Backscatter's Pro Team Member, Jason Bradley, gives his impressions of the performance of the Nauticam DA-800 housing in a recent expedition to photograph whale sharks.Nikon,underwater,housing,camera,review,experiences,testing

Crop Sensor or Full Frame for Underwater Photography - A Review of the Nikon D800E in a Nauticam Housing

By: Jason Bradley Backscatter's Pro Team Member, Jason Bradley, a crop sensor shooter,see the benefits of shooting full frame. "Ultimately, any reservations I had about moving up to a full frame camera for underwater work are gone." Thus far, my underwater cameras of choice have been the Nikon D7000 and Nikon D7100. They perform just fine in low light and capture a great picture, and I've been happy shooting my cropped sensors for a few reasons. Reason one is my Tokina 10-17 mm lens; as many of you may know, the 10-17 is a GREAT lens for wide-angle underwater work. I've also enjoyed the extra depth of field inherent with cropped sensors. They aren't the fastest SLR's Nikon offers, not by a long shot, but they are just fine for what I do. Needless to say, there is the consideration of whether or not moving to a full frame camera, and another housing, is worth the expense. The problem for me is the D800E. I've actually owned this camera for a while now, and the image quality is so much better with this camera, that "just fine" isn't cutting it any more. he D800E replaced my D700 and I've been using it for landscapes and terrestrial wildlife, and am continually impressed with its capture quality. The D800E offers a significant increase in detail, a richer color palette, better low-light performance, and a surprising bump in dynamic range from my other Nikons, whether compared to cropped or full frame sensors. And yes, I am aware that the NikonD810 was recently released and housings are on the way for this camera—even better! Either way, I've been impressed enough with this camera that I've been considering leaving my cropped sensor underwater universe; but I needed to test it first. Luckily, I live a few blocks from Backscatter in Monterey, CA, and was able to get my hands on a Nauticam D800 housing before heading to Mexico to lead Wetpixel.com's annual Whale Shark Expedition in Isla Mujeres, this last August. In short, I'm sold. Instead of using a Tokina 10-17 mm, I used the Nikkor 16mm fisheye lens on the whale sharks. Admittedly, shooting these animals in Mexico doesn't provide enough variation in subject matter to determine if how much I'll miss my Tokina, but it doesn't matter. The detail and dynamic range are just as impressive with this camera underwater as it is above. Duh! Whatever mental block I had, it was shattered as I began playing with these files. Below is an image with a window showing a 1:1 view of some of the detail. Beautiful! But there's something else I figured out in Mexico, and it wasn't something I was putting much thought into before the trip. I was impressed with the Nauticam D800 housing. I've been playing with underwater cameras and housings for close to 15 years now and have seen many toys come and go from the market over the years. But, being as content as I've been in my cropped sensor universe, I've never taken a dip with Nauticam gear. I'm glad I did, because the housing was solid. It's just well engineered. The buttons are where they need to be, they feel like buttons should feel, the camera goes in and out of the housing well, the latches on the back of the housing are great, and the port lock is easily the best I've seen from any housing manufacturer. Ultimately, any reservations I had about moving up to a full frame camera for underwater work are gone, and I've found a great new housing to work with. Of course, I'll be testing the NikonD810 now along with the Nauticam D810 housing, sigh! Either way, if you've been having a similar conversation about whether or not it's worth it, I now believe many full frame cameras have evolved enough, that it is worth the extra expense. Or at least, they are worth an extra look. Moreover, I suspect this is the case not only with Nikon gear, but with some of Canon's high-end full frame SLR's too. Naturally, if you are thick headed like me, you can try the gear first. Rent it. Ask Backscatter if they have rental gear for your target camera and system. Ask a Backscatter salesperson fordetails. Remember, better captures make better prints. Thanks Backscatter! Jason Bradley


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