By Wiliam Tan
Canon’s G series has become the standard for point-and-shoot enthusiasts, and it is among the most popular models on the market (See "An Underwater Photographer’s Guide to the S90/95 and G11/12" if you have the older models).
I had the honor of testing the Canon G1 X, the latest in the series, with Canon WP-DC44 on a trip to Cebu, Philippines, this January and put together a list of tips, techniques, and settings suggestions to help you with your Canon G1 X underwater photography.
Natural Light Photography
My dive trip’s first stop was at Oslob, where whale sharks are found. It was entirely ambient light shooting, so no strobes were used. When shooting ambient light with the Canon G1 X underwater, I set the camera to “Shutter Priority,” which provides a constant factor on the exposure in the ever-changing underwater conditions no matter where you point your lens.
As with all land cameras, the G1 X’s programmed logic in auto exposure is built for shooting through air, not water. When brought underwater, this same “logic” will determine the environment as too dark and will over-compensate the exposure values, resulting in totally washed-out images.
I set the +/- ev (outer dial on top of camera) to minus 2/3. This makes the image 2/3 stop darker than what the camera is programmed to think as correct, allowing the ocean to appear a pleasing blue and your subject to keep its colors, details, and texture.
Why Shutter Priority?
In wide angle photography, the depth-of-field range is often generous. Should the camera choose a larger f-stop (smaller number) to “affect” your depth-of-field, the auto-focusing will be able to still keep the subject and quite a bit of its surroundings sharp and focused.
Why not Aperture Priority?
If you choose to control the f-stops to get a bigger depth-of-field, the camera may sometimes set a slow shutter speed due to insufficient light, thus blurring your subject in the final image.
Wide-Angle Photography with External Strobes
To protect the whale sharks in Oslob, flash photography is not allowed. Nevertheless, the theory of shooting with strobes should still be the same as shooting in natural light.
With Shutter Priority and a minus 2/3 ev compensation, you will now set your flash manually to a low power that will bring colors back to your subject without overexposing it.
If your strobes are capable of TTL, you can take advantage of this feature, which will automatically choose your strobe power. As there are several types of TTL controls available, make sure you read the instructions carefully to know which buttons will set the TTL controls.
The G1 X Lens
One weakness of the lens on the G1 X is its inability to focus closely with a minimum focus distance of 20 cm (8 in) when on the “macro” focus setting and at its widest focal length. When completely zoomed while in “macro” mode the closest focusing distance becomes 85 cm (33.5 in)! These distances are too far to bring any macro subject to a respectable size in the frame on your resulting image.
The sad news doesn’t just end there—its auto focusing system also hunts aimlessly when the macro mode is set. This isn’t a camera that will rival the earlier G and S series PowerShot cameras when capturing a moving or small subject.
But there are ways to compensate for these problems.
Close Up Wet Lenses
To get a macro subject to fill up the frame, an additional external close-up lens or lenses, will be needed. By using one or more close-up lenses stacked together, you can now max your zoom and move in closer to the subject.
The use of these close-up lenses will further confuse the already difficult auto focusing system of the G1 X. I had to switch to manual focusing and physically move the camera back and forth to “manually” set the focusing distance correctly. Sometimes, the depth-of-field is so shallow that the slightest movement will determine whether you get a sharp image.
Settings for Macro
I also now set the G1 X to M (manual) mode and adjust both my aperture and shutter speed.
Close-up filters will reduce your depth-of-field. To get a greater depth-of-field, you will need to set your G1 X to the smallest aperture (the largest number) possible.
Colors are the soul of macro photography. To bring the colors that have been absorbed by water back into to your images, you will need strobes.
Although it doesn’t take more than 1/60sec in shutter to freeze most fish movements, your camera’s electronic shutter can actually sync the shutter to flash at a very high speed.
Macro With Built-In Flash
The large “nose” that houses the extendable zoom lens of your G1 X will block a large section of the built-in flash, and this will cast a nasty shadow whenever you move in “closer” to your subject.
Your answer lies in the detachable tube-like diffuser (included when purchasing the housing). This device helps to spread the beam of the camera’s built-in flash to cover a larger area, especially the areas just in front of the “nose”.
Even with the diffuser, the flash coverage has a “sweet spot.” You will have to test the strength of your close-up filters, making sure its focusing distance will suit the area covered by the beam of light illuminated through the diffuser. Close-up filters with the wrong strength will bring the subject either too close or too far for the beam to illuminate them properly.
Macro With External Strobes
The creative possibilities for shooting macro with the G1 X greatly increase when using one or more external strobes.
Without having to worry about which areas the camera’s built-in flash can or cannot illuminate, super macro is now possible when you stack more close-up filters together.
The minimum power of your strobes will be too strong if you place them beside your subjects. I placed my strobes pointing in towards the end of the stacked lenses at a distance, moving them closer or farther away until the output was desired.
Due to the extremely shallow depth-of-field in super macro photography, manual focusing is a must. Set your camera to enlarge its focusing screen to allow easier viewing when you move the camera back and forth.
Let’s look at some other essential settings on the cameras (Under M mode)
Digital Zoom: Off
Digital Zoom is just an enlargement of a section of your final image. In images using this function, the grains will appear large and the image fuzzy.
AF-Point Zoom: On
This enlarges the focusing screen when the subject comes into focus.
Servo AF: Off
This needs to be off for AF-Point Zoom to be turned on.
AF-assist Beam: Off
It is useless when the camera is inside the housing. I turn this off to save battery power.
MF-Point Zoom: On
This will enlarge the focusing screen for easier viewing when you switch the camera to manual focusing.
Grid Lines: 0n
I like to have the grid lines on. This makes it easier to follow the rules-of-third if you choose to use it when composing an image and will allow you a reference of your horizontal and vertical planes
Hints & Tips: On
It is useful to have this on when you are having minor problems with camera settings underwater.
I used to turn this brighter one or two steps in Canon’s previous PowerShot models so that the image details were visible underwater. The G1 X’s LCD screen has a higher resolution, so the final image is presented so accurately I found brightening it unnecessary.
Format: Low Level Format
Low level formatting clears the memory card better.
White Balance: AWB
I use AWB (auto white balance) since it is easiest to control. When you are shooting close with strobe types, excessive yellow might show up in your final image. To adjust the white balance pop up grid, simply press menu. Hit the left button of the control dial towards blue to get rid of the yellow.
I can’t help but notice interesting choices in Positive Film and Custom Color (which allows you to adjust Contrast).
Remember to turn the flash on to trigger your external strobes.
This function is most helpful when your strobes are too strong or when you wish to have a black background. When turned on, the Neutral Density filter will darken your image.
Still Image Aspect Ratio
Biggest possible image size is 4:3
Image Type: RAW
If you are serious in your work, choose RAW or RAW and Jpeg. The RAW format allows you to do much more during the editing process.
Hopefully, this will serve a good place to start when taking your G1 X underwater. However, while these are the settings I use, , different settings work for different photographers and many may need to be adjusted for specific scenarios.
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