I recently got back from Bonaire after a group trip through Reef Photo and Video. I like going on trips with photo groups, because the other divers are photographers too, and they get it. Wanna stay on a particular coral head for 45 mins? no problem. Wanna dive the same site again and again? no problem. Wanna only go to 20 ft, but stay there for 2 hours? No problem. It's awesome.
The trip was being headed by an old friend of mine, Chris Parsons. As I was packing for the trip, he asked if I'd consider using Nauticam's new housing for the Nikon D7100. I glanced at my tried and true Nikon D200, and going into the other room so as not to offend it, I said "Yes".
Now my D200 has been with me for 6 years. It is my first and only DSLR. I know this camera. It's accompanied me everywhere, and I know it's limitations: It doesn't focus well in low light. ISO higher than 360 means it will be grainy. I can do about 2 hours of dives per battery charge. The small display means I can only roughly gauge the focus and the exposure. And for some reason it takes pictures of inflatable goats at the Karaoke bar in Key West while I'm singing, but that's a different story.
The housing I have is the Sea & Sea DX200. Never had a flood…but I was lucky. That pesky rubber viewfinder on the Nikon body is supposed to be removed don't ya know. I did a shallow water dive with it on once. And when I got out there were a few small drips inside. But if I had been at 100ft....
Once in Bonaire, I get handed this sexy Nauticam housing and Nikon D7100 camera body. Shiny and new, it doesn't even have scuff marks on it yet. And I go through the usual rigamoral of putting together the housing after flying.
Things I notice while putting it together:
- Secure port locking mechanism, swanky.
- Fiber Optic for the strobes. Nice, never tried TTL before, now I can.
- I can leave the viewfinder on the body, awesome!
- Remove the port and remove the lens without taking off the back, I'm sure that will be handy.
I then start fiddling with the camera in the housing-you know to familiarize myself with it. The camera itself is setup a bit different from my D200. But not too much. It's a pretty easy learning curve. The biggest difference is the menu structure, and the info button on the back which displays on the HUGE display what you're doing with the camera. This housing also has Nauticam's 180 viewfinder on it. I've never used one before. But it looks cool.
I throw on my Nikon 105 lens, Inon Z-240's, and to the water we go.
I really love my 105 lens. I don't have to be too close, and it takes razor sharp pictures, and I can have paper thin depth of field if I want.
I really hate my 105 lens. It is the biggest pain to focus, and to keep focus. It can hunt at the most inopportune times, and I quite often have to switch to manual, and dial it in. Even with a bright focus light. And then using the tiny viewfinder, I'm never sure if it was perfectly in focus.
At least that's how it works in my old rig. With this new rig?
First immediate impressions:
The 105 definitely focuses better with the 7100. I know this cause with the HUGE display, I can actually see that the image is in focus. And I proceed to go to town trying to capture a Moray. And let me just say, I have no idea how I have managed to capture any decent images ever, without using one of these big viewfinders. It's so much easier to see everything. Things are, well, bigger! And I can tell it's in focus!
How do I change the ISO?
Well I apparently didn't figure out how to set the ISO in the room. So quickly tumbling the housing this way and that-there's a button. Labeled ISO. Groovy. It's easier to use than on the D200. The Sea & Sea housing had all these little push and twist to lock buttons, and then you turn the back dial. Then you have to remember to release that button. It worked. I got used to it, and learned to check that every one of them wasn't pushed and twisted. And if things weren't working right, figure out which one was pushed in and then release it. The Nauticam housing was just easier. I never forgot to unset a button.
And I could change the shooting mode from single shot to multiple shots-underwater! Ok to me this was a big deal. That was something I couldn't do with the Sea&Sea. If I accidentally left the shooting mode in the high speed frames per second, then guaranteed I would be deleting 2 out of 3 shots on the computer. With the Nauticam - I just turned the dial. Nice.
So settling into take a few dozen photos of a likely now blind pair of blennies, I started really getting into the swing. I was utilizing TTL with the strobes, while I was getting settled into the camera. I really liked TTL for that aspect, one less thing to worry about. Eventually in the trip I changed back to setting the strobes manually, but for those first two days, I was busy playing with so much else on the D7100.
One problem i have always had with my D200 in the Sea&Sea housing is how hard it was to change the aperture. The knob is just too small to be able to adjust the front dial with just one finger. It would take the finger and the thumb. Which always meant I lost my shot framing. The Sea&Sea rear dial operated easier, but it was a stretch to get it with the thumb.
On the Nauticam? never even thought about it. The really large dials are extremely easy to twiddle and turn. Not too shabby.
The D7100 takes very pretty blue water shots. I always thought the D200 was a little, I don't know....green. But the screen being so small, it was hard to tell until the computer showed me the error of my ways.
It only took me about 1/2 hour to figure out the camera, and learn where all the buttons and knobs and levers were to do what I needed to do with the camera. Transitioning from the Sea&Sea to the Nauticam was really simple. I was really impressed with Nauticam's button and lever layout. It was very easy to figure out the first time underwater. And I didn't have to look away from my subject. Everything was within easy finger reach of the handles. I like it. I'm already wondering if Chris will notice if I sneak it into my bag, at checkout and leave him a brick wrapped in a towel.
I used the Tokina 10-17 on several dives, with the small Zen port. I dig this setup. Very small, compact, and what a freaking awesome lens. Super wide, but you can get up and personal with the locals, if you know what I mean.
So two days into the trip. And I'm having a fantastic time. Squid, blennies, octopus, morays....The camera, housing and I are getting along really well. Chris and I are only managing to do 2-3 dives a day, but we're making up for it by pulling practical jokes on each other underwater. Mental note to self, don't let him tie your fins together... again.
And those 2 hour dives create a whole lot of shots to go through. Oh yeah...don't I usually change the battery at some point? Huh, hadn't really noticed. I'm getting phenomenal run time out of the Nikon's batteries. I think I was changing them each night-but I kinda lost track. The camera didn't seem to mind.
But what else? Did you say low light photography? Did you say Tarpon extravaganza?
The D7100 is awesome at low light. The group did a shallow night dive to an area frequented by Tarpon, and we lit up the water with monstrous video lights etc which brought in small bait fish, with brought the tarpon to a swimming buffet. 15-20 large tarpon would be zooming in and out of our lit area. And we happily took their pics.
It was amazingly awesome. I turned off my strobes and cranked the ISO up to 8000, and then down even to 6400, and was able to capture some great shots (ok maybe not great shots-but they told the story of what we were doing)-with very little noise. I was impressed.
Another night, I used one of those NightSea underwater backlight type things - as it turns out some critters down there kinda look like they belong at the roller disco black light party, or they really got into the black light poster craze. Two words: Freakout cool. The NightSea light and filter stuff in itself was truly one of the coolest stuff I'd ever seen on a night dive. But the nudibranch I found that was ON FIRE, was even cooler. Once again the d7100 was able to focus in the really low light (but this time with a Nikon 85mm). Since I only had the NightSea light, I couldn't use strobes. But at an ISO of 2000 it still looked awesome.
Suffice it to say, the trip rocked. The camera rocked. The housing rocked. The only thing that didn't rock was my computer hard drive crashing on the last day. Constant and daily backups are important. And that's why these pics are here at all, albeit a little bit after the trip ended.
Unfortunately Chris discovered the towel wrapped brick, and I had to give back the housing, and the camera. Curses.
Back home, I haven't been able to look my Sea & Sea in the eyepiece yet. I feel like it will know I was out with a newer brand and model. I wish it would stop looking at me as I cruise the Reef Photo website putting together my fall wish list.
I want to tell it, it's not you, it's me.
But I'm a horrible liar.