Camera Upgrade – RX100
After shooting with a TG-4 for the last two years I decided to upgrade to a Sony RX100. The TG-4 has two weaknesses, a very small sensor and no fully manual mode. The small sensor can limit the image quality, but in excellent visibility and with great subject proximity the image quality is quite good. But in low light conditions on deeper dives or in lower visibility the reduction in image quality is much more apparent. The lack of manual control, particularly shutter speed, further exacerbates low light shooting. Because the majority of my diving is local diving and my local diving isn’t shallow (70-80 feet for the best sites) with only 20-40 feet of visibility I felt my underwater photography would stagnate without upgrading to a camera with better manual control.
The Olympus tough series cameras are versatile underwater cameras and for the majority of underwater photographers they are probably great cameras to build a rig around. Having never done any photography above water, starting with a TG-4 provided an excellent platform for learning not only the specifics of underwater photography but also the general principles of photography. These cameras are especially great for snorkeling and I plan to keep my TG-4 for that purpose.
Once I was ready to upgrade I looked at a few potential cameras and opted to get an RX100 mark 2. The image quality difference between the mark 2 and the RX100 mark 5 as rated by dxoMark was insignificant. But the mark 2 was only 60% the price of the latest RX100 version. Also, the 28-100mm lens of the mark 2 is more versatile for underwater photography and works with my current wide-angle lens, a UWL-04, whereas the 24-70mm lens of the mark 5 would require a different WAL and would not perform as well for macro shooting. The biggest advantages of the mark 5 are the video capability and the improved auto focus performance. I don’t take video so the video improvements weren’t a factor but the auto focus upgrade would have been nice to have. After deciding on the mark2 I had to find both the camera and nauticam housing which took a little digging since they are 3-4 years old. Luckily, BlueWater Photo had the housing in stock and was able to get the camera very quickly so both arrived in less than a week.
I was able to get in a checkout dive with my new camera almost immediately. I did a shallow shore dive with a maximum depth of 15 feet so I was able to spend 80 minutes familiarizing myself with the rx100 and the nauticam housing. The visibility was pretty poor which was a great test of the larger sensor of the RX100. My first impressions are positive and I’m excited about the capabilities the RX100 provides. There will be a slight learning curve regarding the focus distance difference between the TG-4 and the RX100. The TG-4 out of the box is a macro machine, capable of incredibly close focus of 1 cm whether wide or zoomed. The focus distance of the RX100, particularly if you zoom, approaches a foot. While this might not seem like much of a difference, when you are accustom to getting within inches of most subjects it is very apparent. I didn’t spend a lot of the dive trying but most of my attempts at shooting blenny in the 1 inch size range had poor results. With practice and familiarization this should improve though. The image quality of this camera is clearly superior to the TG-4. On intermediate sized subjects, like the plentiful gray snapper I encountered during the dive, the detail and sharpness despite poor visibility was superb. Also, I was able to shoot a few ambient shots of a turtle and even though I was shooting through at least five feet of low visibility water (~10 ft) the picture came out pretty good. This shot probably would not have been possible with the TG-4. The best example of the image quality improvement of the RX100 over the TG-4 comes from a pretty bad shot I took of a blenny. I stayed back to make sure I had good focus. The blenny was facing away and only took up a fraction of the field of view but even with extreme cropping the detail and sharpness of the back of the blenny’s head was still serviceable.
I’m eager for the opportunity to put my UWL-04 on and shoot some wide shots to further see the difference in capability of the large sensor of the RX100. But my initial impressions are very positive and I’m excited about the potential of this camera and my continued underwater photography progression.