A fresh perspective on a Diana’s chromodoris nudibranch captured by the Nauticam Extended Macro Wide Lens, Sulawesi, Indonesia
Nauticam’s awkwardly named Extended Macro Wide Lens (EMWL) bears more than a passing resemblance to a refugee from NASA’s Saturn rocket program. Like the Saturn rocket stages, the EMWL boasts three separate elements with different optical functions. With three glass–water interfaces and a convoluted 12-inch (30cm) light path, it couldn’t possibly work, could it?
I discarded the idea as just another weird-looking, frothy piece of tech until one day I scrolled through my Instagram feed and there was the most stunning photograph of an octopus. It had a unique perspective that brought the animal to life in a way I hadn’t seen before. It had been taken with the Nauticam EMWL.
After 45 minutes on the telephone to Nauticam’s Australian distributor, who charmed away my scepticism, my bank balance was lighter and my very own EMWL was in the mail. It was April 2021 and the good state of Western Australia had its citizens securely locked down, with interstate and overseas travel outlawed. Two illegal visitors to a football final match each served three months in gaol. A prisoner in my home state with no warm-water travel in sight, I would have conduct my testing in my home waters.
On a miserable, swell-swept day at Rottnest Island, just offshore from Perth, my EMWL had its baptism. Visibility was a turbid six feet (two metres) and the kelp swayed as the surge rolled through. I would not have dived in these conditions bar my anxiety of proving to myself I hadn’t wasted my money. But as luck would have it, I spied a tentacle in the middle of a kelp frond. The owner was a Western rock octopus doing its ambush predator routine. A perfect test for the EMWL. When I saw the result, I was now a believer.
The octopus image I captured during my first dive with the EMWL at Rottnest Island, Western Australia. The visibility was appalling and the result convinced me of the virtues of the EMWL
It’s hard to get a good shot of a catfish ball with just a macro lens. This striped catfish school didn’t mind the close intrusion of the EMWL, Rottnest Island, Western Australia
What Is It?
Pretty much as its mouthful of a name suggests, the Extended Macro Wide Lens is designed for wide-angle macro work. I have found it also works for what I would call wide-angle portraits, just beyond the macro range. This type of lens was also known as a “bugeye”—and carried a well-deserved reputation for poor quality. Not so for this Nauticam product, of course. The design was honed online through sophisticated computer modeling.
The EMWL comes in three sections and attaches to the port of a macro lens. The first section is the Focusing Unit, and there are four models designed for your specific camera and macro lens. The Focusing Unit for Sony is designed for the Sony FE 90mm f/2.8 Macro lens, the Focusing Unit for Canon is compatible with both the Canon EF 100mm f/2.8 Macro and the EF-S 60mm f/2.8 Macro, and the Focusing Unit for Nikon works with the Nikon AF-S 105mm f/2.8 Macro lens and can also be used with Micro Four Thirds systems via the Olympus 60mm f/2.8 Macro. There’s also a Focusing Unit designed for the Fujifilm GF 120mm f/4 Macro lens.
From left to right: Focusing Unit, Relay Lens, 100-degree Objective Lens, and lens hood
Stage two is the Relay Lens, which converts the inverted image from the stage three Objective Lens. There are four interchangeable objective lenses available: 160 degrees, 130 degrees, 100 degrees, and 60 degrees. Each of the objective lenses can be fitted underwater if you are lucky enough to have more than one in your quiver. The 160-degree Objective Lens is just new to the market.
I chose the 100-degree Objective Lens, which is approximately equivalent to an 18mm lens on a full-frame camera. I added a lens hood, which seems to be effective in preventing reflection from the strobes, and importantly, protection for the front element—as getting scarily close to the subject is de rigueur for this rig.
The EMWL, which comes with a bayonet mount, can be attached via the Flip Holder for the EMWL and swung into position or it can be directly mounted to the lens port via the Nauticam Bayonet Mount Converter. I have used both but prefer to carry the EMWL in a waist holster and mount it on the port when needed.
Top: The Flip Holder for the EMWL, which attaches to the screw thread on the macro port, also has a flip holder for an SMC or CMC. Left: The twist-and-lock bayonet mount. The blue lever must be pushed back to release the lens. Right: The EMWL and my homemade waist holster, a modified tech divers’ pocket holster with velcro straps. A section of plastic tube has been inserted in the pocket and supports the EMWL from the top flange
Left: My Nauticam Canon 5DS R housing with a 100mm macro port and the EMWL attached. Right: Strobes in the “praying mantis” position for close-focus work
What’s the Benefit?
Like most photographers with an interchangeable-lens camera, I generally make a decision before each dive and commit to wide angle or macro. And as luck often has it, with the wide-angle lens on, great macro or portrait subjects appear, and vice versa. Now, the ability to switch underwater from my 100mm macro lens to the EMWL allows a versatility that was never previously available.
I tend not to work to a shot list and I’m always keen to capture behavior, so I typically cruise around on the hunt for anything that may be of interest. As such, the ability to switch from macro and portraiture to wide angle, almost seamlessly, is of immense value. The EMWL’s ultra-close focus capability is helpful, but I am not obsessed with using it, as can be seen from the images I’ve included here.
A mother convict blenny cleaning coral rubble from her burrow as her offspring hover nearby. I switched between macro and the EMWL to capture this behavior, Sulawesi, Indonesia
A very large, thigh-thick giant moray eel in a cavern and unreachable with a conventional lens. I slowly introduced the EMWL into a narrow gap without spooking the moray
The small extended snout of the EMWL allows you to go places other ports won’t go. Images and perspectives that were not previously possible now emerge. Macro subjects have an uncanny ability to reside in near-impenetrable locations, and the EMWL greatly improves that access. The assembled EMWL is a foot long (30cm), placing you about two feet (60cm) from the front element, and that additional diver-to-subject distance seems to suit some animals even with the intrusion of the EMWL.
Still, the close focus can have its drawbacks. One octopus was so taken with the lens that it wrapped two tentacles around it and tried to pull the camera out of my hands! I’m fortunate that there were no witnesses, but it was an embarrassing tug of war with a surprisingly strong cephalopod.
This red anemone had closed, creating much anxiety for the family of Western clown anemonefish. It’s an easy wide-angle shot but would have been difficult with a 100mm macro due to the long focal distance required, Sulawesi, Indonesia
The same anemone as in the previous image, but now partially open. Getting a dome port in this close to the anemone skirt would have been a challenge, Sulawesi, Indonesia
Once you are in the water, step one is dislodging the sticky air bubbles that collect on the glass surfaces. The EMWL has ports to allow the water to enter each glass–water interface, but my experience is that manual intervention is required to remove the bubbles. I attach the EMWL to the port and remove the relay unit and objective lens in turn to shake out the bubbles. Failure to remove the bubbles will result in black spots in your images.
I was initially a little nervous about dropping expensive pieces of glass into the blue abyss, but it’s now a well-oiled routine. Naturally, this only has to be done once on each dive. If anyone has a short cut or better technique for bubble removal, I would be delighted to hear it.
I pull the strobes forward to the “praying mantis” position, behind and close to the tip of the objective lens for close-focus work. If I am not super close and want some background illumination, I will separate the strobes to reduce backscatter, as you would for a traditional wide shot.
A school of yellow Chromis nestled in red whip coral, Sulawesi, Indonesia
A broadclub cuttlefish, Sulawesi, Indonesia
The viewfinder image comes up bright and clear—don’t ask me how, it’s the Nauticam magic optics—and the autofocus snaps in as it should. There is no light loss through the EMWL. It’s easier to frame and compose than a normal macro lens. Positioning of the focus point is critical when the front element is very close to the subject. I always use a single AF point.
Any camera movement is magnified with two-foot beast in your hands, so it’s important to avoid jerky shutter action. I have found that careful checking of the image composition is essential, as this is probably the most challenging aspect of shooting with the EMWL.
Naturally, with the light source so close to the subject, the fall-off is quite dramatic and backgrounds can be dark. With my (now ancient) 50-megapixel Canon EOS 5DS R, I tend to shoot between ISO 100 and ISO 200 to keep noise at bay. Modern mirrorless rigs would presumably allow dialing up the ISO and dialing down the strobe power to get more blue in the background. Extending shutter speeds is another option, when the situation allows. I don’t mind a dark background, but I know many photographers like to see the blue.
If you want scenic wide-angle images with almost unlimited depth of field and corner-to-corner sharpness, stay with your traditional wide-angle rig. I love my 16–35mm and 8–15mm lenses with the Zen DP-230 Superdome and Zen DP-100 Minidome, respectively. The EMWL does its best work as a close-focus macro lens. For longer focal distances, it does lose sharpness, particularly at the edges. But that is, of course, pushing beyond its design intention.
A lionfish pivots as it hunts chromis, Sulawesi, Indonesia
A distance shot of the lionfish in the previous image. It’s at the limit for the EMWL (the edges are soft) and it’s well beyond the design intent of the EMWL, but I wanted to document the bommie on which the lionfish was hunting, Sulawesi, Indonesia
The EMWL has changed my approach to underwater photography and delivered a versatility that I never previously had available. It’s now with me on every dive where I have rigged my macro lens. It sits snuggly in the waist holster, just waiting to be hauled out when the opportunity arises. It’s a great piece of innovative tech and a tribute to the skills of Nauticam founder Edward Lai.
It would be remiss not to mention sticker shock—this is expensive glass. However, it is also understandable: There is a huge overhang of development cost in the painstaking research needing to bring the “almost impossible” to market. Multiple glass elements and complex manufacture in what will always be a relatively low volume product means you won’t find it on the discount shelf anytime soon.
Western clown anemonefish, Sulawesi, Indonesia
About the Author: Wayne Osborn is a Perth-based underwater and wildlife photographer. Wayne and his wife Pam have dived and photographed orcas, sperm, humpback, and minke whales from tropical to polar waters. They have a long-term interest in whale conservation and have visited Exmouth in Western Australia annually to document the humpback whale southern migration. Wayne and Pam donate their whale images to scientists to assist whale conservation and research, and their images have been used in numerous scientific texts. They also enjoy photographing the richly biodiverse and remote Coral Triangle/Raja Ampat region of Indonesia. Pam and Wayne have a range of marine wildlife books on Apple Books. In 2004, Wayne was appointed an International Fellow of the New York-based Explorers Club in recognition of his interest in the marine environment. Wayne was the Australian Geographic Nature Photographer of the Year in 2012.
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