Sunday, May 31, 2015

Don't Scratch the Octopus Between the Eyes!

Note: this is an older story, but a good one, from an encounter a few of years ago...

My good friend Doc Kay has been busy retaking his diving medicine boards, family, and like, and readily agreed to my suggestion we take the good boat Komokwa (a beautiful Carver 37’) out for some scuba diving recently.

Seven of us showed up at 8:30 am; Ed Kay, Randy Williams and Randi Weinstein, Steve Lacey, Paul Riggs, my girlfriend and myself. After loading the usual ton of gear, we got underway and through the locks quickly.

Reaching Blakely Rocks, the tide was starting to slack, so we got ready to dive taking a while for each buddy pair to get dressed and into the water. Going down the buoy line we ran into stronger than expected currents and poor visability, maybe 15' or so. I gave my girlfriend the 10-cent tour, taking her to the wolf eel den, where they surprised us with a large egg mass that they were tending. We enjoyed some of the small anemones, sponge and nudibranchs as we went back over the top of the ridge to go back down the slope to the deeper part of the dive. We reached 70' or so and started to swim through the boulder garden down there and look for other critters. Swimming along, I saw one of the boulders had eyes.

Huh? Yup, we did a double take. Here was one of the largest Giant Pacific Octopus I had ever seen, out in the open, sitting on a rock, blending into it with a brown and white mottling. It was just humongous, with a head about 2.5 basketballs large. It was about the size of my girlfriend and when it stretched out its arms to examine us, it was probably 12-15' arm to arm and least 80-100#. And it was in no way scared. Quite the opposite, it was looking at us to be food or a sexual partner.

Octo EyeWe shook hands with it and we started to examine each other. Even with us both hitting the Octo with our powerful HID lights, it was just curious. It was pretty aggressive and we kept backing off and then petting it when it turned its attention on the other diver. It tried to put an arm over my friend's mask and she wasn't too happy with that idea, nor was I when it grabbed my gauge console. My friend got on the other side of me, as I cavalierly patted it on the head and scratched it between the eyes. Well, my cats like it…


It had had enough of me playing with it, and suddenly flew up vertically so that all I was seeing was 15' feet of suckers and mouth flying at me. I'm not sure quite what I did, sort of a twisting, backwards half gainer. The Octo then swam off with a spurt and landed on a rock and glared at us in the gloom. We also had had enough, and swam the heck back up the slope. After circling around a bit (and seeing another Octo way back in the middle of a rock (where they should be), we spotted Randy and the others and found the buoy line, about an hour's dive to 70' max. This was certainly one of the most aggressive encounters I have had with these magnificent creatures. They usually are timid, or curious, but not aggressive.

Another great day on, and under, the water in Puget Sound.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

New Olympus 8mm & 7-14mm Lenses: Will They Fit Your Housing?

First Look at these Exciting New Olympus Wide Angle Lenses for Underwater Photography.

Update: Please see our updated port guide here.

We had a chance to take a quick look at the new Olympus M.Zuiko ED 8mm F1.8 Fisheye ($999) and Olympus M.Zuiko ED 7-14mm f2.8 ($1299) PRO lenses yesterday in the store.

These beauties look to set a new standard in micro-four thirds lenses for underwater use. They are part of the new Olympus PRO line that started with the mz12-40mm PRO lens last year, that are dust, water and weather-sealed with all-metal mounts. No, you can't them underwater without a housing, but they will easily withstand wet hands, rain, dust, cold (to 14F) and humidity. These are extremely well-built and have a rugged design, with very low chromatic aberration.

Physically, the Pro series are very smooth and easy-to-use as compared to some of Olympus's earlier light-weight lenses in plastic mounts that sometimes bound a little. They are larger and not the size of those smaller self-storing "pocket" lenses. But the trade off is worth it. Compared to the Panasonic equivalent lenses, these lenses are much faster and should be quite a bit sharper.

But what difference does a fast lens make if you're stopping down while using strobes anyway? Auto focus speed is probably the biggest reason, especially with contrast autofocus bodies like most m4/3rds cameras, with the ability to use available light for larger scenes placing a solid second.

The 8mm is the first 8mm FE that is an extremely fast f/1.8 - twice as fast as the Panasonic 8mm FE f/3/5. That should make it ideal for ultra wide angle interior shots of caves and wrecks as well as the perfect freediving lens.

In fact, Olympus is specifically marketing this lens for use with it's E-M5 and E-M1 housings by also releasing a glass dome port to accompany the 8mm. The lens is about 30mm longer than the small 8mm f3.5 Panasonic lens (you have to have a way to gather that low light somehow) so in a Nauticam housing a 20mm extension should do the trick, although it even physically fit in the dome with a 20mm. With no zoom gear to wait on, this lens will be ready to get wet the moment it's released the end of June.

The new Olympus f/2.8 7-14mm PRO has a much larger diameter than the 12-40mm and is longer too, really the largest m4/3rds wide angle lens we've seen. It will not fit present (85mm) m4/3rds diameter ports like the Zen 170mm Mark II dome. We think it really will be the go-to lens for underwater video on the Panasonic GH4 as it has a unique MSC (Movie-Still Compatible) mechanism, which provides swift, nearly silent autofocus operation, with no "whirr" of an AF motor. It also has a programmable function button on the lens, although we doubt that Nauticam will design a button to access it.

With a much more advanced optical design, the lens should hopefully have much better corner sharpness than the 4 year old Panasonic lens, but only in-water testing will tell the tale. Olympus however has no port or plans to support it for underwater use, leaving third-party manufacturers like Nauticam, Aquatica, Zen, Athena and others to design underwater solutions.

We tried it in the Nauticam E-M1 housing and it will require that you add the camera body first into the housing, then the lens as with the 12-40mm. But it will need a much wider port body to fit the lens and a zoom gear. My guess is the the Nauticam N85 (MIL) to N120 (DSLR) adapter with zoom gear, plus about a 60mm N120 extension and Nauticam 180mm N120 dome (or larger) should work fine. But Nauticam has not released a guide yet as they are still testing these new lenses.

All-in-all these new lenses really add a lot to the high-end capabilities of all m4/3rds cameras like the Olympus OM-D E-M1 and Panasonic GH4. We look forward to taking them diving!