UCL Close Up Lens Guide

INON UK Guide to INON UCL-330, UCL-165 and UCL-100 Underwater Close Up Lenses

By Lisa Collins and Steve Warren, owners, INON UK

Close up, macro, super macro and wide angle macro are all fascinating facets of underwater photography. Using the right techniques and underwater camera equipment, we can reveal detail in subjects that is impossible to see with the naked eye, shoot intriguing abstracts and work successfully in visibility too poor for other types of productive underwater photography. The terms critter diving and muck diving have come to describe this enthralling, though often challenging, aspect of underwater stills and video photography. But how do you take close up, macro, super macro and wide angle macro images and what do the terms even mean? Before we explain how INON UCL close up lenses can help you shoot tiny subjects more effectively with almost any underwater stills or video camera system, let’s try and clarify a lot of the confusion that has come to surround the subject.

Let’s begin with defining what macro really is and work from there. Macro is a term that is more often misused by camera manufacturers and camera equipment suppliers than is used correctly. It is this misuse that has led to so much misunderstanding. The true definition of macro in photography is that the subject is reproduced life size on the camera sensor. The easiest way to understand this concept is to take a postage stamp and see if your camera can take a picture of it so it completely fills the monitor. Your monitor follows the proportions of your sensor. If you fill your monitor entirely, then you are also filling your sensor and taking a genuine macro photograph. Most compact cameras and most interchangeable lens cameras fitted with ordinary lenses will not be able to fill all of the monitor. If they can’t fill the monitor, then this is not a macro picture. It is a close up picture. The subject is reproduced less that its true size on the camera sensor. Close up pictures are all that many compact cameras and many interchangeable lenses fitted to SLR or compact system cameras can take, even though the term macro appears in the equipment’s specification. True macro lenses that do take genuine life size pictures are uncommon and normally restricted to SLR and compact system cameras lens ranges. True macro lenses for SLR and compact system cameras can focus anywhere between infinity and their minimum focus distance, usually just a few centimetres from the lens front. This makes them ideal for underwater photography where both subject and photographer are likely to be moving as the lens can adjust for changes in distance and keep the subject in sharp focus – in theory, anyway. Where it quickly becomes confusing, as we’ve already mentioned, is that many compact cameras and interchangeable lenses, especially zooms, feature macro in the manufacturer’s description, but don’t take true macro images! To determine if these cameras and lenses take genuine macro photographs or just close ups, you need to check the specifications for the lenses maximum reproduction ratio. If the ratio is expressed as 1:1, the camera or lens can take true macro pictures. If the ratio is 1:2, 1:3 or 1:4, for example, the lens or camera only shoots half life size, one third life size or one quarter life size photographs. This is not life size and so it is not really macro and is correctly described as close up photography. In practical underwater photography terms, it means at life size (1:1) your seahorse, for instance, would fill your sensor, monitor and final photograph completely. At half life size (1:2), only half the monitor and resulting picture would contain your seahorse. At one third life size (1:3), two thirds of your picture would not contain any seahorse and at quarter life size (1:4) only twenty five percent of your photograph would have any trace of seahorse in it at all. So when we choose our equipment for critter photography, we really need to think very carefully about the size of the subject we want to photograph and match our lenses accordingly.

UCL close up picture
This photograph of a coral is a simple close up picture that can easily be taken with almost any underwater compact camera using just its built in lens or a compact system camera or SLR using a mid range zoom lens. But to shoot details we need to greatly magnify the coral for which INON UCL close up lenses are ideal.

Olympus XZ-2 INON D-2000 strobe

When we want to photograph really tiny subjects or just part of small subjects, such as only the head of a pygmy seahorse or the eye of a scorpion fish, we need to increase the magnification of our underwater camera beyond normal macro. Anytime just a part of our subject completely fills the camera sensor, we are taking super macro photographs. If, for example, we took a picture of a seahorse from head to tail that filled our sensor and monitor completely, we have taken a macro image that is life size or 1:1. If we take another picture, but only the top half of the seahorse fills our monitor, we have shot an image that is twice life size or 2:1. To get the most from popular critter diving destinations such as Lembeh and the Philippines, you’ll need to set up to shoot super macro.

It’s easy to be misled into thinking close up photography is all about focusing as closely as possible – in fact some compact cameras can actually focus onto the front of their own lens. In reality, this works against you getting good close up pictures. The main reason is that it is impossible to light a subject that’s right up against your camera lens, unless it is from behind. Not many subjects lend themselves to this style of lighting. Subjects that light well from behind tend to be diaphanous, which generally means plants and some corals. Another problem is that the slightest motion, such as is caused by breathing out, is likely to cause you to drop onto your subject, possibly killing it and scratching your valuable lens port as well. INON UCL close up lenses let you stay a few centimetres away from your subject. This is not only safer for your subject, it provides the essential space to aim your lights to illuminate it properly. The gap between your camera and your subject is called the working distance.

UCLM67lens set

A simple dedicated underwater compact camera critter photography outfit. For macro photography the camera has been fitted with an INON UCL-165 close up lens. The top mounted INON S-2000 offers S-TTL automatic flash exposures, making this a compact point and shoot rig easily used by a beginner to take outstanding macro photographs with the minimum of fuss.

So in order to take close up, macro and super macro images we need to consider the likely size of our subjects, what equipment options we have available to us and, of course, what camera and strobe settings we’ll need to use and any special shooting techniques that might help us nail the shot. Owners of compact underwater cameras usually have to use add-on close up lenses to increase the magnification capabilities of their camera. Close up lenses are basically magnifying glasses. INON UCL close up lenses achieve high magnification through a combination of their own strength as a magnifying lens, expressed as a diopter, and by enabling the compact cameras built in lens to focus very much closer than normal when zoomed in. INON’s range of UCL close up lenses include the INON UCL-330, the INON UCL-165 and the INON UCL-100. The INON UCL lenses can be used in air and underwater. The INON UCL-330 is a +3 diopter lens and is in sharp focus 330mm from the subject. It has the longest working distance of all the INON UCL close up lenses, making it especially suited to shy subjects. The INON UCL-165 is a +6 diopter close up lens and is in focus 165mm from the subject. The INON UCL-100 is a +10 diopter close up lens and in focus 100mm from the subject underwater.

Along with the fixed magnification power of the INON UCL close up lens, the telephoto range of your compact cameras built in lens also becomes an important factor. The longer the telephoto range, the more magnification you’ll have available, meaning you can shoot smaller subjects. Super zoom cameras, when combined with an INON UCL-330, INON UCL-165 or INON UCL-100 underwater close up lens can take pictures of incredibly small subjects, exceeding anything that is really possible with a professional underwater SLR camera. But the more we increase magnification, the more we also increase our problems. This is especially true of focusing. As we increase magnification, our depth of field reduces. Depth of field is the area in front of and behind the main subject we’ve focused on that is acceptably sharp. Depth of field is affected by a number of things, all of which the photographer has some control over if they fully understand the role their equipment plays in underwater photography (the INON UK Level One Underwater Photography Course was designed to explain basic camera functions and includes practical underwater close up photography training). One is sensor size – as sensors get larger depth of field gets less. Another is F stop. Wide F stops, such as F2.8, produce less depth of field than narrow F stops, such as F8. Another is the focal length of your lens. Wide-angle lenses have more depth of field than telephoto lenses. The distance at which you are focused also has an effect. At near distances you’ll have less depth of field than at far distances.

UCL instability
As we magnify our subjects, any instability from our camera is also magnified. This super macro image is ruined by camera movement which has prevented the camera from focusing correctly and introduced motion blur. Understanding the camera functions that will help you get great close up, macro, super macro and wide macro images are covered by INON UK’s range of underwater photography programs.

When we add a close up lens to our underwater compact camera, focusing becomes critical. This is very different to using a wide-angle lens like the INON UWL-H100. A super wide-angle lens such as the INON UWL-H100 has so much depth of field we can easily shoot stunning close focus, wide-angle photographs that include a fan coral just a few centimetres in front of our camera, a diver in the mid distance and our dive boat floating overhead and all three subjects will be sharp. Close up lenses are right at the other extreme. Close up lenses, as explained before, are basically magnifying glasses. Like reading print through a magnifying glass, where getting the distance between the magnifier and the print is critical, or the focus falls apart, using a close up lens means you have to focus very precisely. The higher the combined magnification of your camera lens and your INON UCL underwater close up lens, the less depth of field you have. Just millimetres, in fact. For most subjects, there are practical limits to how much magnification we can use before it becomes impossible to work out what the subject is. Indeed, some subjects that are in perfect focus appear out of focus at high magnification or seem to exhibit noise because of their patterns and textures being naturally un-sharp and grainy!

As magnification increases, depth of field decreases and selective focusing becomes critical. Only one of the gills of this nudibranch is sharp. The frilled gills behind are out of focus. Olympus XZ-2 equipped with two stacked INON UCL-100M67 close up lenses and lit with an INON LF2700-W video light. Steve discusses how to focus with close up lenses and the role video lights plays in shooting stills during the INON UK Understanding Your Underwater Camera and Strobe Day.

Super zoom compact cameras can be an excellent choice for super macro photography because the telephoto range permits very high magnification to be achieved with the INON UCL-330 close up lens. Using the INON UCL-330, which offers the lowest magnification of INON’s UCL close up lens range, does provide the benefit of a longer working distance. Using a strong telephoto lens with the INON UCL-330 easily makes up for its lower magnification. This can make lighting a little easier as well as allowing you to keep some space between you and a skittish subject that might feel threatened and leave if you were any closer. A very important disadvantage of many super zoom compact cameras for underwater photography to be aware of is that few adapt well to wide-angle work. The design of their built in lenses has made most super zoom cameras incompatible with conventional add on wide-angle wet lenses, such as the INON UWL-H100 and its competitors. Wide-angle wet lenses are much more complex lenses than close up wet lenses and the optical criteria for them to function satisfactorily is much more exacting. INON have designed the INON UWL-S100 ZM80 super wide-angle lens for compact cameras with ‘difficult’ built in lenses. Some innovative thinking made this lens possible and it is this that sets it apart from traditional wet wide-angle lenses and overcomes their inherent incompatibility with certain compact camera models, including some popular Canon Powershot’s. The INON UWL-S100 ZM80 provides a 100 degree angle of view as standard and this can be increased to around 150 degrees by adding the optional INON Dome Lens Unit 11.

tube worm

In very limited visibility, close up photography can still be very productive and rewarding. Visibility was less than two metres when Steve Warren took this detail of a tube worm using a Panasonic FT-2 compact equipped with two stacked INON UCL-165AD close up lenses. An INON LE550 video light lit the image.

Most users of compact underwater cameras will probably need to opt for a higher magnification close up lens, such as the INON UCL-165 or INON UCL-100. Most of the compact cameras best suited to underwater photography have built in lenses with quite modest telephoto ranges. Even when set to maximum telephoto and equipped with, say, the INON UCL-165, they may not quite achieve life size or true macro photographs. Using the INON UCL-100 close up lens should enable most underwater compact camera users to just nudge into super macro underwater photography. If you want to shoot at higher magnification ratios, like twice life size, with a compact camera with a limited telephoto lens range, then you can greatly increase your cameras capability by stacking close up lenses. Stacking simply means using two or more close up lenses added together. This can easily double the magnification of your underwater camera system and allow you to take extreme super macro images. As explained earlier, with increased magnification and as working distances get shorter, shooting in focus pictures often becomes more difficult. The INON UK Understanding Your Underwater Camera and Strobe Day offers some simple solutions to help you overcome these problems.

UCL 100 + 165
Compact camera systems have become very popular with serious underwater photographers. Offering the advantages of SLR cameras including larger sensors for higher image quality and big buffers to enable burst shooting in RAW, compact system cameras are lower cost, lighter and less bulky. INON close up lenses can be stacked - here an INON UCL-100 and an INON UCL-165 have been combined - , to enable super macro photography with either a true macro lens or a mid range zoom.

Users of SLR and compact system underwater cameras have more equipment options for taking close up, macro and super macro photographs than users of compact underwater cameras. For these users the best method for taking close up, macro and super macro underwater photographs begins with using a true macro lens. Because true macro lens can focus at any distance from infinity to their minimum focusing distance, which is the point at which they achieve life size reproduction, they are easier to use than a compact camera. Although compact cameras have evolved, they cannot usually focus as close as a telephoto macro lens, such as the Canon 100mm macro lens that is popular with INON X2 housing system users, or the Panasonic 45mm telephoto macro used with the INON X2 housings for Panasonic Lumix compact system underwater cameras. Some compact cameras also require you to physically switch the camera from its normal focus range to its close focusing range as you get nearer, which can be a faff. At some point the compact underwater camera user will have to stop and fit a close up lens or two to achieve the life size reproduction of an SLR or compact system camera fitted with a true macro lens. The photographer then has to take all his pictures from a specific distance. A few millimetres deviation in that distance will render the subject completely out of focus. The SLR or compact system camera user has the huge benefit that their macro lens can continuously refocus as needed so long as it isn’t nearer to the subject than its own minimum focusing distance. This helps enormously with taking pictures of moving subjects, like fish, and in situations where the photographer is moving, perhaps because of surge.

If the user of an underwater compact system or SLR camera outfit wants to shoot beyond life size and enter the realm of super macro photography, then they will need to add to their equipment. Life size reproduction is the limit of conventional true macro lenses. For underwater photography with interchangeable lenses the two most popular solutions for increasing the magnification of a true macro lens is either to use a tele-converter or add a close up lens. A tele-converter is most often used by land photographers to increase the telephoto effect of a lens they already own because it is more economic than buying a more powerful lens or because a more powerful telephoto lens might be too big and heavy to be useable. Tele converters can be used underwater for the same reason – perhaps to convert a standard macro lens into a telephoto macro lens because the underwater photographer normally takes pictures of nudibranchs in very poor visibility but now has an opportunity to take pictures of small reef fish in the tropics. A telephoto macro lens would be much more effective for filling the frame with these small fish than the standard macro lens because the photographer can be twice as far away, meaning the fish may be much less wary and easier to work with. But mostly underwater photographers use tele-converters to add magnification to their macro lenses for super macro photography. Tele converters fit between your camera body and your lens. The image is typically magnified by 40 percent or 100 percent, meaning you can shoot 1.4 times or twice life size super macro images. The focusing range of your lens is not altered. Underwater photography equipment, the techniques to make use of it and the opportunities to use it are interlinked. Almost always, there are trade offs. Tele converters reduce the light reaching your sensor and can interfere with your autofocus. They can also complicate your housing set up as you may find it difficult to have manual focus control, which you may need. The INON X2 EOS underwater SLR system uses the INON MRS port. This ensures you can still have full manual focus control when using tele-converters.

ucl parallel camera
Olympus XZ-2, INON D-2000 strobe and dual INON UCL-100 close up lenses.

A useful tip when shooting close ups is to take pictures of subjects that are flat and keep your camera parallel to them. Otherwise your subject will lose focus across the frame. INON UK owners Lisa Collins and Steve Warren host regular events to help underwater photographers improve their skills. Clients of INON UK shop and official INON UK dealers enjoy discounted rates on many INON UK courses and events. Some improve your underwater photography events don't even require you to get wet.

INON UCL-330, INON UCL-165 and INON UCL-100 wet close up lenses are also often chosen by diving photographers using underwater SLR or compact system cameras. Although they impose the same restriction as they do on compact underwater camera users in as much that the photographer must shoot from a fixed distance, they also offer the same advantages. They can be fitted and removed underwater as needed and can be stacked to offer a choice of magnifications levels and to achieve different compositions with fixed focal length lenses. INON UCL close up wet lenses are often used in combination with a macro lens and a tele-converter to enable super macro photography at magnification levels beyond twice life size. INON UCL close up lenses are sometimes also used with mid-range zoom lenses. This allows the zoom to be used for close up, macro and super macro photography. Zoom lenses also let you adjust your composition in camera. Compact system camera users can equip specific mid-range zoom lenses with the INON UWL-H100 underwater wide-angle lens. By using the mid-range zoom as a base lens (mid-range zooms are excellent for shooting marine life such as medium sized reef fish and turtles, as well as close ups of corals as big as your hand, for example) and then adding an INON UWL-H100 wide-angle or INON UCL close up lens, the photographer retains the versatility of the INON wet lens system with the advantages of a compact system camera. Using INON wet lenses lets the photographer shoot many varieties­­ of subjects on a single dive and react to unexpected encounters and opportunities. The compact system camera is usually much more effective for shooting RAW images because of its larger buffer. Shooting in RAW allows far more options for photo editing. Photo editing of underwater photographs is one of the topics included in the Learn with Lisa classroom based underwater photography course.

UCL PT054 double strobe
INON's wet lens system allows the underwater photographer to carry and use a range of lenses on every dive. This allows the photographer to plan several types of photography on a single dive. For instance they might dive on a wreck and shoot the bows with a semi-fisheye lens, move up the reef it struck taking fish pictures with a zoom lens, then take some close ups of fan corals before using their safety stop to fit their close up lens and photograph super macro details of nudibranchs. INON wet lenses are compatible with many compact and compact system cameras.

Wide macro or wide angle macro is an interchangeable term used to describe an extreme form of close focus, wide-angle underwater photography. Strictly speaking, because wide-angle lenses can’t shoot macro images, only close ups, it’s another misuse of the description macro. To shoot wide macro images a super wide-angle lens, semi-fisheye or fisheye lens is used. This is then placed very close to a small subject, like a nudibranch, so it dominates the foreground, but the wide view of the lens also shows the subjects surroundings. The great depth of field of extreme wide-angle lenses keeps all of the image sharp from foreground to background. Because wide macro photography depends on getting very close to your main subject, conventional camera housings with dome ports can be tricky to use. This is because dome ports for compact system cameras and SLR’s can be quite large. Making dome ports very small can cause unwanted degradation of the image, especially in the corners. Another problem is that the bulk of the dome port can interfere with positioning strobes or video lights properly. INON make two special lenses specifically for wide macro underwater photography. The INON UFL-M150 ZM80 is a wet lens for compact and compact system cameras. With a 150 degree angle of view, it is almost fisheye in its scope. It holds focus from the lens front to infinity. The tiny diameter of the front element of the INON UFL-M150 ZM80 helps keep the camera system as small as possible and makes it easier to bring video lights or strobes alongside the lens for precise lighting control. The INON UFL-MR130 EFS60 is built for the INON X2 line of housings for Canon EOS SLR cameras and uses the Canon EFS60 macro lens as its base lens. It is designed so that it can be inserted into confined spaces, such as reef crevices, and can carry lighting arrays. The INON UFL-MR130 EFS60 offers a full 130 degree super wide angle field of view.

mark stability
Mark Koekemoer of INON UK dealer The Underwater Camera Company easily composes and shoots his images one handed. Mark has precisely balanced his underwater camera system to be neutrally buoyant using INON float arms. Many underwater photographers fail to recognise the importance of correctly balancing their camera outfit. This introduces instability causing inaccurately composed, out of focus and motion blurred throwaway pictures. Fuji F50 with INON UFL-165AD fisheye lens.

It is very important to protect your INON UCL wet lenses from damage or loss, which could put an abrupt end to your underwater photography. Lens caps are easily misplaced and it is sensible to carry spares. INON also offer neoprene pouches to store your lenses and these add a little impact protection as well. Lens holders in M67 screw and AD and LD bayonet fittings let you keep your lenses on your INON Grip Base, INON D Holder or INON arm until needed.

Taking high magnification underwater photographs requires stability. Instability from either the camera or the diver will inevitably make focusing accurately far more difficult and is likely to cause motion blur. Videographers may need to consider using a tripod or bipod to help ensure steady, focused footage. The INON carbon telescopic arms can be adapted for this purpose. Stills photographers only need to get one sharp shot and there are a few different techniques which are discussed during the INON UK Understanding Your Underwater Camera and Strobe Day which can help achieve this result. A lot of instability is caused by negatively buoyant and poorly trimmed underwater camera outfits. Most compact, compact system and SLR underwater camera outfits will weigh a kilo or more in the water. This might not sound much, but imagine what holding out a one or two kilo weight at arm’s length would do to your underwater stability. That’s what your camera outfit does and its constant and erratic movements are what interferes with proper focusing and accurately composing your image. Drop your camera and it will sink pretty much as fast as a diving weight too! INON float arms add buoyancy and make your camera much more controllable. A properly set up underwater camera system can be shot one handed, leaving your other hand free to adjust scuba equipment, check gauges or to hold position.

X-2 6D macro
INON UK’s Lisa Collins was asked by INON to help evaluate a prototype INON X2-EOS6D underwater SLR system. The EOS6D easily masters super macro photography using a combination of a Canon macro lens, a tele converter and an INON UCL close up lens. Shooting great super macro images requires proper planning and strong compositional skills. Both topics are covered in INON UK’s Learn with Lisa Day underwater photography improvement course.

Five Features and Benefits of INON UCL Digital Close Up Wet Lenses

Greatly Increase Magnification Ratios of Existing Underwater Camera Systems Original Lenses.

Enables users of video, compact, compact system and SLR underwater cameras to operate in the macro and super macro range.

High Quality Optics.

Two and three element lens construction which are multicoated to maximize light transmission and reduce reflections, flare and ghosting.

Can be Stacked to Vary Magnification and Change Composition.

Choice of diopters can be mixed and matched for a choice of magnification levels to suit a range of subjects and photographic styles.

Wet Lens Design.

INON UCL wet lenses can be fitted and removed underwater as needed for maximum flexibility. When combined with INON UWL wide-angle lenses, the underwater photographer can handle almost any opportunity that arises.

Includes INON UK Benefits. Your INON UCL-330, INON UCL-165 or INON UCL-100 underwater close up lens, when purchased through the INON UK shop or an official INON UK dealer, includes some valuable benefits. These include a three year extended warranty and significant discounts on many INON UK underwater photography continuing education courses and events. INON UK is INON’s sole appointed UK distributor. Not all INON products sold in UK are supplied by INON UK and do not carry INON UK exclusive benefits – some are grey or parallel imports. Check our official INON UK dealer list to be sure you get our full product support.

Mark and Bok
Webster Mendoza, Aiyanar’s Beach and Dive Resort star spotter in the Philippines, discusses results with Mark Koekemoer from The Underwater Camera Company. Mark was on location designing the INON UK Level Two Lighting Course. Showing your guide the minimum size of subject you can photograph with your camera system is a simple tip that can make critter photography much more productive. Planning successful underwater photography safaris is something you can learn about at INON UK Learn with Lisa Days, which are classroom sessions to help you improve your underwater photography.

INON’s selection of UCL close up lenses and relay lenses puts close up, macro, super macro and wide macro underwater photography well within the capabilities of underwater photography enthusiasts. INON UK underwater photography courses, including the INON UK Level One Underwater Photography Course, INON UK Level Two Underwater Lighting Course, INON UK Understanding Your Underwater Camera and Strobe Day and the Learn with Lisa Underwater Photography Improvement Day are all designed to support you and help you fast track to underwater photography success. We and our official INON UK dealers are ready to help you choose the INON close up system that will best help you realise your own ambitions as an underwater critter photographer.