Finally I had the chance to test the optical snoot, from SAGA Dive, I unpacked, a few weeks ago, coupled to a Subtronic Nova equipped with the new led focusing light. Here are the results, images, and overall impressions:
The setup used on both sessions was:
Nikon D810, Nikon 60 Micro AF-S 2.8, Nauticam SMC-1
Nauticam NA – D810, Inon 45 degree viewfinder,
Subtronic Nova (with optical plug and the new led focusing light), Sola Video 2500
Ultralight arms and clamps.
It was done in a sheltered outdoor pool, mid afternoon, at 1.5 meters deep. There was plenty of ambient light – the same or even more of what can be found in a typical macro dive.
1 – Handling:
The led (position LED 2) was powerful enough to aim and focus, from super-macro (using Nauticam SMC-1) to relatively big objects – the range one would shoot in real life circumstances. For distance testing and super macro shooting, the kit was held secure against the pool bottom with a weight belt. For bigger objects, it was handheld.
2 – Strobe power:
As the strobe’s light rays are directed by means of the optical element, I was expecting to use less power with the snoots than without. I was wrong. To take the same shot with the snoot, at least one extra step needs to be added. Many times I used half or even the full 270w of the Subtronic Nova, instead of the regular 1/8 to 1/4. Maybe I’m doing something wrong… Only time will tell.
3 – Woking distance:
It starts at 7 cm from the front element if unscrewed (meaning, just until it’s still attached and firm). The purpose of doing that is to reduce the circle of light to its minimum – 5 mm.
11cm is the minimum working distance with it fully screwed. Less than that, the bulb shape becomes visible in the shots and there is a lot of colour fringing.
With the optical element all screwed in, around 23 cm is the distance where the circle edges are the sharpest. The light circle diameter goes as follows as one rotates the wheel with the holes:
- 16 mm
- 24 mm
- 33 mm
- 48 mm
- 62 mm
- 86 mm
This was measured with the focusing led light. The actual strobe light softens and widens the edges a bit.
Legenda: At 6 cm the bulb’s shape is clearly visible.
Open water dive
It was done at Baía da Armação – Sesimbra, Portugal. A sheltered bay, with on a day with strong offshore NorthWest wind and almost no surge, currents or waves. Water was 16 degrees celcius and greenish with 4 metres visibility. Most of the dive was at 8 metres deep.
Though I kept the strobe attached to the arm, I loosened the clamps a bit, so I could hold it and adjust its position with my left hand, while focusing and shooting with the right one. I found very doable to use it like this in all circumstances. This is very useful in circumstances where the dive guide is busy or there is more than a 1/1 ratio.
The SAGA snoot was easy to rotate (to expose the wheel and set the size of the light circle), attach or take off the strobe. However it never moved of fell from place, accidentally.
It was hardly enough for shooting the biggest fishes, when one has to keep some distance. Of course, aperture can be widened, ISO value can be raised if needed, which was not the case. All shots were done at ISO 64, slightly underexposed, to avoid burning the highlights, as snooted light is harsher than diffused one.
3- Working distance:
I could never get a sharp, perfect circle – not that I wanted one, as I prefer the snoot usage not to be noticed on the final result. I guess the circle can be achieved, but it goes with practice. I did have problems while using Nauticam SMC-2. The working distance for this wet lens with the Nikon 60 AF-S Micro is quite smaller than the one required for the Saga Snoot to operate so, some effort is required to move it away from the subject and the housing. For fish portraits (holes number 3-6) the strobe and snoot were quite intuitive and easy to set. It’ll make more sense to use the 105 Micro, if planning to use wet lenses. However, fish portraits will be harder to achieve.
I found that LED 2 tends to scare fish away, as it’s very powerful.
Air bubbles can easy get trapped inside the snoot and lead to awkward results, so one needs to be careful to let water inside and shake it a bit after submerging.
Snooting is mostly removing distracting / unwanted elements, highlighting the theme and subject of an image, so it’s easier to read. As a bonus, in many circumstances, it renders crisper lively colours, as the light isn’t reflected from the background into the subject, but goes straight into it. Underwater, snoots are also a great took for reducing backscatter allowing to shoot in circumstances where normal strobe light would render the images unusable.
It’s also a great tool for creativity, allowing for multiple exposure, or introducing a new shape of light into the scenery.
So far, I found the SAGA snoot to excel on the first ones. and looking forward for a more creative approach on the following. dives.
At 650 euros, this tool isn’t exactly cheap but, ergonomically, it matches powerful strobes like the Subtronics, while offering superior performance. That can be decisive, for instance, if one is doing macro and wide angle with a DSLr on the same dive trip.
Stay tuned, as it will be tested further against the beautiful critters in Lembeh, next month.