During our recent trip to Bali, I was lucky enough to be able to squeeze a full day of diving into the schedule.
Prior to leaving Australia I had done a reasonable amount of research, and I knew that I really wanted to dive the USAT Liberty shipwreck which had been torpedoed by a Japanese submarine in January 1942, and managed to beach itself on the eastern shores of Bali at Tulamben. In 1963 the volcanic Mount Agung erupted and the subsequent tremors made the Liberty slip back into the waters. She now lies on a slope, the wreck being perfectly accessible to divers at depths from 30 to 100ft after a very simple shore based entry and gentle swim.
I chose to dive with Adventure Scuba Diving Bali (http://www.adventure-scuba-diving.com) after reading all of the positive reviews on TripAdvisor, and so duly sent them an email requesting information. No less that 30 minutes later the owner Sam called me directly from Bali to discuss my day of diving, help me plan and make suggestions. I have to say that I have dived with quite a few operations throughout the world, but the professionalism and friendly service I experienced from Sam and his crew was quite simply the best. Prashanti was to be my dive guide for the day, and she and her partner Darren arrived promptly at my villa at 7.00am to whisk me off for a day of blowing bubbles. We planned three dives at Tulamben, taking in the wreck, the sunken Japanese Garden and a thrilling wall drop off. During the 2.5 hour trip to the dive site we all became firm friends, with Pea giving a very thorough briefing as to what the conditions and marine life we were likely to encounter would be. We were also told about ‘the women’ (as they are known, with some awe!) at the beach who range in age from 17 to 70 (at a guess). These ladies make their living by acting as porters, carrying the assembled dive gear down the stone beach to he dive entry point on their heads; the amount of weight they carry is quite (literally) staggering. I was warned not to offer to help, as they then would not get paid, however it took a great deal of resolve not to as it totally went against my moral compass; naive perhaps, but that is the way I am.
Since I still do not own an underwater housing for my 5D3’s I hired a Panasonic DMC-TZ40 in an underwater housing to capture these shots over 3 dives. Certainly on paper the camera has some impressive specifications with 18.1 Mp and a nice 24mm wide lens that extends to 480mm (not that the zoom is much use underwater of course). Back in Australia I had researched this camera online, and from the few reviews I was able to find it seemed to be quite popular, although I did notice that it was praised for features, with comments about image quality as almost an afterthought. Having used the simple Panasonic FT4 in a Panasonic underwater housing while diving the Barrier Reef in December 2013 (https://michaelevansphotographerblog.com/2013/12/17/diving-the-great-barrier-reef/), I was expecting similar or better performance considering this was a later model.
Sadly, this was not the case. I am sure there are many owners and users of this camera who are extremely satisfied with its performance, however I found it to be a real disappointment. In examining the images on my Mac, I found the resultant files to be quite soft and ‘mushy’, with quite a lot of chromatic aberration. Since the camera only offers JPEG files, the ability to edit the images is of course severely limited. I have added some contrast and colour correction to all the images in this post, but by far the biggest problem was the cameras poor focusing capability. From the large number of images that I shot over the 3 dives, at least 65 – 70% of them were completely out of focus. I could see this happening while I was underwater, and it was most frustrating to have the camera focus for one frame, and then totally refuse to do so for the next 10!
I did discover that the camera was trying to focus on the dust / dirt on the inside of the housing on the first dive, (which I hadn’t seen with my naked eye, so the macro works well!), but even after removing the camera and cleaning the port, the problem persisted. It really struggled on the Japanese Garden, getting worse as we got deeper and the light levels dropped.
There is the old saying that ‘a bad workman always blames his tools’, and while I recognise that this was the first time I had used this camera, I feel I am capable enough to get the best from most gear; I certainly did not have the same issues on the Barrier Reef with the older model Panasonic. Still, any camera is of course better than no camera, but if I had the option of purchasing a compact for underwater use, then I would certainly not purchase this model, particularly as it does not offer the RAW option.
Still it was a superb day of diving, and I would like to once again thank Sam, Darren and Pea from Adventure Scuba Diving Bali, who were fantastic, and whom I highly highly recommend!!