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Guest post: Using the Nikon P7000/P7100 for underwater photography

Intro

Since the termination of the Nikonos series of underwater cameras in 2001, Nikon has not invested or contributed to using its cameras underwater.

This led to the rise of the "digital camera in a housing" concept and the majority of cameras used underwater these days are actually standard digital cameras with a dedicated housing.

While Nikon and Canon are very close competitors in the DSLR market, Nikon compacts are far less popular than Canon compacts. The Canon G12 was one of the most popular compacts for underwater use and so were the previous G series models.

With the release of the Fantasea FP7000 housing in 2011 the underwater compacts market had earned some serious competition from Nikon.

The release of the Nikon P7000 with Fantasea FP7000 housing

The Nikon P7000 was a direct competitor of the Canon G12, being built with similar body, design and specs. Nikon, however, included a better lens with a wider zoom range ( x7.1 as opposed to x4) and a larger, higher resolution LCD monitor. It is also considerably lighter and with half the shutter lag time.

These features made the Nikon P7000 attractive for underwater photographers but it was only with the release of the Fantasea housing where this bundle could stand out in the underwater photography compacts category.

I call the Fantasea housing the "best compact polycarbonate housing" in the market. This housing is designed as small and contoured to the camera as possible. It allows controlling all the cameras functions and even has the button functions illustrated on them. It is very comfortable to use , simple enough for the beginning uw photographer and flexible enough for the more advanced one.

The housing has a universal tripod screw, cold shoe mount and fiber optic connection which allow using it with most accessories on the market, Fantasea also released a line of accessories such as a wide angle wet lens , macro lens and color filters especially for this housings large port.

Bundled and priced by Fantasea at a retail price of 799$-899$, this camera and housing combination became very popular and made many users choose Nikon over Canon. The P7000 had some problems like slow RAW shooting and below average auto focus capabilities and this prevented many users for purchasing this new development but this is where the P7100 came into play.

The Nikon P7100

The release of the Nikon P7100 in late 2011 from my perspective, changed the game. The P7100 is faster, has slicker menus and features very quick and reliable auto focus. It also has a front dial which allows using it exactly like a DSLR. This has made it a better choice in many ways than the Canon competition (G12 and S100).

This Fantasea housing has the same ergonomics and features of its predecessor but with an additional monitor shade for shallow water shooting and support for the front dial.

Shooting with the Nikon P7100 Underwater

The Nikon P7100 is an exceptional camera for underwater photography, the number one reason it its manual controls. Shooting under the water is very different than above in terms of the cameras automatic shooting parameters. Automatic exposure, white balance and sometimes focus are not as reliable as they are above water and this forces the photographer to shoot manual in order to achieve good results.

The P7100 has the following manual controls:

  1. Allows you to set manual white balance in one click ( using the function button )
  2. Has a dedicated dial for shutter speed and another for aperture control.
  3. Has a dedicated dial for EV +/- when shooting in Av or Tv mode.
  4. Has quick access to ISO speed via quick set button or function button.

This means that there is no need to access any menu items underwater and all controls are at arms reach.

Connecting strobes is very simple using the 2 included fiber optic cable connections on the housing and the camera offers TTL auto exposure in all modes including manual mode (as opposed to Auto, P, Tv and Av only in Canon cameras).

The quick shutter speed allows snapping shots of moving fish and coral accurately and the improved auto focus works great in most situations.

What is still missing?

Here is my wish list for the awaited Nikon P8000 which we expect to be coming very soon:

  1. Larger sensor? Maybe closer the new Canon G1X.
  2. Make it a bit smaller.. please.. Its much easier to carry the Canon S100 around.
  3. 1080p video with dedicated video buttons. This is so simple to include and becoming now a standard.
  4. Wider lens, say 24mm or even wider ?
  5. Improved auto white balance or underwater mode? Canon colors are much more accurate underwater.

It seems that Fantasea intend to continue their support for this line of cameras and we look forward to see a new model being released.

Here are some sample shots (click on images for larger view):

 

 

This review was written by Tal Mor which is the Co-founder or Mozaik Underwater Cameras and a diver and photographer for many years. Tal tested the P7000 and P7100 in the past year and this review is a result of over 50 dives with these cameras with different lighting setups.

This entry was posted in Nikon P7100, [NR] Reviews and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink. Trackbacks are closed, but you can post a comment.
  • Johan

    Nice!

    • http://haroldellis4444@gmail.com Harold Ellis

      photos are good for web size but no way i would put such effort and moneys into action which would result in few P&S raws.

  • Foolishcfo

    Received my Sea and Sea MDX-D800 housing for my D800 yesterday. Only a handful in the country do far and I got one – much easier to get then my D00! Only 17 days to practice dive it before I leave for Komodo, Indonesia!

  • http://www.matfar.co.uk Matthew Farrugia

    I so much love shooting underwater have a look at some wrecks around our island http://matfar.co.uk/?portfoliocpt=underwater-wonders_wrecks_01

    • Geoff_K

      Very cool

  • http://photokaz.com Mike

    Thanks for the write up. I have a housing for my Canon Digital Elph and it works well in shallow water but it really needs good lights when I go diving. Thanks for the article, and great shots.

  • catinhat

    This post interests me a lot, as I’ve been actually seriously considering this specific fantasea fp-7100 housing with p7100. I’m not much of a diver, but will be doing some snorkeling on vacation, and thought of using this combo in shallow water. Would be great if the author of this post or other people with experience could comment on my questions:

    My first worry of course is the quality of the housing. Any chance it could leak?
    Does it sink or float if accidentally dropped in the water?
    I’m also an SLR user and never used p7100 before, so wondering about about image quality. The posted images look very good but…
    On the other hand, would it be possible to take full advantage of the p7100 controls while snorkeling, or would I have to end up using it as a point and shoot anyway…

    Thanks for your input.

    • Allen W.

      Longer color wavelengths are quickly and selectively filtered out as one dives even ten feet, generally necessitating strobes on strobe arms as in the pix. Note that the strobes/cables/arms setup can cost as much as the camera+housing.

      Full housed camera/strobe rigs are really too much to deal with while snorkeling. Not impossible, but very limiting because one has no buoyancy control and very very limited (seconds) bottom time.

      My first suggestion is to get SCUBA certified. It is easy for warm water diving. Very strongly recommended. One really only “sees” what there is to see underwater by relaxing in one location for a few minutes.

      If you choose not to scuba I would suggest not investing in the strobes, which is very limiting to the pix you can obtain but is feasible at shallow depths when good visibility is present.

      Another snorkeling choice would be to settle for a lower end u/w solution like a Nikon AW100:

      http://www.imaging-resource.com/news/2012/07/10/nikon-coolpix-aw100-reviewed-does-it-sink-or-swim

      Again though, recommendation #1 is to learn SCUBA.

    • Allen W.

      Housing leaks are not uncommon but are manageable:

      - O rings are carefully inspected and silicon-grease maintained every time the housing is opened.

      - Before descending the housed camera is held 2′ underwater and carefully observed for a minute or so. After normal surface-tension bubbles abate, any housing leaks present as a string of tiny bubbles rising toward the surface, in which case one exits the water and fixes the issue (usually hair or sand in an O ring).

      - Really tiny leaks will present at depth with fogging of the camera lens.

      All manageable. Once I shot a major 2-week shoot with the housing leaking on every dive (a strobe connection lost watertight integrity). I just timed each dive to end when the lens started fogging. It played hell with my dive tables but the project got done in the time allocated.

      • catinhat

        @ Allen W.

        Very informative. Thanks for your comments. It makes me think my ability to take worth while photos will be very limited and I would probably regret the investment and the hassle.

      • alistair

        A leak is never manageable. The moment you detect a leak you need to get out of the water as it won’t get any better and you’ll probably kill the camera.

        Leaks will always manifest themselves as water entering the housing due to pressure of the water being greater than the pressure of the air in the housing.

  • http://ronscubadiver.wordpress.com Ron Scubadiver

    One can spend a ton of money on housings and flash for a compact camera, but it still shoots like a compact camera. I dive a lot, but underwater photography is not for me. With flash needed to preserve colors, everything winds up looking flat. Back scatter (crap in the water reflecting light) requires close distances so every perspective looks the same. After a while every eel and lobster looks the same, and so on.

  • http://fraucha.aminus3.com/ John Richardson

    What a great article! Thanks!

  • Dr Motmot

    Just out of curiosity – what is the longest practical focal length lens that you can use with an SLR for underwater photography? Presumably anything longer than 105mm wouldn’t be practical, quite aside from the size of the lens housing. What are the most commonly used focal lengths?

    • Bastiaan Naber

      My first reaction to your post was a good laugh, I assume your not a diver?

      The main reason for my laugh is that visibility underwater is a real issue. If you are really lucky you can see 20-30m. However this is in really clear water on very few spots on this planet. Most photographs you will see under water have their subject within 50cm, because lighting them is really hard (and expensive).

      This means that a 105mm lens is a little bit absurd. For this reason most underwater lenses are very wide and it is also in the text that he recommends “Wider lens, say 24mm or even wider ?”.

      But the width is not only important, you also need to be able to focus very close by, thus a wide macro lens would be perfect.

      • Dr Motmot

        I have about 18 dives under my belt but didn’t qualify, I gave it up years ago. However my girlfriend dives and has a compact with underwater housing but no strobes. I have a D7000 and D700 but not sure I want to fork out for housing. Would a 105mm macro be OK for photographing shrimps and things like that sea slug where you would have to get within a few feet? Or would a 90mm or 85mm macro be better?

        • Bastiaan Naber

          One other thing to keep in mind is that you will need to find a housing that can hold your lens.

          • Nat

            I suppose you mean a PORT that will hold the lens. The port and any extensions you put on it will determine what size lens you can fit on your DSLR underwater. I have heard of a pro who used a 200mm macro lens underwater, but he had to get a custom port for it. You can have pretty much anything custom made, if you’re willing to pay for it.

        • Nat

          The 105mm would be perfect for shrimps and other tiny creatures. However, I often prefer to use my 60mm micro, as it’s more versatile if you happen to see a turtle or a larger fish (I call the 60mm my fish portrait lens). Once you put the 105mm on for a dive, all you can shoot is tiny stuff.

          • alistair

            I find the 105mm a bit too long and prefer to use a 60mm macro (or even a standard 50mm lens for larger stuff). I’m diving in the UK where viz can be very challenging.

    • Nat

      If you mean the 105mm micro lens, then that is a very popular lens for underwater macro photography. I’ve been shooting underwater for 7 years now, lately with the D300. My lenses of choice are: 60mm micro, 105mm micro, 10-17 fisheye zoom (Tokina), 10mm fisheye, 12-24mm wide-angle. These lenses are pretty much all you need for Nikon DSLR underwater photography with a DX sensor.

      • Dr Motmot

        Thanks Nat, that is very useful info.

  • Jean Francois

    Capable of producing some stunning images, that’s for sure.

  • yoyo

    I would even dare to say that both Canon’s colours and white balance are always more accurate than Nikon’s …

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