It must have
been foresight that the New Underwater Lens Revolution is based
in the Southbridge area of central Massachusetts once considered
the Optical Capital of the World. American Optical has had more
companies spin-off than any other in the world. A pair of visionaries
at Fathom Imaging, originally a brainchild of JBV Optical Products and Micro Optech, is working to provide
our industry with the highest quality distortion-free lenses
to accommodate the new generation of high-definition and wide-screen
format digital camcorders and still cameras.
The formidable optical and laser expertise
of Dr. Paul Remijan (above right) and John B. Voyles
(above left) has been employed in the medical, military and
industrial sectors for over 35 years. They are both protégés
of John Wilbur Hicks, one of the inventors of fiber optics in
High Definition communication technology.
Dr. Remijan got his PhD in optical physics
for the design and manufacture of high precision analytical instruments.
He worked on the Hubble Telescope. His true acumen is in designing
optical equipment and studying the human eye. But that's what
is intriguing about his venture into underwater lenses. He knows
how the human eye works. He is the R&D man and quiet one.
Voyles is the "master optician of
analytical optics" in the world of lenses, prisms, mirrors
and beams. He specializes in the hands-on manufacture of high-quality
laser optics, thin film coatings, and optical assembly. He worked
on laser optical beam delivery systems for unmanned submarines.
He is the outgoing business and PR man.
Fathom Imaging is now at the forefront
of the field of specialized lenses and adaptors for underwater
image acquisition. And it makes sense that if they can help man
see into space at great distances and to see into the human body
on a microscopic level, then why not the ocean bottom, too? With
concepts and designs by Dr. Remijan and optical production
technologies by Voyles, all of the major underwater camera housing
manufacturers want these type lenses made to work with their
own cutting-edge products
Water complicates videography. Underwater
videographers complicate videography. Considering the myriad
sea critters and conditions we encounter, we also ask the impossible
of our camera setups. Ultimately, either you "got the shot"
or did not. So it is welcome news when a lens of the highest
quality and, frankly, considerable expense, delivers crystal
clear imagery for wide-angle as well as macro photography in
both water and air with full zoom-through capability. Imagine
no vignetting and extremely low distortion of the entire field
of view eventually up to 110 degrees for NTSC or PAL in seawater.
No more "fisheye" tunnel vision.
It must be a housing
manufacturer's nightmare to produce a housing for the newest
camcorder that, on today's market, gets replaced every eighteen
months. Of course, the electronics companies drive it all. When
Sony, Canon, JVC and Panasonic introduce new camcorders
requiring a housing by each company, think what a precision lens
maker faces when designing for a new camera that fits in each
housing differently and has a different field of vision, focal
angle and length. That's enough to make someone who is 20/20
And what must a lens maker produce to
justify the average $4000-$6,500 MSRP cost? Remarkable video
with high resolution, incredible clarity, minimum distortion,
no vignetting, color correction, versatility, and durability!
All pretty amazing considering the staggering demands of digital
camera and broadcast technology to produce instantaneous revolutionary
optic solutions. Essentially, Fathom Imaging's lenses are a custom-made
matched set for each camera in every housing as if it were an
individual eyeglass prescription.
I had the opportunity
to test their SWAP (Super Wide Angle Port) 100-degree underwater
adaptor with support for 12X zoom, air and water lens made for
Gates Underwater Products' Sony VX-2000/PD150 housing.
Sea trials occurred on three ocean dives off Palm Beach, Florida,
to 50, 80 and 100 feet lasting about three hours total. The Fathom
Super Wide Angle Port has six (6) high precision glass elements,
all with a custom High Efficiency Broad Band Anti-Reflective
(HEBBAR) coating, providing superior light transmission. The
elements are assembled with a nitrogen purge and vacuum seal
process, and the external BK-7 dome element has a super hard
laser coating that stands up to seawater and aggressive post-dive
cleaning. It fits externally with a double o-ring neck that penetrates
a precise distance into the housing opening. It pushes in and
turns positively until it stops.
The camera is locked into place on a
sled that has two prongs in front and a fixed screw in the rear
to prevent the slightest misalignment. I suggest they provide
a quick, tool-less release for rapid removal of the camera from
the housing for quick tape changes alone.
The lens is fairly large and heavy requiring
a PVC flotation tube bungeed around it to keep its nose up. Although
the entire unit is heavy on land, it can be managed with one
hand down below. It is so well balanced that it pans on a steady
horizontal plane while weighted slightly negatively to keep from
The Gates' housing lives up to its "bulletproof"
reputation with their machined aluminum, black type III "hard"
anodized finish sealed with a nickel-acetate process. The test
housing was newly upgraded with an improved white balance control.
Mine came with the optional color monitor although the magnified
viewfinder worked well. I would like to have their optional microphone
and water intrusion alarm. I am spoiled by electronic controls,
but Gates is known for building "tanks" whose manual
levers and wheels are mostly fool proof. I was impressed by the
ease of their use.
explains that high magnification close-ups can be recorded at
full zoom when an object is only 6 inches from the port vertex
in air and 18 inches from the port vertex in seawater. Minimum
Underwater Object Distance (MUOD) is compressed from 44 inches
from a conventional flat port using a ZEF (Zoom Enable Feature)
designed into the adaptor. The purpose of ZEF is to duplicate
macro lens magnification by enabling effective use of the entire
12X zoom range of the VX 2000 camcorder lens. Magnification at
full 12X zoom is substantial and equivalent to the magnification
attained by setting the camcorder at "half zoom" and
adding a 2-diopter macro lens. Some model lenses work just in
water with full zoom and some in air and water allowing split-shots,
but with no zoom. Their product line of lenses and adaptors range
from 60 to 110 degrees of Field of View (FOV) with less than
3% distortion over the entire FOV in seawater and up to 120 degrees
4:3 mode, with the Fathom Super Wide Angle Port SWAP, there was
no vignetting at all. All the corners were crisp. My own TRV900/BlueFin
Light & Motion setup with its super wide-angle lens performs
exceptionally, but occasionally shows vignetting in the upper
corners when I edit in Final Cut Pro. That's okay for today's
TV. I immediately noticed that the features on a sea turtle's
shell in the foreground were sharp, and the divers swimming in
the far background were in focus too. With no lights (HID lamps
optionally available), but using the convenient highly effective
flip-down color-correction filter and a manually adjusted white
balance, I was able to achieve rich, warm spectrum tones at 90
feet. The lens did so well in poor visibility and low light,
divers seeing the video couldn't believe they were on the same
dive. The lens's non-reflective coatings minimize sunflares generated
by light bouncing off the inside of the elements.
underwater videographers avoid zooming with the camera, I was
able to focus easily on a swimming turtle's head from 50 feet
and pull back for a truly clear long shot. That is not easy especially
with the particulates in the water. In most shots, including
the jpeg stills from the memory stick function, you'd think there
was no water at all. I could use my body as the zoom as I normally
do, and actually dimple a sponge with the dome of the lens with
a slight blur at the point of contact at macro range. You still
need a diopter for the super macro shots. I couldn't be sure
how close I was through the viewfinder. Because of the design,
split shots across the air-water refraction line are not only
possible, but also quite visually appealing. No one wants to
open a housing to change lenses in salt air unless necessary.
Being able to go from wide-angle to macro keeps the subject matter
options open. So, wide-angle and macro capability with one lens
is the long and short of versatility. As another approach, most
housing manufacturers now offer optional wet-mount lens adaptor
systems that allow swap of the external parts while underwater.
I have not tried one but it is too easy to trap seawater and
floaty things between the camera lens and the adaptor.
As to durability, and adaptability, I
warned them that I field test by putting the product through
its paces by normal use, my normal use. I swim through and hit
objects like soft corals and sponges as I approach a subject.
I fall off the boat with the camera on. I have been known to
bump off a sandpaper-skinned shark if it doesn't afford me the
mutual respect due my Florida Bar Association membership card.
So the lens better take it, especially at those prices. It better
withstand the everyday bumps and dings associated with being
on and getting on and off boats in rough seas. Other than the
boat crew putting the plastic lens and eyepiece covers on, the
rig got shoved in the fresh water dip tank like any other snap
The entire Atlantic seaboard experienced
an unexplained summer of coastal cold-water upwellings that brought
record low water temperatures. Underwater photographers learn
fast that rapid change in temperature can fog the best system
with condensation and even disable the camcorder's tape advance.
Just going between air-conditioning to tropical outdoors may
do it. During testing, the prototype SWAP did not fog after descent
from a hot surface to the 57-degree bottom. Fathom's special
assembly process in their NASA-like, clean whiteroom makes that
quick recovery possible.
The big four
housing makers are Gates Underwater Products, Light &
Motion Industries, Amphibico and Sea & Sea. Fathom has
tried various partnering arrangements with these companies, but
may be fast evolving into an end provider in its own right. Fathom
Imaging's entry into the underwater videography market was in
1995 when Dr. Remijan designed the first glass $6,500 asphere
for Val Ranetkins, founder of Amphibico. He had to specially
adapt it for their VX1000 housing's existing small bulkhead lens
opening. Amphibico still sells it for their TRV900/950, VX2000/PD150,
and VX1000 setups. In 1997-98, Dr. Remijan designed Amphibico's
High-Definition Underwater Adaptor for the Sony HDW-F900 to match
the Canon lens for their still-in-use HD housing. When the VX2000/PD150
came out, Amphibico decided to go its own way and try to make
its own lenses. Amphibico recently came out with a compact super
wide-angle 100-degree aspheric lens for $1,995 for all its bayonet-mounted
That's when Fathom offered its lenses
and know-how to Gates and Light & Motion. Ellwyn Gates and
his successor, John Ellerbrock, the new forward thinking
owner of Gates, eagerly adapted their company's housings to specifically
allow mating with Fathom Imaging's lenses and then ordered their
complete product line to market. That willingness to change allowed
the effect of Dr. Remijan's optics to be maximized. Ellerbrock
is looking ahead to having lens adaptors available when each
new full HD camera is made public. On September 21st, Gates announced
the introduction of the WP25, WP35 and SWP25 ports designed by
Fathom Imaging for all their housings including the HD1 Hi Definition
housing. "The SWP25 is a Hi Performance port with full zoom
through capability, allowing unprecedented 110° wide angle
down to 1.6" full frame macro shots."
In Light &
Motion's case, Fathom designed, adapted, manufactured and provided
the optical components for the super wide 100-degree aspheric
lens for their BlueFin VX2000/PD150 housings, which they assemble
and sell themselves. A SWAP for their TRV900/950 is on the way.
Fathom Imaging offers a made-to-order custom-built 100-degree
lens for Sea & Sea's VX2000/PD150 housing. Fathom is seeking
resellers of their entire product line.
is engineering professional lenses but also looking ahead to
bring high-quality, affordable lenses to the amateurs at entry
level. Fathom will be making for four feature specific lens category
levels (professional, semi-professional, advanced and entry level)
which can even be mounted on less expensive recreational housings.
Smaller housing companies like Equinox Underwater Products
(manual controls), Ocean Images, Inc. and UnderSea
Video Housings (electronic controls) are benefiting from
these innovations. More and more, in order to take advantage
of all of a camcorder's functional capabilities via the LANC,
all housings will have some hybrid combination of manual and
electronic housing controls.
Where is it heading? Jean-Michel Cousteau
and Wes Skiles are using Fathom Imaging 's HD products. With
their own innovations, Howard Hall and Bob Cranston have "gone
where no one has gone before" with IMAX. James Cameron has
updated his 3D-stereoscopic image technology and adapted it for
underwater. There is a lot
of new equipment out there. If a lens can do this with today's
mini-DV and DVCAM cameras, then its capabilities will be transforming
with HD CCD's and wide-screen mode. Video no longer ends up just
on your TV. Digital video now outputs to movie house wide screen,
home media center HD plasma screens, wide screen computer LCD
monitors, DVD's, Video CD's MPEG4, streaming video, and digital
tape. That puts some hefty expectations on the High Resolution
display of all those millions of pixels no matter on what size
screen it is shown. Digital cinematography is merging with all
continues to break new ground. Now, they are building an adaptor
kit that will make possible attachment of professional lenses
to less expensive housings. So, Fathom Imaging's lenses will
be accessible for all levels of shooters and will work with all
housings even if custom fitting their lenses is needed for any
mating system. Camcorder lenses are also available for the Sony
TRV900/950 and PDX10 and for the Canon XL1S and GL2 series in
a number of configurations and prices. There is one for the Canon
EOS-1DS digital still camera. In R&D are lenses for the JVC
JY-HD10U and HDK-79EX Full Digital HDTV Camera System. I am anxious
to see their new 1:12 diopter Super Macro Zoom lens. That
should fill a screen with something really small! Fathom Imaging
is building it and they are coming.
Content related Links:
(Light & Motion)
©2003Jay Garbose Underwater
Video & Internet Productions
Inspired by Ron and Valerie Taylor's shark documentaries and exploits, Jay Garbose's years practicing law gave way to his full-time profession as Jay
Garbose Underwater Video & Internet Productions in Florida. He is producing broadcast quality documentaries and internet productions with Final Cut Pro. Recently, he has been interviewed and shown footage on the West Palm Beach NBC affiliate and has had his videos featured on a news story on The Today Show. Other credits include footage contributed to HBO for an Emmy-award winning special
on endangered species, Texas Educational TV, local TV news stories
and file footage at National Geographic. The Smithsonian Marine
Station in Florida has his videos on permanent display. Harbor
Branch Oceanographic Institute and Mote Marine Institute both
use his videos in their research. Jay has dived all over the
world in Florida, Australia, Indonesia, Bali, Komodo, Greece,
Israel, Egypt, Red Sea, Mexico, Costa Rica, Caymans, Honduras
and the Bahamas.