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Underwater Photography

Underwater Photography Guide For Beginners: Building A System Around A Compact Camera

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PUTTING TOGETHER AN UNDERWATER PHOTOGRAPHY SYSTEM BASED ON A COMPACT CAMERA

Are you interested in taking high quality underwater photos?  Or perhaps upgrading from your GoPro to something that takes better images and also is more scaleable?   Does the complexity of an underwater camera system and all the bits and pieces needed put you off buying one?

In this video and article, we are going to talk about the various components of an underwater photography system and what attributes to look for – a system that may not be the cheapest to start with, but also a system that will grow with you as your interests develop (which works out to better value in the long run).

For the purposes of this article, we are going to ignore ILC (Interchangeable Lens Cameras, like DSLRS and Mirrorless) – while they are technically the best solution, they also require a commitment in terms of money and approach to diving that is not suitable for most people, atleast not initially.   For the vast majority of divers, a compact camera system actually is the better tool.

1:  THE CAMERA

When picking a camera, the obvious point is to make sure there is a housing that is made for that specific camera model.  That aside, please look for one with the following attributes:

  1. A good wideangle – the wider the better: Underwater photography is all about getting close to your subject, and a wider angle lens lets you get closer to subjects ranging from turtles, large coral outcrops, divers, etc.  This means that your images are going to be better lit, sharper and have more detail/contrast.  By contrast, the telephoto range is not as important, as you will rarely be shooting something too far way.
  2. A good close-up/macro mode: Among the most rewarding – and easily accessible – category of subjects in underwater photography are macro subjects: nudibranchs, shrimps, etc. And here too, you want to get as close as possible, to fill the frame with your subject.
  3. Fast autofocus: While modern cameras have improved substantially compared to the Olympus C3000 I started shooting with, back in 2001, there still is a difference in autofocus, especially in poor light and low contrast (ie, your typical dive).  Faster AF will result in a much greater percent of keepers, especially for fish portraits.
  4. Easy to access controls:  Operating a camera underwater means working through a housing, which is typically via buttons and dials.   A camera which requires a lot of use of touchscreen or rotating dials typically does not pair well with these buttons and dials, and so may limit your ability to set key parameters underwater.
  5. Built-in flash: One feature I didn’t mention in the video is a built-in flash, mainly because virtually every camera does come with a flash. This is mandatory – that built-in flash is what controls your strobe (see section 3).  No flash = no strobe, and you might as well just shoot with a GoPro.

In addition to this, a nice-to-have feature (for me) is built-in waterproofing.  This way, if or when the housing floods, there is a good chance you may save the camera.  You can also use the camera for other activities associated with the diving trip – beach, snorkelling, etc. and not have to worry about it getting splashed.

This is the camera I used underwater (at the time of writing this article): an Olympus TG5.  It has the best macro modes out of all the compacts in the market at present

As camera housings are specific to individual cameras, you obviously need to pick a camera model which has at minimum a housing made for it and ideally, a range of accessories to support the system.   The 3 brands which I recommend are Canon, Olympus and Sony.  Each of them make cameras that are very popular with underwater photographers, and so it is easy to find housings and other accessories for them.

Do note – if you have a compact camera already, you can likely get a housing for it and wont need to buy a separate camera.  However, I do encourage read up on the housing section to determine what features to look for when it comes to building a scaleable system, and whether you particular camera + housing combo meets those requirements.  In some cases, it may be better in the long run to buy a new camera, rather than build a compromised system around a less-than-ideal camera.

2: THE HOUSING

The housing is the waterproof case within which the camera is kept while shooting underwater.    When looking for a housing, look for the following 3 main attributes:

  1. Ergonomics: What you want is a housing which feels easy to grip in your hands and where the important shooting controls – focus, change AF point, change exposure – are easy to reach with your fingers, without you needing to take your hand off the grip every time.  I cannot overstate what a big difference this makes when you are actually shooting – if you are struggling with your camera, you will not be able to get the best shots.
  2. Access to controls: Most camera housings do give access to all the essential controls when shooting underwater – however, in several cases, many “nice to have” functions may not be accessible. For example, if you rely on a particular custom function button or a rotating control dial, please make sure you can access it from within the housing.
  3. Ability to easily add accessories: This is the single biggest attribute when it comes to determining whether your system will scale up or not.  As your needs evolve, you may find you want greater close-up capabilities or the ability to go wider for impressive reefscapes.   Does your housing allow you to add these components easily?   At a more basic level, can you connect to your strobe using standard connectors or are you dependent on proprietary connectors that limits your choices?  Ideally, you want a housing with a threaded filter mount in the front, which will let you screw in additional accessories and a port for plugging in an optical fiber cable to sync your external strobe with the camera’s strobe.

This is the Olympus PT-058 housing I use with the TG5.  The front of the port has 58mm threads for screw-in accessories and there are 2 ports for fiber optic cables on the upper right of the port – allowing me to attach 2 strobes directly to the camera

Housings can be made by the OEM (camera manufacturer) or by a third-party manufacturer like Nauticam, Fantasea, Seafrog, etc.    OEM housings are generally relatively inexpensive and made of polycarbonate.   Third-party housings often tend to be a bit more expensive, and often made of metal.

Often (but not always), third-party housings may have a better ecosystem of accessories – which is a good reason to pay a premium for them.  In addition, while OEM housings are typically rated to 30m or 40m, metal third party housings may be rated to 60m or deeper – for divers looking to shoot at tech depths, a more expensive 3rd party housing may often be the only solution.

The housing has a large window in the back for looking at the LCD screen and all the buttons are large and easy to access

However, purely in terms of reliability and functionality, I have not found 3rd party housings to be more reliable or less prone to flooding.  Personally, as long as the housing met my preferred depth rating and checked off the three attributes listed above, I would happily buy the cheapest housing – as long as it was from a reputable brand.  There are plenty of horror stories about ultra-cheap housings flooding due to poor QC – that is not a risk I am willing to take, so save $100-200.

The shutter button has a large lever, making it easy for most hand sizes, and the zoom and power buttons are also easily accessible.  There is also a cold shoe on the left, for mounting additional accessories

3: THE STROBE (UNDERWATER FLASH)

Photography is, in its essence, the act of recording light.   It doesn’t matter how expensive your camera – if the light is poor, the image will be poor.  And underwater, the natural light is always poor: you will need a powerful flash to not just brighten the scene but also to add in the reds that have been absorbed by the water.

Simply put – the strobe is the single most important element in taking high quality images.  Period.  This is one area where you should not skimp (and unfortunately, this is the one area where most people do try to cut corners).   A good strobe has the following attributes:

  1. Power: Power is represented by something called Guide Number. Without getting into the specifics of what it means, the main thing to know is that bigger = better.  You want as high a GN as possible – ideally, atleast 20-22, or even more if budget allows.   Once the payment is made, you will never regret having a more powerful strobe.
  2. Angle of coverage: Along with power, you also need to know the angle of coverage of the strobe beam.  Many cheap strobes may appeal due to their high GN, but the angle of coverage is very low, which can be a problem when it come to lighting a scene.  You want an angle of coverage of atleast 90 degrees – and as before, more if you can afford it.
  3. Beam uniformity:  This is another area where cheaper strobes cut corners.  A good strobe will have even lighting across the entire beam.  No hotspots, which can cause uneven exposure when shooting underwater
  4. Manual controls: Most strobes have an automatic mode, where they work seamlessly with the camera’s TTL exposure mode (unsure what TTL is?  Just think of it as fully automatic, with the camera effectively controlling the strobe).  This is great when you are starting out or for macro, but auto mode is unreliable with many subjects, such as wide angle and reflective fish.  For more consistent results, you want the ability to set the strobe’s power manually.   This is a lot easier than it sounds, and is something many photographers gravitate to as they evolve.    Is it essential?  No.  But having this feature ensures you will not outgrow the strobe.
  5. Additional features:  These include things like focus lights, torch functionality and red light (for focus assist in the dark with shy subjects).   While not essential, they do make your diving a lot easier – which is always nice.

The Inon Z240 (top of the range strobe from Inon in its time) has a full array of controls and also a standard 1” ball mount for attaching to other hardware.

One thing worth noting- manufacturers often tend to be very optimistic with their claims about power and angle of coverage.  And unfortunately, in the case of really inexpensive products sold on Ali Express and elsewhere, they flat out lie – and I say this as someone who uses dive lights and bicycle lights that I have bought (and will continue to buy) on those sites.

Also, video lights are not a substitute for strobes.   Video lights put out a lot less power than strobes – even a $1500 video light will not have as much power as a $500 strobe.  So while they may work for macro and closeup work, they are not as good for wide angle photography.

Given the importance of the lighting to underwater photography (I really think your strobes are the centrepiece of your system), I cannot overstate the importance of allocating ample budget towards them.    Typically, most people skimp out and get budget strobes.  Then after a few dive trips, they end up upgrading.  It is better to just get it right the first time – and also more economical in the long run.

It is one thing to buy inexpensive torch lights or video lights (which are really torch lights with a wide angle of view) – however, the moment you add in sync circuitry and greater power needed for strobes, cheap becomes a losing proposition.  I recommend Inon and Sea&Sea as 2 brands offering very good power, reliability & features for the money.

Also, as your photography skills improve, you may want to add a second strobe.  But for now, it is better to start with 1 good strobe.

The controls may look intimidating, but are fairly easy – clockwise from bottom left: (1) button for turning on the torch (and locking it), (2) setting the various strobe exposure modes, (3) adjusting the strobe power in manual control modes and (4) adjusting for camera with or without pre-flash.  I typically set the strobe on M on the upper left dial, and use the upper R dial to increase/reduce the power.

4: THE SYNC CABLE

This is a piece of fiber optic cable that connects your camera to the strobe – when your camera’s flash fires, that triggers your external strobe.  Depending on what mode you are using, the strobe will either then put out a specific amount of light (manual mode) or will also shut off when the camera’s strobe shuts off (auto / TTL mode).

The main thing to look for is a cable whose terminators are compatible with your system.  The standard used is a push fit (also known as the Sea & Sea connector, after the popular strobe maker).   Inon strobes use a screw-in terminator, which is not very popular outside of Inon products, but less prone to popping out (which isn’t really a big deal, though).

The cable on the left has Sea&Sea connectors on both ends;  the cable on the right has a Sea&Sea connector on one end (this plugs into the housing) and an Inon connector on the other (this screws into my strobe).

5: THE CONNECTING HARDWARE

Note – you can also connect your strobe to the camera via electrical cable, but that is for DSLRs with hot shoes only, not for compact cameras.

The camera, housing, strobe and cable are the essential bits needed to take the photo.  But you also need a bunch of accessories to physically combine them into one unit and also to position your strobe underwater when shooting.  These are the following:

a. The base tray / handles:

The base tray is a plate that connects via a screw to the tripod mount at the bottom of most housings.    It will have 1 or 2 handles on the side (depending on the option you get), for mounting most accessories.

The standard for connecting multiple pieces of hardware is 1” ball mount, as shown in the photo below.    There are other connecting mechanisms as well, but try to get this, as this gives you the most options for putting together different hardware elements.

Two different trays – one is a single-handle tray (the handle actually goes on the left as my right hand holds the housing), and the other is a dual-handle tray.  The latter lets you attach 2 strobes.  Both the trays have the standard 1” ball head terminators for adding more hardware

b. Strobe arms:

Strobes are typically mounted on strobe arms, to get them further away from the central axis of the camera/lens (this reduces backscatter).

A common option are flex arms – they are easy to use and do not require a lot of other hardware.  The downside is that they are limited in length and also positional flexibility.

Flex arms are an inexpensive solution to get started but limit flexibility when it comes to strobe positioning.  Note the 1” ball heads at each end

In my opinion, rigid strobe arms are a better option for enthusiasts – by using 2 of these arms to connect each strobe, you have maximum positional flexibility for lighting (and remember – underwater photography is all about lighting).   Strobe arms come in various lengths – for someone starting out with underwater photography, two 6” arms per strobe is a good starting point and well suited for everything from macro to wide angle.

Different types of arms. From left to right: 10” arms used for wide angle photography on my ILC system; 6” arms recommended for compact camera systems and 4” arms used for macro photography on my ILC system.  The 10” and 4” arms have floats to adjust the buoyancy of my ILC system.  As with everything else, each of these arms ends with 1” ball adapters and you can see how they connect using butterfly clamps.  

As with the tray/handles, may sure you get arms with 1” ball terminators on each end.

c. Butterfly Clamps

These are clamps for connecting 2 separate hardware components, each of which has a 1” ball terminator.

For each strobe, you will need 3 of those – one to connect the handle to Arm 1, a second to connect Arm 1 to Arm 2 and a third to attach the strobe to Arm 2.

Butterfly clamps are used to join 2 separate pieces of hardware via their 1” ball heads.  The nature of the ballhead and clamps allows for very easy movement underwater, along any axis

The good news is that here, you can DEFINITELY save money by buying inexpensive arms and clamps off Ebay, Ali Express or wherever.  These are simple pieces of machined metal and do not require high technology or high QC – and the generic hardware costs a fraction of what the branded ones do.

So once you have a camera, housing and strobe, all neatly mounted on a tray and strobe arms, you are ready to go shooting.   And indeed, you have all the tools you need to take excellent photographs – in fact, as long as you can get close to the subject and light it properly, the images from a compact camera will not be too different from that taken with an ILC.

However, where the compact camera typically falls short of an ILC is in ability to get really close (near lifesize or 1:1 reproduction) of really small objects, or its ability to encompass sweeping wide views of reefs or really large animals like whalesharks, etc.

The former requires really good macro capabilities (which most compact cameras lack – the Olympus TG series being an exception).  The latter requires an ultra-wide angle of view, which is also not possible with compact cameras.

However, there are ways to get around this – by using adapter lenses.   You can get close-up adapters, which let you get closer to a subject (and thereby increase magnification).  You can also get wide angle adapters, which widen the field of view of the camera, thereby letting you get closer to large subjects or wide vistas.  These are typically called wet lenses, as you can attach and remove them underwater.  There is a small optical tradeoff compared to the specialized gear that ILCs use, but you make up for it by being able to shoot both wide angle and macro on the same dive.

6: ADD-ON ACCESSORIES

A Kraken UWL wet lens – this increases the field of view of my Olympus system from an average 100 degrees to a very wide 140 degrees: great for impressive wide angle shots.

Ability to use wet lenses depends primarily on being able to attach them to the front of your housing – typically, this can be done via a proprietary bayonet mount (specific to individual 3rd party manufacturers) or via a standard threaded screw mount (58mm or 67mm are typical sizes).   I am a big fan of screw mounts, as it lets you add components from a wide variety of manufacturers.

If you are starting out, you do not need to spend money on these – but do make sure your housing has an option to add these later.

Summary

If you were looking for a magical solution to putting together a system for underwater photography on the cheap, I am sorry to disappoint.  Versatile, cheap, quality – you can only pick two, unfortunately.   I have chosen to focus (no pun intended) on putting together something that is significantly better than what you can shoot with a GoPro.

The system I have suggested is going to cost somewhere in the following ballpark:
– Camera:  Rs 30,000
– Housing:  Rs 25,000
– Strobe:  Rs 35,000
– Sync cable:  Rs 5,000
– Tray:  Rs 2,500
– Arms + connectors:   Rs 6,000

So about Rs 1 lakh / $1300 or so for the whole thing, give or take 10-15%.

Is it cheap?  No.   But I also think that there is no point spending $400-500 / Rs 30,000-40,000 and getting something that is only a little better – you might as well just stay with what you have.  If you are going to upgrade, you might as well upgrade to something that is truly and noticeably better.

Also, it is better to spend a little more to buy the Right Stuff, as opposed to buying something cheaper which is a compromise, which you have to upgrade later.   Almost every photographer goes through a stage like this (eg, with tripods) – and virtually every experienced photographer later advises against it.

If you are on budget, consider buying used/NOS.  The previous generation camera and the previous generation housing can be had for substantial discounts and with relatively negligible difference in performance.    Used strobes can also be a good deal, but a bit harder to source in India.

In the grand scheme of things, look at it from the lifetime utility point of view.  Given how much a diving trip costs, the small increment you pay for better quality pales into insignificance, especially when you amortize it over the number of years of use you will get from it.

Anyway, I hope you found this article useful – do give us a follow on Facebook and Instagram, and perhaps share this link, if you did.

Life in the under-anemone: Because looking isn’t actually seeing

Posted by | PADI underwater naturalist, The Incredible Showcase, Underwater Naturaliast Course, Underwater Photography | No Comments

It was sometime around the second week of March when something special had taken place, a big change, in the lives of a pair of false clownfish.

Living at about five meters deep over at Nemo’s reef, with beige-coloured tentacles and a pinkish-purple base, sat a magnificent sea anemone. Everything in the anemone appeared to be much the same, the fish couple who lived with it were busy cleaning out the anemone, lapping up its dying tentacles and parasites, while the anemone stood firmly guarding the couple from harm. The anemonefish were constantly swimming through the anemone’s tentacles, as was usual, to help it breathe. The anemone took what the anemonefish pooped and the fish ate what the anemone pooped. Business as usual! And yet something was markedly different in this anemone home.

There was something going on in one corner of the anemone that kept taking the fish pair back there. Was somebody hurt? Were they hiding a stash of food?

No… it was babies!

Attached to a cleared patch of rock under the tentacles of the anemone were hundreds of pairs of eyes on the tops of alien-like bodies, swaying gently in the current. In addition to protecting the anemone and themselves, the anemonefish must now protect their offspring.

They looked to be quite old already, which could only mean that they had been laid about a week before. It would be just a few more days before full moon would approach and larval fish would emerge. This meant focussed and dedicated work for the devoted father who was responsible for their care. While the female continued to take care of the anemone and daily duties, he concentrated on the babies, vigorously fanning the water with his fins, oxygenating, cleaning and doing everything required to make sure they survive. Both parents were invested.

A clownfish once hatched will have to live out its plankton phase until it is ready to find and settle into an anemone of its own and take on the forces of the underwater universe.

As dive professionals we sometimes think twice before talking about certain animals in our pre-dive briefings because we feel divers might find them too common or ordinary to be specifically mentioned. As we grow in dive experience, there is a natural tendency to create a hierarchy of coolness that we set for the marine life that is out there and the animals that we wish to see. Novelty, rarity and massiveness are definitely key factors in how high up in the list animals are positioned, and those that are seen often enough are further down, closer to the more ‘beginner diver stuff’.

There is definitely an appeal is seeing manta rays, sharks and turtles. They are enigmatic, extraordinary and closer to extinction than a damselfish. This extraordinary nature of the marine world, however, does not end here. There are so many phenomenal animals, interactions and communities that occur so commonly, we often fail to really see them entirely. And the loss is ours.

No two reefs or animals or behaviours are exactly the same when seen twice, even the most ordinary of things. That is just how dynamic the ocean truly is. Now you might ask- if there is so much beauty and wonder in the ordinary, why is it that we don’t see it? Perhaps we aren’t looking carefully enough. Perhaps we do not know what to look for. There is no special skill or talent required to do so. The secret is curiosity and patience. Wait, observe and soon, the animals will let you into their extraordinary world.

Text: Chetana Babburjung Purushotham |  Video: Umeed Mistry

Dining etiquette for an Octopus | The Incredibles Showcase

Posted by | Blogs, PADI underwater naturalist, The Incredible Showcase, Underwater Naturaliast Course, Underwater Photography | No Comments

How do octopus eat their prey

How do octopus eat their prey

Dining etiquette for an octopus: Dig in with all hands!

Nemo’s reef is a fantastic place to spend hours watching these animals just,be. We follow them quietly, as they go about doing their daily things around the shallows of Nemo’s. That alone is one lifetime of diving right there! People often make the mistake of getting way too close to an octopus. Sure, it is sitting there in its crevice, changing colour in response to divers and that is rather cool! But what would be even cooler and perhaps much less disruptive for the octopus, is if we were to curb the excitement and give the animal enough space to get back to its life. This can in fact be plenty times more extraordinary a sight to behold than a tense octopus hiding in a hole! Here we see a young octopus that frequents the ‘first barrel sponge rocks’ area at Nemo’s reef. All of us have met this octopus over the past few weeks and she/he is now very comfortable around divers. When we first saw it, a diver was ten inches away from it with a camera, as it hid inside a crevice, perhaps thinking to itself – Hurry up mister, I’m starving and you’re in my way. As soon as said mister left the scene, the octopus was on the move! We suppose one can identity an octopus with a ravenous appetite by how thoroughly it inspects each rock, tickling every crevice simultaneously with every arm. Note how it expands each arm, turning its entire body in to a large web-like umbrella to trap any molluscs, crustaceans or tiny fish that get flushed out during its invasion.Once prey is in hand, an octopus might crush it, pry it open, or drill a hole in it, drain in some toxins or simply slurp it up, depending on the nature of its catch. Owing to its highly efficient, powerful and thorough hunting technique, an octopus on the hunt is almost always surrounded by a mob of other fish-a mix of allies and competitors possibly. Here we see a few juvenile groupers, wrasses, goatfishes and a tiny cloud of exasperated damsels. Isn’t this simply fascinating?

Video credit: Chetana Purushotham

My Underwater Rig

Posted by | Underwater Photography | No Comments

Posted by Vandit Kalia |

[Updated April 11, 2020]

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 SYSTEM (DSLR/MLC)

This is my current system:

  • Camera:   Olympus OMD-EM10 Mark3
  • Housing:   Nauticam
  • Strobes:  2 Sea&Sea YS-D2J
  • Lenses & port:   Olympus 8mm fisheye with the Nauticam 4.33″ acrylic port,  Olympus 60mm macro lens with the matching Nauticam flat port
  • Arms:   I have carried over the old Stix arms from my old Aquatica system.   14 years and counting, they are still serving me well

After I flooded my housing in Maldives in 2017 (user error, as always), I decided to switch to a mirrorless camera system because of its smaller size and ease of travel.      I went with Olympus, because of their long history with underwater photography and because they have a very well-developed ecosystem of accessories.   Looking at the specs, i did not see any meaningful reason to get the EM1 – the EM10 did everything i wanted and just had fewer megapixels.    Good enough for me.    For a housing, I went with Nauticam – they hit the sweet spot for me in terms of price/performance, and also have ports for pretty much every lens i would ever use with this system.

I initially carried over my trusty old Inon strobes, but in 2018, I flooded one of them (user error again – I did not check the O-ring) in Raja Ampat – I was going to replace it with another Inon, but their new models were not in stock.   As i had another trip coming up soon, I ended up going with Sea & Sea.

As for the ports, i contemplated getting a larger glass port for the fisheye lens – however, the smaller size and reduced weight of the 4.33″ port tipped the balance.    My entire camera system packs onto a carryon and comes in at under 7kg – perfect!

PREVIOUS ITERATIONS OF MY MAIN SYSTEM

 

  • Camera:   Canon 7D
  • Housing:   Aquatica housing for the 7D
  • Strobes:  2 Inon Z240s
  • Lenses & port:   Tokina 10-17 fisheye with 8″ Aquatica acrylic port, Canon 100m and Sigma 50mm macro lenses with Aquatica flat port
  • Arms:   I have carried over the old Stix arms from my previous system
  • Accessories:   Inon 45 degree finder (a game changer in terms of looking through the viewfinder), Macromate 2x close-up lens with a flip mount (for times when i wanted more than 1:1 magnification)

 

My  first system was actually based around a Canon 20D.   All the elements above were carried over from that housing, except obviously the housing.

 

COMPACT CAMERA SYSTEMS

The gadget head in me has always had a compact camera system, for times when i didnt want to take out the big rig (in fact, i started out with a compact system, so it actually pre-dates my big rig).

My present compact camera system consists of:

  • Camera:   Olympus TG-5 housing
  • Housing:   Olympus PT-058 matching housing
  • Strobe:   Inon Z240
  • Tray:    Generic
  • Arms:   left-over TLC arms from when i purchased my first housed DSLR, back in 2006
  • Accessories:  Kraken UWL-4 wide angle wet lens which gives 140-150 degree field of view (screw mount)

I picked the TG-5 because of its amazing macro capabilities – which, coupled with its small size, actually makes it a better tool for macro photography in some cases than a housed ILC system.   And with the wide angle adapter, it can shoot in 85-90% of the situations that an ILC system can – super versatile!

The Inon Z240 was left over from my main system – after I flooded one of my 2 Inons, I bought 2 Sea&Sea YS-D2Js and migrated the Inon over to compact use.

PREVIOUS ITERATIONS OF MY COMPACT SYSTEM

This was my previous setup:

  • Camera:   Canon G6 housing
  • Housing:   Ikelite TTL housing
  • Strobe:   Sea&Sea YS-110 strobe
  • Tray:    Generic
  • Arms:   left-over ULCS arms from when i purchased my first housed DSLR, back in 2006
  • Accessories:  Inon Wide Angle adapter (screw mount)

I actually did not use this housing so much – mainly because that Ikelite housing was a very poor ergonomic fit for my hands, and the camera also have a significant amount of lag.

Before that, I have also used the following setups:

  • Camera:  Canon S70
  • Housing:  Canon DC-WP40 housing
  • Strobe:   Sunpak G-Flash (a very inexpensive strobe)

This also doubled as our shop/teaching rig, but i got good enough photos out of it to go with a couple of magazine articles i have written on diving.   The strobe, sadly, did not last very long.

And my first system consisted of an Olympus C3000 with a matching Olympus housing.    I bought this in 2001, before taking a sabbatical from work to go explore diving in a location called the Andamans.       All of 3 glorious megapixels, and it cost me $650.   2 days later, i left it behind in a cab in Boston, and had to buy another one.     Then, after the season was over in the Andamans, it fell out of my backpack while i was boarding a flight to go diving in the Maldives and broke.   RIP.   I got about 5 months of use out of it, but i have very fond memories of it.

10 Tips to Improve Your Underwater Photos

Posted by | Photography, Underwater Photography | No Comments

How-to-improve-your-underwater-photograph

Posted by Vandit Kalia |

Virtually every other day, I burn CDs for people who have rented out an underwater camera from us and who hope to have good images to share with their friends and family. However, often the results don’t match expectations. P&S cameras are very well suited to delivering crisp, well-exposed snapshots in the hands of even the most inexperienced photographer, which is what most users want from them anyway. However, take them underwater and suddenly, all those exciting colors and fish end up as brownish-grey blobs of indeterminate focus.
A frequent comment I hear from people is “this small camera simply cannot deliver the same results as that big rig of yours” – till I show them some shots that I have on file, taken with compact cameras.
There really is no magic here. Compact cameras are indeed less flexible than more complex, multi-strobe setups with specialized lenses and ports. However, used within their limits, they are perfectly capable of providing shots that are good enough to share with your friends.
Here are 10 tips, in no particular order, which should help you achieve a noticeable improvement in your images:

1. Get close: If anything, this has to be the rule #1 of underwater photography. Get close. How close? Within 1-2 feet for high-quality images (in tropical waters; less if you dive in green soup), but at most no more than 3-4 feet. Any more than that, and don’t bother shooting unless your subject is very large. A good test is that the subject should occupy atleast 25-30% of your LCD screen.
Why is that? Even the clearest of water has particles which will affect sharpnesss and contrast. Also, the more the distance between you and your subject, the longer the path travelled by the light from your camera’s flash, which means more loss of reds. Moral: minimze the water column.

2. Avoid the zoom: Zooming is no substitute for getting close. Keep your camera at its widest setting, then get as close as possible, and then, if need be, zoom to adjust your composition (never as a substitute for physically getting closer).

3. Manual white balance: Learn how to set manual white balance on your camera. Then take a white slate with you underwater and use it to set white balance for that depth. If your depth or lighting changes, adjust the white balance again. This is especially useful for ambient-light shooting. If you are using strobes as your prime source of lighting, then setting AWB to daylight should suffice, as most strobes are daylight-balanced, more or less.

4. Use a strobe: I know, I know… you bought a small compact, and now I am telling you to spend hundreds on a strobe. Well, the sad fact is that really good strobes – the kind you will never outgrow – start at around $500. Inon and Sea&Sea are excellent buys. However, even a small strobe will yield very good results. Epoque makes a decent unit for around $200, as does Sunpak (the G Flash). Sea&Sea, Sealife and Fantasea also have small, inexpensive strobes. These will be the best investment you can make to improve your photos. It is hard to escape the laws of physics, even underwater – strobes are the only way to add back the red that has been absorbed underwater. On-board strobes work ok within limits (clear water and low working distances), but for most flexibility, you’ll want an external strobe.

5. Shoot up: Most people swim slightly angled. The DIR crew swim perfectly horizontally (thereby missing everything in front and above them, which also explains why they dive only caves – not a whole lot more to see on reefs this way). Either way, the cone of view for most people is weighted downwards. Therefore, most people also tend to tend to shoot downwards. This has one problem – your subject and the background both get even illumination. So the subject doesnt stand out. The solution is simple – get low, and shoot upwards or against blue water – and you’ll get a crisply defined subject (you did remember to get close, didn’t you?) against a pleasing blue (or green) background. Now we are talking! Keep in mind that getting low means that there is a good chance that your fins are going to bang into the reef, so please watch your buoyancy and your fins.

6. Spend time on a shot: If you find something interesting, spend time on it. Now, at this stage, you are probably not ready to spend the entire dive on one subject, but you can – hopefully – allocate atleast a few minutes without making your buddy homicidal. This will allow you to explore various shooting angles and compositions. I personally don’t have the divine gift of artistic genius and so have to work for my shots – my first shot is rarely my best. If you are anything like me, the more time you spend, the better results you will get.

7. Start with quick wins: Quick wins are subjects that don’t move much – anemones, clownfish (ok, they move, but within a small area), colorful coral, nudibranches, etc. These will let you apply all the techniques we have covered so far.

8. Stalk fish: Swim towards a fish, and it takes off. Bet it has happened to you. So how does one get close to the subject? I use the same approach to getting close to fish as I do with birds and wildlife.. I move slowly, I exhale slowly and I try to close in at an angle (instead of directly towards the fish). I also bring my camera gear into position before hand and avoid ALL sudden movements. This improves your chances of getting close and taking shots where the fish are still facing you.

9. Improve your buoyancy: Sometimes, the best camera angles require you to put your body in all sorts of awkward positions. In order to achieve this, your buoyancy must be top-notch. It takes time to get here, so keep practising… before long, you’ll be hanging upside down, peeking into an overhang and shooting away to glory. Do remember that your learning curve should not come at the expense of coral – if you are going to practise, do so somewhere where you are not going to break or damage the reef. No photograph is worth damaging the reef.

10. Practise: Sounds like a cliche, but it isn’t. First of all, let me tell you what not to do. Don’t just go on a shooting spree, hoping to find some gems in the shots later. You can spend a 100 dives this way without getting better. What you need to do is spend some time before each dive setting targets for yourself (perhaps take one of the points from this article and work on it), then go shoot according to that plan. Then review your results, figure out your mistakes and then next time, work on avoiding those mistakes. Before long, you will see your photographs improve drastically. Don’t be afraid to experiment or shoot a lot – however, engage your brain before thinking. Don’t just blindly fire away.
And now, because we are great value and big fans of Spinal Tap, we’ll give you 11 tips on a list of 10 Tips to Improve Your Underwater Photos.

11. Post-process: Some people take great pride in presenting their photos exactly as they emerge from the camera. Personally, I don’t see how showing a sub-standard result is anything to brag about. If you are taking photos, then spend some time sprucing up your shots so that they look best. It doesn’t have to take long – a couple of minutes adjusting contrast, color balance and saturation goes a long way. And don’t forget the most important post-processing tool: the trashcan. Not every shot is worth showing.

Building a system for underwater photography

Posted by | Underwater Photography | No Comments

Posted by Vandit Kalia |

[Partially updated April 12, 2020 – however, I recommend people also read my guide to Putting Together an Underwater Photography System Around a Compact Camera for more up-to-date information]

So you want to put together a high-quality system for underwater photography, but are deterred by the prices. You are not alone.   Equipment cost used to be one of the biggest deterrents in underwater photography. While the cost of a complete, versatile system capable of handling most underwater subjects is still extremely high, the high quality offered by compact camersa means that it is possible to build up a long-term system in small, more affordable steps. Spreading out this cost brings a high-quality system within the reach of most people.

The purpose of this article is to provide a roadmap for putting together an underwater system in a step-by-step manner. Given the mind-boggling array of products, lack of any standards and various compatibility issues, this step can be a minefield for most people. I personally spent several months reading various forums in order to truly grasp my choices and make an educated choice. Hopefully, this article will accelerate your learning curve somewhat, by telling you what to look for.

While this method lacks the instant gratification of buying everything at once, there is one important benefit – by adding one component at a time, the photographer has a chance to master each component. This is conceptually an easier way to master underwater photography, rather than trying to deal with many variables all at once.

Step 1 – Select the correct compact camera & housing

Polycarbonate housings are available for most housings made by Canon & Olympus. Fuji, Sony, Nikon, Panasonic and others also have housings available for quite a few of their cameras – these are either manufacturer housings selling at around $200 (give or take) or third-party housings made by companies like Ikelite and Fantasea. So you certainly have no dearth of choices. Therefore, first thing to do is to narrow down your list of choices.

The biggest mistake people make at this point is they buy a housing for the camera that they have, or they select a camera and then buy a housing for it. For someone with the stated goal of putting together a system, this is the wrong way to go about things. The camera and housing must be considered together when deciding what to buy.

Start by forgetting camera brands. Focus, instead, on 4 criteria when it comes to the camera: responsiveness (ie, combination of focus lag and shutter lag) ,of RAW, ability to shoot good close-ups and a reasonably good wide angle.    Don’t get caught up in image quality pixel peeping or dynamic range – for underwater work, it does not matter too much.

Now, look at the housing. Here, ignore brand or resistance to flooding. All housings work on the same principle (use of an O-ring to make a seal) and so require the same level of care & are more or less equally prone to flooding. Instead, what you care about is whether or not the housing can accept add-on (or wet) wideangle or macro lenses.  This is because most compact cameras are neither wide enough nor offer high-enough magnifications by themselves – the use of add-on lenses greatly increases the ability of the cameras in these 2 areas.  You won’t be buying these lenses yet, but it you will need this later.

Once you apply all these factors, you are going to have a much smaller list. You can then sort from this list based on ergonomics, other usage (top-sides shooting), price, color, or whatever.
Congrats. Now get this gear wet. Check out my 10 tips to improve your underwater photography, and learn to use your camera.

Step 2 – Add a strobe

Ok, if you have read my article with the 10 tips, you will notice that I listed some cheap strobes. The bad news is that as far as you are concerned, cheap strobes are out. You may buy one as a stop-gap measure but that is a detour along this fine path that we are taking. As far as system-building goes, you are going to buy a good quality strobe.

If you see your end-game being a housed DSLR or Mirrorless system (read DSLR or Compacts before jumping to an answer – also try renting a housed DSLR or playing with one in the water first before reaching a conclusion), then you will need to buy strobes which have a wide angle of view, to utilize the super wide angle lenses you can use with these cameras.      Also, if you plan to use a DSLR, you may require a strobe which is triggered via an electrical sync cable, as opposed to an optical sync cable.    So keep future planning in mind.

But other than this, what you want is the strobe with the most power, a nice broad angle of coverage and light that is uniform across the entire area of coverage, without any hotspots in the middle or significant drop off on the sides.

Realistically, there are 3 brands you will be looking at now – Inon, Sea&Sea&Ikelite.
Ikelite is one of the most popular underwater brands. The two main things going for them are: (1) they offer true TTL when used with an Ike DSLR housing and (2) Ikes have great customer service. In all other areas, they cost more than comparably-specced strobes from Inon&Sea&Sea, atleast here in Asia ( US prices for Inon&Sea+Sea are quite higher and Ike prices tend to be lower).  TTL may appear to be a good draw, but IMO, it should not be a deciding factor.   Manual strobes are actually surprisingly easy to use and IMO,  provide more consistent exposure.   TTL or lack thereof should be a tie-breaker, not a primary selection criteria.

The other two contenders are Inon&Sea&Sea.  At the time of writing, the main models are D2000/D2000S and Z240 (Inon), and YS-110 & YS-250 (Sea&Sea).  The last S+S strobes costs a fair bit more but is the most powerful of the lot. The D2000/D2000S are slave-fired only, which rules them out if you are looking at a DSLR rig with electrical flash syncing as your end goal. Other than that, all these models offer a full array of settings and controls (manual, slave, optical TTL, pre-flash compatibility, etc).

At this point, you also want to get an optical cable, which allows your camera’s built-in flash to trigger the external strobe and allows optical TTL.

Lastly, invest in a decent pair of arms for your strobe. Ultra-Light Control Systems (ULCS) and Technical Lighting Control (TLC) make good arms using standard 1″ balls at each end. They are pricey, but will last you a while. Save money – buy used.    You can also get less expensive arms off Ali Express or Ebay, and they work just as well.

Now that you have a strobe, experiment with using the strobe, angles and power. Shoot in both TTL and manual mode, and you’ll soon realize that manual isn’t too tough either.

Step 3 – Add wet lenses

There are quite a few manufacturers that makes wet lenses and adapters to fit a wide variety of compact camera housings.  Depending on what you like to shoot, you may want to add a macro lens and a wideangle adapter. These will improve the usability of your system and allow you to shoot more expansive wide-angles and also achieve greater magnification.

These wet lenses aren’t cheap – but they improve the usability of your compact camera to perhaps 90% of that of a housed ILC.   when you upgrade to a DSLR, you can recover most of your costs by selling them. You can also look for used wet lenses on the Internet.

Now go learn to use these lenses and see the improvement in your photographs afforded by them.

Step 4 – Add a second strobe

Note: You can flip steps 4 and 5, depending on how you want to spend the money.

Once you have some wet lenses – especially the wide angle adapter – you may want to experiment with more creative lighting. A second strobe allows you greater leeway in placement and shadow management. Well worth having.

I am a big fan of using 2 identical strobes. Different strobes, even within the same manufacturer’s line, often have varying color temperatures and probably varying recharge times. That complicates your picture-taking process. Keep It Simple.

Now you can really enjoy creative freedom – sidelighting, backlighting (rim-lighting) and ability to manage shadows. The learning process here is very long and a lot of fun…. enjoy!

Step 5 – Get a housed DSLR (and there was great rejoicing)

Now that you have put everything together, and you are hooked to underwater photography, and you find that it is your system – and not your abilities – that are holding you back, you are ready for a Monstrous Box from Hell. And your strobes and arms, which you have already purchased, will fit right into this system.

If you already have a DSLR or MLC, the choice is easy – find a housing for it (although make sure there is a fish eye lens and a 50-100mm 1:1 macro lenses available for your system).  If you are shooting with a 1-series Canon or Nikon D2/D3, you may want to consider a cheaper, second body. Remember the guideline with underwater housings – it is not a question of “if” you are going to flood, it is a question of “when” – and given that, it is better to flood (read: FUBAR) a relatively inexpensive body as opposed to a top-end body, especially if you don’t have insurance coverage where you live.

If you don’t have a DSLR, first start by selecting a housing. Yes, it is actually better to put the cart before the horse in this case. Housings vary tremendously in price and ergonomics, and not every manufacturer covers every brand. If you don’t have an SLR, then it is best to find the right housing, and then purchase a body that fits into it.

So what goes into finding the right housing? Three things: (1) ergonomics of the housing, which is the single biggest thing you are looking for (2) availability of ports and compatibility with various lenses and (3) price.

Let’s start with ergonomics – this means how heavy your housing is in the water, how much drag it produces, how easily it lets you access the various controls and anything and everything related to usage. Dont ignore any annoying quirks, no matter how trivial. Perhaps it is a chore to install the body or perhaps aligning the zoom gears is a hassle. Right now, you are thinking, it saves me $XXX, I can live with it. A few months down the road, you will be cursing it, I guarantee you. Given how much you have spent already, a littie more is inconsequential. Get it right the first time. Sell your compact, your housing and your wet-lenses, if you want to raise the money.

Availability of ports and compatibility with various lenses is another factor to consider. I use an Aquatica system[at the time of writing the original article] and what got me attracted to them is the fact that they use only 2 ports – a big dome for wideangle, and a flat port for close-ups. All lenses can be used with these 2 ports using spacing rings. That means less gear for me to carry when I travel. Most big brands offer solutions for all the common underwater lenses: ultra-wideangle zooms, fisheyes, standard zooms and macro lenses. However, some newer brands don’t have that compatibility (or it may be coming soon but isn’t here yet). So check first.

All this means that you should get expert advice from a reliable dealer, and if possible, try to touch and feel the equiment before making a decision.

A closely linked step to picking a housing is deciding on lenses. You will need at minimum 2 lenses: macro, a good choice for a first lens because it is relatively easy to get good results with it and ultra-wideangle – something giving a field of view of a 20mm lens (in 35mm terms) at the very minimum – 16mm is even better and a fisheye or near-fisheye (with 175-180 degrees coverage) is best.   My recommended lenses are a Tokina 10-17 fisheye for APS-C bodies, or fisheye primes for full frame or Micro 4/3 bodies.

You may also want to add a standard zoom – either your kit lens or a third-party 17-XX zoom – for general purpose shooting.

For macro, your choices are the 50mm/60mm (very versatile and useful for fish portraits as well) or 100mm macro (better for shooting exclusively macro, but not so useful for other shooting).

Also note that while I have presented the purchase criteria in a linear fashion, it really isn’t a linear process. All the factors work together. Once you have picked your lenses, evaluate your housing choice & port options in light of these options. If your heart is dead-set on a particular lens which is not supported by your selected housing, then you may want to re-think your choice of housings. If, on the other hand, that housing really gets you going, consider an alternative lens. Do some research here.

Once you have all this information, you are ready to purchase your housing. Congrats. Your journey is complete*. Go forth and shoot.

*Of course I am lying like a cheap rug when I say that your journey is complete. Now you are entering the world of customized housings, focus lights, add-on diopters, etc. Say goodby to savings. But it is a great ride, nonetheless!

ILC or Compact – which is best for underwater use?

Posted by | Underwater Photography | No Comments

Best underwater camera for scuba diving

[Updated:  April 12, 2020]

A general assumption seems to be that DSLRs or MLCs (hereafter referred to jointly as ILCs – Interchangeable Lens Cameras) are a natural upgrade to compact cameras for underwater photography. This is reinforced by the fact that every underwater pro you see is lugging $10,000-plus rigs, leading to the natural belief that you cannot really do much with something that costs a tenth of these rigs. Occasionally, you do see some posts in forums defending the compact camera, but a lot of these posts tend to be driven by user bias – a common tendency among all of us to justify our own decisions – rather than an objective analysis of the pros and cons of each system.

The purpose of this article is to give you a balanced view and provide you with the benefits and disadvantages of each system. I can safely say that I am free of bias, because I own & shoot with both a housed ILC system as well as a compact camera setup (and my present compact camera system was purchased after I got the ILC system).

Before we get into this discussion, let us separate 2 terms which are often used interchangeably: quality and usability. Quality, as far as I am concerned, refers to the technical merits of the image – sharpness, contrast, low-noise and ability to produce large prints. Usability [not the best choice of words, I admit… but let’s stick with it for now], on the other hand, refers to how well a system is suited to specific shooting situations – such as low vis, wideangle, macro or any particular composition or effect that you, the photographer, want to achieve.

First, let’s start with ILCs. There is a reason why pros are lugging around those megabuck rigs – they provide results that are superior to those of compact cameras, and do so consistently.
As far as quality goes, the images from a ILCs tend to have greater dynamic range and be more suitable for up-sizing for large prints (even when you compare to RAW files from a compact camera). Lower noise means that you can use higher ISOs, useful under certain conditions. And of course, the bigger sensors of ILCs allow greater control over depth of field. However, the quality difference, while present, is fairly small; not everyone will find it a compelling reason for paying the enormous difference in price, especially if they don’t make large prints or sell to stock agencies.

Dumaguete_Apr2019-81

A turtle, shot with my Olympus ILC in a Nauticam housing with 2 Sea&Sea YS-D2J strobes.   This is a shot i would not have gotten with a compact camera, due to the high contrast between the backlit sun, the darker water and the turtle as it moved up.

Usability, however, is a different thing altogether. The main benefit of housed ILCs is that, whatever choice of subject you choose, they will provide a better solution than compacts. If you want to shoot macro, you have more set-up choices and you are more easily able to achieve high magnifications with an ILC. If you want to shoot wide-angle, you can get stunning, ultra-wide fields of view with some of the current ultra-wideangle lenses out there. If you want to shoot fish portraits, you get auto focus speeed and responsiveness that cannot be matched by any compact camera out there.

At this point, I can see some people about to send me an angry email, listing portfolios of excellent images taken with a compact camera. Please note – I am not saying that compact cameras do not produce good images. In fact, I happily cede that under some circumstances, compact cameras can produce images that are on par with ILC images. However, ILCs will produce higher-quality images in a wider variety of circumstances than compacts. That is a fact, pure and simple.
However, that does not mean that everyone who can afford a housed ILC should get one. Far from it. Remember – your camera system is merely a tool, and as with all tools, you don’t want the one with the best set of specifications, but the one which is best suited to your needs and requirements.

While it is true that ILCs offer better performance across a broader spectrum of shooting opportunities, there is a cost to be paid – primarily, in the amount of effort required to realize this improved performance and the loss of flexibility when it comes to handling other shooting opportunities that may crop up.

20190430_161332

What actually went into taking the turtle photo above:   I followed the turtle up, while keeping an eye on my depth and also making sure i had the composition right, the strobes positioned correctly and the exposure dialled in correctly in rapidly-changing light as the turtle moved shallower.

For starters, a housed ILC rig *demands* your attention. It controls how you pack for a trip. It controls your entire dive (when you are underwater with a housed ILC, you are doing photography and nothing else). The extra bulk and drag of the rig will challenge your situational awareness and diving skills – especially buoyancy – even in calm conditions, let alone currents. And that’s not all. The system requires you to give it attention in the morning before you get on the dive boat, and cuddle with it when you return, checking and lubing O-rings, testing connections and washing/rinsing the controls. In fact, it is very much like adding a boyfriend or girlfriend, without the sex to make up for the trouble (so on second thoughts, perhaps it is like adding a spouse?).

An ILC also limits your choice underwater – you have to select one lens, and are stuck with it for the entire dive. The best results from shooting an ILC come from the extreme wide angle and dedicated macro lenses, so you can only shoot one of these two subjects on a given dive. This commitment can be quite painful sometimes: for example, I had the doubtful privilege of diving with a macro lens while a whale shark cruised by a few meters below me. My friend got some great shots with his compact, while I steadfastly denied that the whale shark had existed.

Now, not everyone considers this loss of flexibility to be a tradeoff. My whale shark incident notwithstanding, I find that I get the best shots when I decide what I want to shoot and spend the entire dive working my choice of subject(s), rather than running around trying to shoot whatever I see. If that means I miss a few shots, so be it… the ones I do get tend to be better.

This mindset and approach, however, requires investing time and effort on the images. You *have* to devote some time to setup and to get the perfect shot… you cant just swoop in, take a couple of shots and swoop off to your next subject (not if you want good photos, anyway). You also need to master the technicalities of exposure & lighting – especially the lighting.  All of this means spending a lot of time on each subject. For example, I recently spend 75 minutes shooting the ghost pipefish below, and I am still not particularly thrilled with this shot.

ghost-pipefish

For a lot of people, the housed ILC is too demanding a tool – be it in terms of travel restrictions, pre/post dive maintenance or in-water demands on both diving skills and photographic commitment. While I have listed a lot of the benefits of a housed ILC system, I must reiterate that you are going to realize those benefits only if you are going to become an underwater photographer (with all the commitments it entails), not a diver who takes photos.
So ask yourself:
– Are you willing to dedicate the entire dive to the pursuit of good images, to the exclusion of everything else?
– Are you willing to spend an entire dive in one patch, getting the lighting, exposure and composition just right?
– Are you willing to spend significant time before and after each dive on your gear?
– Are you able to manage the extra drag of a housed system?
– Are your buoyancy skills perfect enough to allow precise composition through the viewfinder?  And before you answer “yes” here, let me point out that despite having 6000+ dives, I still struggle sometimes with maintaining my placement just so, especially if there is even a mildest of currents
– Are you willing to spend time in learning the technical elements of photography and your system?
– Will you dive often enough to master your equipment? Will you keep diving often enough to retain this mastery?
– Do you have $5000 plus to spend?

If you anwer “no” to one or more of these questions, you may get better results with a compact system. And you will not be alone, nor should you feel that you are condemned to photographic hell.

Most hobbyist shooters would prefer to capture everything a dive throws at them, and not just be restricted to either macro or wideangle – in fact, unless they are shooting for stock or for publication, most people would gladly trade off some small loss of quality for the greater freedom in choice of subjects. This is a big plus in favor of compact cameras. Certainly, I would have had some very nice whale shark photos on file if I were shooting with a compact housing on that particular day.

Another factor to keep in mind is that intermediate photographers or divers may actually get better results from a compact camera. It is easier to get working TTL flash with compact cameras, using a fiber-optic cable, than with housed ILCs. A small compact housing is easier to maneuver in the water, which makes innovative composition easier and less demanding of pin-point buoyancy control. The greater depth-of-field of the lenses mean that they are more forgiving of minor focussing errors.  And in challenging conditions, it is often simply safer to be diving with a small camera than a big monstrous Box From Hell.

The trick with every tool is to understand its capabilities and limitations, and use it accordingly. Here is a photo taken by me in 2001 with an Olympus C3000 digital camera, one of the first compact cameras for which housings were available:

coral grouper

This photo above was taken at medium compression/resolution, with the camera lens zoomed in, auto white balance and on-board flash.   Not bad for a 3 megapixel camera from 2000, eh?

The shot below was taken with a Canon S70 and a $200 strobe (the Sunpak G-Flash, which was actually switched off for this shot):

diver-descending

In this case, i stayed within the limits of the image – i knew that i would not get any usable details on the diver due to the distance -so i chose to shoot it as a silhouette.   Both these images have been published in magazines.

And keep in mind – these sample images are with cameras that are 10-15 years old.    Modern day compact cameras have gotten really good and can provide technically superb shots, as long as you use them within their limitations.

The takeaway from this whole article is that (a) it is possible to get high-quality shots from compact cameras, provided you use them appropriately and (b) depending upon your intended usage, photo skills and dive skills, an ILC may not be the right tool for you.

If you are willing to invest the time and effort, both before/after the dive and during the dive, in getting fewer but better quality images, then a housed ILC is right for you.

If you do not want to go through all that effort, but want something easier to use and handle, then consider a compact. Today’s compacts will certainly yield very high-quality images, suitable for printing and displaying on a wall.

If you think you are ready for a housed ILC but the price tag is too much, consider building your system step-by-step. It may take some time, but you will develop your skills and get some very good images along the way.