Thanks to digital photography, more and more people are experiencing and sharing the color and beauty of exotic places all over the world. Whether it’s through online image sharing, printed images, magazine articles or simply through the LCD playback screens of our digital cameras, we’re seeing more of the world through the eyes of photographers of all levels, all ages and from all walks of life. This is even more the case when considering the spectacular world that so many people have never seen—the world beneath the waves.
Until now, underwater photography wasn’t accessible or practical except to the few committed scuba divers with big budgets and strong backs. Underwater camera equipment was prohibitively expensive, incredibly bulky, heavy and maintenance-intensive. Whether you chose an amphibious camera or housed a film SLR, your underwater image-making exploits were preceded by a great deal of camera system preparation, followed by even more time spent cleaning and maintaining your system. To make matters worse, shooting film meant you could capture only 36 exposures, and you couldn’t be certain you’d be able to master the difficult composition and lighting conditions encountered underwater. Enter the digital point-and-shoot cameras. It’s a whole new ball game!
| Aquatic Inspirations
Digital Photo Contest
OP and PADI have teamed up to create the Aquatic Inspirations Digital Photo Contest. The contest is open to all underwater digital photographers and features two categories for entry: digital point-and-shoot cameras and digital SLRs. Visit the Aquatic Inspirations Digital Photo Contest page on our website: www.outdoorphotographer.com/padi.
Because of the commitment of many of the manufacturers of some of today’s most popular consumer digital cameras, underwater photography isn’t only more affordable, more accessible and easier on the back, but also more fun. These manufacturers are either producing lightweight, compact and affordable underwater housings or partnering with housing manufacturers to produce model-specific housings for their popular cameras. Some manufacturers are designing and building digital underwater systems from the ground up. These systems let you capture, review and delete unwanted images in the water much as you would in a topside environment. Whether you plan to snorkel while on vacation in Hawaii or plan to scuba dive with the majestic whale sharks in Mexico, you’re sure to find an underwater digital-camera system that will fit both your budget and your suitcase.
Once you have your camera and are ready for that much anticipated snorkeling or diving vacation, you want to be sure you’ve mastered the challenges of shooting digital images underwater. There are courses available with instructors who will guide you toward shooting and sharing images that will capture your underwater memories and the imagination of those with whom you share the images. The most popular of these courses is the PADI Digital Underwater Photographer course that’s offered by PADI Dive Centers and Resorts all over the world. For more information about the course or to find a PADI Center near you, visit www.padi.com/padi/en/kd/digitalunderwaterphotographer.aspx.
Here’s a look at some of the systems available that will get you in the water quickly and conveniently and ready to capture the color and beauty unlike anywhere else on earth.
Canon has supported in-water digital photography by providing both underwater housings and underwater scene modes that set white balance, ISO and flash settings specifically for underwater image capture. The 8-megapixel Canon PowerShot SD850 IS Digital ELPH features Canon’s DIGIC III image processor for high-quality images, optical image stabilization or OIS, (a bonus for the lower-light conditions found underwater), a bright, easy-to-read 2.5-inch LCD display and a variety of scene modes, including underwater. Packaged with the WP-DC15 housing designed to operate at depths to 130 feet, the SD850 is a compact, yet very capable system for either snorkeling or scuba diving. The SD850 features Canon's new Face Detection technology and utilizes both SD and high-capacity SDHC memory cards. Estimated Street Price: $399 (SD850); $179 (WP-DC15).
Nikon recently introduced its newest entry into the Coolpix line with the 10-megapixel Coolpix 5000. The camera features a 3.5x zoom, a bright, 2.5-inch LCD display with nonreflective coating, optical VR image stabilization and enhanced noise reduction that’s designed to maintain quality at higher ISO settings. Unlike many cameras in the point-and-shoot category, the Coolpix 5000 features a mode dial that lets the userchoose full program mode (P), aperture-priority program mode (A), shutter-priority program mode (S) or full manual mode (M).
The Coolpix 5000’s new menu system also makes navigation to review images fast and effective. Coupled with a custom-designed FP-5000 housing from Fantasea Line, the Nikon Coolpix 5000 is an excellent package for snorkeling, scuba diving and other water-sports activities, like kayaking, surfing and boating. Estimated Street Price: $399 (Coolpix 5000); $245 (Fantasea Line FP-5000).
Olympus has made a significant commitment to providing snorkelers and scuba divers with options for taking digital images underwater with its cameras. Nearly every digital camera in its current line has an optional housing designed specifically for that model. Olympus even offers a camera that can be taken in the water down to 33 feet without the need for a housing! The unique Olympus Stylus 770 SW isn’t only waterproof, but also shockproof for drops up to five feet! Now, I don’t recommend you make a habit of dropping your digital camera, but the rugged 770 SW is certainly a bonus around the wet and slippery world of snorkeling and diving. Complete with three underwater scene modes (wide-angle with flash, wide-angle without flash and macro modes), Olympus has created a camera perfect for snorkeling. But what if scuba divers want to take the camera deeper than 33 feet? No problem! With the optional PT-035 housing, the 770 SW can safely operate at depths of up to 120 feet. Estimated Street Price: $379 (770 SW); $299 (PT-035).
Recently, Olympus introduced the wide-zoom camera featuring an amazing 28mm lens that zooms to 504mm (35mm equivalent). Getting close to your subject is important in reducing light loss underwater, and this 28mm lens helps to accomplish that. In addition to this 18x zoom lens, the 7.1-megapixel Olympus SP-550UZ features include 30 shooting modes, including three underwater scene modes, an electronic viewfinder, dual IS image stabilization, RAW shooting mode and a fast aperture range of ƒ/2.8 to ƒ/4.5. In fact, the SP-550UZ has many features you’d expect to find only on a digital SLR. These features, combined with the Olympus PT-037 underwater case, make a reasonably priced system that provides near-SLR capabilities in the water while maintaining the size of an unhoused SLR. Estimated Street Price: $499 (SP-550UZ); $379 (PT-037).
Sea&Sea has been producing underwater camera systems for quite a few years and has developed a line of digital cameras that's both rugged and stylish. An example of its experience is the soon-to-be-released DX-1G. The DX-1G camera and housing package ue 24-72mm zoom (35mm equivalent). This lens will allow snorkelers and divers to work close to their underwater subjects for better color and better lighting control. It also includes macro capability to a 1/2-inch subject distance, RAW shooting mode and manual-focusing capability for critical, low-light focusing.Other unique features are a fast power-up time of 1.1 seconds with a one-second recycle time. Add to this the fast 0.1-second shutter time, and you have a camera that's more than capable of handling the needs of the underwater photographer. The DX-1G uses both SD and SDHC high-capacity memory cards. Estimated Street Price: $1,049 (full system).
Another veteran in the world of underwater camera systems is SeaLife. While producing a complete line of water sports and underwater cameras, the most unique has to be the ECOshot. Billed as an extreme water-sports camera, the 6-megapixel ECOshot is depth-rated to 75 feet, shock-tested to six feet and has Land and Sea shooting modes. The camera is pocket-sized and operates on two AA batteries. Perhaps the most interesting feature is one SeaLife calls the SPY Mode. This mode allows the camera to take continuous pictures at set time intervals from five seconds to five minutes. The camera will continue to take pictures at your set time interval until the SD card is full or you depress the shutter-release button again. Put the ECOshot on a small tripod like the Gorillapod, and you can capture images of underwater creatures that are too timid to capture otherwise. Estimated Street Price: $279.
Olympus EVOLT E-410
While outside the point-and-shoot classification, the new Olympus EVOLT E-410, with its interchangeable lenses and SLR functionality, along with the companion underwater housing, the PT-EO3, are uniquely qualified for underwater photography. The E-410 features a 10-megapixel sensor, a dust-reduction system, RAW-format capability, a dual memory-card slot (CompactFlash Type I/II and xD-Picture Cards) and a 2.5-inch, bright LCD. Most unique is the Olympus Live View LCD, which allows the use of the LCD to frame images, a real plus when wearing a dive mask. Its compact size and molded, form-fitting underwater housing make it a very portable and easy-to-handle system in the water.