Sunday, July 13, 2014

Good Things Come in Small Packages!

 By Jim Boon
 A DSLR user tries out "going small" with the Olympus OM-D E-M1 and Aquatica housing.

On a recent live-aboard trip to the Sea of Cortez, I had the misfortune of flooding my housing on the second dive of my trip. I was heartbroken at losing my favorite lens and a darn good DSLR camera body. At that very moment, I was looking at the next seven days of being on a live-aboard with twenty other camera-divers and I would not be taking any photos.

As word of my camera flood went around the boat, our trip leader Jack offered to loan me a new Olympus OM-D E-M1 camera in an Aquatica AQ-EM1 housing. Pretty hard to turn down that kind of an offer! I was excited to get my hands on one these new micro four-thirds size cameras in such a robust housing.

The E-M1 camera I was about to use had an Olympus 9-18mm wide angle lens. Since I love shooting close-focus wide-angle, it was a perfect setup for my first experience with this camera.

I spent about an hour with the easy-to-follow owners manual, did some creative wiring of my strobe lights and I was almost ready to get back in the water.

I first noticed how easy I was able to get my camera settings lined up the way I had them on my DSLR. I like to shoot RAW or aperture priority and it was easy for me switch between the two settings. The controls are logical and comfortably located on the body. I took a few test shots on deck and mounted the SW8 wide angle port and extension onto the housing.

Loading the camera into the housing was also a breeze. There are some very positive ‘set points’ for the controls that you must adjust or line up, or the door will not close. Once closed with a single cam-lock, I only needed to make a few pumps to pressurize the housing to get a steady slow green blinking light and all was ready. A couple more test shots with the camera in the housing and then it was time to start diving again.

I have always framed my exposures through a viewfinder, which can be pretty difficult sometimes depending on lens selection, subject angle, lighting and especially current conditions. I was so pleasantly surprised at the ease of being able to quickly compose my photos through the generously sized Olympus electronic viewfinder.

With a firm grip on the Aquatica housing, I could extend my arm into small holes or crevices, compose the shot in the viewfinder and shoot with one hand on the housing and one ‘finger’ balancing me. That is very hard to do with my big DSLR setup. Within ten minutes of my first dive with the camera, I was getting images of quality totally equal to my recently deceased DSLR.

The Aquatica housing is easy to maneuver in the water when positioning for the perfect image. Adjusting the zoom control is a breeze and changing camera settings has positive tactile feedback even when wearing tropical dive gloves.

I was very happy to have had a week of diving with this Olympus/Aquatica m4/3rds combination and then be able to share my observations. It has made a believer out of me that great things do really come in small packages.