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EMWL: A New Perspective by Mike Bartick

I love the intimacy that only a close focus, macro lens can provide. Tight portraits of small subjects reveal a delicate world, often endearing and helps to connect viewers in a way that is unique and compelling. I’ve experimented heavily with macro over the years revisiting the natural effects of bubble bokeh and barrel distortions, creating motion blur, colorizing and more. As a result, I was labeled as “Unhinged” which was one of the greatest left handed compliments i’ve ever received. With all of the challenges that style of shooting might bring, I still find the greatest test and challenge in shooting something exactly how we find it,

el natural !

Blennies are photogenic no matter what lens you choose but are often fussy and don’t like a close approach.
For the smaller stuff, I use a smaller strobe. I concentrate on the foreground and let mother nature handle the background. I’ve used snoots and larger strobes too and all are just as effective when needed. I prefer to use warming gel diffusers in water that tends to be hazy or greenish which enhances natural hues.

I’ve long been fascinated by what it must look like from the critters point of view. A vast open world to navigate, mate, feed and basically survive."


POV of a Porcelain crab feeding on food particulate as it drifts past its host anemone. This point of view is perfect for story telling. Video or still, world building is an important factor to consider for compositions that are rarely explored. I also love the way a wide angle lens can tell a story. A wide angle lens can provide an inclusive overview of a reef, big animals, wreck’s or scene that needs zero explanation to communicate, drawing the viewer in to the experience. Here we see the texture of the habitat, shadows or even natural light all playing a significant roll in the image.


When we look at both styles of shooting, we see a significant mid-point that exists between them. Although many have tried closing the gap between macro and wide angle, the results have not been very successful in bringing out the true characteristics of both styles in a single frame. 

The style known as “Close Focus Wide Angle” is the morph of the two styles, and when done right can provide a well framed glimpse of our subject in an infinite world.

Hexabranchus and sunlight- I am pleasantly surprised to see how well direct sunlight is handled with the EMWL 160º set up. I was only in 10 feet of water but the sun was diffracted by the turbulent surface and dappled nicely as I was shooting. It is my belief that when we approach CFWA from a wide angle perspective, we miss the target because of both, our gear and our mindset. We gear up and go down thinking wide angle first,   then hunt for smaller subjects to frame up close. While this can work sometimes, the outcome is usually disappointing. The primary subject gets lost in the frame, with the wide angle perspective also suffering. The frustration is mainly due to the gear/port set up. Sure, most wide angle lenses allow for focusing right on the port, but the port is nearly impossible to maneuver into a tight position. Composition suffers, lighting becomes an issue and continuity is compromised.

For years, the old go to for APSC shooters was the Tokina 10-17 + a 1.4x Teleconverter. This, used behind a small port like the zen mini dome was quite effective and fun. Shot selection was still very important though and getting the port close enough continued to be a challenge. 


I'm equally impressed by the smoothness of the bokeh at open apertures. And how closely I can focus on a subject.

Recently, the engineers at Nauticam came together with an idea that targeted the roadblock between Close Focus and Wide Angle, and married the two in sweet matrimony that has opened the playing field to a world of new possibilities. For a photographer with thousands of hours shooting macro, this is more than a revelation. Finally, the ability to hone the details of a macro image while showing a broad open background or habitat. A point of view, unique unto its own. Think CF - WA, Close Focus first, + Wide Angle and the style begins to emerge.


Retaining sharpness and focus point, the EMWL is proving to be an exceptional lens. Using a snoot for side lighting, i’m still able to create a dramatic foreground while including the background, even revealing the detail of the rhinophores on this nudibranch.

The EMWL system offers 4 lenses in its current lineup. Each are tack sharp, offer superb contrast and are versatile. My favorite is the 160º lens as it is the closest to the angle I’ve been shooting and am used to. 


Small frogfish get a large feel with the EMWL 160. Being able to angle the lens deep enough to capture the horizon, provided enough negative space to highlight the oversized lure of a small warty frogfish, hunting on the sand. Simple shooting, no tricks or gimmicks, minimalism at it best.

Im fortunate in that I live on the water and can dive almost every day. But this is also a double edged sword leading to complacency. After a few dives with the new lens, I found myself excited to get back in the water as quickly as possible to try and find something else to test the lens on. Everything from the common stuff to the not so common, with and without a model. I find myself once again, rejuvenated.


Gobies in a bottle are a favorite go to for many macro shooters. They are cute as heck, photogenic and curious. Backlighting the bottle is also something that is popular.

How it works- The lens set up is a wet conversion lens, meaning it must be in water for it to be effective. Its divided into three separate modules, a focus unit at the base, the relay portion which flip’s the image over and the objective lens itself.

Im shooting a Nikon Z8 with the Nikon f-mount 105mm lens. The entire lens system is about 12 inches (30cm) in length and attaches via bayonet to my macro port. It can be a tad front heavy

but floats can be used to offset and provide buoyancy. I’ve also attached a thick rubber band around the lens to protect it from scraping the reef or corals. This is very close work so special attention and precaution for both the environment and gear are important. 

Encountering a Mototi blue ring octopus with an attitude left me with several cool images. The octopus flicked the lens here and I captured the moment shooting 7 frames per second. Staying true to the POV, the deep composition gives a viewer the feel of the occy snapping their mask.

Lighting and optics:

At first, it was hard to break the old approach thinking wide angle first but as soon as I shifted my thinking and concentrated on close focus macro, I began to see results.

What surprised me the most is the final push of nearness with the lens, that creates a perspective close to 3D. Like super macro, there is a point where the perspective changes slightly at the closest working distance. The same effect translates through the optics of the 160 lens resulting in a point of view with deep compositions that give’s the POV of what the subject might see.


Pushing the limits as far as I possibly can, I have not found any limitations to what can be done in this space. As with any form of photography lighting and creative lighting remains a constant challenge. The lens angle is wide making it easy to pickup backscatter but due to the length of the lens set up, there is also a built-in level of forgiveness. In fact, I find using a single strobe is often more beneficial.


Macro up front, wide angle in the back, the feel is actually akin to a +5 macro diopter with wide angle capabilities. Creating a layer cake is the best way that I can describe the thought process behind shooting true CF-WA. Stopping down too much chokes off ambient light so boosted ISO and slower shutter speeds often come in to play when attempting to retain a natural background, especially blue water.


I honed in tight on a mass or Anemonefish eggs, in an attempt to find any weakness in the EMWL system. The sharpness of the eye’s in the embryo’s is astonishing in addition to the round bokeh rendered off the reflection of the other eggs.

My jump settings for this are:

ISO 320-400

F, 11

SS 1/100 or less depending on the sun

Strobes, low power with warming filters to maintain blues