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Best Underwater Camera For You

Posted on: February 24, 2014 by pinneng | No Comments
Best Underwater Camera For You

Best Underwater Camera For You

What is the Best Underwater Camera For You? 

One of the most asked question on my twitter ( @pinneng ) is : “I want to start taking underwater photograph, what is the best underwater camera for me?” Ok, the best underwater camera doesn’t always have to be the most expensive.

Me with My Best Underwater Camera

Me floating with my wide angle camera setup. Experimenting with 3 strobes.

“For your first 30-40 dives, just enjoy your diving …. you will not have them anymore once you’ve started diving with a camera” 

Ever heard people say: “The important thing is the man behind the gun (camera)”? Well, that is not totally correct, in underwater photography : the man (photography skills), diving skills, and the camera off course are 3 important things that can not be separated. Although I’ve won a Grand Prize using my old pocket camera (read here),  I still believe a DSLR would make a lot of differences. So, this is how I would answer if someone ask me an advice on how to choose his/her best underwater camera (which I’ll start with some questions) :

  1. How good is your diving skills? If you are not ready please DO NOT take a DSLR underwater. Always put the “diving” first, making underwater photographs later. A good diver using a compact camera will surpass a non diver with the best DSLR camera.
  2. How about your budget? A pocket camera setup will cost you around USD500 – USD1,500 , a DSLR setup will be around USD2,000 up to who knows, and there is another option: the four thirds cameras that will cost you USD800-USD3,000. Off course there are some other options like: GoPro-like system or the waterproof pocket cameras (ok, lets put them also as an option).
  3. Are you going to use your camera for professional purposes? If yes, then a DSLR might be the best underwater camera option for you. If not, please consider the point 2 above.
Ok, since you’ve answered those 3 questions above, you are supposed to have your choice by now. But now let’s see the plus and minus of each option:

A. Pocket camera

I remember those days when I was looking at the options to buy a pocket camera. These are my considerations: 
  1. It has the ability to record files in RAW. This is very important since most of the time you need to fine adjust (at least) the white balance of your underwater photographs. With RAW you can do that without ruining your original files. Nowadays RAW format is common in pocket cameras.
  2. When you are using pocket camera, most of the time you will use it for macro shots since in the water the effective distance to the object is only about 1m (with 2 strong strobes) unless you have a camera with minimal focal length equal to about 20mm on 35mm film standard. Some pocket camera has it’s ability to do super macro shots, that would help a lot.
  3. Look at the options of  underwater housings for the camera. Some housings has options to modify the port. Port is the part of the housing where the lens of the camera is. A dome port can help the quality of your wide angle photo. Some ports has the ability to attach wet lenses for wide angle or (super) macro. Make sure you know the possibilities you can get before you buy a camera. A non-OEM housing will provide extra options with extra cost off course.
  4. Make sure the housing available can access all the function buttons you need on your camera.
If you already have a pocket camera, just use it. It is more important for you to buy strobes than to replace your old camera.

B. DSLR camera

Whoa, when you look for this option, you really want to get serious in underwater photography uh? Or, money is really not a problem for you:)
 
When I said USD2,000, I was talking about buying a second hand camera, one lens, one (maybe used) underwater housing for the camera. :)) …. if you plan to do so, I would suggest you to just buy a complete pocket camera setup.
 
To answer your question directly: “what DSLR should I buy?”, my answer: depends on the budget you have. Buy the best you can have. Consider it as an investment, a re-investment will cost you too much. 
 
Next question will be: “what brand?”. If you already have some lenses, buy a camera which can use them. If you are new to DSLR, buy the brand that your (diving) friends use. The “community” is more important than the tech in your camera because more or less they are almost on par with each other.
 
Roughly cost for a standard DLSR setup: 1 camera body, 1 macro lens , 1 fisheye lens, (please check the price yourself), 1 housing (I recommend the aluminium body USD2,000+), 1 macro port (USD300+), 1 dome port (USD600+), 2 strobes (@USD450+), 1 arm system (USD300). 
 
I also recommend you to use optic cable system for your strobes rather than TTL cable system.
As all considerations for underwater system, check the availability of the housing first. I will explain about underwater housing for DSLR later on my next blog.

Housing with ports

Housing with different port setup (photo taken from www.uwphotographyguide.com). Left for wide angle, Rigth for macro

C. Four thirds system camera

If I was not doing underwater photography professionally, this type of camera would be my best choice. Dragging all my 50kg+ equipment (incl. dive gear) everytime I have a dive trip is a “piece of art” itself 🙁 . 
 
The most important part in a camera system (to me) is the “eye” itself : the lens. Many four thirds camera has big range of lens options. Basically you can have a “DLSR” in a smaller body. 
 
The big minus in this system is: the housing options are not as many as DSLRs. So, again make sure you do some research on the housings (as the DSLR’s above)  before you make a decision. I would say in a near future this type of camera might become the best underwater camera option for most of us.

D. GoPro-like cameras or the waterproof cameras

Consider to buy this kind of cameras if you just want to record your experience underwater for your own and don’t want to get hassled by big bulky camera in your bag. GoPro is made for video, to take it for underwater photography I would categorise it as “why not”. 
 
Waterproof camera is very simple system for underwater. You don’t have to worry much about the maintenance of the housing, etc. But, most of them are effective above 20m deep.
Here are some links you might want to visit to get some ideas about the gadgets you are dreaming of:
To see more of Wet Traveler video click HERE
If you need any further informations or ideas on the items you see in their website, just drop me a message or twit:  @pinneng 
Happy hunting!

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