Generally speaking, I find most “my gear” sections to be an exercise in stroking one’s ego. However, I’ve realized that with the appropriate information, this section can be useful when it comes to helping prospective buyers make a decision as to what to buy.
So here is my equipment list, along with a reason why I chose what I did.
MAIN SETUP – HOUSED DSLR
- Canon 20D – I am already a Canon user, with a wide array of lenses for my wildlife and nature photography work. I had initially contemplated going with Nikon, but ultimately, Canon won out. With the release of the Tokina 10-17 fisheye and the Sigma 4.5 & 10mm fisheyes, as well as high-quality 10-22/10-20 lenses by Canon and Sigma, the big reason to go with Nikon – viz, the availability of wideangle and fisheyes – is no longer valid. Either system works well.
- Aquatica A20 housing – I initially was looking at an Ikelite housing because of its lower price and build-in TTL capabilities. However, after speaking to various people about usability and ergonomics, I settled on Aquatica. I was also considering Sea&Sea, but the cost of accessories for Aquatica is quite reasonable and S&S did not have a housing for the 20D, which I already owned (nor was I ready to downgrade to a Rebel body). I have been very happy with the Aquatica- my only niggle with it is that the camera has some play, and occasionally, moves itself out of alignment with the zoom lever. Tilting the body usually fixes this. On the other hand, the housing is robust – it recently fell 3 feet onto concrete, with camera and lens inside. The lens broke, but the housing and dome port survived intact. One additional plus of the Aquatica system is that you only need 2 ports – an 8″ dome port and a flat port. These, plus extension rings, cover virtually all the lenses you will use underwater – and Aquatica has support for new lenses pretty much soon after they hit the market.
- Inon45 degree finder – I just had this finder custom-installed on the housing. It provides a 100% view of the camera’s viewfinder, and because it is angled at 45 degrees, makes it easier to get a lower perspective. I am still getting used to it but will post additional comments once I do.
- Canon 100/2.8 USM macro – generally, people recommend 50-60mm as the main macro lens. I use the 100/2.8 because I already owned it. It is hard to shoot fish portraits with this lens, as it is too long (especially on a 1.6 crop body), but for macro, I find the increased working distance very useful. Were I starting out, I’d probably get the 60m macro instead.
- Sigma 10-20 WA – my first wideangle lens. Sharp, great field of view and quick AF. Comparing reviews and images, I didn’t see any reason to pay extra for the Canon 10-22. Still don’t. It is a Sigma EX and built like a tank, to boot.
- Tokina 10-17 Fisheye – a great, innovative lens, providing 180 degree diagonal coverage at its widest setting. This is my lens of choice for dynamic WA and CFWA shooting. I recently did an album cover for a musician using this lens. For big fish, I’d prefer the Sigma, however, as you have to get VERY close with this lens to get a full frame shot.
- Sigma 17-70 zoom – this is my “exploratory” lens, which I take for shooting fish portaits or when I am not sure what I will see. I have to admit, I prefer the mental focus that comes from selecting a more specialized lens, and since most of my diving is done here in the Andamans where I know the reefs inside out, I rarely take this lens into the water. This would be a good travel lens, however – I really regret leaving it behind while in Sipadan.
- Macromate 2X macro adapter – I just ordered this from Backscatter in California. It is a wet lens that attaches to the flat port of my housing and provides a 2x magnification. As my 100/2.8 macro already goes to life-size, this lets me shoot at twice lifesize (add in the crop factor and I get a field of view equivalent to a 3 times lifesize lens on a regular 35mm camera!).
- 2x Inon Z240 strobes – I found Inons to offer the best balance in price/performance. They recharge quickly, run on standard AAs, have lots of power and all the controls one can wish for in a strobe. And they are small, and so easy to pack. What’s not to like? I have been using them in Manual mode so far, but am thinking of installing a Heinrich’s E-TTL board, simply because I have one and would like the option to use TTL if I want. The Z240s are supposed to be fully compatible with this board.
- Stix buoyancy arms – I had originally gotten TLC arms (which are more or less the same as ULCS arms), but my rig was painfully heavy in the water with this setup. I replaced them with Stix arms and floats, and now my rig is very nicely balanced. On lands, the arms wobble a bit but undewater, where it matters, they stay in place until I move them around. Very strongly recommended – all metal-housing owners should get these.
Generally speaking, I am very happy with my setup. A smaller rig such as Seatool or Hugyfot would be nice for traveling and in reducing drag, but given my struggles to get this rig to be neutrally buoyant, I am not sure whether the loss of buoyancy would be worth it or no. And for sure, this benefit is not worth paying $2000 extra. As of now, I have no intention of upgrading or considering another housing.
BACKUP SYSTEM – COMPACT CAMERA
- Canon G6 – I used this camera because I had it lying around. It used to be my compact topsides shooter until I replaced it with a Panasonic LX1, at which point it was laid-off. Now it is gainfully employed again. The G6 (and its brother, the Canon S70) have, IMO, one of the best sensors used in compact cameras – the classic 7.1MP Canon chip. However, this is a somewhat sluggish camera when it comes to shutter lag. Were I doing it again, I’d get a Canon G9 or a Fuji E900 or similar.
- Ikelite TTL housing – the only show in town for this body. I got a decent deal on one used.
- TLC arms – left over when I replaced the arms of my DSLR rig. They work well with the buoyant housing.
- Sea&Sea YS-110 strobe – I wanted a small, compact and relatively inexpensive system. That ruled out paying extra for the Z240s (besides, I can always use my current pair if need be). The Sea&Sea YS-110 offers more power and wider beam than the Inon D2000/2000S strobes and was a good buy for this setup.
- Inon WA and Macro add-on lenses – the 35mm wide end of the G6 is pitifully useless for any kind of wide-angle work. The Inon wide-angle wet lens gives it a respectable wide angle, which can be used for serious work. The G6 already has very good close-focus capabilities, and the macro lens makes it that much better. Neither lens comes close to matching the performance of a dedicated WA lens on a DSLR, but it is good enough. I plan to add a dome adapter to the WA, which would give DSLR-equivalent wide angle coverage. At that point, I will also need a second strobe, I guess.
This system is small and easy to carry around – and it provides high-quality results if shot within its limitations. This is the system I take with me when I am traveling and plan to mix diving with other activities (for dedicated dive holidays, the housed DSLR rig is still my tool of choice).
- Olympus C3000 and Olympus housing – this was my first digital camera and housing, purchased back in 2001. Terrible shutter lag, but still a lot of fun to play with (did I mention it was my first digital camera)? Sadly, the housing fell out of my daypack while I was boarding a flight en route to a Maldives liveaboard, and broke. RIP.
- Canon S70 with DC-WP40 housing – this is actually our shop rig, but I’ve sold a magazine cover and a couple of articles using photos taken with this camera/housing and an el-cheapo $200 Sunpak G-Flash strobe. An excellent performer, especially given its price.