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Brand new to underwater photography, looking for advice to get started


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#1 alanp

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Posted 04 June 2018 - 07:27 PM

Hi!

 

I've been diving for a few years, 52 dives mostly in Vancouver and Maui. I've been diving with my gopro hero 3 (no tray or lighting), and have some fantastic footage of big stuff like turtles, eels, octopus, etc. on good visibility days. I've gotten pretty good night-dive footage as well holding a dive light in flood mode with one hand, and the gopro in another. I have an Olympus TG-2, but I don't have a housing, so haven't brought it out diving. 

 

However, my favourite things to see underwater are nudibranchs, and I haven't been able to get any decent footage with my current setup. I was lucky enough to see harlequin shrimp a few weeks ago (diving in Maui with Mike Severns) and my gopro footage was blurry - that's when I decided I want to get into underwater photography and focus on taking pictures of small stuff underwater. 

 

Above ground, I love taking photos but I've never ventured beyond a point-and-shoot, and nowadays I take all my pics with my iPhone. So I'm thinking I should start simple with underwater gear, and then gradually upgrade equipment as my skills improve over the years. 

 

I've been doing some research, and to get better shots of small stuff it seems I have 3 options for shooting small stuff:

 

1) Get a housing for my Olympus TG-2 (seems hard to find cause it's an older model). Start out using the built-in flash, and then look to add a strobe with a tray / arm as the next step. 

2) Get a macro lens for my GoPro Hero 3. Is there much difference between a video light and a good dive light? I suppose I'd want to get a tray and arm for the light to make filming easier. 

3) Buy a new camera and housing. Maybe mirrorless? Start out using the built-in flash, and then look to add a strobe with a tray / arm as a next step. 

 

I'm leaning towards #3, I know that this is something I'm going to want to keep doing and improving, so might as well get off to a good start. 

 

Any thoughts / advice would be greatly appreciated!

 

Thanks,

Alan



#2 jfe

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Posted 04 June 2018 - 11:07 PM

My advise, #3, but be smart about it. Myself and I believe many others have made the mistake of going compact and then upgrade to the next and the next and sit with an abundance of stuff you will never be using again and can't get rid off. It is expensive to get started on a decent system but buy smart, something that will sustain you through your learning and beyond. Mirrorless or mid-level SLR.



#3 MikeVeitch

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Posted 04 June 2018 - 11:35 PM

I would say get the TG5 or a used TG4, should be easy to find one of those.  Then, no need for a strobe at first if that is above your budget, but do get a decent light such as a FIX Neo to get better colour from the TG. It takes amazing macro in the microscope mode


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#4 hyp

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Posted 05 June 2018 - 07:52 AM

I also think going #3 would be your best bet. Because you don't have anything yet, you may be able to get some really good deals on the used market. The used market for underwater stuff is tiny and specialised. Most people are looking for something specific (the housing for their camera etc). If you start out from scratch, you can just get whatever is available cheapest. Despite what all the online forums and camera marketing departments want to make you think, pretty much no one builds a bad camera nowadays. Any mirrorless system (mu43, sony, fuji) will do the trick.



#5 DS256

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Posted 05 June 2018 - 08:51 AM

I try to buy when vendors are selling off old generations. Olympus is good for this in selling both the camera and housing together. 

 

One other suggestion I make is, when you are looking for your next trip, is to find a destination with a photography shop there or nearby that rents equipment. That way you can dive and try different types of cameras over several days to see what yo like. You also have access to someone knowledgeable that can make recommendations based on your goals. One I know of is Cathy Church at Sunset House on Grand Cayman. See http://www.cathychur...-camera-rentals



#6 alanp

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Posted 05 June 2018 - 07:56 PM

Wow, thanks so much for all of the advice! 

 

jfe - definitely hear you regarding upgrades, I've gone through that with a few other hobbies and have ended up with an extremely over-cluttered attic :)

 

MikeVeitch - I was originally thinking TG, but I'm starting to lean towards Mirrorless, thinking it might give me more tools to practice / learn photography skills both above ground and underwater. I like the idea of starting with a video light, since I don't really know anything about flash photography, it'll be easier for me in the beginning. Would I need a tray? 

 

hyp - Great points about used working well for me since I'm starting from scratch, that's definitely the path I'll take. 

 

DS256 - I was thinking the same thing about a photography shop, but I think all of my upcoming dives in the near future will be local, and unfortunately haven't been able to find any photography shops that have underwater rental options here in Vancouver. Although maybe I need to look harder. 

 

Thanks again everyone!


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#7 Fruitographer

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Posted 06 June 2018 - 10:05 AM

I would say to get a used system that still works just fine that is incredibly cheap. I have a TG4 that I've been using for several years with and without a strobe and I've been very frustrated many times by not having a manual mode to control my settings. Now I have a Nauticam housing I just purchased on the way for a D810 that I got a great deal on. If you really want to get into this, don't get an Olympus TG camera of any version, they only have a 1/2" sensor and the images can get quite noisy in low light. That being said I still really like the TG cameras and they are definitely my favorite tough compact camera. I recently found an older Canon Rebel with Ikelite housing and macro setup for only $300. It has a cropped sensor that's much larger than a TG4 or TG5 and will still get much better images even though it's older and save you a great deal of money. I've also found a d700 with a SeaCam housing for around $1,800. Needless to say that since you don't have anything already you can purchase anything that comes up for sale at a great deal without having to look for anything specific just like Hyp mentioned. My recommendation would be to watch the classifieds and wait for a great deal on a full setup at a discount. The other thing you can do is put in add in the classifieds for wanted housing and camera. That's how I found the Canon Rebel with housing and lenses for only $300. Some people have things they want to get rid of but never make it into the classifieds.

 

I've been researching this topic for the last month pretty heavily for myself and I would be happy to help point you in the right direction depending on what you want to accomplish and what brand you prefer. If you really want to go Mirrorless, then wait till the end of this year. Canon and Nikon are both coming out with a mirrorless system that is rumored to come out within the year. I was waiting until the Nikon version was released and was going to use it for underwater, but a deal landed in my lap that I couldn't pass up. 

 

When I first started, all I had was a flashlight and on camera flash. I was able to get some great macro shots this way by keeping the flashlight to the side and turning my on camera flash as low as it would go. The on camera flash should only be used close up and just to fill shadows but never as the primarily light source. 

 

Another option would be to use a nice compact that still allows manual settings. You'll definitely want the largest sensor size which would essentially be a micro four-thirds. I've done quite a bit of research into everything available within this category and Panasonic Lumix cameras seems to always come up as the best option. The LX10 has a 1" sensor but the LX100 has a micro four-thirds sensor and seems to have great reviews but is a little older. I've heard that an LX200 is supposed to come out within the year. This would be a perfect small camera great for travel but also plenty good enough for underwater. then you could get a Nauticam housing with a macro converter to get the close up shots you want. 

 

there's a Sony RX100V for sale as a package with Nauticam housing for $1,800. It only has a 1" sensor but I've used one before and was able to get some great shots. the batteries do run down fast in Sony cameras though.

http://wetpixel.com/...showtopic=62183



#8 alanp

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Posted 08 June 2018 - 07:24 PM

Fruitographer - thank you so much for the detailed response! I think Im leaning towards an entry level mirrorless, the more I think about I want to start getting into photography above ground, and want to get something decent to learn with and wont outgrow too quickly. But I love the idea of getting a used full setup with housing and camera. I dont really have a brand preference, so Ill just keep my eye out for something decent that pops up. Would definitely love to take you up on your offer to point me in the right direction - as things pop up in classified Ill reach out to get your thoughts. Thanks so much again!

#9 Fruitographer

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Posted 09 June 2018 - 08:48 AM

What timeline are you on and what's your budget. Panasonic is supposed to be working on a Lumix LX200 which would be in my opinion the best choice. This price will probably be around $1,000 and a Nauticam housing would be around $1,300. The older Lumix LX100 is still an excellent choice to get started with and has a micro 4/3 sensor size. where the LX10 is newer but has slightly smaller 1" sensor. The larger sensor will give better low light images although it has a lower resolution. I'm reading reviews now on the different options you would have available Sony makes incredible cameras like the RX100 series but they're supposed to eat batteries pretty fast from everyone I've talked with. Fuji makes a great camera with outstanding colors but they wouldn't really work well for underwater. I tend to do an excessive amount if research so I make the proper purchase from the beginning although it's not always the fastest and I don't like to rush into things until I've looked into all the reviews.

 

Is there a reason you're specifically looking for mirrorless. It sounds more like you want a compact more than just mirrorless. I've been looking around for you but it would help to have some parameters of what you're looking for and how much you want to spend. Do you want interchangeable lens or fixed lens? Is there a specific brand you had in mind and if so what's the reason? Do you have a housing brand in mind or are you open. I'll help keep an eye out but it would make it easier for someone to help with these questions answered.


Edited by Fruitographer, 09 June 2018 - 09:05 AM.


#10 Barmaglot

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Posted 09 June 2018 - 11:02 AM

Fruitographer - thank you so much for the detailed response! I think Im leaning towards an entry level mirrorless, the more I think about I want to start getting into photography above ground, and want to get something decent to learn with and wont outgrow too quickly. But I love the idea of getting a used full setup with housing and camera. I dont really have a brand preference, so Ill just keep my eye out for something decent that pops up. Would definitely love to take you up on your offer to point me in the right direction - as things pop up in classified Ill reach out to get your thoughts. Thanks so much again!

 

Going off the same criteria as you, I got a used Sony A6300 with 16-50mm lens last year, and a Meikon housing. Used it on about 50 dives so far, no complaints. Got an 18-200mm zoom and a 7Artisans 25mm f/1.8 prime for use on land as well. Added a 10-18mm a few months ago, and ordered the new Meikon housing with interchangeable ports yesterday - they have a 10% off sale going right now; planning to take it on a liveaboard to the Red Sea in September. As far as housings go, Meikon is by far the most affordable option, and Sony is the brand that they support best.



#11 alanp

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Posted 10 June 2018 - 10:20 AM

Hi fruitographer, really appreciate the help, and more than happy to benefit from your excessive research :) Im in no rush either and happy to take some time to make the right choice / wait for the right thing to pop up. But Im a bit lost when trying to research...

Only reason for mirrorless is simply because my photographer friends recommended that - they said if Im planning to get into photography above ground, Ill wait to experiment with different lens.

Budget - I was thinking under $3,000, and happy to go used. Thinking id want interchangeable lens. A lot of my friends seem to like Olympus, and thats the only reason I would slightly lean to that brand, but I really have no preference. A friend recommended the Olympus EM10 as a good entry level mirrorless. Also no preference on housing brand, but seems like every time I search housings nauticam is the first that pops up.

I agree if this was only for underwater, compact would be the right choice. Im definitely not hard set on mirrorless, very open to rethinking!

#12 alanp

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Posted 10 June 2018 - 10:24 AM

Barmaglot - thanks for the advice :) that setup would be great for me, but at this point Im thinking of just monitoring classified for a good price on a full package, rather than looking for a specific model. What lighting did you get? And are you a photographer above ground?

#13 Barmaglot

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Posted 10 June 2018 - 09:23 PM

Right now I'm using a pair of Archon D36V LED lights. Pros - I can see the lighting while framing the shot, wide, even beam, long burn time, can use the camera's 11fps burst mode, not wasting camera battery on flash triggering, not limited to 1/160s flash sync speed, useful as general-purpose dive lights, blue mode is great for fluorescence. Cons - limited reach, bright lights can scare away critters, have to be careful not to point them at people, heavy. Considering getting a pair of strobes, but still on the fence about spending another $600 or so.

 

No, not really a photographer above ground, but I figured if I'm spending the big bucks on an underwater setup, might as well make it double as a decent camera for traveling.



#14 Fruitographer

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Posted 11 June 2018 - 12:17 AM

If you plan to do photography get strobes, if you plan to do video get continuous lights. I've been using a couple of Big Blue 25,000 lumen lights and my strobes are 3 to 4 times brighter. The Inon Z240 looks like a good strobe and people seem to like them If I wasn't going in the caves with remote setups and needing more durability, that's what I would probably have. Right now I've got a DS161 and multiple DS125's with remote triggers.

 

I tend to see people diving with Olympus cameras because they seem to have a good market for housing and a lower price. I've never seen a professional photographer with an Olympus though and the mirrorless they have I looked at was only micro four thirds which instantly takes it off the table for me. A compact at micro four thirds would be good but for what the Olympus camera is it should at least be a crop sensor. The TG cameras are great but since they only have a 1/2" sensor the image quality suffers. I've taken some incredible shots with it that didn't work out well since the quality was lacking. There's a Sony A7S with Nauticam housing on eBay right now for $2,399 but you would still need to purchase ports and lenses as well which will bring the price up a good amount. It has a full frame sensor and would do well in low light I don't have much experience with Sony but if you want mirrorless they are at the top of the market right now and people seem to love them. Although the menu can be a bit of a pain and not very easy to use and it's supposed to go through batteries pretty fast. Would easily last through a dive though. An A7s has a 12.2 MP which seams low but it also means each pixel with have more depth and richer color so sometimes more mega pixels isn't always a good thing.  Even though Canon and Nikon are coming out with mirrorless models supposedly within the next year, the price will still be pretty steep and then you would have to buy a housing at full price as well putting the total way above what you want to spend. 

 

flash sync speed shouldn't matter that much because you'll probably be low light enough that at ISO 100 and f8 everything will be black except for the artificial light you add yourself by either a strobe or video light. A strobe fires so fast that in a dark environment you could use a long exposure and it wouldn't matter because the flash adds the total amount of required in a fraction of a second and will freeze the image. 

 

I wouldn't rule out an out of date system for a great deal as well. If it gives you everything you need to get in the water and shooting macro for a couple hundred dollars then you could get some strobes and you'd be on your way. It would give you a chance to learn manual settings and have enough money left over to get some strobes. Which you really need to do macro. If you're open to that I might be able to help you out. In the mean time I'll keep an eye out for you.

 

I'm hoping that Panasonic will come out with the Lumix LX200 this fall. that might be a great camera for underwater. put it in a Nauticam housing with a macro adapter and you'd be set. Add in two Z240 and that should be a good package. 



#15 Barmaglot

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Posted 11 June 2018 - 01:49 AM

First generation A7S lacks PDAF, which means that in low light, it will struggle with focus much like a compact. First and second generation A7 series cameras also use very small batteries - something rectified in A7R III and A7 III, but good luck finding a discounted housing for those. Meikon is working on an A7 III housing - they've mentioned September as a possible release date, and if their past track record is any indication, it will likely cost around $500-700 with a six-inch dome, but still - an A7 III body alone is $2000, and FE 16-35 F/4 is another $1350; even with a sub-$1k housing, that's a lot of cash compared to an A6300/A6500 with 10-18mm F/4.



#16 hyp

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Posted 11 June 2018 - 08:28 AM

I don't think going FF is really that important for UW Photography. High ISO is pretty much irrelevant if shooting with strobes and image quality at base ISO is very good even on mu43. The lens selection is very good as well and the increased DOF is probably a benefit in most underwater situations. The only thing you lose is the high megapixel count on some of the newer models, but I've got 40x60cm prints of my Panasonic GX7 16mp sensor hanging on the wall and they stand up to quite a bit of scrutiny even when looking up close.

 

Mu43 or APS-C Crop is probably the best way to go, if you want to stay under 3k$.



#17 Fruitographer

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Posted 11 June 2018 - 09:41 AM

Barmaglot, thanks for the info on Sony A7 models. I don't have any experience with Sony other than what I've heard from people that have one. I appreciate the informative response. I do agree with Hyp that if you're using strobes and only shooting macro than you should have a low ISO and all the light will be from your strobes anyway. which means you won't necessarily need the low light capabilities for underwater. I've heard more and more the argument for not needing a full frame sensor and I agree, the technology today will allow you to get some incredible shots with a crop sensor. Although just like you hear for engines there's no replacement for displacement. I wouldn't rule out a crop sensor for someone like AlanP but I would never use a crop camera as a professional and try to say it's just as good as a full frame. Since AlanP is planning to do photography both in the water and on land low light high ISO capabilities would still be a good thing to have. If you can find a really good deal on a crop sensor setup than go for it since it will still get you some great shots. I'm actually getting ready to get a full kit from a friend that has a Ikelite housing and older canon rebel with macro port and macro lens. the camera is pretty out of date but has a crop sensor and would work perfect to start off with. You would be able to get this kit and have enough money left over for a set of strobes and still be right around a $1,00 for everything. Perfect to start out with and if you flood it while you're still learning the camera is cheap enough that it won't matter as much as if you had a $2,000 camera inside. I'm actually getting this system for myself but it might work better for you. I should be picking it up in a week or two and I'll do some test shots to see how it works and let you know. hip is correct that you might have to go with a crop sensor or micro four thirds camera to stay under $3,000. I got a great deal on a Nauticam housing for D810 that also had the camera included. Since I've already got a D810 and over 20 Nikon lenses already, it was an easy decision. I only paid $3,200 for the whole package but now I still have to buy ports and focus gears which will add even more to the cost. I've already got strobes but even with the stuff I already got the system and port already go way over your budget.  



#18 Barmaglot

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Posted 11 June 2018 - 10:20 AM

Another thing about SLR vs MILC - while the difference in camera body size may not be that big, the difference in housing sizes is spectacular. I was on a liveaboard, and another diver was using a Nikon D90 in an Ikelite housing. Same APS-C sensor size as my Sony A6300, but her housing was about half again as tall and wide as mine, and twice as thick, thanks to the mirror box and deep handgrip. With full-frame, if you're shooting wide-angle, you typically need an eight-inch or larger dome, which will be the most bulky part of your rig anyway, but with APS-C and smaller domes, the housing size comes into play a lot more.

 

Regarding low-light - Sony's latest APS-C sensors (found in A6300 and A6500) are rated very highly for low-light performance; obviously not as good as full-frame, but, I've seen claims and measurements that they're the best in the industry for their size.

 

For $3k, buying used, one could get an A6300 body (~$500), 10-18mm lens (~$550), 90mm lens (~$750), Meikon housing with dome and macro ports ($662), a pair of ST-100 strobes ($490), and a tray with arms and clamps ($120). Add a bit more for extra batteries, memory cards, bags, protective covers, etc.



#19 ChrisRoss

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Posted 11 June 2018 - 06:47 PM

If you are on a budget, let someone else pay the depreciation and shop around the classifieds.  Mirrorless is a good way to go and you can get something in a nice Nauticam housing for a reasonable price.  Beware of cheap housings like the Meikon, they work of course, but for example the EM5 II housing has no capability to use a zoom gear and I saw a thread on here for one particular model where the flash did not line up with the the window for the fibre optic connectors. 

 

If you are doing macro the ports are relatively cheap, start with a single strobe and add a second later on.  The advantage of going with a Nauticam or similar system  housing is the wide range of ports so you can branch out later to other lenses more easily if desired.

 

For example this setup :  http://wetpixel.com/forums/index.php?showtopic=62145  Add a macro port and a lens and a  strobe/arm  and you'd have a very nice macro setup for around your budget.  I know it is located in Europe, but just serves as an example of the prices for second hand equipment.



#20 Barmaglot

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Posted 11 June 2018 - 07:47 PM

 Beware of cheap housings like the Meikon, they work of course, but for example the EM5 II housing has no capability to use a zoom gear and I saw a thread on here for one particular model where the flash did not line up with the the window for the fibre optic connectors.

 

The Sony A6xxx models have access to all the controls, and the latest Salted Line series features interchangeable ports (flat wide port for Sony 16-50mm and 10-18mm, 6" dome for Sony 10-18mm and Sigma 16mm and long macro port for Sony 50mm and 90mm macro are available now, short macro port for Sony 16-50mm and 30mm macro and compact dome for fisheyes are coming out soon), zoom gears for Sony 16-50mm and 10-18mm, optional pistol grip with two-stage trigger, optical viewfinder, and, scheduled to be released on June 15th, a vacuum system. The housing + dome bundle costs $482 + shipping, or $512 with flat-rate shipping to most countries - its Fantasea equivalent is $1727. Add $150 to Meikon for a 90mm macro port which Fantasea doesn't even have, though they do have 50mm macro port for $945. Nauticam NA-6500 is $1800 for housing alone, plus $700 for dome port and $780 for 90mm macro port. Meikon's older housings in the $100-200 range have serious limitations, no arguing that, but they've seriously stepped up their game in the past year or so, while keeping prices well below the competition, even on the used market. For instance, the EM1 setup you linked is 1300 euros, but it lacks ports and lenses - even for only macro, that's another $400 for lens and $300 for a port, and if you'd want wide angle - prepare to shell out $1670 for a dome, and close to a thousand for a lens, and these depreciate on the used market much slower than camera bodies and housings do.