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10Bar Panasonic LX3 housing by Sim Chee Ghee and Peter Rowlands

I managed to test the 10bar-LX3 housing recently in Anilao, Philippines. The first dive with it was a night dive, which turned out to be a night( mare!) dive! The operations on the housing require a lot of practice and one must be able to see the buttons properly! I ended up turning my focus light to the back of housing to see them!

The control buttons are cleverly designed to reduce clutter, so some of them rotate to control separate buttons. It does require some practice but once mastered they do a very good job.

The housing is extremely compact and sturdy, barely larger than the camera itself. Do insert the camera carefully to avoid scratches, I already got some! The housing is made of 6061 aluminium, one of the most extensively used of the 6000 series aluminium alloy and is a good choice for tough performance in seawater.

The back of the housing is acrylic , which is good to allow full view of the camera's LCD and water tight control. It weighs 920g dry, slightly negative underwater and comes with double O-rings and a bulkhead. The camera's hotshoe cable is a tad too long, however it can be disconnected which I did since I was using fiber optic connection with a Sea& Sea YS-110 Alpha strobe. The bulkhead can be ordered with the standard Nikons V or S6 connection.

The housing also features the new key hole locking system, which locks real tight for superior water integrity. The port has the standard M67

thread to allow macro wet lens or colour filter attachment.

An optional dome port is available. It's to be used with Panasonic's own wide converter ( DMW-LW46) with lens adapter ( DMW-LA4),which converts the LX-3 widest setting at 24mm lens into 18mm!!!

A comprehensive manual is available and the housing comes with a soft carrying bag and spare main O-rings.

Alternative housings

Currently not many choices out there for LX-3 housings except :

UK Germany recently announced theirs, more info at www.uk-germany.eu

Nautilus LX-3 from Japan, more infos at: http://dive-tail.cocolog-nifty.com/blog/2008/10/lx3-d762.html

All in all the 10bar LX-3 is a fully useable, reliable and reasonably priced compact housing with many pro-like features and it has a 2 year warranty.

Sim Chee Ghee

www.scubasymphony.com

1 have always been a big fan of Panasonic compact cameras. They have a bewildering range but I am particularly drawn to the LX series which is their top end, controllable camera offering aperture/shutter priority automation as well as full manual control including manual white balance, not to mention 16:9 aspect capability and the ability to shoot RAW as well as jpg images. Finally I also think the cameras just look good and my latest LX3 in black livery has a great retro, almost 35mm Leica look.

My first LX was the LX2 and I bought it mainly for land use but, rather naively, I expected an underwater housing to become available to use it as a useful back up (or even an alternative) to a DSLR system. Such a housing never really appeared so I learned a useful lesson - if you are buying a camera to use it underwater, make sure there is a good housing available first!

In hindsight it came as no surprise to me that a suitable housing never materialised. There are just so many controls to operate. Now I know this is also true for many other compacts cameras but there is one particular control on the LX series which is different, if not unique, and that is the 'toggle' control which adjusts, amongst other things, manual apertures and shutter speeds. This nipple-like control can not only rock from side to side but also up and down as well as being a push button too. Show that to an underwater housing manufacturer and it's easy to see why the LX2 was largely ignored.

2 years later, enter the LX3 and, by sheer good fortune, my wife's compact had just died and I made the supreme sacrifice of letting her have my trusty old LX2, to help her out, so to speak. The next day

I was down at the Panasonic shop making a mess

on their glass displays with my wet nose pressed up against their LX3 cabinet, or altar as I call it.

The LX3 was an interesting development in that Panasonic had decided that enough was enough with the megapixel hype. The discerning photographer wanted to maximise the performance of the existing pixels rather than bloat the specification with extra megapixels. In addition it had the ability to shoot basic HD movie footage and finally, and most importantly for me, it had a Leica 24mm F2 lens. I especially love this focal length and F2 is a 'fast' lens for low light shooting. I was happy enough but when I heard Japanese housing manufacturer 10Bar were not only planning a housing but promising a 'toggle' control I was delighted and they kindly sent me one to evaluate.

First impressions are how small and light it is. Even with the camera installed

it only weighs 1.2kg and ignoring the protruding controls, the main housing body is only 140mm wide by 85mm high. Being aluminium it is bulletproof and can operate down to 60 metres and has been tested to 90m. A good start by anyone's standards.

In designing an LX3 housing, lOBar had to make some tough but ultimately obvious decisions. With cameras boasting larger and larger LCD screens the controls get squeezed to one side. This is no real problem for land use but for an underwater housing manufacturer it becomes a real limitation. The result is that on the lOBar housing some of the important controls operate 2 functions either by a rotating, swinging or pushing action.

For me, the most important control is Manual White Balance because I do a lot of available light work with filters. To achieve this simply you need to set the 'Assign' control to Manual White Balance, then all you need to do is press that control, toggle right and press toggle. Job done. It took a bit of working out but I got there eventually so if you have a favourite or much needed control, the secret is to set the 'Assign' button to that function.

Control over the LX3 'toggle' button is very clever indeed and it feels almost the same as using the camera on land but with one big difference. Because of the mechanical design (which basically reverses the action), pushing the housing control to the left actually toggles the camera control to the right. Similarly up is down and down is up, if you follow my meaning. This reversal is puzzling at first but it soon becomes second nature. The ability to operate this toggle control sets this housing apart and the engineers at lOBar are to be congratulated for this achievement.

Closing the rear plate is done slightly differently with two rotating and sprungloaded levers. This is a neat design but takes some getting used to. However it is soon second nature and seals the housing very effectively with both piston and compression O rings.

The lOBar LX3 housing is totally mechanical and there are controls for every camera function. The housing comes with an Ikelite bulkhead as standard but Nikonos V and S6 are available options. For those with fibre optic triggered external strobes, the lOBar housing has a control to turn the internal flash on and even one to push it back into the camera when not needed.

The standard port is flat but is screw thread interchangeable and there is an optional dome port for use with Panasonic's wide adaptor which converts the 24mm lens into a very useful 18mm.

The retail price of the lOBar LX3 housing is just USD $630 which, for a fully functioning aluminium housing, really is extraordinarily good value. It is a quality housing for a quality camera.

Peter Rowlands

[email protected]

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Digital cameras have opened up new possibilities to underwater photographers. For available light photography manual white balance is an invaluable tool for restoring colours. But when you use it without a filter you are not making the most of the technique. You're doing all the hard work without reaping the full rewards.

These three photos are all taken of the same wreck in the Red Sea. The left hand image was taken on slide film, which rendered the scene completely blue. The middle image is taken with a digital SLR without a filter, using manual white balance. The white balance has brought out some of the colour of the wreck, but it has also sucked all the blue out of the water behind the wreck, making it almost grey. The right hand image is taken with the same digital camera and lens, but this time using an original Magic Filter. The filter attenuates blue light meaning that the colours of the wreck are brought out and it stands out from the background water, which is recorded as an accurate blue.

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Making a ring flash

By Alexander Mustard

With the credit crunch in full swing, I felt it was timely to pen another Do It Yourself article. Underwater photography has always been an expensive passion, so for those who want the fun of new toys without the pain of paying, here is another project to add to my homemade polecam in Issue 45.

I have long been curious about using ring flashes underwater. I have played with a few, but never owned one, or had the chance to shoot one extensively. Their main advantage is hat they produce high quality flat, directionless, front lighting that is well suited to revealing colour and detail in subjects. They also make camera rigs more compact and easier to squeeze into and light tight places. They are best suited for macro and super-macro photography at short camera to subject distances (one manufacturer quotes less than 50cm on their website).

Several commercial models have existed or still exist. Perhaps the best known and most commonly seen is Inon's Z22, which is actually a quad flash, with 4 straight flash tubes arranged around the port. As far as I know, it is now discontinued. British underwater photographers Martin Edge and Ken Sullivan developed their "Ring of Light" flash, but, with only Nikon film-TTL protocols and no manual controls, its popularity has waned with the migration to digital. Still current are UK-Germany ring-flashes, they continue to produced small numbers of their custom versions, and Athena's AFR-10 that has become popular in recent years. There may well be others.

While I have always wanted to use one, a few factors have always stopped me putting my hand in my pocket. First many of the older systems do not offer fine manual control over flash power. Second quite a few of the rings are narrow bore and as such do not fit all ports, particularly the increasingly wider macro ports required to house fatter, more modern lenses like the Sigma 150mm macro and the Nikon 105mm VR. It is possible to get custom-made narrower ports, but these don't always fit the new lenses. The other stumbling blocks are price and travelling. Most of these units are considerably more expensive than standard strobes and if you have one you will still need to buy and bring standard strobes for other types of shots. More weight, more expense.

So instead of buying one I decided to make one. Not a fully functioning ring-flash, but a ring reflector box powered by my existing strobes. It is not an original idea, I have seen it done on land, and the designs seem ideal for submergence with no moving or electrical parts. The entire system is intended to fill up with water quite happily.

Not only was this design much more inline with my DIY skills, but more importantly it would cost very little, weight very little and would fit all my lenses and ports as well as allowing me all the manual power settings of my normal strobes. One other advantage would be the ability to open the strobes out and shoot normally. For me this is not a big issue because I find that focusing each dive to a particular type of photography produces the best results. But it is worth mentioning.

In this article I want to run through how I made it, how it worked and whether it was worth it.

I won't provide a precise step-by-step guide

Ring flash lighting is appealing underwater, but is it worth it? I decided to build my own to find out.

In production: before being painted it is easy to see its origins as a casserole dish. My Inon strobes fire light in the sides, which comes out of the ring shaped opaque window around the front of the port.

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(Left) Pool tests. Much to my surprise the system held together and worked. Nikon D700 + Sigma 150mm + Canon 500D. Subal housing. 2x Inon Z240 fired through ring diffuser. 11250th @ F10. (Right) Coral detail. The ring-reflector produces shadowless lighting, which is accentuates the patterns in the star coral. Nikon D700 + Sigma 150mm + Canon 500D. Subal housing. 2x Inon Z240 fired through ring diffuser. 11125th @ F14.

to building one, because the exact parts that you will need will depend on your housing and strobe setup. But the basic design is very simple. It is a reflective chamber around the port with holes in the sides into which the strobes are fired and an opaque window at the front, around the port, out of which the light shines. As you can see from the photos, the reflective chamber and opaque window are only about 25mm (1") wider than the port.

I chose to make the outside of my reflective chamber out of a plastic, microwaveable casserole dish and the inside out of a rubber drainage tube, that happened to fit snugly on my Subal ports. I cut a port-sized hole in both the bottom of dish and in the lid so the port would fit through and then holes in either side of the dish to fire the strobes into. Both internal surfaces were made reflective: the inside of the dish I sprayed with chrome paint and the rubber tube was covered in two layers of aluminium foil (the paint did not set on the rubber, when I tried it). I then put the tube inside the dish and glued the lid down, which kept it all together. Later I sprayed the outside of the dish black to give it a nicer finish. It all cost less than 20 Euros.

I put it together and tested it by photographing cactuses in the house. Much to my surprise it worked and worked well. The light loss was more than a stop compared to aiming the strobes directly at the subject, but since my Inon Z240 strobes pack a lot of punch I was not overly concerned at this stage. I also stretched some short sections of old wetsuit sleeves over the front of the strobes to stop any light spillage, just to be sure that all the light was coming through the ring-reflector. In the future I might make more permanent light funnels for my Inons.

My January photo workshops in Grand

Cayman provided an ideal opportunity to put it through its paces. Half expecting it all to float away in pieces, I decided to test it first in the pool. It would be less embarrassing there. Again it worked well. If I sound surprised, I was. I photographed a rubber duck attached to a diving weight and got pleasing flat light. In the reflective pool I was easily able to shoot at F22 without taking the strobes to full power using my Sigma 150mm with my D700 on base ISO. But there was not that much room for manoeuvre and I was worried I might not be able to shoot on F22 on the reef. So I took some shots at wider apertures between F10 and F14 to get a feeling for the depth of field these apertures produced.

Cayman is a wide-angle destination, with clear waters, colourful sponges and dramatic walls and caverns. So it took me a few days to get the chance to shoot the ring-reflector in the ocean. But once I did I was pleased that it produced acceptable results. I started off with easy subjects, such as coral details, which were well suited to the flat light. The shadowless lighting certainly revealed the patterns of the corals, although at the expense of textures.

I then moved on to shoot fish and critters. Again the ring flash worked well and produced many pleasing images, although because of its limited range it performed best on highly

(Left) Because of the limited range of the ring flash I generally had to stick to approachable subjects, but was happy with the results. Nikon D700 + Sigma 150mm + Canon 500D. Subal housing. 2x Inon Z240 fired through ring diffuser. 11125th @ F13.

(Right) Alex was in Lembeh as UWP went to press, but he managed to send this extra image in. Ring flashes produce flat lighting, which suits some images although the effect is boring to some. Nikon D700 + Sigma 150mm + Canon 500D in Subal housing. F11 @ 1110th. ISO 400. Inon Z240s fired through ring flash.

approachable species. Over the two weeks I also tried it with the Nikon 60mm AFS lens, which I should remind you is really quite wide on an FX camera. This allowed me to shoot larger species from within its camera-to-subject-distance sweet spot, and again I was happy with the results. I was generally able to shoot at F14-F16 with the Sigma 150mm, which was adequate, but it would be nice to have another stop to play with. For critters on the sand I could reach F22, but for more distant fish I might have to drop as low as F8-F11. With the 60mm I shot balanced light images at F8-11, without using the strobes on full power.

The over-riding impression was how easy the system was to use. Nothing to adjust, just shoot, shoot, shoot. Changing orientation was simple. I look forward to using it next time I am in cold waters, where I always feel less inclined to fiddle with everything and just want to bag the image. I also felt that light fell off more quickly than in conventionally lit images, probably because it was coming directly from the front. This has advantages and disadvantages, depending on the affects we are after. I never had problems with backscatter, possibly because in Cayman's clear waters the flash power fell off before I found myself shooting through too much water.

In conclusion, my ring diffuser certainly produced ring-flash lighting and fulfilled its brief in being inexpensive and lightweight for travel. It is excellent for shooting small subjects, getting light inside complex shaped subjects and for revealing patterns.

I would like to refine my design to improve its light efficiency so that I could shoot on F22 on all subjects, should I want to. And I need to find a more durable reflector than aluminium foil, which is really only good for a couple of weeks of diving before it needs replacing. Apparently, it is possible to get stainless foil that will last longer in seawater.

Apart from that I feel that there are two main downsides to the images. First, which was pointed out by friends who saw some of the early shots, is that flat lighting gets boring after a while. The ringflash is excellent for adding certain images to your portfolio, but you would not want to use it for all your macro photography. I tried adjusting the power of the two strobes, but it is still not possible to produce any directional lighting without moving the strobes away from the ring. The second, and perhaps more critical

I like this image of a flounder, butfeel that I may have got slightly better results without the ring flash, particularly avoiding the highlight in the foreground. This is the drawback of a ring-flash. It is not always ideal and in most cases its lighting effect can be replicated with carefully positioned dual strobes. Nikon D700 +

I like this image of a flounder, butfeel that I may have got slightly better results without the ring flash, particularly avoiding the highlight in the foreground. This is the drawback of a ring-flash. It is not always ideal and in most cases its lighting effect can be replicated with carefully positioned dual strobes. Nikon D700 +

downside is that ring flash lighting can be so closely approximated by placing two strobes either side and close to the port, that I would struggle to distinguish the shots on 9 out of 10 subjects. This is probably the main reason we don't see more ring flash systems underwater.

But maybe as I test it more I will discover more subjects that reveal its advantages. There is one factor that is undeniable, that you the guaranteed to be the centre of attention when you stride onto the diveboat and put your contraption down on the camera table. Tupperware Mustard they called me.

Alexander Mustard

www.amustard.com

togfTflffl tc'jMpi1 'jj

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Prices start at just £19.

www. wva^lo-filtery. com/

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