New from Tim Rock and Simon Pridmore and covering new areas with great writing and photos:
Yoko with Stingrays near Bimini, Bahamas
You may find you don’t need a lot of fancy diving gear to create stunning underwater photos!
Story & Photos by TIM ROCK with Yoko Higashide and Elaine Kwok
Free diving and snorkeling are integral skills of underwater photography. In fact, you might be surprised just how many “underwater” photos are created without using scuba gear at all. My longtime photography model Yoko Higashide dives on scuba daily as part of her work as a dive guide and instructor in Palau, Micronesia, so she likes the freedom of free diving and snorkeling. So recently we planned some trips without the need for scuba dive gear. At the same time, my Guam-based friend Elaine Kwok and I also planned some water activities at home and in the Marianas along those same lines of using shallow water to our advantage.
Yoko with baby sea turtle, Dimakya Island, Philippines
Armed with a mask, long free-diving fins and snorkel and a few cameras, we went to Japan’s Ogasawara, Mikura and Okinawa for swimming with bottlenose dolphins. We also visited Bimini in the Bamahas for spotted dolphins and southern stingrays, Kona for spinner dolphins and mantas, Mozambique for whale sharks, Tonga for humpback whales and Yap & Guam (in our neighborhood) for corals and fish.
There is one thing to remember: If you want good results with big marine life interaction, you must go where the big fish and mammals are abundant and make sure it is legal to swim with these creatures as animals like whales are protected in many countries.
Yoko with humpback whale calf, Vava’u, Tonga
The results of these tankless trips pleasantly surprised me. I came back not only with some compelling images of big fish and marine mammals, but also an array of varied shots taken in the shallows with wrecks, starfish, rippled sand, reflections and other reefy random shots. It is a great challenge to test your skills and the results can be stunning. The good news is that you don’t have to be Jacques Mayol to achieve this. If you can dive to three or four meters (12-15 feet) for 20 to 30 seconds, you are on the right track. Here are some situations where snorkel and free dive photography is preferable.
“You might be surprised just how many “underwater” photos are created without using scuba gear at all.”
Ai Futaki with gray reef shark, Yap, Micronesia
Mr & Mrs Big
Using simple equipment with large marine creatures like whale sharks, whales, dolphins and surface-feeding mantas is not only the easy way to go, it is also the most effective and least intrusive. Some creatures just don’t like bubbles, especially marine mammals. So scuba is out. When whales or dolphins blow out a series of bubbles, it is usually because they are distressed or upset.
So divers blowing bubbles can unnerve some sea mammal species. Also, when you are trying to keep up with a whale shark or whale, scuba gear creates too much drag. You’ll end up burning more air with the gear and don’t get photos that are any better for the effort.
Yoko with whale shark, Mozambique, Africa
Even when a whale shark is hardly moving, that big paddle of a tail pushes it along at a knot or so. The same with whales. You have to swim, sometimes hard, to get the shots you may want. Fly-bys are also common with whales and dolphins, where the boat drops you in the path of the creature and you can shoot as it comes, swims at or by you and allows you to keep up for a few fin kicks before all you see is tail.
Mantas feed on surface plankton. So dipping down past the plankton layer just a bit and shooting them as they feed is best done on snorkel. When they feed, they don’t care about human presence so much. Mantas march on their stomachs. Do not hinder them but grab the shot as they swim by, mouths agape.
Model and Specialty Shots
There is a good reason to use free diving and snorkeling for aquatic model shots. For professional assignments, I try to find those who know the habits of many species of marine life and how to best approach them without spooking them. An excellent snorkeler and competent free diver, a model must also understand photography and lenses to be able to strike a pose in mid-kick. If you find a good person with most or all of these attributes, treat them well. These people are hard to find.
Models add an extra dimension to the image; another element of composition. It helps put the viewer in the model’s place. The person looking at your photo thinks “That could be me” and adds interest to the image. Also, the wonderful interaction between the marine subject and the model again creates viewer interest. It helps to personalize the image.
Yoko with shoal of juvenille rabbitfish, Guam, Western Pacific
However, if you don’t know any of these water people, just use a friend, spouse or sibling. Just tell them to keep their arms at their sides, relax and watch the subject. This will create a feeling of interaction and can even be done while floating on the surface with the photographer dipping down just a bit to snap the image.
Jellyfish Lake, Kakaban, Indoniesia
The Color Red
Photography in shallow waters prevent the loss of the color red, which is pretty much gone after three meters due to refraction. So skin tones remain true and the color of the marine creature, like a dolphin, is also easy to render in post image processing. A couple of wide-angle strobes mounted on a housing at the handles at very low power can help to provide just enough fill to bring out color in the model and/or the subject.
For the Bimini and Bahamas shoot, I mounted strobes on the camera housing handles splayed out at angles and left them at low power for the entire two weeks we were there. They added just enough color and light to make almost every shot I used acceptable without having to resort to Photoshop.
Most free-diving classes boast that they will be able to allow you to reach 18m within a couple of days of training. So this approach is readily available through training and brings another weapon to your underwater photography arsenal. It also helps keep you in shape and you do need to be fit to dive using free diving techniques.
(above: Yoko with spotted dolphins near Bimini, Bahamas)
Biologist Mark Marks with Great White Shark, Gaansbai, South Africa
Shallow water is great for arty images. Reflections and sun ripples add to the mood of shot. Using natural light, you can get patterns and shapes across the sea floor and on your subject. It is also great to catch the sun’s rays. Early morning and late evening make warm images with the sun streaking through. In fresh water and some of the clear caves, a light source becomes a beacon, bringing dancing light to the walls or floor of the cave for great stills and video.
Elaine deep in Senhanom Cave, Rota, Northern Marianas
Half-half shots can be made with a fisheye lens in a half-meter of water. A good wide-angle and balanced strobe lighting also allows for arty and compelling half shots. The use of snorkeling and free diving techniques opens a whole new world with a plethora of critters ranging from massive to tiny.
(Above: Half-Half shots: Left: Palau Rock Island, Right: Elaine at sandy beach at sunset, Rota, Northern Marianas)
It will put you in places that allow you to use natural elements like the sun, coral reef and clear water to make special images. As much as you may like scuba, don’t overlook this aspect of your photography. It is a great way to see the sea and bring it home.
What you need
Great white shark from surface cage, Gaansbai, South Africa
First, get a potato. Assuming you are using a housed DSLR, use a wide-angle lens of at least 20mm (or less). I personally like the Tokina 10-17mm zoom lens for photographing humpbacks, dolphins and mantas. The Nikon 14-24mm wide angle on a full-frame camera is also an excellent lens. Use a wide dome and keep it free from scratches.
What do you do with the potato? Just before heading out to sea, use the potato to rub the dome to keep water from beading and streaking. Do this for surface shots at water level and half-half images. Rain-Ex also does the trick.
Elaine at The Swimming Hole in Rota, Northen Marianas
In shallow depths, use a higher f-stop, but this also means scratches and dings on the dome will show. Go to your car repair shop; the same treatment for headlights will make your dome shiny and new. Shooting on or near the surface with wide-angle lenses also mean you’ll experience lens flare from the sun which another reason why you need to keep your dome clean and scratch-free.
For models and medium to small subjects, use a pair of wide-angle strobes mounted on the housing handles, pointed outward for a touch of light to add color and fill in the dark areas. For whales, don’t worry about flash and just let the sun do the work by keeping the sun at your back.
Bottlenose dolphins, Mikura, Japan
Shoot at a high shutter speed if you can. Around 250th or better. Your swimming creates a lot of motion and if you’re moving with a subject like a dolphin, you’ll need some stopping power. This may mean you’ll also want to up your ISO to 400 or 800.
For free-diving and snorkeling:
It may seem simple but there is an art to staying streamlined, properly weighted and equipped when trying to photograph marine life by snorkeling and free diving. Get a low volume mask and low profile snorkel. Both should be easy to clear of water. Most pro free divers don’t keep the snorkel in their mouths while underwater, as it tends to put air in the cheeks. It is just used to catch a breath at the surface. So for this kind of up and down photography, a simple snorkel is best.
Spotted dolphins, Bimini, Bahamas
But for swimming with dolphins or trying to keep up with a whale shark, you may want something with a purge and a bit of height that keeps the air hole above the waves. Use long free diving fins. They add more power to your kick and give you speed. You can also keep up with creatures easier. Wear as little as possible without freezing to death. Keep your rubber volume down. You will also want to weight yourself so you are a slightly negatively buoyant. This allows you to sink under the surface just by exhaling.
Juvenille humpback whale, Vava’u, Tonga
As large as they are, whales like humpbacks are extremely skittish. They don’t like humans diving down on them. But you can calmly slip under the surface so you are a meter or so down. This gives you better eye-to-eye shots. The weights also help if you have to go down quickly to keep up with dolphins. Place a safety sausage on your weight belt. Ocean currents can be tricky and you can find yourself pushed out to sea when chasing whales or looking for sailfish and bait balls. Don’t take a chance. It can help with floatation as well as alert the boat.
Elaine with needlefish, Guam, Western Pacific
Keep in shape and try to keep body fat down. This will also help you move, sink and keep up with your ridiculously fit model. If you don’t live near an ocean, keep the fin muscles in shape in a pool.
TIM ROCK specializes in the marine world and is an author, photographer and owner of a photo gallery on Guam in the western Pacific. He attended the journalism program at the University of Nebraska – Omaha and has been a professional broadcast and print photojournalist for 30 years. His news photography appeared on CBS, ABC, NBC and CNN. The majority of his career has been 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 Publishers 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 a dozen Lonely Planet/Pisces series guides. Rock’s photographic work is represented by Getty Images Lonely Planet Collection, SeaPics, Polaris Images, Waterframe, VWPics and his own Guam-based agency.
Tim Rock uses Aquatica underwater housings and Ikelite strobes with Nikon D7100 and D7200 cameras and Nikkor and Tokina wide angle lenses. He also uses Sola modeling lights.
All photos by ©Tim Rock/2016. All rights reserved. May not be reproduced in any form without written permission.
See more of his work at:
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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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Roller Derby A Winner
Underwater Photog Packs Up
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
The compartments are all quite adjustable and allowed me to configure areas for the strobe arms and their erector set-like joints.
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.
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.
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.
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!!
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.
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.
About The Aquatica AGH4 Housing
NEW! NEW! NEW!!
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.
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!!
To Order this fantastic housing and accessories:
Tim Rock – timrock [at] doubleblue [dot] com
North and South Pacific with the AD7100
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.
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.
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.)
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.
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.
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.
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’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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
See Gallery of images from Yap and Tonga all shot with Nikon D7100 camera and Aquatica AD7100 Housing:
Pluses and Minuses
This is a very well-designed and thought out housing. I had to really look to find something to dislike.
– Handy and very functional controls for shooting, replay and changing settings
– Solid and compact build
– Easy to get camera in and out of housing
– It is a little hard to get to the metering button
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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)
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