Browsing articles in "Diving Junkies Dive Kit"

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 The next day I had a message and he said he had found something but it didn’t look pretty, my reaction was a little withdrawn as I was expecting it to be uglier than I looked the morning after back in my student days.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.

Oceanic Shadow Mask Review

It is a very personal thing to find a mask that you are comfortable with and with dive shops having a limited stock of a few ranges can be a journey in itself trying out all the manufacturers, for me it is the Oceanic Shadow Mask in black. I had tried a few of the Cressi masks and just didn’t get on with the hard silicon skirt, this has put me off trying other makes to be honest. My instructor had a Hollis M1 mask and when he let me try it on I was really surprised at how comfortable it was and as I couldn’t afford it went for the next best thing and am so glad I did.

Oceanic Shadow Mask and Box

The mask comes with a plastic protective box like most others and a built in neoprene strap which makes the fit even more comfortable, and I never get the funny marks around my face that some divers seem to suffer from as they have their mask too tight or have not adjusted it from not wearing a hood when on holiday to having to wear a hood here in the UK. The frame-less skirt means it weighs very little and there are no distracting parts to looking ahead unlike many other masks that have a coloured piece clipped in to hold the glass in place and to look pretty that distracts my focus for a moment when looking closely at things, well it did for me when I was wearing them and while only milli-seconds it was more obvious when I was looking ahead and then glancing at my dive computer and my focal distance changing.

The black skirt makes the view ahead more defined as well, no light leakage at any depth, or on the surface to flare over my ability to see. The positive pressure I feel as the mask is squeezed gently against my face is great, obviously it increases with depth, but only slightly and since I adjusted it the first time I wore it with a 7mm hood, I have never had to adjust the thing again. Showing in my opinion that the choice of strap fabric and design of plastic clips is just right to keep it set up exactly as you want it.

I have purposefully flooded the mask, the only times it has filled with water, to keep my skills up with what we were taught back in the day of being a newbie diver. When I tilted my head back and pressed gently against the top it has cleared extremely easily and very quickly. A few times I have not shaved for a couple of days or more truthfully for a month or so and have a full face beard, I call it my winter coat which makes all my friends chuckle, and it still has not leaked once.

You may say I am bias and rightly so, this is the second best piece of kit I have ever bought (will go into the first best when I have a little time in its own review) and the quality in the build and reasonable price I paid for it of £37.50 made it a great investment, the RRP is £45 and in my opinion if you need to buy a new mask the Oceanic Shadow Mask is worth every penny.

 

“I have purposefully flooded the mask, the only times it has filled with water”

Pros:-

Soft silicone skirt makes for a comfortable and well held fit.

Very light and nothing to distract focus due to frame-less skirt.

Strap is built in with Neoprene band making the fit extremely comfortable and re-assuring it is going to stay in place, even hood-less.

Well defined forward view with no light leakage from the sides.

Great price at £45 in a very competitive market.

 

Cons:-

Other than it never leaks because of the great fit, making practicing skills difficult as I have to purposefully flood it for any water ingress I haven’t experienced any.

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