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.