You will need to make some decisions before buying waterproof housing for your camera. Do you want to use a new digital SLR (DSLR) camera underwater? What happens if the housing floods? How much are you willing to spend? Hmmm....decisions, decisions..
Entry level prices of waterproof housings for popular cameras have reduced in recent times, and opened up opportunities to capture the underwater world. You will need to make some decisions before buying your housing. Do you want to use a new digital SLR (DSLR) camera underwater? What happens if the housing floods? Are you willing to risk the camera underwater and at what depths?
When it comes to waterproof housings for digital cameras, there are two main types available. The first is for point and shoot (P&S) cameras where the zoom, macro and wide angle are all built into the camera and generally you take the photo looking at the display on the back of the unit. The second type of waterproof housing is designed for DSLR cameras (which use changeable lenses for macro, zoom and wide angle and also requires you to use the view finder when taking the picture for the best result). There are also soft pouches that are okay to keep your camera splash free or sand proof, but are not recommended for submersion.
If you want to use your P&S camera underwater, have a search on the web to see if the maker of the camera sells a housing to suit. Many companies have released their own housings. If you are out of luck, visit the Ikelite website (www.ikelite.com) and under the ‘digital still’ page, look to see if your camera is listed. You may need a port or other accessories for the housing you choose. Make sure you price it all up – it may be cheaper to buy a new camera and a housing made by the camera manufacturer than to buy an after-market housing for an older camera. Make sure you have the option to use the internal flash and also attach external strobes if need be in the future. Camera housings will be generally made from high quality acrylic plastic. Prices tend to be from around $200 to $400 for a housing from the manufacturer, and $500 up for something like an Ikelite housing.
If, however, you wish to go the next step and venture underwater with your DSLR camera, you will find it hard to find a housing made by your camera manufacturer. They tend to stick to making cameras and lenses. DSLR housings tend to range from $1000 up, and then you need strobes, strobe arms, ports and cables to fit it all together. DSLR housings can be made from acrylic plastic or aluminium. Generally, aluminium units will be rated to greater depths, but I like high quality acrylic, as I can always see that the O-ring seal is perfectally sealed. And it is also easy to see any water droplets if the housing should happen to spring a leak. Some suppliers to look at are Sea and Sea, Inon, Aquatica, Subal and Ikelite.
Attachable ports can be fixed to the front of some DSLR housing to accommodate a zoom function that extends past the front of the camera, or to allow for a lens inside the housing on a DSLR. Different ports are needed for different lens sizes and types. Dome ports are used for wide angle, but flat ports are used for macro as they let you get much closer. Some ports allow you to control the zoom and/or focus of the lens from the housing. If you use a housing with ports attached, it is a good idea NEVER to enter the water from a boat or drop holding the camera. Ports have been known to be ripped off when entering the water, leaving the water free to rush in and destroy your camera.
Make sure you are comfortable holding your housing underwater and that the positive or negative buoyancy is okay. DSLR housing generally has handles, and it is a great idea to have a cord of some type to attach you to the camera. It wouldn’t be nice to see your camera and housing slip away into the depths while on a safety stop, knowing you can’t chase after it … Ouch!
Attaching a strobe light to any underwater camera is necessary if you want to go to the next level of wide angle or macro with heaps of light. Strobes come in many sizes and have lots of different features and functions. Make sure your strobe will work with your housing and camera. Some strobes are connected to the camera via wired cable to communicate when to flash, and how long or how bright. This is generally called ‘through the lens’ (TTL) and means you don’t have to set the strobes manually. Some strobes required fibre optic cables to get the information between the camera and the strobe. A focus light is also built into some strobes, and it enables the camera to focus on the subject (normally when doing macro) in low light. If possible, select a strobe that turns the focus light off the moment the photo is taken, and then back on afterwards. This eliminates the orange tinge that can be appear in your photos, caused by the focus light being on when the shutter opens. To minimise backscatter when doing wide angle, it is a great idea to use arms on the strobes. These arms let you move the strobes away from the lens and help spread the light and also position the strobes when doing macro.
A good second-hand setup can sometimes be found on the internet too – make sure you look at the under-water photography sites that have ‘for sale’ adverts. It is better if you can see what you are buying before making a payment, but that is not always possible. Make sure you try to get a shop in the area to look at the system.
For other information, tips, tricks and photos, please visit my website www.vizbiz.com.au where you will find lots of useful links to suppliers and forums online.
Photos: Adriaan van Huissteden
If you would like to ask any questions on this topic, please contact Adriaan on firstname.lastname@example.org