To Tray or Not to Tray

A friend of mine messaged me the other day:

Checking with you, I’ve just bought a TG-5. So can I start shooting UW already or I need to add on any “lens”?

You have housing?

Yes, I’m on Ikelite housing.

For macro, you’ll need a light source. Also for wide-angle but you can also go without.

I have a video light, no budget for strobes yet. 😅

That’s ok. How do you mount it? Check out my blog post for TG5 setup here: https://underwatermacro.blog/2019/01/03/my-tg5-setup/

My housing will only reach next week, will send you a photo after I have mounted it. Also, about the tray: single handle & double handle, which is better?

Honestly, none. Best is a cold shoe mount on top of the housing. Trays are good for a couple of things. To mount light arms. For double hand holding on the housing to steady during wide videos. For a shutter trigger. For when you can’t fit your hands around the housing.

And they’re bad at some things. Having to reach further to reach the shutter. Making a wider camera that you can’t fit into spaces for macro. Getting hung up on your dive gear.

My G9 has left and right handles because it’s a bigger camera.

My TG5 has a handle on the right side because it holds a trigger. Makes it easier to fire a shot without twisting the camera. I took off the left side handle because I don’t need it to mount lights and because it makes the camera wider. If I need more lights and versatility, I’ll use the G9.

TG5 is my light travel and “exploration” camera. I want it lightweight and small.

The trick is: know where you are good and where you have to trouble and optimize the camera for your style. I will tell you this. A good photographer with a TG5 and a handheld dive torch can always do better than a poor photographer with an expensive camera with all sorts of shit hanging on it.

One thing that you do want to add is a lanyard. You can see mine in the photos. I don’t like how long it is when it’s clipped off. I just clip it when I’m descending and ascending. During a dive I undo the short clip and hand-carry it by grabbing the handle with my right hand. I either put it along the right side of my body, in my hands crossed in front of me like a tech diver, or underneath my crotch. 😁

Depends on what I’m doing at the time: hunting, traveling, waiting, etc.

Noted. Will read through your blog & digest as much as I could. Thank you so much for your advice.

See you underwater!!!

–Mike

Gear Optimization

Always keep working on your gear and optimize it to take better pictures.

How to Optimize

After every dive, I ask myself a couple of questions:

  • What pieces of my gear did I have problems with?
    • Takes 2 hands to operate?
    • Have to adjust several times to get positioned?
    • Fell apart while I was swimming?
    • Was so annoying that I wasn’t shooting relaxed?
    • Increased my breathing (SAC) rate?
  • Is there anything that I didn’t use that I can safely get rid of?
  • What non-shooting tasks did I spend the most time on, and can I find a way to reduce this time?

There are 3 key things that I am always trying to optimize: Getting setup for my first shot of a subject, getting that first shot right, and getting faster repeat shots.

Time to First Shot

What I’m looking at here is the time that it takes to go from swimming and hunting to set up for a shot. And then the opposite: to go from shooting to hunting for more subjects.

My Techniques.

Learn to hunt. Hunting is the biggest non-shooting time that I have during a dive. Anything I can do to locate subjects more quickly vastly improves my shooting time.

Control your clips. Clipping and unclipping your camera takes time. Experiment with holding it by hand on a longer lanyard. Experiment with different positions of carrying. Experiment with different clip-on points (I use the right shoulder d-ring).

Torch. You’re usually hunting for subjects with a torch. When you find a subject, you have to transition to holding a camera. I normally use a simple torch with a bolt snap (dog clip) tied on the end of it. I do one of three things to switch to a camera: clip the torch to the camera on the lanyard, clip the torch to my right shoulder d-ring, or set the torch on the ground to mark the subject so that I can find it again.

Take a quick peek. Have a good look at the subject before you place your camera. This can tell you what the best shooting angle is. Positioning and repositioning yourself takes a lot of time, so try to get it right the first time.

Camera placement. I find that when I shoot supermacro I spend a lot of time trying to get the lens in the right place for the subject. Then adding a 45° viewfinder makes this even more difficult until you get used to it. There are several tricks to this. If you use manual focus or back button focus, set up the camera at the same focus distance. If you’re using autofocus, get the camera in position but further back, use autofocus to get an initial fix, find the subject, move into the subject, and refocus. You can also set focus lock and move the focus in closer if you want to. Memorize the area around the subject to use as landmarks so that if you see the landmark you know which way to move the lens.

First Shot Accuracy

By this, I mean that when you take the first shot it is exposed properly and in focus.

My Techniques

Remember your settings. When you set up your camera before a dive, use the same settings for exposure: aperture, shutter speed, ISO, strobe positioning, and strobe strength. If you’re using manual focus, get your first focus fix on a test object that is approximately the same distance away from the lens as your “typical” macro subject.

Take a test shot. As soon as you descend, take a test shot of a rock or something else to verify your exposure settings.

Use a viewfinder. For some housings, 45° viewfinders are worth their weight in gold. They allow you to see exactly where your focus is by angling the image upwards so that you can get closer to see your picture.

Turn on focus peaking. This setting gives you a zebra stripe in the viewfinder for areas of the picture that are in focus. This drastically increases your accuracy in placing the focus.

Stabilize your camera. By anchoring your hands and elbows, you can keep the camera from shaking.

Breath control. When you breathe out fully, there is a natural pause before you start to breathe in. Also there is a smaller pause at the top when you fully breathe in. These pauses are good for shooting photos and for shooting firearms. A more advanced version makes mini-pauses in the middle of the breath. Don’t hold your breath for longer than 5 seconds because it makes you shake.

Handle with trigger. A shutter trigger reduces the amount of camera shake and “wrist twist”when you take a photo. Both of these mess up your framing and your focus point.

Time to Repeat Shot

The last optimization is to reduce the amount of time between shots on the same subject.

My Techniques

Focus lock and manual adjustment. If you’re skilled at this, you can fire multiple shots very quickly when you’re on a subject. You can practice this on land before you get in the water.

Faster strobes or no strobes. Strobes use capacitors to hold electricity and discharge it quickly to make a flash. Filling up those capacitors takes time. Better strobes have a shorter recharge time. Better yet, try shooting without strobes and use a video light, handheld torch, light ring or natural light: they are faster techniques.

Handle with trigger. Triggers are fast when you want to repeat a shot.

See you underwater!!!

–Mike

An Update on my G9 Setup

I’ve talked about the G9 before, but let me talk about the hardware along with some notes.

 

The buildout:

  • Panasonic Lumix G9
  • Olympus 60mm macro lens
  • Nauticam NA-G9 housing
    • Leak detection system
    • Vacuum system
  • Nauticam Super Macro Converter SMC-1 with flip holder
  • Nauticam Multiplier-1
  • Scubalamp F24
  • 2xSea and Sea YS-D2 strobes
  • Various arms
  • Coil lanyard with clip

What I’ve changed lately

Focus Torch.  I put it on a longer arm.  My goal was to get it out and above the end of the SMC-1 so that it shines down on top of the subject.  I play with it sometimes and make it .  This does 2 things.  First, it reduces the backscatter because it doesn’t illuminate dirt in the water between the lens and the subject.  Second, it keeps the lens port from blocking the light on the bottom of the frame where the subject almost always is.

Multiplier-1.  This is a new thing for me.  I used to use a Saga +5.  I’m hoping that the optics work better as far as depth of focus: any depth that I can gain is a positive thing.

Lanyard.  I added a lanyard clipped across the top to use as a carrying handle on land.  I don’t really need it in the water, though.  Maybe if I can just unclip it and store it in the water or right before a dive, that would be good.

See you underwater!!!

–Mike

My TG5 Setup

1

There are a handful of photos there, be sure to check them all out.

The buildout:

  • Olympus TG5
  • Nauticam NA-TG5 housing
  • Nauticam light ring for NA-TG5
  • Nauticam flex tray with handles
  • Nauticam M10 ball
  • Scubalamp F24
  • Nauticam clamp
  • Coil lanyard with clip

What I Like

Light Ring.  I’m a big fan of light rings.  That’s why I got the housing at $800 instead of the $300 Olympus version: it had an optional light ring (also at extra cost).  What the light ring means to me is smaller, more portable size, both in the water and in my pack.

Right-Side Handle.  I’m doing a lot of drysuit dives here in Boston.  The thick gloves make it hard to hold the camera and push down on the shutter button.  A handle gives you much more positive control over the camera.  More importantly, a handle lets you work the camera with just one hand and reduces task loading so you can do other things with your left hand while you shoot.

Trigger.  I love my triggers.  Nauticam handles do a good job of having a trigger mechanism.  The trigger gives you much more fine finger control for shots and it isolates the firing motion from how you hold the camera.  This means better focus because you don’t move the camera while you fire the shot.

What I don’t like

Width.  With the two handles, it makes the camera wider.  That makes it harder to fit into some cracks and get close for some shots.  It isn’t an issue with my G9 because it has a port that sticks out towards the subject instead of a flat camera body.  However, the left handle on this setup can be removed, which is how I’ll be trying this setup for a handful of dives.

Lanyard Length.  I use this same lanyard with my G9, which is a bulkier camera with arms and strobes.  It works because that camera needs more space.  But with the TG5, I want to hover close to the bottom to look for subjects or even tip head-down and look at things closer more often.  It seems like the camera is hanging down too much.  The TG4 setup I have also does this.  This means that I need to hold the camera with my right hand and that’s less than optimum.  So what I’m going to try is to just add a ring and bolt snap to the back of the right handle instead of the full lanyard.

Dedicated to Light Ring.  The light ring is screwed into the M52 mount on the front of the lens glass.  You can’t really take it off during a dive.  You can’t use any other accessory like a diopter with it.  I think this is a minor issue.

Which Camera For Which Dive

I have 3 camera setups that I’m using now, and I use them (or not) at different times.  Like most things in life, it’s all a tradeoff between simplifying the dive, flexibility in photography, and image quality.

Action Cam: “Small and Wide”

I have a Paralenz and my wife has a later-model GoPro.  They just clip onto your BCD and you don’t need to worry about it unless you find something to shoot.  They’re good for wide-angle point-and-click shots and the GoPro with a Backscatter Flip magnifier means that you can take pretty decent macro video and OK macro stills if you add some torch light.

When to take:

  • Non-intense dive classes with minimal practice skills.  Like Advanced Open Water or a deep diver specialty.
  • Group dives.  You don’t have much time to take photos anyway.  And the pictures you usually take are of other divers.
  • New gear where you feel OK with buoyancy and trim but still want more practice dives.
  • As a wide-angle backup to a dedicated macro rig.

Protip: most divers have pictures of everybody else.  Try diving with other photographers and make a “photo sharing pact”.

Olympus TG5: “The Recon”

I had been borrowing my wife’s TG4 with Olympus housing (OK, it was originally mine but then I traded her for her EM-10II because it has a fully manual mode).  Now I have a TG5 with a Nauticam housing and light ring.  Both of the TGs are pretty cool cameras and if you have the experience and skills you can take some really good pictures.  In fact, a good photographer with a compact camera can blow away lesser photographers with a $25000 camera setup.

When to take:

  • Learning a new area or looking for new critters.  The name of the game is covering more distance underwater to learn the layout.  You’ll swim more than take photos, and you’ll swim faster if you’re not pushing a large camera through the water.
  • Lobstering, trash removal, or other activities where photography is secondary but you know that there are good photography subjects in the area.
  • Dives with heavy current or surge.
  • Areas where you’ll be taking both wide-angle and macro on the same dive.
  • Trips where you have a long flight and don’t want to carry a heavy suitcase full of camera gear.
  • Solo dives where you want to minimize weight getting in to and out of the water.  For example, in cold water I have a drysuit, 30+kg of weight, 14L HP cylinder, and a 5.5L stage cylinder.  That’s heavy for a shore entry.

Protip: take a SMB, tie it down where you find a good subject, and come back on the next dive with the big camera.

Panasonic Lumix G9: “All the Things”

The G9 is a mirrorless Micro 4/3 camera that does awesome macro.  With a Nauticam housing, it can take all sorts of accessories.

When to take:

  • Dives where the main purpose is macro photography.
  • Tiny subjects perfect for supermacro where you need the magnification that 15x worth of wet diopters will give you.
  • Times when you need bigger resolution for cropping or printing.
  • Dark and deep conditions where you need all the flexibility in lighting that you can get: dual strobes, focus light, video light, etc.
  • Dives where you have a spotter and you can get as much “trigger time” in as possible.
  • Easier diving conditions.  Low current and surge.  Shorter swims.  Shore or boat crew to assist with entry and exit.

Don’t Take a Camera: “Enjoy the Dive”

There are even some times when I don’t take a camera.  *gasp* *cue shock and awe*

When to not take:

  • Serious dive classes.  You can’t do drills and carry another diver out of the water if your hands are full of camera.
  • Your first 30 dives.  Learn buoyancy first, OK?  That way you’re not killing coral or animals on the bottom.
  • Major adjustments in gear or environment.  For example, going from tropics to drysuit in cold water.  Times where your buoyancy and trim are going to be messed up and you need to focus on that for a handful of dives and the less extra gear you have the better.  It reduces your task-loading and stress.  Later on, I’ll switch to the TG5 if I’m more comfortable and once I know that I can dive in that setup without problem, I’ll start carrying the G9.

 

 

See you underwater!!!

–Mike