PhotoFriday – ‘Texture’

This week’s Photo Friday entry: ’Texture’

It seems this weeks PhotoFriday theme is a repeat, but no matter. Different surfaces have different textures, the image above shows lots of different underwater textures. The image below, uses dramatic light and shadow to bring out the the texture of the sponges.

I put this one in too, its not underwater but the cave itself has so much strong texture highlighted by the torchlight I couldn’t resist.

If you want to see my underwater photos from various places then check out the collection of galleries in my Reef Beasties Gallery.

To see all the other photo Friday entries (and submit your own) for ‘Texture’ here.

Psst… Please check out my excellent used Nikon Gear page, I’ve swapped over systems and I’m trying to raise money on my previous gear.

PhotoFriday – ‘Glorious’

This week’s Photo Friday entry: ’Glorious’

This weeks theme brings to mind the glorious sight of hundreds or schooling Snapper at Ras Mohammad in Egypt. There’s nothing quite like seeing so many large fish all at once.

To see others take a look at my Red Sea 2013 gallery.

If you want to see my underwater photos from various places then check out the collection of galleries in my Reef Beasties Gallery.

To see all the other photo Friday entries (and submit your own) for ‘Glorious’ here.

Psst… Please check out my excellent used Nikon Gear page, I’ve swapped over systems and I’m trying to raise money on my previous gear.

PhotoFriday – ‘Reflection’

This week’s Photo Friday entry: ’Reflection’

Its been a while since I’ve participated in PhotoFriday and this is a nice easy theme for me to come back with. Reflections underwater are usually of interesting critters or reefscape right at the surface. Good reflections only really materialise when the water is dead calm though. Although you can get calm waters out by the reef, the most calm place I’ve been to is the Mangroves, where the images above and below are taken (unless otherwise stated)

Sometimes in slightly less calm water the slight ripples can have an interesting effect as with this Whaleshark below (clearly not in the mangroves!)

If you want to see my underwater photos from various places then check out the collection of galleries in my Reef Beasties Gallery.

To see all the other photo Friday entries (and submit your own) for ‘Reflection’ here.

Psst… Please check out my excellent used Nikon Gear page, I’ve swapped over systems and I’m trying to raise money on my previous gear.

Olympus EM1 vs EM5 Review

Em1 & EM5 side by side

Since my last little gear review on the OMD went down rather well with you all Alex Mustard and Alex Tattersall encouraged me to do another. This time both cameras are from the Olympus OMD family, EM1 vs EM5. I’ve done a couple of trips now on the EM5 (Red Sea & twice in Raja Ampat) so it was interesting to see if the EM1 was that much better. Again, this is just my personal opinion of the pros & cons of the two systems after having used them.

When I first got my EM5 I had to go through the little exercise of setting it up how I like it in the menus, these little cameras are so amazingly configurable that if its left set up in a funny way it can seem really hard to use. Here are some things I noticed as I took my first look at the EM1 and went through its menus…

First look – Pros & Cons:

Look & feel:
• The EM1 is bigger than the EM5 with a different feel to the grip (see above in the first picture in this post). A definite con for me as I like my gear as small as it can be but you really need to hold both to see for yourself on this. Topside I have mine on a wrist strip and can hold mine quite happily for hours by its side and thumbgrip without my hand getting tired.

Buttons:
The buttons are not the same or in the same places as the EM5, this is initially a con if you’ve had the EM5 but it’s easy enough to get used to them, I was up and running and able to do a night dive with it after only 3 day dives. There are more configurable buttons overall so that has to be a pro really for more flexibility.

• There is a dedicated HDR, self-timer, burst-mode (up to 10fps) button which I expect would come in handy for landscape photography but I didn’t use.
• The On/Off button it on the top now
• You now can program Fn1, Fn2, record, AEL/AFL, two front buttons, two dials and 2 levers which is a lot more buttons than before, I keep it simple for my own sanity and set it up in a pretty similar way to the EM5. However I expect if I owned one of these I’d eventually get all fancy and set these up to streamline lots of things out from the menus. One useful thing I did use was the little 1 & 2 lever to toggle the dials from normal exposure (fstop & shutter) dials to WB and ISO dials. This would be even more useful when using filters as you only have access to these in the quick menu on the EM5 so changing them both at once isn’t as quick and easy as this.

EM1 extra focus points

Other menus & settings:
• There are a lot more AF points, which is a pro if you’re like me and set your focus but moving it around the grid, this gives you finer control of where to place that focus of tiny critters eye.
• There are timelapse settings in the menu, I expect this would be fun to play with but I didn’t. On the EM5 I use my trusty triggertrap mobile & iphone for the timelapses but it would be useful not to have to tie up my phone for this.
• Internal wifi, this sounds really gimmicky but I can see useful practical applications for this. I downloaded the accompanying app to my iphone and although it took a while to work out how to get it working, once it was it was pretty cool. Essentially the camera creates its own wifi hotspot, you connect to that with your phone and then you can use your phone to wirelessly control your camera (similar to the GoPro3 app and those who have that know how useful this feature is). This would be useful in situations like shooting star-trails where you want to change settings without touching the camera and accidently knocking its position. I have no idea why they decided to put this feature in the playback menu though! (Actually, if any triggertrap people are reading this please can you make some sort of contraption which would mimic this without using personal hotspots on the phone, thanks).
• Focus peaking, I didn’t use it and don’t really know what this is but I heard some guys on the boat raving about it as an awesome feature on a Sony camera and noticed it in the menus.
• In camera HDR – I’m not that much of a fan but I did try this out and it didn’t look too horrible.
• Another con potentially for some people, being a newer camera the RAW files don’t work with Adobe Lightroom 4 so I had to upgrade to LR5 to be able to see them.

My thoughts after diving with it in the associated Nauitcam housing:

• As with the EM5 I had problems with the flash sync settings on the first dive, I got it working during the dive with 2nd curtain sync and the preflash knob turned up on my Inons as a stop gap until I found the setting in the menus again once I got it back on land. Like this though there is a terrible lag while the internal flash recycles. For future reference the menu to switch the internal flash to 1/64th power is go to the full power flash menu then press info to reduce it to 1/64. This is my bad for not properly setting it up before diving.
• I noticed that the max sync speed is 320 (vs only 250 on the EM5) so this is a definite pro.
• The auto focus is noticeably quicker for macro (I didn’t notice on wide angle) which is a massive plus point when photographing moving or extra tiny critters.
• The images seem sharper too.
• Unfortunately it seems more battery hungry than the EM5 so I had to change them every two dives or it would (annoyingly) run out on the third.

EM1 & EM5 Nauticam Housings (front)
EM1 & EM5 Nauticam Housings (back)

The housing:
The biggest negative point for me though was how the size increase & shape change has affected the housing design & ergonomics. The housing is now big enough (and of a different shape) that the handles are not really optional anymore, this has several unpleasant knock-on points for me.
• Firstly, I found it hard to get a comfortable grip I liked whilst pressing the shutter and supporting the housings weight. It didn’t seem comfy with my hand either inside or outside the handle.
• With the handles on, its now very tricky to get the flashes in close enough for nice lighting for Wide-Angle Macro shots which limits how small a critter you can WAM.
• Its now heavier, my wrists were beginning to ache again as they did with my subal (but much less of course). How long does one wait for that blasted pygmy seahorse to turn its little head?! Also, not so easy to lift out of the water for split shots
• The only positive point I can say about the strobe handles were that they were further apart for wide angle so my same tiny strobe arms were wider, I’ll be overcoming this on my own housing with longer arms though ;)

• Another con on the housing design was it seemed to be more fiddly to get the camera in and out. That was one thing that really impressed me on the EM5 housing, just so easy to use. There is now a red locking switch on the camera mount and a funny under-plate on the sliding in mechanism that it locks into inside the housing, this seemed to make it harder to get the thing out. Also, with the on/off switch at the top and the AEL 1&2 lever switch on the door there are more bits you have to adjust and check line up before you close the housing. It seemed much more of a palaver to me each time I needed to get the card or battery out. (addition note, if an ant falls in – don’t ask – you have to wait ages for him to emerge out from that under-plate).
• The one thing I did like was the vacuum seal. It’s a massive pro, although there there is an associated annoyance with it so I’m considering whether to get one put on my own EM5 housing. The vacuum seal essentially hooks into the leak alarm LED and gives you a visual indication that your housing is air-(and thus water)-tight. Very cool! The downside on this is that for some reason you have to reset the dastardly thing every time you open the housing with the on/off switch, so what used to be a quick change of lens & port at the front is now, change of lens & port, then turn it over, open the back, switch off & on, close the back, repressurise. WTF? Come on Nauticam, why couldn’t you just repressurise without resetting from the switch!! Other than that it’s a must have. Obviously the extra use of your leak alarm battery would wear it out quicker but batteries are much cheaper than flooded cameras. I did like how it didn’t take many pumps to get it to full pressure too, probably due to the small size of the housing.

In conclusion, I’d say it’s an amazing little camera, better than the EM5 for functions, autofocus and sharpness. Given my experiences with the housing I’d say only go for it if you have good strong wrists. For me though I’ll be sticking with my little EM5.

Many thanks to Alex Tattersall of Underwater Visions for giving me the opportunity to try it out.

If you want to see more of my EM1 images scroll to the bottom of this Raja Ampat gallery and they are all marked (EM1) in the titles.

Olympus OMD in Nauticam Housing

Dampier Strait, Raja Ampat

For the last part of my trip report I want to show you the photos from the northern area of the Dampier Strait. We dived many quite a few different sites here (including Arborek Jetty which I’ve already posted about).

Mantas:

Here we saw a host of amazing creatures, larger ones such as mantas & woebegones, and smaller critters such as pontohi pygmy seahorses, snake eels, robust ghost pipe fish and more. Without further ado here are some of the photos that I liked most from this area.

Two (mating?) woebegone sharks, I love how they just look like bits of old carpet!

Pontohi pygmy seahorse:

Many of these images were taken on the Olympus OMD EM1 camera which was lent to me for review so tomorrow I’ll post up a bit more about my experience with it and the pros & cons verses my own little EM5.

Arborek Jetty, Raja Ampat

This might be one of the most photographed jetties in all of Raja Ampat but it is truly a great place to go and take all types of photos. And it changes year on year, here is the link from last year. There is usually some sort of school of fish swirling under the jetty, then there are the beautiful soft corals on many of the posts (I concentrated more on that last year than this), then there is the giant clams (and I do mean giant) and of course the lovely macro subjects. Also, I enjoyed snorkelling there to take some split shots (see below).

Candy crab on the soft coral on the jetty pillars:

In fact with an eagle eye’d dive guide you may even ‘see’ one of these:

Its a hairy shrimp, the damned thing is so small it looks like a tiny spec, not even big enough to look like a bit of fluff! I’m pretty good at spotting (I often even find my own pygmy seahorses) but I had trouble seeing these guys even when pointed out. I cracked out Alex’s subsee +10 (to put on my 60mm which is already equivalent to 120mm) and then cropped in!

The schooling fish:

Its interesting at night, lovely stars above (if the weather is with you):

And an interesting night dive below, here is a toadfish I found:

Other creatures come out at night two, we saw a walking shark and these little tiny skeleton shrimp:

We saw mating Nudis (i think this may have even been a threesome not that you can tell from the photo):

and Adorable frogfish:

Above & below tiny fish stream by:

To see more of the cool stuff we saw at this jetty & other photos from the trip head over to my Raja Ampat gallery. And to see an image Mike took when we went onto the island see his blogpost here, you can’t take the street photographer off the streets for long. I’ll continue my trip photos tomorrow with more from the Dampier Strait.

Mangroves, Raja Ampat

We went again to the same mangrove area as last year in Yangeffo. They arnt quite as cool as they blue water mangroves we visited in 2009 but we didn’t fancy facing the crocodiles so here we are.

This year I had the presence of mind to take in a macro lens so I got some more close up shots of the smaller subjects such as this flower floating on the surface and of course the archerfish:

The mangroves are an incredible nursery for young fish and several times I saw a juvenile blacktip shark cursing up and down, sadly no photos of him as he was practicing creeping up behind me rather than posing for photos

If you like these photos of the mangroves there are more over in my full Raja Ampat photo gallery. Stay tuned, coming up on my trip report is the amazingly diverse Dampier Straits area (including Arborek jetty again, which we saw last year) and a review of the Olympus OMD EM1.

Crossing the line

Crossing the line

Continuing on from my recent posts about our Raja Ampat trip, today I want to tell you about some of the antics we got up to when we crossed the equator. We crossed by boat and also underwater. Not many people have dived across the two in one dive, we dropped down on the southern hemisphere and swam to the northern hemisphere. What was more fun though was participating in the traditional crossing the line ceremony where King Neptune himself came aboard to preside over the festivities of those who were once slimly pollywogs becoming honourable shellbacks.

The ritual, in which previously inducted crew members (Trusty Shellbacks) are organized into a “Court of Neptune” to induct the Slimy Pollywogs into “the mysteries of the Deep”. Physical hardship, in keeping with the spirit of the initiation, are tolerated, and each Pollywog is expected to endure a standard initiation rite in order to become a Shellback.

King Neptune:
King Neptune

Davy Jones introduced King Neptune aboard and carried out the ritual shaving (with foamy soap water) and general rousing of the pollywogs.

Davy Jones:
Davy Jones

But first the King had to preside over a beauty pageant, to decide who to award the wig of beauty…

The lovely ladies of the pageant:
Beautiful Ladies

An honourable shellback holds aloft the Wig Of Beauty:
The Wig Of Beauty

The slimy pollywogs then had to eat this spicy tofu…
Spicy!

…and get ‘shaved’ by Davy Jones. Here’s Mike and I getting treated to this:

Suzy gets turned into a Shellback

Suzy gets the bucket of water over the head

Mike gets turned into a Shellback

Mike gets the bucket of water over the head

So after our ordeal (initiation), it is certified that I am a trusted Son of Neptune

Cert.

Of course during all of this the crew looked on in bemused fascination. After this we took our dive at Equator Island, some folks even took beer down (to pose for the pictures) and horrified the dive guides by cracking them open and drinking them at 10m! Apparently they were a little salty – teehee.

Here are a few images of our crossing the line underwater…

This is me (taken my Jarret with my camera), I like this one because it looks like my bubbles are ears!

Here is Jarret

and Peter:

Note: Topside photos in this post © Michael Walker-Toye & Alex Mustard.

Aljui Bay, Raja Ampat

Instead of Pele which I posted about yesterday, we went to Aljui bay on the first trip and I was disappointed not to go back there on the second trip. Its quite a lot further north than most itineraries usually go though. I was kicking myself for not doing more wide angle dives there, they had some pearl frames dangling from the jetty which I didn’t photograph (because I had my macro lens on). Paul Rosenblum got a lovely shot of them here (go team Olympus)!

Here are some shots I did get from the area though…

Debbie:

Green frogfish:

For more images from this trip see the full Raja Gallery here. I hope you enjoyed those and will tune in tomorrow for the next stop on our tour.

Pele, Raja Ampat

Following on from yesterdays post on Misool. We only visited two sites in Pele, Kaleidoscope & Toblerone. Most itineraries for Raja dont come out this way but Toblerone tunnel is kind of interesting too see again (we stopped by there in 2009). I took down my off camera strobe to see what I could make of the sea fans on the tunnel floor (see above).

Its a pity the weather wasn’t better when we were here because it was a bit murky for wide angle on Kaleidoscope but it was like fish soup! Amazingly fun dive site just to go and watch them all swirling around and around

It was also interesting to see how big these sponges had grown in that time… here they are from 2009:

There is a little air pocket in the top of the tunnel, here’s Alex come up for a breather

For more images from this trip see the full Raja Gallery here. I hope you enjoyed those and will tune in tomorrow for the next stop on our tour.