Saturday, 29 December 2007

Ripview Classic Swim 2007

This has nothing to do with the D80 but it is ocean related.

I competed in my first ocean swim today. 1.4km (current assisted) from The Springs to Pt Lonsdale with about 1200 swimmers.
My goals were first to make the distance and second not to come last. Even though I wore the wrong brand of wetsuit and goggles I achieved both and even picked up the pace after the halfway buoy and passed a few of my fellow 44 - 49 age Black Cap Masters.

I staggered back onto the beach in 23min with the leaders doing it in just over 14 min. Even got to ID a few fish along the way.

Next year I move into the Grand Masters 50 - 55 group.

Sunday, 23 December 2007

Coolpix 5000 in the surf

My nephew Caleb's class teacher wanted some shots of their surf class and I was volunteered. I thought that surf was not the place for my precious D80 with it's push and clip port system, so the cheaper and more robustly housed Coolpix was dusted off and charged up.

I fitted the wide adapter and screwed on the dome port, set the focus manually to 2m, the exposure to Aperture priority f/8 for max depth of field and the ISO to 200 for shorter shutter speeds and the shutter release to high speed continuous. I could take 3 or 4 shots in quick sequences as the kids stood up on waves.

The day was very grey and dull with poor surf but the results were great. I smeared saliva on the dome port to reduced water drops but that produced some patchy blurring. May have been better to dip the camera under between shots.

This is an example of downgrading to get the results.

Sunday, 16 December 2007

Coogee Wreck and Castle Rock

I was invited to dive on Freediver, Alan Beckhurst and Mary Malloy's excellent dive boat.
Surface conditions were not inviting at all with up to 20kn SW and rain on the forcast. There was a nasty short steep swell with wind chop making the heads quite exciting.
I used the 18 -55mm kit lens because I didn't know where we were diving. Should have used the 15mm FE in the wonderful blue 15 to 20m vis.
Many of my wide shots were underexposed using 1/60th and f/8 at ISO200 but salvagable. Could have increased the ISO and aperture maybe.

Camera issue of the day: At 32m I found one of the buttons was stuck down preventing any speed or aperture changes. I was probably a little narced so it took a while before I found the offender and freed it up. That was the main reason for underexposed images.

Sunday, 9 December 2007

Technical issues on the Tassie trip

Had no problems with the D80 and my lens choices were perfect. Just the 60mm macro and 15mm fisheye.
But how to store and backup 10 days worth of images. I considered buying more SD cards, an image storage device or an iPod/camera connector but found that basic laptops are so cheap these days that there was the obvious solution.
I bought an HP Compaq C710 for $750 and with the current $150 HP cashback that made it $600. It only has 512 RAM but that was fine for saving images and running Photoshop Elements 2.0. The laptop became hot property after each dive as everyone gathered round to view images.

I found Vista to be a very nice, almost Mac like OS. This PC wont be connected to the net. On return I slotted in 2GB RAM for $130 and it runs better than my iMac 20" G5 now.

Now here's a list of gear problems on the trip:
Virg's Aladin Sport wrist computer went "ERR" - meaning Trevor had to borrow one from the dive shop.
Leaking drysuit chest valve - got wet thermal tshirt and jocks every dive. Drysuit needs valve overhaul.
Leaking Inon Z220 strobe socket - now realize this has been going on for a while so the strobe is getting the socket replaced at Sea Optics for $88 plus labour
Port o-ring sucked into the housing - after opening the rear door on the boat to switch back to autofocus. Glad I saw this as it would have meant a severe flood. So didn't take the camera in for this dive at Waterfall Bay split and enjoyed it so much I called this my best dive ever.

Saturday, 8 December 2007

Eaglehawk Neck - Tasman Peninsula

After Bicheno we traveled down the east coast to Eaglehawk Neck dive centre to link up with the taxonomists.

The diving here was on spectacular walls beneath towering cliffs and in enormous caves and splits. Big swells and surge are the norm and sites had to be carefully selected by Mick the skipper.

We found numerous new nudis, hydroids and pycnos and had a wonderful 6 days.

The accomodation was a bit cramped and basic with a big group but the spectacular diving made up for it. The dive lodge needs more cupboards and benches and that Tongtel TV needs to be dumped. Oh, and the electricals need an upgrade to stop the regular circuit breaks whenever the fridge started up.

Even though we were only 1hr from Hobart there was no Optus or 3 mobile coverage but Telstra mobile still worked.

Photos here.

Thursday, 6 December 2007

Bicheno Tasmania

Well I'm finally getting organized and have some images to show.
Just from Bicheno at this stage, Eaglehawk Neck to come.

Bicheno is a small fishing village on Tasmania's mid east coast with spectacular rocky coastline and kelp covered boulders underwater.

Water temp was around 14c and the weather was a perfect 20c most days with cool nights. We were woken nightly by noisy male fairy penguins returning to the nests, some of which were in our front garden.

Saw mother and calf humpback whales swimming only a few hundred meters off the beach.

Sometimes we were diving in a thick soup of salps and comb jellies.

Photos here.

Tuesday, 4 December 2007

Back from Tasmania trip

Just returned on the ferry this morning from 10 days diving in Tasmania.

We split the trip into 4 days at Bicheno, just myself, Trevor Mc and Richard M,

then another 6 days on the Tasman Peninsula at Eaglehawk Neck Dive linking up with Jan Watson (hydroid taxonomist), Bob Burn (nudibranch taxonomist) and Dave Staples (pycnogonid taxonomist).

Right now I'm tired to the core, have no clean clothes and have to go to work in about an hour so that's it until I can sort out some images.

Friday, 9 November 2007

Oceanic Shadow frameless mask

I've been keen to find the best mask for looking through the viewfinder and settled on the Oceanic Shadow after asking here.

This comparison shows the problem, you can't see the whole frame when composing the shot. Even without a mask this is about as much as you see. So you need a mask that does not make it worse by placing your eye too far from the eyepiece.

My Mares X Vision is a very comfortable wide view mask but the glass slopes forward at the top (to give better down view when diving) which puts your eye to far away.
My old Oceanic mask was better but has a deepish frame in front of the glass which clashes with the knobs and protrusions on the back of the housing.
The Oceanic frameless has a lower profile silicon rubber lip in front of the glass and one big wide glass lens. This means the you can put the glass right on to the eyepiece and even move around a bit to take in the whole frame. The black silicon blocks out light from the sides also. Mask photos here.

Saturday, 3 November 2007

18 to 55mm kit lens

Conditions were good enough to give this lens a decent tryout. Blairgowie marina is a site where you can spend hours underwater being shallow but choc full of macro life.

As this collection shows it is a quite useful closeup and mid wide lens and works well enough with the 6" dome. The aperture sequence shows that at f/5.6 and f/8 the extreme edges are very soft but smaller apertures give acceptable results.

Camera issue of the day: Occasionally the image does not show on the screen immediately after shutter release. The image has been saved but for some reason doesn't appear automatically. I suspect it's actually a second very underexposed frame recorded due to my holding the shutter down for longer than necessary. Maybe I need to set the shutter to single shot.

Sunday, 28 October 2007

Cottage wide angle

Strong northerlies, 30c, nothin else to do. Let's go to Cottage by the sea Reef.

Swell was up a bit and vis was bad at 3m, and slack was late so we had a bit of current to battle at first.

Didn't expect any decent shots but by putting the strobes out as far as they could go and keeping them well behind the port, backscatter wasn't too bad a problem. Photos here.

Also there is much less sand in the water under the ledges.

Sunday, 21 October 2007

FIX LED mini focusing light.

Ordered one of these from Yuzo last week and it arrived yesterday. Cant believe how good the service is from this business.

Anyway I made up a bracket to fit the Ikelite arm extention and took it for a dive at St Leonards. Vis was, you guessed it, bad again at 2-3m. Photos here.

This little light, which takes 4 AAAs not AAs like it says in the blurb, is bright enough for night macro and sped up the autofocus under the darker sections of the pier. The D80 handles low light levels very well but the light just made it better. The light also momentarily switches off when the flash fires so does not affect exposure.

Friday, 19 October 2007

Wide angle settings 15mm Fisheye - Cottage Reef

Strong N wind and early high slack meant Cottage was the site for today's dive. Cottage must be dived when the tide is ebbing. The flood tide creates dangerously strong current here.

The water was flat enough but vis was bad due to continuing strong winds which stir up the bay. However it was a beautiful warm sunny day so there was no stopping Trevor and I.

With wide angle you can open up the aperture to about f/8 - f/16 and still have heaps of depth of field. Camera shake is less of a problem so slower shutter speeds like 1/30th - 1/90th can be used.

All of this means lighter sunlit backgrounds and water can be captured. You have more scope to balance the background exposure with the flash lit subject in the foreground.

Ideally you need good vis for wide angle so today was a struggle.
Strobes need to be placed further out from the lens to avoid backscatter. Not many keepers from this dive.

Issue of the day was .... loading the camera into the housing with the shutter release lever rotated 180 deg. This meant the shutter could not be operated. Had to pull the camera out and rotate the lever into the correct position. Lucky I tested it before leaving home.

Sunday, 14 October 2007

Macro settings - St Leonards

St Leonards Pier. Strong off shore (W-NW) meant flat water and good vis for a change. New buddy John Mc checked the vis earlier and gave the thumbs up.

It was a real nudi finding day with 6 different species and one of them new to me, some sort of Polycera maybe. Have a look here.

The 60mm lens aperture can stop down to f/32, way smaller than the Coolpix f/8. This means much more flash power is needed. To increase flash power I have removed the diffusers from the Inons and turned them up to -2 or -3. With the Coolpix I was struggling with too much power at the minimum -5 power setting even with diffusers.

My standard macro settings are 1/125 sec, f/22, ISO 200, WB Auto.
To lighten the background water I might use 1/60th and for really dark subjects I'll increasing the strobe power.

Thursday, 11 October 2007

18-55mm kit lens with +2 dioptre at The Springs

St Leonards was flat but had zero vis so I toddled across the peninsula to The Springs, Pt Lonsdale. From shore the water looked calm and clear-ish but this is a shallow exposed site. The surge and stirred up sand made photography tricky. Vis was no more than 5m.

This is a great site for marine algae, or seaweed, having tons of different species. I am currently building up a collection of marine algae images for a proposed Port Phillip ID guide so seaweed it was for today. I also wanted to try the kit lens with +2 dioptre for middle range close ups.

The +2 brought focus plenty close enough, maybe 10cm from the dome. At f/8 there was corner softness in some shots but certainly not excessive. These are the keepers.

I had one issue to begin with. I couldn't turn the camera on. After a few panicked seconds I realized the button that activates the self timer was depressed. Once I lifted it and worked out how to cancel the timer all was well.

Tuesday, 9 October 2007

60mm macro at Popes Eye

Sunday 7th saw us heading out to Popes Eye in a cold choppy SW wind.

Half way out we paused to watch a seal pup flinging something tasty around tearing off big chunks. Looked like a big cuttle or snapper.
There was another big male seal snoozing on the rocks at the entrance to The Eye.

Vis was about 5m and the current added lots of suspended sand to the water. Still hanging out for a nice clear calm day.
The macro once gain performed nicely with a few interesting nudis around. Here are the results.

Tried a few fish shots which is now possible with the excellent and quick auto focus.

Saturday, 6 October 2007

60mm macro at St Leonards

Vis still crappy at 2m with some wind chop. Northern pacific seastars are persisting but when you're desperate anywhere will do. Some photos here

Still awkward looking through the viewfinder and realized today that it was my reg clashing with the sync cord socket preventing getting close enough but will look for a lower profile mask also.

Tuesday, 2 October 2007

Sigma 15mm and 6" dome at St Leonards

Vis was still poor at 3m and NE wind chop was building. Not ideal conditions for first try of the fisheye but results were very encouraging.

This lens is perfect for close focus wide angle. Images here.

Could focus as close as I could get composing carefully through the viewfinder or point the camera in a general direction at arms length and shoot away.

Couldn't really assess corner sharpness but I suspect it's not something I'll be taking much notice of anyway. It certainly wasn't obviously bad on this first test.

Saturday, 29 September 2007

Leak detector instructions

Here are step by step instructions for putting together your own leak detector.

This one fits in my Coolpix 5000 housing. Just needs minor reconfiguration to fit other housings.

Thursday, 27 September 2007

Sigma 15mm FE arrived today

The first thing needed was a comparison of angle of view. How wide is this lens with the DX sensor?
Being a fisheye lens the normal angle of view ratios dont apply. With a rectilinear lens you just multiply by the crop factor so a 15mm film rectilinear = 15 * 1.5 = 22.5mm on the D80. A 15mm fisheye is much wider than a 15mm rectilinear lens.

Nikon Coolpix 5000 with WC-E68 wide converter - TOP
Nikon D80 with Sigma 15mm FE - BOTTOM

The Coolpix wide setup gives the same angle of view as a 19mm lens on a full frame camera.
Calculation - 7.1mm Coolpix = 28mm film, multiplied by .68 (Wide adapter) = 19mm

D80 with Sigma 15mm FE gives a slightly wider horizontal view (maybe like an 18mm lens on film) and slightly less vertical view. So the equivalent would be about a 12mm rectilinear lens.
Calculation - 18mm divided by 1.5 (Crop factor for D80) = 12mm

Pay no attention to image quaity. Coolpix image cropped top and bottom from 4:3 to 3:2.

Sunday, 23 September 2007

Redesigned leak detector

This is a simpler design, actually just has shorter leads, positioning the bare wire ends directly below the buzzer. I figured the ends didn't need to be in the front corner and there would be less chance of the wire fouling o-rings. It would not be smart to increase the risk of floods with a device intended to reduce the consequences.

More photos here

If anyone knows where to get battery holders for 23A 12v batteries please let me know.

Leak detector

This is something I have been thinking about for a while. An audible alarm to detect the first few drops of water entering the housing would provide an extra safety factor against killing the camera.

A simple design by Glen Cowan in Sportdiving Issue 94 Oct/Nov 2002 provided the info.

The bare wire detector tips are in the corner that would collect water given the way my camera hangs most of the time and there was plenty of room between camera and housing on the left side. Let's hope it works but I will still be looking closely as the housing submerges.

Saturday, 22 September 2007

Blairgowrie marina 60mm macro

Jan, Trevor, Rich and I set off in the boat to Blairgowrie. It was a choppy trip over with 10kn easterly but conditions were great at the marina. This is probably the best pier dive in the bay. So many nudibranchs, gobies, blennies, crabs, cephalopods and abundant fixed life.

The 60mm macro was sensational here. 75 min and 100 shots passed too quickly. Here are the results.

We called in to Portsea Pier on the way back but recent pile works and annoying surge detracted from the dive. 2 dives at Blairgowrie in the future.

This was the first decent dive with the new rig. In a word.....awesome.
Now I feel like I am only limited by what I can find rather than whether the equipment can capture it.

Friday, 21 September 2007

18-55mm kit lens with 6" dome port

Aengus sent me two of his 6" domes to try which arrived yesterday. Many thanks Aengus, I owe you. So today was the day to test the kit lens behind the recommended dome.
St Leonards was the spot but vis was still rubbish at 2m. Closest focus was about 20cm from the dome, not ideal for bad vis but the results were surprising. I had selected Vivid in the camera settings, most other users do this I discovered, and the combination with the correct dome gave punchy saturation and contrast and sharpness. Could even back off a little.
Have a look.

18-55mm kit lens at Cottage, flat port.

16th Sept 07

Strong northerlies so St Leonards was out but tide was right for Cottage. This time I wanted to test the 18-55mm kit lens. All I had was the flat port for the 60mm macro but that would have to do. I was keen to try anything.

Once again the camera was a delight to use and I could see much more of the view with my old mask. The kit lens still focussed quickly and accurately even though a dome port is recommended. Again vis was not brilliant at 5m maybe.

Here are the images. Some nice bright and saturated images but some looked a little flat. Internal reflections became visible at 35mm when the lens was at it's shortest physical length.

First test in the ocean. 60mm macro

15th Sept 07
St Leonards Pier
Now for the real thing. The wind was in the right direction so the sea was flat but vis was bad, maybe 2m.
Most of the shots from the pool were underexposed so I darkened the review screen for this dive and of course most of the results turned out overexposed. I was checking the histogram occasionally but need to interpret it better next time.

Here are the results which I thought looked low contrast and washed out unfortunately. Needed a fair bit more Photoshopping than I'm used to.

First test in the neighbours pool. 60mm macro

14th Sept 2007
Time to get wet!
I asked over the fence if I could jump in the pool (still unheated from winter - 13c, so donned the drysuit and scuba gear) and after checking the orings too many times took the first slow steps into the water.

I took a few colourful objects to photograph like Nuditor the test nudibranch and Fragmento the test great white shark.

Using the 60mm macro and flat port here are a few of the first shots.

First impressions
The very first thing I noticed was the restricted view through the viewfinder! I was not expecting this! With my Mares X vision mask, which slopes forward at the top, I could not get my eye close enough to see the full view. Note: Next dive try my older smaller mask. (This improved the view markedly but could still be better)

Once I accepted this issue I started to have fun with the lightning fast and accurate autofocus. It was like using a real camera again, just brilliant.

Nikon D80 arrived

13 Sept 07 pm - D80 arrived
Woo Hoo. The camera and lenses arrived. But of course the batteries needed charging before i could do anything. While waiting I attached the kit lens and peered through the viewfinder at an unfocussed and very grainy image. Even twisting the manual focus ring would not bring the image in to sharp focus. Ah, it's the eyepiece dioptre adjustment I thought, but that did not fix the issue either. Virg said "Just wait for the batteries to charge." She was right. I inserted the fully charged battery after an agonising 1.5 hrs and there it was, a bright, clear and sharp image in the eyepiece.

Housing leak test

13 Sept 07 am - housing leak test
Dunked the housing in water for the first time just to be sure. Needless to say there were no leaks.

Ordered the D80

2 Sept 07 - Nikon D80Ordered a Nikon D80 (+3yr warranty) with 18-55 kit lens and 60mm macro with spare battery and 2GB Sandisk Ultimate 3 SD card from on the Gold Coast. Very impressive service and communication and prices that can only be beaten by risky ebay imports from Hong Kong. Later ordered a Sigma 15mm fisheye as well.

The lenses I bought were: Nikon 18-55 kit lens - surprising good review from Ken Rockwell, Micro nikkor 60mm macro - It seemed like this macro lens is the most used of any lens underwater, Sigma 15mm fisheye for wideangle - I contemplated the Nikon 10.5 DX fisheye but it seemed way too wide for my needs and A$300. dearer.
The Sigma 15mm, equivalent to a 12mm rectilinear on a DX sensor, is a full frame lens as is the 60mm macro so both are "future proof".

Decisions about lenses and ports were helped/confused by this info at Wetpixel, Splashdown divers , Cameras Underwater,
and by talking to Bruce, Anthony, Aengus and Dave.

The beginning. D80 Ikelite housing

16 Aug 07 - Ikelite #6806.1 housing
Ordered the housing with #5502.41 flat port (Nikon 60mm macro lens) from in Cairns. Great people to deal with and the cheapest prices for Ikelite gear. They also ship straight to you rather than a dive shop. You could try importing from BHphoto but if you factor in GST then prices are comparable.
Here it is beside my Coolpix 5000 housing. It's a fair bit bigger and heavier.

Digital Diver gave me a very good quote just before the Aus dollar took a big dive. However they honoured the quote even though my payment deposit would not have cleared till a few days into the lower Aus dollar. The housing with flat port arrived safely 2 weeks later on 30th Aug.

Why did I decide to upgrade to a DSLR?
Well, I had gone as far as I could with the Coolpix 5000 underwater. It was and still is one of the best compact digitals for underwater featuring... Full manual exposure control and macro at all zoom settings as well as manual focus. The autofocus was not great but I developed a technique using macro framers and manual focus which helped greatly.

I chose the D80 over the Canon 400D for it's bigger brighter pentaprism vs pentamirror, Degrees Kelvin white balance, 3200 ISO max, more solid build. I also had a Nikon lens and flash. This info came from dpreview and Dave Harasti.
I chose the Ikelite housing because it fitted my budget, and I was very happy with the Ikelite Coolpix housing used for the last 3 yrs.