Retra Underwater Technology is introducing a project the whole team has been working on for the past year in collaboration with Italian UW photographer Michele Davino.
In 2011 after the Slovenian UWP championship Michele addressed a question to Retra aksing if we could make a device to improve on his experiments with the zoom technique.
Michele showed us some zoomed photos using the Nikon 70-180mm micro lens which creates the effect naturally by turning the zoom wheel manually with the hand. He emphasized the success ratio is about 1:100 and that he wants to use it on competitions!
Image#1: Michele posed for a shot in Cornino lake (Italy) with the first prototype mounted on his housing (January 2012).
We have already seen some photos with the Fresnel lens (example from Lill Haugen) but the effect is subjected to being unnatural due to the constant reproduction of the same basic shape.
If we could provide such a device to help Michele turn the zoom wheel automatically this would open up a lot of options especially for macro photography where stabilization and subsequently composition is difficult to handle when turning the zoom wheel manually.
As there are no standard components for this purpose we had to engineer from the ground up. That is very risky but only in this way could we achieve constant results which was the priority when designing a state of the art product.
Image#2: One of the first examples done in Cornino lake (January 2012).
We proceeded by dry testing different kinds of motors, programing and optimizing the battery consumption. Using complicated firmware to control the movement of the motor was key to our later success. Thanks to Luka Mali from Faculty of Electrical Engineering, University of Ljubljana we were able to achieve our goals.
The device was named "the eZoom" and was built in two versions with the first having it's debut in January 2012 and the second in May 2012. The second version was already very reliable so we could use it in splash in competitions where time is of course limited and there is a lot of pressure on the photographer to get the job done.
Throughout the development process we had constant debates about the effect we are achieving with this new approach and what it means in UW photography...
Image#3:"Zooming" the right subject can have a very positive impact (July 2012).
As we have one side of Retra engineering at the highest possible level incorporating a huge knowledge database we also need strong support with the new aesthetics that are coming with our specialized inventions.
We have done more than 10.000 test shots in different scenarios to learn about the possibilities the system offers.
By carefully studying aspects like ambient and artificial light, zoom effect intensity, color and light contrast, ratios, etc. we learned there are more options than we expected at the beginning.
Images#4,5:The left image resembles the effect of a Fresnel lens whereas the right image has the random factor of the environment mixed with light (August 2012).
When the pictures were publicly presented for the first time on national UWP competitions in Italy and Slovenia (September 2012) all of them took podium positions with two first places a 2nd and a 3rd.
Michele: 2nd place in category Fish.
Michele: 3rd place in category Macro.
Oskar: 1st place in category Fish.
Oskar: 1st place in category Macro.
With macro being our primary goal we are yet to fully challenge the possibilities in wide-angle photography. The first tests have showed us wide angle is much easier to cope with as the characteristic of the wide angle lens allow for much less precision than it is needed in macro photography.
The eZoom features an all aluminium structure machined from one solid aluminium block. The housing is specifically designed for cooling the internal components which allow the eZoom to move as fast as possible with zero failure. We used only the best available electronics, motors and batteries that can cope with the stress of continuous shootings.
Michele was a great partner in the process as he insisted to test the equipment in various conditions pushing every component to the absolute limit. That way we ended up with an incredible team and built a state of the art device that truly reflects the effort we are taking to explore UW photography in new ways.
-Retra UWT Team