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Sony E-Mount Mirrorless Cameras for Underwater Photography

Discussion in 'Sony Alpha E-Mount Cameras' started by Phil Rudin, Jul 30, 2015.

  1. Phil Rudin

    Phil Rudin TalkEmount Regular

    28
    Jul 29, 2015
    Lake Park, Florida USA
    PHIL RUDIN
    Text And Photos by Phil Rudin

    My first field review of a Sony E-mount camera was done for the Nov/Dec 2010 issue of Underwater Photography magazine, (uwpmag.com) where I am currently Senior Reviewer. This review was for the Sony NEX-5 and Nauticam NA-NEX5 underwater housing. At the time not many quality E-mount lenses had been released that were suited to U/W photography. My review included use of the 18-55 mm zoom, 16 mm with fisheye adapter, an adapter for legacy Nikonos U/W lenses and more. Since the release of the NEX-5, I have reviewed additional E-mount ASP-C lenses as they have been introduced as well as upgraded APS-C camera bodies like the NEX-7. This month I have begun to build my own Sony full frame system with the intention of housing the coming A7R II/Nauticam NA-A7RII as the system for my personal work. Many of the systems I review are on loan from a variety of sources, so I have the opportunity like many reviewers to pick and chose which systems and lenses I think best suit the needs of underwater photographers at a variety of different price points.

    1.

    Barfish, Sony NEX-7, E-30 mm macro, Nauticam NA-NEX7 housing and macro port, two Inon Z-240 strobes, ISO-100, F/10, 1/160th.


    With this I mind, I will point out some of the things I look for in an underwater camera. First is the ability to build a complete system where everything integrates seamlessly to allow you to focus on your subject and not on your equipment. Being underwater adds an additional degree of difficulty to your work not always found while working above water. First and most obvious is that when working with interchangeable lens cameras, once you have entered the water you can’t make a lens change. More than once I have been shooting with a macro lens when a Whale Shark cruised by and was left with only the memory and not the images. Second, almost all underwater photos are taken with at least some strobe lighting and in the case of macro it may be as high as 100% strobe lighting. As a result U/W photographers are looking for camera bodies with fairly high sync speeds 1/250th or above being ideal. High sync speeds allow a broader balance between ambient and strobe lighting. With all of the Sony E-mount cameras, external strobes can be fired in TTL or manually depending on your choice of housing manufactures. External strobes can also be fired via fiber optic cables or hard wired sync cords in most cases.


    2.

    Pink Vase Sponge, Sony NEX-5r, E-10-18 mm zoom at 10 mm, Nauticam NEX-5r housing and seven inch dome port, two Inon Z-240 strobes, ISO-200, F/14, 1/160th.


    This brings use back to the issue of building a complete system rather than just choosing a camera body because it scored a point or two higher on a review than the other guys' body did. Sony E-mount cameras are quite popular among underwater shooters, which means that several manufactures are building complete housings systems for them. Nauticam (nauticamusa.com nauticam.com) leads the field with housing for twelve of the leading Sony E-mount camera bodies including the full line of A7 bodies, NEX and A5000/6000 bodies. Most underwater still & video shooters stick to just a few basic lenses. First, a quality macro lens that will reach life size (1:1) and which also puts enough distance between the subject and the macro port so that the subject is not overly disturbed. The new Sony FE 90 mm macro is an excellent example of a quality lens for U/W macro and the best overall macro lens I have tested to date. I have also used the 30mm macro, which is great for those on a limited budget and quite sharp for the cost. The biggest issue with this lens is that it focuses very close to the subject once you get to 1:3 or greater.


    3.

    Red-Orange Branching Sponge, PolkoSony NEX-5r, E-10-18 mm zoom at 10 mm, Nauticam NEX-5r housing and seven inch dome port, two Inon Z-240 strobes, ISO-200, F/11, 1/160th.

    4.

    Spotted Scorpionfish, NEX-5r, E-10-18 mm zoom at 10 mm, Nauticam NEX-5r housing and seven inch dome port, two Inon Z-240 strobes, ISO-200, F/10, 1/160th.

    For wide-angle shots, rectilinear lenses of 100 degrees or wider work best so the FE 16-35mm zoom, E 10-18mm F/4 and Zeiss Touit 12 mm are all ideal. Fisheye and fisheye zooms are also quite popular U/W lenses; this is where Sony has not yet excelled. While the fisheye adapters for the E-16mm and FE-28mm are supported by Nauticam and others, we underwater photographers will welcome a true Sony fisheye when released. Why not use aftermarket lenses like the excellent Rokinon 12 mm fisheye? These lenses become problematic in an underwater housing due to the need for gears to focus and change aperture, extensions to match the lens length in the dome port, lack of metadata connectivity and more. Conventional DSLR lenses using lens adapters which allow AF also present challenges because of their greater size in the smaller mirrorless housing dome ports, need for larger diameter port glass, control alignment and more.


    5.

    Octopus Eye, Sony A7 II, FE 90 mm macro, Nauticam NA-A7II housing with DSLR macro port and extensions, (a one piece macro port is coming for this lens), two Inon Z-240 strobes, ISO-200, F/16, 1/250th.

    6.

    Male Jaw Fish with eggs, Sony NEX7, E-30 mm macro, Nauticam NA-NEX7 housing and macro port, one Inon Z-240 strobe with Saga light shaping snoot, ISO-100, F/10, 1/160th.


    7.

    Polka-Dot Batfish, Sony A7 II, FE 90 mm macro, Nauticam NA-A7II housing with DSLR macro port and extensions, (a one piece macro port is coming for this lens), two Inon Z-240 strobes, ISO-200, F/11, 1/125th.


    8.

    Seaweed Bleeny, Sony NEX7, E-30 mm macro, Nauticam NA-NEX7 housing and macro port, one Inon Z-240 strobe with Saga light shaping snoot, ISO-100, F/10, 1/160th.

    9.

    Conch Eye, Sony A7 II, FE 90 mm macro, Nauticam NA-A7II housing with DSLR macro port and extensions, (a one piece macro port is coming for this lens), two Inon Z-240 strobes, ISO-200, F/9, 1/250th.


    My magazine reviews generally revolve around using cameras for U/W stills but the Sony E-mount cameras are equally capable of producing quality video as well. The A7s is a standard among underwater video shooters for its excellent video capability in the low light condition frequently found shooting underwater, overall system cost and much more. Click here to view a recent video shot with the A7s in a cave over 200 feet deep.

    If your intention is to enter the underwater world with a quality camera and housing system you would be well served to consider any of the Sony mirrorless systems that meet your needs.
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Jul 30, 2015
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  2. davect01

    davect01 Super Moderator

    Aug 20, 2011
    Fountain Hills, AZ
    Dave
    Nice write-up. Impressive images. Welcome to our forum.

    Always been interested in underwater photography. I have a case for my cell phone camera and have been taking a few shots at the pool.
     
  3. NickCyprus

    NickCyprus Super Moderator

    Oct 11, 2012
    Cyprus
    Nick
    Welcome!

    Impressive work from a totally different world/point of view :)
     
  4. garethwi

    garethwi TalkEmount Regular

    95
    Sep 2, 2011
    Netherlands
    Gareth
    Beautiful shots. I ooze jealousy. It's been a real desire of mine to have a go at underwater photography, but somehow the chance always escapes me.
     
  5. Amin Sabet

    Amin Sabet Administrator

    Aug 6, 2011
    What an amazing world we would never see without photos like these!
     
  6. ztryfe

    ztryfe TalkEmount Veteran

    224
    Aug 19, 2014
    Mexico
    Vic
    Wow what a comprehensive first posts! I think I wandered into uwp when researching the Nex cameras once.

    Do you have photos of the gear itself? I know you focus on capturing, but it will make the contrast and different considerations much more tangible!

    Thanks for sharing!
     
  7. serhan

    serhan TalkEmount All-Pro

    Aug 27, 2011
    NYC
    Great shots!
     
  8. Phil Rudin

    Phil Rudin TalkEmount Regular

    28
    Jul 29, 2015
    Lake Park, Florida USA
    PHIL RUDIN
    Thanks for all of the positive remarks. I have attached some of the housings I have used for these images.


    DSC00640-1.

    Nauticam NEX-7 housing with 30mm macro port.




    DSC00835-1.


    This is the Nauticam NA-A7II housing with the 90mm macro, the port is temporary until the new Nauticam FE 90 mm port is released along with the manual focus gear.



    P1140016-1.

    Last photo is from left to right Nauticam housings for Olympus E-M1, Sony A7 II with a legacy Nikonos 15mm lens attached to an adapter and last a DSLR full frame camera housing. M43 has an 85mm port opening and mount, A7 II is 100mm and the DSLR housings are 120mm. Behind is a housing for the RED video camera. Not a huge difference between E-M1 and A7 II considering sensor size difference, DSLR adds considerable bulk both in housing and port sizes.
     
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  9. AlwaysOnAuto

    AlwaysOnAuto TalkEmount Top Veteran

    719
    Feb 17, 2015
    Nice write up and photos.
    I'd be interested in knowing what you do after you've been in the water to keep your equipment looking so immaculate.
    Only reason I ask is a friend recently dropped his new P&S camera in the ocean while kayaking and it cost him his camera.
    Do you just hose your housings down with clean water or is it more involved than that?
     
  10. Phil Rudin

    Phil Rudin TalkEmount Regular

    28
    Jul 29, 2015
    Lake Park, Florida USA
    PHIL RUDIN
    I submerge in fresh water for at least thirty minutes and while in the water I also move all of the controls to be sure the salt is flushed out. I disassemble many of the components as well and then dry well before storing. I also remove the camera prior to this process. Also I never put my camera into the prince tank on a dive boat and always instruct the deck hands not to do the same. I may give it a quick since in the camera tank but that is all. As an instructor I have had more student cameras flooded in the rinse tank than in the ocean. Also most of the gear you see above was on loan for product reviews so I can't take all the credit for the condition of the equipment and about half the time I am using new or prototype equipment. I also give some feedback to manufactures about what changes I would like to see.
     
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  11. AlwaysOnAuto

    AlwaysOnAuto TalkEmount Top Veteran

    719
    Feb 17, 2015
    Thanks for your reply. It is appreciated.
     
  12. T Janssen

    T Janssen New to TalkEmount

    1
    Aug 1, 2015
    Hi Phil,
    Saw your link and joined.

    Are you still using the EM-1?
    Or have you switched to the Sony's?
    How do the new ones stack up against the NEX-7, i.e. is there an appreciable difference?

    Sorry Barbara and I missed the Digital Fiesta this year.
    Maybe next year.
    We're in the process of moving to Florida.
    Ted Janssen
     
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  13. Amin Sabet

    Amin Sabet Administrator

    Aug 6, 2011
  14. Phil Rudin

    Phil Rudin TalkEmount Regular

    28
    Jul 29, 2015
    Lake Park, Florida USA
    PHIL RUDIN
    Hi Ted,

    Good to hear from you, missed you at this years UDF. I still like the Olympus stuff but I am moving to Sony full frame for a number of reasons I will discuss at length the next time I see you. I just arrived in North Carolina and will be spending the next three days photographing Sand Tiger Sharks.
     
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