INEVITABLY, THERE comes a time for most underwater photographers when the focus shifts from the excitement of taking pictures underwater to the finer points of technique and the equipment necessary to create great images. For most, this means an upgrade. While point-and-shoot cameras are fully capable of creating great images, there are several advantages to shooting with a digital single lens reflex, which is what serious amateurs and professionals use.
What defines a DSLR? First is the camera's ability to use a wide range of high-quality interchangeable lenses for specific shooting scenarios and for subjects ranging from super macro to extreme wide angle. Additionally, the viewfinder allows for more-accurate composition through the actual lens using a mirror to reflect incoming light through the lens to the eye. When the shutter is depressed, the mirror flips up for a split second and the light hits the camera's sensor, capturing the image.
WHY CHOOSE DSLR? BETTER SENSORS DSLRs are equipped with larger and higher-quality sensors than point-and-shoot models. This provides the potential to produce images with more detail and a wider dynamic range. Ultimately, a 12-megapixel DSLR can produce a higher-quality image than a 12-megapixel point-and-shoot. Most DSLRs have "cropped sensors." What this means is that the sensors are smaller than the equivalent of a 35 mm slide frame (36 mm x 24 mm). Cameras with full-frame sensors provide an incremental boost in resolution due to the larger sensors. So a 12-megapixel full-frame DSLR can produce even higher quality than a <12- megapixel cropped-sensor DSLR.
CREATIVE CONTROL With interchangeable lenses, accessories galore and full manual control over all camera and lens functions (many of which are unavailable or less evolved in point-and-shoot models), a DSLR is a powerful and flexible tool to actualize one's creativity.
NO SHUTTER LAG Capture action at the right moment, without a delay between the instant your finger depresses the shutter and the moment the image is actually captured a delay that is present in all point-and-shoot cameras. Additionally, there is no startup time when you turn on a DSLR.
CONSIDER THIS In no way am I positing that a DSLR is the only solution for serious photographers. There are several factors to consider when making the decision, and to some people these might be reason enough to stick with a point-and-shoot system.
COST In addition to the camera and housing body, you'll need to invest in lenses, ports, strobe arms, sync cords and lots of accessories. It also makes sense to use high-quality strobes for proper lighting. Budget for two to three times the camera's price to cover all of your needs.
WEIGHT AND BULK A camera, housing, ports, lenses, strobes and accessories are heavy and bulky. With airline baggage restrictions becoming more and more limiting, this is a consideration for those who wish to travel light.
COMPLEXITY Expect a learning curve in order to understand the many interrelated physical parts, functions and accessories. Make shooting underwater less stressful by spending as much time as possible shooting on land and learning about all of your camera's functions and general maintenance. Additionally, shooting with a DSLR will require more post processing of your image files, and this too requires a time commitment.
SELECTING A HOUSING DSLR housings are comprised of several basic components: the front and back panels of the housing body itself, the lens ports (flat ports for macro lenses and dome ports for wide-angle lenses) and the electronic connections for external strobes. Most provide access to every button, dial and function of the camera.
While popular Nikon and Canon DSLRs are supported by a number of housing manufacturers, other camera brands do not afford as many options. This can make finding a housing, accessories and spare parts for certain cameras difficult. When selecting an underwater housing, be sure you are choosing a brand that has support in your market. Many of the popular housing brands are manufactured in Japan or Europe, but only some of them have distributors and service centers in the United States or Canada. When you need spare parts, the IKELITE is the leading manufacturer of polycarbonate housings and offers models for pretty much every popular DSLR on the market. They will also custom-make housings for specific camera and video systems. OLYMPUS is the only camera manufacturer that has embraced the underwater-photography market since the demise of Nikon's Nikonos line. Although Olympus produces housings only for select DSLR models, its offerings are progressive. Last thing you want to hear is that it will take a month or more to receive them. A knowledgeable dealer can be your best asset in the process.
Most housings are produced from aluminum casts, which are very durable and rated for depths beyond recreational diving limits. A few manufacturers, such as Ikelite, manufacture clear polycarbonate housings that are significantly less expensive, but arguably a little less durable. Housing design is evolving, though. Sea&Sea has recently introduced a new line that combines both materials: an aluminum front with a polycarbonate back. German manufacturer BS Kinetics has been selling carbon-fiber housings for the past several years. Several brands offer special magnifying or angled viewfinders. We're seeing more models with built-in transistor-transistor logic circuitry.
Remember, all that stands between the ocean and thousands of dollars of electronics are several thin, silicone Orings. Maintenance of these O-rings is paramount to preventing floods and ruining a dive trip. User error causes 99 percent of floods. Keep your Orings clean and lightly greased. Never overgrease them. Visually inspect the O-rings and their seats, checking for hair, dust, sand or other foreign material each time you open or close your housing or ports.
FOR MORE INFORMATION on underwater housings, go to sportdiver.com/underwater photography and divephotoguide.com.
|Canada-based AQUATICA has incorporated a high-tech manufacturing technique to producedurable and lightweight housingsfor Nikon and Canon DSLRs outof solid block aluminum, which is milled to exact specifications.||
IKELITE is the leading manufacturer of polycarbonate housings andoffers models for pretty muchevery popular DSLR on the market. They will also custom-make housings for specific camera and video systems.
|OLYMPUS is the only camera manufacturer that has embraced the underwater-photography market since the demise of Nikon's Nikonos line. Although Olympus produces housings only for select DSLR models, its offerings are progressive.|