•  

Camera & Lens

Canon 18-200mm f3.5-5.6 IS zoom

Thoughts on cheap lenses versus expensive…..sometimes cheap is good!

I read several reviews that summarized the Canon 18-200mm lens as “weak at best”, especially with a 15mp camera like the 50D that requires a real sharp lens to offset its pixel crowded sensor…..Well, as usual many of the reviewers live in the lab. I purchased one of these “cheapy” lenses and did my own “real-world” tests. The results from my trip to Bali last year were nothing short of spectacularly sharp and contrasty. Yes, this lens doesn’t do what a $1000 or $2000 lens will do, but I didn’t expect that, and didn’t want to pay for that either. However, this lens showed me that it could capture an image and maintain very good image quality. Good enough to market the images taken with it against any of the higher priced lenses for editorial work and slide shows.

_MG_2886_MG_2866

I highly recommend this lens for the price. The creeping zoom the testers complain about is inherent in so many mid-priced (cheapy) zooms. Almost every $5—$600 zoom ever made!……Again, much ado about nothing from the “pundits”. Of course if you have a spare $2420.00 you can buy the Canon 28-300 f3.5-5.6L zoom lens and mount it on your Canon 1Ds MkIII full-frame sensor camera that only cost you $6,000 to get the approximate same focal length and you will get better results than a 50D with an 18-200. But you have to ask yourself, what is the objective here? If you are shooting huge prints for fine art, then fine the Mk3 and 28-300 will beat the 50D and 18-200 hands down. But, if you are shooting for moderate sized, up to 16 x 24 prints, in reasonable light, then the 50D /18-200 zoom will rock your world and at a fraction of the cost!

_MG_2804_MG_2966

Keep in mind too, that walking around all day, hefting a 3 lb 50D/18-200 system, is much easier on the neck and back than a 1DS Mk3 with equivalent focal length “L” (pro) lens that weighs in at a combined behemoth-like 6.5 lbs!

Here’s my “for what it’s worth”, Real-World Tester Sumarization

50D with 18-200 = $1500 -vs-1DS MkIII with 28-300 = $8500

average stock image sale = $75-$250 – on a good day!

Average doctor bill for bad back after hefting a 6.5 lbs camera and lens around Bali for 3 days for 700 shots a day…..$2500 with the MRI. Oh yeah, don’t forget adding a flash to the 1DS MkIII! Canon 580 EXII = $470, plus 1 more pound

***Note: Pharmaceuticals are extra._MG_2812

Sometimes the internet forum testers just don’t get it! Comparing the image quality of a mid priced Canon camera and Canon zoom lens like the 50D and the 18-200 to some set of “lab standards” that only a Canon pro 1D series camera and Canon “L” series pro lens could measure up to is like comparing the performance of a Volkswagen to a Maserati. The funny thing is that they both get you there. More importantly the real limiting factors on a modern day SLR camera and lens system are more than likely environmental (hello air quality, smog, haze, sun position, etc.), not lab like at all……:) When you read about a new camera or lens choose the author carefully and qualify how and what they are comparing to. Some compare specs and lab results to some esoteric image quality “perfection point”, but that only works in the lab. What I need, and many others like me I assume, is “real-world” feedback. After all, I don’t shoot in a lab.

Review – Sea and Sea DX-2G Camera and Housing Set and Accessories

Overview
The Sea and Sea DX-2G camera is an Advanced Compact camera and housing set created for serious beginners all the way to advanced amateur underwater photographic enthusiasts. This camera with it’s high resolution 12.1 mega pixel sensor has the ability to record in Raw mode for users that want to do post capture edits in Adobe Photoshop or other software editing programs. It’s raw mode records images in DNG, the new universal standard for raw images created a few years ago by Adobe. DNG files guarantee a standard “readable” file format for future software editing programs which the proprietary manufacturer based Raw files cannot guarantee. The camera also shoots in several Jpeg modes for those that want simplicity and smaller file size and want the camera to do all the processing instead of using a software editing program. One of my favorite features is the ADJ dial on the cameras back. This dial easily accesses the most used camera settings like white balance and auto focus/manual focus off/on and is even user customizable so that the settings you most frequently used can be programmed in. Featuring a brilliant and contrasty 3x zoom lens from 5-15 mm (or 35mm equivalent 24-72mm) the DX-2G offers a perfect focal range for the underwater shooter that needs to get close to their subjects and easily access to adjustments without digging through camera menus and sub menus..

A Very Capable Standard lens
At the wide end this lens “sees” a wider view than any other lens available in an Advanced Compact with an underwater housing. Wide angle is what you need to get shots of larger subjects like colorful reef scenes, big grouper, passing jellyfish or your dive buddy. Besides being “tack sharp” this lens features a macro mode for extreme close ups of small subjects like nudibranchs and small fish. The lens can focus as close as 1cm (1/2”), which is so close that you can barely get strobe light onto the subject. In fact when using this camera in macro mode I find it easier to zoom the lens all the way in (go telephoto) to the 15mm focal length and then focus a couple inches from your subject so that you can position the strobe(s) around it for proper front lighting.

Macro and Super Macro
If you love shooting nudibranchs and pygmy sea horses like I do then than a must have accessory (besides a good strobe) for your DX-2G is the Close-up lens 125. This multi-element coated glass lens is superb when going for the really tiny critters or “Super Macro” and allows the shooter to double the already 1:1 Life-Size magnification that you get from the standard lens in macro mode. It’s awesome! It is mounted to the front of the DX-2G housing with the Close-up lens ring which is required and extra, but not much more and worth every penny.

Wide Angle Conversion Lens
To shoot even wider picture areas Sea and Sea has developed a Wide-Angle Conversion lens for the DX-2G. It very effectively increases the 24mm standard lens angle by about 30% allowing you to get real close for those days when the water is murky or to take in large reef scenics and wrecks or if you are really lucky, a passing manta ray. It also works topside to produce very wide sunsets and panoramas, though the corners bend quite a bit. It’s best zoomed in just a little to minimize this effect.

Flexibility – From Super Wide to Super Macro in two easy steps…..Underwater!
The Wide Angle Conversion lens, like the Close-up lens 125, are easy to mount and can be either placed on the camera  housing or removed underwater offering the user maximum flexibility from super wide to super macro. Once you are finished with either the lens can be mounted on to another great accessory called the Lens Caddy. This handy little gadget clamps on to the DX-2G’s strobe arm, the Sea Arm 7 and provides a locking bayonet style mount to securely hold either of the supplemental accessory lenses when not in use.

YS-110A Strobe Lighting Package
A must have to restore true vivid color to your underwater subjects is an underwater strobe and Sea and Seas’ YS-110A works marvelously with the DX-2G. It offers DS-TTL for automatic strobe light exposure in either the cameras Manual or Aperture Priority exposure modes. The camera triggers the YS-110A through the fiber optic cable and so the strobe must be set to Slave Mode “on” and the cameras onboard flash must be set to on (lightening bolt icon). The YS-110A can also be used in manual mode with either pre-flash or non pre-flash cameras and even works as a TTL slave strobe that can be placed away from the camera and then triggered by the cameras main flash. The Lighting Package consists of the strobe, a fiber optic cable to trigger the strobe with the DX-2G’s flash, and a Sea Arm 7 arm and tray to mount both camera and strobe. It’s a simple solution for any small housed Point & Shoot digital camera with the addition of a special Mask Set that mounts the camera end of the fiber optic cable and “masks” the onboard flash from lighting particulate in the water. Take my advice and pick one up. No strobe, no color!

Diving with the DX-2G
Diving with the DX-2G is easy. The camera is relatively small and light weight. By itself it is buoyant so Sea and Sea created the Balance Weight 150 to offset the positive buoyancy. The camera without a strobe or supplemental lens works best zoomed to about 50mm with it’s own flash in Auto flash mode at ISO 200 for fish pictures. It has good, even flash coverage with the onboard flash from 2-3 feet. Zoomed out at 24mm it really needs the YS-110A to restore underwater colors as the small onboard flash just can’t quite cover the wide angle properly and tends to look like a spot beam. Zoomed all the way in the flash coverage is good at the standard close focus of 30cm (12 inches) and farther away. Sea and Sea also makes a special Macro Diffuser accessory that easily attaches to the front of the housing evening out the onboard flash and eliminating the shadow caused when close up in macro mode where the flash is physically blocked by the housings lens barrel. About the only place the DX-2G’s onboard flash really won’t work is with the Wide Angle Conversion Lens in place because it is large and actually blocks the flash. Other than that it’s pretty effective at close distances of 1-2 feet with the lens set at medium to longer focal lengths.

Using the DX-2G and the Wide Angle Conversion Lens and YS-110A
Using the wide Angle Conversion lens with the YS-110A is easy. Set the strobes Mode Dial to TTL, set full power on the Light Level Control Dial, and Slave Switch on. Zoom the lens all the way out (wide). Set the cameras ISO to 200, the camera into M for manual mode, the f-stop to around f5.7 for a 3-4’ shot. Make sure the cameras onboard flash is on. Point the camera toward the subject and then up higher above into the lighter water column above the subject. Look at the light meter on the LCD screen and rotate the shutter speed dial to center between + at the top and – on the bottom to get proper exposure. The cameras meter seems pretty accurate and renders nice even blue water backgrounds. Short of all that the easy way to go is to set ISO 200, set the cameras mode dial to A for Aperture Priority and set f 5.7. maintain a 3-4 distance and just aim, frame and fire! This works well to about 60’ depth with good sunlight when shooting horizontally.

Shooting in Macro Mode
Using the standard lens in macro mode either with or without the Close-up lens 125 and the YS-110 A strobe set the strobes Mode Dial to TTL, set 1/2 power on the Light Level Control Dial, and Slave Switch on. Zoom the lens all the way in (telephoto). Set the cameras ISO to 100. Set the shutter speed to anywhere between 1/125-1/250th second. Set the camera into M for manual mode and the aperture to f15 (you will only get f15 zoomed in to telephoto). Keep the strobe within 1-1.5’ of your subject and shoot. It sounds like a lot but once set it’s real easy!

Summary
The Sea and Sea DX-2G is a joy to dive with and shoot. It’s lens is sharp and offers the most used underwater focal lengths. It’s 12.1 mega pixel sensor allows for raw or Jpeg shooting and it’s ADJ dial allows the user easy access to all the most used camera adjustments on the fly without digging through menus and sub menus. It’s fun, easy to learn and use and offers several advanced features and accessories that any serious amateur underwater photographer will find useful. From beginner to advanced this camera can get you started easy like any Point & Shoot yet with it’s exceptional set of accessories offers a full Pro-like feature set for the advanced shooter and the ultimate in flexibility with the ability to change from Super Wide to Super Macro all in one dive. It’s small size is great for those that prefer not to carry large watertight camera luggage boxes on their dive vacation and through the ever-growing TSA lines at the airport. All in all the Sea and Sea DX-2G with the YS-110A and accessories is easily  one of the most versatile underwater Advanced Compact systems available. The entire package can even be purchased as a set with a custom Sea and Sea Pelican case small enough to meet most airline carry-on requirements.