Review and Field Notes: Subal ND4

Subal ND4 housing.

The Nikon D4 is a big camera and as a result housings are also large, similar in size to the Subal ND3 and ND2 that I’ve also review here on Wetpixel. Subal’s ND4 (and ND800) has an additional air gap (and two additional blanked off synch sockets) on the left side of the camera to provide space for the various connections that the D4 offers. Housing size is a disadvantage for travel, but the extra displacement means that the housing is much less negative in the water. With the camera, fisheye lens and Zen 230 dome, the housing floats slightly without strobes.

The ND4 is a big SLR housing, but by the time you add a big dome and strobes on long arms, the housing is only a small part of the system. This is about as big as my rig gets, here it is larger than my dive guide Dince on the Indo Siren liveaboard.

When shooting wide angle, I just use a couple of chunks of STIX foam to offset the weight of the strobe arms (and to mount my dive computer). The rig is close to neutral as shown above, in fact, like this it floats with the dome port cover on and sinks slightly with it off! For CFWA I tend to use single arm sections, rather than the doubles shown.

I often shoot wide angle with short arm sections, especially when I am focused on CFWA. However long arms can be useful for some lighting effects, such as crossed strobes AKA inward lighting, used here to light a fan, but not the background or Dince modeling in Fiabacet, Misool. Nikon D4 and 16mm lens. Subal ND4 and Zen 230 dome. 1/320th, f/16, ISO 320. Flash.

When shooting macro (without the big dome) the rig is more negative. For super macro I like this to aid stability and use single arm sections to make the rig easier to maneuver into tight spaces. Single arm sections cover most lighting options for macro, such as front lighting, side lighting and inward lighting. But for fish shooting with the 60mm or 105mm I return to the more traditional double arm sections and four STIX chunks per side, which brings the rig’s buoyancy close to neutral too. I do use double arm sections for macro shooting when I plan more extreme types of lighting, such as back lighting.

Double arm sections allowed me to shoot this ghostpipefish with on-camera back lighting (rather than using a remote strobe). X-raying the subject like this serendipitously revealed a small fish inside its stomach. Nikon D4 and 60mm lens. Subal ND4. 1/320th, f/20, ISO 400. Flash.

The ND4 set up for macro shooting with Retra Optical Snoots attached (Retra Pro and brand new Retra Prime, which will be the subject of a review soon). I change my rig significantly depending on what lighting I want when shooting macro. I don’t try and do it all on one dive and go in focused on a couple of types of shot, with the rig modified accordingly. For example, I might set up specifically for verticals, for backlighting or in this case snoot photography.

A fun and contrived shot using the square aperture insert in the Retra snoot, to light the eye of a woebegone shark (taken with rig above). Nikon D4 and 105mm lens. Subal ND4. 1/320th, f/13, ISO 125. Retra snoot and flash.

The Subal ND4 provides access to all the important camera controls and more. I am very pleased that Subal’s D4 housing also has a left hand thumb paddle for the ISO button. Nauticam were the first to incorporate this solution, on their housing for the D4, and it is very useful on a camera such as the D4 for both stills and video. Housings used to be praised for making the housing controls almost the same as those on the camera. Subal and Nauticam deserve particular praise for making changing ISO easier than when using the camera out of the housing.

Increasing ISO on the D4 has so little effect on image quality that you use it as another exposure control. I often use ISO 400 as my base ISO when shooting macro, and if I want a narrower depth of field I simply open the aperture and lower the ISO (meaning I don’t have to fiddle with strobe powers). Here I increased ISO to 800 to help burn in the water color of these rock beauty angelfish spawning at dusk. Nikon D4 and 105mm lens. Subal ND4. 1/30th, f/10, ISO 800. Flash.