Chris Simmons' UW Photo Gear

Last Modified 2015-May-27


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My Equipment:

In January of 2000, I started UW photography with a Nikon N90s & 60mm AF-D f/2.8 micro lens housed in an Aquatica 90 with a pair of Ikelite 50 substrobes mounted on Ultralight 5"-5" arms. I had been very actively diving in California waters for fourteen and a half years before picking up a camera.

My progression of equipment & training:

  • 1997-1999 Mostly, I read books on UW photography, got tips from UW photog friends, watched people doing UW photography on many trips, researched what the different camera system could do, and then I jumped in with both feet in late 1999. (Mainly to keep diving interesting.)
  • 1999 Aquired a nikkor 20mm f/2.8 AF-D via ebay.(sold it when I bought the 18mm f/2.8 AF-D)
  • 1999-2000 Shot with the nikkor 60mm f/2.8 AF-D micro and a pair of Ike 50 strobes exclusively until August 2000
  • Started shooting a nikkor 105mm f/2.8 AF-D micro and a pair of Ike 50 strobes during the Monterey Bay Shootout (the lens paid for itself; see Monterey Bay Shootout macro winner.)
  • Attempted to do some close focus wide angle (CFWA) with my nikkor 20mm in September using the same Ike 50 macro strobes set to TTL, some luck; but the ike 50 strobes don't have the coverage needed for the 20mm and only have one manual setting "full" (most wide angle strobes have full, half, quarter, eighth; some have full, quarter, sixteenth)
  • 2000 Bought a nikkor 24mm f/2.8 AF-D because the 20mm is sometimes _too_ wide (you can't fill the frame with a skiddish animal because they won't allow you to get close enough. I shot this lens during the 2001 NCUPS beach comp visibility was 3 to 8 feet and I got a few nice shots with it. I've got to practice balancing strobe light with natural light.)
  • 2001 Took Monte Smith's UW photo course through NCUPS (Feb/Mar of 2001); learned alot about the art and science of good UW photography. (wide angle, macro, tips and techniques, lots of hands on and camera in hand stuff)
  • 2001 Bought a pair of Ikelite 200 sub strobes and built a set of 16"-16" ultralight arms (wow, this is a handful in the water _and_ the Ike 200s will fry your retinas.)
  • April 2001 Went to Saba/Statia/St. Kitts and practiced wide angle with my big strobes and long arms (but, I mostly shot with the 105mm for macro and fish portraits; the warm water was nice. Unfortunately, I had to work hard to find good wide angle subjects.)
  • 2001 Bought a nikkor 200mm f/4 AF-D micro via ebay (Mainly for land use. Although, I will house it and see what it can do UW soon.)
  • 2002 Bought a nikkor 16mm f/2.8 AF-D fisheye via ebay. (Thanks Ron B. for your inspiring 16mm presentation at one of the NCUPS pre-meeting seminars. This lens' DOF, close focusing ability, and forced perspective make some interesting UW pictures. Shot a roll of sea lions at Santa Barbara Island had a blast; just remember you have to be close and the subject should be at least diver sized.)
  • 2002 Bought a nikkor 18mm f/2.8 AF-D via ebay
  • 2002 Bought a nikkor 35mm f/2 AF-D via ebay. I'm thinking of using this lens for closeups of large shy animals and CFWA of small subjects.
  • 2002 Bought a set of diopters +1,+2,+4 (52mm and 62mm). The +4 on the 200mm allows me to shoot at a little better than twice life size with 6" of working space. Although, camera shake becomes very exaggerated. (shutter speed to 1/250 of a second, rear sync flash, and hope for zero surge)
  • 2002 Bought a nikkor 28mm f/2.8 AF-D via ebay.
  • 2003 Bought a nikkor 17-35 f/2.8 AF-S zoom via ebay
  • 2003 Bought the zoom gear and port extension for 17-35mm
  • March 2006 Bought a Nikon d200 (finally, went digital)
  • April 2006 Bought an Aquatica 200 housing (all my Aquatica ports work with it)
  • March 2007 Bought Tokina 10-17mm fisheye (and zoom gear, the 18mm's port extension is perfect for it)
  • August 2007 sold Nikkor 105mm f/2.8 AFD macro
  • August 2007 Bought Nikkor 105mm f/2.8 AF-S VR II macro lens (and manual focus gear)
  • September 2014 Bought Aquatica 4" glass dome and got my Aquatica A200 housing working with the 10-17's zoom gear. (housing's pinion gear was too big)
  • Thinking about upgrading to Nikon D810 and Aquatica AD810 housing (steep $$$ to do that. But, I could shoot my wide angle lenses in their true format, FX; instead of cropped by DX)

Nikon D200 in an Aquatica A200 housing

  • 8" Dome Port:


    digital DX

    180 to 100 degrees

    1" minimum focal distance

    1:2.5 max reproduction

    zoom digital fisheye
    incredible depth of field, huge field of view

    This lens is one of the best underwater wide angle lens ever made. (flexibility, sharpness, fun) Might have to be careful about squashing things with your dome port. (this lens can focus very close)(the only thing I wish it had is a 9 curved blade aperture for better out of focus backgrounds)

    On land, the macro mode is stellar. Talk about close focus wide angle (1"[2.5cm] to front element).

    film equiv. = 15-25.5mm

    Nikkor 16mm

    180 degrees

    10.2" minimum focal distance

    1:10 max reproduction

    full frame fisheye
    incredible depth of field, huge field of view

    I had a blast shooting sealions and divers with this lens. Very, very cool!!

    Tip: stay away from the bottom, it's too hard to evenly light it when using this ultra wide angle lens.

    For digital: (24mm equiv. fisheye) much of the fish effect goes away, shooting more in the sweet spot of the lens so over all picture appears sharper


    104 to 62 degrees

    11.0" minimum focal distance

    1:4.6 max reproduction

    Hmmm, this lens replaces all my fixed focal length wide angle lenses, except the 16mm fisheye. But, it's big and heavy compared to most of my fixed focal length wide angle lenses. So, I'll keep the fixed focal length lenses for land shooting and the 18mm for shooting very wide angle subjects underwater. (I think, it's sharper and has more contrast than the zoom.)

    This lens allows ultimate flexibility for wide angle shooting when you're not sure what your subject will be.

    Note: you cannot use a zoom underwater to replace getting close to your subject unless you like blue tinted low contrast photos. Your strobes and camera must be within 4 feet of your subject to get color/detail/contrast. Use the zoom to crop or include things in your photos. Don't fall into the trap of shooting 17mm or 35mm only. Use the entire zoom range.

    For digital: (25.5-52.5mm equiv.) might not be wide enough for some things.

    Nikkor 18mm

    100 degrees

    10.2" minimum focal distance

    1:9.1 max reproduction

    Wider (by 6 degrees) field of view than the 15mm nikonos

    A very sharp lens, good for close focus wide angle of subjects larger than 20" across

    The 18mm is sharper edge to edge than the 20mm and has better correction for distortion and aberation, it's also 3 times the price. You can do some amazing close focus wide angle compositions with this lens.

    Tip: meter the blue water behind your subject, place each of your strobes, adjust their power to match the exposure of the background.

    For digital: (27mm equiv.)

    Nikkor 20mm

    94 degrees

    10.2" minimum focal distance

    1:8.3 max reproduction

    Same field of view as the 15mm nikonos without the paralax view problem.

    A very sharp lens, good for close focus wide angle of subjects larger than 20" across

    Much less likely to have lens flare than the 18mm. Also, smaller and it takes 62mm filters.

    For digital: (30mm equiv.)

    Nikkor 24mm

    84 degrees

    12" minimum focal distance

    1:8.9 max reproduction

    Same field of view as 20mm nikonos

    For those times when a 18mm won't allow you to fill the frame with the subject.

    Tip: pay close attention to your strobe placement when shooting close focus wide angle, otherwise the center part of your photo may not get illuminated.

    For digital: (36mm equiv.)

    Nikkor 28mm

    74 degrees

    10.2" minimum focal distance

    1:5.6 max reproduction

    I haven't shot this lens UW yet.

    It looks like a winner for close focus wide angle.

    For digital: (42mm equiv.)

    Nikkor 35mm

    62 degrees

    10.2" minimum focal distance

    1:4.2 max reproduction

    A little wider field of view than the 28mm nikonos (59 degrees)

    I haven't shot this lens UW yet. But, it looks like a good candidate for close focus wide angle photography.

    Someone suggested using a +2 diopter with this lens for UW work. That could allow for a different perspective on fish closeups.

    For digital: (52.5mm equiv.)

  • Flat Port w/required port extensions:
    Working distances (from front of port to subject, estimates based on lens length measurements and the distance from the front element of lens to the subject at the given reproduction ratio; note: the 60mm and 105mm elongate to reach 1:1 so the port has to be long enough to allow that; the measurements take fixed port length into account.)(Note: I need to add stats for 105mm AF-S VR.)




    1 to 1


    2.24 in


    4.80 in


    9.21 in

    1 to 1.5


    2.76 in


    5.98 in


    13.54 in

    1 to 2


    3.58 in


    7.52 in


    18.46 in

    1 to 2.5


    4.41 in


    8.86 in


    21.81 in

    1 to 3


    5.31 in


    11.14 in


    25.16 in

    1 to 4


    7.64 in


    15.16 in

    1 to 5


    10.35 in


    17.24 in

    1 to 6


    12.11 in


    21.54 in

  • Nikkor 60mm
    f/2.8 to
    AF-D micro

    Very flexible lens, tack sharp flat field focusing, good at macro, great for taking fish portraits in dirty water; can shoot anything from 1-to-1 to diver head and shoulders shots. Can be tough to light the subject when shooting 1-to-1 and some critters don't like the camera that close (57mm/2.24in) to them.

    For digital: (90mm equiv.) feels very similar to shooting the 105mm on a film camera.

    Nikkor 105mm f/2.8
    AF-D micro

    Great general purpose macro lens, the extra working distance allows more lighting options at 1-to-1 than the 60mm and lets you take pictures of shy animals while staying out of their sphere of fear. The 105 hunts more in auto focus than the 60mm.

    For digital: (157.5mm equiv.) haven't shot the 105mm with my digital camera yet.

    Nikkor 105mm f/2.8
    AF-S VR II micro

    Haven't received this lens yet (shipping from NYC).

    Highlights = Fast and quiet AF (less chance of spooking tiny critters), internal focusing (shorter port, more working room), 62mm front element (more light), switching from AF to manual without flipping any switches/dials on camera or lens.

    Don't know if VR is practical for underwater.

    For digital: (157.5mm equiv.) haven't shot the 105mm with my digital camera yet.

    nikkor 200mm f/4.0 to 32 AF-D IF micro

    I haven't tried the 200mm UW; but, I saw the need for it when shooting the yellow-headed jawfish in Saba and I missed a very cool mantis shrimp. The 105mm was inside its sphere of fear.

    Note: it might be tough keeping track of the subject with this lens. AF should be set to "limit" on the macro side (1:1 to 1:1.9). I don't see any reason to shoot through more than 18 inches (45cm) of water with the 200mm.

    I might try super macro with the 200mm and diopters. (with a +4 diopter I was able to get a little better than 2:1 with about 6" of working room. Lots of possiblities there. I could have some real fun as long as the surge was almost zero.

    For digital: (300mm equiv.) practical for underwater? (maybe, super macro).

  • one pair of Ikelite 50 sub strobes on 5"-5" UltraLight arms for macro, fish portraits, and some close focus wide angle.
  • one pair of Ikelite 200 sub strobes on 12"-12" Ultralight arms for wide angle (inboard segments are 2" float arms to neutralize negative buoyancy)
  • a set of 12"-12" arms for the Ike 200 strobes with my 200mm micro, the same setup also works well for fish portraits with the 105mm and 60mm. Using the Ike 200 strobes with my macro lenses allows me to stop down to f/32 even at 1-to-1 which is effectively f/64 because of the bellows effect.
  • Two sets of diffusers for each strobe pair. (-2/3 of a stop, -1 2/3 stop according to my flash meter; I use the -2/3 stop pair)

TIP: Taming those long strobe arms out of the water:

  • 8 C-cell spotting light for macro (spotting lights built in to Ike 200 strobes for wide angle).
    For some subjects, it's a good idea to either diffuse the spotting light with a thin piece of translucent white plastic, use the edge of the beam, or change the color of the light to red with a piece of red plastic wrap.


All slide film.
(not that anyone still uses film in 2015)

  • Kodak Elite Chrome Extra Color 100 (EBX) and Kodak EktaChrome VS (Very Saturated) 100 is what I normally shoot.
  • Kodak Elite Chrome 100 (EB) has more natural color than EBX and VS.
  • Fuji Sensia II 100 works well also.
  • A 200 speed slide film would be a good idea if you're shooting fast moving subjects in ambient light.
  • I've shot a few rolls of Kodachrome 64, very nice shadows and blacks when shooting WA natural light.
  • All the one-day contests I've shot in use Kodak EktaChrome VS (Very Saturated) 100 or Kodak Elite Chrome Extra Color 100 (EBX).


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