Monthly Archives: October 2015

  • iPhones Have Taken Over!

    Reef5220There was a time when photographs you took had to be big. That's because it you wanted to print from them, the requirements of professional printers meant that file sizes had to be enormous. Since then the digital revolution has moved on apace and we have seen a revolution in camera use, not least in the substitution of smart phones for compact cameras when taking snapshots. The quality of pictures taken by these little marvels cannot be understated. In fact, the most important newspaper in Chicago, USA, recently fired all its photographers and distributed iPhones among its writers instead. It won't be long before the same thing happens over on this side of the Atlantic.

    Today we get so much of our information via our computers, our smart pads and our smart phones. The pictures that are sent to us this way are necessarily of small size and low resolution. It's all that’s needed. We now live in a digital age.

    The fact of the matter is that the ongoing death throes of print media may be bad news for traditional photographers but it's good news for anyone with a mobile phone. Today, a lot of what is published in the on-line news media and on television news is recorded via a mobile phone that a member of the public has witnessed. Not only that but we now usually get the benefit of a live-action recording too. (If only the camera/phone operators would remember to hold their phones horizontally so that they get a landscape shape image that fits our computer and television screens.)

    Of course, there is no benefit of a zoom lens (yet) on a smart phone, so users have to get in close to the action. However, all they have to do is point the lens towards the subject and hold their phone steady while they are doing so. The quality of pictures now achievable with the iPhone 6 are nothing short of spectacular.

    So how does this translate to underwater photography?

    Well, thanks to i-Pix, you can now buy a housing that will enable you to use your iPhone5,

    iPix iPhone5 housing i-Pix iPhone5 housing

    iPhone6 or iPhone6 Plus as an underwater camera. The first rule of underwater photography is to get close  to reduce the amount of water through which the camera has to look. No zoom lens is not a drawback and instead you can fit a supplementary  wide-angle wet lens instead. This will enable you to get closer to larger subjects without cropping the picture. If you want to make close-ups, there is a close-up lens available for each housing too. These 'wet' lenses are interchangeable when you are underwater.

    The housings themselves are rated to either 56-metres deep or 40-metres deep respectively but since you cannot synchronise any off-board flashgun with a smart phone (yet) it means staying shallow and using natural light. A red filter will ensure that you get good colour in your results.

    iPix Iphone6 housing i-Pix iPhone6 housing

    Already I can hear you asking how on earth you can use the touch-screen to control your camera phone while you are under water? Well, of course, when it’s in its housing you cannot. Instead you can download a free app from the Internet that will allow you top control the camera functions of your phone be means of a set of buttons provided.

    Buttons are alternative to a touch-screen Buttons are alternative to a touch-screen

    The other functions of the phone are disabled at this time.  You won’t be able to make phone calls while you are under water. Even nuclear submarines have to send up a buoy on a line with an ariel to do that!

    Sick of seeing people taking pictures with their phones at the end of a selfie-stick? Go one better! You can even take underwater selfies! You could be uber-cool, taking your iPhone under water and the pictures you can take with it will wow your friends. You can email them or post them on FaceBook as soon as you surface.

    As an added side-effect, once your iPhone is safely installed in its underwater housing you can take it virtually anywhere. You won't have to worry about humidity or other inhospitable conditions affecting its performance. If you want to take your iPhone even deeper than the depth-limits already mentioned, there is the Patima iPhone housing rated to an 80-metres operational depth. Enjoy!

  • Jussi Goes To Lembeh

    lembeh5 lembeh6 lembeh3Among the people at Ocean Leisure cameras, Jussi Hokkanen is particularly keen on macro life. For example, our Finnish member of staff is crazy about nudibranchs, those colourful little seaslugs that wear their feathery gills on their backs. A keen underwater photographer, when he recently visited Manado in North Suluwesi to go diving, it would have been remiss of him not to make a pilgrimage from there south to Lembeh Strait, the critter capital of the world.

    Lembeh Strait, the stretch of water between Pulau Lembeh and the busy port of Bitung, has had the dubious benefit of three thousand years of busy boat traffic with all the rubbish and detritus that only that could have brought with it. The seabed is a grey lava sand littered with rubbish but Nature being adaptive as it is has overcome all that human beings have thrown at it and creatures underwater have evolved in various ways. It may not sound very attractive but as the dive guides like to brief, “If you see a bit of rubbish, it’s probably an animal that looks like a bit of rubbish, but if it really is a bit of rubbish it will have an unusual animal living inside it!”

    Jussi's camera set-up for Lembeh Strait. Jussi's camera set-up for Lembeh Strait.

    Of course, all these critters are in the main very small so Jussi took with him a suitable underwater camera rig that would allow him to record images of theses tiny animals that were usually bigger than life-size. He successfully photographed mandarin fish, a neon clam and a hairy frogfish among numerous other subjects.

    For this he chose to use Olympus E-PL7 camera with the Olympus PT-EP12 Housing.

    Olympus EPL7 Package Olympus EPL7 Package

    With the often bought 14-42mm zoom lens it represents remarkably good value at close to one-thousand pounds. However, for the macro life found at Lembeh Jussi preferred to use the Olympus 60mm macro lens, which he mounted behind an AOI Macro port. AOI supplies a range of different ports, both in acrylic and glass, that can be used in conjunction with the Olympus PEN housings.  He then added an Inon UCL-165 wet lens

    Inon UCL165 close-up lens Inon UCL165 close-up lens

    to the front. This combination gave him the close-up six-dioptre magnification he required.  If he had needed even more magnification, he could have swapped to a twelve-dioptre AOI macro lens. To get his images recorded in a full spectrum of vibrant  colour, Jussi needed to take some white light under water with him.

    Inon S2000 Inon S2000 flashgun

    For this he chose to use two Inon S-2000 strobe lights (flashguns) triggered by twin fibre-optic cables from the flash attached to the camera. These are neat and compact and have heads small enough not to give light with too little contrast when positioned so close to the small subjects. These were mounted to the camera housing via a Nauticam Easy Tray with optional additional handle and short i-Das arms with standard one-inch mounting balls and clamps. To make it easier to see to focus on such tiny subjects Jussi added a Fisheye FIX Neo 1000 WR spotting light.

    Fisheye Fix Mini1000 Fisheye Fix Mini1000

    This little wizard of a lamp can be switched to a red mode so that the light it gives out does not disturb the animals. (Most marine life does not see red light.) Once Jussi had lined up his camera, the light pulsed from the strobe units gave him a full colour rendition. Not only that, but the focussing lamp automatically senses the flash firing and switches off momentarily so that there is no annoying spot remaining where the focussing light was pointed._DSC5312

  • Small is Beautiful

    Nudibranch, a seaslug that carries its gills on its back. Nudibranch, a seaslug that carries its gills on its back.

    More and more people have become fascinated with the minutia of marine life found underwater and besides looking for what may be hiding in plain sight right under their noses in local waters are trekking off to distant lands for the unique and some would say very strange animals living in the mucky seabed around the islands of the Far East.

    Flamboyant cuttlefish Flamboyant cuttlefish

    I hasten to add that fauna on a macro scale can be found in all seas and neither should we overlook the Caribbean or Med.

    Miniature frogfish Miniature frogfish

    Although most compact cameras have a 'macro' mode, this can put the camera far too close to the subject to enable the photographer to shine a light on it. However, most underwater housings for compact cameras can, with or without the aid of an adapter,  be supplied with an ancillary macro lens that is fitted whilst underwater.

    Compact camera with AOI +12-dioptre macro lens fitted. Compact camera with AOI +12-dioptre macro lens fitted.

    There's a vast range of such lenses available, whether it be the well-known Subsea brand, from Inon or even more expensive Nauticam. One manufacturer that actually makes lenses for other brands is now supplying to the retail market through Ocean Leisure Cameras, with consequent and significant savings on the final price, and that is AOI. There are macro lenses for GoPro cameras too.

    Once you've fitted the lens underwater and made sure to dislodge any air bubbles that might have got trapped between lens and the front glass of the housing, start looking for a likely subject. The dive guides have sharp eyes and know what to look for so don't be afraid to accept help. Some of these critters are minute.

    Halimeda ghost pipefish Halimeda ghost pipefish

    The great thing about macro photography is that you can enter the water with your lights previously set up. Whether you use off-board flash or a continuous light source such as a powerful video light, you can perfect you lighting set-up before you find your subject.

    Don't forget, you can shoot video too.

    Once you've lined up on a likely looking beast, don't let the camera's auto focus try to get it sharp. Move the camera back and forth slowly until you see the subject come sharp on your LCD display. The halimeda ghost pipe fish normally hangs around on halimeda weed which it looks exactly like.

    The seahorse might be more easily recognised but they have the annoying habit of turning their faces away from danger so you will just have to keep still and wait until it's forgotten that you are there.

    Seahorse Seahorse. You'll have to be patient until it's forgotten that you're there.

    Stealth and patience are the name of the game. Your air will  last though, because you don't waste much energy in finning. You end up hovering around waiting to get the shot. If you lie on the seabed you must be doubly sure to avoid resting on any small creature. Some things might look like rubbish but they might be an animal cleverly disguised.

    Ribbon eel Colourful Ribbon eel

    It might be a bit of rubbish - but if it is it will certainly have an animal living in it! once you get into macro photography, it becomes something of an obsession. It's as if you can only see this other tiny world by means of photography.

    Nudibranch come in an assortment of colours. Nudibranch come in an assortment of colours and styles.

    A white light in the form of a flash or a video light will reveal things in their natural colours and, let's face it, it's a mystery as to why they are so colourful since the animals can't see it.

    It's remarkable that divers always seem to fall in love with nudibranchs. These are colourful slugs that wear their gills on their backs.

    I have photographed more than one hundred and fifty animals at one site alone. Take plenty of memory cards with you unless you can download your pictures between dives.

    The face of a frogfish. The face of a frogfish sitting on a sponge.
  • Close-Focus Wide-Angle

    A new buzz-word expression that has developed among underwater photographers is Close-focus Wide-angle or CFWA. What is it and how do you do it?

    Terrestrial photographers have been using wide-angle lenses for years and some caught on to the idea that by getting really close to your subject with a very wide-angle lens on your camera gave you  the steep perspective that added drama and put the viewer right in with the subject. Doyen of war photographers, Don McCullin was a great exponent of this technique. He used to say that you need to get close to the action, then closer still.

    Photographers often talk about the quality of the glass - their lenses. Underwater, the one aspect that tends to ruin the quality of our pictures is the poor quality of the water we are in. It's full of detritus and plankton. 30-metres of horizontal visibility is thought to be gin-clear whereas if that was all you had in air it would be considered a heavy mist at least. It's a great leveller and sometimes buying better quality cameras can be fraught with disappointment. We need better quality water first! So we use wide-angle lenses not often to get a wider shot but to allow us to get close to our subject without cropping out any part of it.

    Olympus TG4 with i-Das Fisheye lens Olympus TG4 housing with i-Das Fisheye lens attached.

    Whereas a fish-eye lens would be a strange choice for a terrestrial shot, underwater it can make complete sense, allowing you to get really close. The dome at the front makes a virtual image by the refraction of the light as it passes from water to the air inside the dome and it's this the camera focuses on. It used to be the province of only very expensive DSLR cameras in tailor-made housings but now you can get an i-Das fish-eye lens for many compact cameras and the route is open for CFWA pictures. Look at how the steep perspective of the close camera-to-subject position translates into much more interesting pictures! Here are some examples.

    Firstly I show you the final shot that was first published in many diving magazines throughout the world and later published in Shark Bytes after the background was simplified by computer retouching in Photoshop.



    A Great Hammerhead shark a few centimetres from the camera lens _FFF5723 _FFF5724 A Great hammerhead shark searching for prey (stingrays) hiding under the sand.

    With moving subjects, the trick is to hold your nerve and let the animal come to you. This Great hammerhead shark was searching for its natural prey, Southern stingrays, hiding under the sand in the Bahamas. The water was so shallow I was able to use natural light and shoot a series of pictures in quick succession.

    I didn't need to wait for any underwater flashgun to recycle and get ready for the next shot that can take one or two seconds, which is far too long a delay when recording fast moving subjects.

    The shark was maybe 6-metres-long from front to the tip of its tail and that length translates into an interesting perspective when the nearest part is only around 10-centimetres from the camera lens' dome.

    Naturally, you need to use a fast shutter-speed (I used 1/500 of a second) to freeze the movement, together with a small lens aperture, and I achieved this by increasing the ISO setting to get that. I simply adjusted the camera in advance to be sure the sand was correctly exposed, checking the result on the camera's LCD screen. I then shot a fast sequence of pictures as the animal passed.

    If you shoot in RAW mode, you can adjust the files at leisure later on a suitably equipped PC to get the exactly result you want.

    The i-Das fisheye lens will screw directly to the front of an Olympus  Tough TG4 camera's underwater housing or it will need an adapter ring to fit it to any housing that has a 67mm thread at the front of its port. It works best with the 28mm (equivalent) lens of the Sony RX100 Mk2 in its housing but you may need to zoom in to that equivalent setting with some later cameras such as the Sony RX100 Mk3 and Mk4. Come in to Ocean Leisure Cameras, the store within the store, and discuss your options with the experts. If you want to know more about the techniques of underwater photography, the Ocean Leisure book department has a wealth of resources and if you like the shark pictures you see here you can read about what it took to get such images, including plenty of pictures, in the new book Shark Bytes, also available from Ocean Leisure!


  • The Wonderful Islands of the Maldives

    As Autumn makes itself known to us with cooler air and wind and rain, memories of Summer vacations begin to fade and minds inevitably drift towards the possibilities of Winter sunshine. Among visitors to Ocean Leisure's store on London's Embankment near Charing Cross, the most popular destination must be the Indian Ocean island nation of the Maldives.

    Inter-island travel is by speedboat or seaplane. Inter-island travel is by speedboat or seaplane.

    Scattered across a swathe of tropical sea, the Maldives are a chain of around 1200 tiny palm-fringed islands that are mainly just north of the Equator, arranged around the rims of what are thought to be sunken prehistoric volcanoes, now ring-shaped reefs called 'atolls'.

    The islands are so small that any that have resorts based on them have only space for one. Some of these resorts represent the highest quality in tropical accommodation likely to be found anywhere in the world whereas others suit travellers on a budget. You choose.

    Private plunge pool of water-bungalow at the Constance Halaveli Resort Typical private plunge pool of a water-bungalow.

    Transport between the islands and the airport is either by speedboat or be seaplane depending on the distance involved. You may opt for a beach villa, a garden villa or a water-bungalow, but once you've grown accustomed to the abject luxury of it all, you'll be irrevocably drawn to the sea. Each island is built upon a reef so you won't have to go far to start swimming with the tropical fishes and while the majority will be content to snorkel off the beach, it's a perfect opportunity to learn to scuba dive because nearly every resort has a dive centre attached. Now although the Maldives has a reputation for high-voltage diving on the ocean side, within the atolls it can be very easy. Some resorts have even sunk old and unwanted vessels for the benefit of visiting divers and with time these have turned into vibrant coral reefs.

    A Maldivian wreck sunk for the benefit of divers burgeons with marine life. A Maldivian wreck sunk for the benefit of divers burgeons with marine life.

    You won't have to travel very far. The marine life comes close to the beach. If you prefer to simply snorkel the dive centre can rent you a mask, fins and snorkel but there's something nice about having your own. The wise traveller tries on a mask and fins before purchasing. That's because, although Ocean Leisure has a wide range of different masks available and they are all good, faces are infinitely variable and you'll want a mask that's comfortable and doesn't leak. Buying fins is like buying shoes. It doesn't matter how good they are if they're not comfortable so try before you buy. If you plan to scuba dive with your own equipment, don't forget to get your regulator serviced in good time before you go away.

    Maldivian dhoni/ A Maldivian dhoni will take you further from the resort.

    Snorkelling around the house reef can be a relaxing affair but you might find the urge to go further afield. The resort will have a fleet of dhonis (locally built boats) for this purpose.

    So what marine life are you likely to see? Well, hawkbill and green turtles are common in that part of the world. Be patient and you're bound to see one. The ubiquitous blue-lined snapper is the signature fish of the Maldives and these hover around in great yellow clouds as a defence strategy against predatory fish.

    You'll want to bring back more than just memories of what you see. A little amphibious camera such as the Canon D30 is watertight to 25-metres deep and will withstand the rigours of being taken to the beach every day.

    Green turtle on a Maldivian reef. Green turtle on a Maldivian reef.

    An Olympus TG4 is only good for 15-metres deep but it has a submarine housing available for it that will allow it to go much deeper. This will take ancillary wet lenses and an off-board flash, should you so wish. A different solution comes in the form of the Fujifilm XQ1

    Maldivian reef manta with attendant remoras fish. Maldivian reef manta with attendant remora fish.

    This represents a bargain in that it is bundled with a proper underwater housing, carrying case and memory card. If its live-action you want to record, the phenomenal GoPro range of action cameras, once fitted with a filter for underwater use and a neutrally buoyant grip to make handling easy, are almost unbeatable by price and performance. You'll be kicking yourself if you get to see a gracefully cavorting manta ray while you are in the Maldives and come back without a record of the experience.

    Whatever your plans, we at Ocean Leisure can ensure that you arrive in the Maldives with the best options for either snorkelling or scuba diving and bringing back a tangible record of the things you have seen.

    Blue-lined snapper huddle together in a big yellow cloud. Blue-lined snapper huddle together in a big yellow cloud.

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