Equipment Note: Shooting with the 7D

Edward from Nauticam and Ryan from Reef Photo have been at Kasawari Lembeh Resort with me for a few days, and they were kind enough to let me try a Nauticam 7D housing.

Nauticam 7D housing

My intention was to dive with it for several dives, but I was hit with an ear infection and fever yesterday, so as it turns out, I was only able to do one relatively short dive with the set up.

I'm not going to review the housing per se, as it's not responsible to do so based on a single dive, but since there seems to be a high level of interest in both the Canon EOS 7D camera and the Nauticam housing, I thought I'd post a few observations.

To is my first (and so far only) photo taken underwater with the 7D, coupled with the new Canon 100mm image stabilised macro lens:

goby face

Key Points:
1. The 7D + 100mm IS lens combination absolutely rocks. The goby above is tiny. It's the same colour and pattern as the sand. It's skittish. There was a strong current; visibility was sub-optimal; and light levels were really low. Yet...the 7D AF locked on instantly and stayed locked.

In the same situation, my Canon 5D MkII with the same lens would've been hunting 'til my eyes crossed from watching the screen go in and out of focus.

I still love the 5D MkII, but I really wish Canon had implemented the 7D's AF technology into the 5D MkII, because now...the 5D MkII AF seems dead slow.

2. I intentionally chose a small subject. The 100mm on the 7D results in an effective 160mm working focal length, which means a tight perspective. Shooting something big would've meant backing up too far, murky conditions, would've resulted in washed-out images.

3. I intentionally chose a shallow depth of field, shooting at f6.3 Partly, this was to give the camera's AF a bit of help under the dark conditions (wider aperture lets in more light), but mostly, it was to minimise visual distraction from the clutter (rocks, dirt, etc.) around the goby.

4. I doubled-down on my bet by using a Subsee +10 diopter that Keri Wilk of ReefNet lent to me. This was to get even order to eliminate more visual clutter and minimise the particles (and hence, minimise backscatter) between the goby and lens.

As an aside, shooting w/ a +10 diopter on a cropped sensor camera is far from easy. I'd suggest you start with a lower power, such as the Subsee +5, first if you have a cropped sensor camera and you want to try using diopters.

5. It took me about five minutes on land to familiarise myself with the controls on the Nauticam housing, as the position of controls is unique on every housing. The layout was easy to understand, and I had no major issues underwater.

I generally don't use external viewfinders, but for people who prefer to do so, the Nauticam viewfinder is crisp and clear.

Several people have asked about the piano-key controls on the right side of the housing. These are unusual and innovative. In short, I like them. They're within easy reach of my thumb, and I found myself using the top one (AF point selection) and the bottom one (Set button) a lot.

Nauticam 7D housing

Most of the camera's key controls are available at your right hand, which helps to minimise the need to move your hands around the housing when switching settings. With just one dive, I didn't have sufficient time to play with all the levers and buttons (such as video functionality).

I did, however, spend a lot of time switching focus points. I set the camera for single focus point, AF single shot...and I moved the selected focus point around to suit the composition I wanted.

At first, I tried to use the four buttons that provide access to the multi-directional toggle to switch AF points, since this is what I do on land. But I ended up not liking that, because the toggle is far enough from the right handle that I had to move my hand to reach it...not good when you're a few centimetres from a skittish goby.

With a bit of fiddling, I realised that the two knobs available to my right hand allowed me to move the AF point without shifting hand position. Much better.

I did, however, find that the knobs were a bit small, making it somewhat difficult to turn them with a single finger. As I understand, there are bigger knobs in the works, to address this very issue.

Nauticam 7D housing

6. The Nauticam housing allows you to trigger strobes with a fiber-optic connection.

I've been using fiber for around five years with my Zillion housings, and to honest, I don't know why everyone else in the world has been so slow to switch from cumbersome, flood-prone electrical sync cords. I'm happy to see out-of-the-box fiber-optic functionality from Nauticam.

I always shoot manual strobe settings, so with the 7D, I set the internal strobe for manual power, at 1/32 (Menu, Flash Control, Built-in flash func. setting, Flash Mode, Manual Flash, flash output, 1/32).

This level of light output is more than sufficient to trigger my strobes, and the low power setting means I can repeat-fire. If you set the internal strobe function to E-TTL, you have the advantage of being able to simulate TTL exposure control with many Inon strobes via the S-TTL function, but the camera's recycle time could mean that you miss shots.

manual flash setting

Let me conclude by re-emphasising that this is not review! Just a few quick thoughts after one dive. I enjoy trying out new equipment, as doing so helps me to understand the pros and cons of both the underlying photographic gear and various approaches to making underwater housings and accessories...which, in turn, helps to make me a better photographer.

I'm not "for" or "against" any particular camera or housing, so please don't ascribe anything like that to what I write.