Friday, October 31, 2014

Review - Olympus PT-EP12 Underwater Housing for the PEN E-PL7 Camera

Olympus PT-10 housing alongside the new PT-12 housing.
Looking over the new Olympus PT-EP12 housing for the new PEN E-PL7 camera one is immediately struck by how much smaller it is and with a new shorter port it’s a lot more sleeker than all it’s predecessors.

Although it’s also shorter, lighter and thinner; the PT-EP12’s polycarbonate shell is still depth-rated to 147 feet (45 meters). The new housing design feels more like the compact PT-056 for the Olympus TG-3, than the older PT-EP10 for the PEN E-PL5. New are a larger, angled shutter release, easier-to-reach zoom and mode dials, and slanted function buttons - all very ergonomic to use and easier to hold. There’s a few other improvements like a larger rubber view-screen shade. Loading is still drop in and it accommodates the Olympus flash for triggering an optical sync external strobe like their new UFL-3 - a slightly revised Sea & Sea YS-01 with improved software for Olympus cameras to use RC two-way communications mode, and allows for on camera adjustments and much higher sync speeds..The internal flash and it’s housing window is too small to be used for anything else.

Features like two fiber optic sync cord plugs, cold shoe mount and a backed front and clear back are continued, as is its three-hole mounting plate. With its smaller size some smaller trays will probably fit it; so the entire rig becomes less bulky.

New easier-to-reach shutter release.
This new M.Zuiko Digital 14-42mm f3.5-5.6 MKIII EZ lens has a 3X electronic zoom capability that will be great for video, just like a camcorder you can now smoothly zoom in and out on your subject. The new lens uses their best ED glass, so it is a much sharper and higher quality lens than the kit 14-42mm MKII. The port on the EP-PT12 housing is now 67mm threaded and will work well with wet macro lenses, as there's not nearly the amount of dead air between it and the end of the port - so it will magnify the subject a little more. It’s also much, much smaller than the older port. The new MKIII EZ lens also focuses a little closer than the older MKII. But I would plan buying a couple of Zen ports to complete the system to use the Olympus 60mm macro and the 9-18mm w/a lenses. Using wet wide angle lenses with these SLRs is not recommended; you simply get too much chromatic aberration and distortion, along with very poor corners in your shots.

The smaller port is now compatible with the prime, fast mz ED 12mm f2.0, mz 17mm f1.8, mz 25mm f1.8, and mz 45mm f1.8. The 12mm and 17mm are good choices for available light underwater photography and video. But as it is flat port, and 1/3 of the field of view is lost; the 25mm and 45mm become too long and are not well-suited underwater.

The bad news also is that not only is the new port NOT compatible with the mz 14-42mm MK II kit lens that is bundled with the E-PL7, nor is it with the 60mm macro or mz 9-18 lenses - unlike all the other older PEN housings. This was always a nice feature for users; buy one housing and it would work with the same zoom gear and port that you got with the housing with other lenses.

Currently there is no bundle with the E-PL7 and the newer MK III PZ lens, so the cost to buy both is higher - $599 for the E-PL7 body only and $249 (list is $349 but it’s on sale for $100 off, when you buy a PEN or OMD body). So now $850 for the camera and lens as opposed to the $700 price bundled with the kit lens. However, there's isn't a zoom gear available because of the power zoom feature, so that saves $45. My advice? Buy the E-PL7 with the 9-18 W/A or 60 macro lens and skip the 14-42 MKIII lens.

I know that users may not quite get what Olympus was thinking, but the old port was pretty clunky in design and the new housing is much better suited to the small E-PL5 camera. The problem is that Olympus still views the ports on the EP-series, including the new PT-EP12 as non-interchangeable, even though it is obviously an easy change; remove the keeper screw, twist the bayonet mount port half and turn and pull out.

Zen has made replacement ports for some time now and their PEN series also fit this housing; but they are relatively expensive at around $500 each for the WA-100-EP dome and 45mm flat port (FP-100-EP)+ 25mm extension (ER-EP-25) for the 60mm macro, which sort of defeats the idea of a less expensive mirrorless setup than the OM-D EM1.

However, all-in-all its a nice improvement and hopefully some less expensive port options will be coming along.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Free Olympus E-M1 V.2 Firmware Update - Try Out Some New Creative Underwater Techniques!

While at first glance Olympus's new free OM-D E-M1 camera firmware upgrade v2 doesn't appear to offer much for underwater photography, digging into some of it's subtleties and improvements shows that it offers some pretty interesting ideas to expand your underwater universe.

The features added include most all of the latest ones now found on the new PEN E-PL7. It's not often that you can apply these types of upgrades to a camera that's nearly a year old.

Besides some improvements such as speeding up it's EVF display, more and smaller AF points, and improved focus peaking, there are a lot of new in-camera creative possibilities available such as using Keystone Correction to straighten the lines of a wreck, or maybe stalks of kelp, while shooting with a fisheye lens - right on the camera back. Same with it's Live Composite Tool; allowing for multiple exposures to be made creatively without post-processing. Other cool effects like Partial Color are now available, allowing you to shoot a brightly colored subject against a black and white background.

Do you like HDR? This popular technique of shooting and overlaying multiple varying exposures (now with exposure compensation) can be set-up and shot right on the camera. Using a high-frame rate, these HDR composites can be previewed on the camera display and then saved into RAW for further manipulation later.

Updates have also been made to the wireless apps and tethering software, along with many other features you'll enjoy using above water. You can also use them to apply filters and create composite "stories"  and upload them with your phone; without even opening your housing!

If you have one of these great Olympus micro-four thirds cameras, getting this free E-M1 firmware update is a no-brainer. It is easily downloaded onto a computer, then uploaded to the camera with the mini-usb cable included with the camera.

So enjoy this cool new present from Olympus and think creatively underwater, you might be surprised!

More information on the OM-D EM1 can be found here. You can download the updater here.

Here's a complete list of new features and changes:

8 New Functions:
  • Keystone Compensation (Digital Shift)
  • Tethered Shooting System (OLYMPUS capture)
  • Live Composite
  • Zoom In/Out and Layout have been added to Photo Story. Save (complete partway through), Temporary Save, and Resume functions have been added to Photo Story mode
  • New Art Filters: Vintage and Partial color
  • Old Film Effect in video recording
  • The Aperture Lock function has been added to Aperture Preview
  • The Panning Shot shooting mode has been added to SCN mode
16 Operability Improvements:
  • Image display time lag in the Electronic Viewfiner has been improved to 16 msec (frame rate setting is high speed)
  • Multiple simultaneous settings now available in Live Guide
  • Exposure compensation (±3 EV) is now available in HDR 1/HDR2 shooting
  • A function has been added to cancel Color Creator and return to the original Picture Mode by pressing the MENU button when using Color Creator function.
  • Movie Tele-converter can now be used simultaneously when Art Filter is set to Picture Mode.
  • AF function for each frame was added to Custom Self Timer. In Drive Mode's Custom Self Timer settings, you can now press the INFO button to change settings.
  • MF Assist is now supported in magnified frame position.
  • 3x has been added to high resolution magnified Live View.
  • The Peaking display frame rate has been improved.
  • Electronic zoom speed setting function was added. An icon appears on the LCD monitor when using an Olympus electronic zoom lens.
  • When the arrow pad is set to Direct function, the Underwater/Underwater macro functions can be used with the left and down button on the arrow pad.
  • Double tap is now supported in touch operations on the Super Control Panel.
  • The level gauge and histogram can now be displayed during magnified frame display. The Touch Off icon was added to magnified frame display.
  • A function was added so that shooting information recorded in HDR1/HDR2 can be viewed in the playback screen.
  • Information on composited number of shots for images recorded with Live Composite was added (Can be checked in Olympus Viewer3).
  • When the BKT button is held down, the BKT menu now appears.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

New Nauticam NA-5DMKIII Housing DEEP version - rated to 500!

The current Nauticam product line is designed to function flawlessly at depths up to 100m.  This supports the majority of recreational and technical divers, but cutting edge exploration teams are pushing further. NA-5DMKIII Deep, with its 150m depth rating, will fast become the tool of choice for documenting these expeditions.

The NA-5DMKIII Deep is designed to go way beyond conventional depths. This housing is rated to 150m (500ft), 50% deeper than the standard housing. The pressure at this depth is an astonishing 16 times the pressure we feel at sea level. Nauticam engineers have increased the wall thickness of the housing to make it more rigid, and to reduce the kind of torsion that cause controls to bind or fail. Each control has been carefully upgraded in terms of strength to function under the increased pressure, and the two command dials got special attention with a proprietary process to maintain ease of operation at depth.

This housing is functionally the same as it's sibling, the NA-5DMKIII. It is slightly heavier due to the additional thickness of the housing walls, but the difference is barely noticeable. It features the same magical ergonomics that have made the Nauticam 5D Mark III housing one of the most popular housings among professional underwater image makers. 

For those few that want to go there, the NA-5DMKIII Deep stands ready to go deep. Very deep.

Here's a video of a test dive to 500' with the new housing.

NA-5DMKIII DEEP Test Dive to 500ft from Christopher Parsons on Vimeo.