Saturday, 10 December 2011

Melbourne Downunder Book

Over the last 18 months I have occasionally been hired by Sheree Marris to shoot for her book Melbourne Downunder.

Its a wonderful square format coffee-table book focusing on marine life in and around Port Phillip. Available for $40ish at Melbourne Downunder.

She also bought quite a few shots from my collection for the project, including this one of schooling mullet at St Leonards.
Also the seadragon and seal shots featured on her websites.

Thursday, 10 November 2011

D7000 camera in D80 housing

OK I was wrong about the D7000 not fitting in the D80 housing. It actually does fit. Must have not cleared one of the controls at my first attempt.

Front and rear control dials, +/- EV, On/Off and focus lock work but there is no access to video switch. Some of the buttons to the left of the screen would be useable with a small reshaping of the rubber push button ends.

It's a tight fit with the camera pushing hard against something at the front so I would strongly advise a test in fresh water before jumping into the sea.

Saturday, 25 June 2011

Ozone Paddle Steamer split level

Just 50m offshore from the Indented Head caravan park and in 3m, lies the paddle steamer Ozone.

It's a great spot for a snorkel or shallow dive and a great spot for split level photos. Some days the vis is even better than this.

The Ozone was sunk in 1925 as a breakwater for the little beach nearby.

Sunday, 29 May 2011

Triggerfish remote strobe sensor

Continuing on with remote strobe testing.

Triggerfish is a wonderful little slave trigger made by Hedwig Dieraert. Here's a review on Wetpixel

To test how sensitive it is underwater I toddled off to St Leonards for a dip.

Vis was maybe 6m and Triggerfish worked perfectly 10m away where I couldn't even see the strobe anymore.

Just need to design some method of positioning the sensor like a spike, clamp or mini tripod.

Tuesday, 24 May 2011

Gregarious Giant cuttles

Winter in southern Aus is giant cuttle mating season. These normally secretive relatives of squid and octopus become all outgoing and inquisitive.

They will often follow divers around and even occasionally come in for a hand shake, like in this video.

I was shooting stills at the time then quickly switched to video when the cuttle showed interest. With a bit more time i would have done a manual white balance and used -1.0 ev in Aperture priority for better colour and exposure.

Tuesday, 10 May 2011

Bounce flash underwater

I don't hesitate to use bounced flash when photographing above water but it had never considered it underwater.

On a recent dive on the ex HMAS Canberra frigate, in less than perfect vis, I tried a few shots with the strobe pointing up at the ceiling of the wheelhouse. The results were a great improvement over direct flash which produced bad backscatter.

Top image is direct flash, single strobe.
Lower image is the bounced flash version.

Monday, 28 March 2011

D7000 split levels

One thing I was busting to try was split levels or under/over shots with the D7000. I had big hopes for the low noise and fast AF.

With my D80 noise is quite obvious in the underwater half at 400iso after some exposure increase adjustment.

The AF on the D7000 is brilliant. In these river splits I was blindly locking focus on something underwater and shooting a few shots while lifting the camera up with great results.

During overcast periods I bumped up to 800iso and although noise is visible in the smooth underwater subjects it can only be seen at 100%.

Here's a shot of Pt Lonsdale on a magic calm sunny day, converted to B&W from a Raw file.

Thursday, 10 March 2011

D7000 underwater

First underwater test today so naturally the conditions were poor with silty 3m vis at St Leonards.

First issue was fitting the camera into the housing. The right side triangular neck strap ring tends to flip up and sit on top of the camera and won't fit under the AE lock shaft in the housing. It must be flipped down to fit the mounted camera into the housing. It also flipped up during the dive which meant I couldn't pull the camera out of the housing until it was jiggled down. I may cut it off or stick it down somehow.

Underwater impressions.....the bigger 3" screen is excellent and live view is definitely usable but AF slows down and is more fussy. In normal use the AF is much faster and more accurate than the D80, a delight.

Setting PRE or custom white balance is easy and works well. It's not something I have ever used before but it gave nice results for the timelapse photos using my glove palm as a grey card.

The intervalometer will be a feature I use a lot being addicted to timelapse now, apologies to any future dive buddies. Will have to sort out DOF and AF better next time.

Video worked well, but I don't know which AF mode to use yet. I was using AF-S but will try a continuous mode next time.

Maybe tried too much this dive, actually this will be an issue, this camera can do too much. I can see myself looking for still, video and timelapse subjects on all dives in the future.

Wednesday, 9 March 2011

D7000 Ikelite housing

I marvel at the ability of housing maunufacturers to make all those tiny camera buttons, levers and and control wheels available in the housing.

The D7000 Ikelite housing gives access to everything except the DOF preview button and dioptre adjustment. There's even a button for popping up and adjusting the internal flash, which doesn't make a lot of sense because the flash can't pop up enough to work.

The movie record button/lever has been moved all the way out to the right side of the housing and is easily operated by thumb without letting go of the handle. This makes movie recording smoother than with the camera itself.

There is enough space around the camera, especially on the right side, to fit my leak alarms.

You do need to retract some controls when inserting the mounted camera to make sure it sits in place.
The view through the viewfinder seems to include more of the frame than my D80 housing, but I'll have to check that underwater, hopefully tomorrow.

Saturday, 5 March 2011

D7000 hands on

I ordered the camera from Digital Camera Warehouse for a gold coin under $1300, delivered.

When it arrived the first test was to see what worked in my D80 Ikelite housing. Nothing was the answer, couldn't even close the housing with the D7000 inside. The camera body is just too thick, front to back, to fit at all. I was always going to buy a new housing but in the pursuit of knowledge I had to try. I have since ordered an Ikelite housing from Digital Diver for $1672 delivered. It arrives in a few days.

Why Ikelite? Well, I have all the ports, like the see-through acrylic and extra space for tweaking and I can afford them. Other housings like Nauticam, Subal and Aquatica may be smaller and sleeker but they are also thousands more expensive and wouldn't improve my photos.

One drawback with an Ike housing is that you can't pop the camera flash up and use fibre optic flash sync, but there are stirrings in my little grey cells that may overcome this. A future project.

Initial impressions of the camera.

The larger 3" screen is wonderful. The INFO button which fills the review screen with all the camera settings will be nice underwater for ageing eyes. I'm starting to find the top LCD screen difficult to read.

AF during video will be an issue. SLR lenses make lots of noise while autofocusing and that is all perfectly recorded by the mic, so you either have to ditch the audio track or prevent continuous AF for video. AF-S will be the way to go for me. You start and stop recording with the dedicated video button but you can tap the shutter button at any time to refocus.

I'll be leaving the "sticky buttons" or "Release button to use dial" option (f7 in the control menu) permanently on. That means you tap and release a button, like ISO or WB, and then make changes with the control dial. Much easier in a housing than trying to use both hands.

f6 in the control menu is another must for me. That's the "Menus and Playback OFF" setting, which means you can make A and S changes with the dials while image review is still on. With my D80 I was always trying to make quick exposure changes after a shot but would actually be flipping to the next image, very frustrating.

There are 2 user settings available on the mode dial which are used to save sets of commonly required settings. I have set U1 for intervalometer recording where I want the image size small, and U2 for RAW underwater with WB 5260K. Then I can leave the camera on jpeg fine and Auto WB for normal use.

The intervalometer is a blast. You can choose the shooting interval, say 1 shot every 5 sec, and how many shots up to 999. Using Quicktime 7 Pro you can turn the image sequence into a timelapse movie at frame rates ranging from 10sec/frame to 60frames/sec. Here's one of me painting our front fence. 3hrs in 17sec.

A playback frame rate of 25fps would give a 40sec movie from 999 frames.

AF for stills seems very fast and the shutter action seems lightning fast too. I keep expecting the second clunk of the mirror returning but it has already happened.

That's what has exited me so far. I'll chat about image quality and functionality underwater in the next instalment.

Thursday, 3 March 2011

Nikon D7000 SLR

I bought myself one of these recently released beauties as soon as the price dropped in Aus. The D7000 comes highly recommended by some serious underwater photographers and I felt it was a worthwhile upgrade from my D80.

Here are some of the features that attracted me.

Full 1080p video with continuous autofocus. Don't know how effective that AF will be, I suspect it will be far from perfect and I'll be using it as single AF rather than continuous.

Live view, looking forward to trying it underwater.

Very fast AF for still shots (not live view), I'm expecting this to be great underwater.

14bit RAW which apparently means much smoother sunburst rendition.

Startlingly low noise at higher ISOs, which will be good for my split levels at 400ISO.

Intervalometer for time-lapse recording. This will be fun underwater and above.

2 SD card slots, for backup or overflow or separating jpegs and RAWs

3" screen and 100% viewfinder, both bigger than the D80.

More on how it all works in real life in the next post.

Sunday, 20 February 2011

Sync cord end clip

Here's a little refinement after the initial test dive.

This clip allows the raw end of the sync cord to be fitted and removed underwater. This will allow much easier rolling out of the long cord now that the little hooked clip is not permanently attached.

The clip is stuck to the strobe by double sided tape.

I have also made up a short optical sync cord for use with a slaved on-camera strobe. This means I can just use a single electrical sync cord for the main strobe instead of the annoying double electrical cord.

Tuesday, 15 February 2011

Remote strobe underwater

So here's my first attempt.

The sync cord worked flawlessly, but it's so awkward dealing with 10m of coiled cable attached to strobe and camera.
It gets hooked and tangled on everything, not as bad as a reel and line but still frustrating.

Conditions were not great with 5m vis green cruddy water and heaps of dive classes in the vicinity.

Saturday, 12 February 2011

Fibre optic sync cord from audio cable

Fibre optic sync cords are a great option for underwater strobes but they are expensive and delicate. A 0.5m coiled sync cord costs around A$70. Digital audio cable, which is basically the same thing, costs maybe A$2.00 a meter.

Here's how I adapted a 10m toslink audio cable ($20 on ebay) to work with my Inon strobes. I'm intending to use the long sync cord to setup some remote strobe lighting in sites like wrecks, under ledges and behind pier piles.

First to make the slave strobe end I cut through one of the Toslink plugs leaving a lip which would sit inside an Inon sensor cover.

I carefully shaped the lip diameter and depth to hold the cable in the sensor cover and allow the sensor cover to be screwed over the sensor.

To make sure the cable didn't pull out of the lip I used plumber's PVC pipe glue.

That seemed to work very well but I also used heat shrink tube and cable ties to secure it even more.

The sensor cover can still rotate freely.

Finally to fit the master strobe end of the sync cord.
I cut the plug off leaving a raw end and made a PVC bracket to hold it in front of the master strobe.

The bracket fits around the sensor and the PVC material is thin enough, about 1mm, to allow the sensor cover to screw down securely, holding the bracket in place.

Here's the whole setup, now all I need is some decent vis!

Sunday, 6 February 2011

Inon strobe on Gorillapod

Here's how I mounted the strobe onto the tripod.

A piece of aluminium flat was shaped to fit the gorillapod mount with a cutout slot to accommodate the locking lug.

The strobe and gorillapod combination is negatively buoyant but I added a 0.3kg ankle weight for a bit more stability.

Off-camera underwater strobe

I have started mucking around with a remotely triggered strobe underwater.

The aim of this is to create more interesting lighting. Using an off camera strobe to add rim lighting or even back lighting can add depth and drama to an image.

The tricky bit is actually getting the remote flash to fire. Water absorbs light much more than air so the in-built Inon slave sensor is only effective over about 1.5m. Any further back and the main strobe will not trigger the remote strobe, at least in our murky sub-temperate water. 
There are a couple of solutions.
1. Use a really long sync cord, either fibre optic or electrical.
2. Use a more sensitive electronic remote sensor. These are available for Ikelite strobes but not my Inons, although one should be available very soon. 

I have ordered 10m of fibre optic audio cable to try a long sync cord. One end will sit in front of my main strobe and the other will connect to the remote strobe. This means the cable will be visible in the shot of course.

Stay tuned for new developments.

Saturday, 1 January 2011

Just purchased this new domain name with unlimited webspace from JustHost.

The aim is to showcase some of my better images and maybe promote some sales, who knows.

I'll keep you posted.

UPDATE 2013: I have let this site lapse due to a 300% increase in hosting charges. You're joking JustHost!