|The Olympus 770SW and Panasonic's Lumix DMC-FX07|
There is no substitute for using a camera that you know; no one wants to be stumped 60 feet below the surface trying to figure out how to increase the ISO. But if you're looking for a new intro-level camera kit for underwater photography, here's a few that we think get the job done admirably well.
The Camera for Snorkeling:
The Olympus 770SW may be the best camera out there for snap-happy snorkeling photographers. It's waterproof down to 33 feet, meaning no expensive waterproof housing, and it's shock proof, so it'll survive the occasional bash against the side of the boat when climbing in and out of the drink (it's also freeze-proof, but let's hope that's not an issue while snorkeling). A 3x optical zoom gives you a bit of flex, and four underwater settings help keep the white balance under control. The 2.5-inch screen aids in mid-breath image review, the controls are intuitive enough to use without surfacing, and 7.1-megapixel clarity and a choice of three aspect ratios keep you squarely on the artistic side of the equation. We recommend pairing it with a Floating Foam Strap, just in case you're in waters deeper than 33 feet and someone accidently knocks the camera in to the ocean. (www.olympus.com; $380 for the 770WS, $17 for the floatable strap)
The Basic Kit for Diving:
The Olympus Stylus 770SW definitely works as a diving camera, but you'll need also to buy an underwater housing, as divers typically go well below the camera's 33-foot waterproof limit. (Olympus does offer a custom case that goes down to 130 feet for $300.)
But I used the Panansonic Lumix DMC-FX07 to take the pictures found in these galleries (Diving in Ambergris, Diving off Grand Cayman's Sunset House, A Guide to Underwater Photography), housed in the factory-produced waterproof case, which is good down to 130 feet. This camera is wonderfully small, and I find the controls to be entirely intuitive with easy access to the flash, ISO setting, and white balance. But what really sold me on the FX07 was the Leica lens—the same lens found in the famed Leica cameras (which cost nearly twice as much as this model). The 7.1-megapixel FX07 comes with three underwater settings, it boasts a 2.5-inch screen for easy framing and review while underwater, and has three aspect ratios, including the cinematic 16-to-9 frame. (www.panasonic.com; $250 for the camera, $250 for the waterproof case)
But if you already own a point-and-click camera, chances are there's a custom waterproof housing on the market. Camera manufacturers like Panasonic and Olympus and companies like Ikelite [www.ikelite.com] and Sea and Sea [www.seaandsea.com] make a wide variety of custom waterproof camera cases, from the least-expensive point-and-click to the highest-end SLR. Cases typically cost the same as the camera itself.
I paired my Panasonic with Sea and Sea's YS-27DX external strobe, a compact and affordable manual flash powered by four AA batteries, with nine different light-level settings. You can get a fiber-optic cable to wire the strobe to your flash, but I just put the strobe on slave mode; when the flash in my point-and-click fired, the strobe was instantaneous triggered. Then I mounted the strobe on a Sea Arm Light, which screwed into the tripod base of the camera case and gave me the flex to maneuver the light to the optimal position for each shot. (www.seaandsea.com; $380 for the strobe, $145 for the arm). And that, as they say, makes all the difference.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication