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  • Giancarlo M.
    Giancarlo M.

    Using the EMWL Lens on a Blackwater Dive



    Thanks to Pietro Cremone, the Italian distributor of Nauticam, I had the opportunity to try out this interesting lens on a recent trip to Anilao for blackwater dives.


    Blackwater diving is a form of night diving that involves exploring open waters off oceanic coasts. Unlike traditional night dives, which take place near the shore or in shallow waters, blackwater dives occur in deep waters, typically offshore over deep ocean floors. During these dives, divers immerse themselves in dark waters, often with depths exceeding 100 meters. A bright buoy connected to a variable-length line (20-30 meters) is placed in the water, to which very powerful torches will be attached.


    The lights are used to attract plankton and marine creatures to the surface, offering divers the opportunity to observe these unique creatures up close and appreciate their beauty in a completely different environment. Additionally, the lights serve as an optical reference for divers as they drift with the currents alongside the buoy and line.


    Blackwater diving can be an extraordinarily fascinating experience, but it requires adequate preparation and some experience with night diving. Divers must have excellent buoyancy control and perfect self-management skills, including with their photographic equipment.


    In recent years, these dives have become very popular, especially among underwater photographers, who can capture stunning images of animals that normally inhabit oceanic depths and, thanks to currents and the upwelling phenomenon, ascend towards the surface. Among these creatures, one can find zooplankton, larval stages of many fish species, mollusks, shrimp, etc., and even rare encounters with Paper Nautilus or the Blanket Octopus.

    Locations for this type of diving are scattered around the world, and the most famous ones with dive centers with greater experience can be found in: Anilao in the Philippines, Hawaii in the USA, Palm Beach in the USA, Lembeh in Indonesia, and Cozumel in Mexico.


    For photographic equipment, it is recommended to use a macro lens with a 1:1 ratio and a good field of view (ideally 50 or 60 mm equivalent full frame), with good AF speed, two strobes, and a focus torch positioned on the housing to assist the AF system of the camera body, and a narrow-beam torch for searching subjects, which can also be positioned on the housing or held by hand.

    For photographers using Nikon or Olympus, they are fortunate to have two excellent lenses available: the Nikon AF-S 60mm f/2.8 G ED Micro and the Olympus M.Zuiko Digital ED 30mm f/3.5 Macro, which are perfect for Blackwater photography.

    However, for Canon and Sony photographers, it is unfortunately more complex because the available optics have very slow AF (Sigma 70mm f/2.8 DG Macro Art and Sony FE 50mm f/2.8 Macro), and in Blackwater, it can be frustrating to try to focus as we really have to seize the moment: subjects are free in the water and besides drifting, they move constantly, making it much more difficult to capture correctly.

    Using more performing lenses like Sony FE 90mm f/2.8 Macro or Canon 100mm f/2.8 L Macro unfortunately becomes more complex, even though they have a good AF speed, due to the narrow field of view.


    An interesting solution to solve this problem is provided by Nauticam. In recent years, Nauticam has been investing heavily in "wet" optics, such as the WWL and WACP-C series, to name a few. In 2020, Nauticam launched a new system of wet optics on the international market, the EMWL series (Extended Macro Wide Lens).

    The EMWL is designed to work with various macro lenses and is optimized for both photos and videos. It is a "wet" mount design so that the lens can be attached and removed underwater. This increases the versatility of the entire system. EMWL is a modular system composed of three main parts: the focusing unit, the relay module, and the lens. Plus, an accessory for quick mounting. On the Nauticam website, you can find a detailed description of its features and the modules that compose it


    Being a Canon user, I have strong limitations on the lenses to use in BW, and I thought this lens could help solve them.

    The setup I used is as follows: Canon R7, Canon EF-S 60 macro, Nauticam NA-R7 housing, N100 flat port 74, Reverse Angled Viewfinder 32º, EMWL Focusing Unit #1, and 60° objective lenses.


    Pre-Dive Considerations


    It is important to note that the EMWL is a lens designed for underwater use and must be immersed in water to function properly. When testing the flash before the dive, it is necessary to get very close to the object, about 1 cm, to make the camera's autofocus work. If you photograph in the air, the autofocus will not focus on anything; immersion of the lens in water is essential. However, at a distance of 1 cm from the lens, autofocus works and allows testing the flash dry.


    The EMWL is composed of heavy optics. On the Nauticam website, you will find tables for each part of the EMWL. In my specific configuration, the Focusing Unit weighs 728g, the Objective Lens 60° 378g, the Reverse Viewfinder 700g, and the M77 to BM II 122g, for a total of 1,928 grams to add to the normal configuration without a 45° Viewfinder. In my case, I use the normal 45° Viewfinder and should subtract the weight of mine, which is about 480g. So, compared to my base configuration, I add a weight, out of the water, of 1448g. I emphasize this point because on my first dive, I didn't worry at all about the additional weight, but using the camera with this extra weight was a bit more complicated in normal BW use. I recommend neutralizing this additional weight as much as possible with floats or floating arms.


    In-Water Use


    With a 60° field of view, framing subjects becomes significantly easier, which is definitely the strong point of this system. This allowed me to quickly and better frame the subject through the Viewfinder. Locating and focusing on the subject was significantly simpler with this lens, allowing me to track it and get as close as possible.


    The autofocus was not affected by the additional lenses of the Nauticam EMWL system. The focusing systems, single-point AF or AF tracking, worked perfectly. I did not notice any differences compared to normal use. I only experienced a worsening when using the red color of the focus lights. With subjects more sensitive to white light, such as Squid or Paper Nautilus, I usually use only the red color of the focus lights. However, with the EMWL, changing the color of just one focus light from red to blue or white, the autofocus work perfectly again.


    The Objective Lens 60° has the ability to adjust the minimum focusing distance in 3 modes; surely the 55mm-infinity adjustment is preferable for blackwater photography. Searching for the minimum focusing distance, especially for smaller subjects, framing becomes more complicated, but I noticed a greater magnification of the subject. Comparing notes with Pietro, he confirmed that the 60° lens can achieve a magnification of 4x at the CFD, and this is another advantage of this system. Obviously, for smaller subjects, it is always more difficult to get a good shot, but with this lens, we could photograph other subjects that we normally give up on because they are too complex or have obtained poor results due to the 1:1 ratio of the lenses used up to now.


    Another impression I had is that the lens provides a greater depth of field. Reviewing the shots taken of a male Paper Nautilus attached to a tunicate, I noticed that a good part of the tunicate and the Paper Nautilus were well in focus. However, I did not have many similar shots during this test session.

    The only "negative" feedback I can provide from my experience using it in blackwater is that occasionally, on slightly overexposed shots and with highly reflective subjects, the lens produces a white halo around the subject. In the shots taken, the number of files with this issue was negligible, but I felt it was important to mention it.


    Final Thoughts


    I was thrilled to use this system, and I would like to thank once again the Italian distributor of Nauticam (Fotosub-shop.it - Pietro Cremone) for giving me the opportunity to test it in black water. Certainly, this system requires various trials in the water by the user, but once the right balance is found, it can provide incredible images of both typical subjects in blackwater and smaller subjects. The cost of the complete configuration may not be within everyone's reach, but as we know, our hobby is expensive, and we do enjoy expensive toys. If you have the opportunity to purchase it, you could overcome the limitations we have with the lenses used in blackwater. If I have the chance to try it again, I would like to use the 100° lens for larger subjects, such as a Blanket Octopus (if they are easy to find), a beautiful female Paper Nautilus, or a large jellyfish; it could be very interesting, considering also that changing lenses can be done underwater, being very careful not to let it slip, though... I will keep you updated.



    Hydrozoan Jellyfish Hydrozoan Jellyfish - 1/320 F14 ISO 320



    Tube anemone larva Tube anemone larva - 1/320 F14 ISO 320



    Flounder larva Flounder larva - 1/250 F16 ISO 320


    Mantis shrimp larva Mantis shrimp larva - 1/250 F16 ISO 320


    Crab larva Crab larva - 1/250 F16 ISO 320


    Unidentified Unidentified - 1/250 F16 ISO 320


    Juvenile benthic octopod on a salp Juvenile benthic octopod on a salp - 1/250 F20 ISO 320


    Juvenile benthic octopod on a salp Juvenile benthic octopod on salp - 1/250 F22 ISO 320


    Seahorse, Hippocampus sp. Seahorse, Hippocampus sp. - 1/250 F18 ISO 320


    Dotterel Filefish Dotterel Filefish - 1/250 F20 ISO 320 


    Veliger larva Veliger larva - 1/250 F16 ISO 320


    Shrimp larva Shrimp larva - 1/250 F16 ISO 320


    Mantis shrimp Larva Mantis shrimp Larva - 1/250 F18 ISO 320


    Fish larva Fish larva - 1/250 F16 ISO 320



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