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Jack's Cool Toys

This page is dedicated to hardware and software devices that we've found useful in the world of digital imaging and digital photography.  We will add and update this page as new cool toys appear on the marketplace or we purchase them for the Oregon Coast Digital Center.  Each toy will contain a brief description of why we consider it cool, and a link so that you can find out even more.

Olympus Pen - Light & Motion LED Lights


Our new direction in 2011-14 will be called "Rediscover Underwater Photography" and will address old and new technologies that are changing the way we take pictures underwater. The most recent adaptation is using LED lights for both still and video. On a trip to Komodo in January, we did exhaustive tests using the Light & Motion 1200 Sola lights with the Olympus Pen camera system. It changed the way we take pictures underwater. In a nutshell, it put the fun back into underwater photography. For more than 30 years we have depended on the electronic flash to light our subjects and scenes underwater. The best exposure method was to use manual exposure so we could adjust the shutter speed for the available light and the flash power, ISO, or the f/stop for the foreground flash exposure. Getting a good balance between the foreground and background was always a challenge so most of our lectures were directed at this problem. Now all that has changed by using the LED lights. The best exposure method is accomplished by using either the Shutter Speed mode and the exact speed depends on the lens you are using. Foreground and background exposures are almost perfect every time. We used full power on the LED lights most of the time and got a perfect balance every time. When we used longer focal lengths with the zoom or macro lens, we experimented with various shutter speeds making sure we could hold the camera steady and keep the image sharp. For most situations where the subject was still or slow moving, 1/125 second was perfect. Moving subjects required 1/250 to 1/500 second. Another new feature we had never used before and basically told students not to use in the past is the Auto ISO. With most cameras today you can set a range for this function and the camera will adjust the ISO depending on the light level. We used ISO 200 as our bottom and 1600 as the top. Those images shot at the higher ISO were easily corrected in Lightroom using the noise reduction and sharpness controls. Most all the images you will see in the samples below are from ISO 400 to ISO 1600.

Click on the frogfish to see a web show showing the use of the LED lights. Click on the crinoids to see a video using the same system

The advantages to using LED lights instead of flash are many. First you see what you are shooting all the time. Exposure, color balance and composition are exactly as you see them in the viewfinder. The camera also focuses easier with LED lights on all the time. When a subject is moving by or opening their mouth, you can use the motor drive and shoot a couple of dozen images without blinking an eye. The power usage in the camera is minimal since it is only used to display the image on the back of the camera and save images as they are shot. You can alternate shooting still and video from one second to the next as most digital cameras today have the option to shoot one right after the other. Some cameras even allow you to shoot a still in the middle of a video. Another advantage is the size and weight of the system. The LED lights are much smaller and weigh just a few ounces. The Light & Motion lights that we used are sealed, so the only O-ring we were concerned about is the camera housing O-ring. Charging is with a very small light weight charger that attaches directly to the back of the LED housing. So you don't open anything to charge the battery.

Of course, there has to be a downside, right? When using LED lights as your main light source, you have to be very conscious of camera shake since you are now using 1/125 to 1/500 second to stop the action. Flash can stop it better, but the tradeoff is all the adjustments you have to make on the flash and the camera to get the foreground and background blended perfectly. The other downside is that you will find yourself using higher ISO's. Look at the samples. Most all are ISO 400 and higher. The noise has been removed with Lightroom 3 on all the images with just one click. One last thing. We owe an apology to Dr. Harold Edgerton, the inventor of the electronic flash. We still believe in the power of the flash, we just are enjoying the freedom LED lights are providing. The samples below are from the various focal length lenses using Light and Motion lights. To see more examples of the Light and Motion lights with both still and video you can go to: http://www.earthseaimages.com/lightmotion.html



Wide Angle Zoom


Standard Zoom


Short Focal Length Macro


Long Focal Length Macro




April 2012 update for Olympus Pen E-PL3


It has come to our attention that many of the Olympus E-PL3 cameras are being shipped with version 1.0 firmware.  This firmware does not work correctly with the wireless flash FL-LM1 that comes with the camera. This FL-LM1 wireless flash is used to trigger the
U-FL2 underwater strobe.  Without a firmware upgrade, the U-FL2 underwater strobe will not sync correctly at high shutter speeds as it did with previous camera models. As the shutter speed approaches 1/2000 second, the image is cut off by the focal plane shutter in the camera. When the camera is upgraded to firmware version 1.3, the problem is corrected.

To update the firmware you must first install the Olympus camera software on your computer.  Be aware that you may have to update this software from the Olympus site before continuing.  To update the firmware, select “Camera” from the menu at the top, and then “Update Camera”. Follow the on-screen instructions. The camera battery should be at full charge before attempting the update, as it can take up to ten minutes. You should also be aware that the only way to update the firmware is from the internet, so it is critical that you perform this task before leaving on your dive trip.

Link to Olympus Camera Update