Wide, versatile but not too bendy
I’ve just returned from a trip to the Southern Atolls of the Maldives, where we hoped to encounter and shoot sharks. Encounter them we did and in significant number on each and every dive, such is the proliferation of our favourite predatory fish in this part of the world.
However these are wild and wary creatures and getting close to them wasn’t going to be an easy task especially in fast running currents that are typical of the Kandu’s or channel dives of the Southern Maldives.
With my current favourite camera the Olympus OMD EM5 I normally shoot typically with two lenses, one of them the 45mm Panaleica Macro, for the titchy stuff, sometimes in combo with a Subsee plus 10 diopter, to get really close.
The other the exceptionally good 8mm Panasonic 8mm fisheye lens. So most bases covered with two lenses, I like simplicity.
Previously though in the Maldives I had encountered less than exemplary visibility in the plankton rich waters.
So wanting to hedge my bets I asked a friend and workshop veteran Nick More if I could possibly lend his 7-14mm rectilinear Panasonic zoom lens.
Why is this any different from the 8mm Fisheye?
Being a rectilinear lens the 7-14 lens is corrected for the barrel distortion us underwater photographers are oh so familiar with in our fisheye lenses.
This also means that the effective field of view of a rectilinear lens is slightly less than the equivalent focal length fisheye lens. So confusingly the 8mm fisheye is quite a bit wider at nearly 180degrees field of view, than the 7-14mm lens is at the 7mm end at around 114degrees field of view.
The hit on angle of view is a price most land photographers are prepared to pay for the lack of bendy lines and edges characteristic of a fisheye lens.
Its still a very wide lens though and its 2x zoom range appealed to me for framing elusive elasmobranchs at the edge of the reef drop offs.
In old money full frame terms this lens was the equivalent of a 14-28mm lens, and with the words of a younger but wiser man, who was on my previous Maldives trip, rattling round my head I decided that this lens would be useful here as he had told me that his secret weapon shark lens was a 28mm, I felt that this zoom lens might tick a variety of useful boxes.
So how did it stack up?
As I thought,the sharks whilst in abundance and often in double figures, mainly Grey Reefs but the occasional Silvertip, were frustratingly doing a brilliant job of blending into the middle distance at the edges of the reefs.
Their sinuous movements teasing us. And unable to unhitch, from our hooked in spots on the reef.We were fluttering at the end of taut lines vibrating in the current.
So shooting them with a fisheye lens would have rendered them as distant grey ticks in the distance.
Whilst not ideal the 7-14mm enabled to at least shoot them and place them within the context of the rest of the reef, patrolling in the background.
I also shot a bit of video too, and one of the benefits of shooting video with the EM5 is that you have the option of an electronic two times teleconvertor very practical for video purposes, I have this assigned to the fn2 button so it is only ever a button press away.
My criticisms of the lens is that it wasn’t as sharp as the fisheye, but to be fair without that as a comparison it would fair very well indeed.
Here is a short video that will give you an idea of what this lens is capable and useful for. It was also quite handy for shooting half and halfs as the dome it needs from Nauticam is quite a large one and makes this quite easy, as long as its not too rough.
I’m sure if we could have gotten a little closer to the sharks I would be raving about this lens, but alas they weren’t as photographically close as I would have liked.
So to travel for the purposes of underwater photography on scuba kit, is this a good choice? I guess if you wanted an all round lens for general wide-angle travel photography, and it was to be pressed into service as a good all round underwater lens too, and you could afford it, as its not cheap at just under a grand or so, then this set up might just be for you. See what you think.