Introduction to Selecting your Underwater Setup
Right! So you'd like to get into underwater photography, but you have little to no experience, or maybe you do but have no idea where to start?
This is the daunting question that many experience, and find hard to tackle.
There is a huge selection of available cameras, and a wide variety of housing brands, so to make it easier, start with a realistic budget for the first 6 to 12 months of your underwater photography journey and stick to it!
Will your initial purchase include just the camera and housing, or are you hoping to add some lights to it?
My advice at this stage would be to contact your local underwater photography store, and get some guidance, they’re always happy to help.
Choosing a camera
There is not really a ‘best camera’, but rather the best camera to suit your photography needs. Ask yourself; What do I want to shoot? Wide angle, macro, wrecks, marine life, portraits etc?
Cameras can be loosely divided in 3 categories which are:
Compact - point and shoot with none or some manual settings and a fixed lens
MIL (Mirrorless) - prosumer and professional with a full frame or cropped sensor with interchangeable lenses
DSLR (Digital Single Lens Reflex) - prosumer and professional with a full frame or cropped sensor, bigger in size than the MIL, with interchangeable lenses
The items you should be looking at in a camera will depend on what you will ultimately want to shoot, and what you’re expecting to get out of your images. If this is just a hobby (and a wonderful one!) a compact camera may suffice. However, if you are looking at making this part of your job, or getting big prints out of your images, then starting with a MIL camera might be the way to go.
Unfortunately, not all cameras have a dedicated housing, so make sure the camera you like can take the plunge.
If you’re concerned about committing to a system for life, don’t worry too much! Most underwater photographers upgrade their systems once they want to take their images to the next level, and the good news is that you can keep plenty of your accessories such as lights, strobes and arms.
I’m a firm believer that the camera is just a tool, and it’s the user that takes great images, so once you select your tool, remove yourself from the back and forths of what brand is best and just start shooting.
There are plenty of housings on the market to suit everyone’s needs, but before you make any decisions, think about what it will be used for. What is your choice of sport, is it scuba, freediving, surfing, portrait, etc. This can narrow the options for you and remember that generally a housing is made specifically for each camera.
Freediving Photography & a minimalistic setup
- Montague Island -
At this stage, the next step is to contact one of your local shops (or at least the one that will provide the customer support you will most likely need in the near future). Online shopping with no actual physical retail space can seem a more economic option (yes, they don’t have to pay overheads!) but generally comes with no support, and this is something crucial for your photo journey.
However, if you’re still browsing and looking around for housings, the two options around are either an aluminium or acrylic housing.
Aluminium: these housings are robust and provide all functionality, optional accessories, are fully customisable, and rated to depths between 90-100m. These accessories can range from multiple bulkheads to add vacuum systems, monitors, will have the options of using strobes with fibre optic or/and sync cord cables, they’re generally more streamlined and have more mounting options. The versatility is well worth the initial cost.
Acrylic: these housings are lighter and can get you started quicker. Depth ratings generally are 45m to 60m and depending on the brand the features vary slightly. They’re a great option if you want to save some cash to put towards other accessories like lights or strobes.
To summarise, this is what you should be looking for when selecting your housing:
Functionality - how quickly and easily can you access the features of your camera
Size and weight - if you’re doing overseas trips and weight allowance is an issue, select a smaller or lighter housing
Time proof - if you’ve spent a significant amount of money, you want to have a system that will be with you for a long period of time. Hard core shore divers, make sure you find a robust setup!
Customer Support - being able to pop into your local shop to sort out issues or help with queries straight away is underrated
Cost - stick to your budget, otherwise there is no end to purchases
Ok, so you've finally made a decision and you have chosen your camera and housing? Great news! The next step will be to choose the best option to enhance your images and this will include filters, strobes or video lights to bring out the colours of the underwater world. We have written a whole blog to discuss this matter in depth to keep the excitement going.
Stay tuned, and keep diving!