Choosing the perfect underwater camera depends on several factors, and today we will bring them closer to you. Diving is a marvellous experience and many divers wish to catch some of their best underwater moments on camera as well.
First off, you will have to choose whether you wish to buy an underwater camera or a special housing for your regular digital point and shoot camera, compact camera or DSLR. The most commonly used lenses for underwater photography are macro lenses or wide-angle lenses. They allow close focus, so there is no need for longer distances between the subject and the camera. Wide-angle lenses will help you get close enough to your subject. Fish eye lenses also do the trick. The image may end up being distorted because of the glass port when using the underwater housing, especially if a wide-angle or a fisheye lens is used. There is a solution however: a dome-shaped port or a fish eye port: both of them correct the 25% distortion – you will get the same angle you have on land this way. Sometimes you will have to buy a shader to eliminate sun flares as well.
The camera and lenses you choose will also depend on whether you will shoot large or small subjects. Point and shoot cameras usually don’t work that well with larger subjects. It’s hard to get them to be wide angle. Most cameras today have 24 or 28mm lenses built in. If an auxiliary port is used, it can bring the lens to about 20 mm. When using a DSLR camera, before you go underwater, you will have to decide whether you want to shoot macro shots or wide angle shots, as there is no way to change the lens underwater. There is an option available to change the ports without destroying the camera, but they are still a bit limited.
The greatest difficulty of underwater photography is using the flash/strobe. The flash should never be used as a primary light source: its main usage is restoring lost color and supplementing the overall exposure. It takes a bit of practice to find the perfect balance between the strobe and the sunlight. Digital cameras make it easier to learn how to properly utilize underwater flash, so the learning curve isn’t that steep anymore.
In order to make sure your underwater pictures are perfect, you will have to choose whether you want automatic or manual exposure. Many underwater cameras usually have automatic exposure, but a good number of them also give you the freedom to control the exposure and shutter speed manually. Make sure the camera you choose has a highlight warning to avoid overexposed photographs.
The top point and shoot models at this moment include the Canon PowerShot D20 and Olympus Tough TG-1 iHS. Canon PowerShot D20 is a quite tough 12-megapixel camera that can go up to 33 feet underwater. It’s sturdy and can survive drops (up to 5 ft) and it operates very well in quite cold temperatures (14F). As with most rugged compact cameras, the lens is in the top corner and the controls are in the back. The focal length of the lens is from 28 to 140 mm, and the rear display is three inches in diameter and very bright and crisp. The images it produces in difficult lighting are very good and it also includes GPS, but it takes a bit longer to lock onto a signal. The price of the camera is $349.99. The Olympus Tough TG-1 iHS is a very speedy 12-megapixel camera that is of a bit different design than other point and shoot cameras; its lens is in the middle of the camera and the lens covers 25 to 100mm focal length, which is quite impressive. The f/2 aperture makes it possible to shoot at faster shutter speeds without the ISO going up. You can purchase a fisheye converter lens for the camera for $120, while the camera itself costs $399. The rear display is 3 inches in diameter and uses OLED instead of LCD technology, making the viewing angles much better. The camera can be used underwater for up to 40 feet (as well as the converter).
Should you be interested in interchangeable lens cameras and if you can pay a bit more, you will be interested in the Nikon 1 AW1, which is the world first camera with interchangeable lenses that is also waterproof and is readily available for $800 for a one lens kit or $1000 should you wish to purchase a two lens kit. The 13.2 mm x 8.8 mm sensor will help you catch great underwater pictures, and the ISO range is from 100-6400. The 14-megapixel camera can go as deep as 49 feet and withstand cold weather (as low as 14F) and falls from up to 6 feet. It has a 3-inch rear LCD display and a build in GPS system with altimeter, compass and depth meter, as well as action control system for gloved or underwater operations.
Unlike the typical scuba diving knife and (even less expensive) scuba torch, you should note that underwater photography costs quite a pretty penny. Nikon, Canon and Sony make very good DSLR cameras that will make great pictures and you will easily find housings for these cameras. You should note that not every camera has a housing for underwater photo shoots, but you will easily find housings for the above mentioned names. The bigger the sensor of the camera, the higher quality of photos – DSLR and mirrorless cameras will have the best underwater photos. The prices of the cameras usually range from $200 to $1200, while the housings cost from $250 upwards.
To take a look at what an underwater photography pro can really do, take a look at these photos by Tommy Schulz. And while you’re there, read some of the great advice on snapping during a dive.