Using a wet lens solution with a high end camera.
Reviewed by Duxy
Duxy our Photography Travel Specialist
has many years background evaluating camera kit for use underwater,
and his reputation as an UW photo geek precedes him!
On my January Winter Warmer photo trip, I trialled the feasibility of using a wet lens solution with a higher end camera in this case an Olympus EM5, used in conjunction with a Panasonic 14-42 PZ lens. The upshot of that was it was possible to use both wet wide angle and macro lenses to attain practical flexibility underwater with a large sensored camera. In short, on the same dive I was able to shoot very wide angle and macro pics. Something that was previously only available to compact camera users. This came at a price though, and that was that if you were an Olympus owner like me then for this to work properly required the purchase of another kit lens, in the aforementioned Panasonic.
The lens supplied with my camera at that time was the Olympus 12-50 lens which has a couple of unique features, one of which is a very nifty built in macro function that gives it a very usable macro ratio of 1:2 or half life size. This meant that the housing manufacturer Nauticam had had to make a special zoom gear and port for this lens, which ended up being quite expensive, and whilst it allowed you to access this macro function, the port had a larger than normal threaded front ring, which prevented any possible attachment of a wet wide angle lens. You could with an adapter attach a macro diopter to extend the range of the lens inside, but any meaningful wide angle wasn't possible. So that is why for anyone wanting to shoot both wide angle and macro on the same dive the only way was to purchase the Panasonic lens as well as their existing Olympus kit lens despite the obvious doubling up of topside kit. This wasn't the end of the world though as the combo wasn’t that much more expensive when you factored in the cost of the fancy Nauticam zoom gear you would have had to buy to use the Olympus lens. Time changes things though and in a few short months since, there has appeared an unusual white zoom gear sourced from email@example.com in Austria which when used with the Olympus 12-50 lens allows the full use of its zoom. You can't access its macro button but that isn’t a major problem as you will see.
There is another stroke of serendipity that makes what I am going to suggest work too. By coincidence the macro port for the extremely highly regarded Olympus 60mm 2.8 macro lens, which is fast becoming a modern legend, also accommodates the Olympus 12-50 lens perfectly, with the end element of the zoom being as close to the port glass as its possible to be. This port is 67mm threaded so will natively accept most add on accessory lenses without step up or down rings. Now we are able to attach either the Inon wide angle or Fix UWL28M52 fisheye lens easily. The various macro lenses from Inon and Subsee et al, will of course pop right on too. On first inspection topside with my ex-colleague and friend Mario Vitalini from Fish in Focus, we could see that there was going to be a little vignetting particularly with the Fix lens, this wasn’t a major issue and a short zoom in got rid of our darkened corners. Mario had shown me some very early shots in a pool of the results from the combo, and we were optimistic that out in the real world it would fare well.
First shot with the EM5 and 12-50 @ f10 twin YSD1 and FIXUWL28M67.
On closer inspection back on the laptop, at the middling aperture I had used, everything looked fine. Unfortunately though when I checked out some later shots with this wet lens combo, that were of closer subjects with stuff going on right to the edge of the frame then the cracks began to appear. Fairly extreme chromatic aberration and zoom blurring of the edges. Fine as an effect, but not what you want most of the time.
Close Focus Wide Angle Clownfish @ f16 FIXUWL28M67 Twin S&S YSD1 strobes.
1:1 Crop of furthest Clownfish, showing adequate sharpness from centrally placed subjects.
Frame edge showing extreme image blurring and separation.
This got only slightly better on stopping down to smaller apertures. The centre's of the image remained acceptably sharp so that you could crop out the problem areas. Cropping wouldn't make a great deal of sense on the whole though as you may as well have not used the add on lens at all. This problem was also with the Inon UWLH100 lens which is not so wide, but it still exhibited the corner problems. Macro lenses worked ok though, and using the Subsee +10 I was able to get as close as would normally be required after zooming into the 50mm end of the zoom range.
At 50mm end of zoom range and with a Subsee +10 diopter attached. Shot @f16 with twin S&S YSD1 strobes as before
A1:1 crop of central portion of image.
If you already owned the 60mm macro lens and an Olympus EM5 with the normally supplied 12-50mm kit lens, and it's fair to say that a lot of underwater photographers might. Then the Nauticam set up with the one flat port and the German zoom gear to use for both lenses, may well seem an attractive proposition. As long as you accepted that there would be quite a quality hit for the super wide angle side of things, and so maybe only used the zoom in conjunction with a macro diopter like the Subsee, then you would have a fairly versatile system for both macro and fish portraiture covered, with the one port and the two lenses. If though, you were a big wide angle fan then I think that the corner softness would niggle and aggravate, and you would end up buying the more specialised Panasonic 8mm Fisheye lens and Nauticam or Zen dome port ultimately.