CHOOSE YOUR FIRST UNDERWATER CAMERA
Choosing your first underwater camera is not a simple task. First thing, the best underwater camera does not exist, instead there is many different excellent diving camera that would be useful for different uses and budgets. With the growth of underwater photography, manufacturers have been forced to create a wide range of models for each level of underwater photographer.
To take underwater pictures, you will first need a digital camera and a waterproof case. Sometimes, the camera and case are sold together, but most of the times, you will have the option to buy them separately. Several manufacturers have specialized themselves in waterproof housings and sometimes offer better waterproof cases than the camera manufacturer. We can mention Hugyfot, Nauticam, Ikelite or Fantasea as reference brands for waterproof cases. Finally, some manufacturers have started to produce a type of waterproof digital diving camera that does not need housings but the current depth is usually limited to 10 meters. Be careful not to drown your new camera.
As you can see, the best advice for choosing your first underwater camera is to select your dive camera according to the waterproof boxes available on the market and shooting options. If you already have a camera and are comfortable with it, you just have to find the right waterproof case to start your underwater adventure.
Compact camera or DSLR?
If you’re a beginner in underwater photography and you want to buy a new camera, chances are that you’ll start with a compact camera because of its ease of use, price, and versatility. While there is no doubt that the image quality produced by SLRs is on average much better than the one of a compact camera, it is NOT just about equipment, but about the photographer. Equipment alone will not help you produce better images. The SLRs offer interchangeable lenses of superior quality, without shutter lag, and generally possess better looking sensors. These benefits translate into higher cost and weight than compacts. The handling and complexity of the menus will also require a longer learning process.
Main factors in choosing a scuba diving camera
SIZE AND WEIGHT
To find the right underwater camera, you need to find the right combination of these three factors to suit your personal preferences and photographic intentions. The first step is to determine which features are most important to you.
Features of the underwater camera
The first step, and perhaps the most difficult, is to decide what you want to get from your diving pictures. The more requirements you have with your images, the more options you will need for your underwater camera. Manufacturers are constantly trying to cram the maximum functionality into the smallest camera, all at the best price, but you can imagine that it goes with a few compromises. It is therefore important to prioritize the features that matter most to you. Let’s review those that seem most important to us:
Features of the waterproof case
For each camera, there are several models of waterproof case. Before placing an order, check carefully:
The different controls of the case and their ease of use.
The types of connections.
Additional external lenses that will allow you to shoot with wider angles or macro shots.
Surely the most important decision to make before buying an underwater camera. Would you like to take your underwater photo in automatic mode or in manual mode. How much do you want to control the rendering of the image? It is important to know that the automatic mode does not work as well under water as on land. Mostly because the camera was not designed to cope with light in the water. Also if you really want to get started for good, there will surely come a time when you want more than just simple pictures to show your friends but great images that you will be proud of. To qualify a little my words, the automatic mode will satisfy many underwater photographer who do not wish to be busy making adjustments during their dives. If its technical limits do not bother you, there is a good chance that the other many features that will follow will not interest you. If so, skip to the Size and Budget section.
Manual white balance
White balance mode is important if you plan to shoot underwater without a flash and only using ambient light. Due to the properties of water, images using only natural light will appear in blue. Manual white balance is an effective way of eliminating this color cast. If you plan to buy strobes, this option becomes less important.
If you plan to buy a waterproof case, make sure that it accepts external lenses. These new lenses are additional optics that you will place on or in front of the main lens. They will allow you to take underwater wide angle or macro shots. If you are interested in taking wide angle underwater pictures, we recommend you to choose a camera that fits a fisheye lens. These lenses will allow you to get as close as possible to the subject and results in more colorful and detailed images. If you shoot with a digital SLR, each brand sells its own lenses, all of high quality.
Compact cameras all have a distinct delay from the moment that you press the shutter button until the image is captured. This shutter speed varies according to the dive camera models. This shutter lag can be frustrating when shooting moving objects such as fish and other wildlife because the subject may have moved from the moment you pressed the shutter button. Try to select a model with the shortest shutter speed possible. High-end compact cameras have improved dramatically and have a very low shutter lag.
The underwater scuba cameras usually produce different types of image files. If you do not plan to edit your underwater photos in Photoshop or another editing program, shooting in JPEG is perfect. If you plan to edit your images, consider selecting an underwater camera that produces RAW files, which are uncompressed files that retain as much data as possible, which is a valuable attribute when it comes to editing your images.
Number of pixels
Do not fall for the hype around the million pixel race. Doubling the number of pixels does not double the resolution of your images but increases it by about 40%. Going from 8 MP to 10 MP increases your resolution by only 8%. Other aspects are more important such as the size of the sensor which is a much better indicator of the quality of the images. That’s why a 10-megapixel digital SLR produces better image quality than a 10-megapixel camera. Each individual pixel is larger, records more information, and therefore produces a much better image quality.
The video revolution is in progress. Diving cameras are no longer limited to taking still images. Most underwater cameras have a video mode that allows you to make movies. This mode can have a significant impact on the desired model. Video quality varies from standard HD to full HD. Some new SLRs offer impressive image quality.
Size of the dive camera
For some people, the size of the camera is the most important. Already overloaded with large bags of diving equipment and clothing, adding a large underwater camera is not an option. Fortunately, there are cameras that fit into any pocket or small boxes. These cameras usually have limited features, but keep getting better. If you decide to travel with accessories like strobes and extra lenses, the size of the camera becomes almost negligible and should not be a major factor.
Recently, waterproof digital cameras have been gaining popularity among consumers, resulting in a sudden increase in models and options. These waterproof cameras offer great versatility during your travels whether to take pictures at the beach, on a boat or take snorkeling underwater photos. These amphibious cameras are designed so that they do not require the use of an underwater waterproof case. The major problem with these waterproof cameras is that they can only be used at relatively shallow depths (around 10 meters).
Costs of underwater photography equipment
Underwater photography can require a lot of equipment to make underwater photos of very good quality and meeting the requirements of the underwater photographer. Your final choice will of course depend on your budget. Even if we all want the best, it is not all that we can afford. Underwater photography is not a cheap hobby. Enclosures, strobes, ports, focus lights, strobe lights, and other accessories and gadgets can quickly drive up the bill.
There are several things to consider when it comes to budget:
Add 50% to your targeted price
The first thing to consider is that you will probably spend more than you originally thought. You will start by buying a diving camera and then a few months later you will think to add more complex accessories to improve the result of your underwater photos.
Do not forget the strobe
We strongly recommend that you consider buying a strobe in your budget. This accessory will greatly increase the quality of your underwater photos and might be the best solution rather than going upmarket. Ideally, get a mid-range stroboscope that you can integrate into your camera and case.
While props often seem optional in underwater photography, they will make your underwater photos much more practical, interesting and productive. Lenses, tripods, strobe arms or focus lamps, they are just some of the accessories that will help you in your quest to become an excellent underwater photographer.
In underwater photography, you always have to anticipate the unexpected. Plan to buy additional batteries, spare parts and a small DIY kit (cable ties, tapes, ropes, etc.). Finally it is also useful to have additional memory cards, a card reader and of course a laptop or a hard disk. The last thing you want is to lose all your work. So do not forget to save again and again.
As you may have read, buying a dive camera is just the tip of the iceberg. But all this is part of the fun too!