Macro Meme: Long Dives

Macro divers have crazy long dive times.  Mostly because we don’t move and don’t really breathe.  You almost forget how to live on the surface.

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

Manual Exposure Settings Underwater Macro With Lumix G9

One of the things to keep track of is a set of starting exposure settings that you can set your camera up with before you get into the water.  Add it to your pre-dive and camera setup checklists.

Macro

My starting setup for macro with the Olympus 60mm macro lens:

  • Speed: 1/125
  • Aperture: F8
  • ISO: 100
  • Strobes: +0.3

Supermacro

My starting setup for supermacro with the Nauticam SMC-1 and the Olympus 60mm macro lens:

  • Speed: 1/125
  • Aperture: F22
  • ISO: 400
  • Strobes: +0.3

Notes

Shutter speed of 1/125 is a tradeoff.  At 1/80 and slower, you get streaking from backscatter and camera movement.  However, at speeds above 1/250, the flash won’t sync.

Stacking wet lenses/diopters gives you a thinner plane of focus.  So with the diopter, I use as small as aperture as possible to give me as much focus depth as I can get.

I’m somewhat surprised how much brighter my photos are without diopters.

On deeper, darker dives, you might have less ambient light so you need to use a focus torch.

 

Macro Lenses for Micro 4/3

Very good comparison video of macro lenses for M43.  Makes me think a little bit more than usual….

I think that just about everybody doing underwater macro with a M43 (Panasonic G9, GH5, etc and the Olympus OMD-EM1/5/10) is using the Olympus 60mm Macro.  I haven’t seen any debate about this at all.

The reason that we all use the 60mm is because more magnification is good and the image quality of this lens is good.  And hey, that’s what everybody else uses, so why not?  However, I wish there were other good M43 macro lenses: a 100mm or 120mm would make me very happy although it might not be useable underwater.

But, we also have wet diopters (wet lenses), and they change the lens game considerably.  I myself have both a Nauticam Supermacro converter SMC-1, a Saga +5, and an Inon super-wide macro (bug-eye).  I’m have the additional magnifier for the SMC-1 coming next week for even better supermacro, although for the past 18 months I’ve been a heretic and stacked the Saga +5 on top of the SMC instead because the price is right.

My thinking goes like this:

  • It’s harder to focus underwater because of less light.  This means less contrast for autofocus.
  • It’s harder to focus underwater because current and surge: you and your subject are constantly moving in large and small amounts.
  • It’s harder to focus underwater because well, you’re underwater and breathing through a hose.
  • A 30mm or 45mm macro lens plus wet diopters is an interesting option, especially if they have a faster autofocus.  If you can shoot closer and/or use wet diopters, then you can even get to supermacro.
  • A macro lens at a wide F-stop (F2.8 for most macro lenses) means a thinner plane of focus.
  • Adding a wet diopter makes a thin plane of focus.
  • Stacking wet diopters makes a very very thin plane of focus.
  • I usually end up shooting at F22 with stacked diopters to increase my plane of focus as much as I can.  Obviously, this changes my exposure so I have to compensate in shutter speed, strobe power, or ISO.
  • It is very common for the lens to be able to focus in front of and beyond what the wet diopter is capable of.  IE, the focus range of the lens exceeds the focus range of the diopter.  This adds to difficulties in autofocus because the lens hunts in places where it cannot focus.  Using a limiter switch on the lens (the Olympus 60mm has one) helps because it eliminates the hunting in the longer ranges.
  • Focus lock helps a ton with wet diopters because it almost eliminates out-of-range situations unless you’re setting a new focus.
  • For larger subjects (shrimp gobies, garden eels, larger crabs, scorpionfish, etc), diopters can also be unscrewed or swung out of the way with a hinge.  I use a hinge for the SMC-1.  I screw the Saga +5 on and off because it doesn’t have a downsize threads to fit the front end of the SMC-1.  Screwing on and off is not a quick process.
  • If you remove the diopter, then the focus is further away, so using a limiter switch on the lens means that you maybe can’t focus at that longer length.  So really, using the limiter switch is a tradeoff between autofocus speed and being able to take pictures of larger subjects.
  • You absolutely need to try all of the options available to you before you do it underwater.  Dry-land training is huge.

What’s the point of all this?  Well, everything in photography is a tradeoff.  The more you understand what decisions you’re making, the more you can adjust when things don’t work out the way you intended.  And I’m a huge believer in being able to adjust to conditions and just keep shooting.

 

See You Underwater!!!

–Mike