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Orcalight Seawolf Lights.

About 8 or 9 months ago I read about a new light on the market, the Orcalight Seawolf 2260; I commented on the article about the price and how it was a shame it wasn’t for the recreational market, Shane Newman (the MD of Orcalight) and I started chatting again more recently and he has taken a lot on-board from the diving community. The light was originally developed for the professional film and documentary underwater videographer market, and at just over £2300 (inclusive of VAT) made it something that is an investment for them. With an engineer behind the design and British production of the LED, housing, batteries and lenses it is understandable at the high price for a limited market The great news is that they have just released a new version with less power but still the great build quality and service that comes in buying the top end 2260; the Orcalight Seawolf 660 is aimed at the recreational market with more improvements to the range on the way.

Orcalight Seawolf 2260 @14,000

Shane and the guys and gals at Orcalight developed a new type of LED, driver and firmware for another project, yet it sat on the proverbial shelf for quite a while till a guy called Doug Anderson, who just happened to want a decent light for video work underwater, approached Shane to design it for him. Doug is a serious underwater videographer with documentary series’ such as Life for the BBC in his portfolio. While I was chatting to Shane he told me about the first time Doug took it in the water and what his reaction was when he came to Shane with feedback, if I recall correctly it went something like:

Doug: ‘Do you know what you have done?

Shane: ‘Oh god has it failed or something, is it no good?’

Doug: ‘Not any good, are you joking? This is more than good and is going to revolutionise film and photographic work underwater’

So if it impressed a professional who makes a living from filming the things we have the privilege to see when we go diving, taking pictures or video with lights and strobes from their many well placed competitors to share with our friends and relatives, it is going to blow you away, as it did me.

orcalight_peli_case

I was loaned the demo lights (which I will get onto shortly) to try them out, I had to go and meet Josie, the young lady in Plymouth who is one of the people working with Shane to help promote and develop the lights, as it was getting dark we met in a secret location (a supermarket car park), we joked about how it was like the most awesome spy mission ever, collecting a large Peli case without drawing attention to ourselves and when I got them home I was gobsmacked by how good they are. As a recreational diver it was a privilege to be loaned something so expensive to try out, as I was loaned the Orcalight Seawolf 2260 and 1560 as Shane hasn’t got a 660 for loan just yet, the idea being that I used the second setting on both lights, that way the 1560 would give off 10,000 lumens, the 2260 14,000 lumens and it would give an idea of the 660 at 12,000 lumens, I clearly had the intention of doing that, and playing with the higher setting while diving, just to see, because it was there and I could.

Orcalight 2260 in the box

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Orcalight 1560

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What comes in the box:

When you buy your light, depending on which model, and which bundle you go for, you get between 1 and 6 batteries, 1 or 2 lenses of the 60,90 and 120 degree choice, and the light unit, or lamp head and canister. If you  go for the 2260 it comes in a Peli case with plenty of spare room for another 3 batteries (with 3 in the unit), all 3 lenses, the charger and the allen key to take it apart in the field. I am pretty sure there will be other things in the box, like the warranty paperwork, manual and the like in a new one but we work with what we see, and if you are lucky enough to be able to afford it all, there are tripods, umbilicals and surface power packs/generation for the serious enthusiast and professional underwater videographer or company. The basic package for the 660 comes with a lens of your choice from the 3, a battery and charger and is ready to go out of the box.

Orcalight Seawolf Build Quality

So down to the important part of the investment anyone that purchases one of these lights needs to know. and why they are worth every penny whichever model you purchase (can you tell I like them).

The housings are made of 6082 Aluminium, 316 Stainless, or Titanium on request, and coated in a 70 micron thick anodised coating followed by a PTFE coating that takes a fair knock, they are completely modular throughout the range, if you wanted you could in principle have the 660 lamp head in the 2260 canister set up but this would obviously cost a little more than the great price of the 660. The whole thing is modular in its design, sure there may be 2 versions, but as they are fully serviceable in the field (a requirement of the professional videographers) the design behind them is simplicity in itself.

Orcalight 1560 rail mounting system

orcalight_mounting_rail_build_quality

The lenses, which currently there are 3 of, 60°, 90° and 120°, are made of a very high quality spec optical resin with a precise refractive index and with the LED producing a finely balanced 118 lumens per watt of power from the battery (or batteries depending on which model you purchase) which are programmed for individual lights, so the time of construction in the UK by the team at Orcalight is a minimum of 3 days just in programming and testing to “tune” the driver to the LED and batteries which are also matched precisely to each other in sets.

Orcalight 2260 light unit

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Orcalight 1560 light unit

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The batteries that Shane and the Orcalight team decided to use are the highest quality they could find, after approaching Sony and Panasonic the ones they chose have proven their worth as after 1 year of use in the demo lights and over 300 charge and discharge cycles, they still show they can take full charge unlike other batteries that loose the ability to hold that level of charge. The built in safety for the lights is second to none as well, after 70 minutes they drop to the first power level, and provide an emergency back up for a further 30+mins giving a diver plenty of time to safely reach the surface from a cave system, wreck or depth with only a small back up torch that might be used at the end of the ascent.

I only took the back of the lights off to take the batteries out to charge, this has been changed on version 3 by the inclusion of a charging port on the rear of all the units, this also doubles as a gas release if there is any ingress of water, because the way the guys have designed the units allows for a small amount to enter if it can, and keeping the batteries separate inside (with solid connectors for each battery) as they have, means if one gets wet and gives off gases the others may not,  if it is not shaken around violently when in use. They are so well fitting that they are actually hard to prise apart, but the double o-rings on each end keep any flooding to a minimum, even the optics on the front forgive a leak from incorrect placement or a worn o ring; a simple rinse with clean water dry and re-use; it comes down to looking after your light as you would the rest of your kit and it will last for years.

Very carefully I had to use the back of a table knife to start prising them apart (the new units now have push off pull on locking clasps), once they had moved less than a mm all round I was happy to start the task of pulling and gently rocking the end cap till it came off, it was actually a pleasing task as many lights of competitors I have seen are a lot less sturdy in contact and sealing, and while as divers we take every care to make sure even the smallest of hairs are not on the o rings the lesser lights can and do still flood. As I looked in the end of the canister (apologies but didn’t take pics) the craftsmanship showed through, the batteries could only go in one way and they slid out easily, the large connectors came apart easily, and went back together easily to allow them to be charged out of the unit. Josie advised me to charge the batteries for 3 hours, and while that is what I did, it did take a while with 4 batteries to charge which did seem like a pretty major issue for a recreational diver, yet these weren’t originally designed for that kind of use. The later models with the charging port have overcome having to charge the batteries separately, and with the knowledge Shane has am sure there shouldn’t be an issue of overheating the batteries while charging and damaging them like cheaper quick chargers do.

Orcalight 2260 rear plate, older version.

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Orcalight 1560 rear plate.

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They have been rated at 150m depth for use, but that isn’t their limitation, they have been used at 400m by one customer for 1 1/2 hours (bottom time) on their ROV without any issues and worked perfectly (and still do). Each unit is tested in house to 200m before it is sent out.

This is the bit I find most interesting, the modular design of the system means that anything that is developed in the future for one of the lights, will fit any that have been made before and even more amazing than that is the fact they can be retro fitted to produce any specific wavelength from UV to IR. I know this is a lot to take in but on top of that is the customer service, Shane didn’t mention if you would get charged for user error but his attitude to customers is an old fashioned one, they come first and anything they can do, be it on the phone if you are in the field, or if you send it back for repair, they will make sure the unit is working again. From talking to him for a few hours over many nights, Shane is one of those guys who will stand by his word, and his word as far as the Orcalight range goes is that you are purchasing a light for life.

Orcalight 1560 light head and cooling vents

orcalight_led_light_cooling

While the purchases (due to cost and the professional market they were being aimed at) have been sparse over the last 9 months, they have sold 70 units of the various versions and have only had 2 returns, both from user error and that says a lot for the quality of the product and why it is a purchase that should (and most probably will) last each customer a lifetime. The estimate on the LED is over 10 years of continued use and the batteries at least over 300 cycles without any degradation, and when Shane finally kills the batteries in the demo models being used in the field, he will have the full lifetime of them well ahead of any customer.

 

 

What the Orcalight Seawolf lights look like out of the water when you turn them on.

Now I have to remind you that I was trying them to see what 12,000 lumens from the 660 for 50 minutes would be like for the recreational diver, and I am so gutted the timing of being loaned them coincided with a strange weather pattern for a few days where it was pretty windy most days, very wet and the vis was getting worse by the day. I was so excited the day I got them home that I made a short video (and here my lack of knowledge of planning and skills with a camera show, but I would do so many things differently if I had them again, a tripod for the camera for one), when I tried them in the car park at night this is what I saw and I have placed the video together in this way so you can see the 10,000 and 14,000 settings to get an idea of the power of the 660 at 12,000 lumens at full power.

Orcalight Seawolf 2260 1560 dry test comparison from Diving Junkie on Vimeo.

 

The Dive.

I was going to write a separate blog entry about the dive but as we had to bail on it due to the conditions thought I would add it here in brief.

orcalight_seawolf_dive_test_01

Had arranged with Kurt to do a late evening dive, we had chosen the Headland at Newquay to go in off the NE side; our plans soon changed when we got there as it looked mirror like flat on the SW edge at little Fistral with an easier entry down the steps and over the beach at that time of night. After a couple of successful dives before with similair conditions what happened was quite a shock, the seabed off little Fistral starts as sand and pebbles but quickly changes to boulders and a varying range of, sand, smaller boulders and granite bedrock that create gullies below the water line. It was nice and flat above, but this was not the case underneath; if we had surface swam it would have been a different story, we didn’t as we were too excited to get under and try out the lights and after tiring us out, pretty much left us with unusable dive footage and photos from either myself or Kurt by the time we had got very far through the surges from the gullies, a mistake I won’t be making again as it is a dive site rarely used due to heavier sea conditions on that side and why Fistral beach is world renowned for surfing .

I am going to put a few of the pictures here though to show the lighting and colours, and I really wish I had better quality images so apologies for them in advance, if I ever get the chance to have the lights on loan again this is one of the other things I would do differently, but the camera was on auto (but ISO fixed at 200) when I entered the water and when we were out I was going to change the settings to various others to try it out, but as I have already mentioned we didn’t get the chance. These were taken when we were deciding if we should surface to head back, there was no flash, these are unadjusted but compressed for web, and I was carrying the 2260 and had it on setting 2 at 14,000 lumens. The camera I was using was my Olympus PEN E-PM1 in the E-PT06L housing and Epoque DCL 30 wide angle wet lens.

In the raw file the settings were ISO200; f18 1/25sec

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In the raw file the settings were ISO200 f18 1/8sec

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In the raw file the settings were ISO200 f18 1/3sec

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I hope the images show that if I had been in a better position with no surge and been able to have manual control over the camera they would have been exceptional (I can dream) photos, but the colours speak for themselves, as well as the lighting clearly showing that on a night dive, in pitch black, it brought out the natural colours beyond expectations. I can not apologise enough for the poor camera skills, and unlucky choice of pics to show you as well as the inexperience of diving a site and not taking into account surges that ruined what was a great opportunity to try something special.

After being tired out by the conditions we had a cuppa and stroll up the headland, for such a clear and warm night it was empty of people, would be a great place for watching the stars.

Kurt

orcalight_seawolf_dive_test_05

Other videos testing the Orcalight Seawolf 2260

I have kindly been given permission to put some videos (also on vimeo) from some of the more serious, and professional videographers that have used the Orcalight Seawolf 2260 at full power so you could see what they are like underwater, there are a few more available on the internet but I asked to put these up because they show how good they are, as you will see

Rafa Herrero Massieu of Aquawork

Shot on a RED Epic at 5k with 2 Orcalight 2260’s

A001 C033 0627YV slow25 from AQUAWORK on Vimeo.

Isla Azul

Shot on a RED Epic at 5k with 2 Orcalight 2260’s

Intro La Palma, Isla Azul. from Isla Azul on Vimeo.

Fergus Kennedy

Shot on Canon 5D mark III with one Orcalight 2260

Orcalight Seawolf A2660 Underwater Video Light Test from Fergus Kennedy on Vimeo.

Focus Light Mount on a Budget

I started thinking about my underwater photography at night and how much of a pain it had been focusing on things without help from others shining their torches or fumbling with the camera in one hand and a torch in the other, so I started looking for a focus light mount to go on the cold shoe adapter on my housing, you know the one that looks like it holds a flash.

Edible Crab hiding

At first I was shocked by the price, £50 for the adapter and another £50 for the clamp to hold the light (plus delivery) and I was looking in all the usual haunts, Cameras Underwater, Bristol Cameras and then Ebay but they all came back the same, an extremely high price for something that I had a feeling would cost less than £2 if manufactured overseas and delivered to the UK if made in plastic. So I then started looking at other solutions and found a clamp for 50p delivered from China (it was too small in the end), and I was in a large market near where I live and one of the stalls had some screwdriver extensions with a thinner version of the loc-line for £1 and I was about to order a cold shoe mount with large thread to resin into the base of the loc-line when I started discussing it on a Facebook group I am a member of.

I explained what I was looking for and that I was happy to build it if anyone knew how, and how much I was willing to spend on a new one not expecting what came next, a guy called Alex joined in the conversation from a company called Underwater Visions, they mainly deal with Nauticam gear in the UK which I didn’t know at the time, and he said he would look into it and see what he could come up with. The next day I had a message and he said he had found something but it didn’t look pretty, my reaction was a little withdrawn as I was expecting it to be uglier than I looked the morning after back in my student days. I kindly asked him to be patient for my next payday and he had no problem with that.

So about a week or so later I contacted Alex to let him know I had the money and how did he want paying, we sorted that by online bank transfer and I sat back waiting thinking it would be 3 or 4 days. I had actually forgotten I was waiting for a parcel and was annoyed at the Postman for knocking so loud the next day. Bleary eyed I went to the door and scribbled something on the screen of that little digital box they carry around, said Thanks and shut the door holding a package that I had no idea could be. I stumbled into the kitchen and filled the kettle, oblivious to the solution to my focus light mount issue being right under my nose.

Alex’s attitude when chatting to him on Facebook had been one of an old school shop keeper, an extremely friendly chap who just wanted to help, and with dealing with higher end gear wasn’t offended by someone looking for a cheaper option, I think he understands some divers don’t have thousands to spend on strobe arms and trays, but just because it is cheaper it doesn’t mean it isn’t something that will do the job well, or well enough for those of us with extremely limited budgets.

I made my morning tea and sat down still looking blankly at this package that had 24hr delivery stamped on it, so I pulled open the envelope and tipped out a box and sheet of paper, it still didn’t sink in. When I looked at the paper it was clear what it was and suddenly it felt like Christmas, I opened the box and with a thud a little bundle of goodies fell to the table. I ran out to the car to get my (cheap Chinese) dive torch which is going to be my focusing light and checked it fitted in the clamp, it is made of molded plastic for all its parts with an aluminium 3 inch cold shoe mount (YS or Sea and Sea style join).

Focus Light Mount

By the time I had placed it on my housing, set the camera up and tried it out my tea had gone cold but that was the least of my worries, the weather here in the South West UK has been atrocious with 20m+ swells and 60mph+ winds meaning it is going to be a while before I get to try it.

Focus Light Mount on HousingMany Thanks to Alex for saving me a lot of time making something I have a feeling would break (which is why I was using my cheap Chinese torch) you can contact him at info@uwvisions.com and you won’t regret it.

Aug 16, 2013

Underwater Photography and looking for the right camera

Part 1.

As a diver the feeling you get sharing the experience of being underwater is something special but it is hard to fully portray what it is like to non-divers unless you have photographs, or video to show them. I have been lucky enough to reach the big 40 this year and I was bought an awesome present by my family; which if you haven’t guessed yet is an underwater housing and camera with macro and wide angle wet lenses so I could share my underwater photography with them and anyone else I could bore.

The camera I now have is the Olympus PEN mini E-PM1, called a micro four thirds system, and the Olympus PT-EP06L housing with the Epoque DCL-20 Wide angle and Epoque DML-2 Macro lenses and as I learn how to use it and get good and bad shots will write about that in my dive logs.

Olympus E-PM1 and PT-EP06L underwater photography kit.

I would like to go through the process that led me to choose this camera and housing within the budget I was given for my present and it was hard in the end as it came down to 3 cameras, the E-PM1 and the Canon Powershot S range (S95 and S100 ), and they all excelled for what they are; making the final decision even more difficult.

Friends and advice

I have to say I was lucky here with having a friend that works in the film industry, doing the special effects that make us excited as we watch them. He has worked on a quite a few films and T.V. shows over the years but will leave it at that. With what he does he has to take many factors into account and has spent time away from his work learning about cameras so he has been able to match the computer generated components better to the filmed components. He had a limitation with his knowledge though, underwater photography and videography, he hadn’t spent as much time learning about this as he had not been involved with any of those scenes.

Even though I had a 35mm film camera when I was younger, and took many photos, I wasn’t fully aware of the differences with digital cameras and how much they had improved. I knew that sensor size and pixel count was important but not to which degree, or what other factors could make one or both of those irrelevant. The main considerations he taught me were the size of the sensor and its compatibility with the lens/lenses as well as the the ability to control white balance. We had many beers as I pried this information out of him but it was worth every mouthful of the golden nectar.

I also then have to say social networking can come in handy, which is where I met a couple of other people who are extremely knowledgeable as they are kinda semi-pro photographers who have been published in magazines and won an award or 2 in the underwater photography world.

It was while chatting to them that I found a website called imaging-resource with a fair system for testing the abilities for each camera, and as there are plenty of review sites on the internet with many good and bad points I felt this one covered enough for my level of understanding. The E-PM1 and S100 are thoroughly covered along with many other makes.

The importance of sensor size

I am sure someone is going to pick me up on techno babble but the way I see it after it was explained to me is that as the technology improves the number of smaller pixel sensors will increase and less software driven enhancements will need to be made to a point, so a full frame sensor (which is 35mm) may have had 8 million pixels resolution a few years ago, now is about 20-24 million and in the future will probably see it up in the 40 million range, but just like the restrictions on processor size due to the size of an electron, there will come a time when this reaches a limit as well due to the size of a photon. Both CCD and CMOS have filters in front of the sensor that allow the Blue/Green/Red wavelengths to get to the sensor which then uses some software enhancements to mosaic the image, but ideally this is where you want the enhancements to stop as a sensor doesn’t see in colour.

So taking each wavelength into account, you have the wave height from peak to trough, or amplitude, and if the sensor is too crammed for pixels then you wouldn’t get the full amplitude of each colour; this is where the limit of pixels to sensor size comes in I spoke of above. In underwater photography this is even more important to allow the most amount of light to be recorded as the image and insuring each colours wavelength is adsorbed by the sensor is critical. This also goes the other way, too much space for the pixels and you would get a washed echo effect making the colours less sharp.

Having this limitation with a sensor is where the software driven enhancements then come into play, from what I was told more recently than I started writing this article, is that any camera that goes below ISO 160 (sensitivity of light) is enhanced anyway, so choosing a camera with an ISO of 160-200 would insure you would not have any interference from over processed software enhancements.

Ability to customise white balance

This is fairly self explanatory, has the camera you are choosing got an option to manually select the white balance, or more accurately hold a white slate (or old ice cream container) at the distance you normally shoot underwater so the camera can adjust the pictures and you get the correct colours across that depth. This is where knowing the depths the wavelengths are no longer visible is handy.

Underwater camera choice

I told you earlier about the 2/3 options that were left for me after doing as much research as I could on what kind of cameras was available and it was either the Canon S95 (would have been secondhand), S100 and E-PM1. It was actually a hard decision seeing that each camera had advantages in their own right, and that the Canon cameras are slightly better for underwater photography due to the sensor being a little more sensitive. I think what did it for me was one of the evenings on the nectar with one of my friends in which he said ‘the limitations of only having one lens (the Canons) might get on your nerves when you shoot things on land’ and we went online and searched for mounts to use different lenses for the E-PM1 and the Canons and it was seeing the flexibility of the E-PM1 in this area that clinched it. Currently I have 8 lenses and only use the stock 14-42mm when I go diving, I am extremely impressed that a professional level lens 20 years ago can be bought for less than £40 today.

Underwater photography

I do not have an underwater photography gallery like many do on their sites, instead I am placing pics from my dives in my diving log, that way they can be seen in context with where I was diving. So feel free to check out my dive logs so far, I do have photos from a few places that are not mentioned in any dive books, or by any other clubs or schools but like everyone, it is nice to have a couple of dive spots to yourself and one day I will get round to sharing them. It will also be clear as to the lessons I am learning along the way and the quality of pictures improving as well as the composition.

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