Monday, April 11, 2016

A New User's Observations on the Nauticam Panasonic LX100

Rick Williams recently purchased a complete Nauticam NA-LX100 system from us and we thought his story was one that many new underwater photographers would enjoy, no matter what camera they are using.


I wanted to let you know how pleased I am with the Panasonic Lumix LX100 and Nauticam system and I wanted to send you some of my best shots to show results.

Buying the full kit was a way of challenging myself and to overcome the frustration that I couldn't tell the camera what I wanted it to do.  That said, now I had the kit that would listen but was I really ready to know what I wanted?

Answer, yes, but it took a bit of time.  The first outing was a week to Bonaire in the Caribbean.  A bit of shore diving, a bit of boat diving and lots of opportunity for morning and evening dives.  This being my first real dive series, the camera, housing and strobes makes one very disciplined but it all made it to the hotel and putting it together finally was quite a thrill.  A few tests to ensure the fiber optic link to the strobe was working and I was ready.  But a lesson to the intrepid diver.  Don't change too many things at the same time.  For me, a new 5 mil wetsuit, new BC, new mask and new camera it was a frustrating couple of days where the buoyancy and getting to know where things should be took away the focus on photography.   I ended up with no flotation disks on the camera - it is about 2 pounds negatively buoyant but keeps both hands occupied so longs swims can be a chore.  Shore diving with the camera was difficult.  I'm getting older and stiffer so getting out in the surge and putting on fins was a challenge with only one hand.  I've seen a set up with two straps holding the camera by the handles and connecting to the BC so I recommend that if you do shore dives.

First two dives showed me that I needed to have two modes ready - one without flash and one with.  So I experimented with the custom settings but ended up relying on the iA setting for shots without flash.  That gives the all-blue coloration but can be adjusted to reasonable degree in RAW.  With flash I was not happy with the first series as the view in the finder wasn't helping me compose and focus.  So I shifted to the center single focus point with the picture in picture setting and zoomed in post-shot display.  OK - now I can see what I'm getting (at least what shows in the display).  I was using RAW (with large JPEG so I could see the results each evening).  My settings were aperture priority F8 or F16 with auto ISO and auto speed.  Not great results as the camera in AUTO mode is not really your friend.  It took me a few days to figure out that I needed to take more direct control so I set shutter speed to 200 (yes I know it is 1/200) so the shutter sync limit of 250 wouldn't hurt.  Tried that for a few dives and again, I was getting too much burn on many shots.  Then I finally got it better and took off the AUTO ISO and just set it for 200 fixed.  Now things were cooking.  You said that you would be providing a recommended slate of LX100 settings so I would love to see that.

I adjusted the aperture and ISO to tune the water color from dark blue to almost black and used strobe placement to spread or focus the flash.  I learned a few things that way but would be very interested in how you then add the adjustments for the strobes as I feel I'm just relying on the fiber optic and TLS features.  I'm very pleased at many of the scenes where I was able to get a near, mid and far scene with the right tonality to adjust in RAW in Lightroom.

Overall focus was good and focus time was reasonable for static and mobile targets.  Could be better.  Too many pictures had lots of burn that I could fix from the RAW image.  The iA quick snap mode was good though I think I need to tune it a bit and do a better job post-processing.  Any tips there welcome.

Second dive series was a week in Kona, Hawaii.  Conditions were ok - lots of wind/wave and surge so visibility was moderate. The underwater surge was something I'd not experienced as much - come in close for a shot, adjust buoyancy, get ready and ... suddenly you are fifteen feet away from the target.  OK - need to anticipate and adjust but it meant that in many cases you only get time for 1 or 2 shots - no time to play around.  The first couple of dives instantly showed the difference in Hawaii diving (lava formations, sharp edged coral and very little soft coral with no sponges) to Caribbean diving variety of sand, layered coral, lots of soft sponges and fans etc.  Fish were all brighter in color in Hawaii though and many of the eels were more interesting.  I was progressively getting better at setting the desired water color, capturing the right focus point and getting more keepers per dive.  I was very happy with the results but of course upped my expectations for more.

Here are some of my best shots from this phase including a capture of a pod of dolphins that joined us late afternoon just before they went off to hunt/feed.  Probably 40 or so, we sat on a sandy bottom at 75 feet and watched and listened as the swarmed around, over and under us.  The chirps and squeals were amazing. 

OK now I'm starting to see some real potential here but I need to position the strobes better (to avoid the backscatter) and start playing with advanced composition and different apertures for depth of field adjustments.  The strobe positioning guide on your website is good but I think I need to experiment with fanning out the strobes to just lightly paint the central subject and avoid backscatter in the mid-zone water horizon.  Again, I need to tweak the adjustments for the iA shots but thank goodness for that feature because with the dolphin experience I was wanting to watch them and not spend too much time tweaking camera adjustments.  Bit of adrenaline there.  My favorite for composition and color is the "Sea Rose" (actually the egg sack for the Spanish dancer nudibranch).  This image is after a bit of backscatter removal but I feel this is a real keeper.  Close to that is the moray just hiding in the stag coral where I think I got a good exposure and bang on focus.

When I bought my first real good set of golf clubs a friend reminded me that "it's not the club it's the clubber".  So now I have to realize that I have my first really good camera system but to move on I will have to improve my camera skills and instincts.  Not the camera its the camera man.

So I've gone on too long, but want to seriously thank you.  I'm a happy Nauticam user and one who is anxious to go the next step and take more advantage of the camera (custom settings) and strobes (how does one use the manual mode).  Thanks for your professional support, making sure all the kit was dive ready and for providing your customers with outstanding manuals and blogs.

I can't wait for our next dive trip to get to the next level with this outstanding piece of kit.

Cheers, Rick Williams

Hi Rick;

Thanks for your great (and detailed!) letter. It made my afternoon.

A few comments. You've sort of learned by doing that dumbing the auto settings down is the way to go underwater. Auto ISO doesn't work and leaves you guessing what's going on. The camera generally thinks it's in a dark room and vastly over-exposes everything.

I generally wouldn't recommend iA as well, as again it's really resetting almost everything each shot. I used it on some above water snapshots and it is fast for sure, but even then I found the color balance to shift, etc. Auto Aperture or Shutter is fine, along with Auto White Balance - but learn to use the basic camera controls for best results. There's a bunch of tutorials online on basic relationship between ISO, aperture and shutter speed.

Try setting up the function keys to change some of your modes overall and maybe set up the custom settings for macro, or wide angle. You can also set up a custom one-touch menu. But that's personal preference.

Sunballs are hard, you have to increase the shutter speed way up and increase the strobes to try to overpower the sun. You have to use manual control on everything.

Finally, work on getting close and filling the frame with your subject. I'd put it in macro mode as you really want to be within a couple of feet anyway. I think you're getting light fairly evenly on the subjects, but working on your composition will help a lot (and it’s free!). Refer to the Composition Handbook, they will help you.

Practice on dry land, and most of all, take lots of pictures and experiment with settings until you see what each control setting does.

Thanks, Jack Connick
Optical Ocean Sales, LLC