It was as stressful as choosing a car.. or so it felt!
I had no idea where to start, which brand to choose, or how much to invest for good quality. I’m not a newbie to DSLR cameras – on land, but I am a total beginner when it comes to underwater camera systems. I’ve tinkered with a GoPro here and there and an Olympus TG-Tracker, but with these action cameras, you just point and go. Ultimately they don’t capture the photo quality I’d like to share with everyone. The world is SO amazing down there, it should be displayed in all the technicolor majesty that it is.
When you’re spending a lot of money investing in equipment, it pays to do your research. So, I took to the Facebook polls, online forums, and talked to a few experts. I found many professional photography websites indicate there are three main factors to consider when choosing a camera – features, budget, size/weight. But I’d like to also add ease of use. After all, if you’re a beginner underwater photographer like me, you don’t want to miss the sharky shot because you’re stuck on the settings.
I learned A LOT when reseraching my first underwater camera, and I wanted to share because it can be a truly overwhelming process. Here are some things to consider when choosing your first underwater camera setup.
How Good Are Your Dive Skills?
When you first start diving, it’s hard enough to keep yourself neutrally buoyant. Adding a camera only complicates the matter and makes it that much harder to avoid hitting coral – let alone enjoy your dive!
Consider your experience, this will help you decide between an action camera, compact, or DSLR. Newer divers (<50) should look into an action camera so you can focus on your dive, and not worry about changing settings underwater. Those above 50 but not quite masters of buoyancy should consider a compact camera or mirrorless. And, going without saying, divers who have expertise should consider DSL (serious cameras for underwater photographers) or choose whichever fits their personal preference.
For me, I have 2000+ dives but wanted a point and shoot that also allows some manual shooting like a DSLR. I prefer to dive first, take photos secondly, and my camera skills are nowhere near the Thomas Peschak level.
Is Your Aim Photo or Video?
Not all cameras are created equal. What I found during my research is that most cameras shoot fantastic photos, or amazing videos, but not both. Yes, they will still produce higher quality captures that we newbies will be amazed by – but the age of video is upon us and you must decide on the video quality you desire. Standard? 4k? Cinematic? Before you purchase, figure out your photo goals and if you find you are orientated towards shooting video, choose a dedicated video camera.
What do you Really Know About Megapixels?
The megapixel count is not – all that. As a beginner I was SO confused, and then I talked to a few camera experts starting with the sales folks at Mozaik.
Doubling megapixels does not double resolution. Don’t be fooled and fall for the megapixel hype. Doubling the megapixels increases resolution by only 40%. Sensor size is a much better indicator of quality of the images it will produce. Read more on that here.
Is the Housing Available and Accessible?
When purchasing my new Sony RX100 VII I found that there weren’t many places with a housing available for this camera. As a new camera on the market, there was a lag in the development and supply. It can be quite a shock when you fiiiiinally decide on a camera, and then you a) can’t find a housing for it, and b) find out the housing is über expensive. Alongside investigating your preferred camera, look into your preferred housing. Consider its’ buttons placement, ease of use, size, weight (for travel), and of course cost. That’s a big one!
What is your Budget?
Obviously underwater camera setups can get expensive. Unfortunately even if you want the best camera, you may not be able to afford it when you consider that you’ll also need to purchase a housing and the necessary accessories like strobes, lenses and extra batteries. There are also some long term considerations when it comes to budgeting. I recently read on DivePhotoGuide’s website that when choosing an underwater camera you should determine your budget – then add 50%.
The first thing to consider is spending slightly more than you may have originally budgeted for, particularly if you think that there is a chance you will want to upgrade in the not-too-distant future. If you buy a smaller, simpler camera first, only to decide in six months that you want the features of a more complex and expensive camera, then you will have ended up spending more money in the process. This is a common problem. It is not necessarily more difficult to use a camera with more features, so you can always grow into your camera.DivePhotoGuide
Consider your underwater photography goals and what accessories you may need (or want to upgrade) when determining your budget. This will help save you money and surprises in the long run.
What Camera Features Do You Want?
Camera features are endless, and really it would take all day to dive into these. So, I will propose these questions as a take-away. Ask yourself these questions to further narrow your preferences when choosing an underwater camera setup.
- What kind of diving will you do?
- Do you want to shoot in manual mode?
- Will you focus on macro or wide angle?
- Do you want manual white balance?
- Do you want to shoot video in 4k?
- Do you want to shoot photos in RAW?
- Have you considered shutter lag and battery life?
- What size of camera and housing?
Phew, finding the right combination of these features can be challenging, but have no fear – in the end which camera you choose is about personal preference. There are a lot of cameras on the market, and everyone has different goals and preferences. Do a little research, test out a few, and you’ll find the perfect camera for yourself in no time.
Good luck in your journey to underwater photography!