Quick Setup Guide for the Nikon D810 and the Nauticam Housing
by Hergen Spalink
The Nikon D810 (and it's brethren the D800 and 810A) are Nikon's premier full frame high-megapixel reflex cameras. When paired with the Nauticam NAD810, they offer the shooter unparalleled flexibility to capture the underwater world's most dynamic scenes. What follows is a quick setup guide to help the new user navigate the often complex and serpentine menu options of the camera to take full advantage of the Nauticam's access to the camera's controls. In addition to settings we've included some shooting tips and tricks that will help speed up your learning curve and get you results faster.
Critical Menu Options:
The D810 offers the ability to store and recall certain presets (similar to the custom modes on Canon cameras). This can be handy if you use different focus modes, etc. when shooting macro, wide angle or topside. These Shooting Banks can be named and recalled fairly easy.
A custom menu is also available where critical menu options can be added for easy access. By adding the shooting bank to this menu you an quickly switch between modes without excess menu navigation.
To take full advantage of the high megapixel 14-bit sensor and incredible dynamic range, certain settings must be used.
File Format: Various combinations of image formats are available. Personally we shoot using a CF card in the main slot and an Eye-Fi SD card in the secondary slot. We shoot RAW + Fine JPEG (small - quality compression) with the RAW image written to the CF card and the JPEG to the SD Eye-Fi card. As we pull the JPEGS to a tablet between dives using the Eye-Fi card we chose the small size (still 9MP) allowing us a good look at the images without having to open the camera. By enabling Eye-Fi in the camera and placing the tablet next to the housing we are able to wirelessly pull the JPEG images (Note: this drains the camera battery rather quickly - we can still usually get 3-4 dives from a single charge even when pulling a moderate amount of photos between dives. Switching the Eye-Fi On and Off extends the battery life so add that to the custom menu for easy access between dives). Only RAW images will capture the full information captured by the sensor. This is essential, especially if the image needs to be edited later.
Color Space: The color gamut captured by the Adobe RGB color space is orders of magnitude above the sRGB color space. The sRGB color space is most likely what your final product will be converted to for printing or web use but losing all that information before the image leaves the camera could be detrimental, especially if editing is necessary.
Having spent three years shooting in Lembeh Strait, I have tried nearly everybody's "method". I have found that using a combination of manual and autofocus yields the most control over your image. After switching the lens to M/A mode, the lens can no web focused either manually or automatically. In normal operation, the shutter of the camera also acts to activate the autofocus of the lens. By changing a menu option you can prevent the shutter from activating the autofocus. Instead of using the shutter to engage the autofocus we use the AF ON button located on the rear of the camera. This button is easily accessed when in the housing through a lever that sits within easy reach of your right thumb. When this button is depressed the camera functions the same as if you had depressed the shutter halfway in normal operation. When the button is released the focus is essentially locked. We use the 51 point single point focus method. This gives us total control over the area of the image we want to focus on It can then be tweaked further using the manual focus knob on the left side of the housing. This knob is conveniently articulated using the left forefinger and thumb. At this point the shutter button will only cause the camera to take a photo, it will not cause the focus to change. By moving the camera slowly in and out you can get the precise focus necessary, especially for super-macro images such as those taken with the SMC diopter. The D810 also has PREV/FN buttons available for reassignment. The Nauticam NAD810 offers extremely convenient access to these buttons under the shutter release. By assigning one of these to also perform the AF-ON function allows multiple points of access to the autofocus function.
With wide angle the camera's metering and autofocus systems need to be tuned to the shooter's taste. With the background exposure (i.e, the exposure of the water column) controlled primarily by the shutter speed, it is essential to have a metering mode selected that will allow you to choose the appropriate starting point for your shutter speed setting. The D810 offers a variety of modes. We have found that the unique "highlight protection" mode gives quite accurate results. In this mode, as opposed to a matrix or spot metering mode, the camera tries to determine the optimum shutter speed for the given aperture that will accurately protect the highlights in the image (the brightest part of the water column, usually the surface).
The focus modes on the D810 are far too numerous to describe here but there are two main modes that we use in wide angle. The new 3D continuous mode seems to function well for subjects that are moving towards the camera (mantas, sharks) whereas the tried and true single point or group focus modes allow for a more detailed control. With its 51 focus points and the additional benefit of having it remember the focus point dependent on camera orientation (landscape or portrait) you can get the exact part of the image in focus that you want. With single point or group , moving the focus point is as easy as using your right thumb to manipulate the directional pad on the back of the housing. By assigning the function of the "SET" button you can have it reposition the point to the middle of the image with the push of a button or simply have it display the focus point in the viewfinder by highlighting it red.
As with the macro mode above, the FN/PREV and AF-ON buttons can also be reassigned. In the case of wide angle we set these buttons to perform the AF-OFF function, allowing us to lock the autofocus system. The best example of when this is necessary is in a situation where the camera is presented with a contrast-free surface to focus on, such as the belly of a manta ray swimming overhead. By locking the focus, the camera will still fire, letting you capture that manta silhouette.
With ever larger memory cards, the remaining images is not generally information that I need on a dive, whereas the current ISO is far more important. It is possible to have the camera display the ISO in the viewfinder in the position normally occupied by the remaining images. When the camera is switched off, the display will show the number of remaining images. ISO on the NAD810 can be changed using the lever on the left hand side above the image review tab, again without removing your hand from the handle. An important menu function to set is that you don't need to hold a button to change the value. In this case, you simply tap the ISO lever, use the main command dial to change the value, then tap the shutter or any other button for it to be saved and the command dial function to return to normal.
The review of the image can easily be brought up using the left lower thumb lever. We generally have the review set to 2 seconds. If further review is necessary the lever is easily reached without taking our hands off the handles. The 2 sec allows us to take a quick look and then make adjustments to ISO, Aperture, or Shutter Speed. When the image is displayed those adjustments cannot be made so we want the image to flash only long enough for us to see our RGB histogram and make the appropriate adjustments. This can be changed, along with what is displayed in the menu.