This year, Susan and I decided to get certified to scuba dive.
We go to Destin, Florida every year and decided to use that trip as our opportunity. Prior to leaving for the trip, we completed the course work online. It is about 15 hours of videos and quizzes. Once we got to Destin, we went through a 4-day process of dives. The first two days were in a pool, where we practiced various techniques in a controlled environment. The final two days were in open water, which were more interesting. We final day we went to a wrecked boat called the Miss Louise, which is in about 60 feet of water.
As an aside, Susan saw a shark! Not some little baby one, but a real shark. Our instructor said it was a bull shark. The way that came about is that there was a guy at the wreck who was spear fishing. He had gone in the water ahead of our group and he speared a fish right away. As soon as he got the fish, he started heading back up to the boat. He was coming up as we were going down. Sure enough, his having speared the fish attracted the shark. Several people in our group saw the shark, including Susan, but I missed it.
Obviously, one of the primary motivations for me to get certified to scuba dive is to do some underwater photography. I didn’t do too much of it this time, since I was still in training, but I was able to take my GoPro down on the final day.
You might wonder about the best cameras for underwater photography, and there is no perfect option. You can buy an underwater housing for your DSLR, but it will cost more than your camera. These things cost thousands of dollars! I don’t understand why, but they do. And when you get a new camera, which everybody seems to do every few years, then you have to get a new housing. It is insanely expensive. Unless you are going to photograph underwater every day, forget about it.
Assuming you are not going to go this route, there are basically two other options.
Option 1: Dedicated Underwater Camera
The first option is to get a dedicated underwater camera. I looked into it and, frankly, the best option if you go this route is a GoPro. If you aren’t a photographer, let me explain that the most important aspect of a digital camera is the size of the digital sensor. People debate this a lot, but generally bigger is better, as it generally gets you better image quaiity in the form of better low-light performance and higher dynamic range. The best dedicated underwater cameras have what are called 1-inch sensors, which really isn’t that big. That’s the size sensor that a GoPro has, so you might as well get the GoPro. A GoPro is waterproof down to 30 feet of water without any additional housing. You can just take the camera down as is. If you want to go deeper, and I did since our dive went down to 60 feet, you need to get an underwater housing. The good news here is that GoPro accessories are generally pretty reasonable, and in keeping with this, this housing costs less than $50. Therefore, I used a GoPro on this dive.
Option 2: An Affordable Camera and Housing Setup
That’s not what I will be using going forward though. There is one additional option that I cobbled together a few years ago. I wrote an article about it, which is here. I’m happy to say it is still applicable.
The idea is to buy a Sony a6000 camera, which has a larger sensor than a GoPro or any other dedicated underwater camera. Specifically, the Sony a6000 has an APS-C sensor, which is about twice the size of the GoPro sensor. The reason for that particular camera is that you can get the camera and an underwater housing for a reasonable price.
The camera itself – with a lens – is only about $550 at B&H or on Amazon. You can get a good housing for this camera for under $200. This housing is highly rated and is good all the way down to 130 feet. So even if you are starting from scratch, you can be all in with a nice camera and a housing for only $750. Granted, that’s not exactly giving it away, but in the world of photography, that’s cheap.
I have been using this to capture images in the water for years. Specifically, this photo is one of about a thousand I have taken where I have been trying to capture waves right as they are about to break:
There is only one real drawback that I have found with this system, which is that you cannot change focal lengths on your lens. You have to set it at its widest angle of view and leave it there. Granted, I live there a lot anyway, but it would be nice to be able to zoom in.
If you see any underwater photos from me in the future, it is likely that they will be taken with that. Now on to underwater lighting!