1 able to adapt or be adapted to many different functions or activities: a versatile sewing machine | he was versatile enough to play either position.
2 archaic: changeable; inconstant.
3 embracing a variety of subjects, fields, or skills; also :turning with ease from one thing to another: the Nauticam Housing for the Olympus OM-D E-M5 camera
Ok, we modified that last entry just a bit.. but the Nauticam NA-EM5 Housing + 12-50mm Port/Gear + Flip Diopter really should be the dictionary standard as the ultimate example of versatility, at least for underwater shooters. There really is no other system that provides this much versatility with excellent image quality and good shooting performance, plus won't break the bank and will fit in carry on luggage. There is a lot of buzz out on the web about this (one of the longer threads on Wetpixel ever); let's break it down and delve into what makes it so compelling.
The Olympus OM-D E-M5 is a cool camera. First, it just looks cool, borrowing design elements from the OM camera series of old. More than just good looks though, this camera is very capable, with excellent image quality, and surprisingly fast shooting and focus performance. Belonging to the m4/3 family, the proud owner of this camera enjoys the riches of lens selection available from both Olympus and Panasonic, including the Panasonic 8mm, the Olympus 9-18mm, Pansonic 45mm macro, Olympus 60mm macro, Olympus 12mm and many more.
The lens we are focusing on here (sorry, not intending to pun), is the Olympus 12-50mm. This is no ordinary kit lens. The range is excellent (think 24-100mm on full frame) for all kinds of shooting both terrestrial and underwater. Unlike many other lenses in it's range, the lens does not extend while zooming or focusing, which is an advantage for those who want to wrap an aluminum and glass box around it. Speaking of zooming, this is a power zoom lens, meaning nice smooth zooming for video shooting. The 12-50mm has one more trick up it's sleeve though, and it is ideal for underwater shooters: with a flick of the switch, the lens changes into a 43mm macro lens, capable of serious macro magnification.
The Nauticam NA-EM5 housing is the best selling housing for the EM-5, worldwide. There simply is not a better housing made for the camera. Every control is well thought out; every move the shooter might make is considered in the ergonomic design. This rugged housing is milled from solid aluminum, and rated to 100m (330 feet). Changing ports is a snap with Nauticam's patented port locking system, and the housing inherits much from the rest of Nauticam's award winning designs. Nauticam even offers an optional upgrade to take advantage of the camera's built-in electronic viewfinder (EVF) - unmatched by any other housing.
The Port and Gear Set
The 12-50mm lens presents a challenge to anyone designing a way to control it underwater, being first a power zoom and second, having the macro switch. The Nauticam design team came up with a port and gear set that is unmatched by any other manufacturer - not even the Olympus housing can operate the macro switch on this lens. What this means to the underwater shooter is the ability to shoot at 12mm one minute, shoot mid-range the next, and then quickly switch to macro mode. What this means, more simply, is that when the pod of dolphins swims by as you are shooting pygmy seahorses, you'll get both shots. Try that with any other system.
The Flip Diopter
When the macro from the 12-50mm isn't quite close enough - you can still get even closer. With the Nauticam flip diopter, you can simply flip your closeup lens (also called a diopter lens) into place and get into the world of super macro.
The Bottom Line
As an underwater photographer, what aspects of camera performance are important to you? If versatility is a high priority, along with with very image quality and shooting performance, this system, the Nauticam NA-EM5 with 12-50 port/gear kit and flip diopter, may be just what you are looking for.
The photos for this article are from Phil Rudin who took the NA-EM5 and 12-50mm to Philippines with us last month. All of these shots are from that trip. Thank you Phil.