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Strobe Review

Strobe Review – Handling Underwater With Various Lenses and Flashes

After I have written a lengthy preview of all the features of the ND 7000 housing a lot of people have asked me to write a follow up regarding practical issues and the most important question: How is the handling underwater?

In order to do that properly I wanted to include as many details as possible regarding different equipment, especially flashes which I never can get enough of. In the first part of the review I have also written about the lenses I use and why I do so.

My setup for the review consists of the following items:

Nikon D7000 with Tokina 10-17mm/3.5-4.5 fisheye for wrecks, Sigma 8-16mm/4.5-5.6 rectilinear for wideangle applications, and a Micro Nikkor 105mm/2.8 for macro photography.

For underwater work there is a: Subal ND7000 with angled viewfinder WS45, a 9” domeport with an 18mm extension for the Tokina and a 45mm extension for the Sigma, a macroport with manual focusing for the Nikkor.

In order to write something new and unique I wanted to include as many different large scale strobes as possible so I can compare and evaluate them. The review includes some vintage strobes that are not produced anymore, but are perfectly useable and adaptable, as well as new strobes:

1. Seacam Miniflash housing for Nikon SB-26 that after some modifications works with Nikon SB-800, too. A design from the early 90s that is still useful today.

2. Seacam Seaflash 350 with the electronics of the Subtronic Mega Color, a large and bulky, but powerful workhorse from the late 90s.

3. Seacam Seaflash 250 from 2005, a very versatile flash with one serious flaw.

4. Sea & Sea YS-250, a fast and lightweight strobe with optical non TTL connections

5. Subtronic Pro 270, powerful and small with innovative features.

6. Subtronic Fusion, a small 160 Ws flash that also doubles as a video light.

7. Subtronic Pro 160, even smaller.

Regarding connections I have different cables in different lengths and different adapters. I work with the reliable S6 connection (a joint development of Subtronic and Seacam from the 90s), but also do use standard Nikonos 5. With the advancement in strobe technology I have tried optical cables and a new adapter called Subtronic Optocontrol, a small device that let’s you connect optical cables with electrical connectors in either S6 or N5.

The Handling

New equipment brings new problems. If you want to relax on your holiday and just do photography never ever review anything new that you’re not familiar with.

After some trial and error sessions I came up with an approach that seemed ideal to me: Subal has downsized its flash hotshoe connector inside the housing, so you can popup the flash and still connect the hotshoe. This means that you don’t have to open the housing and readjust in order to change from optical to electrical connection and vice versa. It is possible to connect strobes electrically and you can use optical strobes as well, even simultaneously. That is a great advancement and enhances underwater TTL capability to new levels. It also seems possible to do independent TTL correction for two optically connected strobes.

Please bear in mind that it took me a lot work to figure this out, so don’t be disappointed if it won’t work for the first time, with the Subal ND7000 it is definitely possible to fire electrical and optical flashes simultaneously (update: this was due to a firmware error in the Nikon D7000, usually the camera switches the hotshoe off when the pop up flash is activated).

In order to show you the performance of the strobes as accurate as possible I decided to do no post-processing, all pictures are straight out of the camera JPGs.

Underwater with the Sigma 8-16, Seacam Seaflash 350 and 250

On the second day of my trip we were bound to a wall where you can find red sea fans at a depth of 45m. Since I wanted to try out my new Sigma lens I didn’t bother with some new and exotic flash setups and chose the trustworthy Seaflash 350/Subtronic Mega Color combined with the newer Seaflash 250 from Seacam.

The Sigma 8-16 is the widest rectilinear lens currently available for the DX format. It has a whopping 114,5° field of view. For underwater work this means that it is very difficult to house and large domes are a must. After a lot of research work and trying out various domes I have chosen Subal’s new 9” dome that is coated inside for superior light transmission and anti-reflective capabilities, as well as sealed outside for additional optical enhancement and to make it scratch resistant. I have also tried different extension rings and stuck with the 45 mm.

On the left (from your point of view) the unrivalled Seacam 350/Subtronic Mega Color, the other strobe being the versatile Seacam 250 – notice the dual flashbulbs for switchable color temperature on both strobes (a little hard to see)

The Seaflash 350 is a 3 kg dinosaur dated from the late 90s, but with some features that aren’t available today. It has a powerful 350 Wattseconds that equals to a guide number of 30 in air or 11 underwater (praxis value). A most sought after feature is the switchable color temperature of 5500°K for macro or wideangle closeup and 4300°K for normal wideangle or wrecks. This is enabled by dual flashbulbs. It shows the battery capacity constantly and has dual connections, either world standard N5 or superior S6. Apart from a dimmable halogen focus light it even features a needless laser pointer as well as a useful optical sensor for wireless triggering. The Seaflash 350 – which electronics are from Subtronic in a nice Seacam housing – is also very fast: 2,5 seconds for flash recycle at full load, and that at a 350 Ws. Still the most powerful flash today (the only contender being the Hartenberger 625 with a guide number of 32,7 in air). Apart from its sheer size (it’s neutral underwater) and the circumstance that it can’t do digital TTL it is still my favorite.

A few years later – in 2005 – Seacam tried to incorporate most of the features of the 350 in a smaller housing and adapt it to the modern digital world. The 250 Ws that equal a guide number of 9,5 underwater (praxis value) featured a programmable eprom (not a converter that translates dTTL signals to analogue TTL) for digital TTL that also enabled 2nd curtain sync on digital camera. It has a dimmable LED focus light that can be triggered by the AF button of the camera, dual flash bulbs for switchable color temperature – 5500°K and 4300°K and an optical sensor for wireless operation. Another great feature is a dimmable display that shows battery capacity and flash power level. But it has only one strobe connection and is so slow that it is almost unusable for critical applications. The flash recycle time on full power is 5 seconds with NiCd batteries or 6 seconds with Ni-MH. This means that when doing model photography at depth you will certainly miss shots, the same with fast moving fish or working at strong currents on wrecks. Seacam discontinued this model and now sells a smaller 150 without switchable color temperature – but a removable battery pack – for the same price. The recycle time has improved a little bit with 2 seconds for half the power of the 250.

Another problem that Subal has solved with the ND7000 is the connection of different strobes in parallel mode (one strobe connected to each side of the housing without the need for splitter cables or Y-connectors). This has been achieved with the use of a LED-uncoupled strobe board inside the housing. This is a very important feature since different strobes have different resistance in circuits which mostly are not compatible in parallel mode (update: the Subal strobe board works unreliably).

No reflection due to the inside-outside coated 9” dome

After preparing the setup and instructing my dive buddy we descended at a wall down to 45 m and stayed there for some 10 min. I focused on the red sea fans with my model swimming some 3-5 m away. The session was very nice and relaxing. All the preparation, research and mind work of the previous days suddenly paid off. It is one of these moments where you forget anything else and are completely focused on the moment. When we were ascending some caves turned up that were interesting to examine. At the boat I immediately checked the pictures and was astonished. The Sigma at 8 mm (12mm on FX) provides a very wide field of view that is an extremely good alternative for fisheye without producing artificial looking curved objects at close distances. Very nice! The 9” dome produced no single reflection though I was constantly photographing into the sun. And – what is best – I didn’t even notice my camera housing while operating it at depth. Every control of the Subal ND 7000 was exactly at the same place where I would find it on the camera or placed somewhere near my fingers. Due to the small size of the housing I could vary the focusing points with ease according to my needs and set the focus exactly where I wanted to. This produced sea fan closeups with extremely sharp corners at f11. I hope that you can comprehend what this means for me since years of research have been gone into getting exactly the technical possibility that provides something like this.

Have a look at the right lower corner: it’s sharp! The Jpegs were left untouched, sorry for the backscatter. This is just to demonstrate the optical capabilities of the Sigma at 8mm and the Subal 9” dome. Focus point was on the right yellow sponge

A new way: Nikkor 105, Subtronic Pro 270 and Sea & Sea YS-250, triggered optically

On another day the afternoon dive was at a place where there are a lot of fish schools around a rock that goes down to 45 m. I had chosen my macro setup which made me do just a few pictures. It didn’t matter since I wanted to try out something new and that was the possibility to optically trigger flashes and check if the TTL is working or not. While the YS-250 has a proprietary optical connection the Pro 270 has not. But the electronic wizards of Subtronic have provided me with an adapter called Optocontrol that is a bridge between optical and electrical connectors, and after some testing and trial and error it performed flawlessly.

 

Very well suited for TTL: Subtronic Pro 270. Notice the versatile triple clamp from Ultralight on the Sea & Sea

The Subtronic Pro 270 is the most powerful strobe of this traditional German manufacturer. Subtronic has changed its ownership some 2 years ago and the new owner – Mr. Markus Moll – has provided the industry with some new and innovative features. For example the flash with its 270 Wattseconds and an underwater guide number of roughly 10 (praxis value) weighs barely 1,2 kg, in size it’s some 20 x 10 cm. That’s a record. Although a smaller battery (1,3 Ah) can be accommodated in the strobe itself, Subtronic offers a larger battery pack (2,4 Ah) in a flash arm that is connected via a short cable and is good for 200 flashes at full power – a very good value. The pack has modern Lithium Mangan batteries and Subtronic is the only strobe manufacturer offering these modern, powerful, small and save rechargeable batteries. Though at the beginning I was skeptical about including batteries in the flash arm it certainly has its’ advantages. The whole setup is easier to rotate underwater, the battery can be removed instantly or replaced by another one and is still offering perfect safeness when recharging or using the flash. There aren’t any risks of leaking. Another advantage is that you get a 30 cm flash arm for free. It is powerful and fast with some 2,2 seconds recycle time at 270 Ws full power. It provides N5 and S6 connections as well as a dimmable LED focusing light and even features a TTL correction on the flash itself. But this works only with a digital TTL converter that can be accommodated in the strobe or in a cable or in a splitter cable where you can control and correct independently two TTL strobes simultaneously. Actually the only two things I’m missing are a built in optical slave sensor (but the Optocontrol or a dedicated outboard slave sensor can do this either) and a switchable color temperature which unfortunately seems to be a relic of the past. But you can order the Pro 270 Ws with either 4500°K or 5500°K flash bulb. With the Optocontrol the Pro 270 is TTL capable via optical triggering and even the flash exposure control of the camera works. Brave New Flash World!

The Sea & Sea YS-250 is a different kind of beast. First of all it’s very fast, a whopping 1,8 seconds at 250 Ws full power which equals an uw-guide number of 9,5 (praxis value). It’s also lightweight at 1,8 kg. The color temperature is 5600°K, but a diffuser is provided that softens the light and makes it 5200°K and according to the manufacturer also widens the beam to a similar value as the Subtronic. The YS-250 has three optical connections – two for slave and one for main flash where you can route to another slave flash. Very nice! It also features a NiMH battery that is good for 160 flashes and a non-dimmable LED focus light. The Sea & Sea would be the perfect flash but it has one serious flaw. The optical connections do not work in TTL mode. In order to get that you need to buy an outboard converter and connect electrically via Sea & Sea’s proprietary cables that are not compatible with Nikonos 5 standard – a real pity. This would have eased many things. Though the strobe comes quite cheap at 1.200 €, the converter is another 500 € and if you add cables it costs the same or more as the Subtronic that is more versatile and has a higher battery capacity. We can only hope that the successor will have optical TTL capability that would make a very good flash perfect. Strangely, the smaller Sea & Sea strobes like the YS-110 and YS-01 do feature optical TTL capability. Another annoyance on the YS-250 are the small dials. While I could use them with bare hands it wasn’t possible with gloves. Cold water divers beware!

For the dive I connected the Subtronic via Optocontrol and cable with the optical connectors of the ND 7000, the Sea & Sea was also connected optically and set in manual mode at quarter power. I descended to 40 m to find a small grouper sitting on a yellow sponge. This made an interesting motive for trying out the TTL capability of the Subtronic – and it worked as expected. Even the flash exposure correction on the camera was working. Very nice! But be careful! Optical connections are not as reliable as electrical S6. Once connected, the electrical connection – if it’s not damaged – will always fire. With optical ones you need to test it before every dive in advance and sometimes it won’t work at all, for example if the connector has been moved a little bit due to carelessness during the dive, or a rock or a hand or whatever (this can be fixed instantly, but requires some cautiousness during photography). Another downside is the color temperature of the Subtronic that is 4500°K which is perfect for wide-angle but for macro needs some tweaking in post processing in order to get color accurate results. While this certainly is not a problem on 40 m or a night dive you have to accept that if you want macro closeups with blue backgrounds, the shifting of the color temperature will affect your blue and make it a little duller.

Due to the warmer color temperature of the Subtronic Pro 270 the bright yellow sponge appears to be dark yellow orange like (no postprocessing done)

This is no drawback of the optical connection itself that certainly has some potential and will improve by time. Optical cables have the potential advantage of full and independent TTL or manual control via camera (with built in flash) for two or more strobes, can trigger flash at 2nd curtain sync with ease, something that older (electrically connected) flashes can’t. They are smaller in size, cheaper and nothing can break. You can attach, readjust or remove them underwater (a few years ago you had to pay a small fortune for electrical wet connections and now it’s for free). They also eliminate potential electrical problems of parallel connected flashes that are not compatible due to different resistances in the electrical circuit (older Subtronics with modern ones or different modern models, but also strobes from other manufacturers). However with Subal’s new flashboard in the housing of the ND7000 this certainly poses no problem.

As far as I’m informed there are currently three standards of optical connection: Inon, Sea & Sea/Olympus and Nauticam. Vice versa with electrical connections there are four: N(ikonos) 5 pin, S(ubtronic) 6 pin, Sea & Sea 5 pin and Ikelite 5 pin (in an S6 like arrangement). Apart from that some exotic, expensive and professional grade electrical wet connections exist, for example the W6 from Subaqua Imaging Systems. The problem with this array of different connectors is that either you’re stuck with one system or need plenty of different cables and adapters in order to compare or review them.

The future will show which way will work better. By now electrical connections – though complicated and bulky – are still leading regarding reliability and do work with cameras without a built in flash.

Reliable, accurate and fast: Nikkor 105, SB-800 in Miniflash housing with S6 connection, Sea & Sea YS-250 via optical connection

For the very interesting night dive I wanted to try out something trustworthy combined with a new flash. 10 years ago I have bought something that still seems to me the ultimate flash housing. By then it was already outdated, but not for me. Actually it was an engineering masterpiece at the beginning of Seacam’s steep career in the 90s: A full equipped aluminium housing for Nikon flashes.

Ideal for macro: Seacam Miniflash with Nikon SB-800 and Sea & Sea, both have cool color temperature of 5600°K. One is S6 connected, the other wirelessly

The Miniflash features a lacquered housing with four controls for Nikon flashes SB-24/25/26. That was more than you ever needed, since I only needed two of them: On/Off and M/TTL. It has a window for the display and one for the ready signal which is quite nice. There is even an acoustic leak alarm that I needed once. It is equipped with a reliable S6 connection and – this is still a game changer – it has a built in battery pack with a non-dimmable halogen focus light that is great during night dives. But the best feature is that it has a power cable from Quantum so you can connect the strobe to the battery pack of the housing. This means much improved flash capacity and faster recycle time. Since the housing is for the SB-26 it can either accommodate the smaller SB-800 which is perfect for digital TTL macro photography. I had one control refitted so I can switch the SB-800 On/Off during the dive and the power cable improved the flash recycle time from 3,5 seconds to 2,5 seconds which is more than enough for macro and using an additional flash. The Nikon flashes have an underwater guide number of 5.6 (praxis value). I also did a refit of the housing’s battery pack and switched from NiCd to NiMH batteries that gave me a capacity increase for more than 40%. While the Miniflash was connected to the camera housing via traditional electric cable, a second strobewas used in manual mode at quarter power triggered via optical connection: the Sea & Sea YS-250.

a poisonous weever, the cool color temperature of the strobes gave color accurate results, the Nikon flash TTL worked impeccably (no postprocessing done)

The results were remarkable and astonished me. During the night dive I had the chance to find all sorts of amazing critters and take as many pictures as I wanted without having to worry about battery capacity or flash recycle time. I shot well over 100 pictures with the halogen focus light turned on for about 30 minutes. Still the battery had enough capacity to provide me with even more. The Miniflash with SB-800 and the YS-250 recycled faster than I could shoot, I didn’t miss one single shot! Since both flashes have a color temperature of 5600°K the color accuracy was as perfect as the TTL metering. The Subal ND-7000 housing worked flawlessly allowing me to switch focus modes, change focus points or adjust flash exposure without having to look away from the viewfinder. The small size of the housing and the angled viewfinder made working on a flat sandbed an ease. Due to the focus light the AF immediately snapped everything sharp that I wanted. All that mattered was my creativity and the motive itself. The performance of the whole setup has impressed me so much that I will use it again and again till something better shows up – maybe dual TTL – though I’m not sure if the flash exposure can be further improved.

A hard to spot, fat and ugly stargazer. One of my favorite fishes

Large scale strobe setup for wrecks: Tokina 10-17, three strobes on a 10 m cable, and two on the camera

After the macro setup on the night dive has been proved such a success I wanted to dig further and try out something I never did before. I had experimented with two strong strobes coupled together wirelessly and one of them connected to a 10 m cable. They were held by an assistant diver who – from a distance of 2-3 meters – illuminated wrecks while I was photographing from another point of view. The ability to do that with a coupled power of mind blowing 600 Wattseconds opened new possibilities to do wreck photography. The only thing missing were two strobes to illuminate the foreground when applicable.

The wreck of Vassilios on the beautiful Croatian island of Vis. One of my earlier shots to show you the possibility of unchained flash photography: Subal ND3, 10” dome, Seacam 350 and 250 coupled together and held by an assistant diver

Equipped with an armada of 7 strobes for the review I had the chance to experiment with 5 of them: 2 on the camera and 3 on a long cable that was held by an assistant diver. The three strobes on the cable were Subtronic Pro 270, Seaflash 350 and Sea & Sea 250. And the two on the camera were Subtronic Pro 160 and the very special Subtronic Fusion.

The Subtronic Fusion is a very small strobe with 70mm x 180mm and it barely weighs 1 kg grams. The flash arm doubles as a battery pack with modern high capacity Li-Mn batteries. It has only one flash connection that can be equipped with either N5 or S6. The flash bulb is usually 4500°K color temperature but can be ordered with 5500°K. With an installed or an outboard converter the flash can do TTL. But the best feature is that the Fusion works as a 21 Watt LED video lamp which is quite remarkable when you consider the size. Actually you get a ready equipped flash with 160 Wattseconds that equal an underwater guide number of 8 (praxis value, on air it’s 25) and a video light that can be used for some applications and is very travel friendly. Due to the size the dials are quite small (but larger than on the Sea & Sea), so with gloves on the operation can be quite tricky.

The Subtronic Pro 160 has the same features as the Fusion without the video light. Instead it uses a standard LED focus light. It is Subtronic’s bread and butter flash since it is more than enough for most applications. 160 Ws means underwater guide number of 8 (praxis value, on air it’s 25) while most people are satisfied with 5,6 (eg. Nikon housed flashes, Inons, Sea & Sea YS-110, etc.). The weight is a record holding 750g.

Unfortunately the dive itself didn’t turn out as expected. There was strong current and the water got quite cold. Even worse, my dive buddy did this for the first time and wasn’t experienced in model photography. I had twin tanks and stayed for 30 min on 30 m what made me do a deco of 25 minutes. The Sea & Sea strobe didn’t fire at all since I wasn’t provided with a manual and I had a wrong slave setting (as I learned later). Still the pictures weren’t bad and demonstrated the potential capability of this setup. I tried to repeat the dive but due to weather restrictions this wasn’t possible anymore. I certainly will work on that matter and provide the results at a later stage.

Another disappointment was the optical performance of the Tokina 10-17. That was interesting since I heard so many good things about it. Either I got a bad production model or the users of the Tokina prefer versatility over optical performance. I’ve already read that it’s not very sharp compared to primes but the resolution is inferior to the Sigma 8-16. The Sigma rectilinear is also sharper than the Tokina which is astonishing since the curvature of a fisheye should make it superior behind domes. I will investigate this matter further and plan on switching the Tokina with a Sigma 10mm prime fisheye.

Fish photography: Sigma 8-16, Subtronic Pro 270, wired optically

Ideal for fish photography: Subtronic Pro 270, wired optically, TTL controlled by camera flash

After been to Croatia, I went to an Austrian lake where there was an apnea photography championship. The lake is famous for its’ chars (a trout like fish) and some sturgeons. I wanted to try out how the equipment is performing on fast moving fish. I chose the Sigma because of its’ zoom capabilities, and took the Subtronic Pro 270 because of TTL capability with the Optocontrol and an optical cable. Again, nothing went wrong. The TTL worked as expected, I could do the flash exposure correction. The autofocus of the D7000 did its’ best to make the pictures as sharp as possible which wasn’t always possible. The Pro 270 strobe recycled as fast as expected and proved itself useable for the demanding work of capturing fast moving underwater animals. I can recommend this setup for the Sardine Run or sharks or dolphins or sailfishes or whatever is moving very fast through the water. You can add another Pro 270 if you want to for ultra wide angle illumination. A colleague of me used two Subtronic Pro 160s (with built in TTL converters, wired electrically via N5 connection) for the same application, so that’s another possibility.

 

The overall handling

By my opinion the best technical equipment is one that you forget about when you’re using it.

So, there is not much to say about the functionality of the ND-7000 underwater since it is so perfect that you won’t notice any problems at all. I had easy access to all camera functions and used most of them frequently. All performed flawlessly. In macro photography it was pure joy due to the small size, the easy switching of focus points or focus modes, or changing f-stops. The angled viewfinder is small and neat and works well. The macroport will work either with AF or manual focus, the more important knobs are large and can be operated with gloves on. I’m not sure if this is possible with the smaller ones like exposure mode and transport mode (which you don’t change often anyway). I tried it with gloves on and while the exposure mode should work the transport mode was quite tricky.

With wide angle the buoyancy depended on the setup with the flashes. For example the Subtronics should be used with neoprene hoods or the whole setup will become quite negative. When using the Seacams I noticed that the older and larger 350 was positively buoyant with the hood on (and neutral without) while the smaller 250 was neutral with the hood (and slightly negative without). I had to hold it a little more firmly when the strobes were on either side. However, when I put one on top and one on side it was straight and easy to hold. Due to flash arms all setups were a little negative. You can use floats and/or carbon arms if you want to equalize but you don’t have to. As I have written in the preview of the ND7000, larger housings like the ND3 perform better in buoyancy with large domes. Since the ND7000 is so small a large dome will try to float on top unless it is stabilized by a neutral flash or light or whatever on top of the camera. This is certainly more important for video and I will do a follow up on that matter as soon as the live view prism viewfinder from Subal becomes available.

Regarding strobe work there is no need to worry at all. As I have explained in the first part of my review the Subal has dual optical connections (Sea & Sea standard), there are third party accessoires that let you mount 2 optical connectors on one of the housing. That means that up to 4 strobes can be connected optically with the ND7000. Additionally, Subal is offering the possibility of up to 3 electrical connectors. Since the flash board inside the housing is LED-uncoupled any flash can be connected in parallel mode without any circuit incompatibilities to other flashes. Currently I have dual S6 connections but plan on adding a third N5 for reviewing purposes.

I have switched the standard Subal handles for ones from Ultralight and can confirm that they do have a better grip since they are thicker and rubberized. This has helped a lot. On air it is easier to carry heavy setups and underwater you won’t notice the grips at all since your hand is more relaxed. I have moved the left one as far away from the camera as possible in order to hold the camera more firmly due to leverage. On the right side I have made a compromise between a firm grip and the possibility to reach front and back controls. Everything worked very nice and I can recommend this setup without hesitation. Another advantage is that you get additional ball adapters that can work instead of the Subal base adapters or with them together for up to 4 flash or light arms. Please be advised that the brackets of the handles have to be modified by your local dive/photo shop since they are not aligned with newer style Subal housings.

I have also purchased Ultralight triple clamps for various reasons like mounting flashes and lamps simultaneously on one arm or for triple flash setups like my wreck setup mentioned before. They also do work for coupling 1” Sea & Sea ball adapters with 24 cm Seacam ones though it’s not perfect. You can couple Ultralight balls with o-rings with Seacam ones without. It is also possible to couple two 22 cm Subal balls together though I would recommend adding an o-ring on the balls for improved performance. Unfortunately it is very hard to couple a 22 cm Subal ball with a 24 cm Seacam or a 1” Sea & Sea and make it stable. There are other solutions on the market for that, like the Vario-Clamp from Mike Dive. But all Subtronic strobes do offer the possibility to screw another ball in, so you have to organize yourself in advance if you’re planning comparison reviews or if you’re planning to mix different systems.

Verdict

With the Subal ND7000 I can comfortably close the housing chapter since it is as good as housings can get and I don’t have to do research anymore on how to improve housings or domeports. I have owned a Seacam F100 and a Subal ND3 and both of them are way behind the ND7000. I like the customizable color option a lot. When you can decide which color you want for your housing you have a very sophisticated freedom of choice. It’s like buying a new car.

Regarding lenses I was impressed by the picture quality and corner sharpness of the Sigma 8-16 behind the 9” coated domeport. This is a clear winning combination: sharpness, much detail and resolution and a lot better than I had expected.

By comparison the Tokina 10-17 was a disappointment, lacking sharpness and resolution. That is quite strange, since there are so many people out there using it. I do understand that it is a very versatile lens and for most photographers the optical performance might be good enough.

I have also compared the shots with the D7000 to some of the D3. It seems that the DX format has an edge over FX in terms of depth of field and it might be correct that this extends to one f-stop. Another advantage of the DX format is that the focus points are more spread on the smaller format, so it’s easier to get perfect focus.

However, other factors do count as well. The much higher priced professional FX lenses are sharper than the ones for DX. More than that, the sensors of the cameras are different, too. Additionally I couldn’t compare like I would have wanted to since on the D3 I had a 10” dome while on the D7000 it was a 9”. But I will investigate this matter further since I consider it very fascinating.

Regarding strobes I prefer Subtronic over Sea & Sea since it is more versatile and compatible with other brands and has the connections I need. The Subtronic Pro 270 will be added to my usual lineup. It’s very small and powerful, has state of the art Li-Mn batteries without any memory effect, and the possibility of optical TTL metering with the Optocontrol sensor.

My setup has changed a lot in the way I was doing underwater photography. The housing’s very small and lightweight, features all the controls you need. It’s also useful for multiple flash photography. This is as good as underwater SLR photography can get by today’s standards.