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Lens/Port recommendation for D800

nikon d800 lens port

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#1 Rommel

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Posted 14 May 2018 - 07:58 PM

Hello all,

 

While I'm an experienced terrestrial nature photographer, I am a complete novice with underwater so I could use some advice and the reasoning behind it.  Let me explain what I'm looking to do and the gear I have.

 

First of all, I'm photographing to print and print large.  I print on canvas and metal a lot of times 5' or larger.  With my terrestrial work, detail and sharpness has been one of the hallmarks of my work so it is imperative that I keep that as much as possible underwater.  I will be on a liveaboard trip mostly snorkeling for dolphins with a few dives added in the Bahamas in the next month and that is my primary concern right now.  After that I have short-term plans for sea turtles, alligators, and freshwater animals.  Eventually I'm sure I will move into macro, but for right now most of the work will be wide angle and with a good amount of over-under in the near future.

 

Budget is an issue as I just bought a camera and housing for underwater, will need a port/lens, and at the same time I am opening a gallery with my artwork.  On the other hand I need to capture images of the best quality to print large or else it doesn't do me any good to save money.  So my approach is to start with minimal gear needed to solve some of the initial situations and the increase the possibilities with additional gear in the future when budget becomes available.

 

I'm in the process of purchasing a used D800 with a Subal housing.  Keeping in mind the snorkeling with the dolphins, I'm thinking of starting with just a wide angle.  I'm considering both the Tokina 10-17mm and the Nikon 8-15mm.  I know the Tokina will only work from about 15-17mm without vignetting, but on the other hand the Nikon is really only either a 15mm or an 8mm and while the circular fisheye  images look cool viewed on a screen I'm not sure if they make an art print (please tell me otherwise for anyone who has printed these type of images large).  Also I have a D500 that the 10-17mm could work well with if a second housing was in my future but realistically that's won't happen for several years.  The image quality might be leaning me towards the Nikon even with 2x the price tag.  Any recommendations between these two in my situation?  Also, is this the right focal length I should be using with the dolphins or is another range better suited?

 

Without fully explaining my situation, ReefPhoto recommended a Zen DP-170 port.  The $1000 price tag is much nicer than the $1500 Subal DP-FE4, but 170mm is only 6.7" inches vs the 8" of the Subal port or the 9" of a Zen 230mm.  From reading Alex Mustard's Underwater Photography Masterclass I was under the impression that for wide angle shots a larger port is preferred for edge to edge sharpness and also for over-under work.

 

Last questions are regarding lighting.  I was considering trying to photograph with just ambient light since the depths will be shallow and I was thinking a bright sandy bottom would also reflect up a good amount of fill.  Secondly, no strobes would give less drag for moving with fast-moving dolphins.  Also, I know nothing about underwater strobes except from reading Alex Mustard's book and initial price checks look like it would add $1500+.  Is my image quality going to be lacking without strobes either in terms of color cast or unattractive shadows?  If I really should go for a strobe setup, would a single strobe be ok or are 2 necessary in this case for best results?  I know I will be getting strobes eventually but if it won't make much of a difference in this situation I'd be happy to delay the purchase until I know more of what I'm doing.

 

Thank you and sorry for the long post,

Robert



#2 TimG

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Posted 14 May 2018 - 09:32 PM

Hi Robert

I’ve done a bit of the type of dolphin shooting you are thinking of - in the Red Sea. This was snorkelling with a pod of dolphins moving at high speed around us.

As you suggest, because of the white sand reflectivity, strobes were not necessary - indeed they would have been a hinderence because of the additional bulk. Ambient light shooting worked well.

I’ve used the Tokina 10-17 a lot but not on the D800. I just didn’t like the result especially with the high resolution of the D800. If high quality is your goal, I don’t think you’ll find it with FX and the Tokina.

I found the Nikkor 16-35 worked well but, and it’s a big but, it needs a 230 dome (Alex’s point - and he’s right) to get sharp corners - and in the circumstances you want to shoot, I’d say that’s important. The animals move so fast, it’s really hard just to be able to compose in centre screen plus I think you’d want to be able to compose with tails at screen edges. And the 230 domes are costly. You’d also need a 90EXR (extension ring) and the zoom ring.

As is so often with uw photog, high quality imagery comes at a high price.

Tim
(PADI IDC Staff Instructor and former Dive Manager, KBR Lembeh Straits)
Nikon D500, Nikkors 105mm and 8-15mm, Tokina 10-17mm,  Subal housing

http://www.timsimages.uk
Latest images: http://www.shutterst...lery_id=1940957


#3 ChrigelKarrer

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Posted 15 May 2018 - 04:22 AM

I use the Sigma 15mm EX DG on my D800 in a Hugyfot housing and using the Hugyfot minidome.
I prefer this setup for traveling and price reasons, as a 20+ dome is simply too bulky and expensive for my needs.

The 15mm EX DG will do reasonable sharp corners at f/9, above the corners are sharp.
Main problem with rectilinear lenses is that you need to keep the camera perfectly horizontal to avoid bent seabed or surface.
The big backdraw of WA zoom lenses is that they need either a very big dome to ba able to zoom without soft corners, or a smaller dome, but
you can use the zoom lens only on a certain with without soft corners.
The Nikkor 16-35 f/4 is (even not a pro lens) a extreme sharp lens but as Tim wrote, very picky with the dome, as bigger the better.

In your case i would try to contact SUBAL and explain your needs, they will help you with their experience regarding the right lens/dome combination for their housings.

 

Chris


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#4 TimG

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Posted 15 May 2018 - 07:38 AM

I agree with Chris that the Signa 15mm works well and can be vet cost effective as it’s relatively inexpensive and you can use a much smaller dome.

My experience is though it’s too wide for photographing something like dolphins. Wrecks, divers, fan corals where you can close, great. But not, generally, dolphins.

Tim
(PADI IDC Staff Instructor and former Dive Manager, KBR Lembeh Straits)
Nikon D500, Nikkors 105mm and 8-15mm, Tokina 10-17mm,  Subal housing

http://www.timsimages.uk
Latest images: http://www.shutterst...lery_id=1940957


#5 davehicks

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Posted 15 May 2018 - 01:45 PM

I agree with Chris that the Signa 15mm works well and can be vet cost effective as it’s relatively inexpensive and you can use a much smaller dome.

My experience is though it’s too wide for photographing something like dolphins. Wrecks, divers, fan corals where you can close, great. But not, generally, dolphins.

 

+1 Votes for the excellent Sigma 15mm FE. 

 

In response to the above comment about it being too wide - can use this lens very successfully with a Kenko 1.4 teleconverter to get a bit more reach.  Use the same dome port and add the appropriate extension ring for your setup.  (20mm ring probably)  This gives you two setup options (ie 15mm & 22mm) with very little extra bulk or weight.

 

I actually prefer this combo for blue water big creature encounters such as Mantas, Dolphins, Sharks.  I also used this recently for very FAST moving Steller SeaLions up in British Columbia.  The Sigma15 + 1.4 TC shooting at F11, 1/1000s, ISO2000 in an 8 inch dome produced some fantastic images.


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#6 TimG

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Posted 15 May 2018 - 09:00 PM

+1 Votes for the excellent Sigma 15mm FE. 
 
In response to the above comment about it being too wide - can use this lens very successfully with a Kenko 1.4 teleconverter to get a bit more reach.  Use the same dome port and add the appropriate extension ring for your setup.  (20mm ring probably)  This gives you two setup options (ie 15mm & 22mm) with very little extra bulk or weight.
 
I actually prefer this combo for blue water big creature encounters such as Mantas, Dolphins, Sharks.  I also used this recently for very FAST moving Steller SeaLions up in British Columbia.  The Sigma15 + 1.4 TC shooting at F11, 1/1000s, ISO2000 in an 8 inch dome produced some fantastic images.

Dave, do you think theyd print to the quality/size Roberts needs?

Tim
(PADI IDC Staff Instructor and former Dive Manager, KBR Lembeh Straits)
Nikon D500, Nikkors 105mm and 8-15mm, Tokina 10-17mm,  Subal housing

http://www.timsimages.uk
Latest images: http://www.shutterst...lery_id=1940957


#7 JamesR

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Posted 16 May 2018 - 02:23 PM

I have made prints 20x40 (iirc) taken with a D800 and D810 with the Sigma 15 + Kenko 1.4x which I think look quite good, and more importantly were well received by their new owners.

 

If helpful: Nauticam housing, 20mm extension, zen 170mm dome.


Edited by JamesR, 16 May 2018 - 02:24 PM.

-James
 

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#8 davehicks

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Posted 16 May 2018 - 04:20 PM

Dave, do you think theyd print to the quality/size Roberts needs?

 

Yes.  As long as you are not cropping too much before the print you should have no problems.  I routinely print 30 or 36 inch prints even with some cropping and it looks amazing.  I always use photoshop to resize my print ready RAW -> JPG conversions to 300PPI @ the target dimensions for best results.


Edited by davehicks, 16 May 2018 - 04:22 PM.

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#9 Rommel

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Posted 16 May 2018 - 05:34 PM

Thanks everyone for the advice.  I really appreciate it, particularly with the explanation behind the recommendations.  As painful as it was, I went ahead with both a Nikon 16-35 and a Sigma 15FE and plan on getting a Zen 230mm port (+ext for the 16-35).  I won't have a 1.4x for this trip, but it should give me enough options to deal with the situation.  I was leaning towards the 16-35 after Tim's explanation and with knowing how some zoom flexibility can really help composing very fast moving wildlife on land.  While I often find fisheyes can look a bit gimmicky, I do really like the look of a lot of cetacean imagery taken with fisheyes that I've studied lately - I feel it compliments their graceful curves and the lack of horizons and straight lines makes the distortion less obvious.  Plus I also felt the 15mm FE has some possibilities for some future astro imagery I have in mind.

 

Any advice on white balance in this shallow, available light situation?  Is shooting auto and correcting in post going to give great results or should I try and set a custom white balance?  Would something like the Magic Filters give better results or is this not deep enough to matter?

 

I'm eager to experience both white balance in water and to see how the speed of dolphins compares with some of the fastest terrestrial/aerial wildlife.

 

Robert



#10 PeteAtkinson

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Posted 16 May 2018 - 08:55 PM

White balance makes no difference when you are shooting raw. You need shutter speeds faster than a strobe will synch, so forget strobes with dolphins most of the time. I like 1/640th for shutter speed, but that will often mean your ISO will be about 640 too. Forget Magic Filters for this use. (But there are a lot of people on here with more experience at this than I have...)



#11 TimG

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Posted 16 May 2018 - 09:22 PM

White balance makes no difference when you are shooting raw. You need shutter speeds faster than a strobe will synch, so forget strobes with dolphins most of the time. I like 1/640th for shutter speed, but that will often mean your ISO will be about 640 too. Forget Magic Filters for this use. (But there are a lot of people on here with more experience at this than I have...)

Yep, I agree with Pete. I use no strobes, Auto white balance, RAW and a high shutter speed. If using the 16-35 no less than f11 for best corner sharpness.

I can sure appreciate Roberts point about using an FE for getting those nice curves. I guess it depends how close yiu can get. My experience has been that dolphins move so fast that you just have to rattle off pics and it can be really hard, almost impossible, to really frame and compose. So a zooom was really helpful. But theres a fair bit of luck involved!

Tim
(PADI IDC Staff Instructor and former Dive Manager, KBR Lembeh Straits)
Nikon D500, Nikkors 105mm and 8-15mm, Tokina 10-17mm,  Subal housing

http://www.timsimages.uk
Latest images: http://www.shutterst...lery_id=1940957






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