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Testing, Testing… Aquatica’s AGH4

Story & Photos by TIM ROCK

 

Here’s a somewhat in-depth but not overly technical look at my experience with Aquatica’s AGH4 Housing for the Panasonic Lumic GH4. It was a fun and top quality combination:

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This video was shot on Guam with Aquatica’s new AGH4 underwater camera housing and the Panasonic Lumix GH4 camera. This video visits the marine preserves, popular dive sites and WWII shipwrecks found in the waters of Guam in the western Pacific. Lenses used are the Panasonic Lumix 8mm and Olympus M. Zuiko 12-40mm f/2.8 ED PRO. Aquatica close-up kit used for super macro.

See The VIDEO HERE

It was shot in November and December 2014 in the waters of Guam, USA by videographer Tim Rock (me). It was given a quick edit last week (January 2015)  using iMovie. Modeling by Elaine Kwok and Dave Hendricks. ©Tim Rock 2014/2015 (all images taken with the GH4 except snorkeling shots – taken with GoPro at 2.7k) Music by Tim Rock’s Fusion.

The Story

OK, now the story behind the shoot. Because I live on a tropical island and also travel a lot for publications like EZ Dive, Sport Diver, Lonely Planet and Manta Ray Publishing, Aquatica sometimes offers me a chance to use for a couple weeks or while on assignment a new housing that is coming down the pike and then do a revue. That is what happened here. I was to be at home in Guam for a few weeks and had a bit of extra time, so I jumped at the chance to try this set-up. I am a former TV News guy and cut my teeth on 16mm film and then video. I shoot mostly stills for my livelihood, so getting to try a good video camera is a departure from what I usually do and a treat.

The AGH4 was introduced at DEMA 2014 and shortly after that show, FedEx delivered a package to me that I was very excited to get. You see, I am pretty much the perfect candidate to try this camera and housing combo as I had never used a Micro 4/3 mirrorless camera before. I had seen and held one, read a lot about them but never gotten out in “the field” with one. And I was very curious as I know some of my fellow photographers like Eric Hanauer and Simon Buxton were already experimenting with this camera.

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 The line-up

Above is how things seem to be progressing nowadays. These sit in my office and are my various choices for shooting video. Just five – ten years ago a sturdy Gates Housing with superb optics was the choice of serious pros (far left). But then the DSLR revolution was in full swing and the video quality bar was being raised seemingly every three or four months and many people started using DSLRs more (AD7100 Housing next to the Gates).

Then things got tiny (far right). GoPro introduced 2.7k video in the Go Pro Black 3+ (and it even came with a housing for $399) and even the iPhone created some nice video in a $89 housing. Now GoPro users have a 4k option with GP4.

And then along comes the Micro 4/3 mirrorless bunch starting back with Sony. Now many have 4K video (again like Sony and Olympus and Panasonic). The Lumix GH4 accepts some great glass  (above, second from right). So in a progression of really a decade or much less, you can now take your pick and kind of choose your poison and chances are your video will look pretty good with whatever, large or small, you go with.

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Here’s (above) what Blake, Jean and Norma from Aquatica packed up for me as my tester CARE Package. My first impression was that this stuff was indeed much smaller than my current array of Nikon DSLR lenses, bodies, ports and the housing itself. It could all fit in a medium-sized pack and easily be put in the overhead bin of a plane. I liked that immediately and had indeed seen one of the photo pros from the Kona Aggressor pack his Sony up in a handy backpack (including lights).

The AGH4 was a compact little unit with seemingly all the bells and whistles (read buttons) to access all of the camera functions.  The housing has a hinged door with the locking mechanism from Amphibico that I really liked. I’ll give you my impression here but if you want to read up on EVERYTHING this housing offers, CLICK HERE TO READ ALL ABOUT IT.

 

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Sooo, I popped the 8mm lens on the body, installed the housing plate to the Lumix camera body as well, put the 4″ WA port on the housing body, slide the camera in, closed the door and latched it in one smooth motion with the Amphibico lock and it was ready to go. Man, that was fast. And shortly I was all ready to shoot both stills and video. Here’s a  JPG of a  bunch of chromis playing in the current at Guam’s Tumon Bay Marine Preserve.

The housing I got to test had fiber optic strobe connectors and all of my personal gear is Ikelite strobes with the Nikonos connector. So I was going to have to use natural light for this experiment and white balance when needed. Ikelite does make an adapter for their strobes.  One can trigger the Ikelite DS-series strobe off any camera or strobe flash. The Optical Slave Converter simply attaches to the strobe’s electrical bulkhead in place of a sync cord connector.   See it here.

Also, an option from Aquatica for this housing to use the Nikonos strobes will be available down the road, it will be out on the front plug on the left hand top side of the AGH4 Housing.

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Being a man, I did download the (very large) user manual PDF for the camera. I didn’t read it much, of course, being a man. In the manual, all 420 pages of it, there isn’t a ton of space devoted to the still side and you can pick your poison pretty much like a DSLR. I shot mostly in RAW when I did try the stills. But you can also grab some JPG frames while the video is rolling and basically, I think these are screen shots from the video monitor. The RAW images came out fine and I ran them through Adobe’s DNG Converter and edited in PS6.

I shot some natural light stills underwater and some above water work too.

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 As you can see, on the whole, the stills when shot in RAW and converted turn out are very nice. The Olympus M. Zuiko 14-42mm f/3.5-5.6 II R and the Panasonic Lumix G 8mm f/3.5 are both very sharp lenses and the camera made some nice images. Aquatica did not send me any macro lenses to play with, but I was able to improvise using the 14-42 at full zoom and with a close-up kit. More on that in a minute.

The bulk of the Panasonic Lumix GH4 manual is devoted to the video side of this camera, however. After a few days, I quit the “being a man” part and did go back and start reading up more about the video settings. I also had a friend who shoots lots of video, all with his favorite manual settings (he uses an Amphibico Housing for his Sony) , come by and give me a couple of pointers. He also downloaded the manual and brushed through it and we tried a few tricks.

The Panasonic LUMIX DMC GH4 has extraordinary video capability.  After quite a bit of studying, I could see that this camera offered the user full control over most any situation. Aquatica kept this in mind. All of the vital controls that require operation or access while shooting have been conveniently located so as not to restrict the creative flow. According to Aquatica, the housing is manufactured and carefully studied to insure that the controls are not only accessible, but also comfortable to use in all kinds of diving conditions. I found this to be true. It was extremely easy to use underwater.

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I took it to the inner shallows of Tumon Bay and to the deep Guam dropoffs in to the Marianas Trench. We did a night dive with it and many coral reef dives. Lighting conditions ranged anywhere from sunny and beautiful to a bit wanting at dusk with a strong current thrown in. Depths ranged from about 5 feet to 125 feet.  I knew I only had a short time to use this camera/housing combo so I didn’t get too fancy. I just wanted to get enough good footage to create a short video. Since this camera was totally new to me on the video side, I went to the Quick Start Guide in the manual and used mostly Intelligent Auto Mode or Intelligent Auto Plus Mode and Autofocus. This gave me very nice 1920 x 1080 files that I was able to convert and manage color using GoPro’s free program.

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With this camera you can shoot up to 4K and I did set up some custom settings that I was able to go through while underwater using the back panel array on the AGH4. I did find the larger files taxed my poor iMac somewhat. If you are serious about hi-end video, you need to not only invest in a nice camera/housing combo like the AGH4 set-up, but you need to get a powerful computer with proper RAM and LOTS of storage. Even though I save rather large still files, the amount of space good video can chew up is considerable. Now I found the 1920 x 1080 files were not so bad as far as size, especially if you are diligent in culling the useless files or trimming to the best of the clip.

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Video

We had some rather windy and unseasonable weather in December in Guam and I was relegated to the inner reefs and harbor in Guam at times, which is still quite diverese. The inner reefs of the Tumon and Piti preserves have 200 fish species and lots of corals and inverts. In the shallow waters of the Tumon Bay Marine Preserve, I was able to use the Olympus M. Zuiko 14-42mm with the SW8 Super Wide Dome Port with integrated dome shade (below) at various focal lengths (for the tight shots, mostly full zoom at 42mm) and shoot creatures like tree worms, feather dustsers, gobies and blennies.With the 4mm dome, the housing is not buoyant. With the SW8 Super Wide Dome Port with integrated dome shade, the added air space pushes the port up. But I was bale to use the lip of the shade to tuck under a rock or coral outcrop and thus not add weight. I am sure there is a fancier solution, but Mother Ocean covered me for the most part when I needed to really get a steady, macro style shot.

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I used my own short flat port with the port extension and the DSLR port adapater that Aquatica makes for the AGH4 that allows users to use their current Aquatica ports. And I used the Aquatica Close-up Kit to get detail on critters like the feather duster. Shots like the lionfish were taken is a fairly stiff current with the Panasonic 8mm and I had to one hand the housing while holding on to a rock for stability. The fact that I could operate the housing with one hand was impressive. Also, when I follow the lionfish into the shelter of the coral head, the light stays even. The sun was all but down when I shot this and that hole was dark, so the camera handled the light change really well.

 

The next video (below) is a combination of wide angle with the Panasonic 8mm and the Olympus M. Zuiko 14-42mm. It was shot at the Piti Tepungan Bay Marine Preserve and I used the 8mm a lot esepcially on scenes with the big schools like the snappers and goatfish but the jacks, barracudas and schooling fish were shot with the 12-42. You can pretty much tell here what was shot with the super wide and the zoom. I didn’t use any macro here. The 30205 Dome/extension ring combo was used for the zoom while the 8mm was behind the Aquatica 3020 4″ FISHEYE DOME.

I did like how the focus worked quickly on the jacks and the scrawled filefish, with a minimum of searching. The focus on the Micro 4/3 does tend to search although focus lock is very easy to use on the AGH4. I had some problems actually seeing any focus shift and would recommend some sort of lens hood or external monitor. I am not sure if anyone is making a underwater on-board monitor that displays in 4k yet, but I am sure it will come soon. The focus lock is quite handy and once you think you are locked in, you just push the button to hold focus. The snorkeler was shot with a GoPro Black 3+ at 2.7k and it looks OK. I think the Panasonic footage looks sharper simply because the lens quality is so much better than a GoPro. Again, everything was shot using natural light and just some white balancing.

This segment below shows a lot of the wide angle, actually shot mostly with the 14-42 but with the zoom at wide quite a bit. The Blue Hole is 123 feet down to the window that opens to the sea, so white balance or not, things got kind of blue at depth but were fine 40 feet and above. I changed lenses for the Gab Gab 2 dive site to the 8mm. The reef sits in 50-60 feet of water and the color was still fine with the schools of batfish swimming over the reef and the big, blue elephant ear sponges covering parts of this great little spot. Western Shoals was shot again with the 14-42 at various focal lengths.

And here (below) I tried the built-in time lapse function. Worked quite well. Edited the JPGs in the Go Pro editor and had an instant sunset. I was shooting it from my neighbor’s beach and even got a free beer out of the endeavor. We also did a night dive on the Tokai Maru. All I had was my 600W Sola so it certainly didn’t cover the full angle of the 8mm and when I got too close, hot, hot, hot . But you get the idea. The last shots of the beach and jungle were also taken with the 8mm. You can see the curvature but it is kind of cool. The last couple of shots may seem rather contrasty but that is my fault. The color is rich but I will have to go back and lighten those clips up to reduce the contrast when I get time.

 Conclusion

So what is my conclusion? Well, I certainly like the Panasonic Lumix GH4. Being a complete novice to the camera and the housing, I was able to assemble it, run through the quick start guide and take underwater video in a matter of a couple of hours. Combined with the Aquatica AGH4 it is a handy duo that produces great video and stills for a very reasonable price point. The video can certainly work for both amateurs and pros. The camera can do just about anything a DSLR can do and sometimes better. The micro 4/3 system is the most developed of any mirrorless system so DSLR users can make the transition without missing much. For underwater, sharp wide and super wide lenses are available as well as at least two macro choices.  There are more high quality micro 4/3 lenses available than for any other mirrorless system. And all of the camera manufacturers are jumping on the bandwagon so more great lenses and functions will surely appear. Of course, a lot depends on your use for the system.  There are some situations that are better for DSLRs, though not a lot. So, for say 90+% of photographers, mirrorless systems will do everything just as well as a DSLR.

One disadvantage of the Micro 4/3 system in contrast to DSLRs is the continuous AF. While fast for still/static subjects, the AF can struggle with moving subjects. The AGH4 has a focus lock but the viewfinder is small and in bright light it is sometimes hard to see the focus searching taking place. You can focus on a moving subject, but it usually involves pre-focusing and some luck. To be fair, I noticed this happen close to dusk while trying to shoot a flounder swimming over sand, shooting a barracuda in open blue water and at night while trying to catch divers’ lights on a shipwreck. These are hard backgrounds for any camera system so I can live with this. A DSLR does excel in this usually but I did not find it a major reason to not use this system, just something I’d like to see improved.

In all, the Lumix and AGH4 is very close to the perfect blend of size and quality. Travel with this camera/housing system will be so much easier than a larger DSLR unit. The battery lasts a long time so live aboard diving, with the multiple dives, won’t be affected. And your arms probably won’t be so tired using this light system.

Get a set of compact lights and you’re ready to shoot. The AGH4 and Panasonic Lumix GH4 is a winning combo. See the housing from Aquatica HERE.

 

 

 

 

 

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Roller Derby Rolls Right Along

Roller Derby A Winner

Underwater Photog Packs Up

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The Roller Derby Gets the Babes and Gets the Job Done!!

(Above: Tim Rock & Sofie Hostyn in the Sorong, West Papua, Airport.  Photos of Tim by Russell Stoddard)

Story & Photos by TIM ROCK

The industry-leading  Think Tank  folks are always coming up with improvements and innovations to their already great gear. The Roller Derby falls into this class. I am an underwater photographer so my use of these cases is a bit different than the average shooter. When I go on assignment it is usually to some outpost or island with lots of coconut trees but certainly no camera stores and not even daily mail or courier delivery. Or I am on a ship and pretty much on my own with what I bring for a couple of weeks on the high seas.

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So, to be safe, I have to take everything photographic with me.

My other dive gear and clothing bags can get lost. I can always buy new shorts and T-shirts at the destination. I can pretty much always rent dive gear too. But I can rarely replace underwater camera gear. It all comes on the plane with me in my Think Tank Airport Security. I carry my MacBook Pro in Think Tank’s Artificial Intelligence 13. And I usually pack a Turnstyle 20 to hold my above water camera while at the location. I need a working, reliable bag that I can count on.

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For years I have been using the wheeled camera case Airport Security and that poor bag has been everywhere and been rained on, dipped and splashed with saltwater, overpacked to the hilt and has held up with flying colors. Although the wheels are getting a bit beat up and the zipper is showing some wear, overall it is in amazing shape for all the travel it has done. But when I saw the Roller Derby, I thought it might be time to move on to a newer model.

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But one thing I really liked when I saw the announcement for the Airport Roller Derby was the integration of the computer pouch. This bag has a place for a small laptop (i.e. my MacBook Pro 13”) and also an iPad (it can take up to a 15” laptop).

The access door for all the gear also opens the same as the Security but the computer door can be accessed while the unit is upright, making it easier to get the laptop in and out. The old Security had the laptop nestled inside if you chose to pack it that way. And, the interior has zippered pockets for batteries, SD/CF cards, filters and accessories.

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So, I could eliminate traveling with my Artificial Intelligence and still have handy access and protective laptop protection.

Now, I have to pack some ports for an underwater housing, underwater strobes, arm sets that hold the strobes, strobe batteries, strobe-to-housing cords, chargers, camera batteries and their chargers, an extra DSLR battery, extra lenses and, of late, a GoPro in a small housing and some gadgets for that.

To my amazement, it all fits. As we used to say in TV News, “it ain’t art, but it’s in.”

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The compartments are all quite adjustable and allowed me to configure areas for the strobe arms and their erector set-like joints.

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Now, fully packed, how does it handle? The four independent wheels make it very maneuverable.  It is the “roller” derby after all, and it rolls quite easily. As a matter of fact, you kind of have to keep an eye on where you are parking it. If you don’t place it just right, it will take off downhill or across the room. It didn’t take long to get used to that fact, however, and make sure I parked it in the right way. And if you don’t want someone to walk away with it, it has a lock and cable hidden in an upper right pocket to secure zippers and tether the bag so you can attach it to whatever you want.

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How handy did I find it’s multi-directional rolling ability? I tested it in Indonesia. As my trips go, the planes usually have a tendency to get smaller and smaller as I head to my destination or ship port. So I had no problem on a big PAL 747 going to Manila and Bali. The Roller Derby has plenty of handles to grip and getting it in the overhead was a snap.

However as I headed to Makassar and then to Ternate in Halmahera, the planes got smaller and smaller. I fly Garuda when possible in Indonesia as it has a new fleet of Bombardier CRJ 1000 jets. Sleek and fast but with very narrow aisles, I was easily able to one hand my gear sideways down the aisle and even stash it under the seat on one leg of the flight. It measures out at 14” wide by 22” high by 9 inches deep (35.6 x 55.9 x 22.9 cm) and meets US domestic and most international carry-on size requirements.

This sure beats having to pick up the bag and trudge down a narrow aisle, all the while apologizing for bumping everyone in an aisle seat. Four dual wheel sets (eight wheels) really does give it superior rolling ability and greater stability, as advertised, with minimal effort.

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For those airports without jetways, the extra handles made it quick and easy to grab and lug up or down stairs, too.

Now, I carry my housing and camera with me as well. It won’t fit inside but is normally rides nicely atop the bag secured to the handle by a bungee. This bag has a built-in tripod pouch with strap to secure the tripod. I did not use this feature except to keep water in the tripod pocket at times. But I did use the tripod straps to secure my housing.

This worked quite well and I was able to easily detach it to put the housing set-up through screening and just pop it back again and give the straps a tug to hold the housing in place at the top of the Roller Derby. Pretty slick.

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While not designed for the traveling underwater photographer, it adapts nicely. Think Tank has always been open to suggestions so any underwater person should drop them a line if with a good idea to increase the versatility and functionality of their product line for underwater photogs. I have been using their bags and gear for a decade now and have virtually no appreciable complaints.

As you can see below, the camera equipment made it intact and worked well, delivering some very nice images of the undersea world. Thanks Think Tank!!

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Think Tank Photo is a group of designers and professional photographers focused on studying how photographers work, and developing inventive new carrying solutions to meet their needs. By focusing on “speed” and “accessibility,” they allow photogs to document those magic and historical moments that reflect their personal visions and artistic talents. For some companies, it is only about the product. Think Tank is about supporting photographers doing their job.

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The Roller Derby has scored a grand slam here while Think Tank leads the pack in professionally designed gear. Yes, I am a fan boy of their equipment. Think Tank has given no reason to feel any other way about how they approach their products and customers. It is a great bag for the plane, boat or just rolling down the street.

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About Tim Rock

Tim Rock is a Pacific based award-winning digital photographer and writer specializing in the ocean realm. Rock has a large library of Pacific still images. Tim uses digital imaging above and below the sea. TIM ROCK attended the journalism program at the University of Nebraska – Omaha and has been a professional broadcast and print photojournalist for 30 years. The majority of those years have been spent in the Western and Indo Pacific reporting on environmental and conservation issues. He has won the prestigious Excellence in the Use of Photography from the Society of Publisher’s in Asia. His TV show was an ACE award finalist. He also lists many other awards for documentaries, television shows, photography and writing. He works as a correspondent for numerous Pacific Rim magazines. He is the author and contributor to dozen Lonely Planet/Pisces series guides including The Diving and Snorkeling Guides to The Philippines, Thailand, Belize, Cayman Islands, South Africa & Mozambique, Bonaire, Chuuk-Pohnpei-Kosrae, Palau, Bali & Lombok, Guam & Yap, Papua New Guinea and The Philippines. He currently owns a gallery in Guam at the Fish Eye Marine Park. Rock’s photographic work is represented by his own Guam-based agency and by top photographic agents worldwide. http://www.photoshelter.com/c/timrock

Tim Rock e-books on Gumroad  CLICK HERE.

 

Posted in Airlines, Aquatica, Bali, Boats, Camera Travel Gear, Cameras, Guam, Hotels, Indo-Pacific Destinations, Indonesia, Micronesia Destinations, Photography, Point and Shoot Cameras, Reviews, Travel, Underwater Housings, Underwater Photography, World Diving | Comments Off on Roller Derby Rolls Right Along

Photographers: Check This Out!!

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NEW HOUSING – The Aquatica AGH4

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About The Aquatica AGH4 Housing

NEW! NEW! NEW!!

Retails US$1995

To Order this fantastic housing and accessories:

Contact us:  Tim Rock – timrock [at] doubleblue [dot] com

The Aquatica AGH4 housing is built with quality materials and craftsmanship, it is designed and machined with the Panasonic LUMIX DMC GH4 in mind from the onset. Taking full advantage of this camera extraordinary video capability was a top priority for our design team.

All of the vital controls that require to be operated while shooting have been conveniently located so as not to restrict your creative flow. This housing is manufactured and carefully studied to insure that the controls are not only accessible, but also comfortable to use, in all kinds of diving conditions.

Aquatica fully understands the requirements involved for shooting high quality video, with the acquisition of Amphibico, the legendary video housing manufacturer, came a wealth of expertise in the field of video capture, it is this knowledge, coupled with over 30 years of manufacturing housings, that is now distilled into this AGH4 housing.

By natural necessity, a housing needs a sound, practical and ergonomic design for video, fiddling around to access controls can easily ruin your important sequence. You need intuitive and precise access these controls.

CLICK HERE: READ MORE HERE ABOUT AQUATICA’s AGH4

The Camera

 Buckle up, the future is here! The Panasonic GH4 brings cinematic 4k video performance to your door step, with its Micro 4/3 lens mount, this camera benefits from a very large selection of lenses. In fact, an astounding array of lenses from Panasonic, Leica and Olympus, just to name a few, are offered in this lens mount.

Add the fact that is has 4x times the resolution of HD, one can easily understand why the GH4 will stand out head and shoulders above its competitors. Video shot on Ultra HD 4K is razor sharp and needs to be experienced firsthand to be believed!

Recording video in Ultra HD at resolution of 3840 x 2160 in 30p/24p or 4096 x 2160 in 24p, compared to standard HD which is 1920 x 1080p, the 4k quadruples the standard HD resolution. It is also the only one in its league to record 4K 30p directly to a SD card, this is big news, since there will be no need for a bulky external drive!

If current post production and viewing technology has not yet caught up with the 4K, you need not worry, even scaled down to a 1080p, the footage still looks noticeably sharper, the added resolution offers a generous margin in post processing cropping and stabilization.

The GH4 offer some nifty features in 1080P as well, silky smooth slow motion, less compression and wider latitudes for post processing and editing. Files sizes are surprisingly small, being similar to what pro DSLR will offer in 1080P, managing your footage is and will definitely be easier to manage, obliviously, in order to extract the maximum out of the GH4, only the best and fastest memory card, such as SDXC – UHS – II should be used, slower cards will do fine for still images and lower resolution footages.

The Panasonic GH4 would be an impressive camera, even if meant for shooting stills only! It sure shines in this department with its 16mp sensor, very desirable flash sync speed of 1/250, increased ISO/dynamic range and burst rate of up to 12 frames a seconds even in RAW.

NEW! NEW! NEW!!

Retails US$1995

To Order this fantastic housing and accessories:

Contact us: 

Tim Rock – timrock [at] doubleblue [dot] com

AGH4 IMAGES

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Have Camera, Will Travel

Tim With the AD7100 in Yap. (©Brad Holland)

Tim With the AD7100 in Yap. (©Brad Holland)

North and South Pacific with the AD7100

 

Grey reef shark and pilotfish

Grey reef shark and pilotfish

Story and Photos by TIM ROCK

 

I had a busy couple of months planned starting in late August and ending well into October. It would include traveling to Yap in Micronesia for the annual Manta Fest shootout at Manta Ray Bay Hotel. Yap is not only great for it’s famous mantas but has a superb shark venue, lot of big fish schools, dropoffs and some fine macro sites. Then it was on to the South Pacific to spend nearly three weeks on a catamaran with the main focus being humpback whales but we would free dive reefs, snorkel with mantas and also see some other big marine mammals like false orcas.

 

Yap Divers' Boat in Miil Channel

Yap Divers’ Boat in Miil Channel

And I had a couple of new cameras, Nikon D7100s, to play with. So I gave the folks at Aquatica a call to see how the AD7100 housing production was coming. I was told with a little luck and help from FedEx I could get the first one off the line. I got it with two days to spare, gave it a quick test in my home waters of Guam at the Tumon Bay Marine Preserve and then it was off to Yap.

Now I must tell you that I am a DX fan. But I have been waiting for the mythical “Nikon D400” for too many years now. I waited and waited and used all the other Nikon DXs… the D200, D300, D90 and D7000. The “D400” was supposedly going to come out and put the DX world on its ear in September 2012. After that month came and went, I knew I had to start moving on. So after a lot of gnashing of teeth about going full frame to the Nikon D800E, I opted for what is the new DX Nikon flagship camera, the Nikon D7100. To be honest, I was a bit taken aback at the small buffer of the D7100. Didn’t seem like much of a flagship with only a second or two of RAW high speed shooting before the buffer stuffed up.

But it does have a 24MP sensor and Nikon did a few other things like add 1080P video, extraordinary low light performance and ability to render highlights with excellent detail. Coupled with the excellent range of optics it uses (that I already had in my camera bag) plus the affordable price (I can buy 2 bodies and still have change as opposed to buying just one D800E body).  And I shoot a lot of land images and the extra focal length you get with a telephoto lens and the crop sensor has always appealed to me, especially for African safaris and leaping whales.

Breaching humpback whale

Breaching humpback whale

So in the end, I went with it. I did some reading online. The folks at Nikonians.com are always a responsive bunch and some nature and sports shooters told me the buffer size problem was tackled best by investing in some high speed SD cards. So I got a 128G card with a 95MB write speed and a couple of 64G cards with 95MB write speeds. These have made a world of difference. On Consecutive Low I can click away at 3-4 FPS for quite a while. And even on high it shoots and writes quickly. Of course, underwater with big marine creatures, the camera is only really reading black, white and blue so the camera’s buffer handles free diving situations and shallow diving quite well.

And, I frequently read Thom Hogan. His take on DX vs. FX is pretty much mine, that is, manufacturers make more money selling full frame bodies so they promote them more. Thus, they push them as being better in quality. As Hogan says, “Basically what’s happening right now is that camera makers are preying on your “wants” and not your “needs.” Put another way, if everyone wasn’t so lusting over full frame bodies Nikon would have had to have come out with the crop sensor D400 and some more DX lenses by now.” I have a pretty full range of lenses that work fine with DX, especially underwater, including the Sigma 8-16, Nikkor 10.5mm and 14-24, Tokina 10-17, Sigma 8mm full frame fisheye, a Nikon 10-24 and a few others. With a wide array like that to choose from, FX looked too limiting for my underwater needs. (… and as I write, Nikon has announced yet another new FX-format DSLR called the Nikon Df DSLR… I rest my case.)

Spinner Dolphin

Spinner Dolphin

 

So with DX D7100 cameras in hands, it was time to set up the underwater housing. As I said, my go-to wides are the Nikkor 14-24mm and also Tokina 10-17 and Sigma 8-16mm and for macro I like the Sigma 50mm macro and Tokina 100mm macro. I also use the new Aquatica close-up kit a lot. It has been invaluable in shooting macro life around Guam for my new book about the island’s marine preserves.

Cover Front

The Aquatica AD7100 housing is a good looking housing… a bit larger than the AD7000. I like this extra room as, among other things, I can put my car key inside when I go beach diving or snorkeling in Guam. I also like the fact that at night, with Aquatica large macro ports, the Nikon modeling light lets me shoot critters that are shy of a bright spotting lights by using the camera’s on-board focusing light. Aquatica also coats the housings with a baked on, tough as nails, powder coating. I can tell you my AD7100 housing is a jet black and way cool.

Yap's Vertigo Reef, author with AD7100 (© David Fleetham)

Yap’s Vertigo Reef, author with AD7100 (© David Fleetham)

Aquatica has always has a high standard of quality. This translates into a housing that goes much deeper than I do. It has a depth rating of 300ft/90 meters, and the AD7100 and others are upgradeable to 425ft/130m. Since I figured the deepest I would be going in the next two months was 30m, I was covered well in the depth department. It also seems a bit heavier, like a D200 housing, which I like for shooting video. Makes it a bit easier to steady the shot.

I’ve been using Aquatica gear for a long time. Thus, I can use every current port I own, so no extra accessory expense is incurred in updating a housing body. Aquatica gets input from underwater photographers, the ultimate end users, and actually puts that feedback into their products. As a result, this housing was thoughtfully designed with a lot of great ideas that I could see immediately while taking it out of the box and unwrapping the swaddling paper. The shooting right side was uncluttered with some redesign that allows very quick and easy access to the controls with a lot of one and two finger controls functions. Large buttons for important functions and different-sized playback and function buttons highlight the right side keys.

The rear button array on the left hand side is angled at 15 degrees for ease of access, and the Multi Controller assembly has been redesigned to feel more natural. This very important control is accessed via 5 individual buttons on the camera body, giving the user an intuitive feel when going through menus or when reviewing images. Frontal controls benefit from newly designed 3 spring arrays, ensuring smooth precise operation of the crucial shutter release, as well as nearby video record and exposure compensation levers. Transmission of the aperture value is now through an accurate belt system.

Yap, Grey reef shark

Yap, Grey reef shark

I liked the larger body for one reason especially, the use of the 8” dome is now possible without an extension ring. The AD7000 requires a small extension. And on the AD7000, the dome lock release was very hard to get to. Not so on the AD7100. Changing ports is simple and they lock quickly and securely into place. I had to make a quick adjustment on the steps of the whale boat and was able to do this without climbing back on board for a lengthy procedure.

I found my favorite workhorse lens, the Tokina 10-17mm, will fare very well without the 18456 extension. This made for easy handling and nice CFWA images. It helps to be stopped down (f/8 or smaller) to get the corners in line.

Yap, blacktip shark

Yap, blacktip shark

Reef Blacktip shark

Reef Blacktip shark

Yap’s great Vertigo shark dive sometimes requires some fast exposure changes. You shoot into blue water, into the reef and into the sun depending on how you have positioned yourself. And there are lots of grey reef and blacktip sharks that swim by you, around you and over you. With the AD7100, functions are clearly identified with permanent pad printed paint for quick visual identification. This also eliminates the frustration of searching for relocated controls. I was able to go from shooting into the sun to shooting 6 stops difference at the reef in a couple of finger moves without even moving my eye from the viewfinder. Very handy for these kinds of fast action situations.

 

Yap, Shark Silhouette

Yap, Shark Silhouette

Dual optical strobe connectors come standard with the housing, and can fit the popular optical cords available on the market. For the classic strobe connectivity that I prefer with my trusty Ikelites, or those that prefer electrically connected TTL converters, the housing can have a classic Nikonos or Ikelite type connector.

Humpback calf

Humpback calf

Truth be told, I normally use my housing like a Nikonos, with everything set on manual. So this allowed me set things up for macro at Yap’s Slow & Easy dive site for nudibranchs, leaf fish and wire coral gobies. The housing body has an extra mounting point on top for a focus or video light (or other accessories). I used my L&M Sola for spotting. There are three additional mounting points underneath for various brackets or for attaching a tripod for vids.

Aquatica housings have been available with a lens release for a long time now and there is also a moveable focus knob to move the focus gear away from the lens gear. For something like the monster 14-24, this allows removal of the lens through the front of the housing. But, for the handy 10-17, the controls provide a quick extract of the camera from the rear without removal of the lens. And the camera base mounting plate fits the camera snugly and pops securely into place when inserting the D7100 body.

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Viewing on the Aquatica AD7100 is through a Galileo type eyepiece and this was great not only for macro, but also for viewing whales. On one session trying to snorkel like a mad person while trying to keep up with a mother whale and her frolicking, breaching calf, I was able to easily look in to change the F-stop and grab a shot from surface level of the calf just leaving the water. When shooting the big cetaceans, you sometimes have to quickly look away to make sure you’re not getting too close to the whales (as wide angles can distort the reality of how close you really are… sometimes you’re REALLY closer than you thought)  and then look back to compose. The Galileo eyepiece was fine in these situations. The housing can come with the Aqua Viewfinder as well.

Whale calf breaching, Tonga

Whale calf breaching, Tonga

I tried shooting some shark video in Yap as well as my first whale video in Tonga. I managed to get a small speck of dust on my lens for the whales so the video isn’t perfect, but I had fun with it anyway. (Click here for Tonga on Vimeo) I worked in TV news for many years shooting video and the new 1080P video makes this camera a real tool. I am excited to try more.

But wait, there’s more! Micronesia is not to be left out. Here is the video at Yap’s Vertigo Reef with the grey reef and blacktip sharks. No enhancements, just run straight through iMovie. Not bad looking vid for natural light and no filters.

Click HERE for VERTIGO’s SHARK Video!!

I think this may be the best designed housing Aquatica has come up with in recent editions. How they keep up with all the various cameras, I don’t know. But this one is truly a winner.

 

Tim with AD7100 housing in Tonga (© Christian Jansen)

Tim with AD7100 housing in Tonga (© Christian Jansen)

See Gallery of images from Yap and Tonga all shot with Nikon D7100 camera and Aquatica AD7100 Housing:

 Click here for Gallery

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Pluses and Minuses

Tonga Mantas

Tonga Mantas

This is a very well-designed and thought out housing. I had to really look to find something to dislike.

Likes:

–       Handy and very functional controls for shooting, replay and changing settings

–       Solid and compact build

–       Easy to get camera in and out of housing

Dislikes:

– It is a little hard to get to the metering button

AD7100 Housing

AD7100 Housing

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SHOOTING TIPS:

The Nikon D7100 Digital camera is loaded with interesting options in its Custom Setting Menu section, some of them have proven to be very helpful to the underwater photographer. The AE-L/AF-L lever on the rear right hand side of the housing is used to access the AE-L/AF-L button of the camera. It is possible to modify its original function with a wide range of possibilities. The AE-L/AF-L CSM

Menu (f4) offers, amongst others, the following options:

– Isolating the focus lock

– AF activation

– Locking the Flash Value (with optically triggered strobe)

– Blocking the flash from triggering

The AF-ON setting is used for isolating the auto focusing system from the triggering of the camera, focusing is done by pressing the AF-L/AE-L lever which will activate the focus, the camera trigger will have no influence on focusing. This popular method allows the system to be tailored to very specific needs and is it worth exploring along with the multitude of other options available. It proved quite popular with our snorkeling whale photographers.

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You can look at my new Hidden Treasures Guam Book by CLICKING HERE.

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You can look at my YAP Coffee Table Book by CLICKING HERE.

 

Posted in Aquatica, Camera Travel Gear, Cameras, DSLR Video, Indo-Pacific Destinations, Micronesia Destinations, Photography, Reviews, Tonga, Travel, Underwater Housings, Underwater Photography, Video, World Diving, Yap | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Have Camera, Will Travel

GREAT NEW ThinkTank Products

Get the Turnstyle:

TurnStyle-10-Blue-Slate-1

CLICK HERE to BUY

TurnStyle-10-Blue-Slate-2

Carry your essential camera gear in the lightweight, body-conforming, medium TurnStyle 10. Designed for urbanite photographers, it’s ideal for a casual day of shooting. This body-conforming bag converts from a sling bag to a beltpack, enabling you to move and shoot freely while providing rapid access, flexibility and convenience.
The customizable interior enables you to configure the bag for each job, with designated pockets for a DSLR, one to three lenses, a small tablet and small accessories. Besides the tough, water-resistant fabric, a rain cover is included for heavy downpours.

Key Features:

Easy rotation for rapid access to gear and accessories
Converts from a sling bag to a beltpack for increased comfort and flexibility
Padded velour pocket fits a small tablet

Gear Profile:

Fits a standard DSLR with one to three lenses plus a small tablet. The front organizer pocket holds chargers, memory cards and other small accessories.

Examples:

Nikon D800 with 24-70 f/2.8 attached + 50mm f/1.4 hoods reversed
Canon 5DMIII with 50mm f/1.2 attached + 16 – 35mm f/2.8 hoods reversed

Technical Specifications:

Note that the product tapers significantly and dimensions are taken at largest point.

Interior Dimensions: 7.1” W x 12.6” H x 4.8” D (18 x 32 x 12.2 cm)
Exterior Dimensions: 8.3” W x 15.4” H x 5.2” D (21 x 39 x 13.2 cm)
Small tablet compartment: 6.3” x 8.7” x 0.4” (16 x 22 x 1 cm)
Maximum weight (with all accessories): 1.0lb (0.4kg)

Materials:
Exterior: All fabric exterior treated with a durable water resistant coating, plus fabric underside is coated with polyurethane for superior water resistance, YKK® RC Fuse (abrasion resistant) zippers, 420D velocity nylon, 250D shadow rip-stop nylon, 3D air mesh, Y-Buckle, double gate keeper, nylon webbing, 3-ply bonded nylon thread.

Interior: Removable high density closed cell foam dividers, 210D silver-toned nylon, polyurethane backed velex liner, Phthalate-free PVC (meets REACH standard) clear mesh pockets, 2x polyurethane coated 210T seam-sealed taffeta rain cover, Nylon binding tape, 3-ply bonded nylon thread.

No Rhetoric Warranty Policy

Posted in Airlines, Camera Travel Gear, Cameras, Conservation, DSLR Video, Indo-Pacific Destinations, Micronesia Destinations, Photography, Point and Shoot Cameras, Travel, Underwater Photography, Video, World Diving | Tagged , , | Comments Off on GREAT NEW ThinkTank Products

New Book Fundraiser

READ About Hidden Treasures… CLICK HERE!!guam_100mm_and_cu_ki_9aaf6a

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NEW!! Sunfish Identification Program

MolaPoster-lo-res

Pictured above: Asri the ocean sunfish

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I.D and Name Your Sunny
Asri the Sunfish

Story by James Michael
All photos copyright Tim Rock

In the mid-1990s, the phenomenon of ocean sunfish visiting the Indonesian islands of Bali and nearby Nusa Lembongan, Ceningan and Penida was largely a rumour. Occasionally spotted by surfers at Nusa Lembongan’s famous “Shipwreck Reef” break, they were thought to be were very large sharks. That is, until Aquaquest Micronesia TV Series producer Tim Rock, on his way back through Bali from filming in Komodo, tracked down an up-and-coming Bali-based dive operator from Western Australia, named Michael Cortenbach. Rock is also an author and having  authored Bali’s first diving guide book in the 1980s with TT Yan of Gloria Maris Dive Shop, already knew the quality and diversity of Bali’s diving better than most.  Rock expressed interest in doing a full TV show about Bali’s best dives and Cortenbach enthusiastically told Rock about Mola-mola (ocean sunfish).

lembongan_book044

Cortenbach also highlighted the recent discovery of  a world class Manta Ray Interaction by the now defunct Bali Dive Club in the same region and the fledgling reef restoration work of Biorock in Pemuteran North Bali (now recognised as the world’s most successful community managed Reef restoration project). Further enhanced by the draw of the USS Liberty submerged shipwreck in Tulamben, Bali, and Bali’s vibrant and colourful culture, it was not difficult for Rock to put a convincing case together to motivate Aquaquest to produce the first and, to this date only, TV segment that covered all of Bali’s best diving attractions. A crew of five travelled Bali for two weeks diving, shooting video and taking stills. This turned out to be the first time the Mola mola aggregation was captured for television. It lead to many other high profile presenters and productions seeking out Cortenbach and Bali Diving Academy to record this phenomena for Natural History and Adventure Travel segments.

This also lead to a collaboration and friendship that has spanned twenty years and countless editorial pieces by Rock that were pivotal in Bali’s ultimate recognition as a world class diving destination and cemented the Mola mola amongst the big 5 of charismatic megafauna, rocketing it to fame in the diving world.

Marine Biologist Tierney Thys

Marine Biologist Tierney Thys

Both Cortenbach and Rock fondly remember a week of diving culminating in an evening on one of Lembongan’s beaches surrounded by some of the world’s leading scientists such as Tierney Thys, on site to tag a Mola mola with a satellite tag,  film makers such as the BBC’s Peter Schoones shooting for Blue Planet and leaders of conservationist groups such as The Nature Conservancy and Conservation International, who were there to provide a platform for the protection of the area and unique opportunity to dive with these huge fish.

Marine Biologist Tierney Thys dives in Indonesian waters usinmg a special setup to satellite tag a molamola, or ocean sunfish, at Crystal Bay, Nusa Penida Island, Indonesia. This was the first time a deep water tag was deployed to monitor these rare fish

The energy, enthusiasm and excitement pouring from the lamp lit tables and infecting other visitors with the desire to listen to impromptu explanations and view ad-libbed slide shows from leaders in their fields, remains embedded in the memories of these mola pioneers. What transpired in the coming years with Cortenbach and Rock led to a series of television shows, books, magazine articles, scientific expeditions and exploratory trips mainly designed to find out more about seasonal visits to the reefs of Lembongan, Penida and Bali of Mola-molas.

sun0122

Another memorable moment in 2003 occurred when Rock was participating in creating a book about Bali’s beauty with a corps of international photographers. The book was to benefit the 2002 Bali bombing victims and reassure people that Bali was a safe and gentle place. On his last dive of a three-week shoot supported by Cortenbach and Bali Diving Academy, he was 30 meters down and nearing the end of his dive when he saw movement in the distance. He slowly approached and saw a host of fish including angelfish, wrasses and bannerfish all at a cleaning station preening a beautiful, large mola. He watched for a while and then captured our poster image. Rock has named that sunfish Asri for its beauty and harmony with nature. It is also the name of his granddaughter.

sun0034_copy

Now, you too can name your Indonesian ocean sunfish through a new research project.

The photos will be used for scientific research, as part of a PhD project by marine biologist Marianne Nyegaard at Murdoch University in Perth, Western Australia. Identification of individuals from photos is well established for other marine mega fauna, such as whale sharks and manta rays, but has not previously been attempted for sunfish. Identifying individual Nusa Penida sunfish by their prominent skin patterns, Marianne hopes to estimate how many sunfish visit the island each season, how long they stay, and if the same individuals come back year after year.

Marianne will be based on Lembongan for the Molas some part of the 2013 Mola season. She will be hosted by the locally based Coral Triangle Center. She will employ various research methods in order to learn as much a possible about the Mola on Indonesia. In order to gather as much data as possible, Marianne is extending a photo appeal from new to old photos. Images, particularly those with digital data and time data, supported by a dive log that recognizes the location, depth and water temperature if recorded, can literally allow Marianne to research “back in time”. So if anyone has holiday shots of sunfish from previous years Marianne is very keen for a copy of these, along with any new photos to be taken in the upcoming sunfish season.

And of course Rock (see website) will be back in Bali sometime this season seeking to add to his already considerable collection of Mola mola images, ably supported by Cortenbach and Bali Diving Academy, who continue to bring this unique experience to divers and photographers alike.

For photo submission, please email your sunfish photos to:

MolaPhotos [at] outlook [dot] com

Please send along with the date and time taken, approximate depth and dive site. And, if your Mola has not been spotted before, you get to name it so make sure you send along your favourite mola name!

All copyrights will be respected, and submitted photos will never be reproduced or circulated. They will be used for scientific research only. Nyegaard is hoping for worldwide submissions of sunfish taken anywhere in Indonesia, not only Bali. Hi resoluation images are preferred to make identifying the mola easier with the software she is using.

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Want to know more about Bali? Get this new e-book for IOS devices by Tim Rock & Simon Pridmore

Posted in Australia, Bali, Boats, Books, Cameras, Conservation, Guam, Indo-Pacific Destinations, Indonesia, Photography, Travel, Underwater Photography, Video, Western Australia, World Diving | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on NEW!! Sunfish Identification Program

NEW BALI Dive Guide E-Book

Here’s a preview of our new Bali Diving and Snorkeling Guide book. Available as an e-book:

Posted in Bali, Hotels, Indo-Pacific Destinations, Indonesia, Micronesia Destinations, Photography, Reviews, Travel, Underwater Housings, Underwater Photography, World Diving | Comments Off on NEW BALI Dive Guide E-Book