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!
Optical Ocean Sales, LLC is proud to announce it has expanded into a retail sales center conveniently located on Lake Union at 1800 Westlake Ave North, Suite 201 in Seattle, thus continuing it's 8 years of service to the diving community. We are the only dedicated underwater photography equipment store in the northwest. Optical Ocean’s new retail location gives the community the opportunity to put their hands on the most popular brands. In addition we strive to be a center for continuing education, travel information and first-rate personal service, crucial when dealing with such complicated systems.
Jack Connick, owner, has been a life-long photographer "ever since I owned my first Exacta". His experience includes a combination of 25 years of experience as a professional graphic designer and art director, along with developing his underwater photo portfolio during trips to 10 countries around the world. He has extensive Pacific Northwest cold water diving and photography experience with extensive ties to the Seattle diving community.
Martin Heyn has joined the Optical Ocean Sales team as Business Development Manager. Martin brings 30 years of diving, photography, and sales experience to the Ocean Optical team. He has traveled much of world enjoying the hobby and is founder of the website www.aquabluedreams.com.
Optical Ocean are stocking dealers for Nauticam, Olympus, Ikelite, Fix, Zen, Athena, Sea & Sea, Light & Motion, 10Bar, i-torch/i-DAS, Seahorse, Fantasea, Big Blue, MAHA Power, and are adding new products all the time. In fact, they are the largest dealer in the northwest for many of those lines.
There is a great selection of underwater photo equipment available through the store; cameras, housings, ports, gears, strobes, focus/video lights, arms and trays. Also included are Seahorse cases and many other accessories. Optical Ocean Sales has many unique packages that are ready-to-go. They also stock many of the parts photographers need such as o-rings, manufacturer specific silicone grease, strobe diffusers, dedicated batteries and more.
All items are also available online at OpticalOceanSales.com at it’s easy-to-use and informative web store. Orders are shipped promptly both domestically and internationally, or available for in-store pickup.
Classes and trips will be starting soon for all levels of divers and underwater photo enthusiasts.
Map here. Open 10-6 M-F and 11-5 on Saturday, unless they're off diving.
For the most up to date store information “like” us on Facebook.
Optical Ocean Sales, LLC 1800 Westlake Ave N., Suite 201 Seattle, WA 98119 1-800-359-1295/ +1 206-284-1142 Email: Sales@OpticalOceanSales.com
Optical Ocean Sales has the new Ikelite, 10Bar housings and Nauticam housings in stock for the popular Panasonic high-quality LX-5 point and shoot camera. This camera has great features, with excellent control and a high-end lens and processor. It features a wide 24mm lens and leading edge video capabilities, in a small easy-to-use format. This article will review some of the differences between the housings available. All are rated to 200’. In the end it is up to each diver to find which best fits them.
The Ikelite housing is the largest physically, but that can be an advantage in cold water with gloves. The controls are standard Ikelite bent rods that you jiggle the switches with. With practice, they work pretty well, but they take some getting used to. The Ikelite housing is clear acyrlic, so you can see the entire camera. The knobs are large and are easy to use with gloves. It uses two non-standard screws to mount to a tray. It has built-in TTL with Ikelite strobes, which works well with all their DS strobes. It's hard to rig with optical sync strobes though. There is no method of mounting a focus light to it.
It's the most economical, at $549.95. The Ike housing relies on external wide angle lenses like their WP-20 - the problem is that the LX-5 has a 24mm lens and has to be zoomed in a fair bit to avoid vignette, thus negating the field of view with that lens. However, the new Nauticam wet mount wide-angle lens works fine, giving you back the 24mm that you have above water. It's small and light as well, but it doesn't really give you true wide angle.
With the Olympus PTWC-01 lens you can get a greatly increased 100+ degree field of view, although you do still need to zoom in. That lens is fairly heavy and large, not something you'd want to take on/off underwater.
Macro is no problem. The Ike housing (as do all it's competitors) has a 67mm threaded port to screw on an external diopter macro lens.
The 10Bar housing is redesigned from the their popular LX3 version and has the history of a year's run to work out any bugs. It is made from rugged aluminum, smaller, probably a little bit heavier in the water with a clear back. It's a step up in price at $709. Due to its design it is easier to grip than the Ikelite, but both will probably be used with a tray and handle. It uses a standard tripod mount screw. It has both hardwire and optical sync. It works great with a strobe like the Sea & Sea YS-01 or 110a, which have built-in optical D-TTL. The electrical sync bulkhead is a 5 pin nikonos style and supports legacy strobes like the Sea & Sea YS-90, or a Nikon SB-105, but only with the manual power settings on the back of the strobe. The controls are pretty good, dedicated, but you need a sense of feel with them. The knobs are small and close together, a problem if you are wearing gloves. All features of the camera are supported, including flash up and down. It uses a standard single mounting screw and fits most trays on the market.
Both the 10Bar and the Ikelite will have some issues with the LX-5's rear dial control. It can be pushed and turned and is quite tricky to make a control for. You can use other controls if necessary, or just use fine motions with it.
Probably the biggest advantage of the 10Bar is that it has several wide angle options, including the above "wet mount" 67mm lenses (with the same vignette issues); or unscrewing the port and using the Panasonic add-on wide angle lens with the 10Bar replacement wide angle port and dome (dry mount). The later can give one of the widest fields of view and can focus closely and sharply. These port replacements do not vignette and give very high quality results.
The Nauticam NA-LX5 has probably the finest build quality and design. Although more expensive at $950, it is aluminum and very well thought out, with excellent, ergonomic controls. It sits in your hand very nicely and controls are under your fingertips. All camera features are supported. The best feature is that they broke out the push and the turn function of the "joystick" rear dial on the camera into two distinct controls, making it positive and direct to use. This is much better than having one control that you try to turn without pushing. Buttons are fairly close together, as they are on the camera itself, but better than the other housings. Gloves can be problematic. There is a handstrap option for the right side, but it isn't big enough to fit a glove for cold water use. There is both a "coldshoe" mount and a threaded port for a ball mount on top of the housing to support a focus light.
The Nauticam housing is smaller as well. It does rely on external wide angle lenses, like the previously mentioned Nauticam wet mount replacement lens, or the Olympus PTWC-01 and Inon offerings. There are several tray options available for it, and it too uses two mounting screws.
Hopefully this article can help divers to compare the available housings. These are three excellent housings and only Optical Ocean Sales has all three in stock. Come on in so you can see them side-by-side and see what works best for you and your budget.
For those who want a smaller camera and housing to dive and travel with the new Micro Four-Thirds format may be the answer. Micro 4/3rds format cameras combine a DSLR sensor in a point & shoot-sized body with DSLR features like interchangeable lenses, HD video, etc. Cameras and lenses are available from both Olympus & Panasonic. While Panasonic lead the way with the GF and GH series cameras - the GF-1 has been very popular (along with the 10Bar GF-1 Housing). I like the Olympus E-PL1 micro 4/3rds DSLR as it has less fussy controls to house than the Panasonic GF-1, and offers a good value for it's $599 cost.
The sensor is about 6 times larger than even high-end point and shoots and the camera has many more features and better responsiveness. It does rely on push-buttons and s/w for control, no dials, which does take some getting used to from a full-sized DSLR. The trade off is size and weight. As it is software-driven, and is sort of “dumbed down” as it comes from the factory, it does take some time to set up and get used to. Turning on the super control panel really helps, as it offers one push menu performance for most common camera functions. Another trick is that you can set up both the “my modes” and the function buttons to switch multiple operations at once. You should budget for the Olympus 9-18 wide angle lens which is considerably better in quality and speed than the kit 14-42 lens. DPReview's camera review here
Not a bad housing, but not up to the standards of the PT-E06 either. Lightweight. Only 135' depth rating, plastic construction that's not all that robust, but should be quite serviceable. Single o-ring, voluminous construction due to inclusion of VF-2 viewfinder, which is pretty near worthless underwater (has less pixel density than the view screen). Controls are ok, well labeled, ranked in height. Zoom control is poor for use with gloves - indented into the side of the housing too far. Zoom gearing not all that smooth, but ok, better than the 10Bar. Not all controls accessible - ie you have to remember to open the flash before loading - no way to pop it later if you forget. Port is removable, but so far only one on market. No support for 17mm, Panasonic 45mm macro, although more third party ports will be forth coming I'm quite sure. Macro port adapter a little less than robust, if not clipped in perfectly it can fall off. Fiber optic sync only. One year international warranty.
The WA-100-EP Zen Dome looks to be very high quality glass and optics, better than the 10Bar. Customer Christine Kornylak took some great shots with it in the Channel Islands. 10Bar EPl-1 $1069 (fob Seattle). Includes 17mm pancake port & 14-42/9-18 semi dome port + 14-42 gears (9-18 gears coming $85). Includes spare orings, spare control tips, cleaning kit, carrying bag, etc.
Very rugged aluminum construction, working depth up to 200', tested to 300'. Aluminum screw thread ports. Decent build quality, but Chinese construction (much improved over earlier housings). Dual oring construction throughout (housing back, ports and controls). Metal controls, 2 ranked (menu & ok buttons). ALL controls are supported - you can bring the flash up and down. Zoom control is a push in and turn method, a little less than easy to get used to. Both manual focus and zoom supported. Supports lenses from both Olympus and Panasonic. Macro lens support with extension tube, no manual focus. 67mm macro screw thread on 17mm port and 14-42 flat port. Small, but negative in water by about 2# or so. Fiber optic or electrical Nikonos strobe connections. 2 year warranty, but out of HK, although I handle bad-out-of-box, and you are provided with control parts, etc.
Semi dome is good quality, but plastic. Probably not as good of corner sharpness and optics as the Zen, but the shots I took with the lens at 9mm turned out fine, view below.
I think there's good and bad points for both, and I've had customers who liked either for various reasons.
Lighting Either will need a Lighting Package. I like the Sea & Sea YS-01 strobe with this, although the YS-110a is also a good choice. The YS-01 is powerful, has TTL and a target light and has a 100x100 degree beam angle. For those on a budget, the YS-02 is also available for $110 less, but it lacks auto TTL operation and a target light, both very valuable features. Two strobes are preferred, especially with the 9mm lens. A focus light is necessary, as it is with any DSLR system, the Big Blue 1x5AFO would be my choice or for better video capabilities, the Fix LED500 or LED1000. The S-Tray fits these very well and is adjustable for various diving conditions. See "Light My Fire" for more information.
While I personally still prefer a full-scale DSLR for photography due to ease of use, speed, and available lenses, these smaller MicroFour Thirds camera systems seem to be the wave of the future, especially for use under the waves!
Shots taken with Olympus E-PL1 in 10Bar Housing with 9-18mm lens and 2 Sea & Sea YS-110a strobes.
Well, Eight Marker Buoy Dive Club members dove West Race at Race Rocks near Victoria, BC on a nice morning with 8-10 kts of north wind blowing when we got in...and 25kts with 6 foot seas when we got out!!
We were a little early for the slack when we got in on the west end, but it dropped off and we all had a good dive in somewhat murky viz. I hit 85' for a bit right at slack, but moved back up the wall to 70' for most of the dive. Tons of invertebrates, soft and hard coral in technicolor was the rule, not too many fish.
Upon surfacing, half the group drifted down the channel east, so 4 of us "hung" out in pretty big rollers and high wind for a while by the rocks. Rob saved my a**, telling me to swim forward, as I had drifted backwards too close to the rocks and almost go rolled onto it. The boat had a heck of a time getting all of us back on board, but we managed it. But what a rodeo.
There was no way to do a second dive. Normally placid Main Race was a maelstrom. So then we had to "beat" our way back to Victoria slowly working our way along shore and working the speed up and down with the waves pounding us. Everyone was pretty sore and cold when we got back.
Half of us were done for the day, but Rob & Kirby along with Karin and Doug did a dive off the breakwater in the lee and had good conditions.