Getting more out of your UW Micro 4/3rd system
The Micro 4/3rd cameras system is a standard released by Olympus and Panasonic in 2008, for the design and development of mirror less cameras and lenses. Within this tradition the Olympus PEN camera bodies are surprisingly small, with an affordable price and compatible with interchangeable lenses from both Olympus and Panasonic. The PEN housings are compact, lightweight and less expensive than other flagship housings designed for 4/3 PEN and OMD cameras. This article is not meant to promote the Oly system commercially, but to report how I tried to get more out of a relatively simple 4/3rd system without spending too much money.
Fish eye lenses Some years ago I bought an Olympus EPL5 in a PT-EP10 housing (see left). The reason why is that I wanted a back up system, in case my Nikon D7200/Tokina 10-17/Ikelite combination would break down, or become flooded during a diving trip. I am aware that newer Olympus systems are now on the market, like the PT-EP14 housing with the OMD-EM1 MKII inside, which would probably cost twice what I paid for my PEN combo. But a good lens is more important that a expensive and ergonomically superior UW housing. Or a camera offering 20 instead of 15 megapixels and burst shooting with 18 fps. So with the EPL5/PT-EP10 combo I started with the Panasonic Lumix G Fisheye 8mm/F3.5lens (Pana 8mm) which is still considered as one of the best and smallest fish eye lenses in the 4/3rd category. Later I was tempted by the favorable reviews of the Olympus 8mm f/1.8 Fisheye PRO (Oly 8mm) describing it as the ‘worlds first fisheye with an extremely bright f/1.8 maximum aperture’. The Oly 8m is much longer than the Pana 8mm. To use it with the EPL5/EP10 system you need a 24 mm extension port made for PEN housings.
Domes This brings me to another important item of wide angle shooters: the dome port. The best choice for the 4/3rd camera with fish eye is a 4-inch dome, which is nice for getting close to small subjects and makes it an ideal system for CFWA (Close Focus Wide Angle) shots. The model I used was a Precision dome port which was custom designed for the Pana 8mm. Precision domes are cut from an acrylic half sphere and tuned to a specific lens, which means that the images captured will be in focus from edge-to-edge. They are less expensive than similar domes made of glass. I also used the Precision dome port with the Oly 8, equipped with the 24 mm extension port, and felt that the nodal point of the lens still matched fairly well with the correct position of the dome.
<Oly housing mounted on large and small trays and with macro extension port
At first sight the quality of topside pictures I took with the Pana 8mm and Oly 8 mm lenses on some top-side tests did not seem to differ very much However, the merits of the Oly lens can probably only be fully appreciated in low ambient light UW conditions, like caves etc where the use of strobes would spoil the special ambiance.
Shooting with ambient light A said,the EPL5/PT-EP10 was meant as a back up system, in the unfortunate case that my main camera would collaps during a diving trip. But its small size also allowed me to take it down together with the larger Nikon/Ikelite combo to switch between cameras. I used the Nikon/Tok with strobes for close ups of big fishes, and the Pana 8mm with a Magic filter for shooting with ambient light, when there was plenty of sunlight. Unfortunately, the filter only fits on the rear of the Pana 8mm, not of the Oly 8mm lens. Taking two cameras down is only recommended on a shallow dive with a flat sea bed that permits to put one camera down while switching to the other.
Exchanging strobes. Carrying two different cameras, housings and strobes in your luggage can become a pain, if you have to drag all the stuff with you on airports and airplanes on the way to your dive destination. It would help if one could use the same pair af strobes on both camera systems. So I adapted the Ikelite DS 125 strobes (see: strobes), normally connected with an electrical sync chord to the Ikelite bulkhead, to use also with the EPL5/PT-EPL10. Ikelite still sticks to its sync chords, so their housings are not designed for triggering fiber optic cables. For example: the built in flash will not pop up when the camera is in the housing. Ikelite did however develop optical adapters that allow to attach fibers cables from other systems to their strobes.
The EPL10 housing is equipped with optical fiber cable insertion slots. The optic cables are fired by the small flash that comes with the EPL5 camera. So the only step is to connect the cables with the Ike fiber optical adapters on the strobes. The adapters with fibers work well even with the flash intensity of the EPL5 set at a lower value of 1/40 or 1/50 to save battery power. Another adaptation that I found useful was to mount the PT-EPL10 housing on a somewhat smaller Ikelite dual handle tray than the one used on the Ikelite dSLR housing (see picture, middle panel). A piece of neoprene wrapped around the right handle made it easier to press the shutter release lever with the index finger. Summing up: 1. I removed the electrical sync chords of the Ike housing 2. placed the strobes with their arms on the smaller PT-EP10 tray 3. attached the optical adapters to the strobes, 4. plugged the fiber optic cablse to the adapters and slots of the PT-EPL10. This arrangement allowed me to use the 4/3rd system with Ike strobes, albeit without the TTL option, in case the Nikon/Tokina/Ikelite combo would break down.
From wide angle to macro. With a suitable lense and port the EPL5/PT-EPL10 combo can be also be transformed to a macro system. I found the Olympus Zuiko 60mm F2.8 macrolens a good option. For this lens there are compact flatport extension ports available on the market for PEN underwater housings (see above, lower panel) The port also contains a 67mm threaded front for macro conversion lenses or Subsee +5 or +10 diopters. The set up with fiber optic cables and Ike strobes can now also be used for shooting small objects. When mounted on the small Ikelite tray the strobes can be pushed really close to the housing, which creates a nice compact rig for shooting subjects very close to port.
The two applications of the EPL5/PT-10 combo as decribed here will be mostly appreciated by UW photographers that want to get very close to their subject. But the effect will be different depending on the type of lens and dome. The fish eye lens with mini dome are a good choice for CFWA pictures with a tremendous perspective. The 60mm lens and flat port for taking macro pictures of miniscule creatures that fill most of your frame, against a background that will more likely function as a wallpaper.
For clarification, I here summarise all parts described in the sections above