Underwater Camera Gear. A Primer

If you follow our blog, and specifically our monthly assignments, this post will make you recognize that sometimes there really is a method to our madness! As you might recall, the assignment we gave for June 2012 is titled “Gettin All Wet.” With summer right around the corner, we are looking forward to floating rivers, diving into lakes, jumping through sprinklers and having squirt gun fights in the offices here at RMSP headquarters (when the bosses are gone … obviously!) Of course, it goes without saying that you need to protect your photo equipment however possible during your near-water pursuits. To help you out, we thought it would be handy to introduce you to some equipment you can use when taking your camera on – or in – the water. Let’s call it the RMSP Wetness Protection Program. (insert sound of crickets chirping here …)

With the help of Career Training assistant and underwater shooter Jimmy White, and Larry Cohen at B&H Photo Video in NYC, we have compiled this list to help you map out the landscape of what is available for shooting underwater and to hopefully get you pointed in the right direction. Like all things photography related, the options are seemingly limitless, so this is just meant to be a primer. Naturally, specific equipment needs will vary based on your own personal goals and needs. If there is something missing from this list that you use or can’t live without, let us know in the comments below.

POINT AND SHOOT
To help you navigate these waters, I have broken this post up into three sections according to the type of camera: Point and Shoot, DSLR and Specialty. Since they are more affordable, available and hold mass appeal, I’ll kick things off by highlighting a few point and shoot cameras, specifically the Nikon CoolPix P7100, Canon G12 and Olympus XZ-1 models because of their underwater options and abilities.

Nikon’s CoolPix P7100, when combined with the Fantasea FP7100 housing offers a great solution for not just underwater shooting, but for protection from sand, mud, dust and anything else the elements can throw at you. In addition, there are gels, wide angle lens attachments, and a light kit available that works great with this camera/housing combo. This camera boasts 10.1 Mp, a 1/1.7″ CCD sensor, and captures HD videos (720p). If you are looking for an affordable, yet expandable way to get into shooting below the surface, the P7100 kit might be a great option.

 

If you are already the proud owner of a Canon G11 / G12, but want a way to experiment with shooting underwater, the Canon WP-DC34 Housing, allows you to enjoy your G11 or 12 to a depth of 130 feet. Or, you can opt for the Ikelite housing for the G11/12 and extend the depth rating to 200 feet. Many reviews for this housing spoke to how strong and durable it is. In fact, “built like a tank” were the exact words one reviewer wrote. With 10MP still image capture, RAW and JPG capture modes, 1280 x 720p HD video, DIGIC 4 image processor and an ISO range up to 3200 the G12 is a very capable camera above or below the surface of the water.

 

From Olympus, their XZ-1 camera and PT-050 housing are a great combination for underwater work. Since this housing was made specifically for the XZ-1, all of the camera’s functions are easily accessible through the housing. Among the list of favorite features various users have mentioned, it’s the 67mm lens screw that stands out. This feature allows the user to add filters or change lenses seamlessly while underwater.

 


DSLR CAMERAS

If you are looking to dip your toes into the subject of underwater photography, a point and shoot system with the appropriate housing is the way to go.
But maybe you are reading this with greater ambitions, and are in need of the added features and improved image quality that a DSLR camera can provide. What does the landscape look like for shooting with your DSLR underwater? Well, the conversation becomes all about housings and lighting when talking about taking your DSLR into the water.

Rather than dissecting the pros and cons of each piece of equipment, I am going to refer to RMSP graduate and professional underwater shooter, Jimmy White for a glimpse into his gear and some of his personal thoughts. As a standard set up, Jimmy uses a Canon 5D Mk II, with an Ikelite housing and twin Ikelite DS-161 Substrobes on articulating arms. When shooting wide-angle, which he says is about 50% of the time, he use Ikelite’s 8″ Dome Port coupled with a Canon 16-35mm f/2.8 (not the 16-35mm II).  When shooting macro he uses Ikelite’s Focusing Flat Port coupled with Canon’s 100mm f/2.8 Macro lens.

As he puts it, “with this set up, I can access approx 98% of my camera functions, and it has a maximum depth of up to 200 feet (way deeper than I’ll ever go).” When it comes to lighting, Jimmy also adds “good strobes are super important if you are going to photograph in depths greater than 25 feet.  At around 10 feet you’ve lost most of your reds and that becomes more pronounced as you go deeper so there is little light penetration (anything other than greens and blues) past 25 feet. So you are really bringing most of your light with you.”


SPECIALTY

The last category I will touch on is the Specialty category, although, I should probably just call it the Go Pro category. If you are unfamiliar with the Go Pro line of cameras, they are (according to GoPro.com) “the world’s leading activity image capture company.” In layman’s terms, they are the little cameras that surfers, bikers, skydivers, skaters and other outdoor enthusiasts like to strap to themselves before getting radical. While few can argue how popular the Go Pro system has become since coming on the scene (aka: 2.3 million Facebook fans) they don’t necessarily appeal to everyone. Since the big attraction to these units is for people to capture images of themselves, the fixed position, and constant jarring motion of the footage can be hard on the stomach.

There are many versions of this camera, each one being suited to a different sport. The surf edition is capable of capturing HD video at 1080p at 30 frames per second, 960p at 48 or 30 fps, and 720p video at 30 or 60 fps, as well as 5, 8 or 11 megapixel digital still photos. Even cooler, the HD HERO2 Surf Edition “supports live streaming from the web and Wi-Fi video preview and playback on your smartphone, tablet, laptop or desktop computer.”  Even if the style of footage isn’t your cup of tea, you have to admit these little devices are quite capable … and very cool.

And what would the “specialty” category be without some information about the iphone?
As the favorite camera of many, many users, Apple’s iphone camera isn’t just an add on to the phone part of the device. But is it possible to take an iphone underwater without risk? Thanks to the folks at Aquapac, the answer is yes! With their waterproof cases designed specifically for the iphone, you can capture great photos and video underwater. How cool is that? While I have not tried this case for myself, their website says that users can still talk and hear no problem with the phone in the case, and “everything works normally through the case including the camera and the capacitive touchscreen*.”  However, that little asterisk at the end of that statement led me to a disclaimer saying that the … touchscreens don’t work underwater, but that with the iphone 4 users can use the Home button to snap photos, and to capture video you have to start filming above water. If you are interested in giving this case a try, you’ll definitely want to check out the videos on their website (follow the Aquapac link above). And then let us know how it went in the comments below!!

 

I hope this primer piqued your interest in the world of underwater photography. If you are inspired to give it a shot, or have been shooting with some of these tools for a while, I would really love to hear your thoughts, opinions and experiences from your own equipment.

And by the way, Larry Cohen with B&H is a tremendous resource for underwater shooting. For further education, check out his in-depth video and read through his blog. Very inspiring!

 

3 thoughts on “Underwater Camera Gear. A Primer

Chippy

G’day all

There have been huge advances in Underwater cameras with the coming of the digital age. The old Nikonos V of my era have well and truly gone the way of the dinosaur. if you are really interested in seeing underwater cameras in use for the Surf photography market then there is an impressive documentary you should watch. It is called Fiberglass and Megapixels. Well worth a watch for anyone interested in the sports end of surf photography and certainly get an idea of some of the housings out there available. Of course these tend to be more of the “splash Proof” versus “Dive” housings.

Anyway here is the link.
http://www.fiberglassandmegapixels.com/

Happy shooting all. See you in the assignment gallery
Cheers Chippy

Profile photo of Andy Kemmis

Andy

Right on Chippy! Good to hear from you. Thanks for contributing your thoughts and a link to the movie you mentioned. I, for one, am going to check it out ASAP.

Take care,

Andy

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