. Smaller body too - and it's $499.

They made the same sort of housing with lights for it as the E-PL3 (the PT-EP06L), BUT we've been able to order the PT-EP06 housing without the lighted port for $599. There is no threaded ring to mount a macro lens, so you have to use the external holder. But we feel it is a better replacement for last year's E-PL2 camera/housing combo.

We've been selling the 10Bar housings in the US now for several years, and have worked closely with them to improve their housings and parts over that time.

I feel they offer a good value for the price. They are aluminum, rated to 200', have all controls, double oring construction. Fairly rugged. The 10Bar E-PL3 housing has interchangeable ports that cover most of the available lenses for Olympus or Panasonic. The housings are as small as possible, and fit the camera closely. You can buy them with different port configurations, but generally most people buy it with the semi-dome port that works with both the 14-42 or 9-18. They offer both electrical (manual only) or optical strobe sync. The housings come complete with gears, port, extra orings, cleaning kit and small carrying bag. Optical Ocean Sales housing kits also include a "spare parts" kit of control parts and port caps (which aren't standard). They have a 2 year warranty, but have to be serviced in Hong Kong.

They are heavier, and I would say the controls can be "fussy" at times. Knobs are a bit small for divers with gloves, not a good choice for cold water divers in that respect. I can't say I like the zoom control, you have to push it in and turn, which is awkward and not direct. 10Bar is a good, but small company and can be slow to respond to issues. But I have a good relationship with them and generally can help with communications. Again, I feel they are a good "value" housing and we sell lots of them.

As far as Nauticam, they really do offer the best housings available. Rugged aluminum, cam shell opening, very ergonomic design and layout of controls and buttons. The NA-EPL3 housing like all of their diverse housing offerings high-quality gearing offering precise control. They include an audible and lighted leak sensor. Locking bayonet ports are easy to change. Smaller than the Oly housings, lighter weight than 10Bar, with a good supply of ports, gears and accessories. Optical sync only. Excellent support with a one year warranty, serviced in the US or internationally. They are more expensive at $1650 for the housing alone. Right now they are offering a free, high-quality and very adjustable Flexitray with mounts included with the E-PL2, E-PL3, GF-2 or GF-3 housings - a $202 value.

So I guess you pay you're money and make your choice - in underwater photography like life - you pretty much get what you pay for.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Optical Ocean Sales Guides to UW Photography Available

Martin Heyn and I have put together a couple of free .pdf guides that gives new underwater photographers a starting place, and more experienced photographers gain basic knowledge of strobe positioning and usage.

Basic Tips for UW Photographers:
Is a 17-page guide that gives you a number of ways to work on improving your phoots. Brief descriptions of ideas are illustrated with example photos. Basic rules on shooting angles, composition, lighting and much more are presented.

Basic Principles of Strobe Positioning: Is a 14-page guide that gives practical approaches to positioning and use of one or two strobes for more successful lighting solutions. Macro and wide angle setups are shown with photos and tips on strobe usage.

We hope you'll enjoy these brief guides as a starting place for your own creative images to take off!