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NA-E2 First Look in Raja Ampat

Raja Ampat with the NA-E2 for the Z Cam E2

text and video by Hergen Spalink

The Z Cam E2 cinema camera delivers jaw-dropping specs with an equally jaw-dropping price point in an incredibly compact package.  The Nauticam NA-E2 housing for the Z Cam E2 is the smallest cinema camera housing ever produced yet still achieves full access via intuitively placed controls to all the E2 camera functions. 

The following video was filmed over several days in Indonesia's Raja Ampat region.  A discussion of the camera, housing and the shooting experience are below.

The Z Cam E2 Camera and NA-E2 Housing

The E2's form factor will be familiar to cinema camera users but may be a bit strange to those coming from a hybrid or DSLR system.  Essentially, the E2 is a sensor and processor in a cube with a lens mount, 9 buttons, a tiny LCD display and a variety of connection points.  This design approach means that the E2 must be used with an external monitor such as a SmallHD 502B or Atomos Ninja V but allows for an extremely compact package.  The NA-E2 has full HDMI 2.0 support with an M28 bulkhead as well as M16 bulkheads for HDMI 1.4.  This small form factor, combined with the threaded mounting points and removable handles on the housing, open up the NA-E2 to a variety of confined space or remote usage scenarios.

Top threaded mounting area

Bottom threaded mounting area

Media and Format

The recording media for the E2 is either an on-board option via a single CFast 2.0 card slot or externally via USB-C connection to a T5 SSD.  In either case, the camera's recording options are what really set it apart.  The E2 is capable of recording up to 160fps in H.265 or at 60fps in either ProRes 422 or the proprietary partial debayer ZRAW format.

For this video, as the manipulation of ZRAW files can only be accomplished via a standalone program, we filmed all wide-angle footage exclusively in ProRes 422 at a variable frame rate of 60p with a 30p project timebase.  The biggest benefit to ProRes, aside from the high quality of the video, is that the lack of strong compression means that the footage will play back quickly on even moderately powered laptops which is what most underwater image makers are working with in the field.  To access the higher frame rates requires recording with H.264 or H.265 compression.  The macro in this case was recorded in 120fps with H.265 compression.  This footage does not play back as well on laptops so we created optimized media when working with it.  

The ability to work with higher frame rates, above 30p, allows for dramatic slowdown of the footage.  For the macro footage, not having to use a tripod to achieve stable footage makes getting the shot a lot less disruptive to the environment.  When shooting at 120fps and displaying in 30p, a 3 second clip of a blue-ring octopus can become a 12 second clip in your timeline and also appear smoother and more cinematic.  For those unfamiliar with cinema cameras, shooting at higher frame rates is achieved through VFR or Variable Frame Rate.  The Project Timebase is chosen first, which is what your timeline will be in your Non-Linear Editor (24p or 30p for example).  The VFR is then set to the frame rate you wish to film at.  When added into your NLE, these clips will playback at the project timebase frame rate with no need to change the clip speed.  

Handling and Interface

The controls of the E2 can be customized and individual camera functions assigned to each button.  In our case, the forward three buttons were mapped to control AF, WB, and Aperture.  Atop the camera (and housing) are the UP and DOWN controls which, after pressing the WB or Aperture button allow for changing of the value.  

Assignable buttons F1, F2, F3 on the front right side

Menu, UP, DOWN, and OK buttons on the top.

White Balance

The camera is capable of achieving a custom white balance in which the camera is shown a white surface and adjusts color temperature and tint appropriately or the value for each can be entered manually with degrees Kelvin from a value of 2400K to 30,000K and a tint value of -100 to +100. Custom white balance is achieved by assigning the White Balance control to one of the custom buttons.  By pressing and holding the button, the camera is ready to be shown the reference slate, after which it will set the white balance and tint.

ISO and Keldan Filters

For this video, we used the Panasonic 8-18mm lens with the Keldan SF2 Spectrum Filter along with two Keldan 8x 13,500 CRI92 LED video lights outfitted with the AF6B ambient filters.  This worked well with the E2, as the camera features a dual native ISO function, which means that there are similar noise and dynamic range levels for two different ISO settings, one low and one high.  As the SF2 removes 2 stops of light, being able to film at a native ISO of 2500 was helpful to compensate for this lost light without significant penalty.  We did find that we were driven, as a result, to use a less-preferred 360º shutter as opposed to 180º to maintain our preferred apertures.  

Lens Mount and Lens Options

With the Micro Four-Thirds (MFT) lens mount, the E2 can take advantage of the large array of open-source lenses this standard affords.  With Nauticam's N85 system for MFT lenses, a wide variety of recommended configurations are available for different lenses.  Additionally, via the Canon EF Lens to Micro Four Thirds Speed Booster and the Nauticam N85 to N120 adapter, those working with Canon EF-mount lenses and their corresponding N120 port configurations can use these same setups on the NA-E2 with the added benefit of an 0.71x wider field-of-view and an additional stop of maximum aperture.   

Nauticam's line of water contact optics is a natural extension of the NA-E2.  With lenses such as the Panasonic LUMIX G VARIO 12-32mm F3.5-5.6 ASPH. MEGA O.I.S and the WWL-C, the camera achieves 130º field-of-view with essentially 0" minimum focus distance and the full zoom through capability of the lens.  When using the WWL-1, there are even more supported lens options.  Both the WWL-C and WWL-1 provide exceptional image quality in a compact and in-water changeable optic.  For macro, adding the CMC-1 to the already 1:1 capable Olympus M.Zuiko Digital ED 60mm f2.8 Macro lens allows for the capture of subjects just 8.5mm across.