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SimonPierce

Wide-Angle Settings for the Sony A7rIII

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Hi all,

I've written up a detailed article with my current settings and general tips for using the Sony A7rIII (in a Nauticam housing) for wide-angle with the Canon 8-15 mm fisheye.

This was my first full-frame camera, and I've had quite the learning curve with it, so I'm hoping that the article might (a) save people some time, and (b) help to gather some additional tips I can use when we're allowed outside again...

The full article, and photos, are here:

https://naturetripper.com/underwater-wide-angle-photography/

I've copied over the main (relevant) text below:

Shooting in natural light

These settings are still tuned for the 100 mm Zen fisheye dome port that I was using until the end of 2019.

When I’m shooting large, slow marine animals, such as whale sharks, in good ambient light near the surface, my standard settings are 1/250 sec and f/8, in manual mode, with Auto ISO (base 100, maximum 3,200) and -1.0 exposure compensation to help protect my highlights.

I use a High frame rate (8 shots per second) and continuous autofocus (AF-C). I’ve set “Priority Set in AF-C: Release” to minimize the lag time when I mash the shutter lever; the autofocus is normally fast, and I use “Lock-on: Wide” most of the time.

Ideally, I’d probably use f/9 or f/10 for improved corners with the small 100 mm dome port. However, the A7rIII is limited to f/8 or wider aperture values to maintain phase-detect autofocus in continuous shooting mode. At f/9, for instance, it will stay focused at the same distance that focus was initially achieved. Not useful when an animal is approaching you. It’s fine if you’re just taking photos one at a time (as I do when shooting with strobes, below), rather than shooting in bursts.

I use compressed raw files if I’m expecting any kind of fast action. I don’t notice any loss of quality in real-world shooting. What I do notice is that uncompressed raw files are ~82 MB in size, so the camera can’t keep up 8 fps for long – about 28 photos – when it’s moving that much data, and the buffer takes approximately 14 seconds to clear. This feels like an eternity sometimes! The reduced file size from compressed raw increases the buffer depth (to around 76 photos) so I can keep shooting instead of swearing vigorously through my snorkel.

You’ll need a UHS-II SD card to help with that, too. I use a 256 GB ProGrade card.

I don’t often change these settings. If I’m on a scientific expedition then I’m often taking photos of other researchers at work, so I’d rather be able to focus on composition – and trying to keep up! On that topic, I also want to have a secure hold on the camera, and adding a hand strap to the handle helps a lot with that.

I’ll increase the shutter speed for fast-swimming animals, like dolphins and sea lions, where I can get away with it. Obviously I’ll also decrease the shutter speed (or aperture) in low light if I absolutely have to.

Auto ISO is super helpful, particularly with Sony’s great sensor. I have no problem using ISO 3,200 underwater; I’ll just add minor noise reduction in Lightroom afterward if necessary.

As an aside, I’ve been (metaphorically) diving into the confusing subject of ISO invariance and my understanding is that, above dual gain kicking in at ISO 640, the A7rIII is effectively just increasing brightness. There’s an argument, then, for setting Auto ISO to 100–640 when using manual settings (as above). and adjusting the exposure in Lightroom later. That should then optimize data capture while protecting highlights. Good in theory. However, I tried this with whale sharks in Tanzania and found that – in dark conditions (rain, or early mornings) – the autofocus struggled a lot more than usual. I’ll stick to Auto ISO with 100-3,200 in the future.

I used ambient light for wide-angle photography a lot in Galapagos last season, as we were also filming, and I didn’t want my strobe flashes to ruin the shot. It’s often dark over there, either because of overcast skies or deeper dives (often both), so I’d commonly drop down my shutter speed to 1/160 sec to reduce ISO levels a bit.

 Shooting with strobes

I’ve got a fairly simple process when I’m shooting wide-angle.

1. I “fix” my aperture at a setting that should get me reasonably sharp corners, often f/11.
2. I choose a shutter speed that will freeze the motion of whatever subject I’m planning to photograph, often starting at 1/125 sec.
3. I’ll check what ISO I need to get a nice background exposure (using “Shot. Result Preview”, as described below).
4. Then, I adjust my strobe(s) power to add some nice light to the foreground, depending on what I want to shoot and (especially) the distance from the subject. I usually test things out when I first get to the bottom, by photographing a rock or coral, then I can start looking for interesting critters.

It’s easiest to do all that in manual mode so that I can easily work out what I need to change. Background too light or dark? Change ISO or shutter speed. I find it easiest to change shutter speed for quick background exposure corrections, as that doesn’t affect the strobe lighting on the foreground. Increasing ISO, or dropping aperture, will increase perceived strobe output – or vice versa.

My “jump” settings are normally 1/125 sec, f/11 and ISO 200 (in Manual mode). I’ve set the AEL button to ISO so it’s easily accessible on the housing. I’ll often adjust exposure using ISO until that hits around 640 (see my note on ISO invariance above). At that point, I’ll start reducing shutter speed or aperture (if it gets really dark, or if I decide corner sharpness isn’t a big deal).

I shoot in uncompressed raw when I’m shooting with strobes, as I’m only taking one shot at a time, and set Auto Review to 2 seconds so I can check exposure.

I quite like the cool motion blur you get from rear sync flash and slow shutter speeds, particularly at either end of the day when the light is poor, so I’ve got flash mode programmed to my C3 button on the left side of the housing so I can change it easily. I normally use Fill Flash, with the strobes set to 22, as my initial setting.

I use dual Sea & Sea YS-D2 strobes (now superseded by the YS-D2J) with Eneloop Pro batteries, a Sony flash trigger, and Nauticam optical sync cables. Note that YS-D2s previously weren’t compatible with the flash trigger, and some shops still list this on their sites, but they are compatible with the most recent Nauticam optical sync cables. I often use Glow Dive diffusers on the YS-D2s, which work well but definitely reduce the light output, or the 120º diffusers that come with the strobes.

The strobes (and camera) are normally fine for about three dives before I have to charge the batteries.

One of the great things about shooting mirrorless is the “what you see is what you get” when using the EVF or LCD. However, it’s helpful to switch this off (“Live View Display: Setting Effect OFF“) when shooting with strobes. Otherwise, the screen can be too dark to compose a shot easily.

Of course, you do want to see how your exposure settings are affecting your background, and there’s a neat way to accomplish this: program your AF-ON button (accessed via the thumb lever on the Nauticam housing to “AF-ON Button: Shot. Result Preview“. That means you can quickly check your ambient light exposure by just pressing your thumb, rather than taking a photo and checking it. (Of course, that only works if you’re using shutter-linked autofocus.)

I’ve been playing around with automating my exposure settings more. When we’re working with whale sharks in the Galapagos, in particular, we’re changing depth and, with it, ambient lighting level at a speed that I find difficult to keep up with (while kicking madly to keep up with a bus-sized fish). I’ve trialed using Auto ISO and negative exposure compensation – conveniently accessed via a dial on the housing – and that works quite well, as long as I keep an eye on the background exposure (using the thumb lever with Shot. Result Preview, as above). I still have to make adjustments, but it does get it approximately right in a hurry. I normally start with -1.0 exposure compensation and adjust it from there.

Camera settings for all occasions

I’m often shooting one-handed, as noted above, so I use shutter-linked autofocus.

I’ve got the “Pwr Save Start Time” – i.e., camera sleep time – set to one minute. I don’t turn the camera off while I’m in the water, so this conserves battery during lulls.

I set my white balance to “Cloudy”. That adds a slight warming effect to underwater images to help counter the blue-green ocean (though I’ll usually adjust white balance slightly in Lightroom anyway).

I use “Multi” metering so the camera is considering the whole frame (though I’m often shooting in manual anyway). The default setting is for exposure to be locked while the shutter is depressed. I’ve switched that off (“AEL w/shutter: Off“) so the camera is continuously evaluating the scene even when I’m shooting a burst of images.

The “Creative Style” on the camera, applied to the embedded jpegs in the raw files, is set to Standard. I always post-process my photos in Lightroom so I don’t want the camera to be adding its own edits.

I find it all too easy to bump settings in the boat or water, so I disable any buttons that I’m unlikely to be using.

A few more miscellaneous notes:

– I set Auto Review to 2 Sec, so I can check things by eye when required.
– I set Drive Mode to Single Shooting with strobes. Otherwise, the strobes seem to get out of sync due to minor variations in recycle times.
– It’s easy to accidentally hit the movie lever. I normally switch that off and use a GoPro for video.

I’ve set my defaults to the MR 1 dial position, which saves most things, except shutter-linked autofocus and other button customizations.

Hope the above is useful – I’m still working things out as I go, but I do love the functionality and customization opportunities with the Sony A7rIII, and how the Nauticam housing lets me access key options quickly and easily.

Any questions or suggestions? I'd love to hear from you!

Simon.

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Thank you for the detailed description.

The 8 - 15 mm Canon fisheye on the Sony allows you to switch from circular fisheye to 180 degree diagonal fisheye. I did not see circular fisheye images in the link to the magazine. I assume you use the lens entirely at 15mm, so a 15mm prime lens would have been adequate (?).

Did you check, whether a 2x teleconverter (e.g. the new Kenko with high quality), that allows to zoom in from 180 degree diagonal to the real WA range (up to 85 degree diagonal), is working, i.e. good enough in IQ and also AF?

 

Wolfgang

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Posted (edited)

Hi Wolfgang,

Thanks, and that's correct – I haven't used the 8 mm end of the zoom. From what I could ascertain online the Canon 8-15 mm seemed like the best IQ fisheye option for Sony when I bought the setup (in 2018), and I thought maybe I'd find the circular shots of use occasionally. I've certainly seen nice photos from other people here on the forums.

I haven't used a teleconverter on the lens, but the resolution on the A7rIII is rather helpful for cropping sometimes! A teleconverter with a built-in adapter would be fantastic, if it existed. I've got a Nikonos 15 mm on the Sony adapter to use as a regular wide-angle option (manual focus of course), but I haven't had a chance to try it out yet.

Simon. 

Edited by SimonPierce

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Hi Simon,

Thanks for the article. I have been mulling a change in my setup (from Sony Nex-7) to the A7RIII, a plan that's on hold until we can figure out when world travel, and scuba trips, can resume.. I was planning to use the Sony/Zeiss 16-35 F4, and I hope you could give me some advise about which of the two (16-35 vs the much wider 8-15 that you chose) you would prefer in general. In my mind, the trade-off is that with the fisheye, I have to live with the idea that all photos I take will have that look.. whereas with the other, i would get most photos relatively rectilinear, except with really big fish close up..

Thanks!

Ajay

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Hi Ajay,

No worries! And yes, I definitely empathise on the travel front. 

I'm sure either would work well, and hopefully other people that have experience with both can offer their thoughts. I think it'll depend a lot on what you prefer to / intend to shoot, but I guess I'd say you can crop in with a fisheye, but you can't crop out ;)

One of the reasons I originally went for the A7rIII over the A7III was because I was thinking I'd effectively have (1) a 42 MP fisheye, and (2) a ~18 MP "rectilinear" wide-angle (about 14 mm equivalent I think) with the same setup, by using APS-C mode. In practice, I've ended up just cropping in post when needed, rather than using the in-camera "digital zoom".

I had an Olympus E-M1 camera previously, and used both the Panasonic 8 mm fisheye and Panasonic 7-14 wide-angle a lot. I found that the fisheye was a better fit for me personally. However, it's important to note here that I'm a whale shark / manta ray researcher, so that work has a large influence on my lens selection (and dive destination choices).

One thing to consider is that the 16-35 mm will perform best behind a large dome port, which can be (even more) painful to travel with, whereas a fisheye will work well behind a 140 mm dome. It's also easy to "defish" the look of a photo by using the manual "lens correction" tool in Lightroom or Camera Raw in Photoshop.

Of course, it'd be a lot simpler if Sony had a native fisheye option! The fact that the 8-15 mm is an expensive lens, and then requires an adapter too, makes it a tougher sell for sure. Sorry I can't give a more definitive answer...

Best,

Simon.

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The Nauticam A7riii housing is wonderful. I’m not a Sony fan in the least but that housing is tiny compared to any other full frame sensor housing. With careful port/lens selection, it travels about as easily as a mft’s system and if you choose the Nikonos 15, it is tiny and incredibly capable.

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Thanks Simon, your thoughts are very useful indeed!

Dear Akoni, I have heard you (above) and several other knowledgeable folks on this forum say either that they don't like Sony cams. Typical reasons I hear are (a) poor UI of the menu (b) poor skin tone on humans. Personally, I have found myself unable to distinguish subtle color differences among these good cameras, and I have just loved the two-wheel design of the Nex-7 (unfortunately abandoned by Sony) that allows really rapid change in [aperture, time] in manual mode. I wonder if you can share your opinion about Sony cameras? I do know some folks like the fast focusing of advanced Nikons, but I'm just not inclined to carry the much larger 850/800 type cams, nor do I like the kludgy adapters required for the new Z6/7.

Thanks

Ajay.

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Ajay, the menus, ergos and build were always my personal picayune objections to Sony FF MILC but a lot of that is based on using them topside. I have not noticed anything wrong with the skin tones per se (I don't really do portraiture though) but I did find that Sony lenses appeared to provide a cool rendition. I'm guessing this is due to the lens coatings employed and has apparently changed with newer Sony lenses. 

I have recently, quite by chance, acquired the NA7Riii housing and instead of selling it on to recover the funds I had 'loaned' the original owner, have decided to keep it. I picked up a used A7III to use with it for a trial period although I would have preferred an A7RIII. The current world situation has not allowed me any UW work yet but I am very hopeful to get on well with it since the system is so small. I have been playing around with the camera on land to reacquaint myself with the menu system. The ergos of the housing appear quite good so once I get the camera setup properly, the menus should not be a factor (they really aren't an issue anyway...just complicated). 

The Z6 is a wonderful camera but it lacks a couple of pivotal lenses in its lineup, chiefly a 28-70 for use with the WACP. The FTZ adapter works very well but I was disappointed that Nauticam designed it's housing with the FTZ adapter in mind as that decision appears to have precluded any hope of a Nikonos lens adapter.

 

 

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I just upgraded to the A7RIII in nauticam from a Lumix LX10 in nauticam.  On the LX10 I had the WWL-1.  Reading reviews seems like using the WWL-1 with the Sony 28MM will turn out some great pics so thats what I'm deciding to go with.  Thanks for the info and hope to get some more tips and will update how my setup works when we can start traveling again!

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That's excellent! Definitely keen to hear how you get on with the WWL-1 – it sounds like a great option.

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I am shooting an a7rIV with the Sony 28 and WWL-1.

 

@SimonPierce I use pretty much the same procedure as you for shooting WA with strobes. I haven't tried it with my new rig yet, but with my old rig (Olympus E-M10), I often shot with continuous drive running at 2 - 3 fps. Usually, where I am shooting (NC) my strobes (Inon z240) are set to their f/4 setting or close to it, and I can get several frames in a row before the strobes get out of sync.

 

I've only really gotten to dive my new rig on one trip, so far, and I did not use continuous drive at all. But, I am looking forward to experimenting with that.

 

I took this with the a7r4 and WWL-1 weekend before last.

Doh! Well, never mind. I tried to upload a couple of photos, but it will only let me upload files that are 1 MB or less. What the heck? 1 MB photo files on a photo forum?! I resized one down to 1440x960 and it was still too big. Screw it.

 

I think the a7r3/4 with the Sony 28 and WWL-1 does a darn good job of shooting WA. It will do me just fine until I can afford a WACP...

 

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I am also looking forward to getting a pair of Retra Pros with the extra battery pack on each, so that I can shoot at 3 - 5 FPS reliably...

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Posted (edited)
10 hours ago, stuartv said:

I am shooting an a7rIV with the Sony 28 and WWL-1.

I took this with the a7r4 and WWL-1 weekend before last.

Doh! Well, never mind. I tried to upload a couple of photos, but it will only let me upload files that are 1 MB or less. What the heck? 1 MB photo files on a photo forum?! I resized one down to 1440x960 and it was still too big. Screw it.

 

I think the a7r3/4 with the Sony 28 and WWL-1 does a darn good job of shooting WA. It will do me just fine until I can afford a WACP...

 

The limitations of Wetpixel for sample image submission are outdated :(

May I suggest that you post your images in the UW forum of DPreview and post a link here (this is what I intend to do in the future): https://www.dpreview.com/forums/1063

At DPreview up to ten full resolution images are allowed per post and viewers can download the images at the resolution you are submitting them for having a very close look.

I would be extremely interested to see your Sony ARIV/28mm/WWL1 images at full resolution and also to hear what you say when you compare it with your old MFT rig...

 

Wolfgang

Edited by Architeuthis

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4 hours ago, Architeuthis said:

The limitations of Wetpixel for sample image submission are outdated :(

May I suggest that you post your images in the UW forum of DPreview and post a link here (this is what I intend to do in the future): https://www.dpreview.com/forums/1063

At DPreview up to ten full resolution images are allowed per post and viewers can download the images at the resolution you are submitting them for having a very close look.

I would be extremely interested to see your Sony ARIV/28mm/WWL1 images at full resolution and also to hear what you say when you compare it with your old MFT rig...

 

Wolfgang

 

Thanks for the suggestion. I posted some images here:

 

https://www.dpreview.com/forums/post/64007096

 

I also posted some images in that thread from my old camera, so you can compare for yourself.

 

For viewing on a computer screen, I think both rigs are very capable of producing very high quality images. If I can get close enough to my subject and there is adequate ambient light, the Sony is not giving me images that are really any better for my purposes. But, those two elements are hard to achieve all the time. And when I'm missing one or both, THAT is when I feel like the Sony is really earning its keep.

 

To me, the advantages I'm getting from upgrading from the E-M10 to the a7rIV are:

 

I can take pictures of small things or subjects that are a little further away, and have a lot more to work with when cropping.

In lower light, the full frame sensor gives me less noise.

The auto focus system is vastly better on the Sony than the Olympus.

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