Monday, December 21, 2015

Nauticam Sony a7II with WWL & 90mm Lenses Review

Shortly before heading to the Philippines, customer Tor Trygstad decided to upgrade his Nauticam Sony RX100 compact system to the new, full-frame Sony a7llr MIR in a NA-A7II Nauticam housing. Although he really likes shooting macro, and housing the Zeiss 90mm macro lens was his first lens choice, he was impressed with the new Nauticam WWL-1 “Wet Wide Angle” lens system that works with the Sony 28mm f/2 lens.

“It was less expensive and much smaller than housing the Zeiss 16-35mm lens,” Tor said, “and having that ultra-fast Sony f/2.0 lens, coupled with the low-light capabilities of the Sony a7rll sealed the deal.” However, he did find it a bit heavy in the water and has added some additional floats. “It’s a lot of glass, he added.”

The Sony a7Rll was quite a step up for him from the RX100, although some of the layout of the menus is similar. He felt that the a7IIr has a great control set, and that he could make changes rapidly. “For my skill level this is invaluable for getting the shot right!”, he stated. One of features Tor liked most about moving to the advanced a7IIr SLR was a separate AF lock button - he ended up using it exclusively of the half-press shutter button; although you can lock AF either way. But locking it down and then recomposing by using the “back button” AF lock seemed easier after getting used to it.

Tor also said that with the with the Zeiss 90mm macro lens focus would hunt at times, or locked inconsistently. Using the focus preview helped quite a bit. Focus peaking and the magnified view display features the camera offers in manual focus are a better answer, so a manual focus gear was the first thing he bought upon his return.

One of the problems he had was that Live View Display comes turned on as a default on this camera (and some others like the Olympus E-M1). It shows the effect the aperture or exposure compensation setting has on the display while in manual camera mode. The result is that the display is very dim and hard to see. “A quick email to Jack at OOS, and he sent the instructions to disable that feature”. (Under Menu: Live View Display, turn feature off).

The Nauticam housing really impressed him. “Another flawless Nauticam experience,” Tor stated. “The controls are so well laid-out and the vacuum leak system was easy to work. It really took the worry out of taking my new system underwater.”

He added, “The only issues I had with the controls was that it was a little easy to hit the video record button. However, there is a camera setting to prevent that. I also occasionally nudged the exposure compensation wheel as well. But that’s pretty normal while getting used to new equipment.”

Tor used two Sea & Sea YS-D1 strobes, along with Nauticam’s flash trigger for fiber optic firing of them with manual control. “Manual is all I ever use anyway, it gives me better control than TTL”. You can buy the housing with electrical bulkheads as well. We have found that the new Sea & Sea YS-D2 strobe currently has inconsistent operation with flash triggers, due to a less-sensitive sensor on the strobe. Sea & Sea and Nauticam are aware of the problem, and are working on a solution for the new YS-D2 version of the strobes. Inon and Ikelite strobes don’t have that issue with the flash trigger.

Tor’s bottom line on the Nauticam a7 II system? “I ended up with far more keepers than normal. I continue to be impressed with Nauticam housings and Sony cameras, and this was without a doubt the easiest and most rewarding photo week yet!”

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Olympus 7-14mm f/2.8 PRO Lens Review

When deciding on a lens for my new Panasonic Lumix GH4 camera body, I chose the Olympus M. Zuiko Digital ED 7-14mm f2.8 PRO lens over a Panasonic lens, and I have been extremely happy with my decision. I just recently started shooting Mirrorless and after years of using only high quality Canon lenses, I was a little concerned about finding mirrorless lenses that would measure up. This lens sure does!

The Olympus M. Zuiko 7-14mm f/2.8 PRO lens is a really good choice lens for wide-angle shooting - as well as close focus wide angle - in any condition.

One of my first happy surprises was the image and color quality while shooting in the low light conditions - just before sunset. The images were so crisp and vibrant at a time when most lenses would just give me flat, muted results. In the example to the left I took a simple picture of my dog, but I really liked the result - there are so many colors on the beach, the reflections on the water and even in the sky… colors that other lenses and even many times the human eye, might miss. This was great news for me since I am an underwater photographer/videographer where lighting and color are always challenging. For example - the shipwreck had very challenging light, but even with the extreme light at the top, the details can still be seen in the darker areas.

Speaking of taking it underwater - this involves being around wet conditions. So it’s very comforting that this lens includes weather sealing in 11 locations.

Another refreshing change from my DSLR lens is the Olympus 7-14mm lens includes amazing close-up shooting capabilities, with a minimum working distance of just 7.5cm. This is a great feature, especially while shooting underwater and there isn’t the option to switch lenses. The lens port I use is pretty big, so I could not even get the lens closer than it’s focus range. But I was able to get at least within a foot of the subject and still had crisp focus.

I am also really happy with the size and weight of this lens. It is bigger than many other mirrorless lenses, but for the quality, it needs to be. Even though it’s bigger, the weight is still pretty light. For me, it seems really lightweight coming from DSLR lenses. It weighs just under 19 ounces. For underwater, I use the Nauticam NA-GH4 housing with a Nauticam 180mm Optical Glass Dome Port and the N85 to N120 55mm Port Adapter. I was also using an arm system with two iTorch c92 video lights (Read review here). I added two medium sized 10Bar floats to the arms - that  combined with the amount of air around the lens, made the system close to neutrally buoyant.

At first I was a bit concerned that the hood on the lens is permanent. But, this has not been an issue and I have actually come to appreciate it. It’s pretty brilliant how the front dome lens element moves back and forth independent of the hood. Since the front lens moves forward as you go wider (toward 7mm), it prevents vignetting at the widest focal length. But, the lens does not extend beyond the confines of the top/bottom of the hood, so there is still some protection and shade provided. Another bonus, the pinch-style lens cap that is included to fit over the hood is deeper than most lens caps, so it fits much more secure.

Something that was new to me is the MF “clutch”, I must say, it does make it quicker & easier to switch back and forth - rather than a little button on the side of the lens like I’m used to. But, you also have to be more careful to not accidentally have it in the wrong mode - especially if you are putting it in an underwater housing.

I would definitely recommend the Olympus 7-14mm f/2.8 lens and I look forward to creating many more images and videos with it.

Monday, December 7, 2015

i-Torch Venom c92 Video Light Review

By Margo Cavis
After years of using older and less powerful lights, or relying on filters and manual white balance, I had the pleasure to test out the new iTorch Venom c92 video lights. The results were undeniably improved, with clean, vibrant colors and far more detail. So... I will never go without good quality video lights again.

The i Torch Venom c92 produces a nice, even light with 4000 lumens of brightness. I loved the LED read-out so I always knew exactly what power setting each light was on and I could be sure that both lights were set the same. I also was able to easily remember what power setting I needed for what type of dive, because of the number display. The fact that there are two buttons also made control of the light much more user friendly - one to control the mode and one for the power level, making things super clear cut.

It uses a COB light emitter, which is more balanced than a normal LED array. The light has a high 92 CRI index, making it very close to balanced daylight lighting. When using the Venom c92, it was very hard to see the edge fall-off (edge of the light beam) with the naked eye, but later when editing the footage, the edge fall-off was obvious in some shots. I would like the edge fall-of to be more gradual, but the only time this became an issue was when I had to keep moving and adjusting the lights to swim through wrecks - or inside the tight space of the wrecks. But this is partly because of the close quarters. As long as I had my lights aimed correctly, everything in frame was evenly lit, with the edges falling off screen and a nice gradual fall-off for things in the background or distance.

The Venom c92 has a two button control layout with an LED showing the power setting. One button is for mode the other for power, so controlling it for video was much easier than having to ramp through a long series of modes and powers with a single button. There is also a remote control available that uses fiber optic cords to control the power. The two powers of red light are useful for night dives or it can be used as a focus light. The red light is pretty bright, so I also experimented with using it on a shallower dive - to see what type of effect it had. I think it does make an extra level of color correction similar to a red filter, so it’s worth trying out.

The Venom c92 is powered by a rechargeable lithium cell that is enclosed in the tail of the light. To recharge it, you unscrew the tail of the light and plug it in to the supplied charger. The charging was the only part I wasn’t happy with - since the charging cable did not fit very securely into the battery unit. So after one attempt to charge failed due to the cable falling loose - I made sure to always leave the battery half attached to my armature system, then wrap the cord around the arm so it would not fall loose. When the lights were fully charged, I was left with more than enough power for a 2 dive trip.

Overall I was very happy with these lights. They are an excellent choice for underwater video.

Below is a video shot side-by-side with and without lights. You can see how much more detail, sharpness and color proper lighting can bring out. You can see more of my videos on the Optical Ocean Sales YouTube Channel.

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Sale on Underwater Photo Equipment!

On Now!

Sea & Sea TTL YS-D2 strobes $70 off! Now just $649! Now Extended until Dec 26th! New model with better controls, 2-step brighter target light, faster recycle. lighted modes and other improvements.

All of our single and double lighting packages and YS-D2 systems are also on sale - save up to $140 and combine with great Olympus prices on cameras and lenses!

Olympus cameras $80-$400 off! Lenses $50-$150 off!

Lots of lights, housings and more at great prices. Limited quantities, so act quickly!

See our On Sale section on the webstore.
For details see:

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

DEMA Underwater Photography Equipment Highlights

Speakers like Amos Nachoum shared astounding images and stories at DEMA.

Every year the Diving Equipment & Manufacturers Association has their annual tradeshow with lots of new products being introduced. It has become the best worldwide meeting spot for all industry people, with a large contingent of underwater photography folks and companies present. I look forward to going each year and seeing with present vendors and meeting new and old friends.

This year it was held in Orlando, Florida and it seemed to many of us to be a year with many improvements and product line expansions, but with few earthshaking photo product introductions. Nevertheless, there are many new products that will be coming available soon or in the first quarter of next year.

I talked with Edward Li and Ryan Canon from Nauticam for quite a while about their new Wet Wide Lens 1 that was recently introduced. It is a wet wide angle lens that can be added to many cameras including compacts, micro-four thirds and even the A7II series. It is used with the shorter normal focus lenses to extend their field of view to 120-130° with very sharp corners, unlike many lens solutions available currently. For compacts like the RX100 series with a 24mm lens it does require you to zoom in a bit. However it now provides full zoom-through which is important for video and previously only available on very high-end Fathom lenses for video cameras. For micro-four thirds when combined with the small 14-42EZ lens in  short port it can be used in conjunction with the CMC to switch from wide angle to macro on a single dive. For full-frame mirrorless cameras like the A7II, it provides a more reasonably cost-efficient, very high-quality and physically smaller wide angle solution, than current mid-range zooms.

New also is their rugged and easy-to-use bayonet mounting system for 67mm lenses like the WWL-1, CMC and SMC macro closeup lenses. I’ve used the Inon bayonets in the past and while they worked pretty well, the Nauticam adapter handles large lenses like the WWL-1 with ease and it’s larger knurled mounting ring and red release lever make mounting simple and more secure. They will also have a arm mount in single and double configurations so that you can park the lenses while not in use.

Nauticam has also just released their new Panasonic GX8 and Olympus E-M10II housings. Funny how they were almost an afterthought to the WWL optics. Both will work well with it.

Sea & Sea
Sea & Sea continues to improve and create it’s underwater photo line up. They were showing off their new and improved YS-D2 strobe and MDX-EM5MKII housing for the Olympus EM5MKII, as well as their new A7II housing. These products are more evolutionary than revolutionary, but really shows their attention to detail and dedication to the market. They also support and extend Sea & Sea’s unique optical sync technology with their TTL controllers available for most of the MDX line-up.

Ikelite has been very busy rethinking and redesigning their housing line up. Coming into the new year they will have a new port locking system based on their successful micro four-thirds port system. Now there is a locking collar on the ports that fits over an o-ring on a sleave on the housing. It seems to be a better, yet simple method that doesn't require that port latches are moved into position and secured. You simply tighten 3 screws on the port collar, like changing a light shade with the o-ring remaining in place.

Also new is that they will be making a housing with a new lighter weight, opaque grey material. They are combining this into a simpler, “splash” surf-type housing line up. The housings will have fewer controls and strobe support and are much lighter and a little less-expensive. This will be the perfect type of housing for those wanting to do shallow water photography while snorkeling, surfing, or in the pool. Backs and fronts of the dive and surf housings will be interchangeable as well.

I really like the out-of-the-box thinking that this approach is showing and look forward to the additional new line-up.

From Austria, Keldan was there with a huge new 24,000 light. Mainly directed to commercial photographers, to have this amount of high-quality lighting in one light is amazing. They have thought through the 100-watt li-Ion battery restriction by breaking the battery packs into three 100 watt  sections that are assembled into one pack.

He also has been hard at work on a new line of filters for both cameras and lights to provide a daylight balanced lighting solution thats much more natural. Kelvin first showed this approach with it’s Cyan head, balanced for an average depth in blue tropical water. Balancing the artificial light with ambient light removes many weird color balance shifts as the underwater lights play along with the surface lighting and make it much easier to shoot more natural video.

Keldan has now extended this by taking a colorimeter underwater and measuring the color temperature at different depths. He then has created 3 filters that can be added to Keldan lights to balanced their color temperature at those depths. He also has done the same with 3 filters for camera lenses which will be available in a few sizes to mount internally.

Big Blue Lights
Big Blue now has a huge line up of lights; with some 16 variations available. Most of their popular models like the Black Molly remain, but now also have an additional “warmer” mode available that mixes the red light with the white to lower the “blue” color of most LEDS from 5500K to 4500K. This results in better flesh tones and blue water white shooting video.

They also have reduced the size and made even higher output lights. Their large 15000 lumen light from last year now is a much smaller unit and is also a third less expensive. Taking the old larger form factor they have come out with outrageous 25,0000 and 30,000 lumen lights. These lights will be great for wreck and cave photography.


Kelvin Lee at iTorch has been busy creating a cool new product; a combination strobe and video light! The new Symbiosis Lighting System has a 1000 lumen video light grated onto a strobe! The strobe has a very powerful guide number of 32 with a 90x80° beam angle, or by using a diffuser, a guide number of 24 with a 100x100° beam angle. With the standard two manual modes it has a highly adjustable 15 level output. It uses an interesting auto mode that learns when you shoot it. For example, if you shoot it at f/5.6 and approve that output, it will then automatically adjust it’s output to different apertures while you shoot. it uses a rechargeable battery pack that should last for 400 flashes at high - enough for the day for many people. The light can be upgraded to 2500 or even 4000 lumens! It can also be used as a stand alone with an adapter. There are plans for a smaller unit (Symbiosis-1) with a guide number of 24 - 16 with diffuser. The unique all-in-one solution should be very popular with many divers. It should be available in late Spring of 2016.

They also have a new light that is shipping now and have lowered their pricing on others. The new Fish-Lite Green Star light has 2400 lumens and a small form factor with two rechargeable batteries. The nice thing about this light is that it has two buttons; one to control the mode from white or red, the other to turn it’s intensity up and down.

I met with several of my travel vendors and saw my friend Alberto from Dive Damai again. He “twisted” my arm into a new booking for Indonesia in November of 2018; from Ambon to Kupang - this would take us through the Forgotten Islands and the rarely dove areas in the south of Alor, finishing in Kupang.

Aggressor Fleet has a new boat for Sri Lanka (think wrecks, whales and all sorts of great adventures) that we have also booked for 2 weeks in the Spring of 2018! I have also booked several other exciting new trips for 2016 and 2017 - look for some announcements and details shortly!

The above are just a few personal highlights. I also met with my friends from Saga Dive, 10Bar, Fantasea, Xit404 among many others. Many of them have many other new and improved products coming out in the near horizon, but I was sworn to secrecy!

Sunday, November 1, 2015

i-Torch v25 FishLite Focus/Video Light Review

i-Torch with their sub-brands Venom and FishLite, has been making lights for many years now. Located in Hong Kong and distributed through i-Torch Canada, owner Kelvin Lee has produced innovatively designed lights that are a good value with their quality design, output and beam strength.

This year they brought out the I-Torch v25 FishLite. At first we thought it was an update to their older and popular V24 light, but in actuality if was a new product somewhere between their more expensive Pro6+ light and the V24. With the same 2800 lumen output, and adjustable white and red output, it also has the same size as the Pro6+, only lacking the purple color used for fluorescence photos. Most divers don’t miss this and they don’t miss the higher $450 price of the Pro6+ either.

The V25 FishLite has 4 steps of white, and two of red light, along with an SOS flashing mode. It’s switch has a built-in “airline” safety mode that requires 5 quick pushes to activate it, then a longer push to turn the light on and switch between it’s modes. It utilizes the now-familiar colored light bezel for relative remaining battery strength that changes from green to white to red as the battery runs down.

All of the iTorch lights come with a YS-mount and the V25 comes with two batteries and a separate charger. Changing the light to a ball mount is not currently possible, so a short YS-Ball arm must be used with a ball mount.

I had a chance to use the light as a focus/fill light quite a bit on my Solomon Islands trip as the airlines didn’t load my camera bag with strobes. I tried various cameras with it; an Olympus TG-4 in shallow water, an Olympus E-M1 on deeper dives, as well as an LX-100 and Sony A7II once my bags caught up with me.

The light worked very well in all conditions and it was neither too physically large, nor lacking in power. I used a small tray and arm to add it to the TG-4 without a housing and it allowed me to take close in photos quite well, giving a more even beam that the on-board flash. On the E-M1, I coupled it with the amazing new Olympus MZ 8mm f1.8 PRO lens as a fill in light, shooting available light in deep water and using the V25 as fill to add a little color and detail for close focus/wide angle shots. With the LX100 and Sony A7II, it was bright enough to used for focus, even at wide angle, in darker conditions.

The V25 battery easily lasted an hour, as it is rated at a 70min burn time on high. I rarely used it on high, and turning it up and down greatly extends it’s burn time. Having the extra battery ready-to-go on the charger, meant I never had to wait for a recharged light, and the battery charges quickly.

About the only negative of the light (and this is true of all single push button lights) is that to turn the light back up to high from a lower level, meant that you have to cycle through all of the mode settings. This can result in a lot of button pushing. More expensive lights, like the ITorch Venom series and Fix NEO lights have multiple buttons for mode and power.

The construction quality of the light held up well over the 25+ dives I did, with a twin o-ring seal (most all lights now have this) and aluminum construction.

The red light mode found on this light and others, is quite useful for night dives, saving your night vision and attracting much less krill that spoil shots with backscatter. It’s also useful while shooting shots of squid, crab, octopus and other critters who can’t see red light well. Most fish are still wary, but it does create a more calming tone.

The light was plenty bright to use as a dive light in the clear tropical waters I was in, but the wide 110° beam would dissipate quickly in more turbid conditions.

None of these lights have an auto off-on sensor, you just need to shoot faster than about 1/100 of a sec. Your strobes will wash out the light beam.

I didn’t get a chance to shoot video with this light, but my sense is that it should work fine for many compact cameras. For more serious videographers, it’s a bit underpowered at 2800 lumens as a true standalone video light, and having to push buttons down through red modes while shooting video would be tiresome. It therefore is more of an “all-in-one” focus/video light. But for power and quality at it’s low $349 price point, it’s hard to beat, and is one of our favorite lights this year.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Five New UW Photo Products We Like & Stock!

Here's just 5 of the many new exciting products that we've recently added! We've also updated and added many new System Packages. We'll have lots more new products coming after DEMA, stay tuned soon for more!

Nauticam WWL11. Nauticam Wet Wide Lens 1 This new "wet" optic from Nauticam is revolutionary in that it can be used with a wide variety of cameras; compacts like the Sony RX100 III and IV, or Pansonic LX-100, as well as Olympus and Panasonic m4/3rds with a small pancake 14-42mmEZ lenses, and even the Full-Frame Sony A7II with their 28mm lens. It's a 67mm mount and has amazing, sharp corners and about 120° FOV (varies with camera lens).
$995includes covers and a carrying case.

Saga Double Flip Holder2. Saga Dive Single and Double Flip
Diopter Holders
These high-quality flip diopter macro lens holders fit any 67mm threaded port, including Sea & Sea, SEACAM, Nauticam, Olympus, and others. Double version holds two lenses at the ready! Anodized aluminum with spring loaded "de-dents" that hold it open or closed.
Single: $229.95 Double: $294.95

10Bar Snoot with Laser Aiming Light3. 10Bar Strobe Snoot with Laser
Aiming Light
This aluminum snoot fits tightly to the front of the YS-D1 or YS-D2 strobe and has 5 sizes of openings. Used to shape the light to smaller amounts and direct it on or near the subject, snoots are very popular, as they eliminate background lighting and backscatter behind the subject. But they can be hard to aim.
Now 10Bar has added a laser aiming light with an auto shut-off. When the strobe fires, a small fiber optic cord turns the laser off, then back on automatically. There are 5 opening rings that screw off to adjust the light opening.
Read a review by "Go Ask Erin"!
S&S YS-D1/D2 model: $224.95 Inon z240 model: $199.95

Fantasea RX100IV Housing4. Fantasea RX-100III/IV Housing Made from high impact carbonate plastic, controls for all functions are labeled, ranked at different heights and easy-to-use. We like the design and quality of these value-priced housings. The round port allows it to be used with wide angle lenses. The camera just drops in and it comes with a leak detector, hand strap, diffuser, screen shade and port cover. Fits RX100III & IV $495

10Bar Arm Floats5. 10Bar Closed Cell Arm Floats
10Bar Arm FloatsHigh Density Foam Buoyancy Floats fit on lighting arms to provide a more neutrally buoyant system. Rubber stoppers slide on arms to for secure attachment. Closed cell foam sheds water and won't distort or flood at depth. Available in 3 sizes and as 8" or 11" arms.
Floats are $20-31.50/2 Pack, Arms $59.95

For more great Deals see our new Emailer!
Five New UW Photo Products You've Got to Try!

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Sea & Sea YS-D2 Underwater Strobe Review: The Best Got Better.

Long a major manufacturer of high-quality underwater strobes, Sea & Sea turned the world on it’s ear a few years ago with the introduction of the YS-D1 underwater strobe. Small, very powerful and adjustable, it's become a standard for many photographers. Recently Sea & Sea released a revised YS-D2 strobe model.

Featuring a whopping guide number of 32, the strobe has manual and auto D-TTL exposure which works with fiber optics on most cameras, and they even supplied a “slave” TTL mode for compatibility for newer cameras that might come out - ensuring longevity. Sea & Sea says that it was the first strobe to include actual .ev (exposure value) TTL settings. Inon has had something similar with its “auto” mode - but not in TTL. For those using electrical sync, it has a Nikonos bulkhead available. And to sweeten the deal, they even supplied your choice of mounts; YS and ball, along with two diffusers with 100 and 120 degree thicknesses, which cut the guide number down as they increase beam angle and soften the light.

There were annoyances with the YS-D1. Small switch dial knobs on the back were easily knocked to the wrong position if you grabbed the back of the strobe. It was hard to tell what mode you were in, and you had to look at the light on the bottom of the strobe to see if your TTL exposure was correct.

So Sea & Sea revised the strobe and released the new YS-D2 model to deal with these small issues. Basically it has the same specifications, but the back of the strobe was completely redesigned and a few new features added.

Round Up

Gone are the small flip knobs, replaced by a taller round knob with much better  “de-dents”. They rotate firmly, stay put and you can’t knock them out of position accidentally. The manual/TTL gauge was redone with the manual now on top and the TTL ev settings on the bottom. I’m not sure how much I like that - I find it a bit confusing in TTL to look at, although it makes sense numerically.

Colors Everywhere

But the star attraction is that the entire rear panel is lighted and changes color with the mode you’re in; yellow (manual 1), green (manual 2) blue (TTL) and light blue (slave TTL). This is easily seen underwater and if you switch from manual to TTL often, keeps things straight - especially if you’re using two strobes. No more looking at tiny knob pointers to see where they’re set.

Ready When You Are

The strobe now emits a tone when the strobe is recycled, which is my favorite new feature. I tend to get excited shooting action and overshoot my strobes. This allows you to continue to follow the action and when you hear the tone you know you’re ready to take a shot. The ready light at the bottom stills turns green and a tone now also sounds when you have TTL, then it goes red and a tone again sounds when the strobe has fully charged. Speaking of recycle time, the YS-D2 even has a very slightly improved recycle time.

On Target

The YS-D2 now sports a two power targeting light that is much brighter on high. But don’t get confused this is for aiming the strobe, generally not lighting your subject - focus lights are much brighter and wider. Many times you’ll be aiming the strobe out and away from your subject to reduce backscatter. Or doing more creative strobe positioning.

Other improvements include a divided battery compartment, and a much better YS bolt that’s easier to grip.

Real World

I took both the YS-D1 and YS-D2 on a recent trip to the Solomon Islands. The biggest improvement was the rear knobs, but I really like the audible tone and lighted back. Overall I found that the strobe needed much less attention than the YS-D1 did previously - I didn’t have to keep checking it to see if the control had moved, or take a bad shot sequence only to see the same issue.

Sea & Sea makes a big deal about the strobes working in EV and they do have very fine adjustment. D-TTL has come a long way from their older strobes and seems to be compatible with a much wider variety of cameras. And the “Slave TTL” can make it work with others.

However using the strobe in manual, I found that matching the f/stop on the strobe to the camera aperture to be inaccurate; exposure changes with many factors; camera lens, distance to subject, ambient light, clarity of the water not to mention shutter speed and ISO. But as a range of numbers it’s fine and having a 1/3 stop adjustment is very nice for macro.

Notice backscatter on the very edges of this shot.
I have found that I use the 100° diffusers all the time. I've found that the 120° diffusers are really too wide and cause backscatter at the edges of the frame. They also cut the light output to a guide number of 22, which is too weak for the ultra wide shots where you’d want that kind of coverage. Better to get some longer arms if that’s what you want to do.

TTL was fairly accurate with my Panasonic LX100 system (review here) and electrical sync worked very well in manual with a Sony A7II SLR. At times I mixed a YS-D1 and YS-D2 together and found that the YS-D2 recycled just a little bit faster. However it was hard to tell the difference, unless it was a nearly full dump. If you’re adding a second strobe, I wouldn’t be afraid to mix and match - they are basically the same strobe electronically; beam size, white balance and power are the same.

I've used “long lasting” NiMH MAHA PowerEx batteries and chargers for many years now and find them to be very consistent with fast recycling. In practice, I get two dives on a set, probably a little more, but it’s hard to change them underwater!

The YS-D2 strobes also fit light shaping devices like our laser shoot and fiber optic ring flash as the front of the strobe is unchanged.

Overall the Sea & Sea YS-D2 strobe is a nice update and underwater photographers should enjoy the new features that have been added.
Now on sale, $70 off - one week only!

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Choosing an Underwater Camera & Housing, Part 2: Housing Systems

Protecting Your Camera & Making It Accessible

(Please see part 1, Choosing a Camera for Underwater Photography)

Underwater housings do several things besides the obvious of keeping the water away from your precious camera. They also protect from pressure, allow you to use camera controls, allow for different lens ports and gearing, and also hold other accessories like lighting in a complete system that you can swim with in an underwater environment. It is important to remember that they are only a part of that overall system and you need to take a holistic system approach when shopping for one.

Housings pretty much follow the major camera groups in terms of size, construction, design and features. But there are lots of variation and many manufacturers are carefully considering how divers use and travel with their housing.

Construction & Design Details: Controls, Ergonomics, Latches, Ports, Accessories

Materials: Generally plastic carbonate or milled aluminum. Finishes include anodizing and/or powder-coating.
Latches: There are several types: metal clip latches, latches integrated flush into the housing body, cam-lock, swivel. Ports also can have latches.
Controls: Are most if not all camera controls available? How easy do they work for you? Can you shoot without “looking up” to align a control? Are the buttons far enough away from each other to use with gloves? Are knobs smooth to roll and allow fine adjustments? Are controls dedicated to one function, or shared between several? Controls will work easier in the water as they’re designed to be under pressure.
Ergonomics: How is the layout of the controls? Can you reach them easily? What about the handles and feel of the housing in your hands?
Ports: How do they attach? Are they easy to work without difficulty? Generally the two systems are screw thread or bayonet. There are also systems where the port is held on with water pressure and small latches.
Size & Weight: How bulky is the housing? Most are close to neutral in the water. Don’t be overwhelmed by weight and size on land; housings are designed to be used in the water. Arm floats can be added to help. Even the largest housing is fairly easy to swim with, but every diver needs to be careful of their buoyancy and task loading.

Ports & Gears: Your Window to The World

DSLR, SLR, and even some compact housings use a separate port for housing lenses. These are generally sold separately. Light physics mean that as take optics underwater we loose 1/3 of our field of view (FOV) through refraction, dome ports correct for that loss and correct for blurry corners as the image bends.

Flat Ports: Are used for Macro lenses and some consumer mid-range lenses. They utilize refraction to magnify close-up subjects larger. Generally use optical glass.

Dome Ports: For wide angle lenses. Alters refractive optics to give a wide FOV by creating a “virtual” image just in front of the dome port for the lens to focus on. They can be acrylic or optical glass with mounts made of plastic or aluminum..
  • Acrylic: Less expensive and lighter in weight. Shoots quite well, but can have more reflections. Can be scratched easily, but are easy to polish.
  • Glass: More expensive and heavier. Gives the highest quality images with less reflections. Hard to scratch, but when scratched can be very difficult to repair or polish.
Lens Gears: Adjusts zoom and focus rings on the lenses. They are accessed from an external knob on the housing or port.
Are they easy to take on and off the lens and positive in actuation?

Wet Lenses - Extend The Possibilities

Add-on wet lenses can be used on the outside of ports. They can be changed underwater.

Macro “diopter” lenses:
Makes the image larger and allows closer focusing.

Wide angle lenses:
Gives a larger FOV. Can be either a refraction replacement or true wide angle that extends the field of view (FOV) of the camera.
Holders: A holder for macro lenses can be utilized to flip the lens in/out of position quickly. But they can’t be used with wide angle lenses as they cause vignetting (darker corners).


Accessories: Viewfinders, Leak Detection and other Options.

Consider how extendable the housing is for adding external monitors for video, viewfinders and other devices. A vacuum leak detection system can take the worry out of taking your camera underwater. Lanyards and rope handles make transporting your system easier.


Connectivity: Strobe Bulkheads and Ports

Strobes and lighting are very important underwater. There are two ways they connect to underwater housings:
Electrical Bulkheads: Uses an electrical signal to connect to the camera’s hotshot and trigger the strobe.
Fiber Optical: Uses a thin fiber optic cord to transmit the camera’s flash to an external strobe. The strobe mimics the camera flash and tricks it into turning on and off at the right time. No need for a physical hole in the housing, just a clear area for the light to go through. Fiber optic cords have become the new industry standard as they are less expensive and worry-free from flooding.
Flash Triggers: These work with cameras that don’t have a flash or can speed up the flash recycling or add TTL-auto operation. Make sure the housing you are selecting has the ability to install one if that ability is important to you.


Putting It Altogether And Creating Your Underwater Imaging System

When shopping for a camera and housing, don’t forget that they will become part of a larger underwater photo system that includes lighting, a tray and arms. Good lighting is as important, or more important, than a good camera underwater. Mounting points for arms and lights on the housing and handles, or even on macro ports are important. Be sure to budget for lighting while shopping for a camera and housing.

See our article and Handbook: Choosing an Underwater Lighting System for a details and information.

Part of the Basics of UW Photography Series Handbooks.