Using the Olympus OMD EM5 with wet lenses.
One of my key objectives for my recent trip to the Red Sea was to test the practical use of using wet lenses with the new camera of the moment the Olympus OMD EM5.
Why is this such a big deal?
Using additional wet lenses underwater has long been one of the key advantages to using digital compact cameras and for nearly ten years this has been one of the most useful
features of small digital point and shoot cameras.
Choosing and using a compact camera for underwater use, has been strongly swayed by whether or not you were able to attach and detach on the same dive, a complimentary lens, enabling macro or wide angle functionality at the twist of a bayonet or the turn of a screw.
DSLR users have never had this dual purpose practicality. So you made your decision as to what possible subject matter you may encounter pre dive. The cry of ” is this a wide angle or a macro dive?” was something most dive guides dread, as whatever they suggested as to the possible marine life encounter on the dive. was surely guaranteed to deliver up the exact opposite subject matter upon submersion. Its no laughing matter to go down equipped for nudibranchs and other wee beasties, only to have a Whaleshark or Manta sidle alongside with a sarcastic grin on their faces!
Until very recently larger censored cameras haven’t left you with a lot of options as above.
But with the advent of the new mirrorless micro4/3 cameras, and these are cameras with a large DSLR sized sensor, but without a mirror flapping about, making noise and forcing the camera to be bigger than necessary, you now have the potential with certain models and particular housings to use the readily available add on lenses from Inon and others.
My task was to find out the relative pros and cons of doing this.
First things first, you need to have the correct kit lens on the correct camera to make this work. We knew last year that the Olympus EPL3 and its 14-42 kit lens inside a dedicated Olympus housing would allow you, because of a quirk of design to use 67mm thread Inon lenses attached to the outside of the housing.
This quirk was because the 14-42 lens at either end of its zoom range, happens to trombone, so that the front optic is very close to the front of the glass port.
Which meant that the ideal focal length for using an Inon wide lens, happened to be when the lens was at 14mm, and also serendipitously at the 42mm end, which is an ideal angle of view for macro photography, thus you were able to attach the Inon close up diopters, reducing the minimum focus distance bringing in to perfect view your macro subject matter.
So a win win situation, a big sensor giving very high quality and great low light capabilities, combined with macro and widengle on the same dive.
As a proof of concept this was proved nearly 18mnths ago. Unfortunately it relied on the manufacturers lens working in a specific way, and it was only an accident it worked well for us underwater photographers.
The micro4/3’s format is supported by Panasonic as well as Olympus giving us another bite of the cherry with a Panasonic lens. This lens is the Panasonic 14-42 X lens. This enjoys a pancake style design which means it is very slim, and rather than have a conventional zoom ring it has a motorised lever which extends the lens or retracts it depending on if you are shooting wide or short telephoto.
Fortunately for us though it also works just like the Olympus lens mentioned earlier, and with the correct choice of port and a cleverly designed Nauticam zoom gear, will allow us dual lens use underwater.
The port is a short flat port designed to work on relevant Nauticam housings, in this case my Olympus OMD EM5 housing. This port, like most Nauticam ports has a native 67mm thread.
You need to closely follow the Nauticam instructions, and also be in possession of a set of very small cross head screw drivers, this is because the zoom gear isn’t like most other zoom gears, and needs to completely enclose the lens, and be correctly aligned. Its straightforward enough you just need to pay attention thats all.
Once the gear is attached camera and lens, fits inside the housing and the port is attached in the usual Nauticam slick way.
You are now ready to rock and roll. Its worth thinking about how you are going to carry your two wet lenses, I normally have one attached to the port, and the other is kept tucked away in a pocket on a pair of rather fetching (not) Scubapro Neoprene Cargo pants.
On the dive itself, its a simple matter of unscrewing and then screwing in your lens of choice. I normally have the wide-angle on by default, in this case a FIX UWL28M52 with a 67mm lens adapter, this is almost a fisheye angle of view, the other lens that you could use would be the Inon UWLH10028M67 this is a more regular wide angle.
I have used both in the past, and found surprisingly, that the less expensive FIX lens to be slightly higher quality, but this was with a variety of small censored compact cameras, so I was keen to see if it would stand up to the more critical resolution of the larger sensor of micro4/3 on the Olympus EM5.
To use these lenses you have to have the cameras own Panasonic X lens zoomed out to its widest point if using the add on wide angle, and zoomed into the telephoto end when using the macro, hence the fancy zoom gear.
On viewing the pictures on the cameras own LCD screen everything looked great, I first tested it on the Barge a dive I knew presented me with very good wide angle and macro options. A dive that is bound to frustrate most DSLR shooters with invariably the wrong choice of lens, as there are some great schools living on the wreck itself, with the area around almost guaranteed to deliver up Nudibranchs.
I shot a couple of the schools of Cardinal fish and Bigeyes, shooting towards the surface where the boat was moored.
I also found a Chromodoris and swapping over the wide-angle for a Subsee +10 diopter, I shot this common but pretty slug over a wide variety of apertures as I had done with the wide-angle.
This wasn’t a massively scientific test, but I figured shooting across as broad a range of apertures as I could would stretch the lenses to the max.
As I said on the cameras screen all the shots looked satisfactory, but on closer inspection the wide-angle shots were quite soft in the corners, something I had half expected. They were much better when I had shot at the smaller apertures f8 through to f16, but still nowhere near as good as a dedicated fisheye lens on camera and a proper dome port.
The macro shots on the other hand were very sharp, across most of the aperture range, with a bit of Chromatic aberration creeping in at the wider apertures, however not that much different to using a dedicated macro lens.
As a final example of the compromised picture quality here is a shot below, of a typical reef scene using available light at the maximum (widest) aperture of the lens this is to show the worst that this combination will provide, and if shooting available light you would need to be shooting at maximum aperture a lot of the time unless you were to compromise your shutter speeds or the ISO you were using.
I own both a “proper” Panasonic (Leica) 45mm Macro lens and port, and also I use a dedicated 8mm Panasonic Fisheye lens and port, so I know what sort of quality to expect from these.
There is no denying that if you want a flexible set up and need the ability to swap lenses underwater this lens and add on lenses represents very good value for money, but there are some compromises as its plain to see when shooting wide-angle,but with the additional Subsee +10 lens or another macro diopter it’s a no brainer in my opinion.