Choosing a housing and camera, some tips…
When choosing a housing and camera there are two annoying things to consider – you might flood or lose it. This is one of the reasons I dont recommend using your phone. Whilst the cameras on phones are getting increasingly sophisticated, the chance of loosing it to a leak or simply dropping it are possible. If it’s just a camera, you’ll be annoyed sure but you wont loose valubale other info. There is also the problem of redundancy. If you upgrade your phone, you need a new housing, they always move at least one button on the new model. Finally, phone cameras are generally designed to be used in conjunction with the touch screen – you can’t touch the screen in a housing so a lot of the functionality is lost. All in all you are better off with a dedicated camera and housing. I have been using Canons for years and got some very good results, but I have seen just as good a result from many others and Lumix seem to be the best I have come across for size v quality, but you may want to look at a GoPro, which produce excellent video. Choose a camera that records onto an SD card or similar, rather than an internal memory, in the event of a camera failure you can then still get your pictures.
Think about what you are going to do with the pictures. If all you are planning to do is share them on Facebook and other sites, you do not need to spend a huge amount of money on digital quality. Attached is a photo I took in 2004 with a 4M camera. The size of the picture once reduced by turning it into a medium JPEG is 748kB and even that is fine to print out to A5 paper, so don’t be fooled into thinking you need a huge number of Mega pixels. An HD TV only shows a picture of 1080 x 1920 and most people won’t be viewing your pictures in that high a quality. The one thing that you must check that your camera has is the ability to set a manual white balance, I will do a separate article on this, but if you haven’t got it, then you are at best going to have to purchase a red filter or just work in black and white. Most compact cameras will manual white balance, but check that the housing also lets you access the buttons. Some cameras have an “Underwater” setting – most are for snorkeling and become increasingly ineffective the deeper you go. Finally, when choosing the camera have an eye out to see what housings are available, some manufacturers have their own and these will usually let you use all of the buttons, but beware of housings that say they fit multiple cameras, they won’t give you access to all the settings.
Another important tip…
As a recreational diver make sure that your housing will go to 40m! Vital!
Video cameras v stills cameras.
Virtually all compact “Stills” cameras will take HD video and some will even take 4k. All video cameras can take pictures or you can always take a still from your HD video. Stills cameras do tend to have a better ability to white balance underwater, video cameras tend to need a red filter. A compact camera is more likely to give you a zoom ability and a GoPro could be very wide and not give you much of a chance with smaller fish to make them large enough to bother with. If you think you are going to want more shots of people, then go with a wide option, if not then I would stick with a compact.
I would be very wary of housing a DSLR, unless you are thinking of providing professional pictures. The ability to use specialist lenses for specialist work can produce stunning results, but if you are set up for macro and that whale shark turns up you can find yourself in a bit of a fix.
If you are thinking of housing a DSLR here are a few things to consider. Plastic housings of the quality of Ikelite are less than half the cost of a cast aluminium housing, but they do have more of a tendency to fail. A cast aluminium housing will cost more than your DSLR, and it won’t take the next model they produce. You didn’t buy a perspex housing so you could see the water dripping on the inside. I have just had too many friends lose cameras in these housings, and I stick with Aquatica, the considerable cost involved means that I won’t be updating my camera in the near future, but there is nothing wrong with that.
There is one extra that I would always think about purchasing when buying a housing, and that is a pair of handles, they make holding the camera steady much easier. They are not easily found away from where housings are bought and if you have a small compact or something like a GoPro they will make your shots much better. If you want a steady picture you should hold the camera with both hands when shooting.
When buying a housing if you know you will be doing macro shots (Close up) this would also be the time to consider buying strobes. Unless you KNOW this is going to be the main focus of your work then you might want to just make some enquiries and come back to it. They only reach subjects about 2m away and cause all sorts of complications.
Make sure you buy some spare silicone grease for your O-rings, and a small amount of alcohol in a dropper bottle for cleaning and re-greasing. Some O-rings are made of silicone and should not be greased – check when you buy the housing.
Finally, see if you can buy a small set of red “Magic” filters. They come is small packs, cost around £35 for 3 and are vital if your camera can’t white balance under the waves. http://magic-filters.com/autobuy.html
Good luck and feel free to write in with any questions.