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Photography and diving are two good hobbies of mine, and I would really like to start doing both at the same time. I have a DSLR for photography (Canon 450d), but I'm not sure I'm willing to risk ruining it by taking it underwater, even if there exists some kind of housing.

I saw several compacts that are waterproof, but most of them are only up to 3 meters deep, which is not really useful for what I'd like to do.

What is the easiest (and cheapest) piece of equipment I could buy to make decent underwater photos ? Do I need to buy a specialised diving camera, or are there any compacts that go deeper than 3 meters ? Or should I simply buy a housing and trust it ?

Also, what are the ideal lenses/flashes for underwater photography ?

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5 Answers 5

up vote 8 down vote accepted

Underwater photography is a challenging but rewarding hobby. However, it is expensive. I have done underwater photography with 35mm point and shoot's, digital point and shoot and DSLR, I have gotten good picture with the point and shoots but GREAT pictures with the DSLR. Although what I use is not the cheapest or absolute best equipment I am very happy with the results. I would highly recommend spending the money and time to learn with a DSLR with a housing. I would also recommend buy one piece at a time and learn how to shoot with each piece and your underwater photography will become great. I shot this on a Blackwater dive in Hawaii with my setup.

Blackwater Dive

My setup:

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There are waterproof compacts that go to 10 meters, such as some of the Olympus Tough models. But that's still not enough for scuba diving. Even if you stay above 10 meters, the seals on such cameras aren't good enough to stay at depth for an hour at a time.

I started with a Canon S90 and the Canon underwater case. It's a compact camera with a wide (28 mm) and fast (f/2.0) lens. Underwater you want wide and fast. I also needed a new pocket camera, so this purchase covered both purposes. The Canon underwater case is (relatively) cheap and works just fine.

I've since learned from experience that if you want to make really great underwater photos, you definitely need an external strobe or two. Without a strobe there's just not enough color in the pictures once you go deeper than 5 meters or so.

I'm stuck on the surface now due to medical reasons. But if I ever dive again, I'll invest in a great flash setup first, and in a camera after that.

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I bought a canon G11 this year specifically because I am a diver (circa 90 dives, so still lots to learn), and there are a number of waterproof housings around for that camera. In particular, I bought the Canon housing, and it works a treat up to 30 metres. If you go this route, make sure to buy the extra weight set that screws onto the bottom of the case, this gives the camera neutral buoyancy, and if you don't it gets really annoying pulling out of your wrist

Recently back from a live aboard on the Red sea and there were a lot of photographers on that trip with real super-duper equipment, some running to thousands of euros worth. However, there was one diver there with a G9, Ikelite case and external strobe taking amazing shots. I thought I'd made the wrong choice with the Canon case, as there is no external output socket for a stobe (whereas there is on the Ikelite) - but upon returning, I discovered that you can attach an external light sensitive trigger to the Canon case just in front of the internal flash.

An Ikelite housing is likely to cost twice as much as the camera, so I think I'll wait a while. But I will buy an external strobe for the next trip - once you go below 10 metres depth (even in clear seas like the Red sea) you get a real case of light loss, colour loss and shakes set in. The internal flash is useless at distance, and the design of the case blocks the flash on the bottom 3rd of macro shots.

But I'm happy to learn what to do without a strobe first: there is enough to worry about in diving without adding another electronic gadget...

All advice about diving with an underwater housing says that on the first dive (your check dive) of a series, that you take the housing down without the camera in it - just to make sure there are no leaks).

Have a look at Underwater Photography Guide for loads of tips and a good tutorials

(PS: One practical piece of advice I never saw, and wish I had is to never dive with a shorti wet suit and take photos: You'll need protection from all the things you bump into while concentrating on exposure and aperture!)

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+1 very valueable information for me (i also keep an eye on the G11/G12/canon case combination - my next trip will btw also be to the Red Sea) –  Gerhard Dinhof Oct 28 '10 at 20:20

I have an Olympus mju 770 sw that is waterproof to 10m. I only snorkel, so 10m seemed like enough. That was until I went deeper once and the camera decided to not show any image on the back (and it has no viewfinder).

Much to my amazement and relief, it's since recovered (magically?). I've had it for years now and it's my favourite camera of all time because I can sit on it whilst sailing and I just need to remember to pay attention to the constant hi-pitched sound that it makes when I exceed 7m.

I heard they're not making them anymore because the seals were too costly. But if you can get hold of one I'd say it's a great camera for taking outside in any conditions.

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There are many compact cameras with underwater housings available from Canon and Olympus. I had an Olympus C5000z with Oly's housing and it worked, but the camera was... not the best. I've just purchased a Canon G11 which has an underwater housing available for it for around $180 and hope that's a better setup for me. If I ever get more than 1 dive a year in (I live in Chicago and prefer warm dives), I'll probably get an Ikelite housing and strobe(s) for my Canon 30D and be a little more serious about it, but for now the compact thing works well enough for me.

(Ikelite makes housings for compacts as well as for SLR's. They are expensive but very well made from what I hear. They'd be what I'd recommend for an SLR because they have a variety of lens housings available as well so they'd likely accommodate whatever setup you'd be looking to use -if you want to take a look at their offerings, their website is: http://www.ikelite.com/ )


As far as trusting a housing:
I'd trust Olympus, Canon, and Ikelite housings, but they will only seal well if you take care of them. Read the instructions carefully, and make sure you clean lube them as the instructions say before each dive. I never had a problem with mine. Investing in some silica gel packs is a good idea too because inevitably I'd fog up with out one. And if there's a choice of a weight or no weight -get the weight. Buoyant cameras aren't a lot of fun to keep track of!

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