Lesson 3 The Underwater Photo Course
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Cameras and Housings

This section represents a brief view of what is on the UK market at time of writing. No doubt models will come and go, but specific characteristics will remain, and these should be reviewed in light of any new models on the market. Prices, even relative prices, change frequently in reaction to exchange rates, market conditions, special offers, discontinued lines, and other promotions. They are therefore omitted here, but you are strongly advised to consider the cost of a full system, and not be guided by the basic cost of the camera or housing alone.

Basic underwater cameras

Waterproof compacts

Such cameras are generally waterproof to about 5 metres depth, and include

Advantages

Disadvantages

Useful for the diver who is considers himself unlikely to want to take 'serious' underwater photographs. Can return quite acceptable results within their limitations, and can be flexibly used in other hostile environments such as sand or snow.

Single use cameras

The market for single-use or disposable cameras had vastly increased in the last few years, and waterproof models are available. These include

Advantages

Disadvantages

Again, useful for the diver who is considers himself unlikely to want to take 'serious' underwater photographs. Can return quite acceptable results within their limitations. There are in fact macro and strobe options for the Aquashot, but this can push the package price up considerably.

Flexible housings

These are basically waterproof plastic bags (models down to 50m) with glass lens ports for land cameras with or without strobes, manufactured by EWA-Marine.

Advantages

Disadvantages

There is no reason why excellent results cannot be obtained from these 'housings' which cater also for video and medium format cameras, and I expect I shall summon up the courage to try one out with my Nikon one day.

Entry-level Amphibious systems

The Sea & Sea Explorer (MX-10) is a good entry level system, consisting of a robust camera with a 32mm lens, capable of 45 metres depth, along with a dedicated underwater strobe, 20mm wide-angle conversion lens, and macro lens.

Advantages

Disadvantages

Full Amphibious systems

The main contenders in this market are:

The two systems quoted above are roughly equivalent in features, and any variation in price reflects the universally accepted quality of the Nikon optics, and the premium that they dictate.

The Sea & Sea Motormarine II is the most flexible system on the market, permitting the owner to change lenses underwater, from wide angle (16mm or 20mm) to standard to 1:3 or 1:2 macro. Dual TTL strobe is possible, and a wide range of accessories are available. This is the camera I learned with, and can assure the reader that it is quite capable of professional results, and can even win competitions.

The Nikonos system has a long history, and must be the most popular underwater system, and an item in the armament of many professionals. A wide range of accessories ia available, from a variety of manufacturers as well as Nikon, including the excellent, but expensive, 15mm lens, and the Sea & Sea 12mm 170 full-frame fisheye, to macro lenses down to 2:1.

The Nikonos RS is claimed to be the world's first underwater SLR, and as such is more akin to a housed camera, which we will cover later. It has an enormous viewfinder, and specially designed lenses, including now a 13mm fisheye. This camera has not been long on the market, so those with the determination and money would be advised to talk to existing owners before finally committing to this system. Its depth capability is in excess of most other equipment, for those who need to go that extra metre, although restricts servicing to those centres which can test to this depth.

The Nikonos V System

The price of a full system may surprise those who have only seen advertised prices for a Nikonos V with standard lens. This is because I consider a full underwater Nikonos V system to contain:

and the costs will naturally mount up.

Costs can be reduced by purchasing a number of the system elements from alternative manufacturers, and/or achieving similar results by using supplementary wide angle lenses such as the Subawinder or Sea & Sea rather than prime underwater lenses. The cost savings can be significant, and will allow you to take every type of photograph while you save your pennies for the exceptional quality of the 15mm Nikonos lens. Naturally, items such as strobe arms and extension tubes from other manufacturers should have negligible impact on image quality.

Housed systems

These generally consist of precision-made aluminium or plastic casings with interchangeable lens ports, and contain a wide variety of external controls, permitting operation of the majority of the housed camera's features.

Professional underwater housings for specific land SLR cameras are available from a wide range of manufacturers, including those available in the UK from

This is only a small selection of manufacturers, and the US and European markets contain many more manufacturers than those mentioned above. Remember that any price quoted will excluded the purchase of the strobe and any land camera and lenses to be housed!

The choice of housing may not be as wide as might appear. While there are many manufacturers, all offering their own distinguishing features, many may offer only a very limited choice of cameras that will fit, with Nikon being a very popular choice. Subal, for example, predominately supports only Nikon cameras, and the Sea and Sea SX1000 is really a complete package containing housing, camera and lenses.

If you already have a land camera that you wish to use, then you will have to hunt around for a housing that will match your system, and any accessories (including lenses and strobes) that you might have. If you are starting from scratch, then the choices available to you are obviously wider.

Look carefully at the range offered by any manufacturer, including the range of ports for the housing, what lenses (including other manufacturers) can be accommodated. Many people feel more comfortable when levers and controls contain double O-rings, which may help prevent floods.

Ask about recommended servicing schedules, and if possible, get your dealer to put you in contact with other users of the housing, so that you can get some good advice from experienced users. However good the manual and instructions may be, there will inevitably be a few pearls of wisdom that you will be glad to know.


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This page was last updated on 11 August 1998
Please address any comments to Mark Mumford