AOI UCL-09 Wetlens (and how it compares to Nauticam SMC-1)

AOI UCL-09 is a +12.5, M67 threaded wet lens, designed for full frame DSLr cameras.  It’s sold with a fabric pouch, a screw metal rear cap and a plastic click-in, Nikon style front cap, plus a cleaning clothe. Retail price (USA) is 320$.

I’ve been shooting with AOI UCL-09 wet lens (courtesy of Divesea) for a few weeks, first in Lembeh, then in Tulamben (both in Indonesia). After two dozens of dives and a pool session, here are my impressions on it:

AOI UCL-09 is a small, light, convenient “all purpose” wet lens. It’s meant to be used with a 90 / 105 mm macro lens. Usage with a 50 / 60 mm lens reduces the working distance to the point when it focuses on the glass itself, leaving no room for lighting the subject and risking scratching the front element. For sure, it’s usable (near its maximum working distance), but there is no real advantage on that. If you only own a 60 mm lens and you want more magnification, buy a 90 / 105mm lens first.

Its typical usage are subjects roughly within 1 to 2 cm – medium-sized nudibranchs, small shrimps, tiny fishes, or whatever your imagination comes up with.

On Nikon D810 and newer cameras it’s easy to use autofocus, often not needing focusing light.

DSC_7964b

Ornate ghost pipefish (Solenostomus paradoxus) egg pouch. (1/250, F/29, ISO 64) The fish wasn’t so comfortable on having a gigantic camera right underneath, and it needed to be real close. Impossible to use focusing light. Besides, the poach opens and closes to vent the eggs, so it was a split of a second chance. AOI UCL-09 ability to work on autofocus made it possible.

 

There won’t be a problem on using it with APS-C. I didn’t personally tested but, from comparing to other photographers results, it should be usable with Sony full frame mirrorless. It can also be used with smaller sensor mirrorless cameras.

It has uncompromised optical quality, excellent corner sharpness, hardly any fringing or chromatic aberrations on the center, and just slight fringing on the corners, easy to correct on post processing. At this point of perfection, it’s actually very hard to tell if any optical flaw comes from the wetlens, the port glass, or the lens itself.

Colour transmission is stunning and the bokeh creamy and pleasant.

For those who’re familiar with Nauticam SMC-1, AOI UCL-09 is very similar to work with:

  • Both have +12.5 magnification.
  • Both have roughly the same working range: 45 to 90 mm (With my own port combination. Yours may be different).
  • Both start to be usable around f/8 (for ethereal, bokeh, shots, or very specific, bi dimensional subjects), have their sweet spot around f/20 -25 and showing diffraction at f/32.

However, don’t be fooled into believing this is a copy. Its design is quite different, resulting in a 242g piece of quality glass and anodised aluminium (SMC-1 is 454g). With only 38.6 mm long (against 54.4mm from SMC-1) , it’s considerably shorter and lighter than its direct competitor.

How does they compare, optically?

On real life shooting, there is no noticeable difference, except maybe a tiny bit less fringing on AOI UCL-9, only seen at 100% and in specific shooting conditions (white, reflective, contrasty areas). Bokeh tends do be a tad notch more creamy.

(pictures vary more due to subject motion than really from optical issues)

Time will tell if the building quality holds against flooding and corrosion, though it looks quite promising. At 320 US$ price tag (Nauticam SMC-1 retails for 480$) it’s a real bargain.

Gallery:

 

 

Specifications (from AOI website)

Model UCL-09
Material Hard Anodized Aluminum Alloy Barrel
2 Groups 5 Elements Lenses with Multi-layers AR Coating
Waterproof 60 Meters
Dimension 70mm (D) X38.6mm (H)
Weight
(on land / underwater)
242g (on land)
190g (underwater)
Accessories Lens Pouch (LPC-01), ABS Front Lens Cap (PFC-02), POM Rear Lens Cap (PRC-04) and Lens Secure Line (LSL-01)

 

Disclaimer: I’m not, in any way, affiliated with AOI, Nauticam, or any of their retailers. These are results from my own experience. All testing and shooting was performed with Nikon D810, Nikon 105 Micro VR 2.8, (both serviced and fine tuned by Nikon Singapore), Nauticam NA-D810, Nauticam Macro Port for Nikon 60 micro + 20 mm extension ring (not the recommended port by Nauticam) and Subtronic Nova / Fusion strobes. Saga optical snoot was used in some images.

Cover photo, from AOI website.

Find more about AOI products in here.

 

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