After the various Backscatter, Bluewater photo, and other shops compact cameras reviews I thought of putting my 10 pence in as well.
Most of those reviews you find are written by people who shoot DSLR and then occasionally go and take a compact in water to see how it goes. For what concerns underwater use I only shoot compact and I believe I know how to navigate into features and limitations of compact camera quite well so here is my view on the subject.
The first hint when you look at a high-end compact camera is to check if Nauticam makes a housing for it. If not maybe your camera is not as good after all. There are some exceptions of course.
I have ranked compacts according to the following shooting categories:
Close Focus Wide Angle
All purpose cameras
When possible there will be a top 3 in each category.
I have considered only the following cameras
The Fuji X20 is a potential addition but I have not found anyone that actually shoots it underwater so I abstain from judging here.
Best Cameras for Movie
In order to score in this category the cameras need to have full manual exposure control in movie mode and be able to shoot double frame rates for the system of choice PAL or NTSC.
This is my appraisal:
Canon cameras do not offer exposure control in movie mode, Olympus video is pathetic. Not possible to even consider a number 3 here.
Best Cameras for Ambient Light
Here I consider shots without strobes with a view angle of 100º diagonal you need a wet wide-angle lens to take those shots.
Here are the rankings:
Olympus lags behind in image quality and the Canon G16 does not have any wet lens that allows to take those shots without strobes.
Best Cameras for Macro
I am looking here at shots are real 1:1 reproduction ratio and how easy is to take those shots in terms of autofocus and depth of field. In order to achieve this level of magnification a close up wet lens is necessary for all cameras. No compact camera achieves real macro with the bare port underwater.
Here are the results:
The Canon G16 in virtue of a 140mm focal length at telephoto end gives the highest magnification ratio, the Canon S120 follows closely same image quality less magnification. The Panasonic LX7 has only a 90mm equivalent lens however the autofocus is incredible so you can use +10 diopters very easily and it is the only camera to really offer Bokeh.
The Olympus XZ-2 lags in terms of image quality, the RX100II has great image quality but little magnification, you need a +10 diopter to give a 1:1 reproduction ratio and focus is difficult because of shallow depth of field due to the large sensor.
Best Cameras for Portraits
Here we are considering shots with the bare port at 35mm focal length using strobes. Here is the ranking:
Canon S120 & Canon G16
Whilst the RX100II has the best image quality it comes a bit as a surprise why the LX7 gives better images than the Canon. The reason is that Canon tend to have a very unbalanced color range with over saturated red. This does not go away with RAW images as it affects the whole spectrum. It is possible to correct this using blue diffusers for strobe but this is just a patch, the LX7 tend to give much better balanced images.
Best Cameras for CFWA
Close focus wide-angle is shot with a fisheye like lens, using strobes typically at small apertures here are the rankings:
It is quite clear that the RX100II with the widest choice of fisheye lens and the highest dynamic range is the best camera for the job, but the addition of the Inon Zoom lens helps getting the G16 in this category, the S120 follows with similar results. The LX7 does not offer a fisheye options sadly and the XZ-2 lags behind in image quality compared to the two canons.
Best Versatile Still Cameras
Here I look at cameras that can shoot all type of shots from macro to ambient light.
The lack of fisheye options cuts out the LX7 and the poor performance of zoom wide-angle lens at wide end kicks the G16 out.
Best Overall Camera Still and Movie
Taking the previous list and eliminating the cameras that do not offer exposure control in movie mode this is the result
So the Sony RX100II is the only real all round camera and this explains why it beats the other in terms of sales.
During the London Dive Show I attended a talk from Martin where he covered a number of shooting situations and how to deal with them in terms of composition and settings.
There was a promotion for a two for one tuition day with him that my buddy was keen to take so few months later we made our way to Dorset for a day of underwater photography with Martin.
This will be my first day of shooting with the RX100 Mark II albeit in a pool with my new arms and lenses so I was looking forward to it.
We arrived in Poole the night before and got ready for an 8.30 start with Martin.
We started off with a review of some basic exposure concepts and then looked at competition winning pictures and trying to identify what makes a wow picture. It was extremely useful!
Afterwards we went through our trips pictures so he could see what needed improving. Then look at what was needed for the next trip.
With that in mind we set up to jump in the pool to take some pictures the objective was to improve my buddy close ups and portraits as apparently her wide angle is as good as it gets with the Canon S95 used see featured image on this post.
Pool conditions were low visibility and plenty of suspended particles as the pool is used for kids swimming lessons let me give you an idea!
The first task was to shoot a frog with a view of eliminating shadows in its mouth. Start with one strobe and finish off with two.
The frog with the bare port gives you an idea of the size and the complexity of the task with one strobe. There are shadows in his mouth.
I then shot a portrait at 50mm, the reason why you see shadows more on the left is because I set the strobe at different powers.
The magnification of the RX100 is little so I went on with a first Inon UCL-165 and full zoom at 100mm equivalent. Note that everything is pretty much sharp at f/11.
With two Inon UCL-165 focusing on the mouth will result in this and the eyes being in focus and the rest blurred because of lack of depth of field.
I then moved to an Octopus rich of textures. I took the first shot with my Inon UWL-100 28AD with dome.
The same octo at 28mm fills the frame much more of course.
The Octopus at 50mm looks even better. I have topped up the lighting on this one.
I then took this guy with a single UCL-165 note the depth of field insufficient to keep the back of the head in focus, results though are exceptional.
With two close up lenses we go back to the depth of field problem even at f/11.
I thought I had at that point nailed all focus and strobe issues, especially considering I shot with single auto focus, I did not bother using manual focus at all with exception of some double diopter shots.
I then tried a few surface reflections with the fisheye this being the best.
You can see the outside of the pool and the windows on the top.
Afterwards made my own composition of statues for a fisheye shot that I think came out very well. The Z240 performed extremely well in both TTL and external auto as well as manual.
Martin asked me to have a go at the child with the dog as it is extremely difficult to lit up properly.
I went for an alternative strobe placement with light from the bottom as if it was in a gallery. He was impressed with the results.
To finish off my last task was the tongue and eyes of a lion that I shot with a single UCL-165.
Overall a great day and I definitely recommend you the tuition day with Martin. He is a great person and extremely good at teaching I can see the benefits my buddy had right away.
Lessons learned on the RX100
There were a few things that I learned about my RX100 still rig mode that I want to share with you.
The autofocus is incredible. I even used this for macro. If the camera does not focus is because you don’t have enough depth of field and that is it.
Best macro performance is with a single diopter and also had a benefit of an increased working distance, this means the shots will need cropping for extremely small critters
Two diopters resulted in near bokeh with less than 1mm in focus and difficult to autofocus (though the LCD is great and I could see if things were in focus or not I think this is personal and I would recommend DMF to others)
Performance at wide angle with the UWL-100 28AD with dome is stellar
Inon float arms (I used two 6″ segments) were perfect with lens holders on it.
Inon Z240 twin set with one in TTL and the second in external auto delivered creative lighting without headaches, remember to buy the AUTO diffuser that does not come with the strobe
Strobes in manual allowed for even more creativity and the level of precision compared to sea and sea was staggering
Despite pool conditions the RX100 focused well in low light and much better than the Canon S95 that was returning focus error on the same exposures. I will not bother having a focus light with this camera and only have a single sola on night dives
That’s all for now any question just drop a comment
As you add up lenses and accessories to your underwater photography or compact video rig you start experiencing an increase in weight first on land and afterwards in water.
My current rig for photography weights in excess of 5 Kg (11 lbs) and in water this is very near to 2 Kg (4.4 lbs). The housing and the hardware are usually the main culprit but even strobes or lights can easily add weight. As you add more and more components the weight of your rig ramps up.
I use locline arms for video and this greatly helps reducing weight both in and outside water. My compact video rig is around 500 grams or 1.1 lbs in water but also very lights outside water. The Sola lights really help with their incredibly compact size. The heaviest items are the tray and handle and the lenses.
For my video rigs I use STIX jumbo floats on the tray and on the locline segments. Each one of those floats gives around 160 grams 5.6 Oz lift in water.
Stix floats are available as large and jumbo format more information directly on the 4th generation designs web site here
For stills I use aluminum arms as I find them more precise but also need longer arms and be able to sustain a heavier weight for a strobe outside water. Strobes frequently weight over half a kg with batteries, this is too much for a 1/2″ locline arm and stiffer 3/4″ segments are required. I don’t particularly like the 3/4″ segments and I prefer ball and clamp solutions. 3/4″ segment can hold easily a strobe but can’t be really too long.
This is my basic still set up I had for the Panasonic LX7
Even in this case I tried to use as many floats as possible to keep it light around the usual half Kg 1.1 lbs underwater weight.
For my RX100 I have two strobes and arms with 8″ and 5″ long segments.
As you can read this is 5.5 Kg on land and even with 6 Jumbo stix floats the underwater weight is over 680 grams or 1.5 lbs this for me is a bit too much to carry around so I started looking into alternative solutions.
The ultralight buoyancy arms provide too little lift in my opinion to be worth using so I looked at float arms in carbon or plastic material as an alternative. I came across Inon and Nauticam products and so I ran some comparison based on some metrics I have defined myself.
Update 16 March I also include Stix float arms now.
Buoyancy per $: how much lift do you get per $ spent
Buoyancy per mm: how much lift do you get per mm effective length*
Buoyancy per gram: how much lift do you get in relation to the on land weight of the arm
*effective length is measured from the center of the arm balls
I refer to US $ prices just for convenience the same would apply even more in UK/Euro terms so here are some results
Standard Float Arms
You would use standard float arms if you have an acrylic dome on an SLR or mirror-less or a plastic housing that gives considerable lift as those solution give limited lift in water ranging from 75 to 333 grams.
ULCS S + 2 Stix L
Stix 6″ L
ULCS M + 3 Stix L
Stix 9″ L
I have compared an ULCS 5″ and 8″ segment with Nauticam 600mm diameter and Inon arms of the same diameter 500mm or 2″. Those are the results. Update the new graph also includes Stix arms made of aluminum with plastic balls and their own floats.
In this category you can see that a STIX arm with large floats beats a carbon or plastic float arms on all metrics in fact on the shorter segment nauticam does not even produce a float arm solution.
An ULCS 5″ segment with 2 large floats give a lift of 154 grams or 5.4 Oz and an 8″ segment a good 237 grams or 8.5 Oz, Stix arms offer 142 and 260 grams respectively in the 6″ and 9″ lengths.
This solution gives more lift in water and is lighter on land I see no benefits investing in a float arm in this range of buoyancy and for this reason I have not even considered ULCS buoyancy arms. A pack of large stix floats costs $25 for 4 units of 99 grams or 3.5 Oz lift each and those can be moved on your arm segments making it a very flexible option.
I define as mega floats anything that offers at least 2 grams lift for each mm effective length. I put the Stix arms in this category even if they fall short in this metric as they are comparable and cost effective.
Each one of those solutions will provide in excess of 274 grams or 9 Oz lift in water. In this category we have the ULCS arms with Stix jumbo floats as the most agile solution at 2.5″ or 600mm diameter, this has the benefit of not requiring extra long clamps to fold two segments with floats fully. Nauticam and Inon both have segments with 900mm and 970mm diameter. Inon segments have an extra benefit compared to Nauticam for compact camera users using wet lenses as they can support up to 2 single lens holder for each segment as in the picture earlier in this post. Stix arms made of plastic are the cheapest in this category though can’t offer the same amount of buoyancy of carbon or ABS arms.
ULCS S + STIX J
Inon S Mega
Nauticam S Mega
Inon M Mega
ULCS M + STIX J
Nauticam M Mega
Those are the results:
Stix float arms score higher on a Buoyancy/$ metric and also lead the way in terms of buoyancy/weight ratio however the amount of lift offered is limited and this solution does score low on the buoyancy/mm metric. Especially in the medium segment around 8/9 inches you can see that there is not much difference on a buoyancy/$ between a 9″ stix arm and an Inon M mega.
You do get a problem with this big arms if you want to fold the segments on themselves. Currently ULCS provides the AC-CSB clamp for 2″ arm segments but even with that you can’t fold two mega arms.
Here a few example of the issue I mentioned a mega arm with a 5″ segment with float reaches maybe 30º and without the float around 20º
Ultimately I do not think is a big issue as you can use the strobe adapter segment and still achieve all possible positions for your light anyway if you are concerned do get a couple of the longer clamps.
This is my rig with the float arms it does look neat compared to the version with STIX floats
Unless you have a plastic housing or a housing nearly neutral in water floats or float arms at 2″ diameter are not really effective, produce limited lift and are not a really cost effective way to add buoyancy to your rig. 2″ floats can be used to trim your rig in case larger floats are too buoyancy but are not a primary way to achieve the purpose. For example if I wanted to make my rig neutral I could add 2 large Stix floats on each arm.
Stix floats offer a lot of flexibility as you can take them off arm segments and put them elsewhere in a flexible way. Stix floats are also an option just within recreational limits 40m/130ft past this depth the floats loose buoyancy and eventually crush. Stix do offer custom materials float that resist greater depths on request.
Mega arms are a bit clumsy but do provide the lift needed and are cost effective even if a bit heavy on land. My preference if you use wet lenses is for the Inon arms, those are the most cost effective and provide the most lift and can also support lens holders. Inon arms are rated for 70m/230ft if you go deeper you need the Nauticam arms that ca go down to 100m/330ft. So for technical photographer float arms are really the only way forward in terms of off the shelf solutions. Obviously you can get bespoke solution using submarine grade divinycell but that is beyond the expertise and reach of a normal user.
How much lift do you need?
To calculate the buoyancy of your rig you can use manufacturers data sheets (Inon is brilliant, ULCS does provide some weights, housing manufacturers usually don’t). Failing that you can calculate this item by item using a graduated measuring container or last resort put your whole rig in water and use a luggage scale.
I balance my rig to have it neutral WITHOUT wet lenses this is for safety reasons. If you use a heavy wide angle wet lens and your rig is overall neutral the moment you take the lens off the port your rig will start to go up. Likewise if you had to loose your lens your rig would float and could escape to the surface. If you want to balance the overall rig you need to find a solution to balance the lenses themselves otherwise severe risks of runaway ascent chasing the rig could incur
Over a year ago I wrote a set of posts for the RX100 and some of the quirks of this wonderful little camera.
Steadyshot – aka Image Stabilizer
The RX100 has a specific Active mode for video not available when taking stills. I described the differences between those two modes in this post
Everyone is so obsessed of having the widest possible field of view that other more important considerations are completely missed out.
If you have ever shot a video with a GoPro underwater you know how bad is the quality of the image in the corners, this is because the flat port combined with the gopro lens create many optical aberrations.
Our RX100, especially the original Mark I, also has an issue in the corners, this is not just an underwater issue is also true on land. The lens on the camera has a lot of distortion and when corrections are applied to the image this effectively creates corner softness.
When we add a wide angle lens the image quality in the corners deteriorates further especially if the lens is flat creating a lot of chromatic aberrations that you can see in pictures with a blue or yellow halo around the edges.
Now the good news the Active steady shot mode crops the image of a factor of 1.15x getting rid of the majority of the corner softness.
There is of course a price to pay which is the loss of some of the angle of view. According to my calculation if you use an Inon UWL-H100 you start from more than the declared 100.8º more around 104º in fact. When the active mode is on this drops to around 95º. Remember all those values represent the largest incident angle that means the diagonal field of view.
A lens with 100º diagonal field of view means 90º horizontal. So after the active mode is engaged our horizontal field of view looks more like 84º which is equivalent to a 20mm lens. This is sufficient for most close wide angle shots and plenty for ambient light videos of large fish or wrecks. I generally suggest to keep the Active mode on, of course if you can be in a fixed position and hold the camera really steady you can also use the standard mode and obtain more field of view. There is a chance though that you will need to crop the extra field of view if you need to stabilize in the editing phase.
For macro shots without a tripod the steadyshot is a must and helps greatly. I do not even see a reason to take it off if you have a tripod as the RX100 does not have a particularly small capture area.
This brings the second subject: digital zoom, if you shoot pictures you avoid it as what you are doing is to crop the image, something you can do yourself in processing. In video though there is very little quality loss as we use just 2 megapixels of the 20 of the RX100 camera. In my test you can use digital zoom until the 2x multiplier is reached, this corresponds to 7.2x magnification and see no noticeable degradation in the image quality. The other benefit is that the depth of field is the same despite the magnification so you can save yourself stacking two diopters with all the difficulties that follow in terms of focus.
Digital zoom is always on in video mode and I recommend to use it with a single close up lens before embarking on dual diopters or a strong single diopter. Also take into account that with a single +6 diopter your working distance is around 4″ which is ideal for most critters except pygmy seahorse and bobtail squid or some shrimps.
In another post I have explained that getting hung up about light angle coverage is not really the only thing to consider, there is also luminous flux and quality of light. With my Sola 1200 I can cover something between 2 and 4 feet away with decent results further away is just back scatter. Generally this is ok for some close portrait work and close wide angle and of course not sufficient to cover part of a wreck or much larger subjects. You may decide not to bother at all with lights for wide angle and just render your deep wreck dives in black and white in this case consider that a pair of Sola Dive 800 at $399 are a high quality macro set up, function as dive light and provide some decent close wide angle portrait illumination. For macro shots you need much less than that, I set my fill light at minimum (300 lumens) and the main light at 2/3 which is 600 lumens, I can shoot at f/11 with this light intensity. You can see me shooting in the feature image.
Following the failed test on the Nauticam Electrical Sync Cord bulkhead I was out in the market to check what else could be done with the M16 port on the RX100 Mark II housing.
I bumped into the leak sentinel while at the London Dive Show. As you may know Nauticam provides now a vacuum system with temperature compensation on all new micro 4:3 and DSLR housings. Also older models can be retrofitted but not the RX100 because essentially the moisture sensor is much simpler.
So if the Nauticam housing has already a moisture sensor why bother adding a vacuum test. The advantages are numerous:
A moisture sensor still requires the housing to be put into water to be tested
A moisture sensor starts beeping when water has already made its way into the housing, if you are in a situation where you have a mandatory safety stop or a deco stop you don’t want really to have the additional stress of a camera flood.
With a leak sensor you can check the integrity of the housing before the dive and without putting it in water
You can rapidly change battery and the likes and not worry if you have compromised the seal of your housing
After an email exchange about the design of the product I was convinced that it was worth getting it so I ordered one and after just 3 days it turned up in my post directly from Slovenia.
The system comes with an M16 adapter to screw on the housing bulkhead. The best way to remove the cap on the Mark II housing is using a CR2032 battery like the one of the moisture sensor.
I set up the system on the housing as in the featured image and started my preparation. It takes 3 pump strokes to get a green light and the instructions say to add between half and a full stroke to make sure it is not on the edge. I had 4 full strokes.
I prepared the housing and camera in a room at 21C and waited 20 minutes before putting it in water at 15C.
I then put the camera in video recording mode for one hour, the Rx100 has a limit at 30′ so I had to record two files. After one hour the system was still showing a green light I took it out of the water and follow the depressurization procedure and extracted the camera. Measuring the temperature inside the battery compartment the sensor indicated 28C.
Now this made me think to the fact that this solution, although equipped with a temperature sensor, does not actually manage temperature compensation. If you know anything about physics you know that the following is true for an gas also known as Gay Lussac law
the pressure of a gas of fixed mass and fixed volume is directly proportional to the gas’s absolute temperature
As our housing is rigid and not compressible this means that the ratio between temperature and pressure is constant.
This also means that if the temperature increases because the camera warms up with use the vacuum will drop (pressure increases), this could create a false positive.
I therefore performed the following steps
I immersed in water at 32C and started shooting a video clip.
After around 50 minutes the led started to alternate red and green. The camera has the temperature warning indicating a possible temperature close to 40 degrees
I kept the camera in water pretty sure there was no leak and then at 60 minutes took it out of the water
After few minutes outside water in a room at 21C the light went back to green
The camera temperature in the battery compartment was 36C
The ambient pressure was 1016 mpa so I estimate I created around 750mpa inside the housing with 4 full strokes, however as the camera sustained an increase of 19 degrees from 21 to 40 the pressure sustained an increase of 6.5% bringing it in the warning area of the leak sentinel and generated a false positive.
Now there are a few considerations to be done:
1. If you shoot pictures even firing the flash is unlikely to get the camera as hot as when you shoot video
2. The water in the dive will seldom be 30C anyway
3. It is preferable to prepare the camera in a temperature as close as possible to the diving temperature and in the driest environment available
4. It is possible to estimate the amount of vacuum each pump strokes gives and compensate for the temperature changes
The worst possible scenario is a video camera housing prepared in an air conditioned environment this is the only scenario where temperature compensation is useful.
Generally the suggestion of the user manual to give one or half pump strokes should be changed. Say that I have a large housing and it takes 10 strokes to create the vacuum, I would suggest another 3 strokes is diving in warm water otherwise the possibility of false positives is increased.
For what concerns the RX100 and only for very warm water shooting a lot of video there is a theoretical possibility that the camera overheats, and if the housing had been assembled in a much colder room, this gives a false positive.
To minimize this possibility prepare your housing at the normal ambient temperature of your dive site is generally the best practice for tropical diving. I also do not recommend practices like preparing your housing in a cold air conditioned cabin, some people think they avoid condensation not thinking that a 20+ degrees thermal shock does do any good to the camera.
Ultimately at €200 including worldwide shipping I can definitely recommend the leak sentinel to all RX100 users. Considering the cost of your investment even at the price of the RX100 Mark II of $750/£649/€699 this is a good tool and more than anything give you the extra reassurance of having a watertight housing, and also helps you in all your situations where you have a battery change or you have to open the housing before the end of your day.
Recently I have started building my RX100 Mark II photo rig and as part of this I had to choose a wet fisheye lens.
For video I do not like the barrel distortion of a fisheye lens, and on top of that you can’t attach a push on filter to a dome so for me those are two big no when it comes to the RX100 and its white balance error woes.
For still instead I shoot only RAW never white balance in the water and a fisheye lens is required so that I can have human size strobe arms when shooting close focus wide angle at distances between 0 and 16”.
I will focus my discussion on the Nauticam housing starting off with a 67mm thread and go from there.
Currently there are 3 options on the market for the RX100 and come from 3 difference manufacturers. I will go through each one briefly and then we will look more in detail at the two I consider best.
The first lens is the FIX UWL-28M52R, this lens is the smallest of all and was originally design to nicely complement the form factor of a Canon S100 in a fix housing, hence the 52mm thread. The lens has a magnification factor of 0.41x and a diameter of 126mm including the hood, the lens is actually much smaller at around 90mm.
Fix has introduced this lens in 2011 as a replacement of the previous UWL-04 model for two reasons, the first is to have a smaller lens as the UWL-04 was a too big in comparison of the housing, second probably cost though this was never declared. However other people tests and plenty of in water images show that this lens is actually worse than its predecessor. It is also smaller making split over-under shots more difficult.
When Fix withdraw the UWL-04 the manufacturer of the lens continued the production and finally put it back on the market under the i-divesite brand. This lens is the same as the Fix except the label.
Both lenses the old and new fix are pretty much a copy of the old Inon UFL-165, both made of 4 glass elements and an acrylic dome with hard anti scratch coating.
Here is a set of shots for the UWL-04 and the various parts in the box.
The last lens on the market is the Inon UWL-H100 with dome. This lens is available with an M67 mount and with an LD bayonet mount. Due to the size and weight of those lenses in water (100 to 500 grams weight and diameter between 125 and 152 mm) a bayonet mount is my preferred choice.
The Inon lens is actually made entirely of glass, the dome is the biggest at 115mm for the lens with an overall diameter of 132mm. This lens is the more suitable to split over under shot and promises a better contrast and less flare than the other lenses with plastic domes. Inon had some concerns about plastic domes and flare following the performance issue of their UFL165 so went for 100% glass for all next generation lenses.
Vignetting with RX100
In certain conditions all those lenses actually have some vignette in water. Despite what you read on shop websites if you look at real pictures there is a bit of that.
The Fix and Idas lenses have an issue with the lateral hood, the shots look clear of vignette on land but in water the magnification of the hood petals makes them show in the picture, we are talking a minimum crop required around 1% and usually on one side. The Inon UWL-H100 has a different issue and it gives in specific situations a tiny bit of vignette in the corners, around 2% of the image needs to be cropped. Both lenses will not vignette when image stabilization is deactivated, the image stabilizer tends to aggravate the issue so if you are obsessed switch it off and try to be steady shooting at speeds of 1/125th of a second or faster. For example on the amount of vignette see the following
I would like to thank Alex Tattersall, Tamas Plotek and Troy Williams for those in water pictures.
Inon UWL-100 28AD
Inon has another lens that is suitable for the RX100 and is the UWL-100 28AD a lens originally introduced in 2005. This lens has a smaller rear element than the UWL-H100 and it is not suited to many cameras with a very large lens aperture. The RX100 however works fine with this lens and contrary to the newer UWL-H100 this lens does not vignette in water or on land. The reason is that the de-magnification of this lens is less than the newer lens 0.63x vs 0.6x. This is the lens I have chosen for my RX100 Mark II and I will compare it here with the UWL-04 I have recently bought for my Canon S95. There are no substantial differences between the UWL-100 28AD and the UWL-H100 in terms of optical quality.
Here are few pictures to compare the lenses, take into account that whilst the weight on land is comparable, once in water the Inon lens is heavier at 400 grams versus 160 of the UWL-04.
There is no need to take the lenses in water to compare image quality generally things get worse in water not better so it is sufficient to take a shot on land and see how that goes to have a relative comparison between two lenses. In this example the cameras are on a table exactly in the same position when the shots are taken and use the same settings of ISO, aperture and shutter speed.
The first impression is that the UWL-04 is a tad wider but more rectilinear, the Inon lens has definitely more barrel distortion and is more a fisheye than the UWL-04 is. Looking at mid upper frame you can see that at diagonal level the UWL-100 28AD is actually wider than the UWL-04 that remains wider horizontally. This means looking at the specs can be misleading and results depend on the camera lens combination.
So how do these lenses compare when it comes to corner sharpness and flare?
This is a shot with the UWL-100 in very harsh conditions with sun-rays hitting the lens directly on the dome, you can clearly see the ghosting that comes from it.
This is the same shot in the same place taken with the UWL-04 you immediate notice that the ghosting has a green color. This is most likely due to lack of anti-reflection coating inside the dome and to the color of the inner lens mount.
Looking at the image the picture taken with the Inon has a clearer ghosting but then is sharp in the rest of the image, the UWL-04 image has flare around it with comparable less contrast as we move from the center to the corners.
The other two images are a crop in the corner, you can see that despite the high level of distortion you can still distinguish some detail of the small grass bush in the Inon image, the UWL-04 instead is softer and the bush is basically a uniform green shape with no detail at all.
Update 28 Feb I have taken some shots with the UWL-H100 and the UFL165AD here are the overviews
The UWL-H100 is actually wider than the UWL-04 with the Sony RX100 despite the advertised 144.5 degrees versus 165 of the UWL-04. Has the same level of detail of the UWL-100 28AD
The UFL165AD flare issue is obvious in this shot both lower corners are compromised, this confirms why the UWL-04 is the best option for the Canon S series in terms of flare or vignette.
Looking at the UWL-H100 crop you can see the vignette more apparent in the upper corner and the image sharpness, it is possible that with an M67 mount there is no vignette with a Nauticam housing in most conditions, with LD mount you need to turn image stabiliser off or crop. Considering this is the widest lens it is not a big issue. Once cropped the UWL-H100 gives still the widest field of view but someone maybe be annoyed by this. Zooming in results in the same field of view of the UWL-10- 28AD
The Inon lens presents the benefit of a bayonet mount, although the lens is heavy it can be removed in water quite easily, the UWL-04 has some issues whereby the adapter ring would unscrew instead of the lens, this can be avoided fixing the adapter on the lens but then there is no lens cap that would fit the larger M67 screw in the box so you need to buy one yourself, generally the size of the petals make this lens impossible to handle in water and is more like diving with a dome port. It has to be noted though that you can zoom through with both lenses so still continue and take portrait shots and close ups. Obviously for real close or macro you do need to take the lens off which with the UWL-04 you can basically forget.
The UWL-04 costs $460 in US as shown here with dome cover and step down ring, and £362 in UK. The Inon UWL-100 28AD with dome costs $907.80 including an M67-ADF adapter in US and £775 in UK. All in all the Inon is around near to double the price of the UWL-04. The UWL-H100 is even more expensive at $970 for the M67 version and $942 for the LD bayonet, you then need to add $160 for an adapter for a total of $1,102 that is a lot of money another reason for the 28AD version.
The Inon is the best lens for the RX100 and there is no doubt, however it costs more than double the UWL-04 not everybody will be able to afford it. The UWL-04 is a somewhat basic lens that lacks sophistication and is essentially not removable in water but comes at a great price. In terms of field of view the lenses are very similar with the Inon lenses having more fisheye distortion and a wider diagonal field of view. The UWL-04 is more rectilinear and as consequence has less field of view diagonally. Only one lens has zero vignette at the wide end and this is the UWL-100 28AD with dome.
In Water Shots
I don’t have shots in water yet pending my next trip but two galleries that give an idea are here:
Funny enough the first has then moved to the Fix UWL-28 lens whilst the second has got rid of the UWL-04 to buy an Inon as not happy with corner sharpness!
My perspective is if I look at the pictures I can barely tell the difference however looking close the Inon lens is sharper at one f/stop less, the UWL-04 requires stopping at f/8 or smaller, you can happily shoot f/5.6 with the Inon which means you need less light and less strobe power.
So the time has come to talk about photography more in depth. I have actually given up stills in favor of video since a few years as I find video gets me closer to behaviors than stills do, I guess am just not patient enough to capture behaviors on still as that involves waiting!
Anyway this is the rig as it is today without the floats.
The RX100 is a demanding compact for the very same reason why it is the best compact the huge sensor it sports. If you come from shooting a canon or panasonic or even Olympus on a 1/1.7″ sensor you find the RX100 to be very unforgiving. In essence you can’t really just point and shoot you need to put some more thinking into your shots.
The rig that I have put together for stills has the same meticulous attention to detail than my video rig has, you would say OCD probably but here it is.
So let’s start with the housing, Nauticam just makes the best most ergonomic housing for the RX100 period. There is nothing you can think of improving about this housing. Even if the bulkhead connector is useless you can actually put a vacuum valve on it to put it to full use.
Nauticam do offer an M67 thread native on all their compact housings but I find this tedious to say the least. The beauty of a compact is that you can shoot wide and macro on the same dive, the M67 thread in essence negates this as it makes virtually impossible to change lenses on a dive. This is the reason why I went for the Inon 28AD mount for my rig using an inexpensive 10 bar adapter priced at $20 or £15.
Once you connect the Inon UWL-100 28AD the lens is very close to the housing to the point of nearly touching the port. This means you get no vignette with this lens with the added dome, and actually a larger field of view in water than you get with the UWL-H100. Why is that? The UWL-100 28AD has less magnification so it does not vignette even on land, once you add the dome you get almost the same field of view in water around 150º. The lens is just a tad lighter than the UWL-H100 with an in water weight of 400 grams.
The choice of the 28AD mount means you can only use the UCL-165AD close up lenses, that if attached would crash into the glass, you need therefore a 28AD->AD adapter from Inon.
You do get vignette until 50mm however this is not an issue as you shoot those lenses at the tele-end.
This is the whole lens set with the two adapters.
As discussed in other posts the two stacked diopters give you super macro, they are also light with 35 grams each in water. The small amount of fringing they give can be eliminated in lightroom with a single click.
The wide angle lens sports a 115mm optical glass dome with inner anti-reflection coating. If you are into observing fine detail you will notice that the dome is not actually a full semicircle but flatter, if you add the special coating this means no flare and increased contrast. If you wonder why shots taken with Inon dome lenses are sharper is because only 1% of the incoming light is reflected, against 3% of an acrylic dome, the glass dome due to the coating don’t flare, plastic ones do as simple as that.
Now let’s move on to the strobes a twin Inon Z240 set. I have been a sea and sea user for years until I managed to damage my YS-01 and got no assistance at all from S&S since then I decided to go elsewhere.
What I love about the Z240 is the variety of controls to manage shadows, the sharp aiming light with a red filter good for the most skittish critters. Contrary to what many people think I aim directly at the subject in macro as the distance is short and backscatter is not an issue so no point aiming the strobes away for me.
I happened to have a pair of Sea and Sea optical L cable that served me well and had no will to change, FIT produces this cost effective adapter that goes on your Z240 and makes it compatible, I just love it.
I believe Inon Z MV strobe head adapter has no equal in ergonomics but for some reason a part that is $20 in Japan sells at over $40 in US and £30 in UK so is not that popular. My second choice would be the Nauticam strobe adapter that has got the small feet needed to correctly lock on the strobe head.
With the Z240 doing wonders as aiming light there is no real room for a focus light however I have a set of Sola Video 1200 and what I like is that you can use them as dive light. I have connected them with a locline cold shoe, this will soon change to a ball mount, as the cold shoe is on the left side. Probably I will get a Sola Dive 800 so I can leave my two trays set for video and stills on the boat.
Looking at the tray I use ultralight, it simple and sturdy and allows me to center the port in the middle of the tray.
The most attentive will see that the two handles have different colors.
Why is that? Firstly I want to place the handles at maximum distance, second by placing two different handle I can ensure the ball is at the same height, this would not be true if I was using the same handle on both sides. I use a TR-DM with a TR-DUPL long extension to make the tray 30cm or 12″.
So this is what it looks like, there will be floats on it, I estimate I need 8 floats to make the rig neutral with the lenses off. I am planning to place 3 on each 8″ arm segment and two on the tray however I might change this to 2 on each arm and a bespoke float on the tray bottom. I will run some test to see what works best.
So that’s all folks surely there will be questions and I look forward to answer them.
Just want to remind you that if you are in the market for a compact still or video rig I provide a personal shopper service for £30 or $45 that provides an end to end service on your budget where all you have to do is to call the shop to pay. Of course we would discuss any observations about the set up before this gets finalized, but am sure better to spend a little amount instead of making expensive mistakes!
In this post I will investigate for your enjoyment the bulkhead connector available for the Sony RX100 Mark II and will see why this is unfortunately an accessory that is not worth buying. There are other ways to put the M16 port to use for example with a leak detection system but if were thinking of firing strobes using electrical sync cords then think again.
I was today at the London International Dive Show where I met Dr Alex Tattersall of Nauticam UK that also introduced me to Catherine Lai, daughter of Edward CEO and founder of Nauticam and herself operations director.
I felt a bit sorry when I had to explain why the bulkhead was not a workable solution and if you have a look at the youtube video you will understand why, this has been shot by my fiance’ on an iPhone so apologies for the portrait format and occasional shake.
Right so if you didn’t manage to hear the audio or understand the subtitles here is the plain text explanation.
The bulkhead has a single X pin that connects to the center of the RX100 multi-shoe, now this is the same interface that is on the newer Nex and on the A7. The Sony multi-shoe has a complex 21 pin interface that used with compatible accessories can trigger an external TTL flash.
In order for an external device to be recognized the interface of the connector need to connect to the 21 pin slot not just to the center. Nauticam bulkhead adapter is not so complex and only connect only on the center pin.
So the result is that the external connection is not recognized and if you leave the flash set to fill flash, as you would do with an optical connection, the internal RX100 flash pops out and fires away negating the benefit of the electrical connection.
So in order to make it work you need to set the internal flash to OFF. As the pin on the multi-shoe is always live this works perfectly so when you press the shutter the nikonos interface triggers the external strobe which is what should happen.
The little but significant inconvenient is that if you set the flash to off the LCD goes pretty much black as the RX100 has live view on the LCD and only lights up when you half press the shutter. This means is practically impossible to compose any shot unless you have a really bright focus light or there is sufficient ambient light. In any case for a close focus wide angle shot that you will take with this camera with apertures between f/8 and f/11 the screen will look pitch black as in the video even if you set the LCD to sunny weather.
Whilst the A7 and Nex have an option to disable live view in the LCD, the RX100 does not have such option so you are pretty much done and this accessory is not worth buying as it also introduces an additional point of failure for the housing and one for each strobe.
So the supposed big advantage of the Mark II goes out of the window, time to despair? Not at all!!!
I had the impression that the internal flash was recycling much faster than the original RX100, well I have done some tests and I can confirm what imaging-resource has measured: the flash recycling time at full power goes from 7.2 sec of the RX100 down to 4.4 seconds of the Mark II.
Now this is significant because after your shot you need anyway 2 seconds to recharge the strobes and look at the image preview after the shot and probably another 2 seconds to recompose the shot, at that time the RX100 Mark II will be ready to shoot again at full power.
The improved CIPA rating of the Mark II also means well in excess of 200 shots at full flash before having to change the battery so there is no big deal that the electrical option is not workable, get yourself a twin set of Inon Z240 (my current favourite) or Sea and Sea YS-D1 and you will have no issues compared to any other compact as the RX100 Mark II has the highest CIPA rating of all compacts on the market that are good underwater.
In fact the most significant improvement of the RX100 Mark II in addition to the better performance in low light is certainly the strobe recycle time, from 7.2 to 4.4 is nearly a 40% improvement and the Mark II is faster to recycle than a Canon S120 although not as fast as the G15 or as fast as the Panasonic LX7 or Olympus XZ2. However we are talking about 1.2 seconds difference I doubt that is such a big deal
Clearly the RX100 Mark II is the best compact camera for both still and videos and I look forward to shooting more stills with it.
I thought of writing a brief article about video lights.
In the last years LED lights have become incredibly cost effective and there are many products on sale that look promising and cheap.
A special mention goes to the GoPro a very cost effective option for underwater video plagued by poor performance in low light. The GoPro market seem to have injected new life into the video light marketplace and of course calls for products that are not expensive in line with the typical profile of the GoPro user.
There are many examples of footage with what you would consider powerful lights that actually do not look that bright or even nice, why is that?
Lights are now measured in Lumens which is the SI unit of measure of luminous flux a light is said to emit one lumen if it emits one candela over a solid angle of one steradian. This sounds all very complicated and not very helpful so let’s try to make some sense of this.
Usually when we go an buy a light we are given three key pieces of information:
Lumens – this in a way is considered the power of the light*
Beam angle – this is the maximum horizontal beam that the light can cover – note this does not relate with solid angles but is merely a 2D view
Color – this represent how white is the light, a good light should not exceed 6500K which is what is considered a day light white
*we will see that this is actually incorrect
Let’s have a look at a typical best buy the Archon Video Light W38VR, this light is declared to have the following:
120 degrees beam angle
Looking at the specifications this looks like a very warm (5000K) wide beam light and very powerful so how comes that with a subject at one meter or 3 feet distance this light seems to have no effect on a bright day?
The reason is that lumens are not a real indication of the amount of light that hits the subject but just the total light emitted which includes the light that illuminates the water between us and the subject that we actually are not interest at all in illuminating.
If you had to do a video production in studio you would be looking at intensity of 1000 lux where a lux is measured in lumens/m2. The lux is the density of light that hits a flat surface at a given distance.
With a few calculations we see that the Archon light because of the very wide beam is effective at two feet and produces around 1200 Lux which is great however at 3 feet this drops to 550 Lux which is not that great.
Many times when comparing the new cheaper lights to expensive lights like Sola or Fix despite the less nominal lumens declared the sola or fix seem brighter at the same distance.
So let’s evaluate the lux produced by a Sola 1200 a light much more expensive than the Archon with only a 60 degrees beam.
At two feet the sola produces around 4000 Lux which would nearly tan a fish, at 3 feet it still produces nearly 1800 Lux dropping to the studio value of 1000 Lux at a distance of 4 feet or 1.2 meters. This is because the illumination is in a smaller and narrower beam and is like the light was more dense.
Of course this has the disbenefit of a narrower beam so we need to step away from the subject in order to cover it properly, this diagram gives an idea
The two set of lines contain the video lights beams, we can see that those beams cross and them keep as combined angle of coverage the same beam of the lights themselves, that is the ideal spot for our lights as there are no shadows there.
Another consideration is the angle of coverage that we need for our camera lens to follow the lights, two 60 degrees beam lights actually cover a 100 degrees diagonal lens or 90 degrees horizontal lens typical of a 18mm lens. The GoPro and all compact cameras with a 100 degree lens fall in this group.
Another consideration to be done is that due to the light angle of coverage there is a minimum distance to be kept if we want to avoid our subject to be in the shade, this minimum distance depends on the light beam and the distance between them.
Once you get closer than one foot it is not necessary anymore to point the lights forward as the amount of water is limited and the lights can be pointed directly at the subject like in this example
So assuming we want to be at a distance of one foot or 30cm how far do the lights need to be?
For a 60 degrees beam the lights need to be 36 cm away or around 12 inches. For a light like the Archon with 120 degrees beam the distance between the arms needs to be 1 meters or 40″. Considering a tray is around 30 cm or 12″ this means you need arms at least 13″ in order to cover something at one foot and to cover a subject at 2 feet you need two meters distance that means again 33″ worth of arms.
What happens if you only have the tray with the lights on and your subject is at 3 feet with two very wide video lights of 120 degrees beam?
You illuminate already after 3″ from the camera
The two lights emit 550 Lux that combined are not such a small output
The net result is that a lot of the water in front of the subject is illuminated and this creates backscatter where all the silt in the water gets reflection and ultimately deteriorates the quality of the footage.
If you ever wonder why underwater photographers that shoot super wide have two 16″ arm segments this is why the want to avoid backscatter with their 110 degrees strobes and still be around one foot distance with their fisheye lens.
So what are the conclusions that we can draw:
A wide beam light is only good if you have long arms, the wider the beam the longer the arms otherwise the beams just light up the particles in front of the subject producing backscatter
Lumens are not a real indication of the effectiveness of the light per se but need to be taken into account with the beam angle and a lux calculation needs to be performed you want to aim for 1000 lux at the distance of choice
Light beams need to be evaluated together with the camera lens horizontal field of coverage 60-80 degree beam angles are adequate for most of the video rigs out there and more is only justified for fisheye type of lens not commonly used in video
I hope you find this information useful and get in touch if you want to discuss, the subject is not that simple!
So after a few months since I got the Nauticam housing I finally had the time to get in the water and try it on.
I was in Barbados for a week and although the diving was not exactly outstanding I did have enough to test the camera behavior.
The link to the videos are here for YouTube at 1080p
or if you prefer Vimeo at 720p
The footage was all taken at 1080p50 the highest mode of the RX100. The RX1oo can work in both PAL and NTSC standard but I chose the PAL mode just to avoid the annoying NTSC message at startup. The clip has been edited with iMovie 9.0.9 and then exported in 1080p25 using Xencoder codec for quicktime in high profile. Youtube then reconverts it to its own specifications, but at least I have the highest possible starting point.
As mentioned the RX100 shoots at shutter speed of 1/100 in 50p mode and this suited me fine in case I wanted to produce a 60p clip for viewing on the computer as currently no online system supports it.
As discussed in the previous post I shot all wide angle in camera Program mode. This allowed me to use the left control wheel button to call the white balance set menu that in video is not available. I set the picture format to 16:9 so that would show similar on the screen. I did notice that when I actually started the movie recording the crop of the active steadyshot kicked in with a reduction of field of view of around 9 degrees or a 1.14 zoom equivalent.
However the active steady shot was well worth it as I have not used any stabilization for any part of this clip and therefore not introduced any extra cropping.
The wide angle shots with the RX100 are an absolute breeze when you use a filter and there is no need for custom white balance until it gets too deep to actually use a filter. I struggled getting decent results with custom white balance, the 9900 K error came pretty much every time except when in shallow water and balancing on sand. Also the results were off with too much magenta tint to the point I had always to correct it.
Ultimately I kept the filter and the camera in Auto White balance and did not bother doing a custom reading at all. The results were excellent.
In deeper water the filter started making the image a bit dark so I took it off and used a temperature setting of 9900K with Magenta and Amber at the maximum.
For close up at distances over 20cm I still shot in program and had good results. When getting super close or macro I used Movie mode in Aperture priority mode with aperture set at f/11. Towards the end of the clip you can see a shot of a small pink frogfish that is done like that. The close up on the eye is shot with two stacked Inon UCL165 the depth of field is really small as you can see but still workable considering I hand held the camera at all time.
When I shot this arrow crab I had left the camera in program mode so it chose an aperture of f/5.6 you can see that whilst the mouth is in focus the arrow is not
Similar situation with the pedersen shrimp where not everything is sharp in focus
Obviously I am being very exigent with my footage and in normal condition this is already good to very good.
So what I liked and what I did not like about the RX100 Mark II:
The ergonomics and ease of use are outstanding
The camera performs incredibly well with a filter in auto white balance
The manual focus with peaking works extremely well
Dynamic range and colors are outstanding and not just for a compact
Image crisp even in the corners at f/1.8 compared to the Mark I this is extremely significant
The active stabilizer was great and meant to manipulation in post
Battery life is incredible
Performance in low light is excellent and better than the Mark I the camera never reached the ISO MAX of 800 I had set hitting a top of 640 at 30 meters
Autofocus at wide end in bright conditions is superb
The only think I hated was the custom white balance results an absolute disgrace, to the point that there is no benefit doing it. Not only that the few parts of the clip I had used it and correct it were still a bit off and required correction in post to a small extent.
Also to consider some of the topside capabilities of the RX100 Mark II just to give an idea though this is not exactly the same location have a look as this shot with a Nikon D7100 with sigma 17-70 in comparison with the RX100 Mark II
There is a difference but considering the size of the RX100 and the fact it fits in a pocket I don’t think there can be that many complains. Obviously once you look at specific lenses for the DSLR things change but in the 28-100mm all purpose range I would say that the gap is not as much as double as the price of the two set ups.
So is the Sony RX100 the best compact underwater video set up? Definitely
Is the Mark II better than the original RX100? Yes and well worth an upgrade for video
How does it compare with the Panasonic LX7? The dynamic range and the colors are superior and produces footage that is simply better and sharper. Where the LX7 excels is at macro in clear waters, this is not because of magnification as the RX100 and LX7 perform exactly the same with diopters, and this is because of the LX7 amazing autofocus. However with a bit of silt or other objects in range there is need to switch to manual focus and there the RX100 is actually superior when using peaking even if the depth of field is actually less, the manual focus on the LX7 with the magnifier is not as good unfortunately.
So my ranking for video is:
1. Sony RX100 Mark II
2. Panasonic LX7
3. Sony RX100
I would also add that for stills the LX7 is even more rewarding at macro range due to the performance of autofocus.