Underwater Options

Started Jan 2, 2010 | Discussions
mikero Contributing Member • Posts: 635
Underwater Options

My main interest in photography is wildlife - mainly birds but also mammals, reptiles, insects, etc, for which I use a Canon 50D.

I've been to the Maldives twice and have tried underwater photography with a little Pentax Optio compact. Whilst fun, the end results have been very mixed because:

a) You can't see the LCD screen in the bright sunlight, and

b) There is too great a delay between pressing the shutter and the taking the picture, by which time the fish are out of focus.

We are planning another holiday to the Maldives in 2010 and this time I want to get much better results. The 'obvious' thing to do is get an underwater housing for the 50D, but these all seem very expensive for what will be occasional use, and they are probably over-specified for a snorkeller (I'm not a diver). So...

Are there any inexpensive housings for the 50D which are good to, say, 5m?

Is there an alternative solution, such as buying a high-end compact which would be a more practical proposition, and overcome the deficiencies in the Pentax Optio?

If I do find a solution for the 50D that I can afford, what would be a suitable lens to use? I currently have the 10-22mm, 50mm f1.4, 85mm f1.8, 100mm macro and am planning to get the new 15-85mm.

Thanks for any advice, and sorry if this is the wrong forum.

Mike

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BossBob New Member • Posts: 22
Re: Underwater Options

Try the housing mentioned here http://www.danhimbrechts.com/blog/2009/11/22/dicapac-wp-s10-dslr-waterproof-housing/

We used a version of this for a compact camera while bodyboarding for a couple of years and it worked well until the plastic seams started to give up. Bought a Canon D10 which has worked really well though its not as configurable as the 450D/50D we normally use.

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OP mikero Contributing Member • Posts: 635
Re: Underwater Options

Thanks BossBob for your suggestions. I'm a little worried about using what is a glorified plastic bag, but I guess as it cost a fair bit, there is more to it than that! How easy is it to operate the controls?

And with respect to the D10, how easy is it to see the LCD in sunlight?

Thanks
Mike

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BossBob New Member • Posts: 22
Re: Underwater Options

Not really much to do on the compact so I can't comment. The article I pointed you to had more to say.

The D10 LCD is way better than that on the 460 that used to occupy the plastic bag or a G3 but given the option I'd rather have a viewfinder with diopter correction. Shutter response is better with very little lag if there is something to focus on. Flash and the controls can all be operated under water, just don't try changing the memory card

I tend to be very careful with the various doors and their seals as that will be the weakest point. The D10 coped well with being used all week on an outdoor pursuits holiday being used by any of the teachers without them even thinking about what they were putting a camera though. I'd just give it a soak in the sink, dry it out and download the pictures each evening.

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JustSomeDude Regular Member • Posts: 110
Re: Underwater Options

A "proper" underwater housings for a dSLR is going to be a lot bigger than you probably expect it to be. The Ikelite housing for your 50D is something like 10" x 7" x 6.5", and will be considerably wider with the handles attached. Plus the size of the port for whatever lens you had in mind (note that the diameters of some lenses like the current 24-70mm L and 16-35mm L are too wide to work with normal ports). The housing and port will easily cost more than your 50D. This definitely isn't what I'd recommend for surface snorkeling.

A P&S with a housing is going to have the normal P&S issues: a single lens, shutter lag, hard to see the display in direct sunlight, fiddly menu system not designed for switching between macro mode with on camera flash (with a diffuser) and ambient light with manual white balance. And most people find the LCD display is as much of an advantage framing shots underwater as it is a disadvantage in direct sunlight. For cost and size considerations, it's what a lot of people use. You'll definitely want to research your options for housing choices before buying a specific P&S, because not all P&S have housings made for them and some have better housings than others (size concerns, availability of additional stackable macro lenses, wide angle options). Look into the S90 for something small with a fast lens or the G11 for something with a much larger battery capacity in a larger package; they both use the same 10MP sensor, and both Canon and Ikelite make housings for them.

The Canon D10 and some of the Olympus, etc. cameras that are built to be waterproof to 10 meters / 33 feet without a separate housing might be worth more research if you are only going to use it for snorkeling depths. I'm not sure how these hold up over time in salt water; make sure to soak in fresh water out of sunlight after each use (which is good advice for any housing). Most of these will have an "Underwater Mode", though if they only shoot JPEG it might be worth getting something that will do manual or custom white balance. Then save the 50D for dry land.

Oh, and unless you are independently wealthy, I would not trust a glorified plastic bag for any camera at depth, especially not for a dSLR.

YMMVBPN,

John

mikero wrote:

My main interest in photography is wildlife - mainly birds but also mammals, reptiles, insects, etc, for which I use a Canon 50D.

I've been to the Maldives twice and have tried underwater photography with a little Pentax Optio compact. Whilst fun, the end results have been very mixed because:

a) You can't see the LCD screen in the bright sunlight, and

b) There is too great a delay between pressing the shutter and the taking the picture, by which time the fish are out of focus.

We are planning another holiday to the Maldives in 2010 and this time I want to get much better results. The 'obvious' thing to do is get an underwater housing for the 50D, but these all seem very expensive for what will be occasional use, and they are probably over-specified for a snorkeller (I'm not a diver). So...

Are there any inexpensive housings for the 50D which are good to, say, 5m?

Is there an alternative solution, such as buying a high-end compact which would be a more practical proposition, and overcome the deficiencies in the Pentax Optio?

If I do find a solution for the 50D that I can afford, what would be a suitable lens to use? I currently have the 10-22mm, 50mm f1.4, 85mm f1.8, 100mm macro and am planning to get the new 15-85mm.

Thanks for any advice, and sorry if this is the wrong forum.

Mike

OP mikero Contributing Member • Posts: 635
Re: Underwater Options

Thanks for your helpful post. It confirms what I'd already started to think:

A dedicated 50D housing is overkill (large, expensive, over-specified) for my occasional use.

A glorified plastic bag is too risky, especially as the camera will be in and out of it at least twice a day for charging batteries, emptying cards and general camera use.

That leaves a high-end compact either with a housing or naturally waterproof. But I will need to check shutter lag, size and brightness of LCD, ability to take RAW, focusing options, etc.

Mike

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Schnapper Contributing Member • Posts: 995
Re: Underwater Options

I have a Powershot SD 850IS (medium-high end Canon P&S from a couple of years ago) and a WP-DC15 waterproof housing - it's dedicated to that camera model and fits perfectly, allowing use of all of the buttons/controls. It takes great pictures under water, and the camera is perfect for the wife's purse for everyday use (out of the housing, it's very compact). Only issue is shutter lag and slow AF, as noted by some above with respect to point and shoots.

I'd recommend getting a top end point and shoot that has a dedicated housing available. Some of them are getting a lot better from the perspective of shutter lag (my biggest problem with them) these days.

reinhard Contributing Member • Posts: 514
Re: Underwater Options

Hi,
guess yuu figured its not gonna be cheap.

The two things you will definately need:

  • decedn housing

  • light, i.e. underwater flash.

Even at the Maldives the color red starts to disapear at aroun 5m depth. There are tricks, like bumping up the red channel (see Canon Underwater Scene mode), but its not the real thing.

One option woudl be, rather than buying an expensive compact with cheap housing and no flash (forget about onborard flash) would be:

  • get a used Canon DSLR, like a 300D or 350D

  • pick your favourite zoomlens, or get a 18-55 Kit lens

  • look here for underwater housing: http://www.10bar.com . They have good value housings, which can stand rough handling.

  • The more expensive bit will be a flash, either underwater flashgun, or - if you already have a flash you can also find an underwater housing for it. To sync it you can either us a synccord (but this means anoither hole in the housing) or a fibre cable which uses the builtin flash to trigger the external flashgun.

There are various options, but none of them is really cheap.

For less-demanding underwater photographie, here are a few addtional options:
http://www.nextag.com/underwater-digital-camera/stores-html

Hope this helps.

-- hide signature --

Cheers,
Reinhard

Canon 50mm 1.8, Sigma 105mm Macro, Canon 70-200 4.0 L IS, Canon EF-S 2.8 18-55mm IS,Panasonic DMC-LX3)
http://www.pbase.com/reinhard
http://www.fotki.com/reinhard

OP mikero Contributing Member • Posts: 635
Re: Underwater Options

Reinhard, thanks for the suggestions. Worth looking into using my old 350D which is now gathering dust in the cupboard....

You really think off-camera flash is essential? With a high spec compact I can shoot RAW and adjust white balance later, or isn't that good enough? (My snorkelling skills are more bobbing on the surface than free-diving.)

Glad I've got a few months to figure this out.

Mike

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reinhard Contributing Member • Posts: 514
Re: Underwater Options

Hi,

if you stay within snorkling area, i.e. between 0 and 3 meter you should be fine without an additional flash. Just make sure what you shoot is not to far away, not more than 2-2.5 meter. Alternatively, as it is all digital, a bright led flashgun can help especially if you shoot raw. Just tape it onto your housing, use some watertight tape. Turn it on when you need some additional light to bring out colors in a dark spot.

You will get best results with a wide angle or in the close-up range. Color in the wide angle range will turn blue, only the foreground will have colors, and a flash won't help unless lighten the forground anyway. So make sure you got something interesting in the foreground, like a colorful coral or fishes.

Unlike on land, underwater, close to the surface, it is best to have the sun high up to get enough light and color.

A real problem with the built-in flash is dust and other particles in the water. They reflect the flash light and show up as bright white sprincles on your picture. So you either should not use a flash at all, or an external flash gun which is mounted way outside the optical axis to avoid these reflections.

As you have a 350D available a good start would be to invest in a good housing, like a 10bar (they do have a model for Canon 350D) and a port for your favourite zoom lense, like a 17-55, or a 18-85, if available.

If you get into underwater photography you can always extend with an external flash, additional lens ports, etc.

If you go for a 10bar (or Ikelite) make sure you attach some weight to the housing. Especially when you snorkle you want some weight, otherwise you have to push the housing under water and you can't keep it stable. Its a worthwhile add-on and will help to get good pictures easier.

-- hide signature --

Cheers,
Reinhard

Canon 50mm 1.8, Sigma 105mm Macro, Canon 70-200 4.0 L IS, Canon EF-S 2.8 18-55mm IS,Panasonic DMC-LX3)
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Julio Veteran Member • Posts: 4,886
Best Option: 350 + bag

mikero wrote:

Reinhard, thanks for the suggestions. Worth looking into using my old 350D which is now gathering dust in the cupboard....

I doubt you'll be satisfied with a waterproof P&S since you've already tried that and have been underwhelmed. That old 350D in a quality plastic housing would be my first choice. I haven't done this myself yet but I've been close to getting one a couple of times--more for worry-free canoeing and khayaking than anything else, but they'd be great fro snorkling too.

I'm surprised no one has linked to Ewa-Marine yet. They're probably the #1 company for plastic-bag housings, have been around for many years and have several options that will accomodate a hot-shoe flash. They're likely sturdy enough to use on your main body but I'd try it with the older one first. I have a 20D still kicking around and that is my future-designated-plastic bag camera

http://www.ewa-marine.de/index.php?id=7&L=0

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reinhard Contributing Member • Posts: 514
Re: Best Option: 350 + bag

Julio wrote:

... They're likely sturdy enough to use on your main body but I'd try it with the older one first. ...

Thats exactly why I don't like those plastic bags: I need to trust my housing to keep my camera dry. If it does, there is no need for a test run. Especially in the range 0-10m depth, until pressure is tight enough to keep the housing sealed anyway, solid water sealing is important. In addtion, operating the camera in one of them isn't actually easy.
They are a cheaper option, though. Around 150-200 US$ rather than 500-800 US$.
But you might need a new camera now and then....
--

Cheers,
Reinhard

Canon 50mm 1.8, Sigma 105mm Macro, Canon 70-200 4.0 L IS, Canon EF-S 2.8 18-55mm IS,Panasonic DMC-LX3)
http://www.pbase.com/reinhard
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leftcoastmark New Member • Posts: 4
Re: Underwater Options
jeffthecyclist Regular Member • Posts: 173
Re: Underwater Options

I was just in the FL Keys for my wedding and honeymoon and bought a Sony TX1 and a Sony MPK-THHB housing just for taking some underwater photos and HD video while there. I didn't use off camera flash or the camera's internal flash at all and the camera did very well. It doesn't do raw but I didn't need to modify the colors too heavily. I was quite impressed with what the camera could do and it can focus extremely closely.

http://www.flickr.com/photos/25711146@N06/4243197276/
http://www.flickr.com/photos/25711146@N06/4242424241/

OP mikero Contributing Member • Posts: 635
Re: Underwater Options

Thanks everyone for all suggestions. Seems like the cheapest option would be to use my old 350D in a 'plastic bag', and the most expensive to use a proper dedcated housing like the one from Aquatech with my 50D. Somewhere in between would be a high-end waterproof compact, or a compact in a waterproof housing. Still not sure which way I will go.

But anyway, just one more question. If I were to go down the DSLR route (either 350D or 50D), what would be the ideal lens? I currently have the 10-22mm, 50 f1.4, 85 f1.8, 100mm macro, and am planning to buy the 15-85mm shortly.

Thanks
Mike

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Wayne
Wayne Regular Member • Posts: 210
Re: Underwater Options

One lens does and will not do the job. For wide angle i would look at Tokina AT-X 107 DX and for macro the Canon 100mm or 60mm macros would work well.
Underwater photography is not cheap (I know) but then I dive quite a bit !!

P.S. Forget them stupid plastic bags. They are not trustworthy even for snorkeling.

mikero wrote:

Thanks everyone for all suggestions. Seems like the cheapest option would be to use my old 350D in a 'plastic bag', and the most expensive to use a proper dedcated housing like the one from Aquatech with my 50D. Somewhere in between would be a high-end waterproof compact, or a compact in a waterproof housing. Still not sure which way I will go.

But anyway, just one more question. If I were to go down the DSLR route (either 350D or 50D), what would be the ideal lens? I currently have the 10-22mm, 50 f1.4, 85 f1.8, 100mm macro, and am planning to buy the 15-85mm shortly.

Thanks
Mike

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Sea Hunt 2 Regular Member • Posts: 331
Ewa Marine is ok but needs development

Plastic bags are not stupid. They are a good option for a diver who wants to travel light. But they are not very easy to use. In any case, an experienced user can get good pictures even for publishing with a plastic bag. (Those bags which have a glove inside are easier to use than those without the glove.)

For plastic bag use the Canon 10-22 would be a perfect lens. I have used the Nikon 16 mm FX fisheye on a DX body underwater and that has been a good allround combination.

Finally I would like to send regards to Ewa Marine and other companies: please improve your plastic bags to serve us better than they do. As such this protection system is good. It´s a pity that for example the Ewa Marine housings made 20 years ago were made of better plastic than those made today. They even had another glass window for the viewfinder. Nowadays that window has been replaced by transparent plastic...

There is a lot of space for the development of this system. Travelling divers need new, innovative plastic bags!

Coogles1 New Member • Posts: 9
Re: Underwater Options

You may want to look in to renting a good underwater housing for your trip instead of purchasing a cheap one. Larger camera shops and some dive shops often have these items available. Whatever route you decide to take, try to get some hands-on instruction on the housing before you try to use it. Even a tiny leak from an improperly seated o-ring can turn your DSLR in to a door stop in short order.

jeff9329 Senior Member • Posts: 1,229
Re: Underwater Options - D10 is a great budget choice

Mike:

The D10 LCD is large & bright.

Check out these threads on the D10:

http://forums.dpreview.com/forums/read.asp?forum=1010&message=32724300

http://forums.dpreview.com/forums/read.asp?forum=1010&message=33973502

mikero wrote:

Thanks BossBob for your suggestions. I'm a little worried about using what is a glorified plastic bag, but I guess as it cost a fair bit, there is more to it than that! How easy is it to operate the controls?

And with respect to the D10, how easy is it to see the LCD in sunlight?

Thanks
Mike

OP mikero Contributing Member • Posts: 635
Re: Underwater Options - D10 is a great budget choice

Any thoughts on how the D10 would compare with the G11 + housing? The latter is clearly more expensive but has more controls.

Mike

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