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Recommendation for underwater and land compact camera

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Hi all,

 I’m seeking help on what to get for my new underwater compact camera and rig that satisfy the requirements below.

1) 1 camera to shoot on land producing better results than iPhone and underwater during travel.

2) Compact/light weight, not too bulky and good for travel since I only scuba dive when I travel oversea or out of states.

3) Very good at super macro and macro and good for video underwater.

4) Ability to not have to switch port and lenses as much as possible to shoot macro, normal (not possible with wide?) angle and video on the same dive

5) Room to grow as I get better at underwater photography.

I have been reading a lot of articles and review videos but still have a really hard time to decide on what camera model and housing. The TG-6 was a really good choice that could satisfied most of the requirement about but it doesn’t have manual mode so it won’t meet 1 and 5.

I really like the Sony RX100 Vii but doesn’t meet 4 and may be 2 since the full rig with light strobes looks pretty bulky.

The Lumix 10 is also a good choice but I read review online said the lens can get dirt in after some use, it is also not very good at macro from review.

The Olympus EPL9/10 also seems like a good candidate but it is slightly bigger than compact camera and can’t shoot macro and wide on the same dive, also require more lenses and ports, and it has lower MP.

Any suggestion for a good camera and rig setup that could meet all the requirements above or at leastclose enough? I really hate having to set up the gear between dives. The goal is to travel with these gears, take good underwater macro and super macro photos and on the same dive occasionally capture some fish portraits, large creatures (manta, sting ray, turtle…) and take videos. Also take good photos on lands. I don’t mind paying more to meet all theserequirements but prefer to not overspend on compact rig at the price of a DSL full frame rig :D

Thank you

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I don't think you are going to get it all on the one camera, the compact camera market is very limited these days - true compacts with tiny sensors - there's only the various tough cameras like the TG-6 and super zoom models which aren't suitable for UW. 

This brings you to 1"compacts you've basically got 3 of them the Sony RX series, the Canon G7X series and Panasonic LX-10/15.  None of these are brilliant at wide or macro without auxiliary lenses.  The Sony RX- series has been spoiled by having too long a lens so that you need a  different port to use a wide wet lens.  The Canon and Panasonic options at least can use either a wide or macro wet lens without swapping ports with some limitations.

With m43 cameras you can use the 14-42 kit lens and add wide and macro wet lenses as well and a couple of new options for housings are quite compact. 

There's really no escaping wet lenses if you want a do it all camera.  The TG-6 you just need a wide lens - it is good enough for macro standalone.  The 1" and m43 cameras can only achieve this with wet lenses for both ends.  The G7X will fill the frame with an object 60mm or so across but only in the middle of the zoom range.  At the wide end you have a 31mm equivalent lens through a flat port which is really not that wide - 70° on the diagonal.  Wide is regarded 100° (18mm equivalent) or greater generally.  All the 1"sensor and various zooms on m43 will give more or less this result - the devil is in the detail of the combination of camera and housing.  Some of them vignette and you need to zoom in losing some field.

You could get a wet diopter if you wanted to shoot smaller stuff and a "standard" 100° field wet wide lens like the INON ones to get a pretty decent range. 

If you are mainly doing macro and use a 1"sensor camera you can probably get away with one strobe, definitely fine for macro and probably fine for occasional wide angle, a small strobe like the S-2000 will be fine as the small sensor cameras have sufficient depth of field at moderate apertures around f5.6. 

Of all these options the m43 have the most room for growth with the ability to change lenses to anything between a fisheye and a 1:1 macro lens.

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I’d like to add that the TG-6 is not really a camera I would want to use topside and to be quite honest apart from the Rx100 VII I find all off them to be insufficient at the tele end. Mu43 would give you the option to go with a 14-42 and wetlenses and then use something like a 40-150 (cheap or expensive version) topside. That said, the really good wide angle wet lenses are expensive, so something like a Panasonic/Olympus Fisheye and small dome with the EPL9/10 might be far cheaper and give fantastic results. I know getting it all on one dive seems like an attractive option, but your images will most likely be a lot better if you stick with a wideangle or macro mindset on one dive. Still, I believe with mu43 you get all those options if you really want. 

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When you do the sums, m43 + 14-42 + nauticam wet lenses works out competitive compared to the equivalent set of primary lenses, gears and ports. (or at least it was when I moved to m43)

Also

  • your investment in wet lenses doesn't become obsolete if you change to a different camera system.
  • by leaving the 14-42 lens on the camera there is no risk of dust getting in.
  • you can have a TG6 as a back up and use the same wet lenses.
  • you can share wet lenses with a buddy underwater.

Disadvantage is max no of pixels available and extreme low-light capability compared to a full frame, but go back 5 years and full frame was no better than m43 is today.

In use, avoid being a lens butterfly. Have a plan for one lens for most of the dive and swap only if you need to change the plan or something special happens, not for every other shot. Always swap to the wide wet lens on ascent in case a whale shark swims by :-)

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Thank you for all the replies. I knew i was too greedy in my requirement list :D. Seems like the consensus is M43 is a better option for me. What do you guys think about the Olympus EPL10? Backscatter has a raving review for this rig https://www.backscatter.com/reviews/post/Olympus-E-PL10-Underwater-Camera-Housing-Review#:~:text=The Backscatter E-PL10 Octo,looking cool while doing so.

Looks like the kit lens can take macro and wide with different wet lens and I can also upgrade to Olympus 60mm macro lens for super macro later on. I couldn't find many reviews for this camera for on land usage. It has ok review on DPReview at 72%. The MP is low at 16MP. Would this camera still take good photo on land and a big upgrade from iPhone?

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That housing is brand new, there's a couple of threads on it floating around.  Seems like a nice concept though a little limiting on what lenses you can use due to port availability.  Here's one thread

I would say MP don't count for everything.  The iphone photos look nice out of the phone as they have been tweaked to make them bright and a lot of processing done already.  Photos on land are going to be different to the iphone - you can start doing stuff like isolating with shallow depth of field, they have a different look.  MP only really count if you want to print big.

How small a subject are you wanting to shoot for macro?  this makes a bit of difference for a multi purpose rig.

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Lots of good advice here.  I’ll add based on experience  an earlier E-PL series camera then moving up the ladder of various OM-D cameras.

If you want a single lens and port that does it all, there will be compromises.  Wet lenses will improve them, just don’t cut corners by buying the cheapest ones as some are close to worthless. The 14-42mm EZ lens is crap in my opinion, unsharp and low contrast even on land, so I would insist on the much better 14-42 mark II but it may not work with the housing you are looking at.  The Olympus 12-50mm zoom is a better lens choice with true macro capability but requires a much more expensive housing, port, and gear. I have no experience with that brand of housing, but the difference between the Olympus polycarbonate housing and the Nauticam housings are night and day in terms of ergonomics.  

On land, the E-PL cameras are great for travel and all-purpose use with plenty of room to grow as a photographer.  And yes, 16 MP is fine.  Shoot RAW from the beginning (save JPEGs too for quick sharing) and start learning how to process them in your favorite software package. Have fun!

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Hi, what about the Sony compact RX100-VA?
Nauticam still sells the housing for it and you can add macro and wide wet lenses.

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I've heard a bunch of good things about the AOI housings, but obviously they are built to a price point. People buy them for a reason and that is they want to save money. I think they are built well enough so that it's a considerable option.

Personally I would look more towards the EM5mkIII as a camera. It is quite a bit more camera, both for topside and UW than the EPL series, boasting PDAF Autofocus, High Resolution Mode, Weather Resistance and also a slightly more modern sensor. AOI also builds a housing for this one which has a fairly full featured port system. 

I can also recommend buying used. This can get you a nice Aluminium Housing (Nauticam most likely) for a lot less money. Cameras have improved only slightly in the last 5-10 years , and the improvement is mostly in features and Video quality. I currently use the original Olympus EM5 underwater and that camera was released 2012. It uses the same 16mp sensor that the EPL10 uses. It's lacking a few modern features like Focus Peaking but I've seen the housing for it on here for 300-400$ (without ports). A Nauticam housing for the much newer but still last generation Panasonic GX8 recently went for 800$ and that is a really fine camera (I use one topside). I still haven't found a camera that checks all the boxes to replace my trusty GX8.

I bought my whole setup used (except strobe arms and focus light) and have saved roughly 3-4k€. The only downside is you have to choose among what's available and need to be a bit patient. I would say that any mu43 camera released from 2015 onwards will be a good choice.

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Thanks for all the great suggestion. MFT cams other than EPL10 or LX100 are too big for me.

I’m also considering the RX100 VII or VA, the VII can take super macro with SMC lens and flip the lens on the side for native lens to catch ray, turtles... and video. That is a good setup for me. The VA can also do macro on the same dive but the VII is probably better at macro. Does anyone have this rig and can share their experience and some sample photos?


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For macro subject size, I’ll probably start out with golfball size then move to penny size or smaller later.

 

 

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The issue with the newer model RX-100s is the long zoom.  the lens extends a lot as it moves to telephoto, which mean the port needs to be very long - but when zoomed to the wide end the lens is a long way from the port glass.  This means vignetting is a problem with wet wide lenses. 

Read the fine print on the housing descriptions you will see that Nauticam standard port allows full zoom and you need to zoom to 90mm or more to get the SMC working. To be at all useful with a wide lens it needs the shorter port which limits zoom to about 65mm.  The Fantasea housing has a similar limit as the short port on Nauticam.  With the short port the camera throws an error if you zoom too far and hit the port which is an inconvenience.

As for macro magnification here's a useful link on how much you can get with m43 lenses/diopters:  https://interceptor121.com/category/diopters/ 

Scroll down to how to choose the best closeup lens for your underwater m43 rig.

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I you want the more compact rangefinder form factor you can also get the Panasonic GX80(or 85 depending on where you live) or GX9. However, no cheap housings exist for this camera. You've not really mentioned your budget yet.

I think the GX series cameras are a bit more serious and also have a Viewfinder for topside which is very helpful in sunny locations. 

 

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I you want the more compact rangefinder form factor you can also get the Panasonic GX80(or 85 depending on where you live) or GX9. However, no cheap housings exist for this camera. You've not really mentioned your budget yet.
I think the GX series cameras are a bit more serious and also have a Viewfinder for topside which is very helpful in sunny locations. 
 

I found this article about the gx8 with a nautica housing that can shoot macro, portrait and wide on the same dive in a fairly compact camera!!! Can the gx9 do the same too? I don’t mind paying more to get the best rig for my need. Have you used the gx9 rig before? Could you share more details about this rig? Thanks

https://reefphoto.com/blogs/photography/the-new-panasonic-gx8


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Hey imacro

Although the idea of being able to catch all-in-one on a dive sounds great, you might want to ask yourself what is your real intention in taking pictures underwater.

If it's to captures some underwater scenes, impressions of what you see and some fish shots, then fair enough. But if you want serious underwater photography "art" shots, catch-all-in-one systems are going to become frustrating. They are compromises and for a lot of art/creative shots, you need specific tools for the job: dedicated macro or fisheye lenses for example, fast focussing and good viewfinders.

Of course you can produce amazing images with some of the compact form cameras but it is much more difficult and hit and miss. There is no substitute, if you are serious about the images you create, for an optical viewfinder and the right lens for the job.

Worth just checking in on where you want to go with this before shelling out a lot of cash for a system which you might find limits you for the future. Just a thought!

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I have experience shooting the Panasonic GX80 in a Subal Housing (my Parents camera), but using dedicated macro and fisheye lenses. It is a fine camera and the GX9 which is the successor to the GX80 is very similar. The biggest weakness for Underwater is in my opinion the battery. 

Contrary to what TimG believes I find viewfinders to be fairly unimportant underwater with mirrorless cameras. I find composing from the screen much more natural underwater (I use the EVF religiously topside) although I am sure that there are situations where a Viewfinder does come in handy. 

TimG is right though that "Jack of all trades master of none" setups are exactly that. The best images and the most creative opportunities come from dedicated macro and wideangle lenses. However, I think that starting out with a MFT setup that does it all allows you to upgrade to dedicated lenses for relatively little money, whereas if you go compact you cannot go back from that decision, so starting out with a kit lens and wetlenses can still be good. The best Wetlenses are also relatively stable in price on the used market. 

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Tim, Hyp: I want to focus on macro and super macro first but would be nice to have the ability to flip the macro diopter lens on the side during the dive to catch a ray or turtle and shoot video. I don't need to get into wide angle lens yet. 

That said, I really like the idea of MFT as Hyp said since it will have room for me to grow and also take better photos on land compared to the compact camera. Looks like there are only 2 MFT compact options for me atm, Olympus EPL9/10 or Pany GX9. Seems like the GX9 beats the EPL9/10 in every aspects except for the battery life. Can the GX9 battery last for 2 dives? Which camera do you guys think is a better choice for me? Thanks

Edited by imacro

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I'll defer to Hyp - it's not my area of (vague) expertise.

The only thought though is that Olympus are withdrawing from the camera business. I'm not entirely sure what the impact of that might be and what it means for starting out with a system which, sadly, might not be going anywhere.

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Hi Tim - That’s a fair point, though to be precise Olympus imaging was sold not withdrawn.  The new owners and the rumor sites say they will continue with a likely focus on higher end models.  FWIW Panasonic has said the same recently. Who knows?  I’m invested in lots of glass, housing, and ports so will stay with them as long as the gear works as well as it does now, which is brilliantly for me, but I’d probably not start building a long term system around Olympus until it’s future looks clearer.  

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Also what about the Sony A6400 / A6500 that has a bigger sensor. Price wise it’s about the same but the lenses are more for Sony. How does A6400 / A6500 perform in macro and super macro?

 

 

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 I use the LX100 II in a Nauticam housing. I used the LX100 prior to that, and Nauticam has a conversion kit that allowed me to use the LX100 II in the same housing (for a cost of $30 or $40).  It is a larger sensor than other compact cameras (4/3 sensor), and it has a very close-focusing zoom lens with a bright aperture (F1.7 to F2.8 over its zoom range).  It is good, but not great, for macro, though I am not much of a macro photographer (my next skill to master).  I find it quite good at 4k video, Panasonic and Canon cameras are supposedly the best able to set a custom white balance underwater at depth, which is important in video (saves a lot of hassle in editing). The camera's strength is close-focus wide angle photography, because the lens is very close focusing. The LX100 II is also just a nice travel camera and good for street photography.  Backscatter has a good review of the camera and housing setup on its website. I have some pictures on my website that I shot with this setup in Saba, in October 2019 (the "before" days).

There are more capable options, but you are looking at interchangeable lens camera, and more expensive/extensive ports.  Bigger sensor cameras will give better image quality and low light performance, other things being equal (but they are rarely equal).  I wonder sometimes about trading up to something with a larger sensor, but I would have to jump from the current 4/3 sensor to a full frame sensor to see a significantly better image, and that would entail a separate camera/lens/housing system which takes up a LOT of room (luggage restrictions are really tight) and a lot of expense. I would do it if I could do dive photography for a living (don't we all wish that), but as an amateur, I have plenty of capability in my current setup and do not feel constrained.  I have much more to learn!

Edited by Basil
Just adding a sentence
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39 minutes ago, troporobo said:

Hi Tim - That’s a fair point, though to be precise Olympus imaging was sold not withdrawn.  The new owners and the rumor sites say they will continue with a likely focus on higher end models.  FWIW Panasonic has said the same recently. Who knows?  I’m invested in lots of glass, housing, and ports so will stay with them as long as the gear works as well as it does now, which is brilliantly for me, but I’d probably not start building a long term system around Olympus until it’s future looks clearer.  

Thanks for that correction, Robert. You're right of course: sold on - not finished.

But, yeah, you're spot on: fine to continue with a system you already have; but would it be wise to embark on starting to build a system at this early stage of an Olympus transition? Tricky.

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2 hours ago, imacro said:

Also what about the Sony A6400 / A6500 that has a bigger sensor. Price wise it’s about the same but the lenses are more for Sony. How does A6400 / A6500 perform in macro and super macro?

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A lot of people like Sony, but I'm not a huge fan particularly of the APS-c line.  Seems like a bit of an orphan.  I feel the 90mm macro is too long - great for super macro but more difficult to switch to slightly larger subjects as you need to back off too much.  If you stick with macro or wet lens lenses it's compact enough, but wide angle the dome ports are starting to get quite the size compared to m43.  The bigger sensor means you are stopping down more for depth of field and you won't get away with the smaller strobes I don't think. 

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 I use the LX100 II in a Nauticam housing. I used the LX100 prior to that, and Nauticam has a conversion kit that allowed me to use the LX100 II in the same housing (for a cost of $30 or $40).  It is a larger sensor than other compact cameras (4/3 sensor), and it has a very close-focusing zoom lens with a bright aperture (F1.7 to F2.8 over its zoom range).  It is good, but not great, for macro, though I am not much of a macro photographer (my next skill to master).  I find it quite good at 4k video, Panasonic and Canon cameras are supposedly the best able to set a custom white balance underwater at depth, which is important in video (saves a lot of hassle in editing). The camera's strength is close-focus wide angle photography, because the lens is very close focusing. The LX100 II is also just a nice travel camera and good for street photography.  Backscatter has a good review of the camera and housing setup on its website. I have some pictures on my website that I shot with this setup in Saba, in October 2019 (the "before" days).

There are more capable options, but you are looking at interchangeable lens camera, and more expensive/extensive ports.  Bigger sensor cameras will give better image quality and low light performance, other things being equal (but they are rarely equal).  I wonder sometimes about trading up to something with a larger sensor, but I would have to jump from the current 4/3 sensor to a full frame sensor to see a significantly better image, and that would entail a separate camera/lens/housing system which takes up a LOT of room (luggage restrictions are really tight) and a lot of expense. I would do it if I could do dive photography for a living (don't we all wish that), but as an amateur, I have plenty of capability in my current setup and do not feel constrained.  I have much more to learn!

I also looked into the LX100ii but as you said, it’s not great at macro. Feel like I’m getting a rabbit hole and still don’t know which camera to get lol


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So the folder on my website is www.basilkiwan.com/Nature/Saba-Dive-Trip/ 

That was all shot with the LX100 II.  I mostly shot wide angle, with many shots using the Nauticam WWL-1 on that trip. 

Take your time weighing out options, because it is an expensive purchase.  Cameras that have more housing options are definitely more attractive, because your housing is likely to be more expensive than the camera.

The LX100 II is good at macro, but the Sony RX100 line of cameras (probably the RX100 VII) has an advantage because of its longer focal length lens.  When I want to shoot macro on the LX100 II, I use the standard port, and flip on the Nauticam CMC wet lens - that arrangement allows me to shoot tight macro, or flip the lens out of the way and shoot regular mid-range focal length portraits (though not wide angle). I find shooting macro challenging, because with a wet lens, I usually have to manually focus (autofocusing through a wet lens is difficult), and it is hard to manual focus when you are buffeted by currents.  But that is more a limitation of me, as a photographer, than of the camera.

If you go to interchangeable lens camera, (Sony, Olympus, Panasonic), you get the advantage of more flexible lens options.  For example, with micro 4/3 cameras (Panasonic, Olympus), there is the excellent Olympus 60mm macro lens, and some of the zoom lenses in that class have decent macro modes.  But generally, you have a larger rig (more ports, swapping lenses and ports between dives, etc..)  That said, it is worth checking out housing options for any camera you might be interested - Nauticam, Ikelite, Isotta, Aquatica, AOI, Fantasea, etc... because some housings are definitely smaller than others.

For macro specifically, the other advantage that both the Sony RX100 line and the LX100 line have is flash synch speed.  Compact cameras have a leaf shutter - the shutter is built into the lens, not on top of the sensor.  Interchangeable lens cameras (mirrorless and DSLRs) have a focal plane shutter. Typically a DSLR or mirrorless can synch with a flash or strobe at shutter speeds up to 1/200 or 1/250th of a second.  If you go faster than that, you start getting this black band across your image - which is actually the panels of the shutter moving across the focal plane. 

Cameras with a leaf shutter do not have this limitation.  The RX100 VII can synch up to 1/2000 of a second, I believe the LX100 II can synch with a flash or strobe up to 1/2000 or 1/4000 of a second.  It add flexibility to your photography, particularly for macro photos, where you want to obscure the background.  When you shoot with a strobe underwater (or on land), your shutter speed is controlling the ambient light.  Your aperture is controlling depth of field.  Your strobe is lighting your subject in the foreground.  If you have a high shutter speed, you can "kill the ambient" - the background can be rendered almost black, while your subject in the foreground (say a little blenny) is light carefully by your strobe.  It's not the only way to get that black background that isolates your subject your subject in the foreground, but it is an extra tool that you don't get with mirrorless or dslr cameras.  That said, I have not used this very much (since I am typically shooting wide angle not macro), but it is something I want to try more of on my next dive trip.

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