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First trip with Fuji F810/Ikelite

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#1 tie


    Moray Eel

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Posted 07 September 2005 - 12:37 AM

First trip with Fuji F810/Ikelite

Here are some notes on a ten-day trip to the Big Island of Hawaii, with eight boat dives and snorkeling every day save one. I highly recommend snorkeling on the Kona coast.

About the housing:
- The housing is much larger than some of the manufacturer housings out there, but very manageable.
- I lost the flash diffuser the first time out -- should have followed Chris's advice. The diffuser did work well and is absolutely necessary to avoid flash shadow from the lens port, particularly for close-up shots. (Positioning the diffuser horizontally gave vastly underexposed shots, probably because too much light reflected off the diffuser into the flash sensor; a vertical orientation worked much better.) Therefore I used plastic soup lids from the local ATA supermarket as a substitute. They worked very well, with optimal results when held at the far end of the lens port, tilted towards the subject. (I ended up using two stacked lids held out; four stacked lids gave similar results at the near end of the lens port. The diffusers also help in bringing down flash intensity for macro shots.)
- I found that the camera needs to be positioned very carefully within the housing. If it is screwed in too tightly, then the mode selector dial will not turn well. (Until I figured this out, it was the cause of endless frustration, since I change frequently between manual [for close-up flash shots] and aperture priority modes [for ambient-light shots, or flash shots with ambient-lit background], and occasionally use the movie mode. When I had trouble turning the dial, I got it to aperture priority and left it there, setting exposure compensation to between -2/3 and -2 stops for flash shots.) On the other hand, if the camera is screwed in too losely, then the important menu down button will not engage. The solution is to screw the camera in moderately tightly and test both controls before going in the water. Another problem arises then because the camera is slightly loose: the flash spring release will not engage. The easy solution is to press the C-AF button to brace the camera from the opposite side while releasing the flash.
- One small, rare gotcha: It is easy to turn the control for the F button (for ISO adjustment) past the button. This can sometimes make the F button get stuck down, rendering all other buttons unresponsive. If this happens, then just jiggle the F button so it releases.

About the camera:
- Use freshly charged batteries. The first time I went out with a battery that had been fully charged three weeks earlier, and it must have discharged in the meantime because I only got 26 shots out of it. The battery life was always rather poor. I always switched batteries between dives and often still came close to running out (particularly on a night dive when I had a little less attention to spare to managing battery life). While snorkeling I did run out of batteries several times.
- The RAW write time is awfully slow. I missed lots of shots due to the glacial RAW write time with a 1 GB card. It also threw off my timing for other things: After finishing one shot, I like to immediately prepare the camera for the next shot (restoring generic settings, then perhaps turning the LCD off or the camera off). But the camera is completely unresponsive while writing a RAW file, so I basically had to wait on the camera even if I didn't need to take a shot immediately. On the last time out, I used a 512 MB card and it was so much nicer. I think I should probably have purchased two or three 512 MB cards and swapped them along with the batteries, as JTemple and Kelvin have suggested.
- There is a slight dark spot on my sensor; I might send the camera in to Fuji to be cleaned. On most photos, it is not noticable and easily corrected anyway. But it is extremely noticable in movies because it stays fixed in place. Is there a way to apply, say, 10% lightening to a specific area of every frame of a movie (on a Mac), with minimal lossiness?

And the camera/housing setup in general:
- For flash close-up shots, I typically shot in manual, with shutter speed at or above 1/1000 (doesn't matter) and aperture set according to subject distance. (For close-up subjects use f8 for maximal depth-of-field. For subjects maybe a foot or two away, open up to maybe f5.6 because the internal strobe isn't strong enough otherwise.) With the diffuser positioned properly, there is usually no need to set flash exposure compensation, but special cases of course arise. I mostly shot ISO 100 for the slight bump in effective flash strength this gives, but occasionally (when I had time to play with settings) dropped to ISO 80.
- I have never used the movie mode above water, but surprisingly used it a number of times underwater. I typically used it to capture a dynamic scene perhaps a fair distance away for which a photo wouldn't come out. For example, when a manta happened to swim by, I switched to movie mode and just panned approximately. I couldn't see the manta on the LCD so the one photo I would have been able to take (remember 9 seconds between RAW shots) would have been hit-or-miss and not a fantastic photo anyway (manta was too far away). Anyway, instead of wasting time setting up the camera for an ambient-light shot (switch to aperture priority, turn camera off and on again to disable flash, check that exposure compensation is neutral), I wanted to just enjoy the moment even as I was capturing it. A quick movie is also a good way to capture the feel of a snorkeling site, better than photos. The movies are of poor quality -- the more complicated the background the more compression is applied -- but are quite fun. Of course, editing movies in post is challenging (too many decisions to be made).
- If there are any particulates in the water, and you are some distance from your subject (say a turtle), then don't bother with the flash as backscatter will ruin the shot. Use an open aperture in aperture priority instead. If there are any particulates in the water and you are close to the subject, take several shots and often one will come out with less backscatter.
- Overall it worked quite well, and the photos came out about as expected. Most aren't very good, many (most?) are slightly out-of-focus, but I at least documented my dives. Some technical limitations obviously (particularly slow RAW and poor battery life -- which have a fairly direct relationship to shot quality -- and better high ISO capability would have been useful), and gear limitations (no external flash or macro/wide-angle adapters). Having shot with no-flash disposable cameras for several years, I really appreciated the flash and close-focus capabilities, and the ability to immediately review a shot and its histogram. Many photographic limitations on my part. I'm very happy with both the camera and the housing.

- A CC30R filter, simply held in front of the lens, seemed to work rather well when there was maybe a 10 foot light path through the water, but it wasn't really strong enough for some snorkeling and all diving. I kept the filter between two plastic soup lids for protection between shots, since it is fragile. The filter was very cheap to experiment with (<$10), and I'll buy a stronger one next time. Since a filter costs in exposure, it would probably work better on a better camera (film or DSLR) which can handle higher ISO speeds.

Postprocessing lesson:
- All my underwater shots were shot RAW. Photoshop CS2 is an awesome program. I was using the 30 day trial instead of s7raw in VirtualPC, and I'm sold.

Some of my photos and stills from movies:
(All photos are uncropped and have only gone through RAW conversion followed by resize/resharpen. Some IDs are uncertain. More here.)

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-DSCF2365: Pustulose phyllidia (nudibranch) with unidentified hydroids, Turtle Pinnacle

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-DSCF2368: large Blackside hawkfish, Turtle Pinnacle

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-DSCF2467: Dwarf moray, diving Naya Point

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-DSCF2486: Leaf scorpionfish, Garden Eel Cove

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-DSCF2490: Banded coral shrimp, Garden Eel Cove

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-DSCF2496: unidentified (large-scale?) Soldierfish, night dive at Manta Ray Heaven (night name for Garden Eel Cove dive site off the airport)
No mantas were seen (we went to see them at the Sheraton Keauhou the next day), but still an interesting dive.

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-DSCF2521: Undulated moray catching Lavendar tang, Manta Ray Heaven
I got a few shots from this sequence (hunt, catch, bang against rock, swallow), but the long RAW wait times hampered me, and I was getting warnings on the battery.

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-DSCF2540: Triton's trumpet eating Cushion star, Makaiwa Bay

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-DSCF2567: Undulated moray, Wash Rock

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-DSCF2569.avi still: Manta ray

Comments, criticisms, and IDs are very welcome. I won't be back to Hawaii till next year (if I don't freeze in Monterrey in the meantime).

(I'm cross-posting this on digitaldiver and wetpixel.)

#2 Arnon_Ayal


    Sperm Whale

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Posted 11 September 2005 - 10:48 PM

Good review and nice photos.
Seems that the battery life and the RAW writing time are really problematic issue with that camera that other then that looks very good.
Arnon Ayal www.arnonayal.com
Nikon D200, Ikelite housing, Dual SB105.

#3 tie


    Moray Eel

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Posted 13 September 2005 - 11:49 AM

Thanks. Yup, that's certainly the achilles heel of this otherwise great camera.

#4 Cybergoldfish


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Posted 22 September 2005 - 04:51 AM

- Overall it worked quite well, and the photos came out about as expected. Most aren't very good, many (most?) are slightly out-of-focus, but I at least documented my dives. Some technical limitations obviously (particularly slow RAW and poor battery life -- which have a fairly direct relationship to shot quality.

Many photographic limitations on my part. I'm very happy with both the camera and the housing.

Having used this camera for over a year now I have to disagree with your first statement.
The only technical limitations addressable to this camera (as is) are those associated with the button pusher (that's not a personal attack - you're doing great).
The important thing about this camera (dispite misconceptions around battery life and over emphasis on slow RAW writing times on the 1 Gb Xd card) is the quality of the imager... It's as good or better as anything out there. Yes, certain limitations are reflected in the cost as to post processing or handling image noise onboard that you'd expect in a DSLR, but this can be handled successfully in post processing - Taking time, but not too much!
Regarding battery life - I shoot with the 1 Gb cards, my dives average 100 minutes, rare if the battery fails even in a Lembeh environment.

I consider it to be an F16 among cameras - Technically inferior to a 119, but will still outfly the pilot...

I whole heartedly recommend you get a strobe soon, you'll never look back :)

Posted Image

Full frame using Inon macro's via the optional AD adapter available from Ike Brigham

More Here Wet Bit

#5 Ryan


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Posted 22 September 2005 - 01:06 PM

I'd love to hear more about misconceptions about battery life. I am a fairly frugal picture taker, and I couldn't make the f810's battery last 2 dives. I can get more than 4 from a Canon S70 or Olympus 5060, so I see this as an issue.

I won't argue w/ the quality of the imager, but printing is the true test, not posting to web galleris, and I've seen great stuff from all three.

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#6 tie


    Moray Eel

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Posted 26 September 2005 - 11:58 AM

In terms of battery life, it was not typically a problem on dives as long as I switched batteries after every dive. I always felt pressured on battery life, that I had to conserve shots. But maybe I was too paranoid; in fact the only dive on which I actually ran out of batteries was the night dive (on which I wasn't turning the LCD off and so on for maximum conservation). For snorkeling, I ran out of batteries all the time before I wanted to go in.

I used third-party batteries as well as the official batteries; I didn't notice any difference but I didn't do any rigorous tests either. However, I only used the camera to charge the batteries. I've noticed that often the camera will stop charging, but if you unplug it then plug it back in, it will resume charging. I am not sure what causes this, but probably a dedicated charger would work better. Battery life topside can be highly variable; I've gotten as many as 160 shots in hot weather (including transfering images to a laptop), and as few as 35 shots in cold weather (but after warming the camera up, there was still life for another 35 shots).

I don't know that RAW write time has been overemphasized. An unresponsive camera is annoying! I myself bought the camera just when 1GB XD cards were coming out and I expected full compatibility, not half-speed compatibility. The slow speed was an unpleasant surprise.

In terms of image quality, I see significant chromatic aberration on all my close-up macro shots (without an adapter, macro is shot at the widest angle, which is probably where CA is worst). (Some of this is perhaps due to the housing, but there is also some CA in topside macros.) Photoshop CS2 cleans this up mostly (the second fringing control almost always needs to be pushed to 100%, though — is this normal?). I printed a couple of 8x10s (with significant PS processing) and they look very good to me. Noise was for the most part not a problem (none is really visible in the prints, but on the other hand I could have applied a little more sharpening had there been less noise in the digital files). There is a spot on the sensor (or somewhere inside the lens), which shows up in the sky in topside shots and is very noticeable in movies, but you'll never find it otherwise. Perhaps I should send the camera in for cleaning. I'm a critical person, but I'm very happy with image quality.