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Diving the Sea of Cortez and Socorro with the Sony a6500 in Fantasea Housing
By Elisabeth Lauwerys, July 14, 2017 @ 06:00 AM (EST)

Editor’s Note: Sony’s a6000 series has gained a loyal following in the underwater photography community over the years. In June, we published a review of the latest model in the series, the Sony a6500, in Fantasea’s FA6500 housing. More recently, photographer Elisabeth Lauwerys used the same setup to capture stunning images and video in the Sea of Cortez and the waters of the Socorro Islands.

Surrounded by migrating mobula rays at our safety stop

I just got back from an awesome dive trip to the Sea of Cortez and the Revillagigedo Islands, where I got the chance to test out the Sony a6500 in Fantasea’s compact housing. The Sea of Cortez did not disappoint, and our liveaboard trip on the Solmar V to the famous Socorro Islands served up some of the most amazing marine life in the ocean. The playful sea lions of La Paz and the giant Pacific manta rays in the deep blue waters of the Revillagigedos were only a couple of the highlights of the trip.

I was thrilled with the new setup which, because of its compact size, allowed me much greater mobility in the water as well as easier access to the camera’s functions compared to other configurations. These benefits were especially welcome when filming feisty sea lions and the various sharks found in these waters.

The Sony a6500 works very well in low visibility conditions, too

Sony’s 16–50mm kit lens in combination with Fantasea’s new UWL-09F wide-angle wet lens is ideal for getting close to schooling fish

On the way to the first dive site, Los Islotes, we had several unscheduled stops to jump in and dive with three different whale sharks, breaching mobula rays, mantas, and dolphins. We even encountered a humpback whale surfacing for a breath of air. All of this preceded an afternoon in the water with the incredible sea lions—which absolutely loved our cameras!

Keeping up with these varied fast-moving animals can be demanding with a bulky DSLR rig, but the compact Sony a6500 in Fantasea’s streamlined housing provided excellent maneuverability. The rig is also perfect for freediving. It is slightly negatively buoyant when used with the 16–50mm kit lens and the UWL-09F, Fantasea-AOI’s new wide-angle wet lens, so I had no trouble wrestling with equipment while following the migrating mobula rays down to 65-plus feet.

A playful sea lion pup checking out his reflection in the Fantasea-AOI UWL-09F wide-angle wet lens

Compact and light, the Fantasea FA6500 housing is so easy to maneuver for the perfect composition of fast-swimming sea lions

Images shot with the Sony a6500 have excellent detail—even at high ISOs

An over-under of sea lions with the UWL-09F wet lens—a challenge, but possible

Because I wanted to alternately record video and photos, the Fantasea housing was a natural choice, as it’s very simple to switch between the two settings. As I’m primarily a videographer, I took advantage of the camera’s ability to record 4K as well as Full HD at 100fps.

Once in the water with the sea lions, there was little time to fumble with settings as the playful younger pups commanded all my attention. The Fantasea housing offers intuitive access to all important camera functions, and the controls are well marked, which simplifies the use of manual settings.

In Fantasea’s housing, the Sony a6500 proved to be an excellent tool for shooting video of the adorable sea lions and their pups

After a few wonderful days with the sea lions, it was time to join the Solmar V and set sail for Socorro. While the weather conditions were far from calm, the big waves, strong currents and negative entries were made easier to deal with using the smaller Fantasea setup. But the rough ride was quickly forgotten as we made our first dives. I was thrilled to be able film giant Pacific mantas at Roca Partida as well as silky sharks and dolphins at San Benedicto. Even in low light, the results I obtained with the setup were impressive.

At the surface there was more amazing activity going on. Just after one of our dives, we had the opportunity to snorkel with false killer whales. “Chasing” these magnificent creatures in the rough conditions was that much easier with the compact Fantasea setup, and I was able to come back with some very satisfying images.

Chasing a pod of false killer whales at Roca Partida was a breeze with the smaller rig

I was really impressed with the quality of the images and footage captured by the Sony a6500, especially since I was mostly shooting in natural light and had to bump up the ISO. However, the ISO performance of the Sony a6500 more than lived up to my expectations, with well-controlled noise levels and good dynamic range. I returned home with some of the most amazing footage I have ever filmed.

I’m already looking forward to my upcoming trip to Tiger Beach in the Bahamas to see how the system performs with Fantasea’s new dome ports.

Highlight reel shot with the Sony a6500 in Fantasea FA6500 housing

About the Author: As an experienced PADI and BSAC Dive Instructor, Elisabeth has long been passionate about exploring the marine depths. In 2004, she opened Oceans Below Underwater Video Productions on Koh Tao, Thailand. Since then, she has created the dive industry's first professional-level video training course on request from BSAC; won numerous underwater video competitions; worked with the BBC and other production houses; created a new look for the PADI promotional videos; trained a number of industry professionals in the art of underwater video; and has recently started making the transition from video to still photography. She continues to teach budding underwater videographers and travel the world in pursuit of the the most spectacular and diverse diving environments—all the while equipped with her cameras and housings… To learn more about Elisabeth’s work, check out her official website.


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