Friday, December 12, 2014

Review: Sony A6000 Underwater Imaging, Part 2

Part 2, Diving in PNG and Using the Metabones Adapter

By Bill Van Antwerp - See part one here.

In the second part of the review for the A6000, I will discuss how the system worked underwater during a 2-week trip to Papua New Guinea on the Chertan and explore some options for lenses other than the Zeiss 50 mm macro lens.

First we will take a look at the Metabones adapter with the Canon 60 mm macro lens and the Tamron 60 mm macro lenses.  Metabones is a relatively small company based in Canada that makes sophisticated adapters so you can use Sony cameras with Canon EF and EF-S lenses. The adapters maintain electrical contact with the camera and can control both aperture and shutter speed information.  The adapters also allow autofocus but with either the Canon or Tamron 60, the autofocus speed is terribly slow. The Metabones site says “Autofocus speed is very slow and inadequate for most moving subjects. The autofocus speed is unfit for professional use for sure, and it would disappoint most enthusiasts.”  I can say with certainty that they correctly identify the issue.  To use the adapter, I put the camera in manual focus mode, set the focus for about 4 inches away and move the camera in and out slowly to reach focus then fire the trigger. 

Before the trip, I compared the Zeiss to the Canon 60 and the Tamron 60 both using the Metabones adapter. Here are some shots to compare the lenses.

Zeiss 50 macro, 1/160 second, f:22
Canon 60 macro, Metabones adapter,
f:22 1/160 second
Tamron 60, Metabones adapter,
1/160 second f:22
Looking at the three photos all appear adequately sharp, in spite of my diminishing ability to detect focus, but using the Zeiss is the simplest since it shoots autofocus.  Notice that all three lenses were shot at f:22 and show reasonable depth of field but due to the magnification that I was interested in the gills of this plastic nudibranch are still a bit out of focus.

Underwater, I was incredibly impressed with the quality of the images produced by the system.  Once the camera/housing/strobes were set up correctly the system is a joy to use underwater. 

On one of our first stops on the Chertan, we came across an anemone with Clark’s anemone fish in it.  Near the side of the anemone was a patch of eggs and with some patience I was able to capture one of the adults aerating the eggs as shown below.

This was shot with the Zeiss 50, 1/100 sec, f:11 from about 2 feet away. Color and clarity look quite nice. 

On the same dive site, we came across this little white nudi, about 12 mm or so in length. This one was shot with the Tamron 60 and the Metabones adapter.  I have probably 20 shots of this guy and this one is the one that is most in focus, using the adapter underwater with the manual focusing technique is quite hit and miss but the quality of the image when you get it is quite nice.

On many of the dives from the Chertan we were specifically looking for nudibranchs.  I often take a homemade stage with me in order to pose the nudibranchs.  This photo is one of a flabellina posing on the yellow green stage.

Doto nudibranchs are some of the most beautiful in the area and can make some spectacular photos. This photo is not terribly spectacular but shows the beauty of the Doto. This one is called the donut but has no family name only sp.

The Zeiss lens captures both the intricate detail of the Doto and the gorgeous colors.

Overall, I like the system a lot. In spite of a few issues with sync speed and manual strobe control, the system performed well and I was able to get a pretty nice portfolio from the trip.  The system using the Zeiss lens is easy to use, all of the controls are very easy to get to (except the back focus button) and it is easy to compose with the viewfinder, I never used the back screen for composition.  Battery life is exceptional; it was easy to get at least 3 dives per full battery charge, and the battery life indication is easy to see and appears to be quite accurate.  At the end of a particularly long third dive the camera told me “battery exhausted” and I thought so was the diver. 

Shooting the system with the Metabones adapter and manual focus is a very different type of photography than shooting it with autofocus lenses.  It is much more contemplative since it takes quite a while to set up and shoot, moving the camera very carefully toward the subject and figuring out focus plane.

The whole process of shooting with the Metabones system is similar to shooting large format cameras, you definitely need to slow down and really think about how this will look on the wall.

The above picture was taken with the Tamron 60 macro lens and the Metabones adapter. Controlling where the in-focus areas should be is great fun but a bit more work than simply aiming and shooting. More work, but definitely a lot of fun if you are willing to take the time on a particular subject.  One other thing that is very easy to do is to use and adapter and some older manual focus macro lenses.  I shot on a couple of dives with an ancient Asahi Macro-Takumar using a NEX – M42 adapter.  You have to pick your aperture and focus length on the boat, this is even more fun/challenging than using the Metabones which allows aperture control, but you can achieve a “look” that is completely different than the “look” of modern lenses.

This little Okenia is about 4 mm long, and this was shot with the Nauticam SMC and the Zeiss 50.  The system is quite versatile since you can shoot semi-manual with your Canon lenses if you want, or you can shoot full manual with any of a variety of older lenses.  While I did not shoot any wide-angle photos on the trip, friends who shoot the Zeiss 12 mm think it is awesome.

Overall, I think the A6000 camera in the Nauticam system is a great tool for shooting macro and super macro.  Using the Nauticam SMC and the SMC multiplier on the Zeiss 50 led to some amazing super macro photos and the quality of the SMC with the Zeiss is remarkably clear with little or no aberrations.