Nikon 1 J4 underwater photography

During my recent vacation in Cuba I had the opportunity to try my Nikon 1 J4 doing some underwater photography, using it with the Nikon 1 WP-N3 waterproof housing. This was a very interesting experience for me as I had never done any underwater photography in the past.

I’d like to extend special thanks to fellow vacationers Joe Szanyi from Canada, and Roy from Britain, for giving me some tips on where to find these fish to photograph.

NOTE: Click on images to enlarge.

Nikon 1 J4 with 10-30mm f/3.5-5.6 PD zoom. Zoom gear sleeve and inner reflection prevention ring attached to the 10-30mm PD zoom. Nikon 1 WP-N3 waterproof housing for J4/S2.
Nikon 1 J4 with 10-30mm f/3.5-5.6 PD zoom. Zoom gear sleeve and inner reflection prevention ring attached to the 10-30mm PD zoom. Nikon 1 WP-N3 waterproof housing for J4/S2.

The WP-N3 waterproof housing is designed for use only with the Nikon 1 J4 or S2 cameras. When used with the J4 all that needs to be done is to affix the zoom gear sleeve and inner reflection prevention ring to the 10-30mm PD zoom.

Owners of the Nikon 1 S2 will need to reconfigure the inside of the WP-N3 with various spacers in order for that camera to work properly with the housing.

Nikon 1 J4 with 10-30mm f/3.5-5.6 lens (or the 11-27.5mm lens) fits snugly into the WP-N3 waterproof housing.
Nikon 1 J4 with 10-30mm f/3.5-5.6 lens (or the 11-27.5mm lens) fits snugly into the WP-N3 waterproof housing.

While waterproof to a depth of 45m (147 feet) the WP-N3 does not provide any shock protection so care must be taken not to drop or bang the housing against any hard objects when a Nikon 1 camera is inserted.

Nikon 1 J4 + 10-30mm f/3.5-5.6 PD zoom at 10mm, efov 27mm, f/5, 1/400, ISO-160
Nikon 1 J4 + 10-30mm f/3.5-5.6 PD zoom at 10mm, efov 27mm, f/5, 1/400, ISO-160

All of the controls can be operated while the camera is inside the housing including full access to the menu. I found the controls worked well with my WP-N3 unit.

Nikon 1 J4 + 10-30mm f/3.5-5.6 PD zoom at 10mm, efov 27mm, f/5.6, 1/800, ISO-160
Nikon 1 J4 + 10-30mm f/3.5-5.6 PD zoom at 10mm, efov 27mm, f/5.6, 1/800, ISO-160

The only real issue I had with the set up was an inability to actually see what I was trying to photograph on the rear panel. I don’t know why Nikon made the rear panel of the housing out of a blue/grey tinted material but it makes it almost impossible to see anything when used underwater. It is also very hard to view the rear panel when the unit is out of the water if the sun is shining on it.

Nikon 1 J4 + 10-30mm f/3.5-5.6 PD zoom at 30mm, efov 81mm, f/5.6, 1/400, ISO-160
Nikon 1 J4 + 10-30mm f/3.5-5.6 PD zoom at 30mm, efov 81mm, f/5.6, 1/400, ISO-160

It didn’t take too long before I began to point the assembly at an angle at least somewhat close to the one needed to photograph what I was hoping to capture. It was a bit of a ‘hit or miss’ proposition at first.

Nikon 1 J4 + 10-30mm f/3.5-5.6 PD zoom at 30mm, efov 81mm, f/5.6, 1/400, ISO-160
Nikon 1 J4 + 10-30mm f/3.5-5.6 PD zoom at 30mm, efov 81mm, f/5.6, 1/400, ISO-160

Since I have never shot anything underwater before I used a lot more auto-type settings with the Nikon 1 J4 than I typically would have for both stills and video. For example for stills I used matrix metering, AF-A (Auto-select AF), and auto-area AF mode.

Nikon 1 J4 + 10-30mm f/3.5-5.6 PD zoom at 30mm, efov 81mm, f/5.6, 1/500, ISO-160
Nikon 1 J4 + 10-30mm f/3.5-5.6 PD zoom at 30mm, efov 81mm, f/5.6, 1/500, ISO-160

When shooting video I used AF-F (Full-time AF), auto-area AF mode, and ‘P’ programmed  auto exposure mode.

When you can’t really see what you’re shooting there’s not much option except to use a lot of ‘auto’ settings and hope that the camera will perform up to expectations – which in my case the Nikon 1 J4 certainly did.

Nikon 1 J4 + 10-30mm f/3.5-5.6 PD zoom at 30mm, efov 81mm, f/5.6, 1/250, ISO-160
Nikon 1 J4 + 10-30mm f/3.5-5.6 PD zoom at 30mm, efov 81mm, f/5.6, 1/250, ISO-160

I didn’t use underwater lights or flash and the out-of-camera jpegs had an overall greenish cast to them and lacked some clarity and snap. As a result all of the images (except the one below) in this article were produced from RAW files. I had to experiment a bit to come up with an overall approach for post processing that wasn’t overly time consuming.

To help illustrate the difference between the out-of-camera jpegs and the finished images for this article produced from RAW files, here is an out-of-camera jpeg (the shadow in the image is my body).

Nikon 1 J4 + 10-30mm f/3.5-5.6 PD zoom at 10mm, efov 27mm, f/5.6, 1/500, ISO-160
Nikon 1 J4 + 10-30mm f/3.5-5.6 PD zoom at 10mm, efov 27mm, f/5.6, 1/500, ISO-160

The following image is the same scene but produced from the corresponding RAW file.

Nikon 1 J4 + 10-30mm f/3.5-5.6 PD zoom at 10mm, efov 27mm, f/5.6, 1/500, ISO-160
Nikon 1 J4 + 10-30mm f/3.5-5.6 PD zoom at 10mm, efov 27mm, f/5.6, 1/500, ISO-160

Here are some details of the post processing approach I used.

Nikon 1 J4 + 10-30mm f/3.5-5.6 PD zoom at 10mm, efov 27mm, f/5.6, 1/500, ISO-160
Nikon 1 J4 + 10-30mm f/3.5-5.6 PD zoom at 10mm, efov 27mm, f/5.6, 1/500, ISO-160

I began my post processing as I always do with OpticsPro 10 and made a few small adjustments taking lens softness settings to 1.20 for Global and 70 for Detail. I applied PRIME noise reduction to all of the images and also took Microcontrast to +10. Other than these simple adjustments only the standard ‘auto’ corrections were done in OpticsPro 10. I then exported a DNG file into CS6.

Nikon 1 J4 + 10-30mm f/3.5-5.6 PD zoom at 10mm, efov 27mm, f/6.3, 1/640, ISO-160
Nikon 1 J4 + 10-30mm f/3.5-5.6 PD zoom at 10mm, efov 27mm, f/6.3, 1/640, ISO-160

I had set the J4’s white balance to ‘underwater’ assuming that this would adjust colours appropriately but I was disappointed with the results. I ended up changing the white balance setting to ‘Auto’ in CS6 and found that this was very helpful in removing quite a bit of the greenish cast, although the images still looked a bit flat.

Nikon 1 J4 + 10-30mm f/3.5-5.6 PD zoom at 10mm, efov 27mm, f/6.3, 1/640, ISO-160
Nikon 1 J4 + 10-30mm f/3.5-5.6 PD zoom at 10mm, efov 27mm, f/6.3, 1/640, ISO-160

There were some variances between images, but for most of them I only made two initial adjustments in CS6 taking Contrast to +10 and Highlights to -100. At this point the images would have looked quite terrible to most folks. My main objective at this point in the process was to hold on to as much highlight detail as possible.

Nikon 1 J4 + 10-30mm f/3.5-5.6 PD zoom at 10mm, efov 27mm, f/6.3, 1/640, ISO-160
Nikon 1 J4 + 10-30mm f/3.5-5.6 PD zoom at 10mm, efov 27mm, f/6.3, 1/640, ISO-160

I then went into the Curves function in CS6 and applied the ‘Find Dark & Light Colours’ Option which completely transformed the images, giving them more definition and for the most part eliminating any residual greenish cast.

Nikon 1 J4 + 10-30mm f/3.5-5.6 PD zoom at 30mm, efov 81mm, f/6.3, 1/640, ISO-160
Nikon 1 J4 + 10-30mm f/3.5-5.6 PD zoom at 30mm, efov 81mm, f/6.3, 1/640, ISO-160

If needed, I made some slight adjustments to some of the hues in individual images but I didn’t spend too much time doing this kind of tweaking. As regular readers know I don’t like to spend more than 2 or 3 minutes on any given image in post.

Nikon 1 J4 + 10-30mm f/3.5-5.6 PD zoom at 30mm, efov 81mm, f/5.6, 1/800, ISO-160
Nikon 1 J4 + 10-30mm f/3.5-5.6 PD zoom at 30mm, efov 81mm, f/5.6, 1/800, ISO-160

I’m sure that as I experiment with these files a bit more I’ll find ways to improve them further while (hopefully) reducing processing time as well.

Nikon 1 J4 + 10-30mm f/3.5-5.6 PD zoom at 30mm, efov 81mm, f/5.6, 1/500, ISO-160
Nikon 1 J4 + 10-30mm f/3.5-5.6 PD zoom at 30mm, efov 81mm, f/5.6, 1/500, ISO-160

I certainly had a lot of fun with my first foray into underwater photography even though I didn’t use a mask/snorkel at all. Instead I shot while standing on the sea floor or while treading water.

The best images were those where I was shooting down on subjects with a maximum distance of about 1.5m (5 feet). Knowing this I’ll definitely use a mask and snorkel my next time out. I also shot a lot of images at the long end of the zoom.

Nikon 1 J4 + 10-30mm f/3.5-5.6 PD zoom at 30mm, efov 81mm, f/5.6, 1/500, ISO-160
Nikon 1 J4 + 10-30mm f/3.5-5.6 PD zoom at 30mm, efov 81mm, f/5.6, 1/500, ISO-160

A lot of other folks who were in the water with me were feeding the fish with bread, hard boiled eggs, or bananas. These certainly worked to attract the fish but the bread particles really caused the water to look cloudy and this affected overall image quality.

Nikon 1 J4 + 10-30mm f/3.5-5.6 PD zoom at 10mm, efov 27mm, f/5, 1/1000, ISO-160
Nikon 1 J4 + 10-30mm f/3.5-5.6 PD zoom at 10mm, efov 27mm, f/5, 1/1000, ISO-160

Being able to have a zoom lens capability was extremely helpful and the 1 Nikon 10-30mm f/3.5-5.6 PD zoom performed quite well. I had to turn off the camera’s microphone when shooting video as any adjustment to the zoom lens created a loud zoom motor noise that was transferred to the video footage.

Nikon 1 J4 + 10-30mm f/3.5-5.6 PD zoom at 10mm, efov 27mm, f/6.3, 1/640, ISO-160
Nikon 1 J4 + 10-30mm f/3.5-5.6 PD zoom at 10mm, efov 27mm, f/6.3, 1/640, ISO-160

I plan on putting together a YouTube video with the footage I shot with the Nikon 1 J4, but at this point I’m unsure when I can fit that into my schedule. For readers interested in seeing some additional still images you can click on the YouTube link.

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9 thoughts on “Nikon 1 J4 underwater photography”

  1. Nice pictures! One question, do you know ho many pre flash make the nikon j4 in the under water flash mode?

    Gracias

  2. Thomas – good to see you venturing under the water. I Dive using the Nikon1 J3 with the WP-N2 housing for my photography haven takken many thousands of photos over the 200+ dives i have made since getting this setup.

    Since I am diving rather than snorkeling, the investment in lighting has been worthwhile. In my experience white balance adjustment in shallower waters, less then 5m, can typically be handled in Lightroom with the dropper adjustmentfor WB.

    While in the water i look for white items, like some sponges or other critters and neutral colors like some roxks or sandy areas and then use those as my reference point. I will then make eyeball adjustments with the tint slider so that the colors look the way I remember them to be.

    While I have the DXO software, I am not familiar enough with it to know the steps ypu would use. I always shoot raw underwater because the jpegs do not give enough room to work on adjusstments.

    There are other tricks I use for deeper dives where the colors really are gone without a light. I would point you to my gallery for a few examples, but am currently rebuilding my site. If you are interested I will post a link when there is something there to see.

    Anyway, nice photos and I am glad you have taken the plunge! I enjoy your work and your postings. My new J5 will be added to my camera bag shortly for above water work and I can’twait. To give ita rest run.

    1. Hi Joe,

      Great to read about your experiences shooting underwater with Nikon 1 gear! I would love to see samples of your work and to learn more about what you do in post with your images. I am a complete novice when it comes to this type of photography and I have so much to learn!

      Tom

    1. Hi Stanislaw,
      Nikon has been having quite a few issues with the AW1 leaking. My plan is to wait until an AW2 is released to see if the water infiltration issues have been addressed.
      Tom

  3. Excellent article Tom. I’ve not shot underwater for decades when I tried it with my cousin’s Nikonos. Sadly, I could not get the hang of breathing through a regulator and things didn’t work out.

    These images are very nice, particularly given that you didn’t supplement the light at all. I have been told, that to get the colours “right” a flash is definitely needed. I’ve had students shoot with the Lumix TS series of point and shoots and get decent images, but the larger sensor on the J4 provides a better range of tones than I remember from the PS stuff.

    It’s always a pleasure to see your work and read your thinking.

    Best to you,

    Ross

    1. Thanks for the positive comment Ross – much appreciated! I purchased the J4 w/10-30mm and the WP-N3 housing more as a set-up for rainy weather when travelling rather than for underwater photography and video…but since we were on holidays and I had the chance to test it out I figured I’d give it a whirl. I totally agree with you that underwater lighting would have made the images much better but I can’t justify the expense.

      Always great to hear from you!
      Tom

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