Editor’s Note: This is the third of four days of DPG’s DEMA coverage. Check out our DEMA 2017 Home Page for a comprehensive look at this year’s show.
After toweling off (literally) from last night’s epic DPG/Wetpixel Underwater Imaging pool party, our editors returned to serious work on the show floor. Unhindered by party after effects, we checked out the new gear on display at the following booths: Backscatter, Aquatica, Sea&Sea, Subal, Isotta, Paralenz, and Big Blue.
The Backscatter booth is always a central hub for underwater photo gear heads (we know a couple). But this year, this was even more the case as Backscatter offered dozens and dozens of mini-seminars on underwater imaging. Topics ranged from advanced lighting techniques to beginner GoPro tips—and everything in between.
Erin Quigley draws a huge crowd at the Image Resource Center
Speaking of the latter, we got the first look at Backscatter’s new FLIP6 system. Described by Backscatter’s Robin Dodd as “the most backwards compatable GoPro filter and lens system,” the FLIP6 requires only two adapters to fit GoPro HERO3–6.
The popular “Pro Pack” comes with a combination of lenses and filters to offer maximum flexibility: Shallow, Dive, Deep, and the +15 Macromate Mini.
The sixth incarnation of Backscatter’s FLIP GoPro filters
Robin reinforced what improvements make the GoPro HERO6 such a powerhouse action camera. Most notably, the image quality is better than ever, with improved coloration (more blue/less green), sharper results, better dynamic range, and richer blacks.
All of these image enhancements come on top of the key video specification of 4K/60p. It’s crazy to think that the only other cameras offering such specs are the much more expensive Panasonic GH5 and much, much more expensive Canon EOS 1DX II. After that, you’d have to look at cinema level camera systems.
In addition to the 4K mode, Robin attested to the “epic” slow motion produced when shooting at 1080p at 240fps—all footage benefits from improved image stabilization. In Robin’s words: “If you’ve been holding off on a GoPro, then this is the one to get.”
Olympus TG-5 and housing at the Backscatter booth
As Backscatter holds the title of exclusive Olympus distributer in North America’s underwater retail world, we also got a hands-on look at the Tough TG-5, OM-D E-M1 Mk II and OM-D E-M5 Mk II.
Let’s start with the TG-5, which is arguably the point-and-shoot underwater camera of the year. You may know the basics of the Tough TG line: waterproof to 50 feet, RAW imaging, and ultra-durable. But the real highlights are an improved image quality and Microscope mode, the combination of which lets you shoot like a pro with an entry-level camera.
What’s nice about the Microscope mode (other than its insane reproduction ratio) is that it eliminates the necessity for a macro wet lens. Instead, Backscatter suggests opting for the UWL-04 wide-angle wet lens. To totally pimp out your setup consider the AOI screen-magnifying viewfinder. It snaps on quickly and is great for macro and eliminating glare in shallow waters.
The flagship EM-1 Mk II is a beast when it comes to fast shooting performance, and with a price tag of around $2,000 (body only) is more affordable than similarly spec-ed DSLRs. Plus, sweet deal alert: Backscatter is packaging the EM-5 Mk II body, 14–42mm lens, port, and zoom ring for just $1600.
The new UWL-09 wet lens boasts a redesigned quick release system that is compatible not only with Olympus housings but the Fantasea brand as well.
Joe Tepper with the Olympus TG-5 at the Backscatter booth—complete with AOI viewfinder and wet lens (Robin Dodd in the background)
One of our favorite products on the entire show floor is the refreshingly new Retra strobe. This is truly a strobe designed by underwater photographers for underwater photographers. It offers maximum connectivity options with a fiber-optic/electronic choice—the electronic connection can be customized to various types including Subtronic, Sea&Sea, and Ikelite. The fiber-optic connection is also universal with an adaptor going from a male to female style.
The Retra has multiple modes: electronic, slave TTL, optical slave (manual), and SOS for emergencies. The build of the strobe is durable yet simple. The aluminum build cools the strobe quicker in water for better performance.
And, if something goes wrong—cough, flood, cough—the repair process is simple and probably doable in the field. With massive contacts and tabs, it’s possible to clean off any corrosion after water contact. And all other floods or performance issues are covered under a two-year warranty.
The new ultra-versatile Retra strobe
Let’s talk batteries. The Retra strobe accepts AAs and offers the opportunity to add on an extended battery pack. This option not only doubles battery life, but also cuts the recycle time in half. Firing at full power, the strobes will recycle in one second.
One cool element of the design is the bayonet-style front of the strobes that allows for various diffusers and attachments. A protection ring, a reduction ring (low viz shooting), a wide-angle diffuser, a white diffuser and a “shark diffuser” all come standard. You can also step up your creativity with Retra’s Light Shaping Device snoot add-on.
Interested in purchasing a Retra strobe? DPG is working on putting together a review, and Backscatter is currently stocking them. Dealers looking to shelve these soon-to-be-a-hit strobes can also contact Backscatter as a North American Retra dealer.
The Retra strobe, Light Shaping Device, and diffusers
Right around the corner from the Backscatter booth, we found team Subal showing off their sleek housings. We started with the “new kid on the block”—the Subal housing for the Nikon D850. Machined out of a single solid block of aluminum, the housing incorporates several novice design features
First, there’s grooved channels in the buttons that help drain saltwater faster. There are lines engraved on the sides to help you keep track of the mid-point horizon when taking over-under images. Other ergonomic refinements include the ability to set white balance with your left index finger from the handle.
Subal’s ND850 housing for the Nikon’s new full-frame D850
Subal’s housing for the Panasonic GH5 gives the photographer access to all camera functions. Notably, the ergonomics emphasize controls especially important for videography like the extension ring for focus and zoom. The record button is also enlarged and there are extra bulkheads if you wanted to connect HDMI to an external monitor.
Subal’s housing for the Panasonic GH5—another contender for “camera of the year”
Finally, Subal is unique in that it produces a housing for Leica’s—rather niche—cameras. The newest housing is for the Leica Q, a relatively compact travel camera. The camera, which has a fixed 28mm lens, can be customized either with a flat port or dome port depending on the photographer’s preference.
If you want to go underwater with your precious Leica, you’ll have to go with a Subal housing (no bad thing), like the one shown here for the Leica SL
DPG was seeing red at the Isota booth. No, we weren’t mad—but instead checking out Isotta’s line of red-colored housings.
Starting small, we got a look at the housing for the GoPro 5 and 6. Notably, this housing is compatible with all GoPro accessories, such as Backscatter’s FLIP line. It’s depth-rated to 660 feet, which makes it ideal for tech divers and freedivers.
Pro underwater photographer and Isotta collaborator Simon Lorenz
Isotta’s housing for the GoPro HERO6 fitted with Backscatter’s FLIP5 system (the new FLIP6 works, too)
This year, Isotta expanded their housing line to the Olympus mirrorless series. At DEMA, they wanted to emphasize the affordability of the housing for the EM-5 Mark II, which ships without handles to save some cost ($1200 approximate price). Aside from the price point, this bare-bones configuration allows the photographer to customize the handle choice.
The housing on display for the EM-1 Mark II featured the more expensive aluminum handle ring. This offers multiple accessory attachment points, but more than that is a convenient way to grip or hand off the system. The housing features a new audio/visual alarm, several bulkhead ports and the same full-size metal buttons as Isotta’s DSLR rigs.
The Isotta housing for the Olympus EM-1 Mark II
Inside Isotta’s EM-1 Mark II housing
We shared the news of the Paralenz a few months ago. Essentially, it’s a handheld action camera made specifically for divers. This is emphasized in the integration of features such as dive profiles collected through pressure and temperature sensors.
The Paralenz connects to the accompanying app to generate your dive profile—capturing the time and depth your images and video were recorded
Other than recording the dive depth for your edification, the built-in software uses the pressure sensors to customize the color correction. This eliminates the need to use multiple filters, according to the manufacturers.
The Paralenz is now available on its own for the price of $599. As well, there are a host of mounting options and accessories.
Aquatica’s headliner housing for DEMA 2017 is probably that for the Nikon D850. It shares many of the design ergonomics of the company’s housing for the D500, but with some new twists. Beginning with the D850, Aquatica is introducing a handle plate that allows for the attachment of their new lanyard connection.
On display: Aquatica’s housing for the D850 with the company’s new lanyard
The plate is machined with 13 different attachment points allowing for ultimate customization of the angle it connects to the handle. In the future, we may also see new ball clamps from Aquatica that also offer lanyard attachment points.
The new custom plates offer multiple angles of mounting and the ability to connect lanyards or one-inch ball items such as focus lights or strobes
The new tray on the D850 incorporates three camera controls, meaning there’s less maneuvering when inserting the camera into the housing
Aquatica is extending their housings for mirrorless cameras to include one for the Panasonic Lumix GH5 and Olympus EM-1 Mark II. As well, the Aquatica housing for the Sony a6500 is also available, giving loyal customers several tiers of mirrorless systems from which to choose.
The GH5 is a powerhouse for underwater videographers
Finally, Aquatica is releasing a new glass eight-inch dome port. It’s scratch resistant and offers sharper corners than a mini-dome, but it’s still relatively compact.
Aquatica’s new eight-inch dome aims to meet higher standards of image corner sharpness
Big Blue offers probably more variations in lighting solutions than you can imagine. We stuck to those relevant to underwater photography and videography.
Big Blue’s VL4000P are amongst the manufacturer’s most versatile lights for underwater imaging
Our favorite in terms of output and versatility is the tri-color VL 7200P, which features a lithium-ion rechargeable battery and high-power LEDs with three color outputs: white, warmer white and red (for focusing on skittish subjects). It’s a lumen upgrade from the previous version (VL6500). The VL9000 is a slightly more powerful version after being bumped up from 8,300 lumens
For a warmer light, we were told to check out the VL6000, which has a color temperature of 5000K. This can help produce warmer foregrounds and “bluer” blues.
And if you want nothing but the biggest and bestest and brightest, Big Blue makes a relatively compact 33,000 lumen video light.
You can make your light quality warmer by choosing a Big Blue light like the VL6000
Don’t look right into this 33,000-lumen video light!
For photographers, Big Blue offers two promising options: The CF450 and CF1200. The 450 is slightly less powerful but offers the simplicity of a magnetic one-touch switch and takes AAA batteries. The 1,200-lumen version of the focus light uses a rechargeable lithium-ion battery.
With 1,200 lumens and a simple one-touch switch, this is a great focus light for still photography
The big news for Sea&Sea is actually fairly easy to miss. We covered it as a news item earlier this week, but the Tusa-owned imaging brand has released an updated version of their YS-D2 strobe. The “J” version looks nearly identical to the previous strobe, but was manufactured in Japan rather than China.
According to Sea&Sea, this change in manufacturers will address multiple reported performance issues. Some users have had to deal with exploding flash tubes, while others reported power intensity inconsistencies. Regardless, we hope that all issues are resolved and underwater photographers can get back to enjoying their Sea&Sea strobes.
It doesn’t say “YS-D2J” on the new version of the YS-D2, but the strobe is now made in Japan—and Sea&Sea are saying the quality issues have been fixed
Sea&Sea’s external port lock system is now standard on all their MDX-series housings
A backside look at the blue version of the MDX-D500
Sea&Sea made the grooves on the dials larger for the D500 housing for better torque when turning
There are also mirrorless housings offered by the Japanese housing manufacturer, such as this blue beauty for the Sony a6300
Sea&Sea’s biggest new housing release is the MDX-D850 for the Nikon D850 full-frame camera. It features the same specs Sea&Sea users have come to rely upon, including external port lock, solid machined block build, and the ability to add an optical converter. The Sea&Sea housing for the D850 will start shipping in December.
Expect to see Sea&Sea’s housing for the Nikon D850 shipping at the end of the year
That wraps up another awesome day getting to play with the latest underwater photo and video toys on the DEMA show floor. There’s still one day left of coverage and we’ll visit big booths like Fantasea, i-Divesite, and Nauticam—so don’t change that channel! We’ll be back tomorrow.
Fantasea FG7X II
Ikelite Housing for Nikon D500
I-DiveSite Venom 35s
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