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Camera Choices For Swimming With Whales

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I'm planning a trip to go snorkeling with Humpback Whales in March 2014. I'll be going on a professionally guided tour down in the Dominican Republic where it's legal to swim with them. In trying to prepare for this trip (my first real trip), I'm trying to figure out what my best option is in terms of photography. Any insight or advice you can offer would be greatly appreciated!

 

Option#1: Originally I was looking at a GoPro3 Hero, but reading how terrible the battery life is scared me away. So now I'm looking at (5) other underwater point and shoot cameras, but I think I narrowed it down to (3). They are the Canon Powershot D20, Pansonic Lumix DMC TS5, Olympus TG-2 IHS, Pentax WG3 GPS, or the Nikon Coolpix AW110. The (3) that I think I've narrowed it down to are the Panasonic, Penxtax, and Nikon with the Panasonic having the slight edge so far because of the better video quality. Does anyone have any experience with any of these cameras? Would you consider them to be good choices for this trip?

 

Let me state that I’m very aware that one of the above cameras will not get me the professional quality photos that I *really* want, certainly not as good as my DSLR would. However, this trip alone is already in the $4,000 - $5,000 range so I’m trying to work within my budget. My goal is to come home with some nice shots that’ll be worthy of sharing online and printing/hanging in my house. Any camera that would let me accomplish that would be great!

 

Option#2: I cannot afford to get an actual underwater housing for my DSLR (Canon T3i), but I have been wondering if using a Dicipac might be another possible solution. I do worry about bringing my DSLR into the water regardless of which casing I use, but of course I'm a bit more nervous about this one since it's essentially a bag. Have any of you used one of these or know of someone who has? Did it work well without springing any leaks?

 

Any other advice you can offer or if you can think of a different camera I haven't mentioned, please let me know and I'll add it to my "to research" list. Thanks!

 

 

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One main thing to consider in my experience is how much *swimming* you will need to do, as opposed to floating and waiting for the shot. I have limited experience but I have swum with both humpbacks (once) and whale sharks (three trips) with a housed Olympus OM-D. It is very hard to keep up with a moving whale or shark when you need to hang on to a housing with one or both hands. It is a lot easier if you have good visibility to hang in the water and wait for a good opportunity. So if you think you need to be fairly mobile, a compact camera that takes good stills and video that you can clip to your BCD when you need to keep up or reposition might be the better choice. I have never heard good reports of using a Digipac so personally would avoid that option.

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I'm not familiar with any point and shoot system but my advise is to go with the one that allows you to have a wider angle of coverage as possible ,because for good results you need to get close ( which you will probably get at Silver Banks ) .

 

Don't worry about the size/weight of your system , the whales will swim or get close to you . You will not be allowed to swim to them and if you do it most probably they will go away .

 

Being in the water close to the humpback whales is an experience that for sure you will enjoy . Good luck

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Thanks for the input. It is made very clear we cannot approach the whales. We slip into the water as quietly as possible and just kind of drift along with the current and watch them do their thing. Of course some of the whales may get curious and approach us.

 

Troporobo – Thanks for letting me know about the dicipac. I knew it would be risky so I’ve decided to avoid that route. The more I thought about it the more I decided I want to bring my DSLR on the boat to use on the out of water shots anyway.

 

Eagle Ray - What range would you recommend? Most of the cameras I’m looking at start at about 25mm. I have a feeling that’s still going to be too far of a zoom (meaning I won’t be able to fit the whole whale in the shot), but I’m kind of limited considering my budget. It’s times like these that really make me wish I was rich! :(

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I would go with the Gopro and buy extra batteries. The batteries are relatively low priced. Since you will be floating in calmer conditions, you could likely change batteries on the boat between float periods. Whales are not likely to be with you all day. More likely is long periods of limited or no action followed by periods of all you are dreaming of. You can have your GoPro off until you need it then switch it on. I would get the back viewing addition, knowing it limits battery life even more. I would also get an extension stick and practice using it in a pool or open water.

 

With that setup, you can see what you are shooting while shooting it. You can reach further with it. You can change batteries between periods of activity. Have 3 or 4 batteries for backup on the boat in a waterproof container.

I would also get the red correction filter offered for it.

Just my 2 cents...

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I would have to agree with Dave on this one, get the Go-Pro+screen+batteries+red-filter, and either the extension stick or at least some sort of proper tray+handle setup (to avoid camera-shake).

 

Even the widest of your mentioned compact cameras will not be as wide as the GoPro..

 

Best regards, Morten

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You will probably find that hardly anyone on this Forum would entertain a Digipac, or a Ewa Marine or other, similar, housings. The "soft housings" are mostly confined to canoeing/rafting, skiing, raining and similar because it's conceived, FWIW I agree, that these options are not entirely satisfactory for underwater work. Of course their manufacturers would entirely disagree with this perception.

 

Remember, though, that drownings can, and do, happen with monotonous regularity. Again, the perception is that these types of housings drown more often than their "hard" counterparts. Against that I would suggest that the average user of a "soft" housing has nowhere near the same level of expertise in keeping a housing secure than a photographer with a "hard" housing.

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I'd personally consider one of the specific housings that Canon

makes for their P&S (ie: S110) Some of the cameras shoot RAW

and are great for topside imaging too. The cameras are around

$400 and the housings are a bit less than that and I think the

image quality is a bit better than a "Tough" water cam. The

depth rating for the Canon housings are also good for scuba

diving. (strobe should be added for use at depth)

The GoPro's are good but I find them a bit clunky for in hand stills work.

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Swimming is a very honest sport. This sport uses almost all major muscle groups and places a vigorous demand on your heart and lungs, it's better than any training machines that usually use only one group of muscle. Pool water becomes more balanced due to lowered chemical use. Seldom requires brushing. Less vacuuming due to constant coagulant effect. Less backwashing. The pool remains free from bacteria, viruses and algae. The use of chlorine is reduced, and so are its harmful by-products (chloramines, chlorinated hydrocarbons). The use of pool chemicals that are harmful to the environment are reduced (chlorine, acids, alkalis) or made redundant (algaecides, flocculent/ coagulant).

 

Edited by Anne Green

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Swimming is a very honest sport

 

And your point is? Sorry but I quite simply don't see any connection between swimming with whales (obviously in sea water) and "fresh" water swimming pools.

To the OP: I'd go with something like the Canon S110 (or 100, the differences for underwater purposes are miniscule) and a housIng, whether that is Canon's self badged one or another is up to you and largely depends on whether you want to get into diving proper.

If you do, learn to dive (properly) and, only then, drag out that camera. Cameras and diving don't mix well at all until you have some expertise at the diving lark. That applies equally to your own well-being in the water as that of the local inhabitants.

To be, or try to be, a little more positive, if you buy that Canon S100/110 you have a plethora of housings available to you, camera housing manufacturers are not stupid you know, they know a good thing when they see it. Ikelite, for example, have been doing this sort of stuff since the early sixties meaning they have some reasonable knowledge of what gives. Their housings are rated to 60 metres, no bad thing if you decide to get into this diving lark.

Edited by ChristianG

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May I suggest

1. Bring a less expensive housing with an RX100 or RX100 II camera with ultrawide (weitwinkel) angle adapter. This small digital cameras offers far better image quality than any of camera you mentioned. I personally placed an order from Nauticam for my buddy but for you by the time you start your whale swimming....you will have more than ten suppliers of this little camera. It is small, quick and very compact.

2. Buy the on sale Olympus EPM1 camera with housing at 499.99.

 

3. Buy an inexpensive Meikon housing for your existing dSLR. Although Meikon housing is not good for deep diving it is perfect for snorkeling. http://www.meikon.cc/products.asp?classid=&id=862

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May I suggest

1. Bring a less expensive housing with an RX100 or RX100 II camera with ultrawide (weitwinkel) (weitwinkel) angle adapter.

The Sony RX100 II (good camera BTW) is currently available from B&H New York for $US748 which, yes, is rather pricey although you gets what you pays for. Against that the Canon S110 (including Canon-badged housing) would set you back $US647 from the same store, Both cameras shoot raw (very desirable, particularly unnawata) but, but of course, the Sony sports a Carl Zeiss lens, no bad thing that. There are lots of other housings also available for that Canon, housing manufacturers are not stupid, but less so for the Sony.

My apologies for any typos, I desperately need new glasses. Oh well, it's off to the optometrist I go tomorrow (Monday hereabouts),

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"As far as i am concerned about your question,

you should consult some expert for it"
Really? There I was under the, obviously incorrect, impression that lots of people on Wetpixel were able provide answers to questions.
Obviously I was wrong and we should all "consult some expert for it". Would you now like to, please, provide such an "expert"?

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Hi - i used a dipac for my sony a33 when in our boat at work. Defiantly waterproof as it has been dropped loads into the water but i would not dive or snorkel with it. To easy to get a pin prick hole in the fabric.

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For whales you want a really wide lens, maybe a fisheye

 

On your cost range a GoPro might be your best choice

 

You might look at rentals or a used setup. Older cameras and housings are always on sale really cheap

 

I would use my RX100, Nauticam housing and wide angle adaptor. That would set you back about 2000$ new.

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