My TG5 Setup

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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

TG4/TG5 in Microscope Mode with Sea and Sea YS-01 Strobe

This is a very common gear combination and has proven to be one of the biggest pains in life to get this working.  It shouldn’t be this hard.  I’ve seen a diver throw their camera on the ground and swim away from it because the strobe wasn’t doing what they thought it should.  I picked the same camera up and took pictures, no problem.

There are 2 core problems:

  1.  The settings you need are poorly document and are not intuitive by any means.
  2. The the camera and flash use optical TTL which most people don’t know even exists.  I myself had to experiment and reread old forum posts about different models.

Optical TTL is an interesting thing.  Most people know electrical TTL which uses waterproof electronic wires between the camera and the strobe.  In optical TTL, the camera turns on its own built-in flash, monitors the exposure that it’s shooting, and when it has received enough light, it turns off the on-board flash.  The strobe turns on when it receives light via the fibre optic cable, and turns off when there is no light coming through the fibre optic cable.  The signaling between the camera and strobe is a simple on-off instead of pre-flash and monitoring that most people are used to.

The Camera Setup:

Turn on TTL

Inside the main menu, second camera icon, choose “Accessory Settings” and set “Remote Flash” to RC.  This is an abbreviated form of “Remote Control”.  This turns on optical TTL.  Why they can’t call it TTL, I don’t know.

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Second Camera Screen, Accessory Settings

 

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Use the Right Flash Mode

Inside the quick menu (from shooting mode, hit the lightning button to the right of “OK”) there are 3 modes that you can use.

“Fill” works to turn on the strobe but without TTL: you manually adjust the strobe power.  “Fill” means that no matter what the camera meters the scene at, it should fire the built-in flash anyway, and this will trigger the strobe to fire.  Fill is designed to add light to foreground objects in an otherwise-lit scene such as people in the shade with a sunny background.

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Fill Mode

“RC” Uses TTL and sends the start-stop signal to the camera’s built-in flash. “RC” only appears after you turn on “Remote Flash: RC” in the main menu as described above.

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RC Mode

“Slow” fires the flash and keeps the shutter open, this gives more time for light to reflect off the background.  Think of it as “front curtain sync” if you’re used to flash on land.  I was unable to tell if the camera uses TTL for “Slow”.

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Slow Mode

The Strobe Setup:

Use TTL

Turn the power knob to TTL.  Done.

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Set to TTL.

Video: TG4/5 Low-Key Macro

I built a video tutorial for doing low-key macro photography using the Olympus Tough TG4 or TG5.  It’s suprisingly easy to do when you see somebody else do it.

One huge warning: dive torches usually heat up and can burn out the bulb when you use them outside of the water.  They need to be in the water to cool them down.

Feel free to play with the angle of the torch and distance from the torch to the subject.  In general, the closer you are to the subject, the brighter it will be and the darker the background will be.  You’ll also have to deal with shadows and transparency when you do low-key because you’re lighting from one direction.

A huge thanks to Pikachu for sitting still during the modeling session.

 

 

See You Underwater

–Mike

Focus and the TG4/5

The Olympus Tough TG4 and TG5 are two camera models that you’ll see a lot of around the macro dive sites.  They’re relatively cheap and have an awesome macro mode.

Like most compact cameras, the TGs have a single large focus point in the center of the frame.  It makes focusing a bit of a challenge sometimes.  Here are some techniques to help you out.

Focus, Hold, and Reframe.

This is a typical way that people work around the fixed focus point with a compact camera.  It works like this:

  • Select a focus target.
  • Half-press the shutter button to get an initial focus.  You’ll see the focus square in the LCD change to the color green and the camera will beep.  The beep is hard to hear when the camera is in a housing and underwater.
  • Keep holding the shutter button at half-press to keep the focus locked.  Don’t let go and don’t push it all the way to take the shot.
  • Reframe the picture.
  • Check to make sure that the right part of the picture is in focus.  Move the camera back and forth to move the focus.
  • Push the shutter button all the way down to take the shot.

So for something like a nudibranch’s rhinophores (their “horns” or “eyes” or “sensor stalks” or whatever you what to call them), you will always have problems getting them in focus with a compact camera because the area between the rhinophores is empty space.  So focus on one rhinophore, hold the focus, reframe to put both rhinophores in focus and the subject in the frame, and snap the shot.

One problem with this technique is that when you change the framing you might move the camera in or out a little bit which changes your focus.  So right before after I reframe, I do one split-second check that my focus didn’t move.

Focus Lock

Both models of TG camera have a highly undocumented focus lock feature.  The way you set it:

  • Select a focus target.
  • Half-press the shutter button to get an initial focus AND HOLD IT THAT WAY.  You’ll see the focus square in the LCD change to the color green and the camera will beep.  The beep is hard to hear when the camera is in a housing and underwater.
  • Push the “OK” button on the back of the camera to lock the focus.  Now the camera works the same as with Back Button Focus.  If you didn’t hold the shutter button at halfway, pressing “OK” will take you to the quick settings menu.
  • Take pictures using the locked focus.  Move the camera back and forth to change the focus point to put it exactly where you want it.  Pivot around the subject to change the angle of the focal plane.
  • Continue to take pictures with the locked focus.  You can now take pictures a lot faster than with the focus, hold, and reframe technique.
  • To unlock the focus, hit the “OK” button again.

Going back to our nudibranch example.  Focus on the flat spot between their rhinophores, lock focus, then usually you back off a tiny bit to put the rhinophores into focus.

Manual Focus Adjustment

Most compact cameras do not have manual focus.  But the TG4/5 supports it, although strangely.  You lock the focus just like described before.  Then you can use the up and down arrows on the keypad to move the focus point forward and back.  A shrewd reader will discover that they can use focus lock and the down arrow to move the focus as close to the front of the lens as possible and this lets you to take shots where tiny subjects fill the frame.  You’re welcome.

See you underwater!!

–Mike

Protip: Also Take an Action Cam

As I talked about in my Why You Should Take Macro Pictures Underwater blog post, having a camera rigged for macro is the best way to find a whale shark/manta/mola mola/tiger shark/sea turtle/etc.  Why?  Because they can tell when you can’t take a picture of them and they just show up.  It’s very unsporting of them to do this.

If you have a compact camera, the solution is easy: just flip it to wide-angle mode and take pictures.  It might take 15 seconds, but you can do this.  This is one huge advantage for the TG4/TG5 or a handful of other compact cameras.  They can do macro and wide-angle without having to change lenses.

But on a mirrorless or DSLR, there are different lenses for each style of photography, and that requires that you know what kind of shooting you’ll be doing prior to each dive.  You have to commit to macro or wide-angle for each dive.  You *could* use something like the Nauticam World Wide Lens to convert a M67 flat port to a dome, but you still need a semi-wide lens.

So I cheat.  I like to carry a small action camera with me that is rigged for wide-angle shooting.  Even better if it can do video shooting.  I’ve used a Paralenz and a GoPro Hero for this.  Either one works well.  For the Paralenz, when I’m diving the tropics, I stuff it into the left-hand sleeve of my rashguard so I can just pull it out and film.  For the GoPro, I use a small handle and stuff it into a pocket.

I’ve thought about mounting action cameras between float arms using a small arm and 3-way ball joint but haven’t done it yet.  That way, I just have to tip the big camera down and shoot.  When I try it, I’ll let you know.

 

 

See You Underwater!!

–Mike