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Redbird

Housing/Lighting Questions (Recommendations please!)

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Hi Everyone,

I am new to underwater photography and filming. I am an experienced photographer and cinematographer topside however. I mostly shoot wildlife documentaries, interviews, etc. Naturally this has led me to expand my toolkit into underwater. I own a Komodo as well as a Sony A7RIV and a couple of A7Siii's. My plan is to get a housing for my photo stuff first and video stuff later and hopefully getting gear that can work on both systems (Lights, ports, domes, etc.), with the later goal of having both a photos setup and a cinema setup. I don't plan to use my Komodo underwater as the price for entry is a bit out of budget for that camera, but will most likely buy a housing for my A7Siii, but who knows!

I'm sure these questions have been posted here before, so I do apologize if they are floating around the forums, I couldn't quite find the specific recommendations/answers I was hoping for.

 

For the housings, I'm going Nauticam. I have many friends who use their housings and I live very close to Backscatter in Monterey, CA so I can have it serviced when the time comes. Open to recommendations however. I've looked at Isotta, Sea&Sea, Ikelite and Subal as alternatives, but Nauticam has housings for all my cameras so it would be nice to share pieces and parts between them where possible.

I plan to use my A7RIV and a Sigma 24-70mm lens. As I'm understanding depending on the dome port, my field of view can be much tighter or wider? Would there be a better lens to use as an overall semi-wide to a semi-zoom? Something that works best as a wider angle for "landscape" shots of rocks, kelp forests, corals but can double as a semi zoom so I can do details of patters on rocks/coral?  I'm not a huge fan of the fisheye look and don't plan to go that route, unless there is an underlying reason to do so. At some point, I will go the macro route as well but that is another thing entirely.

For lighting, I am leaning more towards continuous lights as I will end up shooting video more so in the future. So I'm torn between Light and Motion or Keldan. I have used a loaner set from Light and Motion Sola 15ks (Also, very close to where I live) and love them. The main thing I an not a huge fan of is that their batteries are integrated. I would prefer a system where I can swap out batteries, especially on a multi dive day which is why Keldan caught my eye. Does anyone have experience with Keldan? I would prefer continuous lights vs strobes as I would hopefully be able to use continuous lights on both rigs. Not as ideal for photography, but if it works well enough, that's what I'm hoping for. Open to any and all recommendations here as well!

 

Thank you all in advance for any and all recommendations! This seems like a great place and community so I'm excited to have found it and hope to contribute more in the future.

 

 

 

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Hey Redbird

In some way you are maybe trying to dive with apples and oranges.

As you will see from a number of previous posts from my moderator colleague, Chris Ross, you need a good idea of what you want to do before you embark on choosing the camera and housing. 

If you are set on wide-angle underwater imagery, it comes down to, as you have established, two methods: either rectilinear wide-angle or fisheye.

I wouldn't rule out fisheye too quickly. It's just not the same as using a fisheye topside and, for very many uses, it is the most practical wide-angle format especially for images of reefs or divers on the reef. Where it is maybe less useful is for shots of wrecks where perhaps straight lines are more important. But generally "the fish eye effect" is not noticeable on underwater images but it does allow you to get extremely close to the main part of the subject which is what, usually, you want. The less water between camera and subject the better.  I'll attach a couple of images for you to see.

The other good thing about fisheye is that it is easy to house whether using an FX (full-frame) sensor or DX (APS-C). You can use an 8" (180mm) dome or even a 4" (100mm) dome

The other end of the wide-angle spectrum is the rectilinear. The standard lens for FX is something like a 16-35mm. But I know from personal experience, that these are the devil's own job to house.They require very large domes (at least 230mm/9") which are heavy, very expensive and bulky for travelling. An 8" dome will not cut it (and that extra inch is way more than it sounds). No chance with a 4" dome. You also need to stop the lens down to around f11 or smaller to allow the lens to focus well on the virtual image that the domeport creates and which you need to to be able to render in sharp focus. This then impacts on your lighting (see below)

If you definitely want to go rectilinear, check out APS-C or m4/3 formats. Lenses that use this format are significantly easier and cheaper to house.

I use a Nikon D500 with the Tokina 10-17mm lens and either a 4" or 8" dome. Works a treat and is compact (ish!), by underwater standards, inexpensive and travel-friendly.

But if you are determined to go FX and rectilinear, figure on about $2000 for the domeport, plus about $200 for the extension ring and another $400 if you can get a Sea&Sea correction lens which seems to be the best way to get a 16-35 to focus properly.

Lights: are fine for video, of course, but less than great for still photography. They just do not provide the punch to get the colours out. You really need decent strobes especially for wide-angle. 

Wide-angle and close-up shots: you'll see posts from folks trying all sorts of combinations to achieve this one lens-dive nirvana. I'm not sure it really works. Much better, I would suggest getting a decent macro lens (say a 60mm if you are going DX, 105mm for FX) plus your wide-angle and chose what you want to do for the dive. 

On the brand of housing: if you’re near a dealer, especially one as good as Backscatter, it makes good sense to go with products they support  I’d suggest Subal and Nauticam are a cut above the others  

Hope this help a bit!

two images shot with fisheye lenses (two divers is FX; wreck is DX)

TG40547-Edit.jpg

TG50799.jpg

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To further what Tim has said, start with what you want to shoot and work backwards - sometimes it is more practical or economical to buy a different camera body to what you already have.  Further things to consider:

  • Travel - are you going to want to fly with your equipment?  Full frame gear is a lot bigger and taking multiple housings gets your excess baggage charges up pretty quickly.  Rectilinear domes are big for full frame.  Go have a look at one in backscatter!
  • Fisheye is the standard for reef scenes etc - but not so popular for video.  I think one of the reasons is the distortion can be handled in stills by careful subject placement - like keeping divers out of the corners where they distort badly or even fish swimming out of the corner of the frame.  But this is not so easy with video.
  • Housing size.  The Nauticam housings in particular are big compared to camera size.  Isotta tend to make them more compact.  Again go and have a look at the size of housings at Backscatter.
  • If you want flexibility and a rectilinear look, consider the WWL or WACP.  Once you compare the prices for the dome and 16-35 to a kit lens plus WACP .  WACP + 28-60 lens + extension tube = $6074.   230mm dome =16-35 f4 lens + adapter + extension rings = $4838.  A WWL with 28-60 and flat port would be $2727.
  • For a 16-35 in a dome you'll be shooting f13-16 for good corners, the WACP and WWL are fine at f5.6
  • The 24-70 is not popular UW, in general you want to get closer and usually this can be accomplished without too many problems so the 16-35 range is more popular.
  • If you want a compact setup consider the Sony A7C, the housing is significantly smaller and about $1000 cheaper.
  • The MP and resolution benefit for underwater work is less due to photographing through water and the air/water interface.  The closest you'll get to land resolution will be with the WACP.  So I would suggest not sweating about using the very best camera UW MP wise - If the camera has the video capabilities you want it will likely do acceptable stills for you as well - depending of course on final use - like if you had a stock agency MP requirement.
  • For lighting, even the brightest lights are no match for strobes the difference between an average strobe and a 14,000 lumen light is 5-6 stops.  So shooting at f11 with strobes you might be ISO100 but with with lights 800-1600.  see this post: 
  • Animals that can move tend to leave when you approach them with a pair of 14,000 lumen lights, while they will ignore a diver moving in with strobes and often also ignore the strobe light.  Much better to use strobes for stills.
  • Video will have a whole range of other requirements like easy manual (custom) white balance and battery life is also a concern, particularly with smaller bodies like the SONY cameras, some housings have capability to add an extra battery.  Also many people use external monitors (or monitor/recorders) and if you are doing a lot of video, getting a system that plays well with external monitors is a good idea.  Things like a big enough port to allow a single HDMI cable to run from camera to monitor - needing a M24 bulkhead equipped housing.
  • For video lights post a separate specific question in lighting forum and do some searches on people's comments on lights they use.
  • How deep are your pockets?  this can make quite a difference to what we recommend.

I would ask about your diving skills as you don't mention your diving experience.  You will want your buoyancy to be pretty spot on and also your housing very well trimmed to get good stable video, though stills will be more forgiving of course with strobes. 

Also what sort of water do you see yourself shooting in mostly?, that can make a difference to what you choose.  That'll probably do for now, suggest you consider all this and get back with further questions.

 

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