Thursday, September 17, 2015

Underwater Tray & Lighting System Assembly Instructions

Assembly Instructions

Below you'll find instructions for assembling some of our trays and lighting packages. Assembly may vary with the types of trays, arms and strobes you purchased, but these should guide you in general. You can also refer to the photos of the products on our store website.

Friday, September 11, 2015

Olympus MZ 7-14mm f/2.8 PRO and MZ 8mm FE f1.8 PRO Lens Underwater Port Guide

The new Olympus MZ ED 7-14 f/2.8 PRO and MZ ED 8mm FE PRO lenses are very popular. They are sharp, fast, well-made and open up new abilities to shoot underwater in low light (see our reviews here and here). There are a number of ways to house these new lenses depending on how you shoot, or what dome ports and parts you might already own.

In general, larger glass dome ports are going to give better results, with less corner distortion and the ability to shoot over & unders, but they be harder to use and pack. They also can be adapted to fit other lenses in the future.

Acrylic ports are lighter, less expensive, but scratch more easily. However, they are usually easy to fix.

Here's a list of some different configurations:

For Nauticam N85 MIL housings (NA-EM5, NA-EM1, NA-EM10, NA-EM5MKII, NA-EPL5, etc) we recommend the following configurations:

For Olympus M.Zuiko ED 7-14mm f/2.8 PRO Lens:
Olympus MZ ED 7-14 f/2.8 PRO Lens

  • Nauticam focus gear 36055
  • Nauticam zoom gear 36054
(option #1 Nauticam Dome)
  • Nauticam 36401 N85 to N120 Port Adapter
  • Nauticam 18809 180mm Dome Port
(option #2 Zen Dome)
  • Nauticam 36204 N85 to N120 Port Adapter
  • Nauticam 21120 Extension Ring 20 with Lock
  • Zen Underwater DP-170-N120

 For Olympus M.Zuiko ED 8mm f/1.8 PRO Lens:
  • Nauticam focus gear 36056
(option #1 - small Nauticam dome)
  • Nauticam 36132 4.33” dome port
  • Nauticam 36620 Mini Extension Ring 20
(option #2 - small Zen dome)
Olympus MZ ED 8mm FE PRO Lens
  • Zen Underwater DP-100-N85 (new version)
  • Nauticam 36630 Mini Extension Ring 30
(option #3 - larger Zen dome)
(option #4 - larger Nauticam dome)
  • Nauticam 36048 N85 Fisheye 140 Dome Port
  • Nauticam 36617 Mini Extension Ring 17

For Olympus PT-EP housings, we recommend the following configurations:
  •  Olympus PPZR-EP05 focus gear V6360480W000
For Olympus M.Zuiko 8mm f/1.8 PRO Lens:

Olympus PPO-EP02 Dome Port
For Olympus PT-EP08 or PT-EP11 housings
Note: Currently there is no way to house the Olympus MZ ED 7-14mm PRO lens in Olympus housings. The port body is too wide.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

New Issue of PNW Diver is Now Available

The September/October 2015 edition of the PNW Diver is now available for a free download.

This is an interactive PDF so the links will take you directly to a URL link or email. If you have access to a iPad, simply save this to your iBooks for easy viewing.

The September/October issue offers another round of amazing photographers and videographers. They are featuring Jared Jensen, from Washington who is both a photographer and videographer. Be sure to take the time to watch his extraordinary videos. Steve Taylor, from BC, has presented us with astounding images many using a snoot. Quite a skill, indeed! Jim McGauhey offers years of experience and wisdom about his videography. Dale Carlisle tempts us photographers with the double hose regulator, and Ben Normand offers us a unique photographic idea. Mike Meagher has written Part 4 of his video series taking out some of the mysteries of camera recording. Rob Roy tells us his experiences on switching to a rebreather, and Kerry Enns gives a lesson on the DeHaze slider in Lightroom. Don't forget to check out Bob Bailey's story and Eiko Jones' photography trips.

Monday, September 7, 2015

Sony a7II and Sea & Sea MDX-A7II Housing System Review

Last year I shot the Sony A7 in a Nauticam housing (review here). It seemed like it might be the future realized: a full-frame sensor, mirrorless camera, full of the latest technological advances. There was a huge buzz and it looked like it really might be the advanced photographer’s dream system; powerful, small and light with all the quality, sharpness, low-light and dynamic range (shades of color, particularly in the highlights and shadows) capabilities that a full-frame camera brings to the table.

But there were issues; a severe lack of lenses available in the new Sony FE mount, poor build quality (a plastic $2,000 body?) and slower than optimal AF. There were work-rounds, notably for underwater use the Nauticam Nikonos adapter that allowed use of the old Nikonos mount lenses, like the 15mm FE. But it simply wasn’t a fully-realized system for underwater use, although I enjoyed shooting it.

Sony upped the game with the release of the a7s and a7r models; high resolution and video specific versions, and then more recently released the much more revised a7II. Sony, (who never made a camera they wouldn’t change in the next month) has now released the a7IIR model with amazing 4K video recording capabilities, etc. However that model was not available when I took this system on my trip to the Solomon Islands.
The good news is that the a7IIR will fit existing housings with a small modification to the mode control knob (it now has a lock), so my comments are all pretty current. Time constraints didn’t allow me to shoot video, and with the a7IIR on the horizon this review doesn’t attempt to tackle that area.

The Sony a7II tackles most of the missing issues head-on. A much better, slightly larger metal-constructed body, greatly faster AF, and a host of other tweaks and improvements, makes it a much improved contender. Partnering with Zeiss, Sony has pushed ahead with releases of new lenses; notably for underwater use; the Zeiss 16-35mm, a (somewhat cumbersome) 28mm with wide and FE converters, and lastly a great 90mm macro lens - something that Sony seems to overlook among their many different mount lenses.

I was also excited to see that Sea & Sea was aggressively entering the mirrorless housing market, first with their aluminum MDX-a6000 and now with the MDX-A7II systems. More players in the market means more choices for the consumer.

The MDX-A7II is the first Sony a7II housing to work in optical sync D-TTL with Sea & Sea’s YS-D1/D2 strobes utilizing an internal optical sync controller. However, the prototype controller was not working and one of the new YS-D2 strobes gave up working in TTL.  So I switched to electrical sync with manual control which worked out fine. (Sea & Sea has gotten this ironed out on the release version).

Sea & Sea hasn’t released new ports for this camera like they did for the MDX-a6000. I shot the Zeiss 16-35mm lens behind the 8.5” Sea & Sea Fisheye Dome Port with a Focus Extension 46. The Sony 90mm macro lens fit behind the standard Flat Port 87, but it really needs a shorter macro port for best magnification. The new FE full-frame lenses for the a7II like the 16-35mm Zeiss, have a large diameter, they end up being close to the same size as similar Nikon and Canon lenses. This means that they have to be housed in larger 100mm diameter ports, or with an adapter in DSLR ports. But this is all taking away from the ideal, lighter, smaller system that’s promised by a mirrorless camera.

The issue with using a MIR to DSLR port adapter is that if you have wider-body lenses like the 16-35, and you want to change a battery, you have to take off the DSLR port, then the lens, then the housing back and camera body. Then reassemble. You end up with a lot of expensive parts out on the camera table and a lot of chances to get debris on your o-rings. This is true for both the Nauticam and Sea & Sea housings for the Sony with these lenses. The 90mm macro or similar sized lenses can be slid out without port removal.

The a7II battery lasted pretty well while using electrical sync (or the optical controller) for stills, but video users may find that they are needing to change batteries after a couple of dives. (Also one of my gripes with Sony cameras is that they don’t come with a separate battery charger - it’s an option for a high-end $2500 body!)

The housing fits the Sony a7II camera nicely, and the controls all worked well. Like the MDX-a6000, Sea & Sea has used a locking port lever, ports push on, rotate and then you lock them down. I found the weight in the water with the acrylic dome port to be almost too light, due to the larger DSLR-size dome port. Acrylic dome ports have a tendency to twist up in the water due the large bubble they hold. This balance was more pronounced on the MDX-a7II, as the housing is smaller and is less of a counter balance to the large dome.

Shooting the Sony a7II was very fast and responsive. The Zeiss 16-35mm was a very nice lens to use, more adaptable and certainly easier to use than the all-manual 15mm Nikonos FE I shot last year. (Sea & Sea also supports the Sony 28mm and conversion lenses). I never had any trouble catching focus with it. The Sony 90mm macro is also a great option for this camera and shot well, although I had problems using a diopter with it due to the longer Port 87 not fitting well. Overall, the camera was satisfying to shoot, and I really liked it’s techy features like focus peaking. I also found the view screen sharp and easy to use, I didn’t need to use the viewfinder at all. Zoom controls for the 16-35mm lens were smooth, although it is moved out onto the port, so my fingers kept getting confused, I had to reach forward a bit to access it.

However, I’m a Nikon kind of guy, ok sort of a dinosaur. I love my D800 and I tend to compare everything to it. I feel for the relative size of the system after adding in larger lenses and ports, you really are giving up a lot of options that you have with a DSLR. There are simply many more lenses available; DSLRs are a much more mature platform. For instance, the Sony FE lens line still needs a decent fisheye lens. The auto focus on the Sony a7II is fast, just not as fast and accurate as on a good DSLR.

Subjectively, I just don’t find that I am seeing the same sharpness and dynamic range I can get with the D800. I took sharp photos, but I had to work for them, the camera was finicky to lock focus in the right spot like I can with my D800.

Yes, the D800 is a bit heavier and larger, but not by much, especially in the water. Domes for equivalent Nikon 16-35mm or 17-35mm rectilinear lenses are very large, ideally 230mm (9.25”), but I have found I can use a smaller 170mm dome and shoot around the corner issues it presents.

For me, if I want a smaller rig, I’ve found the Olympus O-MD E-M1 system to be an ideal compromise between features, weight and quality, easily shooting as well as a cropped-frame camera with a much smaller footprint, an excellent selection of lenses and well-supported through many housing manufacturers.

This all is going to be different for video shooters where mirrorless cameras, and particularly a technologically advanced camera like the a7IIR, offer a lot of advantages. The Sony a7IIR holds a lot of promise and should be very popular for those users and for those wanting a bit more than m4/3rds cameras can deliver. The Sea & Sea MDX-A7II is a nice, well-built housing with all the features and quality you’d want.

Sunday, September 6, 2015

Review: 10Bar Strobe Snoot with Laser Aiming Light

By Erin Quigley - GoAskErin

Although I’m a seasoned underwater photographer, I’m relatively new to snooting. On a recent trip to Lembeh, I brought along the 10Bar Snoot with Laser Aiming Light for the YS-D1. Setup was beyond easy; install three teensy LR 44 batteries and snap the base onto the front of the YS-D1. Even as a snoot novice, I was able to successfully aim and shoot it without assistance.

My initial fears that the laser pointer ight injure or alarm the critters disappeared when they appeared not to notice it at all. In fact, they ignored the laser completely, while either my red or white focus light caused many critters to turn away or hide. The red laser pointer turns off as you fire, so it’s never visible in the shot.

The snoot size is adjustable via a series of screw-on nozzle segments, and the distance between the snoot and pointer is also adjustable via a small external wheel. Because you can’t see whatever's directly under the red dot of the laser, it’s a good idea to keep it away from areas of critical focus (like the eyes!) of your subject. Getting snooted shots was MUCH easier to accomplish with the help of the laser pointer.

My only complaints, and they’re really nitpicks, are that the snoot arrives without instructions of any kind, and it could use an accompanying tool for opening and closing the battery compartment (ed. note: a quarter works well). The separate screw-on nozzle segments are a little awkward - it would be better if they somehow telescoped into the base, and although the batteries are cheap and easy to travel with, they had to be replaced every ten or twelve dives, even though I turned off the laser pointer after each setup.

In short, the 10Bar snoot with laser pointer is a big winner. It was so popular on my trip that another guest bought it from me to use for the rest of her vacation, and I ordered a replacement as soon as I returned home. ----- The 10Bar Laser Snoot for the Inon z240 strobe is now also available. Models to fit the YS-110a strobe are available by special order.

Saturday, September 5, 2015

Review: Canon G7X and Fantasea FG7X Underwater Housing

Beauty in the Eye of the Beholder?

Although I had a lot of high-priced cameras along on my Solomon Islands trip, I also decided to take along the less expensive and friendly Canon G7X compact and the Fantasea G7X housing. The Canon G7X has had a lot of play in photo news sources as a “G16 replacement” and answer to the popular Sony RX-100 and Panasonic LX-100.

The Canon G7X sports the same sort of 24mm (35mm equivalent) f/1.8 lens, and large 1” sensor that should give it the image quality of m4/3rds cameras, and a competitor to the the Panasonic LX-100 and other similar high-end compact cameras. I wanted to get a feel for how it stacked up.

Because of luggage difficulties, we only had 3 days to shoot most of these systems, so I decided to let my roommate Brad try this system out to get a new user’s perspective as well.

Overall, we found the camera to be easy to shoot right out of the box with simple controls and menus. This is true with many Canon cameras, which has made them very popular. Menus aren’t too deep with items simple to find. Most things you need access to have a direct control. Some modes like shooting manual have multiple ways to access controls. This compares well to the LX-100 (previously reviewed here), which has many more controls and options that are designed in somewhat of a non-standard way, that can be a bit confusing.

The Fantasea G7X housing is similar to other models that they’ve been manufacturing such as the Fantasea FRX-100III/IV, Canon G16, etc. These polycarbonate housings are produced by the same factory that produces Olympus housings and you’ll find similar parts (like the cam-lock closure) are the same design.

Looking a bit further into the inside of the Fantasea housing(s), you’ll find pretty decent quality, with design features such as offset push buttons and 5 way controllers that allow more room for your fingers on the outside of the housing. The wide rubber grip for the front bezel on these cameras grips and turns well and evenly. The controls are well-labeled and “ranked” at different heights for easy finger access.

Sealing is very robust, a two o-ring system that's better than Olympus or Ikelite, with a primary, o-ring that is user serviceable and a secondary wide silicone “ring” seal that doesn’t need maintenance. They are rated to 60 meters (200’). The housings also ship with a audible and visual leak sensor if you do have a problem.

In real-world testing, we found two control issues with the Fantasea FG7X housing; the small rear dial control and the shutter release. The shutter release is small and isn’t as easy to find and access as it should be for being the main camera control. The rear dial knob is tiny, with gloves I would say inaccessible, and it’s operation was intermittent; you had to turn and turn it with just the right pressure to get it to work. This made using two different controls for manual operation pretty hard. However the G7X allows you to use the front dial, whose housing control knob is large, to work both aperture and shutter speed, simply by pressing a button on the back. This was much more positive and easy to work.

The other issue of the Fantasea housings (at least for Canon models), is that in order to house these full-range zoom cameras, the ports have to be elongated to a rectangular shape. The problem then is that the only wide angle lens option is their own Big Eye lens; which only corrects for refraction back to 24mm, and isn’t a true wide angle lens. It’s quality isn’t the best either; shots show soft corners and stray reflections. This lens has been out for many years now (see review here), and they did more recently improve it’s optical coating to improve it. On the FRX-100III/IV models, they stuck with an oversize 55mm round port that allowed access to other wide angle lens options. Other manufacturers like Nauticam and Fix opted for interchangeable ports for wide and macro, but this does run up the cost of the housing. Fantasea is aware of this issue and I’d hope for a better solution for new models.

Fantasea does make a clip-on 67mm Eyedaptor that will work for macro lenses (but not wide, due to vignetting). We tried that out with the G7X, and while the camera isn’t as good as the LX100 for macro, we were able to get some decent photos. You have to zoom in and get very close to the subject to catch focus. This made lighting a bit of a challenge.

The Fantasea housing ships with a sync cord adapter that allows external strobes to be plugged in. We shot with one Sea & Sea YS-D1 strobe and found it to sync and shoot well in TTL or manual modes. Like all Canon models, the G7X will not shoot TTL in manual camera mode, you must use aperture, shutter or program modes.

Camera battery life is poor, lasting barely a dive or two. A spare battery is recommended.

Subjectively, we found sharpness and image quality not to be up to the LX100 or RX100 series cameras. However, like comparing TVs in a showroom, it’s not bad, just not as good. Shutter lag was a problem, more pronounced than with the other cameras, although a focus light helps all of these cameras catch focus which rely on contrast auto-focus.

But all-in-all, new user Brad had a great time with the camera, as did another couple of users we had try it out, getting shots easily that were quite pleasing. He liked using it better than the LX-100, which he found a bit intimidating. So your enjoyment of this camera may depend on your experience and technical level.

We think the Canon G7X and Fantasea FG7X housing is a good, affordable, easy-to-use combination for beginners, or those wanting to step up to a more moderate quality camera. Owners of previous Canon models will be quite pleased. However, more experienced users may be somewhat let down by it’s overall performance and image quality, and prefer the Sony RX-100III or IV, or Panasonic LX-100 as a compact camera solution.