When I updated from a Nikon D300 to a D7000, and from another housing to a Nauticam, I was looking for an opportunity to sort out the new system. The Sea of Cortez nature cruise on the Solmar V provided that opportunity. June isn’t the best time for diving the Cortez, because the water hasn’t warmed up yet, and neither has the visibility. But that never daunts a serious photographer. A 5 mil wet suit and a wide angle lens took care of each factor.
I’ve been shooting underwater since the mid 1970s, but had been shooting video for only nine years. Early on I realized that trying to do both on the same trip resulted in mediocre results in both media. Switching between a dedicated video camcorder and my D300 was overtaxing my feeble brain. It was like trying to keep things straight between a wife and a mistress (not that I have any experience along those lines).
Because DSLR video was new to me, I decided to dedicate two dives each day to video, and shoot stills on the third dive. To keep myself on target, I armed the housing with video lights on the first two dives, and strobes on the last one.
The first big revelation was white balance. My old video housing required five separate turns of the control, followed by pushes. By the time it was white balanced, the critters were long gone. Consequently, I shot on auto and fixed it in post, with mixed results. On the D7000, I merely looked at a neutral color in the background, and matched it on the live view screen by turning the housing’s command dial until the degrees kelvin changed the color to what I was seeing. I rarely needed to tweak the resulting clips in post.
The Tokina 10-17mm fisheye has become an essential item in a still photographer’s kit, and it’s just as important in video. Lock focus on a fin, and virtually everything is sharp. It’s just like what we used to do with the Nikonos 15mm lens (for those of us who remember film). Because it can focus on the port, it’s good for everything from close focus wide angle shots to the big picture, as long as the critters come close enough. I used it on half the video dives. The Nikon 12-24 is my big critter lens, but even with a +2 diopter, the corners are soft. That’s not a problem on a shark in blue water, but it’s obvious on a reef. In still photography, corners can be cropped but that’s not possible in video, and those soft corners are too obvious. The 60mm macro behind a flat port requires a tripod, or setting the camera down on a rock, to prevent the shakes. Fortunately, there are no delicate corals in the Sea of Cortez.
The biggest difference between shooting video with a DSLR and a prosumer camcorder is that one lens won’t fit all. It forces you to work within the capabilities and limitations of your lens. But for me, the form factor of a DSLR was an easy transition from the camcorder. It was like finding a new capability in an old friend. I was pleased with both the video and the stills. It’s a revelation to be able to both with one system, and do it well.
I’m also extremely pleased with the Nauticam D7000 housing. I used to say that my old housing handled like a camera. This one handles better the camera. The lever for live view and the piano key for video shooting are more intuitive than the controls on the D7000. Likewise the levers for focus (using the camera’s AF lock button) and for review are easier to manage than those on the camera. The auxiliary 180 degree viewfinder was a tonic for my aging eyes. And I especially liked the locking mechanism for the ports and extension rings. I can’t wait for my next dive trip and an opportunity to do it again.
Eric's website is www.ehanauer.com.