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Underwater Cameras

Sooner or later, whether boating or cruising, you are going to want to take underwater photos. While the pros have thousand dollar equipment, you will want something less expensive. Fortunately there are several inexpensive solutions.

As it is common for camera models to be updated annually, consider the recommendations for specific models as typical of what you find - and not necessarily the exact model you should purchase.

Solution 1 - Underwater Point & Shoot

Olympus Tough 8010

Olympus Tough 8010

Specifications
Depth Rating: 10m (33ft)
Sensor: 14 MegaPixel 1/2.3"
Lens: 28-140mm (35mm) f/3.9-5.9
Environmental: IP68
File Format: JPG, MPG
Media: SD, SDHC
Optical Viewfinder: No
Construction: Underwater
Street Price: $250-350


Newer
Alternatives

Summary: Advantages include portability, multi-purpose use, and never ruining your camera by forgetting you put it in your swim trunks pocket (I have ruined two P&S cameras that way). Disadvantages include limited depth (usually 3 to 10M, depending on model) and the lack of filtering. When you go underwater, it is normal to have a color shift to the blue spectrum. This is typically solved by adding a RED filter to the front of the lens to return the color balance. However, this can somewhat be corrected in post-processing.

The Olympus Tough 8010 does have some nice features not found on many cameras, including a color balance mode for underwater shooting (alleviating the need for a RED filter), and is shock proof, water proof, freeze proof, and basically a ruggedized camera. There is a lot to like about the 8010 and I have used it to great success. However, one issue I have with the 8010 is the lens seems to be a bit soft. I am not sure if that is a characteristic of underwater cameras or just Olympus cameras.

This video convinced me to buy an Olympus Tough 8010.


Solution 2 - Underwater Housings

FantaSea Underwater Housing for Nikon P7000

Fantasea FP7000 Underwater Housing

Specifications
Housing Make: Fantasea
Use with: P7000 (others available)
Depth Rating: 200ft
Filter Ring: Yes
Street Price: $100-$400
       (depending on model)


Alternatives

 

Notice:

Underwater housings are typically designed to fit ONE specific model of camera. Be sure to purchase the housing for YOUR camera.

Summary: Advantages include increased depth (up to 200ft), ability to use accessories such as filters and external flashes, and in some cases include a flash diffuser, and being able to chose the performance of the camera to fit your needs. As well, they offer maximum protection for your camera should you bang it against something. Disadvantages include a bulky case and the availability of a case for just a few camera models. These cases have to be purpose-built for each specific camera model, and as camera models change frequently, you may not be able to find the proper case for your camera... or a camera for your older case.

Although I added one as an example, I personally would stay from the baggie-style pouches as they generally do not have as deep of a rating, and they may be prone to leaks (just my opinion on that one). And they do not protect the camera from banging around.


Solution 3 - Dive Mask

Liquid Image Undewater Camera-Dive Mask

Liquid Image 5MP Underwater Mask

Specifications
Camera: Liquid Image Underwater Camera-Dive Mask
MegaPixels: 5MP
Depth Rating: 65ft
Lens Zoom: none
File Format: JPG
Media: SD, SDHC, microSD
Optical Viewfinder: sort of
Filter Ring: Yes
Street Price: $150


Alternatives

Summary: Advantages include a hands-free option, and in some cases, a filter attachment. Disadvantages are that they are generally low performance cameras with low-pixel count sensors, and may not include zoom lens or a flash.


Solution 4 - Underwater Bags.

Despite their low cost and popularity, I find it hard to recommend camera bags such as the Dicapac bags. First, their waterproofness is suspect to me, and secondly, they can have vignetting issues. Still, no underwater camera page is complete without at least mentioning them.

Dicapac Underwater Camera Bag.

DicaPac WP410Waterproof Case

Specifications
Case: Dicapac WP410 Camera Bag.
Optical Path: Polycarbonate lens.
Depth Rating: 16ft
Camera: small compact camera
Filter Ring: No
Street Price: $20


Alternatives

How much is your camera worth? $100; $1,000? No matter it's cost any intrusion of water, especially salt water will immediately destroy your camera - and it will not be repairable. And forget any kind of warranty - they are "limited warranties"... limited to defects in workmanship - not this does not include immersion in salt water. That is considered abuse.

So do you really want to trust your camrea to a bag?

Do you really want to risk destoying your camera?

You decide.

 


Vignetting (black corners) is possible with camera bags.


The real underwater depth limitation

Many times, camera manufacturers state they are in complance with IPx8 for waterproof. IP; Ingress Protection is a scale that is part of IEC (International Electrotechnical Commission) standard 60529. This is an international standard that defines dust and water ingress protection. The standard IP rating is a two digit code; the first digit is the items protection against objects, such as dust, and the second digit is the protection against water.

So a rating of IPx8 may sound important, but since the rating system only goes to 8 on the scale, it is rather meaningless other than providing some evidence the item is waterproof. By the way, "x" means "don't care". Therefore IPx8 is not concerned with dust, only water.

Since the standard only goes so far, how do manufacturers determine how deep the cameras or cases can actually go to maintain waterproofness. They perform their own tests. And these tests are done in static water - water that is not moving.

Notice:

Camera depth ratings are detemined by the manufacturer in STATIC (still) water conditions.

Since the depth rating is in still water, anytime you take the camera into a raging river, ocean surf, or current, moving water increases pressure on the camera. This results in a lower actual working depth than the camera's static water rating. Therefore, always consider the type of water you are in, and reduce the depth capability of the camera accordingly.

My recommendation:

TypeDepth Rating (static)Real Depth Rating
Camera BagAllAbove water on the beach or in wet conditions
Waterproof Camera3M (9ft)Wading or swimming in chest deep water
Waterproof Camera10M (33ft)Snorkeling
Camera Housing200M (660ft)Scuba

Note that for most waterproof cameras, there is a 1 hour maximum immersion time. If you exceed this time, you may find your camera is no longer waterproof. Also, some cameras have slightly different ratings - so modify this chart accordingly.


What I have

Overview: I have two underwater camera systems - an Olympus Tough 8010, and a FantaSea housing with a Nikon S200. As of late, I have been using the Olympus camera more as it is more portable and higher quality than the older Nikon S200 I have with the FantaSea housing. As well, I tend to snorkel rather than dive, and stay above the 33ft limitation of the Olympus. However, the Olympus requires a 10 minute fresh water soak after use - if used in salt-water, which is not required by the FantaSea housing (but a rinse-off is still recommended).

The FantaSea case is well made, and features stainless steel clamps, O-ring sealed buttons, and an o-ring main seal. The case has a metal "lens"ring which accepts a filter. Also there is a tripod mount on the bottom of the case for attachment of accessories such as a light bar.

My camera, a Nikon S200 is 2007 vintage, and has a 7 MegaPixel sensor, enough for underwater photography. Add the ability to zoom, movie mode, flash, and settable color-balance controls and the camera works pretty well underwater. The case also has a flash diffuser if needed for the flash.

The camera attaches to the case by a bottom plate attached to the camera's tripod mount that slides into the case.Unfortunately due to the location of the pushbuttons, this case will only work with this specific camera.

Color Correction: The two photos at the bottom shows the un-retouched underwater photo without a RED color correcting lens. The right photo was color corrected in Nikon Capture NX2 by shifting the color balance to the RED. I think you will have to agree that shifting the color balance is necessary - either with an on-camera filter or in post-processing. However, most Point & Shoot cameras cannot shoot RAW, and post-processing a JPG may have undesirable results, so don't overdo it.


Coral World - St. Thomas, USVI

Coral World - St. Thomas, USVI (Color Corrected)

Summary: If you cruise the Caribbean, you are at some point, going to go into the water. So why not take a camera with you? You will be rewarded with spectacular photographs. Both setups I have were around $300 for either the waterproof camera, or both the camera and housing, and given you probably want a Point & Shoot anyway, the housing is about a $120 investment.