The choice of underwater imaging equipment available today is ever increasing and with all the rapid technological changes that are happening you are able to capture “better” images with higher resolutions and bigger sensors from smaller more compact devices. The confusion that can abound regarding what equipment you need to capture your experiences can become overwhelming.
So where do you start?
The first thing you should always consider is how you want to use your images, are you simply looking to capture your underwater experiences or do you want to create full length national geographic style documentaries, illustrating your blog or something in between? Is the camera going to be used for other purposes, are you serious about the techniques and your abilities to technically manipulate your images. Are you interested in photography, video or both?
Obviously budget has a role to play in any purchasing decision so is it a case of buying the best bang for your buck or is money no objec? Other considerations are portability do you need an extra baggage allowance to get your rig from A to B or are you travelling light?
Shooting whilst diving or snorkelling, especially if travelling, require these kinds of consideration.
Many digital cameras now have underwater housings available from the manufacturer. The first consideration should be what is the depth rating of the housing if you are using the camera for snorkelling then 10 metres may be fine, but for diving depending on the dive site it may not get you very far. The other consideration is what functions of the camera are readily available to you? Even simpler cameras now come with a range of manufacturer presets to help you shoot in a variety of different situations and to create different effects. Dependant on the level of control the camera allows and you desire to manually control these functions you should consider these factors. Many digital camera now also have good video capture features but remember you will want to consider your storage capacity, the cameras maximum video capture length and battery life, if your diving with a whale shark for twenty minutes you don’t want to be worrying about the cameras ability to keep up with the action!
There are now a whole range of housing products for mobile devices ranging from the water tight bag system to aluminium and resin hard casings. Most recently Impatina have released a hard case housing system for the Iphone 4 which has fantastic imaging capabilities. Great for photography but with limited capacity for video the decision is whether this you want to submerge this life organising piece of hard ware.
One of the newer developments in the market place are the Go Pro cameras, designed for use in all types of adventure sports, their rugged construction and small light weight design mean that they are great if your on the move. For underwater use you need to make sure you get the right housing/lens port for top quality images.
We primarily shoot with HDV camcorders due to their small size and portability. Again many camera manufacturers have their own sports housings but for many diving situations they do not have the depth rating required. In this instance you will want to consider other housing options, these range from resin to aluminium, mechanical to electronic and each choice has advantages and disadvantages. Your considerations will be the climate you will be shooting in, plastic gather condensation in it quickly when left in the heat or moving from extreme heat or cold, but also has the advantage of being light weight. Aluminium has the disadvantage of being heavier (but not necessarily negatively buoyant) but is far more rugged so if you are serious about your shooting can last you for years. Mechanical housings are specifically engineered to a model of camera and generally can only be utilised for that camera. Electronic housings for camcorders generally have the advantage that they can be configured for a number of different For us the most important consideration is the optics options that the housing has to offer as being able to shot macro and wide angle is key to getting the whole picture.
DSLR’s are probably making some of the biggest leaps forward in terms of independent film and video production, the new video capabilities, and sensor sensitivity mean that DSLR’s are being used more and more in professional film work. Obviously they have the great advantage of being dual purpose enabling both photography and film work, but the greatest advantage of the DSLR is the artistic image control afforded to the camera-person. This choice is probably best suited for the serious amateur or professional. The choice of lens and housing can significantly increase the pricing. One disadvantage that you may find is the lens choice may affect your underwater shoot if you go out to shoot macro and see that whale shark we keep harping on about then you may not have the right equipment for the job. But hey you saw a whale shark! Also again consider the film capture capacity of your DSLR.
Further up the digital video/film camera scale are the larger high end camcorders and if you are looking at this level of camera you will no doubt be in little need of this article to make your decisions. The advantages of this type of camera are the full manual control allowed by the technology, Lens selection and the lack of zoom/focus ring noise that is often apparent with the DSLR set up.
Discussions over resolution and image sensor size are largely obsolete unless you really know your camera, lens and format specifications. The mathematics and variables involved in calculating the best camera for the job are immense. GENERALLY claims about resolution size should be ignored, as the numbers do not relate directly to image quality, information about the optics and sensor size are generally much more revealing about the camera’s performance in for example low light situations, which is a regular consideration underwater.
Here we have briefly summarised some of your initial decisions but if you would like to discuss further your options please contact us or we strongly recommend the following resources.