M43 Underwater Photography Systems


Underwater Scene with 2 Divers and Yellow Fish

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For years now DSLRs have been the format of choice for underwater photography enthusiasts and professionals, but as the M43 mirrorless format has grown in popularity, so too has the range of options for underwater shooting.

Micro four-thirds offer some very small and economical packages which are very appealing for the amateur or hobbyist, as well as their top-end cameras and lenses.

These days, the number of possibilities for DSLRs is easily matched by the mirrorless world, and at a fraction of the cost. Here’s what you will need at a minimum to start filling your underwater portfolio with captivating underwater imagery. 

Mirrorless M43 Cameras 

The sensor size on an M43 format camera is larger than on compacts point and shoots, which are the cheapest way to get your feet wet, so to speak, in underwater photography.

The images of the M43 cameras possess a higher dynamic range and less noise – which is vital in the low-light conditions you will find underwater. 

Of course, the dynamic range and noise levels are somewhat improved when moving up to the full-frame cameras, but the bodies and lenses of the micro four-thirds systems are also much smaller than those of the DSLR underwater systems.

This smallness and lightness make them much easier to handle, not to mention, considerably cheaper. 

Naturally, any camera you choose for your M43 underwater photography system will need to have an accompanying UW housing available for it.

These are usually produced by third parties and are available from brands such as Nauticam, Ikelite, and Sea and Sea, to name just a few.

However, in the case of Olympus, they have produced several of their own underwater housings for their higher-end cameras. 

You will find that higher-end, more expensive housings will be made of aluminum, while the cheaper variants are created from polycarbonate plastic.

A few critical points to bear in mind when choosing a housing are the ease of access to camera controls, depth rating, leakage alarms, and viewfinder options. 

Stick to Wide Angle Lenses 

To cover most of your shooting options, you will need to include a wide-angle and macro lens at a minimum, depending on your interests.

If your goal is to shoot captivating images of tiny sea creatures going about their lives, then a macro lens will be an excellent place to start. 

Macro lenses that I’d recommend are the Olympus M.Zuiko 60mm f2.8 & 30mm f3.5 Macros, while the Panasonic Leica DG Macro-Elmarit 45mm/f2.8 ASPH MEGA O.I.S. & Lumix G Macro 30mm /f2.8 ASPH MEGA O.I.S. is very nice lenses as well. 

M.Zuiko 60mm f2.8
M.Zuiko 30mm f3.5
Leica DG Macro-Elmarit 45mm/f2.8
Lumix G Macro 30mm /f2.8

As your experience grows, you will probably start thinking about capturing bigger sea life animals and underwater vistas with a wide-angle lens.

Wide-angle lenses that I’d recommend are the Olympus M.Zuiko 8mm f1.8 Fisheye & Panasonic Lumix G 8mm f3.5 Fisheye lenses. 

M.Zuiko 8mm f1.8 Fisheye
Lumix G 8mm f3.5 Fisheye

The next choice of wide lenses should be the M.Zuiko 12mm f2 & 17mm f1.8, while the option from Panasonic can be the Leica DG Summilux 12mm f1.4 ASPH, Lumix G 14mm f2.5 II ASPH & Leica DG Summilux 15mm f1.7 ASPH.

M.Zuiko 12mm f2
M.Zuiko 17mm f1.8
Leica DG Summilux 12mm f1.4 ASPH
Lumix G 14mm f2.5 II ASPH
Leica DG Summilux 15mm f1.7 ASPH

If you prefer zoom lenses, then the Olympus M.Zuiko 7-14mm f2.8 is a fantastic choice, especially for capturing marine life portraits of larger sea life such as whale sharks, sharks, dolphins, manta rays, seals and sea lions.

M.Zuiko 7-14mm f2.8

This lens takes tack sharp images. 

The Pro lens’s cheaper sibling, the M.Zuiko 9-18mm f4-5.6, is a suitable lens for the smaller Olympus cameras like the Pen-F and E-PL series cameras.

M.Zuiko 9-18mm f4-5.6

Panasonic has a more affordable alternative, the Lumix G Vario 7-14mm f4.0 ASPH, and the Leica DG Vario-Elmarit 8-18mm f2.8-4.0 ASPH. These two wide-angle zooms will also give very satisfying results. 

Lumix G Vario 7-14mm f4.0 ASPH
Leica DG Vario-Elmarit 8-18mm f2.8-4.0 ASPH

These lenses work with spherical dome-shaped ports made out of acrylic or glass. To match up the correct ports with your kit you will have to visit the manufacturer’s website. 

Strobes and Lighting 

Strobes, or underwater flashes, are an essential addition to your underwater photography system. If you stick to the default camera flash, you may feel underwhelmed with the quality of the images you produce. 

Strobes help to bring out the colors in underwater scenes and reduce backscatter (light reflecting off particles in the water).

One strobe is good, but two strobes will give you more control over light and shadow in your shots. 

Underwater scenes may not have enough light for the focus on your M43 camera to work as well as it could. A focus light will enhance the contrast and give your camera enough light to get into focus faster. 

Carrying All That Equipment 

Cameras can meet unfortunate accidents before they even enter the water, but these incidents can be significantly reduced if they are stored safely in a good quality carry case. 

Choose one which is easily customized to fit snugly around your gear and protect it from drops.

Rough seas and inclement weather can quickly put your camera gear into situations in which unavoidable damage can occur, especially if proper precautions haven’t been taken. 

Bigger Isn’t Necessarily Better 

Divers are already carrying around tens of kilos of gear so it makes sense for the underwater photography enthusiast to reduce the weight and size of cameras and their accessories wherever they can.

Although the buoyancy of equipment underwater does help to alleviate the weight, there is still the problem of getting to your destination and then into the water.

Larger systems by their very nature are more cumbersome, not only because of their weight but their size as well. A smaller system will pay dividends in the convenience and portability areas. 

Capture Mesmerizing Underwater Scenes

The new range of mirrorless micro 4/3 cameras is capable of capturing mesmerizing underwater scenes to rival even high-end DSLR setups.

Having a full range of underwater accessories in a smaller more portable form factor allows divers to spend more time capturing beautiful images without the extra weight and baggage. 

Utilizing an M43 camera underwater system is by far the best compromise of size, weight, price, and performance, so you’d be wise to check out what the comprehensive systems can offer you.

John Kilmerstone

I'm an Aussie living in Japan who enjoys traveling and photography. Please visit this website and explore the wonderful world of Micro Four Thirds photography. Discover the advantages of carrying a small yet powerful camera system.

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