Monday, September 29, 2008

So very close

I hope you had a chance to watch the swimming competition in this summer's Olympics. As an ex-competitive swimmer (way-ex, I'm afraid) I always enjoy seeing the elite swimmers compete, but this year was special with Michael Phelps poised to take 8 gold medals and several of the swimmers I had photographed over the summer were competing in Beijing.

Milorad Cavic was one of the swimmers who trained in Key Largo and Islamorada over the summer with coach Mike Bottom and The Race Club. One day Rowdy Gaines gave me a call to see if I would shoot a series for Swanns, the Japanese google company that supports Cavic. As an aside, Rowdy is a former Olympic gold medal winner as well (3 gold medals in the 1984 Games), and did a truly amazing job with the swimming commentary for NBC at this year's Olympics. Best coverage of any swimming event, ever.

Anyway, I did the series with Mike Cavic and we had a lot of fun on the shoot. I remember watching him as he knocked out a 25-meter butterfly for my camera, and through the viewfinder I saw how his shoulders and upper body were so sculpted for powering through the water, and his waist and legs were so streamlined for minimal drag. "Hey Mike ... you're a freak of nature" I joked. Any serious swimmer should be so freakish ;)

I ran into Mike a few more times over the summer, but I was traveling and he was ready to go back to Serbia to compete with his national team. So, the next time I really saw him swim was at the Olympics when he swam the 100-meter butterfly against Michael Phelps. This may have been the most exciting race in the history of swimming given all that was on the line for both Mikes. In this one Michael Phelps just barely touched out Milorad Cavic by 1/100ths of a second. Phelps got his 8 golds and Cavic got a silver and is a national hero in Serbia, rightfully so.

So, hey Mike, thanks for the photo-ops and congratulations. That was one hell of a swim!

Sunday, September 28, 2008

The New Nikonos?

First, despite the title, let me say I don't expect an amphibious camera like the Nikonos will ever come back. Certainly not in analog form, as film is well and truly dead for most applications, and not even likely as a digital amphibian. Despite some, who in a fit of nostalgia, wish for a camera with the simplicity and ergonomics of the Nikonos V, but with digital capability. Underwater is just to narrow a niche to invite the creation of an exclusive product from a major manufacturer unless they knew they could OWN the market, like Nikon did for years with the Nikonos. Now, the housings are so very good for both D-SLRs and compact digital cameras, there is no universally dominant solution. Housings for existing cameras will likely be our trend for the foreseeable future.

But, here's one camera I think will have major legs for extremely wide acceptance ... the Canon G10. Now that the camera is being shown at Photokina and nondisclosure agreements have expired, here's why I think it will be significant:

1. Loyal user base of G9 shooters already familiar with camera navigation, but G10 is improved camera in every respect.
2. 28mm lens at wide end of zoom instead of 35. 35 behind flat port became 50mm, not wide enough for many subjects. 28mm will be much better both topside and underwater.
3. Terrific specs, including 14.7 MP with RAW capability and Digic 4 processor to provide functionality we’ve never had in a compact camera (from the Canon press release):
* DIGIC 4 for exceptional images - Canon’s new DIGIC 4 image processor uses improved algorithms and calculation accuracy, allowing the PowerShot G10 to deliver two major advantages: ultra-fast operation, and rich, low-noise images with outstanding clarity and colour reproduction.
* DIGIC 4 also powers several intelligent onboard features.
*Canon’s new i-Contrast feature increases the dynamic range in images to bring out previously unnoticed detail in dark areas, like shadows – without blowing out lighter areas.
* Canon’s anti-blur solution combats blur caused by camera shake and subject motion using a range of technologies: optical Image Stabilizer, Motion Detection Technology and Auto ISO Shift, plus new Servo AF – which, when engaged, continually adjusts focus on a subject moving towards or away from the camera.

4. Expected wide support among housing manufacturers including Canon WP-DC28 as stand-alone, Ikleite (here for G9 and Patima (
5. Camera controls are "housing friendly". Instead of arcane menus and submenus to get to important image-making variables like shutter speed, ISO, and mode; these are rotary dials that also show up in huge font on the 3" LCD screen. With the G10 even exposure compensation is a rotary dial, a massive advantage to anyone wishing to bracket in TTL.

I may be partial because I am so fond of G9 as my topside family & walkabout camera. But I think the G10 has the potential to break away from plethora of compact cameras to be bridge between point-and-shoot and D-SLR, particularly in housings capable of accepting external strobe (TTL in some cases) and accessory wide angle lens. Ikelite will no doubt support TTL, and any housing that has a Nikonos 5 pin synch socket could even use a topside Canon speedlight for E-TTL in an Epoque underwater strobe housing.

I can't predict all the housing support and macro/wide-angle accessories that may evolve for this camera, but with 15MP RAW capability, minimal digital lag, inexpensive price to acquire, and ease of travel, this will undoubtedly make quality underwater photography more easily attainable for more divers.

Oh yeah, and don't forget that it takes stellar video clips as well. Let's see our old Nikonos V pull off that trick. Shown here is a highly compressed "Behind the Scenes" shot that Travis Gainsley did with my G9 while we were on location in Little Cayman for Scuba Diving magazine.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Petition to protect Snapper Ledge_Important!!

Please view (and sign) our petition to create a Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary at Snapper Ledge:

New: To see video of Snapper Ledge and narrative by Stephen Frink -

I am very grateful for the outpouring of support for this initiative!

For the story of why this is so important, see The photos show both ends of the spectrum, why Snapper Ledge is so unique, and why it needs protection. Please join our petition. NOAA is watching, and if it is the will of the people, they will create a Sanctuary Preservation Area at Snapper Ledge.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Some great white shark photos from Guadalupe

Just now back from a 3 day shoot aboard the Nautilus Explorer in Guadalupe. Here are a few of images.

Many of the photos were done conventionally, from a shark cage at the stern of the boat; but I also had very good luck using my Seacam polecam and video monitor. In retrospect, that was a powerful tool and I'll use it more when I go shoot white sharks again in South Australia next summer.

Micro adjustments with Canon MKIII cameras

MicroAdjustment on the Canon 14mm II

I just got back from a shoot on Little Cayman where I was using my new Canon 14mm II to shoot a model as an over/under, with starfish being the underwater component. The focus was on the starfish, and I expected the model would go to soft focus given the refractive difference between water and air. But, still, intuitively I thought the model in the background should have been relatively sharper.

(Top shot)

That thought nagged at me today as I did the 20-hour crossing from Ensenada to Guadalupe Island aboard Nautilus Explorer. After all, when I wake up tomorrow I’ll be hoping to photograph great white sharks, and this is no time to have a lens performing less than optimally. After all, if a lens does not focus properly topside, there is no way it will work satisfactorily underwater.

I have had problems with lenses focusing improperly in the past. Actually, only once, and that was with a 15mm lens that should have been very easy to focus because of its extreme depth of field. The photos would look sharp through the viewfinder, and auto focus indicated they were spot on. But, a critical look at the files at 100% magnification revealed they are soft where they should be ultra-sharp. That lens, plus the camera body, had to be sent back to Canon for calibration.

But now, with the MKIII Canons (I have a 1DsMKIII and a 1DMKIII) the cameras themselves have micro adjustment as a custom function, which means I can dial in the auto focus accuracy of my lens on each of my cameras, and anytime a 14mm II is attached to the camera, it detects it and dials in any specific auto focus adjustment I might apply. It can’t tell which specific 14mm II lens of course, but any 14mm II will be recognized as such by the camera and the micro adjustment applied.

To improve my focus functionality I had to first determine exactly what setting would give better results than the factory setting of “zero” adjustment. The camera allows +/- 20 points of correction, so I did a test in 5-point increments, beginning at –20 and running through zero to +20. Obviously, I had to improvise (I was on a boat, after all) and didn’t have a tripod. I chose aperture priority at F-2.8 for the test, to assure the very least depth of field and worst optical performance the lens could deliver. I assumed things could only get better from there. I set the center AF zone on the numbers “1434” on my targeted book cover.

Second shot shows the whole scene, from which the 100% screengrabs were taken.

(Third shot is at minus 20,
Fourth shot is at plus 20)

As it turned out, minus 5 was best for my Canon 1DsMKIII and plus 5 was best for my 1DMKIII with my personal 14mm II lens. Your mileage may vary, and probably will.

Now, having dialed in the micro adjustment correct for this lens, I wanted to find out what working apertures would give me the depth of field sufficient to hold both foreground and background reasonably well, for a situation like my starfish + model. I used the two magazines in the foreground as reference, and again focused on the type on the novel, “1434”. The Outdoor Photographer in the foreground would have to be way out of focus at wide apertures since the focus was so much farther back, but I wanted to see what aperture might bring it reasonably into focus. Again, these are screengrabs, this time from Camera Raw at 100%.

In this admittedly extremely difficult situation to hold focus both at the center of the frame and the subject in the near foreground, F-11 was where I began to see satisfactory results. For two subjects on the same plane, F-5.6 might have been acceptable, but this tells me for subjects of the kind of dimension I might find underwater, F-8 to F-11 is the maximum aperture I am comfortable with. So, instead of working at ISO 100 with this lens, I’ll standardize on ISO 200. After all, the difference between 100 and 200 ISO on a MKIII is virtually indiscernible, but the difference between F-5.6 and F-8 on this lens is significant.

(Fifth shot is at F-5.6,
(Sixth shot is at F-22)

Bring on the white sharks, because my 14mm II and I are now ready for them! It is nice to know this level of precise control is available on my MKIII cameras, especially when problems are diagnosed impossibly far from the nearest Canon repair facility.

Oh, by the way, I forgot to show the target when it was properly dialed in. I added that one at the end, a minus 5 on the 1DsMKIII. Double click on the shots of the targets to get a sense of how significant the difference is throughout the range of adjustment. No sharpening or processing has been applied to any of the shots. Just straight screengrabs from either Photo Mechanic's browser or CS3's Camera RAW.