Choosing an Underwater Photography Lighting System
What’s Right for You?– by Denise Kitchel
Why do I need a lighting system?
That might seem like a silly question, but it is not always obvious to people what factors are involved in determining how much lighting they need. There are a few things that determine the amount of color saturation and image clarity in underwater photography: depth, ambient light, and water clarity. By adding to the available natural light, you’ll be able to improve the color saturation, sharpness and clarity of your photos.
Underwater Depth and Color
Think about rainbows; they are a vision of light refracted into individual colors through rain (drops of water). So, it’s only natural that when we’re under water, colors change based on the light from above being refracted and absorbed by the water. Each color is a different wave length and energy level, which means that each color absorbs at a different rate.
Colors vanish underwater in the same order as they appear in the color spectrum.
Red – The first to disappear, you may see a noticeable difference in red at 5ft and a complete loss at 15ft.
Orange – The next to go, oranges will be lost at between 25 and 30ft.
Yellow– Next are yellows, which fade at 35 to 40ft
Green – The last to go are greens at anywhere between 50 and 75ft.
Keep in mind the impact of horizontal distance as well. If you are 10 feet underwater, and you are viewing an object that is 10 feet away, you are viewing the light that has reflected off of that object, which has actually travelled 20 feet to reach your eye. At that point, all of the reds will have been filtered out.
Similarly, the light from your system will have to travel 10 feet to the subject you’re shooting and reflect 10 feet back to the camera lens, for a total of 20 feet. Keep this in mind when setting up your shots. The closer you get, the better the color.
The interesting thing is that our brains are wired to compensate for the loss of color. We see a familiar object under water and we see red, because we know it is red, but when we take a photo of it with only natural light, there is no red. So, you actually need lighting when you don’t necessarily think you do.
Where do I start?
To choose the right underwater lighting system, you will have to think about a number of things: What kind of photography will I primarily be shooting, stills or video? What subjects will I be shooting? What will the available light be like where I dive? What kind of camera, housing and lenses will I be using? Why am I taking photos and what do I plan to do with them?
Once you have answers to these questions, you’ll be well on your way to picking out the right components you need in order to put together a lighting system that will take your photos to a whole new level! Read more »
Fourteen underwater photographers joined Optical Ocean sales owner Jack Connick on an expedition to the Rock Islands of Palau in late November of 2013. After a long flight, they joined onboard the Palau Aggessor liveaboard on an extended, 10 day cruise.
With the weather wet and warm, the comforts of the ship were welcomed. Spacious cabins, sun deck, a large camera table, salon and dinning areas let the large group spread out comfortably.
Diving was from a skiff, with all dive gear left aboard. It was lifted from the water after each dive, so divers just had to step onboard, cameras were loaded onto the skiff's camera table by the crew. Besides Captain Marc, there were 2-3 guides and drivers onboard, as well as chief, stewardess and stewards; all-in-all treating us to great, professional service.
After getting organized and well briefed, we headed out of port to enjoy the outer reefs. No hour-long day boat rides for us, dive sites were within 15 minutes, more or less. Palau is in danger of being “over-loved” by divers and sites can get crowded. We were generally first on the sites in the morning and having lunch while the day boats were diving. Continuing to avoid the crowds, we dove into the late afternoon with a few night dives after that.
Multiple dives on many of the sites let the expedition try various lens combinations and techniques. Many times, varying currents allowed divers to also try different directions and depths as well. For the most part, currents were very light, even on sites like Peleliu and Blue Corners.
Palau is famous for having nearly every type of marine animal in abundance, and one never quite knew what you'd see; sharks, turtles, giant wrasse, eels, enormous schools of Jacks, as well as macro life; with nudibranchs and small fish, like Square-spot Anthias, challenging our photographic abilities. Dives were set up especially to shoot Reef Mantas, which came zooming up German Channel late in day. Walls were decorated in vivid hues of sponges, anemones, huge fans, corals of every shape and kind, as well as many other colorful invertebrates.
Starting on the outer reefs, we dove the Turtle Cove, Blue Corner, German Channel areas. Then we continued down to the island of Peleliu for a couple of days. While there, we enjoyed a tour of this battlefield, home of some of the bloodiest fighting in the Pacific theatre of World War II. Bomb disposal teams are still actively working to clear ordinance from the area - 60 years later.
Returning to the Turtle Cove area, we dove some of those sites as well as Ngemelis Wall - enjoying a little more sun for better wide-angle photos. We also dove Blue Hole on a couple of occasions, enjoying the dramatic lighting and framing afforded in those caves.
The next day, while the Aggressor moved up to anchor as close as she could to Ulong Reef, the skiff departed for a sunny morning of snorkeling famous Jellyfish Lake.
Conditions couldn't of been better as the group hiked over the steep ridge, with a sunny day giving us lots of color to work with. As we could afford the time, Captain Marc led us on a long swim to the other end of the brackish lake where there were more of the yellow, non-stinging jellyfish to take photos with many different techniques being tried. I had envisioned a shot utilizing a type of refractive physics called "Snell's Window" that focuses the sky and surrounding area behind the subject clearly in a circle. Aiming my rig by sight at arms’ length, it took many tries, but I got a few keepers in the end. The lake also is home to a species of cardinalfish. Snorkeling amongst the mangrove roots along the shore they were completely tame to my camera lens.
That afternoon, we started diving Ulong reef. Ulong Wall, Ulong Channel, the Coral Gardens on top and Siaes Tunnel were enjoyed repeatedly. Siaes is a cavern at a starting depth of 90', but it's long entrances made for some great photos of the divers and fauna there.
A nearby sand bar was also dove late in the day to shoot some macro subjects there. Unfortunately one diver became separated from the group. Luckily the crew responded with great professionalism and skill, finding him after several hours, but only after he had activated a strobe light. (see a separate article written for Alert Diver about this incident.
Heading back into the lagoon, and enjoying a skiff tour of the Rock Islands, we dove a couple of large WWII wrecked ships and a Japanese seaplane there. Visibility was very poor, and a crew was surveying the crashed "Jake" plane to see how it had deteriorated. But it was something different; certainly another attraction of the diving in Palau.
After arriving back to Korror, we went on a land tour, driving out of town to he north a couple of hours, stopping to view farms, scenery and old Japanese gun emplacements, we went on a tour to a huge waterfall in the dense jungle.
Palau certainly was an adventure, and the longer cruise was worth the extra time and expense to truly enjoy this amazing South Sea paradise.
Photo Notes:I was shooting my Nikon D800 in a Nauticam housing with a variety of lenses. For macro I shot a Nikon 105mm VR with a +5 diopter. Also experimented with a 60mm macro, but found it really didn't have enough power. For wide angle, I shot a Nikon 17-35 f2.8 (which I like over the 16-35, because of it's speed), a Sigma 15mmFE, both behind a smaller Zen 170mm dome port. I found the Zen 170mm dome to work quite well, shooting about the same as the larger 8" acrylic dome I shot in Fiji earlier. It packed very well with my entire system fitting in a Seahorse rollaboard case.
We've just revised and published several new FREE handbooks in a series Basics of Better Underwater Photos. These .pdfs cover basic overall techniques and approaches,
as well as various types of shots like macro, wide angle, close
focus/wide angle, sunballs and much more. There's lots of good
info here for beginners and experts; starting exposures, lighting
diagrams, composition, etc. These are a "fast-read" using photos to
illustrate. The first eight are posted, we're working on adding more soon! Download them here. Enjoy and pass on this link!
For those of you who enjoyed my photos and article on the Socorros Islands, please join us on a Photo Expedition there May 23- June 1st 2014.
Optical Ocean Sales has organized a trip to go at a perfect time of year to find baitballs; schooling small fish that the predators encircle and feed on. These swirling “balls” of fish are attacked above and below water by sailfish, sharks, and dolphins - and are a mass of action for underwater photography.
The Revillagigedos Islands, also known as the Socorro Islands, are located 250 miles offshore southwest of Cabo San Lucas, Mexico. They form an oasis for pelagic life amongst their volcanic shores. Many hammerhead and silky sharks, giant manta rays, dolphins, sailfish, schools of jacks and tuna come to feed, mate and get cleaned by small pandemic Clarion Angelfish.
These animals tend to be quite friendly towards divers at times, allowing for fantastic interactions and blue water photo opportunities.
This is also the time of year that huge schools of silky sharks are found at Roca Partida Island. These schools can literally block out the sun with their immense numbers.
Our expedition will be on the Solmar V, a luxury liveaboard, which has been sailing these waters for many years, with probably the most experienced and friendly crew around. Best of all, our head guide will be Erick Higuera, a biologist and photographer, who just won the Beneath the Sea “Stan Waterman Award for Underwater Video” for his film “Baja”. He has worked for many years on the Solmar and has extensive experience in the islands.
Both Martin Heyn and myself will be on board and we plan on being available to help you get the most from this fantastic photo opportunity. The cost is $3395/$3495 and is all-inclusive; just get yourself to Cabo San Lucas and we do the rest! Our trip flyer is here. Get more details and sign up today at the webstore!
Went down to Cabo for a few days and then out on the Solmar V to the Soccoros for a week in mid-January. It can always be a crap shoot, and the last trip I made (this is my third) was in January and was spectacular. This time we had wind and cool weather in Cabo for most of the 5 days before the trip.
The islands really had gotten beat up with the hard rain and wind. Fortunately, it had improved as we left. Unfortunately the seas were choppy and the wind was still bad for the first couple of days. The viz, was pretty bad, worst I've seen, normally it's 80-100', but we had more like 20' horizontal and 40' vertical. We couldn't see our fins at Cabo Pearce. Frustratingly, there was pretty decent animal interactions, with lots of hammerheads and even a small Tiger at Canyons, but pretty much impossible to shoot!
Roca Partida had a bit better viz, but lumpy seas and strong currents. There was a small school of Galapagos sharks, but the group scared them away. Normally it's crystal clear and can have an amazing amount of animals.
Finally, we got back to San Benedicto and El Boiler was pretty good, although very hazy, pretty bad in the afternoon. But the mantas were playing and over the course of 8 dives I managed to get some images I liked, by getting within a few feet.
Oh well, that's blue water diving for you. The next couple of week's trip reports afterwards had the viz back and conditions excellent. The crew on the Solmar V is fantastic, the old boat still works out quite well, great food, huge camera table and everyone had fun.
We do have a charter in 2014 at the end of May concentrating on shooting bait balls and the huge schools of silky sharks that seem to congregate around Roca Partida that time of year. I'll have an announcement up soon.
Here's a few shots. They were taken with a Nikon D800, Sigma 15mmFE, in a Nauticam NA-D800 housing and Zen 230mm dome port with 2x Sea & Sea YS-D1 strobes. This system is very easy to use underwater as it is neutral and fairly compact for it's capabilities.
A Tale of Two Cameras: Photo Expedition to Taveuni and Rainbow Reef
brave folks came along on our first shop trip to Taveuni, Fiji this
October. The long flights from LAX through Nadi to The Garden Island
Resort went smoothly, and the friendly staff greeted us with warm
welcomes and traditional songs. Our rooms were spacious, with fresh
tropical flowers, and spa style bathrooms. We were anxious to get in a
check-out dive right away, but the dive shop wasn’t prepared for our
arrival, so things were bit disorganized. Having had a lot of experience
in running dive trips, I was able to quickly get them back on track.
the rest of the week went more smoothly, with two dives in the morning
and one in the afternoon. Rainbow Reef, in the Somosomo Straits between
Taveuni and Viti Levu was a short 20 min run out, and had a great
variety of dive sites, from top-of-the-reef hard corals, sandy slots, to
short/deep walls and caves. Currents were up and down, and really took
the experienced guides to figure out. They would be running one way on
one side of the reef and reverse direction on the other side. Many times
we would drift down, then up and over and come back. The wall entrance
to The Great White wall was a swim-through that started at 35’ and came
out at 80’, then ended with another short swim-though from 65’ back to
30’. Our dive profiles were pretty zig-zaggy as a result, and it played
havoc with some divers’ ears.
Fiji has amazing soft and hard
corals, gorgonian fans and other invertebrates with Technicolor hues.
These incredible vistas left all sorts of subject matter for
photography. There are also large amounts of small and medium-sized
fish, with a few larger ones wandering by from time to time; white-tip
and bronze whaler sharks, a large napoleon wrasse, turtles, etc. The
Somosomo Straits doesn’t have as many large animals as other spots, but
there certainly is a variety of life.
Our surface intervals were
a treat: we were able to pull up to a beautiful park on the other side
of the straits that had a wide sandy beach and shady palm trees to take a
quick nap under. Fresh coconuts that the guides broke open accompanied
our snacks and clouds of small fish were fun to snorkel with.
Go Large or Go Home While
most photographers who travel are moving to smaller rigs I seem to be
moving in the other direction. Having started with a small Sea & sea
film rig, I moved through the range of Fuji compacts on to larger Nikon
DSLRs. I was very happy with the size and performance of my Nikon D7000
until I had a chance to shoot a full-frame D800 camera. My feeling now
is that I don’t mind the increased size if I can get better quality, a
much broader dynamic range and have faster performance with better
control. It’s all going to go in one bag anyway, so you might as well
had brought two complete Nauticam DSLR systems to Fiji, my trusty Nikon
D7000 and a new D800 full-frame, thinking to try one against the other –
size vs. performance. I also thought that the other folks might want to
try one out. However, no one took me up on the offer; they all elected
to stick with the cameras they brought with them.
I had rented
the D800 body and Sigma 15mmFE and heartily endorse the idea of renting a
camera or specialty lens for a trip, especially if you aren’t sure what
you want, or won’t use it very often. (I wanted to also look at the new
D600 later on.) Moving from cropped-sensor DX to full-frame FX will
entail changing several lenses, as most DX lenses simply don’t have
enough resolution to use with a 36MP sensor. I plan on trying out
professional quality lenses, and buying them only after I have enough
experience to justify their expense.
I shot the D7000 the first
day, with my usual Tokina 10-17 and then switched over to the D800,
shooting with a Sigma 15mm fisheye lens, which for a relatively
inexpensive lens is very sharp and focuses much closer than the 16mm
Nikon FE. I later added a Kenko 1.4x teleconverter to the Sigma wide
angle (while adding a 20mm extension) and really liked the magnified
sharpness that the 21mm rectilinear format setup provided. You lose a
little image area, but it seems to pull in and focus the fine details of
the corals with less distortion at the corners.
The 105VR macro
shoots about like the 60mm macro does on DX, with a bit more reach, but
subsequently it is harder to lock focus. I would recommend using at
least a +5 diopter, maybe more, depending on what you want to shoot.
This allowed me to get much closer and eliminate some water between the
subjects and myself. I did find that it wouldn’t lock focus at distance
on the D800, unlike using it on the D7000, where I like to shoot fish
unexpected bonus was how large and bright the full-frame viewfinders
are. You not only get a third larger sensor, but you also get a third
larger, 100% viewfinder!
The difference in dynamic range, detail
and overall image quality with the D800 was much greater than I
expected on full-frame, and after reviewing the images on my computer,
the D7000, while an amazing camera, just didn’t compare. All of a sudden
this became an expensive dive trip!
Where the D7000 is nice and
small, the D800 is more of a “voluptuous” size and weight. Surprisingly
though, the D800 with an 8.5” dome port, was very light in the water,
maybe even lighter than the D7000, while out of water it is a bit of a
But a larger physical-sized rig has advantages. The
Nauticam D800 has incredibly nice controls, many moved out to levers,
they are spread out and fall right under my hands. Even better when
using gloves in cold water. My favorite is the ISO: flip it down, scroll
with the main control wheel and pop it back up. With the D7000, and
most Nikons, if you select menu item “hold button until released”, it
can work the same way, but with a push of a button instead of a lever.
It saves having to use two hands to make an ISO or other change.
one thing I really would miss from the D7000 is the small Zen 100mm
dome port, along with the Tokina 10-17 FE zoom lens. You can really cram
it into smaller spots when shooting CF/WA. With full-frame, you really
have to shoot a larger dome, and I was using the 8.5” acrylic dome on
this trip. The advantages of a larger dome are many: better corners and
overall quality, the ability to use more wide-open f-stops and the
ability to shoot over-and-unders. I would probably switch to a Zen 200mm
or large 230mm mega-dome glass port for a little more crispness.
used to shooting in high ISOs was the biggest change for me. It felt
really “wrong” to use ISO 800 in the caves, as I’m so used to getting a
lot of noise as a result. The D800 and other new FX cameras can be shot
at very high ISOs without penalty. ISO 800 looks about like 200 on a DX
camera and even higher ISO settings of 1200 or above show little noise.
As I progress, I will find that shooting in available light, and maybe
experimenting with filters at higher ISOs will be a huge sea-change and
will open up a lot of new avenues for shooting shallow water, deeper
wrecks, caves, or at night.
“Batting” It All Around Every
night at Taveuni we had hundreds of huge fruit bats come home to roost
in the trees. Chirping, chattering and the occasional full screams
accompanied our nights’ rest. Like the difference in technology between
my cameras, the contrasts between the colorful soft corals and primal
bats, the modern hotel in its eco-friendly surroundings and the
primitive local houses, made for an interesting cultural experience.
Many people are upgrading from a compact camera to one of the new mirrorless cameras like the Olympus or Panasonic micro 4/3rds, or Sony Nex cameras.
There are some differences from buying a compact camera, mainly in terms of now having interchangeable lenses. You don't just switch from macro to wide angle with the one lens that's on the camera, you use different lenses and ports, and need to think through what kind of shots you're going to want to take while setting up the camera before a dive.
If you are going to buy a mirrorless camera, you are buying into a system. And that includes lenses, ports gears, tray/arms and strobes. The camera is going to end up being the least expensive part of it - and the part you are going to change out in a couple of years. You want to think about where you are going to be then in terms of what you can reuse and upgrade, and what the resale value is going to be like.
The Sony Nex5N is a great camera. There are very good wide angle options for it behind a dome port, and the lenses are fairly inexpensive. You just buy the 16mm and then add on the w/a or FE adapters to it. All three fit the Nauticam dome and you don't need a zoom gear. I would agree that the macro lenses are a bit limited, the 30mm hasn't worked out all that well underwater, but the wide angle shooting is very good.
Panasonic m4/3rds cameras have some very good lenses and shoot excellent video. We have found their cameras to be fussy when when working in optical sync with external strobes, particularly TTL. They are also more expensive. But they have more direct controls and better specs in many cases.
Olympus has very easy-to-use cameras and reasonably priced lenses. The new Olympus OM-D EM-5 camera is making many people sell their big
DSLRs and move to this small, high-quality camera with great specs and
imaging. They are filling in some gaps in lens offerings with new ones like the 12-50mm which does offer the ability to go from macro to a moderate wide angle view with the right port. The cameras seem to work very well in manual and TTL sync with external strobes. Bang for the buck, I really like the E-PM1 and PT-EP06 housing.
But really, I would almost consider the housing before the camera; The Olympus housings are inexpensive at $599-799ish, as are the cameras - the PM1 is only $399. But adding ports to them is expensive. Your best options are the Zen dome at $499-799, plus the lens. that port may/may not fit a new housing. Although they do seem like they'll fit the new Oly OM-D housings, that may not be true in the future. And they are limited to 135', have plastic construction, will wear out much sooner and need service or replacement. Resale values are going to be much less percentage-wise.
10Bar and some other lines make good value aluminum housings. They have a good lineup of ports and features including a depth rating of 200'. They come with a 2 year warranty and can be serviced in Hong Kong. Their controls and construction aren't as good as Nauticam, the ports not as specific to certain lenses. But they do seem to work well for many divers wanting to keep costs down. However resale values are pretty low.
If you spend a bit more on a Nauticam housing, you are buying into a much broader system; many more ports and gear combos, both Pany and Oly lenses fit all the housings. They usually have a leak detector. The housings are rated to 200-300' and are much more rugged. They can be easily serviced and will last a long time. They tend to be less bulky, have a much more ergonomic design, better, smoother controls and usually support all camera functions (the Oly's tend not to have the rear dial control). The ports have a locking bayonet mount that is almost impossible to mis-mount. They come in flat, dome and semi-dome designs. They tend to be less expensive as well. They will be a popular option on the used housing market and you'll be able to transfer your lenses and ports onto the next system, making it a much better value in the future.
The Nauticam housing for the OM-D ($1350) is very competitive with the Oly ($995) with all the above advantages. The Nauticam Panasonic GX1 housing is very reasonable at $1200. And you are much more likely to be able to resell it at a decent price, and re-use all the lenses, ports and gears when you upgrade.
All of these manufacturers are constantly upgrading their lines. The cycle used to be one year, but now it's 6 months! There's nothing really wrong with saving a bit on a camera that's 6 months old and spending it on a better housing too.
Lighting is the most critical thing you will spend money on. Buy more than you need, start with one good strobe and add another. We like the Sea & Sea YS-D1 strobe a lot - all of us are shooting it now.
So be sure to think through your new system, think though how you want to expand it and upgrade it in the future, and what you want to do with your photos. It may give you better ideas towards where you want to take your present purchase.
After patching together our old site for 8 years, it was time to make a change to an entirely new Optical Ocean Sales webstore! We've redesigned and reorganized the store so that it's fast and easy to find products and systems to improve your underwater photography.
A Few New Features: New Home Page: Bright graphics greet and direct you to the main store pages. At the bottom, you'll find additonal information will help you including: Customer Care, and our all-new Education section (check out our new articles on the Panasonic G1X and YS-D1). You can also translate the site into several languages and currencies.
On our Graphic Categories Pages you'll find our new Housing and Port Locator. Just type in camera or lens to find recommended options.
Navigation is always available from the top tab "Shop Store" drop-down and left-hand Category menuson all pages.
Categories, Subcategories and Product Filters: All items are shown at the top level, then can be broken down by sub-categories, or by product filters. You can sort these results, or display them in 3 different modes. There is a "Quick View" of each item as you scroll over it.
We've updated product information and added hundreds of new, up-to-date items, with a "What's New" category of highlights. We've greatly expanded and updated our "System Packages" and added SEACAM offerings as examples. You'll find photographs, details, product options, prices and tabs with additional information on the Product Pages. There is a personal "Wish List" that you can add products to.
Our Checkout is now all on one page! There are four sliding sections that open and easily guide you through the process, with additional options for shipping - now FREE for orders over $200 in the US.
SEACAMUSA, the exclusive North and South American distributor for SEACAM underwater housings and submersible strobes, is proud to announce the appointment of Optical Ocean Sales as a SEACAM dealer.
In recognition of their 9-years service to the local Northwest diving community and the passion for underwater photography by owner Jack Connick, SEACAMUSA owner Stephen Frink comments “We are very pleased to have Jack and his staff as members of the SEACAM team. We welcome their expertise and commitment to customer service to underwater photography in general, and the SEACAM product line in particular. We look forward to making SEACAM available to ever more consumers by their regional presence and contagious enthusiasm”.
Optical Ocean Sales retail showroom is located in Seattle, Washington, the only dedicated underwater photography equipment store in the Northwest. But their reach extends far beyond, with their online e-commerce store. Jack Connick has been a life-long photographer, with experience including over 25 years of experience as a professional graphic designer, art director, and underwater photographer. He has extensive diving and photographic experience, both in the tropics and in his cold home waters in the Pacific Northwest.
SEACAM is a premium line of aluminum housings and strobes designed and built in Austria by Harald Hordosch. Known for their quality optics, superb ergonomics, and robust performance; SEACAM is the brand preferred by professional photographers and discerning enthusiasts around the world.
For more information contact Optical Ocean Sales, LLC at 1800 Westlake Ave N., Suite 201, Seattle, WA 98119; or by phone at 1-800-359-1295 or 206-284-1142. Contact via OpticalOceanSales.com and email
We conducted a beam test of most of the lights in our current focus and video light inventory recently. Lights from Light & Motion, iTorch, Big Blue, Fantasea and others were tested, setting them at a fixed position and a 5' distance from a wall, then photographing them at a set exposure and lens position. This is NOT a scientific test, but should give a good relative idea of the strength, beam width and evenness of the lights' output.
Download a .pdf file here with links to each light.
Expand to full screen and turn on "Show Info" to see names of lights.
The Olympus E-PL3 ($699) is a good camera and they've made some nice improvements over the E-PL2 this year in terms of speed; particularly AF, as well has now having full 1080i HD video now. The flash is now an external, which means that the housing had to become taller again. There is a nice tilt screen for above water shooting.
There are 3 housings that Optical Ocean Sales offers and one alternative.
Olympus made sort of a lame new port of the housing in the PT-EP05L this year. The housing is about the same design as previous years with plastic construction rated to 135'. It now has 4 very small LEDs that supposedly would be a focus light for macro, but the lights are completely dim, useless and bulky. The also added a metal screw on ring w/67mm threads which is good for macro. And they raised the price $200 to $799, which is overpriced for what it is.
I can't say I like this housing unless you also buy a Zen dome port ($499) which would give you good wide angle with the kit 14-42mm lens and very good wide angle shots with the 9-18mm lens. I think it also supports the new Olympus 12mm lens as well.
Another Olympus setup we're promoting as an alternative to the E-PL3 is the Olympus PEN E-PM1 camera and the PT-EP06 housing. Functionally about the same camera, not quite the software or direct controls, but it has the same sensor, video, lens and processor, etc. Smaller body too - and it's $499.
They made the same sort of housing with lights for it as the E-PL3 (the PT-EP06L), BUT we've been able to order the PT-EP06 housing without the lighted port for $599. There is no threaded ring to mount a macro lens, so you have to use the external holder. But we feel it is a better replacement for last year's E-PL2 camera/housing combo.
We've been selling the 10Bar housings in the US now for several years, and have worked closely with them to improve their housings and parts over that time.
I feel they offer a good value for the price. They are aluminum, rated to 200', have all controls, double oring construction. Fairly rugged. The 10Bar E-PL3 housing has interchangeable ports that cover most of the available lenses for Olympus or Panasonic. The housings are as small as possible, and fit the camera closely. You can buy them with different port configurations, but generally most people buy it with the semi-dome port that works with both the 14-42 or 9-18. They offer both electrical (manual only) or optical strobe sync. The housings come complete with gears, port, extra orings, cleaning kit and small carrying bag. Optical Ocean Sales housing kits also include a "spare parts" kit of control parts and port caps (which aren't standard). They have a 2 year warranty, but have to be serviced in Hong Kong.
They are heavier, and I would say the controls can be "fussy" at times. Knobs are a bit small for divers with gloves, not a good choice for cold water divers in that respect. I can't say I like the zoom control, you have to push it in and turn, which is awkward and not direct. 10Bar is a good, but small company and can be slow to respond to issues. But I have a good relationship with them and generally can help with communications. Again, I feel they are a good "value" housing and we sell lots of them.
As far as Nauticam, they really do offer the best housings available. Rugged aluminum, cam shell opening, very ergonomic design and layout of controls and buttons. The NA-EPL3 housing like all of their diverse housing offerings high-quality gearing offering precise control. They include an audible and lighted leak sensor. Locking bayonet ports are easy to change. Smaller than the Oly housings, lighter weight than 10Bar, with a good supply of ports, gears and accessories. Optical sync only. Excellent support with a one year warranty, serviced in the US or internationally. They are more expensive at $1650 for the housing alone. Right now they are offering a free, high-quality and very adjustable Flexitray with mounts included with the E-PL2, E-PL3, GF-2 or GF-3 housings - a $202 value.
So I guess you pay you're money and make your choice - in underwater photography like life - you pretty much get what you pay for.
Optical Ocean Sales Guides to UW Photography Available
Martin Heyn and I have put together a couple of free .pdf guides that gives new underwater photographers a starting place, and more experienced photographers gain basic knowledge of strobe positioning and usage. Basic Tips for UW Photographers: Is a 17-page guide that gives you a number of ways to work on improving your phoots. Brief descriptions of ideas are illustrated with example photos. Basic rules on shooting angles, composition, lighting and much more are presented.
Basic Principles of Strobe Positioning: Is a 14-page guide that gives practical approaches to positioning and use of one or two strobes for more successful lighting solutions. Macro and wide angle setups are shown with photos and tips on strobe usage.
We hope you'll enjoy these brief guides as a starting place for your own creative images to take off!