Berkley White: I had a typical dive gear malfunction today. Well, it's not typical in that I hacked a zoom gear to work on a new camera lens, but was typical in that sometimes your gear doesn't quite work as planned. I was stoked to dive the wreck of the Hilma Hooker, but at 90 feet I rotated my hacked zoom system and spun the gear right off the lens. Since we were on a schedule, I chose to not retreat to the boat from 90 feet and just keep shooting. Not sure I can use the footage, but it was a great practice dive with the Gates VL24 lights.
Sterling and Erin gave great seminars on Lightroom today. I even learned a few twists on database techniques and keyboard shortcuts. I'm really impressed with their teaching skills and patience with new shooters. It was great to hear so many guest say, "Ahhhh… now I get it" and lose their fear of new software.
We enjoyed another fantastic day of diving, with our boat hitting some beautiful sites on Klein Bonaire. I was happy to be set up for wide angle, as we had the good fortune to dive on some beautiful walls encrusted with intact sponges and corals. Today I was testing out the Olympus E-PL2 PEN in a brand new prototype of Nauticam’s NA-EPL2 housing, and was especially pleased with the placement of the rear function button that allows for quick focusing using my thumb. Separating focus from your shutter button is one of the first thing Berkley teaches in his underwater photography course, and it’s great to be able to put that principle into practice with this housing. I love the low profile and great ergonomics of Nauticam’s design. This rig will be a cinch to tote around - it’s tiny! Last year I wrote about the original Olympus E-PL1 in an article for Backscatter, but with the improved camera and this this new housing option, I think I need to revise it.
One of the great advantages of the Micro 4/3 system is that the lenses can be shared between Olympus and Panasonic bodies. For today’s dives, I mounted the Panasonic 8mm fisheye lens to the E-PL2. I was really impressed with this combo; the 8mm fisheye allows for super close focusing and is incredibly sharp. The camera’s sensor did a great job with highlights, even when pointed directly towards the sun. I think this lens will be a real hit with underwater photographers. Users of the Olympus PT-EP03 housing can also take advantage of the 8mm fisheye using the Zen WA-100 dome.
This afternoon, Erin and I gave a seminar on Adobe Photoshop Lightroom. We’ve both been using Lightroom for many years, and are absolutely passionate about this application. It’s wonderful that it works on both Mac or PC, so everyone can give it a try. Previously, managing and editing RAW files from digital cameras was a huge headache. I don’t know how I would manage my own workflow without Lightroom! It’s great to see that most of the participants are just as jazzed about it as Erin and I. For the students who’ve never even opened the program before, it quickly became apparent just how much time they are going to save by using it. Erin’s tutorial videos have been a huge help to everyone in preparing their images for the nightly slide shows. Speaking of slide shows, every night’s show seems to be better than the last. There were some stunning images shown tonight. It’s quite an inspiring group.
Jennifer Penner: Modeling. More often than not, when referring to underwater photography with models, the photographer is usually male and the model female. Since I like to shake things up a bit, I shoot a fair amount of wide angle images that have a model as a primary or secondary subject, and that model is almost always Joel! I wouldn't say that I'm extraordinarily tough on my model, but he does get a fair amount of thumb pointing for placement, reminders to keep his fins together and which angle I want his body and of course, the toughest direction of all... don't breathe! Don't get me wrong... I'll (occasionally) model for him if he sees a set-up he likes, and I really do like modeling, as it makes you a better diver and photographer. Ladies, let's even the playing field... keep shooting those male models!
Jim Decker: After seeing some of the daily pictures, I have to say it's quite impressive, especially on the macro side. Some of these shots are getting super tight. Using a MacroMate or other macro accessory lens in addition to the main camera's lens allows one to get reproduction ratios greater than 1:1. The keeper rate for these shots can be 50:1 due to the extremely thin depth of field. But when you nail it, it's awesome!
Gear tested today
Today was the wreck dive of the Hilma Hooker and I decided to go with the Canon 7D in the Aquatica housing and a Tokina 10-17 lens. This is one of my favorite subjects on the island to shoot. The 10-17 gives you an angle of 100-180 degrees. It is the holy grail of underwater wide angle lenses due to its versatility. I also shot a frogfish with this lens on the second dive due to it's close focusing capability.
Rusty Sanoian: Today we are scheduled to go to some nice dive sites, one of which a baby manta ray has been spotted several times. However, I am planning on spending both dives in the shallows looking for tube blennies which are very tiny fish that measure less than half an inch and have a lot of personality for such a small fish. They do not sit still for long and are always searching with their large eyes.
The Micro Four thirds camera category is fairly new to the underwater camera market. Many photographers who were shooting point and shoot cameras and were in the market for an upgrade have chosen a four thirds camera like the Olympus Pen for its larger sensor, lack of shutter lag, interchangeable lens and small size.
Today I am diving the highly anticipated Nauticam GH2 housing for the Panasonic GH2 camera. This is an amazing camera in a tiny package. It shoots high quality HD video on par or better than some of the current DLSRs and can shoot 1080p at 24 fps. The housing we have is a prototype and there might be some small changes by the time the final production model is released. There are some incredible lenses available for this camera. Today I will be shooting the Panasonic 45 macro lens with an external wetmate Inon UCL-330 close up lens 67mm for some super macro images. Because of the 2x crop factor on this camera, the Panasonic 45 is an excellent close up lens and ends up being 90mm. The included images were taken with this lens and the external Inon close up lens, these images are straight from the camera with no cropping. The Auto focus is quick and accurate on this camera and all I can say is I am very impressed.
The Nauticam housing has excellent controls and the large acrylic viewing screen on the back was extended high enough to allow the user to view the camera's electronic viewfinder. The viewfinder is excellent on this camera but trying to view it underwater is challenging. If Nauticam is able to make a magnified viewfinder this would be a huge benefit!
The housing’s ergonomics are top notch. There is a command dial on the top right of the housing that allows you to change aperture/shutter speed easily. The housing is larger than the Nauticam EPL-2 Pen housing due to the Panasonic GH2’s flash which sits high on the camera and must be fully extended in order to operate properly. The housing is still smaller than the DSLR housings for the Canon T2i and Nikon D90, and the cost of the housing/ports is also cheaper. This is an excellent system for travel. I own a GH2 camera and have been wanting to shoot it underwater since I purchased it. For trips where I do not want to haul my Canon 5D MKII and housing around, the GH2 could be the perfect answer. Stay tuned for an article with more information on this camera and housing at www.backscatter.com!
Charlie Mazel & Ross Kniffin: You might think that animals that are active in the dark would be bothered by us fluorescence night divers with our bright blue lights and strobes, but at least some of them don’t seem to mind. A sharptail eel was out again rooting around the rubble making a great photo subject and completely ignoring us. The mantis shrimp at the corner of the dock was also more cooperative than he had been the last few dives and several photographers were able to get good fluorescence and white light pics. The pictures here were taken by Shootout participant Philip Seys.
||Dan Baldocchi: I've been a Sony guy for as long as I can remember. In fact some of my first dives ever were with a Sony TR101 Hi8 camera right here in Bonaire in the early 90s. But this year I'm really excited to try out the new HF G10 camcorder from Canon. With the same lens and sensor as its professional big brother the XF105, this little guy offers some pretty amazing features and image quality in a compact, travel friendly package. It's been getting rave reviews on land, but to me, the real test is how it performs underwater. I've brought my Light & Motion BlueFin housing with a Fathom 90° lens and a pair of Sola 4000 video lights, ready to put the camera to the test. White balance ability, low light clarity, focus control, manual exposure adjustments… It will take me a while to critically analyze the results, but from what I've seen so far, it looks pretty good. The color is fantastic with little to no noise in the blues. Here are a few sample clips strung together, nothing fancy, that'll come later.
Erin Quigley: This is my third visit to Bonaire, and although I've always enjoyed the diving, I never expected to see a manta ray here. Today, a small manta cruised the reef's edge at Something Special, coming within inches of the divers. Even with my Tokina 10-17mm lens all the way out at 10mm, I still couldn't fit the whole animal in the frame. Maybe I was just distracted by the bubbling, screaming, rattling and frenzied tank banging. Can't wait to see the images at the slideshow party tonight. Mantas are great subjects for Black and White conversion, and Lightroom and Camera Raw both make it crazy simple to do using the Targeted Adjustment Tool.
Jean Bruneau: Well, we are settling in as a group and picking up the pace. Most of the unpacking glitches have been checked off. A few had luggage delays, but everyone pulled together and we managed to get bolts for the grip to one, a BCD to another, a prescription mask, a regulator etc. In short, nobody was left high and dry. You just got to love this community.
This morning we did the Hilma Hooker, Bonaire’s famous wreck. Well, she is still a beauty and I took the opportunity to redo some shots I was not totally happy with from two years ago. Wrecks are nice in that way. It’s pretty hard to ask a grouper to strike a pose, let alone the same as two years earlier! I worked principally at positioning the sun behind my subject to get the aura of bluish light surrounding it, doing so kind of takes care of the cyan cast banding found around the hot spot created by the sun.
Tonight I will likely punch a dive under the resort dock (there is always something to see under it). I have been alternating between optical strobes and old school wired ones in the last few days. I have a hybrid setup on my housing. This option on our Aquatica housings allows for a optical connector on one side and an electrical one on the other, that offers you the maximum flexibility as far as connecting strobes. One set I have is a pair of Ikelite venerable DS-160. They pack a lot of power, have the warmest and softest of light quality to them and when hooked up to a TTL converter are spot on exposure wise... but they are bulky and heavy and while I do appreciate the huge amount of light when shooting fisheye lenses, I do find them unusually heavy when shooting macro.
Macro set ups are typically the heaviest. When shooting wide, you normally have a substantial air bubble inside the housing that is formed by the dome. With macro you typically have a streamlined aluminum or plastic tube with a small port lens on the front, that leaves very little internal air that would lighten up the setup. That's where the INON Z-240s are appreciated. They are smaller and lighter but not as powerful as the DS-160, but that is ok for me, as typically the power output needed in macro is less because the subject is closer. A big plus as well is the optical fibre connection, it is simplicity itself. You can remove a sync cord underwater, remove the strobe from the housing, have your buddy hold it in position for you and still maintain full S-TTL capability as long as one strobe is left on the housing to trigger the other one(s).
Ed Meyers: Hmmm….What did I do with my regulator? Ruh Roh… What was it Berkley was saying yesterday??…." Slow down & think" or something like that….Grrrr.
What did I do with it?……Did Chuckie hide it, ohh wait, he's not here.. Must have been self inflicted. Off to the lost & found. Found it! First day practicing with a 5DMkII and Aquatica housing. Set everything up in Manual mode. What I find amusing is that the mindset is just like it was 20 years ago when I was shooting commercial photography in the studio. Basically set up the aperture and strobes so that they make a great exposure for a given distance and then drag or speed up the shutter to get the background just right. Ahhhhhh, the good 'ol days. Wait! I don't really want to have to load 4x5 film holders in paradise! Let's stick with digital. We should have just bolted a couple thrusters to Chuckie's knee joint's. He would have had more fun zipping around the Caribbean than hobbling around sunny Fla. Another fine evening of looking at wonderful images, both moving and still.
Chris Parsons: Day four, and back on the boats to head out to Klein Bonaire. These dive guides are doing a great job with this large group, sharing their special spots for things like frogfish and seahorses. I'm shooting wide today, the 10-22 behind the Zen 230mm dome again as I am just so pleased with the sharpness I am getting out of this combination. I want to get some shots of people with their gear, heads down in their quest to get that perfect shot.
Despite the fact that some of these folks are very focused on getting close to their subjects, they are doing a good job of staying off of live reef. The Digital Shootout staff and the Divi Dive staff have been stressing the importance of not damaging the reef, and made it clear right at the beginning that anyone sacrificing living reef to get their shot will be removed from the competition, and depending on the severity, may be banned from diving here. They are serious about it and well they should be. As u/w photographers, we are truly ambassadors for the sea. Many people will get their experience of the ocean through our eyes and that charges us with a huge responsibility to set a good example for our fellow divers and do as little damage as possible to an ecosystem that is not only fragile but under attack from many different sources. However, it should not stop at merely this, because the fact is that divers actually are not even close to the biggest threat that reefs face. Water quality issues, temperature increase, over-fishing, invasive species - these issues are what is killing our reefs, not a kicked sea fan. So we need to start by not kicking that sea fan, absolutely, but we as ambassadors for the ocean need to carry that message back to life on land and make a difference.
Ok, enough soapbox for the moment. Let's go diving!
I'm finally getting a bit more organized at getting these cameras ready to go out, which is a good thing as I'm sending out every one of our housings pretty much every day. Everything has been working well and I'm very pleased not to be having a lot of gear issues. Our LX-5 housing and camera is proving to be very popular with the demo gear uses. Panasonic is not as big of a name in the US in the consumer camera world but they are making some excellent cameras and definitely seem to be on the upswing. LX-5 is the most capable, best imaging compact camera I have used. It's ideally suited for underwater shooting, with features like RAW mode, manual exposure, excellent TTL, TTL in manual mode, and AVCHD video.
Marissa Wiganowske: My boat rotation allowed for the Thrusters to make their way back to the Hilma Hooker, and they were used non stop by Dan of Under Exposures. I could see him him buzzing around the wreck capturing video. I surely thought I’d see him finning at the end of the dive, but an hour later he was still on the switch. Rock on! In the afternoon, a few divers headed out to the work on shooting in 3D. This seems to be a work in progress, but they were jazzed to use the Thrusters to be able to come at the camera with speed. The photo/video gig is new to me, but the amount I am learning is limitless. You can’t not feel the positive energy and ambition these staff and divers have to excel and grow with what they do. Simply impressive of what this team has brought together and achieving...