Sunday, 18 October 2009

Nikon D300 underwater photography

Nikon D300 underwater photography tests with sailfish
Sea & Sea released us an early version of their MDX-D300 underwater housing for the Nikon D300 just in time for my sailfish expedition on December 31, 2007. Personally, I was really hoping for their MDX-D3 housing for the NikonD3, but I was thrilled to have the opportunity to put the Nikon D300 and Sea & Sea MDX-D300 through a real world test.

Sailfish were a perfect test subject for the Nikon D300. These fish torpedoes require smooth camera pans and a shutter speeds of 1/250th to capture sharp frames. At such high shutter speeds, I was required to shoot at ISO 400 or greater to maintain apertures of f4 to F5.6. The new low noise CMOS sensor in the Nikon D300 was a perfect match. I brought my higher megapixel Nikon D2x as backup, but it never got wet. Our expedition was unlucky with weather, but the Nikon D300 and Sea & Sea MDX-D300 housing performed flawlessly.

ISO 400 settings very smooth
Blue light is the most challenging tone for all digital capture devices. Deep blue tones typically exhibit the most noise of any color channel. As with topside photographers that shoot at twilight, we underwater photographers are unfortunately pushing the limits of available digital technology. Based on my tests, D300 files shot at ISO 400 are as good or better than ISO 100 shots from the Nikon D200 and D2x. I was thrilled with the smooth gradients at ISO 400, but found noise creeping in at ISO 800. That being said, ISO 800 shots were on par with ISO 400 from previous Nikon cameras. My topside tests with the Nikon D3 have me confident that it will deliver even better high ISO performance. I can’t wait to get the D3 wet, but the D300 is clearly a significant leap forward for underwater photography in a low cost, compact Nikon SLR. I’m quite certain I’d never get film scans this clean at ISO 400.

Accuracy required with exposure settings
As with all digital cameras, you must shoot accurate exposures with the D300 to avoid the noise enhancing effects of brightening a dark image in post processing. Poor exposure at higher ISO settings is a significant penality. Use the RGB histogram to push your exposure setting as bright as possible without clipping highlight detail.

Avoid sharpening during Raw Conversions
Some people choose to apply a small amount (25%) of sharpening during raw conversion. I found that any amount of sharpening was detrimental to the smoothness of blue gradients during raw conversions and would highly recommend only selective (masked) sharpening on the final output file.

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