Magic Filter Manual WB
Digital cameras have opened up new possibilities to underwater photographers. For available light photography manual white balance is an invaluable tool for restoring colours. But when you use it without a filter you are not making the most of the technique. You're doing all the hard work without reaping the full rewards.
These three photos are all taken of the same wreck in the Red Sea. The left hand image was taken on slide film, which rendered the scene completely blue. The middle image is taken with a digital SLR without a filter, using manual white balance. The white balance has brought out some of the colour of the wreck, but it has also sucked all the blue out of the water behind the wreck, making it almost grey. The right hand image is taken with the same digital camera and lens, but this time using an original Magic Filter. The filter attenuates blue light meaning that the colours of the wreck are brought out and it stands out from the background water, which is recorded as an accurate blue.
Diving with the Aquatica Canon 5D Mark II
with Bruce Yates
Strange as it sounds, I want to begin this discussion of Aquatica's new housing for the Canon 5D Mark II by stating that underwater camera housings just don't get any better than Seacam. I've used two different models now (Canon IDs Mkll and IDs Mklll), and LOVED them. In fact, I still have a IDs Mkll Seacam, with no immediate plans to sell it. I also can't say enough positive things about Stephen Frink (Seacam U.S. distributor) and his operation; without exception, they have been responsive, easy to deal with, and provide extraordinary customer service (not to mention Steve's considerable testing and educational work).
Indeed, I have found precious little about Seacam to complain about...except the cost. We poor Americans, with our sick dollar (getting sicker all the time, it seems), have seen the cost of new Seacam equipment - which is priced in Euros - skyrocket to the point that it is downright prohibitive for many non-pros like myself, who just take underwater photos as a hobby (and very expensive one at that!).
So awhile back at a scuba show, as I looked at all the new toys, the Aquatica booth in particular got me thinking. I looked at the build quality of their IDs Mark III housing—which was surprisingly high—and their prices, which were surprisingly low (relative to Seacam's, in U.S. dollars). I began thinking seriously of changing brands when the time came for my next housing purchase. Sealing the deal was the fact that Jean Bruneau of Aquatica said they were planning to come out with an adapter that would permit the use of Seacam ports on Aquatica housings. That was no small issue, considering the amount I have invested in Seacam ports and extension rings.
So...to cut a long story short, when I bought my new Canon 5D Mark II, I was one of the first to put in an order for an Aquatica housing. I received it a few weeks ago, just in time for a 1-week trip to Rangiroa, French Polynesia.
The following are my observations but note that I have only used Seacam housings previously so that is my frame of reference.
Build quality The build quality is excellent. The Aquatica 5DII housing feels solid and sturdy, and every part meshes precisely. It is truly a professional-grade housing. It has a moisture alarm, and I like the way the camera mounts onto a tray, and the mounting tray slides solidly on two rods and latches in place, so there is no question of it being in place. I actually prefer this to the Seacam mount, which requires that you screw and unscrew into the camera's tripod hole each time (I stripped the threads in one of my early 1D MkII bodies doing that). The only build aspect for which I still give a distinct nod to Seacam is the absorbent "fuzz" that covers the inside of Seacam housings, just in case any bits of moisture find their way in. Although I've never needed it because I've never had a Seacam leak, anyone who has ever seen salt water sloshing around inside their housing (even a few spoonfulls can fry a camera) instantly appreciates the value of Seacam's absorbent liner.
Design and ergonomics The design and ergonomics are also excellent. Knobs and controls are easily accessible, in a few cases slightly more so than Seacam for my particular hands, and in no cases less so. (Each person's hands are different, so it's worth getting your hands on ANY housings you're considering.) I especially appreciate the pronounced finger grooves on the handgrips, which allowed use of controls while only keeping a finger or two on the grip, and also the large white labeling of all of the major buttons. My only complaint was that the top of the rear window covers the top line of info of the camera's rear screen (i.e., shutter speed, aperture, etc.), except when viewed from an extreme angle. Not a huge problem - just the only less-than-optimal thing I noticed. It is possible that the window position was limited by maintaining housing strength for the eyepiece above.
Ports The port adaptor (allowing use of Seacam ports) ended up being far less useful than I had hoped. While it indeed allowed me to use my Seacam ports, the fact that the adapter itself is approx. 19-20mm thick meant that it significantly limited which LENSES could be used with those Seacam ports. For example, with the Seacam Superdome, I could not use my Sigma 15mm fisheye or Canon 14mm-II, two lenses I really like for wide angle photography. To use those, I will need an Aquatica dome port. Since traveling with mulitiple dome ports is a hassle, this diminishes the value of the adapter.
The adapter is somewhat more useful with macro, especially if you shoot only auto-focus (AF), because most macro lenses require extension rings anyway. If you want to use manual focus (MF), however, which most of us eventually do, there's a problem. The MF knob on the Aquatica housing is
Canon 16-35mm at 35mm 1/80 @ f16, ISO 400. Two Inon Z-240 strobes
Sigma 50mm 1160 @ f8, ISO 200. Two Inon Z-240 strobes
in their port, whereas Seacam's MF knob is in the housing.
I have since learned that there is partial (for certain lenses) solution to this problem. A company called Xit 404 has designed a few gear sets that employ Aquatica's zoom knob—located on the left side of the housing—to manually focus the Canon 100mm macro lens, as well as a few others.
Canon 16-35mm at 35mm 1/80 @ f16, ISO 400. Two Inon Z-240 strobes
Their gear sets ($325) are available through www. backscatter.com. While that is most of the cost of an Aquatica macro port ($390 at B&H Photo), it at least provides an option that doesn't require buying another port.
I was initially discouraged that my Seacam ports aren't going to be as useful with the Aquatica housing as I'd hoped. But the fact is that, for the cost of a new Seacam housing, I can pay for the Aquatica housing AND replace my ports, extensions and gears. And I can always sell one or more of my Seacam ports to help pay for it.
Optional viewfinders I find the regular viewfinders for both Seacam and Aquatica housings unsatisfactory for my big-nosed face, which I don't enjoy cramming up against the housing in order to get a decent view. I have used the optional Seacam S180 viewfinder for years, and absolutely love it. (I also tried the S45 for awhile, but—while many people swear by it—I never could get used to the angle, so I sold it). Naturally, at the same time I ordered the Aquatica housing, I purchased their "Aqua View" viewfinder.
Both the Seacam S180 and the Aquatica Aqua View have three primary advantages:
1. They put your eye (meaning your mask) several inches BEHIND the back of your housing, so you don't have to jam your nose/cheek up against the housing to see what's in the viewfinder;
2. They have optics that magnify the image in the viewfinder to make it larger;
3. They can be adjusted for your specific eyes (i.e., like a prescription lens).
Both of these premium viewfinders accomplish all three very well. I personally (others might feel differently) give a slight edge to the Seacam S180 - it seems just slightly easier for my eye to see the edges of the image (the camera's exposure arrow, for example). However, I don't want to give the impression that the Aqua View is a bad product.
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