by Jeremy Monroe & David Herasimtschuk edited by Hergen Spalink
The rivers of Puerto Rico are rocky, rugged, and full of life. Most of the creatures that live in these streams are small: river gobies, minnows, crabs, and shrimp… lots of shrimp! When we began thinking of how to share the nature and beauty of these streams through our filmmaking and photography, we knew we were going to need some new tools…
As specialists in freshwater filmmaking and photography, we spend lots of time in rivers and small creeks, and one of our continual aims is to reduce the footprint and bulk of our camera systems. So, when Sony’s mirrorless A7SII and A7RII camera systems began delivering powerful photo and video performance in smaller bodies inside compact Nauticam housings, we took notice. Despite being longtime Canon DSLR loyalists, we decided to try out the A7II systems and made our travel plans to Puerto Rico.
The compactness of these cameras is certainly one of their biggest advantages for us. The smaller footprint and lighter weight makes our hikes along these steep, rocky rivers much easier, and also makes for lighter luggage in transit. Underwater, we’re able to work the Nauticam housings into tighter spaces than our larger DSLR systems, which is key for capturing small subjects like shrimp.
Two cameras, one housing
In addition to size, one of the reasons we’ve used DSLRs for our work is the ability to shoot both video and still photographs, and the A7 systems push this capacity a step further. We use both the A7Sii and the A7Rii, both of which shoot high quality video and photos. However, the A7Rii excels at photo with a 40mp sensor, while the Sii excels at video with a 4K sensor that gives ultra-high ISO performance. For us, being able to use two cameras - both versatile but with unique sensors - in the same Nauticam housing is convenient and cost effective… and provides some helpful redundancy to our kit.
The WWL-1 Ultrawide System
While we were preparing for the complexities of adapting our beloved Sigma and Canon fisheye lenses to the Sony A7II cameras (with the use of a Metabones lens adapter), we were blindsided by the performance of the new Nauticam WWL-1, a specialized adapter lens that is used with Sony’s 28mm lens to give an ultra-wide, ultra-sharp, close-focusing perspective in an extremely compact footprint (the WWL-1 set-up is not much bigger than the flat ports we used on our DSLRs). The WWL-1 soon became our workhorse wide lens in Puerto Rico.
The WWL-1 gives a huge 130º field of view with very little distortion. Its small size helps us get closer to subjects than our traditional domes while keeping a lower profile and displacing less water. Because the Sony A7II cameras shoot in both full-frame and crop mode, we are able to capture an ultra-wide perspective and a tighter, medium-wide perspective.
The WWL-1 is a wet-connect lens, which makes split shots challenging, but the Reef Photo team helped us find a perfectly sized o-ring that we could place in the wet-connect chamber to keep water sealed in and allow us to capture cleaner split shots.
The 90mm Macro
While the WWL-1 was our choice for underwater wide shooting, the Sony 90mm macro was our go-to lens for capturing the tiny details of the shrimp and other smaller creatures. The sharpness and image stabilization are superb on this lens, and we used the cameras’ crop mode to magnify the perspective to an effective 145mm focal length.
The Sony A7II systems and Nauticam housings turned out to be exactly what we needed to capture the wonder of Puerto Rico’s rivers, and they’ve become our main camera systems for all of our projects. In addition to using the WWL-1 and 90mm macro, we’ve used Sony’s 16-35mm F/4 for medium to wide perspectives, and we’re able to adapt our Canon lenses, like the 8-15mm fisheye, with good results (albeit slower focusing). We look forward to more full-frame e-mount lenses from Sony, and hoping for a dedicated fisheye lens… but in the meantime, we have yet to see a competitive all around system that performs with as much versatility as the Sony A7 and Nauticam combination.
Here's a link to the National Geographic version.
About Jeremy and David
Jeremy Monroe and David Herasimtschuk are cinematographer-photographers for Freshwaters Illustrated, a nonprofit organization dedicated to raising public awareness of freshwater life, science, and conservation. We thank the great team at Nauticam USA and Reef Photo & Video for equipment advice and support of our work.