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DSLR for a beginner?


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#1 Cosmographer

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Posted 04 January 2012 - 12:42 PM

Hello all,

I've had my Nikon D200 for years (for above water photography) and am looking to upgrade to a newer model within the next year or so. I'm wondering whether, at my stage as a noobie (both as a diver and an u/w photographer), I should buy a housing for my D200 so that it still has a purpose after I upgrade or should I buy something smaller and cheaper.

Argument for/against D200:
  • Better pics?
  • I'd rather not see the D200 go to waste when I upgrade
  • ISO performance doesn't seem as good as newer generations - considering the low-light nature of u/w photography, is this a problem?
  • Faster focus/shutter speed
  • Housing itself is probably more expensive than digicam housing+strobe
  • Bulky (I like to travel to dive destinations)
  • Since flooding seems inevitable, the case would go to waste once the D200 is flooded since I doubt I'd buy another D200 to replace it
Argument for/against digicam (looking specifically at the LX5, XZ1, or EPL3 based on what I read on these forums):
  • Simpler setup/equipment for a beginner
  • Easier to physically manage due to smaller size
  • Cheaper
  • Maybe not much room for growth as an u/w photographer?
I'm a beginner diver (just got certified with a whopping 7 dives under my weight belt) and have only used underwater p/s which I've borrowed from dive centers. I won't be diving as often as many of you - probably no more than 3-4 dive trips per year. My goals for photos are .. a little bit of everything I guess. I'll make a trip to see whale sharks so I suppose wide angles are a must. Macro? not sure yet. Action? If I see any, definitely! I would very much like to take pictures of wrecks as well. Cost is always a concern and I'd prefer to stay under $1000 USD, but I'm flexible up to around $1500-$2000 if necessary. Any input regarding what I should do in my particular situation? Thanks for all the useful info so far!

#2 diver dave1

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Posted 04 January 2012 - 04:21 PM

Welcome to the underwater world and the future addition and addiction of u/w photography.
I would strongly encourage you to wait and dive a while before getting into the photo work too much. Just to improve the diving skills.

Your budget is going to take a serious hit. Your proposed budget will not get you into the DSLR world even buying a used D200 housing. You will be hard pressed enough just to consider P/S.
Here is a brief rundown on items to consider.
Strobe $400-700 each (start with one, you will eventually likely want 2)
Base and Arms and clamps to hold the strobe to the camera - a few hundred more when all added together.
Lowest priced P/S $200-300 housing. Better ones are more than double that price
fiber optic cable ( some make their own setup for this, some spend $80)
and then there is the camera itself.

I would not jump to a DSLR yet.

When I went to DSLR, I already had the 2 strobes, arms, clamps, camera and lenses. Just the housing, ports for macro (1) and wide angle (1), zoom gears, was over $4000. A used D200 will save you money but not get within striking distance of $1500.
You can certainly take good pics with a D200 but if you are considering moving newer, I would buy the housing for the newer camera ...eventually, and not the D200 housing.

just my 2 cents...
dave

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#3 eric black

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Posted 04 January 2012 - 04:49 PM

I would also encourage not only working on your diving skills (killer bouyancy is paramount to getting any decent images below), but learning what you would like to express underwater by just getting below and observing. Once you gain a diving style and figure out your primary interests, the photography ought to fall into line. In parallel with this, rentals on occasional dives will start you on the way to developing shooting skills and further help you to figure out what you are most interested in expressing-(macro, wide angle etc...). Im a big proponent of used gear, but the above post is correct, housing a DSLR will not come cheap even on the used market- thus, be really sure of what you really want prior to the $$ commitment so you dont end up contributing to the never ending used gear clearnace plan offered by the classifieds here.

If you do feel that you cant wait and have to make the leap- Id keep your eyes open to the various vendors that deal used gear (this forum included) and outfit something with a good wide angle lens housed with your D200- sounds like your interests weight in that direction- pick a housing manufacturer that you can build on later- ie new housing for which the strobes and ports can be transfered to if your addiction grows. There are lots of quality manufacturers and all of them make great gear- good luck in your pursuits.

#4 Cosmographer

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Posted 04 January 2012 - 05:08 PM

Thanks for your advice and the welcome!

After looking around, I found a new Ikelite case for the D200 for about $1500 and Nimar case from B&H for about $1200. With a basic strobe, it would seem like I might be able to stay below $2000 since I already own the camera. Is Nimar any good? Of course, as you both indicated, just because I can afford it doesn't necessarily make it a good choice.

I took a quick look at the EPL3 + housing and that alone would be about $1500, I think - not to mention the strobes.

I've had no problems diving and shooting with an Olympus TG-810, though I've never used a DSLR underwater yet. One of the main reasons I like to dive is for the pictures, so I'd like to get something as soon as possible since many dive centers don't seem to have a working u/w cam. I do like the suggestion of getting a housing for the new camera but 1) I'm worried about flooding what would be my only camera while on a trip, and 2) they haven't even announced the new camera yet, so even though many expect it early this year, no one really knows. On the plus side, it would be nice to only travel with 1 camera.

Edited by Cosmographer, 04 January 2012 - 05:10 PM.


#5 Cosmographer

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Posted 04 January 2012 - 05:15 PM

While it might seem like I'm leaning towards the DSLR, I really am open to digicams as well. I'm just not sure how long they will last me before I feel like I've outgrown them. (Even though I've used DSLRs for about 10 years now, I still consider myself an amateur at best - but even so, I feel very limited whenever I need to use someone else's compact) - I have no idea if this will still hold true for u/w photography, and I have to admit, some of those setups look rather complex and intimidating, hehe.

#6 diver dave1

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Posted 04 January 2012 - 08:08 PM

I cannot speak to your Nimor question. Remember, the Ike case is only the case. You need a port for your lens. What lens are you planning? Have a 60mm micro? then one strobe, one port would work. Then you need clamps, an arm, connection between housing and strobe, floats to get it neutral in the water...the list grows quickly.

You can buy Canon u/w cases for P/S camera's for under $300. You can do the same for Nikon P/S camera's from Fantasea.

If you go DSLR, just make certain to get a list together for all you need and what it all costs so you know what you are getting into.
If you are in the U.S., then you can use State Farm insurance for covering flooding, theft, lost, etc. for about 1% of the value per yr.

A Nikon D7000 Ike housing is $1500 new as well. You have to get the camera but its going to be far superior to the D200. If you are planning to upgrade the camera, go for it first. One week after you buy the D200 housing, its value will drop by close to half the price of a new D7000. Or pick up someone's used D90 when they upgrade. A lot of them went on sale when the D7000 came out.

Oh yea, and remember, you need some new backpack or roller case to carry all this new gear in.
You will also want a software processing program like Lightroom or similar.
And of course a backup hard drive.
Ain't it great?

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#7 JKrumsick

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Posted 04 January 2012 - 08:29 PM

If you are dead set on DSLR (and why not, there are so many benefits) then I would look around for deals with people shedding gear. If money is a huge issue then collecting items over a period of time is a good way to save $$. Some things that can wait are - second strobe (first strobe is a necessity), focus light, boyancy arms..

If I were buying new then I would also seriously look at the mirrorless (Panasonic GH2 and NEX-7 that is coming out). I am just unsure about the lenses even though there are a lot of people who like them.

#8 sgietler

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Posted 04 January 2012 - 09:25 PM

Like Dave said - the strobes and lenses will easily more than double your necessary budget. But imho the dSLR is not necessarily less simpler to use, or harder to handle underwater. Good luck! - Scott

#9 Cosmographer

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Posted 05 January 2012 - 02:20 AM

Thanks for the input, everyone. Since I'll only be doing diving trips 3-4 times per year (and even then, probably only 3-4 dives per trip) I'm leaning against the DSLR option now - it's beginning to seem like overkill for a casual diver. It's just that the cost of the more popular digicams (EPL3, XZ1, LX5) with accessories seems comparable to buying the housing and accessories for my D200.

For example, for about $1500, I can get either the EPL3 + housing or a housing for my D200. Strobes and other accessories, I assume, will be similarly priced regardless of whether I go with digicam or DSLR? The digicam seems a more reasonable and practical choice, but if I can get a DSLR setup using my D200 for a similar price as a quality digicam setup, would it be crazy not too? I'm not even sure how a D200's IQ and speed will hold up to these more modern digicams anyway.

Edited by Cosmographer, 05 January 2012 - 02:21 AM.


#10 Cosmographer

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Posted 05 January 2012 - 02:31 AM

Btw, for wide angle wreck pictures, I assume strobes are useless? I really want to get better pics than the ones I took on my very first wreck dive (with the dive center's camera):

Posted Image

Posted Image

#11 diver dave1

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Posted 05 January 2012 - 05:34 AM

There are quite a number of issues to consider besides price. Do you want fiber optic TTL for the strobes? I love it. I do not believe Ikelite offers it. For TTL with their equipment, you need certain strobes and electrical connection cables...not fiber optic. Do you care? Maybe, maybe not. I like traveling with smaller Inon strobes. Would you? Maybe, maybe not. Its not just about price.
I selected Nexus based on size/weight/Fiber optics. I can carry all critical equipment in a backpack since airlines here rarely weigh them. I paid more but am happy I did. This selection may not be for you...I am not making a recommendation. Just showing that price is not the only issue.

You might consider making a list of all items you want/need for your new hobby. Make one for DSLR and one for P/S. THEN you can compare pricing. Just looking at housing prices will not serve you well.
What housing fits your hands well? Can you reach the controls well? the list goes on... Holding/touching some would be desirable.

I did a quick check at Reef Photo website. They have a used Nauticam D90 housing priced at 1400 at the moment. It has fiber optic connections. Does that housing fit your needs equally or better? Hard to say without more research. Used D90's will be available as people upgrade over time.

Last time we went car shopping, the wife said, "I want the car with the lowest price." So I started asking the questions.
Do you want a manual transmission? No
Do you want air conditioning? Yes
Do you want good visibility? Yes
Do you want dependability? Yes
Do you want a sun roof? Yes
Do you want enough space to take on trips? Yes

None of those answers led to the lowest priced car and we did not buy the lowest priced car.

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#12 eyu

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Posted 05 January 2012 - 10:12 AM

I think you should go for a housing for your D200. DSLR has so many advantages over a point and shoot, you will never look back.
You should look at a used housing to save a few bucks. I would look at a Subal, Sea & Sea, Nauticam or Aquatica housing. Check out WetPixel, Backscatter and Reef's classified sections. I would pass on an Ikelite, since you are wedded to use their strobes with their housing. Granted Ikelite is good stuff, but I prefer to use other strobes which are smaller and will also accommodate fiberoptic TTL (for a future consideration). Once you get a housing you will need to set up a port. If you shoot wide angle you will need a dome and for macro you will need a flat port. With a D200 housing you will only be able to use your strobe with an electronic connection. Also what lens do you plan to use?

Edited by eyu, 05 January 2012 - 12:50 PM.

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#13 TomR1

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Posted 05 January 2012 - 10:45 AM

I personally think a D-200 is as effectively as good underwater as any other dslr for your purposes. When I switched to a dslr i found the Ikelite case for my D-200 hard to get use to. The controls are inaccurate and the electrical connections to the strobes are a pain.

I would look for a used metal case. I am basing this recommendation based on my experience witha d-200 in an ikelite case with ikelite strobes. I finally upgraded to a d-300 simply because I wanted a metal case and fibreoptic strobe connections. I was tired of the hassel. However, you should know that other experienced photographers think Ikelite is just fine so "your mileage may vary".

I think you should focus on a single strobe (Inon z-240 my preference) with fibreoptic connection so the case you purchse musty allow the internal strobe to pop up. I would also focus on a single lens (60mm my choice)

I am making this recommendation because you really aren't an experienced diver to get into photography yet but since you intend to do it anyway I am suggesting you use a camera that you are used to and the simplist, easiest to use underwater setup possible. I am guessing you will be fustrated by lessor cameras.

If you cannot find a used case that allows simple fibreoptic connectivity you should house a newer Nikon camera that has a case with that capability.

#14 bb__n

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Posted 05 January 2012 - 06:45 PM

Don't forget, too, that using a camera you know well topside will help you to get better results when you're using it underwater. +1 for using your D200, it's still a good camera, and you don't always want to spend a ton on a brand new rig when you're not experienced...

#15 Balrog

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Posted 06 January 2012 - 12:38 AM

First step is to get a copy of Martin Edge's book "The Underwater Photographer" - an acknowledged tome - and enoy reading it. It will give a good understanding of the challenges, opportunities and many ideas regarding where you want to go in the future with both gear and photo style; likely saving it's cost.

If you are used to the facilities of a DSLR then a compact probably won't satisfy you. My personal opinion is that as a new diver, I wouldn't over complicate the rig. Start off with a second hand housing for the D200, a magic filter and a copy of lightroom software. Shoot in RAW and colour correct in post process. The make of housing doesn't matter as long as it reliably keeps the camera dry. Until your buoyancy is under micro control, most of your shots are likely to be general wide views and fish portraits at moderate depths. Unless you are diving wrecks the good photo opportinities are mostly between 15-40ft where you can get away without a strobe. You are absolutely right that you can't illuminate a wide scene with even the most powerful strobes. What they will do is put the missing red back in to the foreground, you still need to expose correctly for the background and water column.

Once you are comfortable, have a better understanding and and know what you want to do, plan to add a strobe as the very next step. If at this point, the housing isn't compatible with the strobe type you want, pop the housing back on ebay where you will likely only lose a few $. Who knows if you buy well and don't keep the housing too long, you might even come out even - but with a lot more knowledge.

#16 newmanl

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Posted 06 January 2012 - 12:24 PM

Except for the new diver part, I followed the path Balrog described exactly! While I was already experienced using a DSLR topside, I found by keeping it simple with a camera I knew that I really enjoyed the process of slowing learning how to shoot underwater. I also can't say enough good things about Martin's book - a must read... over and over...

Good luck!

Lee

#17 TomR1

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Posted 06 January 2012 - 01:43 PM

Martin Edge's book is critical BUT to keep it simple I would take some time getting used to the Adobe RAW converter (lightroom or photoshop) and not worry to much about underwater adjustments. For non-macro shots set the camera on F/8 1/125 and start shooting. For macro I like being F/11 or above. Just worry about getting close, getting closer and shoot up. Look at your shots every evening. You'll catch on quickly.

Tom

#18 derway

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Posted 07 January 2012 - 11:48 AM

The beauty of ikelite is their cases include hard wired TTL converter, which works fantasticly.
Don Erway
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#19 TomR1

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Posted 07 January 2012 - 02:19 PM

Don-

When I had Ds-125's the TTL was fantastic. The INON Z-240 TTL seems just as good. The disadvantages of the ikelite system were twofold. First a small flood would wipe out the ttl. I had this happen twice when installing my camera with a 105 lens put pressure on the port. This, however, is unlikely to happen with anyone else. I was using a prototype port. The second was the electrical connections. The connections are positively connected and stress on them can ruin them. It was necessary to secure the wires against snagging. I ruined a couple of wires this way so I carried spares. Compared to the Z-240 optical connections it took much longer to install and secure. If an optical connection snags it will simply pull out of the case without damage.

However, the Ikelite Ds-125's seemed to have a warmer light temperature and a very quick recycle time. The Z-240 recycle time is also good but the colder light temperature sometimes requires correcting. In addition the DS-125's were larger and heavier on land but much less negatively bouyant underwater. I needed STIX floats to balance the Z-240 strobes. Also, the target lights on the Ds-125's work much better for night dives.

I am wondering if the DS-160 strobes have the same good qualities of the 125's.

Tom

#20 Cosmographer

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Posted 12 January 2012 - 07:13 AM

Thanks for the advice, everyone. After a lot of consideration, I am now leaning towards a compact camera. Below are my reasons (if any of the reasons are based on faulty knowledge or information, please let me know!)

1) While recycling the D200 into an uw camera is attractive, its replacement (D400?) probably won't be out for at least another year
2) Even if they do come out with a replacement, lugging 2 DSLRs is probably too much (esp since we travel to dive)
3) A compact uw camera can double as an above-water camera for my wife
4) Micro 4/3rds cameras (looked at the EPL3 in particular) are just too big to easily fit in a small purse so my wife wouldn't use it (spending $1000+ on gear that will ONLY be used uw seems like a waste considering my noobness to uw photography)
5) Tho photography is a hobby of mine, I suspect that I will be diving to dive, not diving to photograph (at least not in the near future) so smaller, simpler setups would seem to make more sense

As much as I would like to have my D200 double as an uw camera, the reasons above have steered me towards a compact (in specific, the Panny LX5). I can get a 10bar housing (used once) for about $450USD which brings the package sans strobes to about $800. And I suppose if and when I upgrade my DSLR, I might get more serious about uw photography, at which time I can splurge on a new system while selling the LX5 system for not too much of a loss (I hope).

Any opinions on this tentative conclusion?