In July, I took advantage of the warmer surface temperatures to schedule two separate diving trips off the coast of southern California. My objective was to test out my Olympus E-PL1 micro four thirds camera system and my Olympus PT-EP01 underwater housing. This was only my second set of dives with this camera, and my first in colder water. I was also testing out the new Olympus M. Zuiko Digital ED 9-18 mm f4.0-5.6 (35 mm equivalent 18-36 mm) lens.
Where the quality of an underwater image often hinges on minimizing the amount of water between you and your subject, a wide angle lens is an invaluable addition to any underwater photography system. In this case, my Olympus underwater housing was designed to accommodate the Olympus MZ 9-18 mm lens without vignetting. The lens itself offered great results in a surprisingly petite package–just like the rest of the micro-four thirds system.
My first diving destination was the Coronados–technically not within the Channel Islands, but just south, in Mexican waters. The islands are usually reached by charter boats leaving out of San Diego. This group of islands is known for its great visibility, slightly warmer water, and ample sea lion population. Unfortunately, on the day we arrived, the visibility was quite poor, and the sea lion bulls were keeping an especially tight leash on their families. We still had some nice interactions with a handful of juvenile sea lions and spotted a black sea nettle jelly on our last dive.
My second dive destination was San Clemente. A seasoned local divemaster told me that on a sunny day, diving the kelp beds in San Clemente is a religious experience. On our trip, we woke to an overcast sky which persisted through the morning. Despite the uncooperative weather, the kelp bed diving was beautiful. We started out with deeper dives, but in my opinion, the best scenery at San Clemente was at 45 feet and above. I can only imagine what it must be like on a sunny day.
On my two dive trips, I was extremely happy with both my housing and the new lens. I was still able to work all of the controls with my cold water dive gloves, and my battery power still read “full” after three dives. As on my previous dive trip in the Florida Keys, I greatly appreciated the compact nature of my otherwise high performance set-up. The addition of my wide angle lens allowed me to capture some of the beauty of the kelp beds. (I’d love to take this combination back to Tonga, to shoot the humpback whales…)
On my San Clemente dives, I also switched my flat port out for my new Zen Underwater WA-100 Pen Dome port, which significantly increased coverage and sharpness of my underwater images and eliminated radial distortion caused by the use of the flat port. For any fan of the Olympus Pen underwater system, I highly recommend the addition of both the 9-18 mm lens and the Zen dome.
If you’re interested in diving the Channel Islands, California Diving News lists upcoming dive boat schedules. The water here is quite cold, necessitating a 7 mm wetsuit, hood, gloves and booties, even in summer. Also, unlike other dive destinations that I’ve visited, the trips are largely DIY. There are no divemasters guiding trips off of the boats unless you arrange in advance. Finally, if you need to rent equipment out of the Los Angeles area, I recommend renting from Eco Dive Center, which also runs a really fun trip to the Santa Barbara Island sea lion rookery several times a year.