Sunday, November 27, 2016

2016 DEMA Underwater Photography Report

These are some new underwater photo products and some of my good industry friends from the 2016 DEMA dive show. Many of the products featured are prototypes and will be shipping in 2017. Look to Optical Ocean Sales​ to always have the latest underwater imaging products!

Probably one of the most innovative products is the new Saga Dive​ Trio macro lens. It allows you to use the basic lens, then flip levers to +5, +10 or +15 powers - all in one unit! We will have a pre-production unit in the store in a couple of weeks. Shipping in early January, cost around $775.

SagaDive Trio Macro System
Myself and José Sánchez Garrido from Saga Dive​ from Spain.
Saga makes innovative underwater photo ports,
optics and lighting products.
Stephen Frink​ and I are your North American SEACAM​ dealers. SEACAM is the premium pro choice for underwater imaging. We now are offering their new 5DMKIV and Nikon D500 housings. A new strobe is in the works to ship in December.

Besides their new light line-up (reviewed here and amazine Solar Flare Max) Kraken Sports​ has a new LED ring light unit coming soon. It will have a 67mm threaded mount, 1000 lumen power and integrated battery. It can work with almost any housing with port adapters. I think it will be perfect for a small macro setup. They are also starting to ship a new underwater universal phone housing. This rugged housing is made from anodized aluminum, has a vacuum leak detection valve included and uses bluetooth to connect with an app to nearly all phones made, except ones made with a really thick case.

Stephen Frink​ and Ryan Canon​ discussing
some of the new Nauticam USA​ products.
New Nauticam NA-6500 for the new Sony a6500 housing (at right) will soon be in stock at Optical Ocean Sales. This new housing for the update to the a6300 now includes an integrated tray. With lots of port options available and the unique WWL lens, this is a less expensive contender to the Sony a7II. This display shows of the port solution for using the Tokina 10-17 lens for those wanting to move from a Canon DX DSLR.

Also new is the Nauticam RX-100V (right). The new Sony RX-100V will fit a modified RX-100IV, but will require an upgrade.

Nauticam G7XMKII housing (left). This is a great consumer gamer with a 1” sensor and easy-to-use menus. AF speed, battery capacity and other features have been addressed in this new MKII version.

My good friends at SUBAL Underwater Camera Housings​ have many new camera housings with greatly improved features coming out. Beside Nikon and Canon they also support pro cameras like Leica and consumer cameras from Panasonic.

New features include easy to open locks, a small fiber optical TTL trigger for Canon and Nikon, vacuum check system and improved, lighter weight and balance. They have over 50 years of experience and produce some of the finest housings available. With the lower euro, their prices are very competitive! Optical Ocean Sales​ is very excited to be one of their stocking dealers!

New SEA&SEA MDX-80D for the Canon 80D DSLR, now available in a bronze-red color. New SEA&SEA​ Sony MDX-a6300, also available in bronze color, similar to the a6000 with some updates, including glow-in-the dark controls and rinse weap holes around buttons, new knobs and more. They will not be making an a6500 housing as far as they know.

New SEA&SEA​ MDX-5DMKIV DSLR housing. This is a small and capable 5DMKIV housings and has an optional TTL optical fiber optic converter. They will be coming out soon with a leak detection valve system.

Besides the ground-breaking Symbiosis SS-2 strobe/light that i-DAS/i-Torch​ produces, they've come up with an unusual new LED macro lighting system with adjustable arms. There will be snoot adapters available for it. Each head produces 2000 lumens. This is a prototype, probably available mid-year.

Light and Motion has reved some of their lights with the same pricing! This is the more powerful new Sola 9600 Video Pro and Sola 3800F video lights. We reviewed the Sola 8000 earlier this year and really liked them. There is also a new dome port shown that can fit their smaller lights to spread the light to 105 degrees.

Myself and John Bingham from Ikelite Underwater Systems​. Ikelite has been hard at work revising and creating new housing products.

Ikelite Underwater Systems​ new D500 housing with their redesigned port system. The dome port and housing is much lighter that it used to be.
Ikelite Underwater Systems​ now has an improved port system that is more positively sealed and very secure.

Ikelite Underwater Systems​ has a new mix and match lighter housing and back system. You can buy a surf housing that is light and easy to handle and upgrade it to a dive housing later.

Ikelite Underwater Systems​ has also improved their knobs, and now have shutter release extensions and other options available. With these additions, you can create a custom fit and featured underwater housing system.

CineBags has created a new line of innovative and well thought-out underwater photo soft carrying cases, backpacks, port and tool cases and others. They are made from very heavy, durable materials and designed from their many years in making professional photography bags. At left is their new CB 70 Square Grouper.

My pal Alberto Reija Gracia​ from DIVE Damai​. We have several upcoming trips on their luxurious liveaboards. We have room on all these great trips, see our Travel section. We just booked a new Banda Sea to Raja Ampat trip on the Damai 1 in April of 2019, details soon!

Pam Mazey Mertz and John Ellerbrock from Gates Underwater Products. Gates​ has a new PRO Action housing. This housing is purpose built to be a compact, travelable, run and gun system, depth rated to 150 feet.  It has a smaller set of controls – on/off, record, zoom, focus, user and assignables.  It can be pole mounted and is good for surf and free diving. Best of all it can be carried on an airplane!

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Kraken Solar Flare Max Video Light Review

My first impression when seeing the Kraken 10,000 lumen Solar Flare Max underwater video light was how nicely crafted they are. The light is incredibly durable with metal construction and a strong glass dome for the LED lights that spreads the light underwater. It also comes with a neoprene cover for the dome  and nice soft carrying case - similar to a camera bag. I was on a "roughing it" type live-aboard with no accommodations for camera gear. So having such large and heavy lights along was challenging. But the Solar Flare lights provided such beautiful illumination that it was worth the struggles.

The Kraken Solar Flare Max has a burn time of 55 minutes at 100%. To charge the light you need to open it up and insert the plug directly into the battery. I found this process very easy. The light just has one dial/button combo for power and settings. To turn the power on, just hold the button until you see the logo appear on the LCD. Press the button twice to turn light on (mode and light percentage will be at the last setting used).

The high-contrast display is very bright and easy to read. Light brightness settings are adjustable in 5% increments, adjusted by turning the knob/button on the back of the light. The brightness setting stays on the display while the light is on, telling you what percentage of the 10,000 lumens you are using. The display also tells you how much battery time remaining you have at that power. I love this feature! Push the power button to change the mode from wide beam to narrow beam - a picture of the mode shows up briefly - then disappears. When the battery is almost dead, the light will only allow 10% brightness for 10 min. The only thing I would change about the display is - I would like some sort of Mode indication to stay on the light display at all times. Since it only stays on for a second - mistakes can happen during quick action shots - if it accidentally gets in the wrong mode and you aren’t in a place where it would be immediately obvious - like out in the blue.

The 160° ultra wide and powerful beam has five COB LEDs in a wide array and the dome port compensates for refraction and spreads the light. Since the beam is so wide and my diving situation was less than ideal, I decided to only use one light for most of my dives. I usually prefer two lights for more even coverage. However this light is so smooth and wide, that I was able to get good coverage by using only one light positioned as shown to the right - to try to emulate natural sunlight.

I attempted different light positions with one light, but that did not work because the weight of the lights made my rig too lopsided and hard to hold. The couple of dives where I did use two lights were actually easier due to a more balanced rig - but it was very negatively buoyant and hard to handle on the surface.

I also had problems with the weight of the light putting so much tension on my housing handles of  that I had to tighten the screws on them a couple of times during the week.

The weight of the light is rated at 3.8 pounds above water and about 2 pounds underwater. But it seemed more negative in the water than that to me. I was using one float arm segment - with added additional floats and that didn’t seem to make any difference. Hopefully, Kraken can come up with a float collar, or another solution to allow the lights to be easier to handle underwater.

Despite all the problems with the weight of the lights, the actual quality of the light is far superior to any other light I have tried. It produces a beautiful wide, white natural beam. The fall-off is extremely gradual, further adding to the natural look.  I would really love to try these lights again, because the quality is undeniable.

Great for Still Photos Too

Being a Fine Artist that moved to video several years ago, one thing I really missed was having quality photos that I could print and show in galleries, along with my paintings. Since my diving, as well as my photography is a huge inspiration for my paintings, that element had gone missing, partly due to the limitations of cameras - but also due to the limitations of video lights. I really like that my GH4 offers both high quality still photos and video. As cameras have gotten better, video lights have also improved. The Kraken Solar Flare Max underwater light is powerful enough - with a wide enough beam, to capture beautiful photos in addition to video. Even a plain old reef scene comes alive with color when using the light.

Kraken Remote Control

First, be aware that the remote won’t power lights on, you need to start with the power on by pressing the power button on the back of the light.

Pressing power button on the remote can change modes the same as pressing the button on the light. Holding the power button turns the lights to 0% - or on. The up and down button changes the lights in 5% increments (holding the up or down buttons does not make the power change faster - you must push for each 5% change.)

I had problems with the remote, and ended up using the lights manually. Initially it worked well. But after I used the remote to turn the lights off (or to 0% - you cannot turn them on or off with the remote), the remote only worked for one light. Taking the battery out and letting the remote reset seemed to cure it temporarily, but the problem repeated itself. I'm sure Kraken will sort this issue out soon.
 — Margo Cavis

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Get the Latest Underwater Photo Gear from Optical Ocean Sales!

Check out our latest E-Mailer for all the best new #underwaterphotography gear! We've got lots of new products from SUBAL Housings, Kraken Sports, SEACAM, SEA&SEA, Saga Dive, Nauticam, i-Divesite and many others. 
All the latest underwater housings, lights and accessories that you're looking for are at Optical Ocean Sales!

Friday, September 23, 2016

Let Loose the Kraken!

Divers and underwater photographers are being inundated with a dizzying array of new and different lights. Some of these have similar features like a single button for both mode and power, single lith-ion batteries instead of more reliable battery packs and chargers. Most less expensive LED arrays that have hotspots. In other words, buying lights strictly on the basis of lumens for dollars doesn’t always yield the best results.

When you're diving at 80’ and trying to remember how many pushes it takes to turn a light up, or if it’s double-press, or single-press-and-hold to switch it to red mode, it can be frustrating and time-consuming. A flooded light, or batteries and chargers that go bad can kill the light altogether.

There are some very high-end lights on the market; Light & Motion's Sola 8000, Keldan, Fisheye Fix and a few others. These have separate chargers, good controls and excellent reliability. But they tend to be larger and expensive.

Doug Taleski with many years of industry experience and founder of Kraken Sports, has seen them all. And decided to create his own line of high-quality Hydra Lights that are fully-featured and easy-to-use.

The new Hydra series of lights come in 2000, 2800, and 5000 lumen powers. All lights have two buttons for ease of use. Simply press both buttons down to unlock the light, then press the left button to change from red or flood, and on the 2800 and 5000 you can change to spot and UV too. While in these modes, you press the right button to ramp the light power up or down.

The Hydras have dual o-rings and are aluminum with a water resistant light head for flood protection. If you flood them, just rinse them out and put in a new battery!

The 2800 and 5000 and are remote control ready. The remote utilizes a fiber optic cord to conveniently connect with the lights when they are extended out on arms, and it can control the mode or turn them up or down independently, or even put them to sleep. It comes with a universal mount for most handles to place it right at your thumb.

All of the lights utilize multi-cell battery packs, with good quality, fast chargers. Recharge time is about 2.5 hours from completely drained.

The lights all have a very smooth, wide output from their COB led for video. The lights all come in a fitted bag, complete with spare o-rings.

The 2000 is meant as more of a focus light with red and flood white modes only. It comes with a YS mount. The 2800 and 5000 lights come with the additional spot white and UV modes. UV is fun to use with filters to see corals and animals with fluorescence at night. They also come with a ball mount, that’s an option on the 2000.

They will soon have out their new Solar Flare 10000 lumen light with a dome port to keep the light wider underwater.  We look forward to using it’s massive output!

We think that the Kraken Hydra lighting products are a great, well thought-out answer to underwater video and photography lighting.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

I-Divesite Symbiosis SS-2 Lighting System Review

Over the years many customers have asked for some sort of combination of video light and strobe. With most new cameras also shooting excellent video, this need has increased. However mounting both types of lights at the same type is bulky and heavy.

Underwater photographers want to keep their rigs small and compact to swim with. It’s especially so in these days of limited baggage when traveling. When you add in extra batteries and chargers, lighting starts to take up significant space.

Ikelite first developed the DS-161 strobe with video light, and it met with some popularity as an all-in-one. However the DS-161 is pretty large and heavy, and the low, 500 lumen output of the the “video” light was weak and uneven.

I-Divesite, also known as I-DAS, located in Hong Kong and distributed in Canada by i-Torch, has made underwater lights and arm systems for sometime. Optical Ocean was one of their first dealers and over the years we’ve seen them develop a wide range of creative and practical underwater lighting ideas.

The Symbiosis Lighting System SS-2 and SS-1 are a well thought out implementation of the combination strobe/light idea. But they’ve taken it a long step farther by making the design modular with well-integrated controls and features.

Current Symbiosis models are shipping with either a 1000 or 2000 lumen head. Different light heads can be interchanged, and in the near future there will be a wide selection of lights available including 4000 lumen, narrow beam, UV and more. As lighting technology is changing rapidly, photographers can simply upgrade their lights’ heads and not have to replace the entire thing. Same with batteries. The light head and battery can be combined with a (soon to be released) light adapter for a stand-alone light with a convent socket provided to add a mount or handle. Planned also are an optional dome diffuser and a snoot for a more directed strobe light.

The specifications of the Symbiosis strobe are impressive and competitive with other strobes and lights. The SS-2 features a guide number of 32 and an energy-rating of 108 watt-seconds, and the SS-1 has a guide number of 24 and 54 watt-seconds. Both have a beam angle of 90 or 100 degrees with a diffuser (that cuts down the power by 1 full-stop). Color temperature on either is 5700K. Having a battery pack gives the strobe a fast recycle time; a full dump takes 1.6secs on the SS-2 and only .08 sec on the SS-1. However any smaller power setting or auto will be almost instantaneous.

When used in the focus light mode with the strobe on as well, the video light head is limited to 2600 lumens of output. What’s nice is that is has an auto off/on  trigger so the light won’t show up in your photos. But that can be over-ridden (SS-2 only) and the light be used in fill-in mode as well.

The strobes connect with fiber optical sync only. They do not work in TTL, but have two Auto Flash settings; A1 (.5 to 2 meters) and A2 (.2 to .5 meters). Most impressively they have a very adjustable manual control; the SS-2 has 15 steps and the SS-1 has 8 steps.

Controls are simple; two knobs one for on/off & mode, one for power level, a button to override the light into video or red light. and a test button (something missing from many strobes).

The back display is impressive. There’s a mode/strobe recycle light that changes colors depending on the mode or when the store is recharged and on the SS-2, and an LCD display that does much of the work.

The LCD display is bright, backlit with fairly large numbers and a display that’s easy to read - even in the dark. What’s even cooler is that the display swivels if you turn the strobe upside down - something I almost always do as I move closer to the subject. No need to re-orient to upside down numbers! The display shows mode/power level, battery remaining and a reminder what mode the light is mode in (white/red/video). It’s easy to understand and read, something that’s nice on a busy dive at 80’.

We tested two prototype SS-2 strobes on our Red Sea Photo Expedition this year. They featured a 4000 lumen light head which we found more than adequate for video use with a GH-4 and 7-14 lens. Color temp was fine and the light bright and even. It was very convent to switch between video and strobe/focus light modes at the push of a button. The nicest improvement was the overall size and ease of use of the rigs; no needing to mount a separate light for video if you want to take both stills and footage!

Battery life varies depending on how much, and at what power, you use the LED light. In our testing we found there was more than enough power to use both for a dive or two in mixed usage. If only used as a video light, it lasted one dive. Recharging the battery was easy, just unscrew the battery and plug in the smart charger; it took about an hour and a half in our experience. From a dead state, the specifications say it may take 2.5 hours to fully charge it. I would buy a spare set of batteries and rotate them if you are doing multiple dives.

For stills the strobe performed pretty well. Our prototype had only a 24 GN so it seemed a little under-powered when compared with the YS-D1/D2 strobes we were using, and a diffuser was definitely needed - all issues now improved on the shipping version. Recycle was very fast, we never seemed to be waiting for it.

We weren’t able to try the auto mode out (due to lack of instructions), but to use it you set the strobe to one of the auto modes, then take a test shot and correct the strobe ev output. It will then automatically adjust itself up or down 8 steps depending on the light that is reflected to the strobe head. As long as the camera settings don’t change, you won’t need to adjust the strobe to get the same exposure. Like many TTL or auto modes, it’s probably most useful for macro or closer-in types of shots. For our use we used manual and adjusted as we needed to. The SS-2 strobe was probably the easiest to adjust manual strobe we’ve used, as you can easily see the ramp of 15 1/3 ev steps on the LCD; no switch detents to click through, or tiny labels to read.

The i-Divesite Symbiosis strobes come in a complete kit with both YS and ball mounts, diffuser, smart charger, spare orings and grease, and a well-written manual. The SS-1 is $599 and the SS-2 is $699.

In our evaluation, the $100 difference in price between the SS-1 and SS-2 is well worth it. With the SS-2 you get a more powerful strobe, a much more adjustable output, better features and best of all the LCD display.

We think the i-Divesite Symbiosis strobes are a creative new underwater lighting product that has a well-engineered combination of features, controls, power with future modular upgrade-ability that make it a great value for photographers.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Subal Underwater Photo Systems Now Available at Optical Ocean Sales!

We're now a Subal dealer!

Subal has made some of the finest quality underwater housings available since 1954, and we're proud to now be a stocking dealer for them! Stop in and see Austrian-quality, hand-crafted housings, ports, gears and accessories for the Canon 5DS/r, and Olympus E-M1.

We'll soon have one of the first Subal ND500 housings available for the Nikon D500 DSLR in stock!

Congratulations to Kona Underwater Photography Shootout Winners!

1st Place overall and 1st Place Wide AngleBo Pardau
We were happy to be a sponsor of the 1st Kona Underwater Photo Shootout along with Kona Honu Divers and other leading manufacturers! Some great photos and good fun! Congratulations to the winners!

3rd Place Wide AngleDeron Verbeck
and a $100 gift certificate from
Optical Ocean Sales.
The results of the 2016 Kona Underwater Shootout are in! A big THANK YOU to our sponsors for this year's event; SEA&SEA Underwater Imaging, Waterproof USA, Optical Ocean Sales, Light and Motion Dive, TUSA, Cressi, MARES - just add water.

Twelve contestants gathered from Oahu, California and Kona at the headquarters of Kona Honu Divers on Friday May 20th to celebrate the start of the competition. The contestants had 2 days to shoot wherever and whatever they wanted, as long as the images were uploaded by midnight on Sunday the 22nd

By the end judges, Doug Perrine and Jeff Milisen, had the difficult choice of trying to determine which images deserved top honors. With such varied subjects as models, baitballs, moray eels, blackwater critters and even minute brittlestars, the choices weren't easy to make. Nonetheless, the winning images emerged in each category and with an overall combined score the winning photographers picked their prize out of a pile of gifts ranging from wetsuits, dive computers, gift certificates, light, strobes, regulators, masks, dive bags and lots of other goodies.

Honorable Mention Macro by Tim Ewing and a $100 gift certificate from Optical Ocean Sales!

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Nauticam Sony NA-6300 Underwater Housing: First Look Review

We just received our first Nauticam NA-6300 housing for the Sony a6300 camera. We noticed quite a few refinements and small additions over their older NA-6000 housing that we thought we’d report on.

The size and weight is about the same as the older housing, and a bit more rounded and tapered on the top. There are many small changes like larger more robust knobs present throughout.

The first thing we saw was that there are now two bulkhead ports to accommodate both M14 and M16 bulkheads, or the new push button vacuum release valve. It works with the included leak detection electronics of the housing to quickly let you know if you have a pressure leak before it becomes a water intrusion. Having dual bulkhead ports was first introduced on larger SLRs, then on the small Sony NA-RX100IV housing. It gives you the ability to add the vacuum valve and either an external monitor like the SmallHD 502, or an electrical bulkhead for strobes.

Speaking of strobes, we also noticed that Nauticam has slightly canted the optical port cover to allow for a little less strain on sync cords and better passage of light.

One of the main control improvements is with the shutter release. It’s now a little longer and sleeker, with a more tapered design at a slight angle to allow easier usage. But one of the coolest improvements over the a6000 housing, is the included external shutter release trigger and brackets.

When mounted under the brackets with Nauticam’s adjustable FlexiTray, it allows you to adjust the trigger to be directly under your fingertips and to adjust the amount of “pull” you like to obtain a half-press for AF and release the shutter. Introduced last year, this external trigger has also had some small tweaks. The brackets now have the little black plastic shims locked into place and thumbscrews are now provided, which makes this much easier to assemble.

Having these extras included along with the usual complete set of extra brings, grease and tools, shows the attention to detail that Nauticam brings to their products.

That detail also shows when moving to the inside of the housing. Keeping the housing small and moving controls to a logical position, they are ergonomically laid out so they are comfortable to access. All the usual Nauticam innovations are present such as the locking, movable “foolproof” bayonet port system and interchangeable eyepiece for the viewfinder. Noticeably, the lens release has been moved to the lower left via a long lever to a much better position. The electronics for the leak detain system are now also sealed, except for the battery.

The NA-6300 works well with the rest of the Nauticam optics system. They support a very wide array of ports for consumer and pro E-mount lenses. Although the Sony 16-50mm power zoom lens is not as highly regarded as the other Zeiss models, Nauticam has developed a high-quality versatile solution for this “kit” lens with their WWL-1 Wide Angle Lens and CMC-1 Compact Macro Converter. This allows for a “one lens” solution to cover everything from macro to 130° FOV wide angle shots and is perfect for video with the electronic zoom capabilities of the lens. (See our earlier report here for photos using a similar Olympus solution).

We think the Sony a6300 is a winner with 4K video and 24 MP stills and much improved AF and metal body construction. It has has a lot of great improvements that make it a strong successor to the Sony line-up. Nauticam has taken that baton and carried it across the finish line with their elegant NA-6300 underwater housing.