Options For Swimming With Whales

Started Jul 11, 2013 | Discussions
Pumba12
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Options For Swimming With Whales
Jul 11, 2013

I'm planning a trip to go snorkeling with Humpback Whales in March 2014. I'll be going on a professionally guided tour down in the Dominican Republic where it's legal to swim with them. In trying to prepare for this trip (my first real trip), I'm trying to figure out what my best option is in terms of photography. Any insight or advice you can offer would be greatly appreciated!

Option#1: Originally I was looking at a GoPro3 Hero, but reading how terrible the battery life is scared me away. So now I'm looking at (5) other underwater point and shoot cameras, but I think I narrowed it down to (3). They are the Canon Powershot D20, Pansonic Lumix DMC TS5, Olympus TG-2 IHS, Pentax WG3 GPS, or the Nikon Coolpix AW110. The (3) that I think I've narrowed it down to are the Panasonic, Penxtax, and Nikon with the Panasonic having the slight edge so far because of the better video quality. Does anyone have any experience with any of these cameras? Would you consider them to be good choices for this trip?

Option#2: I cannot afford to get an actual underwater housing for my DSLR (Canon T3i), but I have been wondering if using a Dicipac might be another possible solution. I do worry about bringing my DSLR into the water regardless of which casing I use, but of course I'm a bit more nervous about this one since it's essentially a bag. Have any of you used one of these or know of someone who has? Did it work well without springing any leaks?

Any other advice you can offer or if you can think of a different camera I haven't mentioned, please let me know and I'll add it to my "to research" list. Thanks!

1redfish1
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Re: Options For Swimming With Whales
In reply to Pumba12, Jul 14, 2013

Wow, Pumba12, I have almost the identical questions. Just substitute Beluga, Canada, August 2013, and T4i. I bet this is a pretty common question, minus the whales. i.e. amature photographers going on a vacation who want to take some underwater photos, but can't afford a real underwater housing. I sure hope someone replys with some info for us, especially about those bags.

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Ken Gosden
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Re: Options For Swimming With Whales
In reply to Pumba12, Jul 14, 2013

A few extra bits of information from you would be helpful.  Have you snorkeled often?  Are you a good and confident snorkeler?  Since you are asking about all types of UW cameras I am guessing that you have never snorkeled with a camera before?

I have snorkeled with a number of older P&S cameras in cases (Minolta Dimage, Olympus C5050Z) and several older Olympus UW cameras similar to the current non-TG series.  I have also done one scuba dive and carried the Minolta in a case.  I own EWA Marine bag for my Olympus E series and an AquaPAC bag. The bags I bought to use when I kayak, not for swimming.

I would NOT recommend a DSLR in a bag or case for snorkeling.  Waterproofing is not the issue.  Swimming and control is the issue.  It is very challenging to control your position in the water with even a small UW camera in one hand.  A DSLR is a full two hand device.  The controls on even a dedicated UW case for a DSLR are a challenge to work.  In the bags they are nearly impossible. Even above the water in a kayak it can be tough to handle my E5 in either bag.  Zooming and focusing are further impeded by water pressure which is much greater than you might think as shallow as 3 feet.  If the bag is not setup with internal structures to keep pressure off the lens, then the lens will tend to collapse to its smallest length and forget about non-internal focusing lenses.

In even slight currents you will be far too busy trying the stay where you want to be to worry much about where you are aiming the camera.  Forget about trying to remember which button to press to change a setting.  Either way I would brace yourself for the likelihood that the UW camera you buy will probably suffer a seal failure at some point.  This can happen at anytime, but tends to be more common in the second or third year of ownership.  The seals do tend to dry or shrink over time.  In fact, if you read the details on the cameras you will likely find burying in manual a warning to replace those seals annually or so.  Both of my original SW1030's blew seals after 2-3 years.  One was fine under water and died while rinsing it in the sink after a day of snorkeling.  The other failed mid snorkel after its 10th or more dive over 3+ years.  That one came back to life after a thorough fresh water rinse and multiday drying.  I would use it in bad weather, but not dive with it again.  None of this will stop me from buying another UW camera, but I do it accepting the high risk and reward ratio.

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Roaz
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Re: Options For Swimming With Whales
In reply to Pumba12, Jul 14, 2013

I think Ziphius the aquatic drone that I am involved with could be a help for you

Ziphius is the name of a whale and the idea is that it can scout the best spots and also film you while you do the snorkeling. Check it at the kickstarter

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jckk
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I use Ewa Marine for my DSLR
In reply to Pumba12, Jul 15, 2013

Pumba12 wrote:

I'm planning a trip to go snorkeling with Humpback Whales in March 2014. I'll be going on a professionally guided tour down in the Dominican Republic where it's legal to swim with them. In trying to prepare for this trip (my first real trip), I'm trying to figure out what my best option is in terms of photography. Any insight or advice you can offer would be greatly appreciated!

Option#1: Originally I was looking at a GoPro3 Hero, but reading how terrible the battery life is scared me away. So now I'm looking at (5) other underwater point and shoot cameras, but I think I narrowed it down to (3). They are the Canon Powershot D20, Pansonic Lumix DMC TS5, Olympus TG-2 IHS, Pentax WG3 GPS, or the Nikon Coolpix AW110. The (3) that I think I've narrowed it down to are the Panasonic, Penxtax, and Nikon with the Panasonic having the slight edge so far because of the better video quality. Does anyone have any experience with any of these cameras? Would you consider them to be good choices for this trip?

Option#2: I cannot afford to get an actual underwater housing for my DSLR (Canon T3i), but I have been wondering if using a Dicipac might be another possible solution. I do worry about bringing my DSLR into the water regardless of which casing I use, but of course I'm a bit more nervous about this one since it's essentially a bag. Have any of you used one of these or know of someone who has? Did it work well without springing any leaks?

Any other advice you can offer or if you can think of a different camera I haven't mentioned, please let me know and I'll add it to my "to research" list. Thanks!

I don't know the model of the Ewa Marine underwater bag and I also don't know if they make that model any longer.  It has a bracket that attaches to the lens port ring and you screw it into the tripod socket so that retains the extension of the lens extension.  Water pressure won't force the lens to collapse down and it'll also keep the lens centered on the lens port.

I've used it for at least four years and never had any issues with it.  You do need to squeeze out most of the air or else it is quite buoyant and your hand/wrist will get fatigued.  I've used it with a Canon XTi and T2i and was able to change the settings that I needed to change, which is mostly ISO.  You do need to get good at aiming when the camera is not directly between your eyes and the target.  I've only used it for snorkeling and I don't dive down, so it's probably never been deeper than about 6-8'.

James

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Ken Gosden
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Re: I use Ewa Marine for my DSLR
In reply to jckk, Jul 15, 2013

jckk wrote:

Pumba12 wrote:

I'm planning a trip to go snorkeling with Humpback Whales in March 2014. I'll be going on a professionally guided tour down in the Dominican Republic where it's legal to swim with them. In trying to prepare for this trip (my first real trip), I'm trying to figure out what my best option is in terms of photography. Any insight or advice you can offer would be greatly appreciated!

Option#1: Originally I was looking at a GoPro3 Hero, but reading how terrible the battery life is scared me away. So now I'm looking at (5) other underwater point and shoot cameras, but I think I narrowed it down to (3). They are the Canon Powershot D20, Pansonic Lumix DMC TS5, Olympus TG-2 IHS, Pentax WG3 GPS, or the Nikon Coolpix AW110. The (3) that I think I've narrowed it down to are the Panasonic, Penxtax, and Nikon with the Panasonic having the slight edge so far because of the better video quality. Does anyone have any experience with any of these cameras? Would you consider them to be good choices for this trip?

Option#2: I cannot afford to get an actual underwater housing for my DSLR (Canon T3i), but I have been wondering if using a Dicipac might be another possible solution. I do worry about bringing my DSLR into the water regardless of which casing I use, but of course I'm a bit more nervous about this one since it's essentially a bag. Have any of you used one of these or know of someone who has? Did it work well without springing any leaks?

Any other advice you can offer or if you can think of a different camera I haven't mentioned, please let me know and I'll add it to my "to research" list. Thanks!

I don't know the model of the Ewa Marine underwater bag and I also don't know if they make that model any longer. It has a bracket that attaches to the lens port ring and you screw it into the tripod socket so that retains the extension of the lens extension. Water pressure won't force the lens to collapse down and it'll also keep the lens centered on the lens port.

I've used it for at least four years and never had any issues with it. You do need to squeeze out most of the air or else it is quite buoyant and your hand/wrist will get fatigued. I've used it with a Canon XTi and T2i and was able to change the settings that I needed to change, which is mostly ISO. You do need to get good at aiming when the camera is not directly between your eyes and the target. I've only used it for snorkeling and I don't dive down, so it's probably never been deeper than about 6-8'.

James

I believe my EWA bag came with lead weight to offset the buoyancy.  You can and should test it out in your tub before snorkeling.  I bought one of the ub100 series and ordered the bracket separately.  I will say that the EWA Marine web site info is confusing at best.  The US importer is actually pretty helpful on phone.

 Ken Gosden's gear list:Ken Gosden's gear list
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Pumba12
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Re: Options For Swimming With Whales
In reply to Ken Gosden, Jul 15, 2013

I have not done any underwater photography yet nor have I ever done any snorkeling. This is like a double whammy for me, but I expected it to be a challenge. I was hoping to get all of my supplies before we close our pool out for the year so I can test it out and get a little bit of a feel for it. Either way, when it comes time to do this I'm going to be rusty for sure and it'll be a learning experience!

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Pumba12
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Re: I use Ewa Marine for my DSLR
In reply to jckk, Jul 15, 2013

Thanks for the info! I'll check it out for future references, but I have decided that I'm not going ot take my DSLR into the water on this trip. There will be out of water photo opportunites too so I'll want my DSLR ready to go for those. They often find "rowdy groups" which consist of males duking it out. There are a lot of breaches, tail throws, flipper slaps, etc so I don't want to miss that action by having to worry about carefully taking my camera out of the bag and then carefully putting it back in and sealing it up, etc.

So, I'm looking for an underwater camera and I'll be hoping and praying I get some halfway decent shots/video.

I have read that that the Panasonic TS5 that I was looking at has a 60 minute underwater time limit. I'm sensing this is a pretty standard rule as I found the same note on a Nikon. If this is the case, how does this work? If I were to keep my camera under for longer would I need to worry about leaks? How long in between sessions would the camera need to be safe? I think we get a total of about 7 hours a day of possible in water stuff mattering on what whales they find. I'd hate to miss so much action!

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Pumba12
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Re: Options For Swimming With Whales
In reply to 1redfish1, Jul 15, 2013

Exciting! I hope we both have successful trips!

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Ken Gosden
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Re: I use Ewa Marine for my DSLR
In reply to Pumba12, Jul 15, 2013

Pumba12 wrote:

Thanks for the info! I'll check it out for future references, but I have decided that I'm not going ot take my DSLR into the water on this trip. There will be out of water photo opportunites too so I'll want my DSLR ready to go for those. They often find "rowdy groups" which consist of males duking it out. There are a lot of breaches, tail throws, flipper slaps, etc so I don't want to miss that action by having to worry about carefully taking my camera out of the bag and then carefully putting it back in and sealing it up, etc.

So, I'm looking for an underwater camera and I'll be hoping and praying I get some halfway decent shots/video.

I have read that that the Panasonic TS5 that I was looking at has a 60 minute underwater time limit. I'm sensing this is a pretty standard rule as I found the same note on a Nikon. If this is the case, how does this work? If I were to keep my camera under for longer would I need to worry about leaks? How long in between sessions would the camera need to be safe? I think we get a total of about 7 hours a day of possible in water stuff mattering on what whales they find. I'd hate to miss so much action!

I never do video so I cannot comment on the 60 minute rule.  I suspect it is more a battery and memory card limit than anything else.  It is important to remember that every time you open the memory, cable or battery compartment doors you risk getting dirt on the seal and compromising the camera.  One important accessory is a float strap.  I know that when I flipped our kayak in Hawaii the float strap on my SW1030 enabled our guide to rescue it.  Without a float strap all the UW cameras will sink quickly.  I am guessing that the whales are not in water shallow enough to rescue a camera from the seabed.  If the camera you chose does not offer a specific float strap I bet one of the Olympus ones will work.

 Ken Gosden's gear list:Ken Gosden's gear list
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primozp
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Re: Options For Swimming With Whales
In reply to Pumba12, Jul 16, 2013

Pumba12 wrote:

I'm planning a trip to go snorkeling with Humpback Whales in March 2014. I'll be going on a professionally guided tour down in the Dominican Republic where it's legal to swim with them.

I was there in 2007 (http://www.flickr.com/photos/primozp/sets/72157633780808825/). They also promised us snorkeling with Humpback Whales, but in reality sea was so rough that it was impossible to snorkel. After serious efforts and hours of searching, we finally saw some whales, from the surface.

I had better luck 3 years later (2010) in Mexico, where I really swim and freedive with whale sharks:

http://www.flickr.com/photos/primozp/sets/72157633781275578/

http://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PL871C1507DAA2DAD0

In any case for this kind of adventure forget about DSLR, especially if you're not an very experienced diver and underwater photographer and buy yourself good compact underwater camera. Down there you will not have time for any camera settings, you will hardly have enough time for "point & shoot" with full automatic compact camera.

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My (mostly underwater) photos and videos taken with
Panasonic, Olympus and Pentax compact UW cameras:
photos @ http://www.flickr.com/photos/primozp/sets/
video footage @ http://www.youtube.com/user/PrimozP/videos?view=1&flow=list&sort=dd

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Pumba12
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Re: Options For Swimming With Whales
In reply to primozp, Jul 17, 2013

Thank you. I have decided that I'm not going to bring my DSLR into the water. I'll be keeping that on the boat to use on the out of water shots. I'm hoping to get some good breaching shots since the males will be fighting one another for mating rights.

I'm leaning more towards the TS5 for the in water stuff. Still doing some research though.

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Rmark
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My two cents.
In reply to Pumba12, Jul 18, 2013
No text.
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Rmark
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Re: My two cents.
In reply to Rmark, Jul 18, 2013

Sorry hit return before entering text

1.Any DSLR in a ridged (ikelite, etc) housing would very difficult to use while snorkeling, since you will not be able to achieve neutral buoyancy . They require a fair amount of practice to operate in water.

2.Forget about soft flexible bag housing. might be ok in boat or surf though

3. Consider a buoyancy device while snorkeling. You won't need a BCD, but they make small inflatable collars. This way you can concentrate on the shot without having to tread water while composing etc.

4.I use a housed DSLR with dual synced strobes when scuba diving, when snorkeling I use a Canon G10 in the Canon case, no external strobe needed. You will have plenty of light down to about 5 feet. The small canon housings can be held and used one handed, probably the same for Olympus P&S housings as well.

Anyway, have fun, maybe make a movie of the whales?

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ClausD
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Re: Options For Swimming With Whales
In reply to Pumba12, Jul 18, 2013

Pumba12,

do you have already identified a local tour company or do you have any experience / feedback from others on a local operaters?

Sounds like a great experience and a good way to spend some money...

cheers Claus

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tobyone
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Re: Options For Swimming With Whales
In reply to Pumba12, Jul 19, 2013

As with a large marine creatures you will need a wide lens. Some the p&s will not be wide enough.I bought a cheap plastic housing for my GF-2 from China for $110.00. IT works great for shallow water. I have seen them on ebay for several mirrorless cameras.Another option is to rent.

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Toby Armstrong

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tobyone
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Re: Options For Swimming With Whales
In reply to tobyone, Jul 19, 2013

Gopro with water housing .

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Combat By Design
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Re: Options For Swimming With Whales
In reply to Pumba12, Jul 22, 2013

Hey Pumba,
My honest opinion: Find a GoPro Hero2 online somewhere... whether it be Craigslist or Ebay, or even Amazon... The three is really buggy, and can freeze up a lot, and the two not only has better options and features (for the price), but less expensive accessories (including a floaty back door).
I've sent mine wakeboarding with my cousins, and brought it snowboarding myself countless times and it's never failed. The company is great about replacing their products if the seal ever fails.
having a point and shoot will probably be too much of a burden, and the GoPro sells a wrist strap that you can take pictures from.
The images and video are clearer than any P&S I've ever personally used, and the battery life is fairly decent. If you're worried about that, you can always buy the battery extender too.
Good luck on your search!
Post some pics for us to see,
and more importantly.........HAVE FUN!
-K

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tobyone
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Re: Options For Swimming With Whales
In reply to Combat By Design, Jul 31, 2013

Gopro with big battery. 140 degree with flat port, visualize the framing. Or just buy a few batteries and the viewfinder back.
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