Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Travel Strategies – How to get 140 pounds of Stuff to Indonesia?

There used to be 2 magic numbers in travel: 50 for domestic air and 70 for international. Those were the weight in pounds that one could check without incurring overweight charges. We all know the formula is changing, but without checking the airline’s website it seems one can never predict from one trip to the next what rules apply.

Case in point … my trip to Indonesia at the moment. When I checked in at my US gateway, in this case Las Vegas, with a bag full of camera gear at 67 pounds and a clothing/dive gear combo at 70 pounds, I assumed I would be OK. Not! If it was a US destination and I was flying American, for example, I would now expect to pay $15 for the first bag + $50 since it was 50-70 pounds + $25 for the second bag + $50 since it was 50-70 pounds. $65 for the first bag and $75 for the second bag = $140. Not perfect, but a new reality I can accept. After all, diving and underwater photography are heavy past-times and I expect to pay.

But, here was the new and quite unpleasant new parameter. American, or any US carrier, has to play by the rules of the international carrier they connect to. In this case Singapore Air, and Singapore Air expected to be paid 3 times the overweight charge for the 50-70 pound limit PER BAG. $150 per bag in overweight x 2 bags. $600 in overweight each way. $1200 in overweight just getting to and from Bali, let alone whatever I was likely to incur in overweight with the domestic carriers within Indonesia. Probably $1500 in overweight to get to Raja Ampat. Yikes!!! This is getting a bit silly.

However, I lucked out with a helpful ticket agent at the American counter, and she told me it was cheaper to pay for a third bag if I could get them all under 50 pounds. So, I raced to a nearby shop at the airport and bought a particularly ugly $50 suitcase patterned like a giraffe. I redistributed the weight between the 3 bags, and now each was less than 50 pounds, yielding new math that worked out to be $109. I can’t tell you what the formula was that she used to come up with that, but I wasn’t arguing!

The new magic number appears to be 50, whether for international or domestic. Hopefully, armed with that knowledge I can make the next trip with 2 bags at 50 pounds each, but if not possible, it is nice to know the better option is a third bag. Well, at least for now, until they change the rules again.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Gates Housing for the RED Video Camera

Today at the DEMA show I had a chance to talk to John Ellerbrock about the new Gates housing for the RED video camera. The RED is an almost mythical camera that will push the envelope of high definition video far beyond anything available previously in the digital realm. See http://www.red.com, or in their words: "Typical high-end HD camcorders have 2.1M pixel sensors and record with 3:1:1 color sub-sampled video at up to 30fps. RED offers the Mysterium ™ Super 35mm cine sized (24.4×13.7mm) sensor, which provides 4K (up to 30 fps), 3K (up to 60 fps) and 2K (up to 120 fps) capture, and all this with wide dynamic range and color space in 12 bit native RAW. At 4K, that’s more than 5 times the amount of information available every second and a vastly superior recording quality."

But, for an underwater shooter, what good is the very best camera without a stellar housing, and that's what the Gates team has achieved. Working in close collaboration with IMAX film-maker Howard Hall, John Ellerbrock of Gates has created some breakthough innovations in housing design, including using the reverse polarity of magnets to actually operate mechanical controls without the necessity of through-housing shafts, and a unique toggle shaft for the housing that is a clever solution to what must have been a very challenging (but crucial) camera control.

I'm not a videographer, but I do appreciate brilliance in mechanical design and machining excellence. Very nicely done!

Friday, October 24, 2008

Loving Those New Hgh-Res Files!

As I walk around the floor of the DEMA show I see several of my photos that have been used in displays and ad campaigns. That's a good thing ... I love to be part of some art director's creative vision in promoting a dive destinations or a live-aboard or a bit of dive gear. But, it also reminds me of how easy the whole process has become.

The shot of the dolphin used on the Bay Islands banner was shot as a slide, then a duplicate transparency was sent to the ad agency for review. Once the decision was made they called for the original slide, which was then Fed Exed to the production house, scanned, and printed. All told, the slide was gone for a couple of weeks and two Fed Exes necessary to get the slide to the client and then back home.

By contrast, the shots for Henderson were shot this summer on a Canon 1DSMKIII (21MP) in the Red Sea. I sent some thumbnail JPGs to Joe Polak at Henderson so he could see how this new H2 suits looked in the water. In anticipation of the DEMA show he called for 2 files (by file number), I processed as high res TIF and uploaded via FTP (lots of acronyms in this new workflow). No originals floating around by courier, no chance they would be lost or damaged. Quick and efficient. And truthfully, the quality on these new digital files is SO very much better than my old slides.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Working Hard at DEMA .... sometimes

I'm at the DEMA (Dive Equipment Manufacturers Association) show in Las Vegas this week, and then off to Indonesia from here, Ambon to Raja Ampat on the Seven Seas. Anyway, we are exhibiting the Seacam line as I am North and South American distributor for this line of digital SLR housings made in Austria.

The manufacturer, Harald Hordosch showed us some pretty significant surprises on the housing for the Nikon D3. There is a new port to accommodate the 14-24 Nikkor zoom lens and the latching system is brand new, and will replace conventional latches and registration pins for all housings moving forward. Shutter release on the housing is new now too, and is another change for all housings of the future. Hard to describe to improvements, but I'll take pictures and post again by tomorrow. Other new things included a special handle part of the polecam that integrates a means to hook up cyberglasses independent of the remote monitor, Seaflash 150 strobe for both Nikon and Canon TTL (along with a diffuser for same)

Chuckie Luzier from Canon was there at our booth showing a lot of Canon product, but the one everyone migrated to was the 5DMKII. Some video guy covering the show and schlepping a rolling cart-full of video gear picked up the camera and walked around the booth doing video kind of stuff ... he was blown away. I'm not a video person (not yet anyway, but with the convergence of stills and video in the new cameras I expect to learn) but Chuckie made the logical statement that the guy's imager was 3/4", while the 5DMII imager is 1.5 inches. That seemed to particularly resonate and he was obviously quite impressed with the output.

Seacam will obviously do a 5DMKII housing, and we expect it 1st quarter 2009.

But, not all DEMA is work of course, and here I am with my friends from Scuba Diving Magazine, obviously having a very important business meeting ;)

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Stephen Frink Photo Seminars for 2009

Just a brief note to let you know we have finalized the dates for our photo seminars for 2009, please see 

As updates:

Digital Master Class in Bonaire January 31 - February 7th is sold out.  That one should be a lot of fun!  We have two boats chartered with Captain Don's Habitat, and it is a great time of year to be in Bonaire.

Digital Master Class June 6 - 13 in Key Largo is also sold out.  Our Key Largo Advanced classes are typically in very high demand. Knowledgeable divers recognize early summer is the very best time of year to dive Key Largo; and the combination of our private dive boat, a custom itinerary designed to find the very best photo opportunities for whatever photographic discipline we are working on at the time, and the course template that brings one of the nation's premier Photoshop/Lightroom educators here to join us remain primary motivators ensuring significant repeat enrollment.

Digital Master Class May 30 - June 6 in Key Largo is accepting reservations.  We did back-to-back seminars last year and it really worked out nicely.  It allows us to refine the very best dive sites based prevailing seasonal conditions.

Digital Immersion Class August 8 - 15 in Key Largo is accepting reservations.  This can't reasonably be called a Basic Class, for it is quite intense in terms of the knowledge it delivers both in terms of underwater photography and workflow-related issues with various imaging software.  But, it is very well-suited for those beginning their "immersion" into the skill-sets that are required to capture quality underwater photographs in the digital paradigm.  

I'm off to DEMA to exhibit the Seacam product line (including the new Nikon D3 housing and a very cool accessory that allows the use of Cyber-glasses on a polecam to see exactly what the camera sees underwater, while working from the surface of the boat).  I'll post some product information on the new gear here on my blog while we are there in Las Vegas.  Then, directly from there off to Indonesia for a trip aboard the Seven Seas, from Ambon to Raja Ampat.  I won't be able to post from there, but should have some very interesting new adventures and observations to post when I get home in mid-November.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Hard to Imagine I'd Never Been There

Last year I was working on a project, creating huge murals for a new Visitor Center being built in Key West for the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary. It involves shooting specific habitats, some topside (Ft. Jefferson, as well as Pinelands and Wetlands in the Lower Keys) and specific underwater topography to include bank reefs, patch reefs, hard bottom, and a historical shipwreck (the Civil War Wreck off the Elbow). Saturday was my day to shoot the Patch Reef, and my friends at Quiescence recommended a site in behind Molasses that they dive quite often called “Brody’s”.

Now, I’ve lived in Key Largo since 1978, and it is hard to imagine a site that’s good for photography has escaped me. But, I’d never dived this one. I was diving with John Halas, manager for the Key Largo region of the Sanctuary, and one who actually predates me in the dive industry here in Key Largo. John agreed this was the best of the best for local Patch Reef habitat. So based on his stellar recommendation, Brody’s was our destination.

From the surface I could see the circular sand halo surrounding a more or less circular reef, maybe a little longer than the length of a football field. That is part of the classic definition of “patch” reef … so far so good. But, dropping beneath the surface I was amazed at how pristine the hard corals and gorgonia were. The schools of fish were impressive, especially near the south end of the reef where the prevailing current built up large filter feeding sponge and gorgonia. Here was a large congregate of Atlantic spadefish, as well as mangrove snapper, hogfish, porkfish, and of course the omnipresent grunts that so define Keys diving.

I spent 65 minutes no deeper than 28 feet, on this my first dive at Brody’s, and then only came up because my 8 GB card was spent. It is not marked by a mooring buoy, which probably explains, in a way, why it remains so nice. It is not one of the “iconic” sites that everyone knows here, like Molasses or French Reef, and the fringing reef probably shelters it from big waves. It is a place of pristine and quiet beauty, and a comfort to know there are places unexplored and special, even in my own backyard. Maybe I should spend a little less time on a 747 bound for some exotic sea, and a little more time discovering the wonders closer to home.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

More on Petition to Preserve Snapper Ledge

The Sunday, October 12th, edition of the Key West Citizen had a very nice article about the move to have Snapper Ledge off Key Largo declared a Sanctuary Preservation Area. That means spearfishing and hook-and-line fishing would be illegal there. To learn more about the specific initiative, please visit http://fw_scuba.permissiontv.com/index.html?showid=1013390 to view a lovely video that explains the concept.

While the intention of the article in the newspaper was noble, it further exacerbates a perception that this is about underwater photographers or marine environmentalists versus spearfishing enthusiasts. This IS NOT the case. Please see my response to Tim after seeing the article for the first time:

"Tim - Thanks for your efforts to bring public awareness to our request to make Snapper Ledge a conservation area, a "no-take" zone by means of a Sanctuary preservation Area. But, I am concerned that your front page article in The Key West Citizen implies an antagonism towards spearfishing, which is clearly not the intent of this iniative. Please allow me to address a few key points that are likely to be misinterpreted based on your article:

1. Headline - "Divers Want Ban on Reef" may be accurate in specific, I don't see it as totally accurate in spirit. Yes, SPA designation would make a very small area known as Snapper Ledge off-limits for spearfishing or hook-and-line, if I were writing the headline according to my personal intentions I would have said "Divers Want Protection for a Reef". I realize it is a small matter of semantics, but this is not about taking away rights from people, it is about bringing rights to a very specific and carefully designated marine ecosystem.

2. Original Motivation - I never said that particular shark that motivated my petition was a spearfishing incident. In fact, it almost certainly was not. If you look at my personal blog, which was the first public discussion of this incident, you'll see I did not lay the blame on spearfishing. Please see http://stephenfrink.blogspot.com/2008/08/shark-dead-for-no-reason.html
Which is not to say spearfishing does not go on at Snapper Ledge. Obviously it does. But my strong motivation here is not any anti-spearfishing bias, a fact I address later in the comments section in that same blog:

The reality is that it is not meant to be a rant about spearfishing. Actually, most spearfishers are responsible, and truth be known, selective harvest by spearfishing is probably less destructive than hook-and-line. Combine that with the athleticism of those who spearfish as freedivers, and you have a sport that commands respect. It is not for me ... I don’t even eat reef fish because I don’t think there are enough reef fish anymore. I don't eat them and I don't kill them. But, again my argument is not with spearfishing per se.

I do, however, have a big argument with wanton massacre of our marine life. The shark that precipitated this petition was probably from a hook-and-line angler, as I mention in my blog. But, this is not the first time I’ve seen a nurse shark dead on the bottom at Snapper Ledge, and the other time was almost certainly a spearfishing incident. This reef is an absolute aquarium, unique throughout the Caribbean and Western Atlantic, and there is no “sport” to using scuba and a pneumatic speargun to shoot fish that are essentially puppy-dogs. Most places in the civilized world don’t even allow spearfishing on scuba, let alone in a place where the fish are so docile and plentiful like Snapper Ledge. Plus, the carnage brought on by the hook-and-line anglers here is rampant as well.

One brilliant concept of the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary is “zonation”. They have established specific zones of use for specific recreational groups. There are areas for hook-and-line and spearfishing, but there also needs to be Sanctuary Preservation Areas (SPA).

The SPAs allow for a critical fish nursery, and actually help distribute fish to other nearby reefs, where spearfishing and angling is allowed. It is simply good stewardship of our reef to allow a safe haven for fish to become sexually mature and procreate.

A SPA does not discriminate between spearfishing, hook-and-line, and lobstering. It simply means “no-take”. I don’t want the entire Florida Keys to be a SPA, but I do absolutely endorse the concept of a few well-managed refuges for our fish, so we can visit in a benign, non-consumptive, role and get a sense of what our reefs could be like if left to their own means of balance, without human interference."

SEPTEMBER 17, 2008

3. The unique attributes of Snapper Ledge - If none of the points above resonate, here is what really matters:

For whatever reason Snapper Ledge is unique and spectacular. Not only by the context of the Florida Keys, but by comparison with other places throughout the Caribbean, Bahamas, and Western Atlantic. It deserves to be a "no-take" zone, to protect the marine life there, and as significantly, to create a marine nursery that may help populate nearby reefs that are not use-restricted by SPA designation. The dense and prolific marine life are spectacular here, more so than anywhere else in the Florida Keys. If we have a provision in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary to create Sanctuary Preservation Areas, this one is particularly deserving. This too is an important distinction, because it is not a part of a broader plan to create more no-take zones. For me, this is about Snapper Ledge, a very small reef area; and I’d hate to have it get sidetracked with a perceived attack on spearfishing. That was never my intent and I regret it has morphed in that direction.

This is not about the desires of a photographer versus the desires of a spearfisherman or hook-and-line angler. This is about one specific place that for whatever reason is a rich and diverse marine habitat, and one which will further flourish under greater protection.

Thanks for your attention and understanding."

Friday, October 10, 2008

SeaLife DC800 in the Red Sea

SeaLife DC800 tutorial, by Liz Johnson, Stephen Frink Photographic
Additional comments by Bjorn Harms, SeaLife

In an effort to learn more about the variety of very capable compact cameras there are now available for underwater photographers, I took one of the most popular with me on a recent trip to the Red Sea, SeaLife's DC800. However, to save me the trouble of reading the owner's manual, and because my retail manager at our Key Largo studio, Liz Johnson, had already done the research, I asked her to prepare me a cheat-sheet for operating the DC800 and the new SeaLife digital strobe. Her suggestions, and those additionally provided by SeaLife's very own Bjorn Harms, helped me in my underwater tests, so I share them here:

Both camera and strobe – clean and inspect gaskets/orings
DO NOT LUBE any of the orings or gaskets

Takes 4 AA batteries

Unlock lock before lifting latch - Be sure and relock latch so that back door of strobe case does not catch on hose/cable or divemaster’s finger and open by itself.

Set pre-flash setting to 0 (for SeaLife camera)
Auto bright setting should be #1 (for SeaLife camera)
Set flash control on back door of flash to “A”

* Note: Easier to open and close back door of strobe than in older SeaLife strobe models. Battery compartment definitely more stable
* Bjorn - Optical cable connection is super easy and cannot be misaligned.

Camera settings:

Top of camera:
Set mode to camera to “camera” for stills of “video” to shoot movies. This control is not accessible through housing! Must be set in camera mode before dive

* Bjorn - You can switch between playback, video and still pictures by pushing the LCD Display button, so you don’t need the slide switch when the camera is in the housing.

Using menu button to immediate right of LCD: SeaLife doesn't advise messing with the ISO setting.

* Bjorn - Just set the camera to Ext Flash mode and the ISO will automatically range between 50 and 100 for sharp Images without the graininess you get from higher ISO.

Set Camera scene to External flash mode

Set WB to Auto

*Bjorn - We don’t suggest fiddling with WB when in Ext Flash mode. The WB Is pre-calibrated to match the color temperature of the flash. In reality, once you set the camera to the external flash mode, the camera sets the iso and wb. If you set the camera scene to ext flash MNL the camera aperture and shutter settings must be manually set to achieve the desired effect.

Lower right of camera back:
Control dial
At top of dial, you can change the focus mode:
To macro (displays flower) 2in to 2ft
* Or infinity setting (displays mountain) 2ft to Infinity
Or standard AF (focus 1 ft to infinity, it says) Does not display an icon – will be blank

*To minimize shutter lag, they suggest setting to infinity. Everything from 1.5 feet will be in focus

On right side of the dial you can also change the flash mode:
*Automatic exposure control with external flash– suggested default for most us pictures - no icon displayed – will be blank

To flash macro (3 ft or less) – flash with flower displayed
Or flash far (beyond 6 ft) flash with mountains displayed
Can set to MNL – press the set button and you get aperture (adjust right or left)
Press set button again and get ss (adjust to the right or left)
Press set again to exit
Aperture only goes 2.7 and 5.3

* Note from Bjorn Harms - The "Macro" flash and "Far" setting will decrease (darken) or Increase (brighten) the camera's onboard exposure program. In other words, you don’t have to select Macro Flash for close-ups - you can keep it in macro flash for the whole dive if you like a slightly darker exposure. This is a short cut to controlling the cameras exposure.

To charge battery:
Leave battery in camera and plug in ac adapter to side of camera.
You should get at least 3 dives, 300 pics/videos, or 3 hours of operation with the long-life battery fully charged. Never change batteries between dives.

A lot more intuitive to change camera settings and easier to work your way around the camera as well for underwater. Easier for the person that wants to point and shoot – set and ignore other than flash control

Note: I left the digital zoom turned off – but you can change it through the menu.

*Bjorn: A few more things to consider.

1) Video: Push one button to switch to video. Take continuous video for as long as you want depending in the memory card. When camera is in Ext Flash mode, and you switch to video, the underwater color correction is automatic, so you don’t need to mess with the WB setting.

2) 3 built-in color correction filters: For non-strobe divers (which represents about 60% of all underwater photographers), the DC800 offers 3 built in color correction filters - Blue Ocean, Green Ocean and Lakes/Rivers.

3) Use up to 16GB SDHC memory card: The DC800 specifications suggest up to 4GB, but we just completed tests with popular brands of SD and SDHC memory cards and that 8GB and 16GB work fine.

4) Big shutter button for easy grip and shooting.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Strobe Perspectives

The vibrant colors we see in photographs of the underwater world are the result of artful application of artificial light. Here are some recent musings on the state-of-the-art of strobe photography today:

Underwater photographers tend to obsess over which camera to house, and then which housing to use it in. But, it seems less attention is paid to an equally critical part of the imaging equation … which strobe(s) should be used.

Why are strobes so important? Well, obviously because color in underwater photography wouldn’t happen without them. Water is a medium 800 times denser than air, and it is cyan in color. Unless, of course, you are in British Columbia where it is green in color or a mangrove lagoon where it might be brown in color. Whatever the specific hue, it is like a massively strong filter over the lens of an underwater camera, and the deeper we go, the stronger the filtration. Plus, the filtration effect is spectrally selective. In clear tropical waters reds are the first colors to drop out, logically since red is the exact complement of cyan. I suppose magenta would be the first color to drop out in green water since they are opposites on the color wheel (and on the Photoshop color balance sliders), although I don’t have enough experience in green water to say that with certainty. It hardly matters though, because after the first 15 feet in depth the whole warm end of the spectrum fails to record on film or digital. Yellow goes away next, and by about 30 feet blue and green and black are all that records. Digital offers some white balance tricks to make the colors stay faithful at greater depth, and special filters can be used to help shallow water available light photography, but none of this changes the reality of our very significant dependence on artificial light (strobes).

But, what strobes are best? Well, to a great extent it depends on your budget, naturally, but independent of price other variables include the kind of camera and housing you are using and the kinds of things you shoot.

Strobes for Compact Cameras - This is very significant because the kind of camera determines the kind of synch system that might be used. The strobe obviously has to fire when the shutter is open to shine onto the recording medium (analog or electronic), but that is not a slam-dunk in the digital era, especially with compact cameras. Digital cameras use a preflash system to determine the proper amount of light striking the subject, and therefore reflected back to the sensor. This is a brief burst of light, large enough to be detectable to the sensor but small enough so the primary flash, emitted immediately subsequent, still has enough juice in the capacitor to dump a full power flash if required.

Many submersible strobes of the analog era have a “slave” mode, whereby they can tell when a primary strobe fires, and will trigger cordlessly in synchronization. This is a notoriously unpredictable way to trigger a flash, because in high ambient light (shallow water) it may not “see” the difference between the primary strobe and the available light on the scene. But, even in a best-case scenario, where the slave strobe actually does fire, it will likely trigger from the preflash and have no chance of being recycled adequately to synchronize with the primary “real” flash. People who housed digital compact cameras (point-and-shoot), and thought to use conventional submersible slave strobes were disappointed to find out how poorly they worked, if at all.

In phase two of the strobe-in-the-digital-world story, certain manufacturers made strobes that could detect preflash and delay the primary synch until the main strobe went off. Sealife created the SL960D, able to work with cameras that have up to 4 preflashes and has five different settings on a synchronization mode, one of which is almost certain to work with the preflash of almost any compact camera. It has a deflector on the tray that bounces light to a slave sensor on the strobe head, or can be triggered by means of a fiber optic (more about that later). Ikelite had several solutions, including a slave-sensor equipped DS50 (now known as DS51), and their later solution, the AF35 Autoflash kit. This is an integrated unit including a camera tray, articulating arm, and an integrated slave sensor positioned perfectly to pick up the on-camera flash from a compact camera either encased in their housing or any of the many clear OEM housings offered by Olympus, Canon, Nikon, or the rest. While not TTL, it does offer exposure automation by mimicking the duration of the camera’s built-in flash.

The next step up the technology chain for those cameras that operate exclusively by the preflash-main flash paradigm (and far more sophisticated in terms of reliability) is the fiber optic options. Here some level of mounting bracket is employed to hold a fiber optic perpendicular to the camera’s built-in flash. The perpendicular aspect is critical because fiber optic does not transmit light well when it comes in through the side, but shot directly down the pipe it runs very efficiently through a small coiled cord, terminating directly at the submersible strobe’s slave sensor. Gone is the ambiguity of whether there is too much ambient light on the scene, and predictability ramps up significantly. Two cameras that do this extraordinarily well are the Sealife DC800 and Sea and Sea DX1G. Both have dedicated digital cameras that fit precisely into their custom housings, and each offers a robust and reliable means of mounting the fiber optic into just the right spot for the internal flash.

When using these point-and-shoot compact cameras topside very accurate exposures happen routinely in the strobe mode. The preflash kicks out to the subject, evaluates how much primary light needs to be dumped, and tells the main flash when to main quench. Unfortunately, getting that same information to an external submersible strobe, whether triggered by slave or fiber optic, is tough. Inon’s D2000 does a nice job with what they call “S-TTL”, and their brackets, trays, and strobe arms are custom fit for many of the most popular point-and-shoot digitals, and the Sea and Sea YS17 offers both TTL and manual modes. But, most strobes of this nature use a rotary power dial, like a rheostat, to determine how much manual strobe power is dumped. Examples of this application are found in Sea and Sea’s YS27DX and Sealife SLD61, both offering extremely reliable fiber optic synchs and multiple manual power settings. With the immediacy of exposure review through the camera’s LCD, often this is perfectly adequate. Unless, of course, the shot that is used to evaluate the exposure is the once-in-a-lifetime shot of mating great white sharks and the second shot, the one with just the right amount of strobe power dialed in, never happens.

Ikelite offers yet another option for certain compact cameras that have hot shoes, like Canon’s popular G9. Their housings offer not only the ultra-reliability of a hard-wired coiled cord, but for certain models of compact cameras from Olympus, Canon, and Nikon, they also offer TTL by means of conversion circuitry integrated into the Ikelite housing. Ikelite offers a nice explanation of TTL via submersible strobes in digital cameras and various terminologies at http://ikelite.com/web_pages/dig_definitions.html. Their DS51 or new DS160 are terrific choices for this application.

Strobes for Digital SLRs – The simple issue of getting a strobe to fire in synchronization with the shutter is a much easier matter with a D-SLR. Virtually all have hot shoes on top of the camera prism, and these connect directly to external bulkheads on the housing that adapt to the traditional Nikonos 5-pin connector, Ikelite connector, or the European favorite (now my favorite as well), the S6 connector. All the most popular strobes from Ikelite, Sea and Sea, and Inon have multiple power selector switches so that the amount of strobe light is controllable, to a point anyway.

The differentiators between all of these strobes, aside from price of course, are power supply (some use AA batteries; either NiMH, NiCAD, or alkaline) while others have a dedicated power pack and battery charger. Among the more elegant solutions for dedicated power packs in terms of ease of installation in the field is the new Seaflash 150 (battery pack unscrews from back of strobe from threaded compartment) and Ikelite DS160 (where the entire rear part of the strobe is a power pack that easily locks into place). Other features that distinguish one D-SLR strobe from another include peak power capacity, recycle time, handling ergonomics, weight and size (for travel convenience), and beam angle.

TTL – Getting Through-the-Lens exposure automation (TTL) to work with a digital camera has been challenging, to say the least. Dedicated strobes for Nikon (i-TTL) and Canon (e-TTL) are available from the manufacturer, but the protocols that make TTL work are closely guarded secrets that the camera companies have no intention of sharing with those who make underwater strobes. To figure out how to make these strobes work with accuracy, the UW guys had to reverse engineer the TTL technology and figure out how to make it work with their lights. For years I’ve said this was a bogus quest, but this year, for the first time in my photo seminars I teach in Key Largo, I’ve had multiple shooters show up in class with TTL systems that actually work.

On the very first day of class we take exposure slates underwater, and with the student kneeling in the sand at a fixed distance (3-feet away) we do exposure tests at a series of F-stops, from F-5.6 to F-22. This allows us to deduce what is the proper full and half power aperture for that distance and a subject of average reflectance, but it is also an empirical test for any form of exposure automation. Theoretically, if TTL works, the amount of strobe light striking the exposure slate should be approximately the same at F-5.6, F-8, and F-11. I would expect F-22 to be dark because the strobe will have already dumped full power. Even TTL can’t extract more than full power from the strobe, so whatever F-stop is right for full power is also the upper limit of TTL.

This year in a single class I had three shooters with 3 different Ikelite systems that had predictable and reliable TTL. Two were Ikelite strobes with Ikelite housings, and one was a Subal housing equipped with a conversion circuit, and a special Ikelite cord optimized for TTL. Another strobe that worked remarkably well in TTL was the Seacam Seaflash 250 (now replaced by the Seaflash 150). Now that the Seacam Seaflash 150 strobes are shipping I am eager to do a full field test on one very soon.

In terms of the universe of TTL options, they did not happen to show up in class and therefore I can’t say from personal experience how they worked, Sea and Sea also offers TTL-enabled strobes and external conversion circuits that mount onto the housing. Mathias Heinrichs has also developed a high-tech cable with integrated circuitry that enables a variety of popular submersible strobes to work with a variety of digital SLR cameras.

While manual strobe exposure is still fine for me, I am no longer the absolute skeptic regarding TTL in digital. I think we have crossed the threshold of predictability and it will continue to get better. While camera-makers continue to chase megapixels and sensors offer ever-higher resolution and reduced noise; the strobe manufacturers continue to attack their obstacles by making strobes more powerful, more reliable, faster to recycle, and more energy efficient.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Seacam at Photokina

all photos © Eckard Krumpholz 2008

Photokina is the world's largest photo convention, held in Cologne, Germany every two years.  If you want to see how very big it is, visit www.photokina08.ivrpa.org to see some amazing 360-degree panoramas of the very large exhibitors like Canon, Nikon, and many more.  Very cool website, BTW.

Within the context of a show like this, it is very bold for a housing manufacturer to make a statement. but Seacam invested in a 35-square-meter booth and showed some very innovative new products, including their new housing for the Nikon D3 full frame digital SLR and their new Seaflash 150 strobes.  

The Seaflash 150s are now shipping and are fully TTL compatible with either Nikon or Canon digital protocols.