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Dive Photo Guide


Review: Nikon D7100 and Ikelite Housing
By Brandi Mueller, July 25, 2013 @ 06:00 AM (EST)

By Brandi Mueller

Removing my shiny new Nikon D7100 and Ikelite housing out of the box with one hand, I was already using the other to book flights to Florida and Monterey to put it to the test.

Having used the Nikon D90 since 2009, I was admittedly a little behind on the times. So when the D7100 came out, I was ready to push the shutter on a way over-do for an upgrade. 

Brandi Mueller tests the D7100 on the critters of Blue Heron Bridge


The Nikon D7100   

Nikon’s latest DX format camera is the D7100, with a 24.1MP CMOS sensor.  It has 51 autofocus points and can shoot 6 frames per second.  The amazing sensor allows the ISO to expand to 1600 with no noise. The LCD screen is slightly larger than the D7000 at 3.2,” with a 1.2-million-dot screen, both making it easier to review your photos underwater through the housing.  

Nikon has incorporated a 1.3x DX crop mode to makes distant subjects appear larger; and in this mode the 51 focus points cover the entire area making focusing quick and precise, especially when following fast moving fish.  There are also some fun modes that are very easy to use, including an HDR mode that takes two images with one shutter release and automatically combines them in the camera.

The D7100has full HD video capabilities, and in live view there’s a spot-white balance function that allows you to choose a specific spot on which to white balance, making it easy and accurate to get great underwater video. 


Ikelite Housing for the D7100 Overview

I’ve been an Ikelite fan since I started shooting underwater, and the housing for the D7100 has the same signature Ikelite features that I’ve grown to love.  For one, it’s transparent and I can see through to my camera.

There’s nothing more comforting than being able to see a dry camera inside.  I also remembered another reason I love having a clear housing. Having taken my new D7100 underwater two days after receiving it, I hadn’t yet mastered the locations of all the buttons. So, it was easy to see and find them once in the housing underwater.

Button Control with the Ikelite Housing
The housing has a button for each button of the camera, excluding the Diopter Adjustment Control and Depth-of-field Preview Button.  The shutter, video recording, and large zoom control can all be reached while the hands are on the handles. 

Obviously, you want a housing that provides control over every camera button. A slight downfall results from having so many buttons in leavers: Taking the camera in and out of the housing can be a bit of a puzzle. 

One long lever that reaches down to one of the front function buttons blocks the entry of most camera lenses being put into the housing from the back. As someone who is usually very impatient to see my photos right after a dive, it takes a few more minutes to also remove the port, the lens, then the back of the housing and the camera to get to my SD cards or be able to charge the battery. 

ISO Performance
With each new camera that comes out, the ISO capabilities get better and better.  And the D7100 is no exception: According to numerous tests, it doesn’t reach an unacceptable level of noise until 12,800 (it’s expandable to 25,600 or Hi 2.).

Shooting in the low light of dense kelp forest I decided to leave the strobes at home to avoid backscatter in the low viz conditions. Even at an ISO of 800, I was able to capture the full dynamic range of the scene without any noticeable noise.

f/14.0, 1/320, ISO 800, Ikelite D7100 Housing, Nikkor 10.5 mm, Ikelite DS161 strobes
f/13.0, 1/200, ISO 400, Ikelite D7100 Housing, Nikkor 10.5 mm, Ikelite DS161 strobes

The D7100 is Nikon’s third enthusiast-level SLR to feature the 24.1-megapixel sensor, joining the previously released D3200 and D5200.  As a result, the sharpness of the shots is fantastic as well.  I found myself deleting far less photos in post-production and I was able to crop down some photos considerably and still have high quality and sharp focus. 

The speed of the autofocus of the D7100 is mind-blowing.  It made taking shots of this jawfish aerating its eggs almost easy.  I also found it great when using a +10 diopter for super macro shots. 

My D90 would take a long time to find what it was focusing on and then I would often lose the focus with any slight movement.  The D7100 finds the proper focus super quick, and even allows for some accidental slight movement from me in the current and still get the shot such as this moving bristle worm in a current.

f/18.0, 1/200, ISO 400, Ikelite D7100 Housing, Nikkor 105 mm, Ikelite DS161 strobes

With the D7100’s 51 autofocus points, I found the placement of the autofocus spot selection button in a convenient place.  My left hand can push the button while holding the handle and I can look through the viewfinder with my right hand can changing the AF points quickly to take a new photo.  While shooting a jawfish with eggs under the Blue Heron Bridge I could keep my eyes on the fish and change the AF points in anticipation of it aerating its eggs.

f/13.0, 1/200, ISO 400, Ikelite D7100 Housing, Nikkor 105 mm, Ikelite DS161 strobes

I discourage the use of live view while shooting underwater because of the focus delay. However, the D7100 has sped up time it takes to focus in live view considerably, making it worthwhile if you’re shooting in a hard to reach spot where you might not be able to get your eye down to the eyepiece.  There is also still a slight delay between shots, but that is also much faster than previous cameras. 

f/14.0, 1/200, ISO 400, Ikelite D7100 Housing, Nikkor 105 mm, Ikelite DS161 strobes

Playback Problems
One downfall I’ve noticed with the D7100 is a frequent delay between taking an image and displaying it on the LCD screen. Roughly one third of the images take several seconds or longer to appear, and sometimes don’t show up at all. 

While diving in kelp, the light was changing constantly and occasionally by the time the extra seconds passed to check the exposure, the swell had changed my shot. I’ve read a few other reports of this and it hasn’t been determined what’s causing the delay.  There’s no delay in the actual shooting, just the processing of the photos to view on the LCD screen.  (I was also using a high-speed SD card, so that shouldn’t have been the problem).

f/16.0, 1/200, ISO 400, Ikelite D7100 Housing, Nikkor 105 mm, Ikelite DS161 strobes

Dual SD Slots
Weighing about the same as its predecessor, the D7100 also has two SD card slots—a feature I absolutely love because you can set what goes on each card. For instance, if I’m shooting in RAW and JPEG I can have all the RAW files go to card #1 and the JPEGs go to card #2.  The camera also is environmentally sealed to help prevent dust and sea spray from getting inside, making it great for capturing top side ocean images even in rough seas or rainy situations.

f/13.0, 1/200, ISO 400, Ikelite D7100 Housing, Nikkor 105 mm, Ikelite DS161 strobes

TTL Circuitry
Yes, I know some underwater photographers will argue with me that it’s better to control strobe lighting manually—and I agree, it’s an important skill.  But if my Ikelite is going to figure out most of the hard work for me, I’m game.  TTL is great for those unexpected opportunities when you only have a second to shoot that hammerhead swimming by. 

f/22, 1/200, ISO 400, Ikelite D7100 Housing, Nikkor 105 mm, Ikelite DS161 strobes

I find much of the time the TTL determines the proper strobe power, and being able to fine tune with the TTL wheel located on the back of the housing (four 1/3 f/stop increments) makes it fast to adjust. If the TTL isn’t giving the ideal image, the strobe output can be controlled with seven manual power settings at the wheel on the back of the housing.  I always figure it’s better to have something extra and not use it or need it, then wish you had it later. 

f/11, 1/160, ISO 800, Ikelite D7100 Housing, Nikkor 105 mm, Ikelite DS161 strobes

Video Capabilities
The D7100 has full HD video at 1080/60i.  I don’t often use the video functions on SLR cameras, but you can’t go wrong grabbing some video footage with these specs.  Video can only be shot in live view and the video mode is aperture priority (it adjusts shutter and ISO); so to change the aperture you have turn off live view, change it, and then turn live view back on. 

Strobe Improvements
In my shopping spree I also picked up a set of Li-ion strobe batteries for my Ikelite DS161 strobes.  I’m a huge fan of the DS161s and love the multi-purpose nature with their 500-lumen video light capabilities (I also use them as my primary night dive lights.) 

The new batteries produce over 450 flashes with only a 1.4 second recycle time.  They also work with Ikelites TTL system to produce the perfect lighting situations for every photo.

f/14.0, 1/320, ISO 800, Ikelite D7100 Housing, Nikkor 10.5 mm, Ikelite DS161 strobes




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