Focus On: Underwater Macro Photography – 60mm

Following on with my theme of photo posts about the gear I’m selling. For the first of two posts on macro lenses underwater, today I’d like to showcase some of the photos I’ve taken with the 60mm macro + Nikon D300 and give you all some simple general macro tips.

60mm macro lens

60mm macro lens

Equipment:

  • Nikon D300 + Subal Housing for D300 (£2000)
  • 60mm macro lens + Subal flat port (£375)
  • 2 Inon z240 strobes (not for sale)

I still think that the crop sensor DX cameras make the best underwater cameras for macro. People who switch to full frame often struggle with what they found quite simple on DX. I know several professional underwater photographers who moved to full frame for their wide angle shots only and still use the Nikon D300 as their macro set up. And this 60mm is my favourite lens to use. The reason being is it is super fast at auto focus with much less of the “hunting” of some of the newer lenses I’ve used. This is essential when your tiny creature or fish is moving about and you are slightly moving too (we all have to breathe occasionally). The light weight of it is another plus for me personally. I dont have very strong wrists (too much computer work has given me RSI which is the reason I’m selling all this gear and finally moving back to a smaller camera).

Here are some photos from last year (some of these might look very familiar for regular readers of my blog) – click them for larger:

As you can see, you can get very close, in fact I think it would probably focus right on the front of the port (although it would be hard to light a subject that close)! The blue background in this image above is actually starfish skin. This little tiny shrimp lives on the starfish for a free ride.

I love blennies and the quick focus of this set up allowed me to capture this one yawning in 2011.

As well as the capacity for macro the 60mm lens is wide enough for portraits of bigger fish such as this batfish being cleaned:

The 60mm allowed me a closer working distance to this cardinal fish with eggs in his mouth. All the other cardinal fish were hanging around so close that had I tried to take this photo with the 105mm macro there would have been two or three fish between me and him for the same framing.

My top simple tips for macro:
  • Get down to eye level (if you can without damaging the reef), your images will be more full of ye contact and impact.
  • For any critters with eyes try to always make sure eyes are in focus.
  • To get the eyes and mouth in focus, for shallow DOF photos, focus between the eyes and the mouth. It will be in focus 1/3 in front of the focus point and 2/3 behind the focus point.
  • If you find your lens hunts for focus (this one does not but many macro lenses do) when don’t be afraid to switch the camera to manual focus and move the camera back & forth to focus).
  • If your camera allows (most camera these days are fairly customisable), try to have one button access to 100% zoom in on your photo. For example on the D300 I set the middle button (between the arrows) to toggle between 100% and zoomed out for quickly checking eye focus on macro shots with shallow DOF.
  • Check your LCD histogram rather than relying on LCD brightness to check for exposure.
  • Sometimes it’s hard to see the settings in the little screen on the top of a DSLR camera without flattening your subject, on the Nikon D300, the little info button (it looks like a key if I remember correctly) displays that whole screen on the LCD when in shooting mode.

This was one of the first underwater shots I took with my DLSR system in a swimming pool with Martin Edge!

I hope you liked my stroll down memory lane with my 60mm macro set up for the Nikon D300. As I said at the top of the post I’m currently selling that set up. Buy for only £2375 (camera, lens, housing and port)! Click here for more details & the full list of equipment for sale or email me at scubasuzy-sellingnikongear@yahoo.co.uk. Thanks for supporting my work!

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How to set up a Subal ND30

I’ve written this how to guide-to get primarily for my own use as an ad memoir but I thought I’d post it here in case anyone else is having trouble. When I took my subal to Cebu, Martin Edge had to show me everything. So I’ve jotted it down here from what I can remember. This is my disclaimer.. these are my own personal notes so if you chose to use them and your camera floods please don’t blame me.

EDIT: One piece of info that I forgot to mention (thanks for pointing that out Peter). I always take the strap, the little rubber eye piece and plastic LCD screen cover off the camera before putting it in the housing. The little eye piece should just click off if you push it upwards. Apparently the pressure caused by these things can cause a flood.

I have a 60 macro flat port lens and a fisheye (with gear & extension ring) for my Tokina. This is how I set them up. I may update this account with pictures in June so take this as an initial draft.

Firstly, make sure you’re in a nice dry environment (I always did this in my room at Cebu). And make sure no one will interrupt you otherwise you’ll end up missing a step and flooding it 😦

Back of housing:

  • Open Subal housing with heal of hand, push down & twist (this is how I do it because I haven’t the strength in my thumbs).
  • Take out baseplate and attach it to the camera (by the tripod screw slot) with a coin
  • Drape flash head over the edge of the housing
  • Turn Subal Housing on/off switch to ‘On’
  • Of the two knobs on the left hand side – switch the larger one to auto focus, Flick the smaller button up to ‘M’ for Manual Focus
  • Switch the camera to manual focus
  • Switch the camera on and remove the lens cap!
  • Place camera into housing (on baseplate spokes) & flick down baseplate switch to secure
  • Put flash head into hotshoe on camera and make sure its pushed in firmly until flush with the hotshoe
  • Test switches (on/off & turn focus to C or S)
  • To remove the o-ring, run thumbs over main o-ring until it pops out at the bottom or top.
  • Clean the groove with a cotton bud
  • Clean & slightly grease o-ting & check for little bits of grit or hairs or anything that might cause a leak!
  • Place o-ring back into the groove at the top & push gently into place with thumbs
  • Wait a few moments to make sure the o-ring doesn’t pop back out at the bottom (Ive seen this happen and it causes a leak if you don’t notice this)
  • Clean the lid of any grime & place in position
  • Click into place with two clips (with palm of hand or knuckles or thumbs)

Front of the housing:

A flat port (like the 60mm macro port) is easier to put on before inserting the camera. A dome pot (like the Tokina fisheye) or a port for a lens that needs gears is possibly easier to put in place with the camera already inside.

60mm macro flat port

o Lightly greasy o-ring.

o Place back onto port by thumbing the o-ring back into the groove rather than stretching the o-ring back over (they stretch eventually anyway & need replacing).

o Hold the port so that the subal logo is at the nine o’clock position

o Place the port onto the housing & turn until you feel it drop into place

o Then push down hard & twist until locked into place (the Subal logo should now be at 12 o’clock at the top of the housing all being well)

Fisheye for Tokina

o Put camera into housing (as described above)

o Put the extension ring onto the front of the housing (follow the instructions for the 60mm macro port above)

o Place the gear ring inside the housing onto the lens. Push it down into a position so that the teeth of the gear turn when the side knob is set to manual focus (this autofocus/manual focus knob is misleadingly named in this case. I am using the lens on auto focus but the manual focus level is zooming my lens for me).

o Once you can turn the lens with the knob you know the gear is on correctly.

o Grease the o-ring of the fisheye port.

o On mine there is no subal logo to line up but when properly attached the larger shades on the port should be at the top & bottom. So put the large shades at 9 o’clock & twist until it drops into place. The push hard & twist until the shades are at the top & bottom. One thing to note, be careful when twisting these that the extension ring is still locked into place with the logo at the top (and not twisting with the fisheye).

Ta da! Now go and watch for bubbles in the dunk tank before taking it diving! And try not to leave it unattended.

EDIT: see other posts in my ‘Subal Housing How To’ category for strobes, 105 VR lens and any additional updates… here