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Light & Motion Stingray: Practical test

The housing Stingray G2+ in practice:

First, you have to make some basic camera settings. You have to turn off the flash, the display output has to be set on V-Out/LCD. In your personal six-point menu of the camera, the manual white balance has to be set on the first point. Here you can still favour more often used menu items.

  • Light & Motion Camera mounting
  • Light & Motion Stingray toggle lockup

After controlling the O-rings, the camera tray with mounted camera (display outside) can be introduced, the tray is fixed by grooves in the housing. Therefore you cannot do anything wrong, the tray locks into the end position.

The locking latches of the monitor back are just ingenious. After being attached the monitor by simultaneously turning of both latches, the monitor back will pressed into the seat, by opening even lifted from its seat. It could not be easier! Once the housing is closed, the electronics initialize and signalize the standby-mode by a series of beeps within 4-5 seconds. It’s useful to memorize this signal, since the moisture alarm also uses this sequence of beeps.
A review of the equipment by immersion in fresh water should be mandatory just before every dive in order to get no nasty surprise. Important: Power on the system to activate the moisture sensor!

It is imperative to begin your dive with running system until maximum depth is reached. Switching off the camera does not seem useful to me, because the batteries have a long term. And probably in that moment you switch off the camera, rare motives present their best side. For the purpose of power saving you can turn off the camera after reaching the depth. Of course, the system will be back in standby within few seconds.

Buoyancy of the housing

2 x 100 gr. weights

If you dive without light system, the housing including the CX550 is absolutely neutral in freshwater, but tilts forward. In salt water the housing lifted about 130 grams. I will compensate this by two small weights on the rear end of the battery rails. I’ve constructed two weights (2x 100 gr.), which can be used in the rails of the housing. Trim and buoyancy are therefore optimal.

The picture shows the weights individually, and also assembled. Since both weights are drawn against each other by elastic rubber, slipping out is almost impossible. When using the Sony XR550 with HDD, the weight can be reduced accordingly.

The menu handles

Light & Motion menu handles

The menu handles are comfortable to use. All the keys are closed to the thumb. In that way a very smooth camera position is possible, shaking of the camera is practically excluded. The pressure of the buttons is hard. Equally well positioned and sufficiently large, the filter lever is easily achieved with the middle finger.

The display is slightly angled to the diver, resolution is adequately. Only just below the water surface, it is difficult to recognize the motive by sunlight. For this reason, I'm going to buy the optional available monitor hood, to get clear and glare-free view at the monitor at the end of the dive and also by snorkelling.

Since almost all functions are available under water, playback and control of the recordings is possible. Only the menu functions by touching the display are not available. Whether they are ever needed under water is doubtful.
Very useful is the button to switch the auto focus / manual focus. This will be a very good tool in practice to avoid problems by recording the pygmy, caused by gorgonians in strong current in front of the motive. If you press the AF/MF button, the actual measure is stored and the Pygmy remains sharp in the viewfinder. Randomly passing fishes don’t affect the focus.

One touch white balance

Now we check the "one touch" manual white balance, which was implemented on all models by Light & Motion in 2010, but updateable  to older models.

Only with one touch of the button it is possible to perform a manual white balance. The electronic system proceeds all steps automatically like the manual operation over water. To achieve this, you have to set the manual white balance to the first personalized menu item. The "one touch white balance" takes about 3 seconds with my HDR-CX550. Considering that you even need much longer by setting the white balance manually, this is really a very good amount of time.
You can leave the stored white balance either by re-adjustment or by long pressure on the button to restore the auto white balance.

I have already read several times that the manual WB was not necessarily needed. I can only disagree!

To optimize the colours during recording directly on location is much better than by processing in your video editing program. If you already have the ability to adjust the white balance manually in the simplest way, one should use the progress of technology as well.

  • Recording with auto white balance
  • Recording with manual white balance

As an extremely example I used a self-made test chart in a blue pool. The automatic white balance was totally overstrained and shows highly falsified bluish colours. Even with professional editing programs, a reasonable correction of colours was no longer possible, the recording was unusable.

The test chart, recorded by same conditions and manual white balance, shows balanced colours, which hardly required correction. And that with only one keypress! 

The images also show the distortion in the maximum wide angle range. Since all edges are formed slightly concave, it’s a pincushion distortion. The magnification increases towards the edges. Since there are almost no geometric motifs during diving, the distortion is not noticeable and can be somewhat neglected. Ashore this distortion is not visible or negligible.

To perform the manual white balance, I’ve provided a white plastic disk and also the large Cokin filter holder (for disks 85x85 mm). On the top of the float installed, the white disc can easily be removed with the left hand, the manual white balance can be implemented by the right hand.

Whether this proves itself in practice will we see. Because you need sufficient light on the white plate, you have to hold the camera very close to the body to get enough distance between lens and disc.

Now we have a look at the potentialities of the camera in the wide angle and macro range, which was very important to me.

Wide angle range

Every diver knows, that  the motives appear much larger and closer through the mask. This principle of light refraction is also true for the camera lens, because it’s behind the housing port. How much the maximum wide angle range is limited during diving, is pictured below.

  • Wide angle comparison onshore/under water
  • Wide angle comparison graphic

The picture shows the test chart onshore, the angle of view captures a large share of the blue background. At exactly the same distance to the test chart under water, the range is being curtailed, only the contents of the red frame is visible. From the original 73° angle range onshore only about 52° remains under water. Nevertheless, a distinct advantage over other camcorders with max. 53° onshore, which remains only about 39° during diving. The graph shows clearly the difference. This convinced me of the fact that I have bought the right camera.

Ancillary lens Wetmate 65°

  • Light & Motion Wetmate 65°
  • Light & Motion Wetmate 65°

Since September 2010, a special ancillary lens by Light & Motion for the flat port of the Stingray / Bluefin is available. This is the Fathom Wetmate 65, which extends the wide angle range of the CX550/XR550 from 52° to 65° under water. Furthermore the pincushion distortion is eliminated by using this lens, which is certainly a indication for the quality of this optics.

Outside into the groove of the flat port is used a strong O-ring to hold the attached lens with it’s large diameter of 150 mm.  During diving the lens is easily removable and can be fixed on a optional special bracket, which can be mounted on the top of the housing.  The weight is 530 grams onshore, under water the buoyancy is slightly negative.

  • wide angle range without Wetmate 65°
  • wide angle range with Wetmate 65°

Looking through the lens, you immediately notice the increased wide angle range. A comparison test under water shows also that the angle of view is greatly enlarged and the pincushion distortion is eliminated effectively.

I have tried to take both pictures with nearly the same distance to the test chart. The results of the comparison are convincing!

Light & Motion Wetmate 65° max. zoom

The zoom can be used up to a range of about 50%. The perspective is not distorted, even in close-up, the lines of the test chart are also not distorted. Extreme macro recordings by using the internal macro-diopter are not possible in connection with the Wetmate 65, even that’s not the purpose of the lens.

If we compare once more the possibilities of other cameras with a max. angle of 39°under water, the Sony HDR-550CX including attached Wetmate 65 offers a relatively inexpensive and professional wide-angle with a lot of advantages during diving.

Macro recording

As macro fan I was particularly curious about the possibilities of magnification.

  • max. macro without diopter
  • max. macro with diopter

Since the camera lens is around 21mm behind the plan port, the maximum magnification is to achieved only with a slight zoom. As we have already noticed, the optical refraction limited the angle of view under water. However, in the macro range it’s advantageous, because the motives are also shown bigger and closer. Onshore you can picture 45mm to fill the screen, under water the magnification is much better and shows 36mm. By using the internal macro lens the magnification achieved a significant increase, but you have to zoom to the limit. In that way the magnification is fantastically increased and shows only 16mm, the distance to the motive is excellent with 24 centimetre. A fantastic result, if we consider that I have not clearly reached the limit of zoom. The slight blur on the test images is due to the water resistant laminate, in which the test chart is welded.

Because the camera is very photosensitive, the depth of field is really very good, also in the maximum macro range.

Since blurring is not to avoid without a tripod under water, I will refrain to use the tele macro.

Below two example-videos in Full-HD as download

Download Sepia 1080i
Download Pygmy Bargibanti 1080i
 

To assess the quality of the provided sample videos, the monitor should have a resolution of 1920 x 1080 pixels.

 

After diving

Since the finish of the housing is very smooth and without rough edges, washing and cleaning in fresh water is very simple. Even the handles can be removed for washing, as the fittings are also watertight. In order to prevent crystallization of the salt water in the fittings, I will remove the handles after 2-3 days to clean them. After cleaning, you should keep the open housing in a dry place.

 

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Light & Motion Stingray G2+ Review

Innovative, light and compact!
Read here our extensive review to
the Light & Motion Stingray G2+!