Got the camera, want an underwater housing?

I regularly have conversations with would-be underwater photographers who contact me directly or ask on Facebook groups about housings for cameras that they already use for photography on land.

Put simply not every camera works well for underwater photography and just buying a housing for the camera you already own may be a substantial waste of money.

The underwater photography equipment market is a minefield and newcomers often run into problems by buying online without having a conversation with a dealer to work out what they need. The same often applies when buying used equipment where even the seller may not have a full understanding of the suitability of equipment and may just be interested in getting it off their hands.

There’s a common myth that you need to spend huge amounts of money on equipment to get into underwater photography. This image was Anne’s first competition success (2nd place in Sunday Times Travel Magazine’s photo competition) and was taken with a Canon S95 compact in a Canon housing with an INON wide angle wet lens. Even new the setup cost well below £1000 and you can still pick up these cameras and housings on the used market. I’ve seen them go for under £200 on Ebay.

There’s a common myth that you need to spend huge amounts of money on equipment to get into underwater photography. This image was Anne’s first competition success (2nd place in Sunday Times Travel Magazine’s photo competition) and was taken with a Canon S95 compact in a Canon housing with an INON wide angle wet lens. Even new the setup cost well below £1000 and you can still pick up these cameras and housings on the used market. I’ve seen them go for under £200 on Ebay.

Unfortunately the situation is not helped by a number of manufacturers at the lower quality and priced end of the market who make housings for cameras that aren’t great for underwater photography. Even some mainstream manufacturers have marketed housings for camera models that really don’t suit underwater use. In fact big manufacturers like Canon, Fuji and Sony give very little thought to underwater photography. An good illustration is that several of Fuji’s compact camera housings over the years didn’t allow the use of all the camera’s exposure controls. So cameras that had full manual control on land were far more limited underwater.

In the case of DSLR and Mirrorless cameras it is not necessarily the camera that will be the problem but what lenses you have to use with it. Certain lenses work particularly well for underwater photography, namely fisheyes, macro and ultra-wide rectilinear lenses. But a newcomer to using an interchangeable lens camera may not have these types of lenses and if they don't have good advice can waste their cash buying housing ports to support mediocre lenses.

To get Close Focus Wide Angle shots like this using an interchangeable lens camera you really need to be using a fisheye lens on the camera itself. This picture was taken using an Olympus OMD EM10 MkII camera fitted with an Olympus 8mm Pro Fisheye lens.

To get Close Focus Wide Angle shots like this using an interchangeable lens camera you really need to be using a fisheye lens on the camera itself. This picture was taken using an Olympus OMD EM10 MkII camera fitted with an Olympus 8mm Pro Fisheye lens.

The cost of good quality housings for DSLR's and Mirrorless cameras can be prohibitively high for many people. My advice for a DSLR user whose budget is limited is first look at what lenses you have. If you don't own good fisheye and macro lenses you should factor buying these into your costing along with ports to go with them.

 Manufacturers decide on what cameras to make housings for based on a number of things. Overall popularity of a camera, so how many are sold in general,popularity of a brand for underwater photography, whether the design lends itself to a housing being made for it and the perceived longevity of a particular model ie. will the manufacturer bring out a newer model 9 months down the line. The better manufacturers put a lot of effort into producing housings so they tend to concentrate on models that they will sell plenty of housings for or the top end of the camera price range where they can charge higher prices to recoup their costs.

In my view there is a ‘sweet spot’ where the maximum value for money can be achieved when buying a camera and housing for underwater photography. This is the region occupied by high end compacts like the Canon G9X MkII (that this image was taken with) and some of the mirrorless cameras like the Olympus OMD EM10 MkII or MkIII. Beyond this in my opinion the law of diminishing returns kicks in and you can spend a lot more money for only fractional improvements in your pictures.

In my view there is a ‘sweet spot’ where the maximum value for money can be achieved when buying a camera and housing for underwater photography. This is the region occupied by high end compacts like the Canon G9X MkII (that this image was taken with) and some of the mirrorless cameras like the Olympus OMD EM10 MkII or MkIII. Beyond this in my opinion the law of diminishing returns kicks in and you can spend a lot more money for only fractional improvements in your pictures.

The cheaper housing manufacturers use many more generic parts and mouldings to make their housings so are more inclined to make housings for less popular cameras. What you get is poorer overall quality, bad ergonomics and limited features. When it comes to interchangeable lens cameras (Mirrorless and DSLR’s) you need to take care about whether a housing allows you to easily change the port so you can use of different lenses. Beyond that you also need to make sure you can get ports that work with lenses suited to underwater photography.

In some cases you are better off keeping your current camera for land photography and getting something else that is supported by a good quality housing for underwater. Even with cameras that work well underwater like high end DSLR’s it may be more cost effective if you have a limited budget to go for a different camera and housing and have budget left over to buy accessories like strobes and lenses.

Remember, this is your hard earned cash you are parting with so don’t just rush in. Get advice, think about your budget and what you want to achieve with your underwater pictures. It’s not just about the camera and housing, there’s accessories, training and the diving trips to take the pictures on. Don’t blow it all on a housing to discover you haven’t got a clue how to use it and can’t afford to go diving with it anyway.

If you’d like any advice about housing choices, feel free to get in touch by commenting on this blog or email info@alphamarinephoto.com . You are also welcome to join our Facebook Q and A group, please read the rules before posting or commenting.