(Excerpted from my Y&P trip report. In all serious, learn from my mistakes.)
HELLO & GOODBYE TO THE D750
I have been wanting to upgrade my Nikon D200 for some time and decided that on this trip, especially since we were doing both Yap & Palau, that I’d make the leap to the D750. This meant not only investing in the camera itself ($2500 including the tax) but also required purchasing a new Ikelite housing (another $1800).
The camera and housing were really great in Yap. I can’t say enough good things about them (especially when coupled with my dual Sea&Sea YS-D1 strobes). I was really happy with the quality of the images I was getting and I thought the white balance on the D750 was far superior to that of the D200. Specially, the white underbelly of mantas looked white on the D750, whereas they had a bluish cast on the D200 that I couldn’t seem to get rid of.
But there is that old underwater photographic adage of, “It’s not IF you’ll flood your camera but WHEN.” My “when” came in Palau on the first dive of our second day at Blue Hole. It was definitely user error. I didn’t notice that one of the three clamps that secures the back of the housing to the main housing body hadn’t latched. I can’t recall if I didn’t latch it the night before and just forgot to check it, or if I was talking to people Tuesday morning and wasn't paying 100% attention to what I was doing. Regardless, it’s on me.
It’s also rather depressing how quickly a camera housing fills with water. There’s frequently not a lot you can do. My camera was handed down to me from the skiff and I started kicking on the surface towards the shallow top entrance to Blue Hole. This all took less than 60 seconds. I had just started down when I glanced at the camera and noticed a bubble. That didn’t seem right. Then I realized that the bubble was INSIDE the now-blank LCD top display of the camera. That also didn’t seem right but I didn’t notice any other water inside the housing. Then I realized that the reason for that was that the entire housing had filled with water so there were no visible bubbles inside. And that's also when I noticed the not-caught latch. (The bubble I was seeing was actually an AIR bubble trapped inside the camera itself.)
I immediately knew the camera was toast. Nikon has told me over the years that, especially with the all-electronic cameras, there’s so much stuff deep inside that they'd have to rebuild the camera to mitigate the damage (usually more expensive than just buying another camera of the same model) and even then they couldn’t guarantee that some water hadn't gotten into some deep recess that they couldn’t find and the ensuing corrosion would short something out six months down the road. So it ends up that replacing the camera, not repairing it, is the safest and recommended solution.
Knowing all this, I stopped my descent, surfaced, and kicked back to the boat as quickly as I could, handed the camera back up, and watched helplessly as a steady stream of water literally poured out of the inside. There was nothing else I could do at that point so I went on and made the dive.
I sat out the next dive to give myself time to see if there was anything I could salvage and if there was any visible damage to the housing or the camera lens. The housing seems fine but I’ll probably have to send it back to Ikelite to check the metal electrical/strobe cables to make sure there’s no hidden corrosion.
The lens also has some water in it. It’s my beloved 28-105 macro that Nikon no longer makes and which I felt was a great lens to use with the D750. I’ve already been to Nikon here in L.A. and they’ve told me that both the camera and lens are bbeyond repiar. But I’ve also discovered a number of these 28-105 lenses on eBay so I guess that’s my only option.
And for those of you thinking “Well at least he has insurance on all of this” . . . uh, no, I don’t. I had been insured with DEPP but they went out of business a while back and because I only got this setup literally the week before we left, I had looked into insurance but never got around to getting any. I mean, what are the odds that something could go wrong???? Lesson learned and an expensive one. In my case, the “D” in “D750” stands for “Drowned.”
The lessons for any of you who are fellow photogs – aside from buy the insurance right away – are to get some protocols and procedures down for how you hook up your camera and then follow them to the letter. In my case, I think I may have violated my standard procedures in one of two ways.
If the night before I didn’t fully hook things back up and just figured I snap the latches in the morning, that was a big error. I counsel people to never turn their air off once the regulator is hooked up because you don’t wasn’t it to look like it’s ready to go dive when it’s not. The same principle applies to cameras. Don’t leave them in a state where they look like they’re ready to go underwater but they’re not. Either fully seal everything up or leave it in such an obvious state of not-ready-to-dive (port off camera, camera not in housing, whatever) that it would be impossible to assume it’s ready to go.
If my mistake was made in the morning, then it was because I allowed myself to become distracted from the task at hand. My rule of thumb is that I don't talk to anyone else while I’m assembling the camera and I know I violated that that morning. It means I wasn't fully concentrating on the camera. I had snapped the down camera back latch but what I failed to notice was that the pin in the snap had popped over the latch and hadn’t really caught. So the latch itself was flat and locked but not connected to the camera back and that left that corner open which allowed the water to rush in. Had I not been Chatty Cathy that morning, I likely would have caught that and the flood wouldn’t have happened.
So while it was a sad day, all was not lost because I had another (brand new) camera with me which was my GoPro Hero4 Black. At the risk of making this a camera report rather than a trip report, let me share some thoughts with you on that.
GOPRO AS A VIDEO CAMERA
In a word: Excellent.
I had previously shot with a Hero2 and it seems to me that results from the Hero4 are much better. The video is crisp and lifelike and you can choose between four lens angle/lengths: Superview, Wide, Medium, and Narrow. You can vary the resolution from 4K down to VGA (I shot everything at HD 1080P 60fps). You can vary frame rate, you can play with the white balance and color temperature, the display on the back of the camera (I added on the full-color monitor) is much-improved over the Hero2, and the battery life seems to be better as well. On the Hero2, I’d kill a battery (with the monitor running at all times) in a little under an hour. With the Hero4, I still had juice at the end of an hourlong dive.
I shot video every day and assembled some edited videos over the course of the trip. I was really happy with the quality of each of them and would call the Hero4 Black a huge hit if you’d like a small camera that can produce some high-quality video. (I did think the Superview gave too much of a fisheye look and didn’t use that at all.) I assembled the videos in Windows Live Movie Maker which as limitations, but was good for a quick-and-dirty edit.
And because I also used it as a still camera, a few thoughts on that.
GOPRO AS A STILL CAMERA
In a phrase: Not-so-good.
I was able to get some very good pictures from the GoPro, as you’ll see when you look through the SmugMug slide show of the trip. But the still picture ability of the camera is spotty at best and there are numerous limitations you need to learn to work around. And I find it puzzling that a camera that can consistently produce such wonderful, crisp video shots, can’t do the same consistently in Photo mode.
The first thing I noticed, based on the EXIF information, is that the aperture is fixed at f2.8. Although this would seem to limit depth-of-field, it doesn’t as far as I can tell. Objects from about a foot out to infinity seemed to my eye to be in focus.
But with such a wide lens opening, you’d also think you’d get fairly fast shutter speeds to help freeze the action. Not so. I rarely got anything faster than 1/30 and frequently got speeds as slow as 1/3. Underwater, even though the lens is short (EXIF data says it’s a 3mm lens with a 35mm equivalent of 15mm in Wide and 20mm in Medium), it’s almost impossible to hold the camera that steady underwater, especially if you’re suspended mid-water, and that meant a lot of shots were blurry due to camera movement or subject movement or both.
The camera will also alter ISO at the same time and while you would think it would give you a high ISO to allow for a faster shutter speed, that doesn’t seem to be the case. In fact, it seemed to want to leave the shutter speed fairly slow and raises the ISO to account for differences in light levels. I’d rather it was the other way around.
The final issue I had with it as a still camera is that there is no option for Narrow. Your only choices are Wide (12MP and 7MP) or Medium (7MP or 5MP). It’s fairly impossible to shoot anything small. For the shots I got of a yellow Leaf Scorpionfish, I had to have the camera maybe 6 inches away from him (with a +10 macro lens on) and then you run the risk of going closer than the minimum focus distance for the camera.
So overall, better than nothing, but a fairly difficult camera to use for stills with many limitations that affect what subjects you can shoot and how you can shoot them. In short, it’s a lot of work and planning/thinking to get an acceptable picture. And much more work than it ought to be for a camera that’s basically pitched as point-and-shoot.
I've finally gotten everything up on our Reef Seekers website (as well as SmugMug and YouTube) and it's ready for your dining and dancing pleasure, including the sad tale of the D750 flood. Here ya go: