Snorkeling in Fiji - DLSR + housing or point-and-shoot?
February 24, 2015 9:54 PM   Subscribe

I'm super excited to have booked a holiday in Fiji in May, however I need to sort out my camera options - do I buy a cheapo body and case for my existing m/43 lenses, or just spend the same money on a compact point and shoot?

I'm a fairly keen and knowledgeable hobbyist photographer, however have not done any underwater photography. I'm also a good swimmer and am looking forward to the snorkeling off the beach as we're staying on a coral cay, and possibily getting scuba certification.

When looking at options, I can snag a decent case for M43 (micro four thirds) and an old GF3 body to use with my rarely-used kit lens for about 200 bucks.

I can also buy a new "tough" camera like the pentax wg4 or panasonic ts-25 for roughly the same price and I'm quite torn.

Pros for dslr: High resolution images, can go quite deep if I do the scuba, housing definitely won't leak, and if it does won't really care cause it's kit lens and crappy body.

Cons for DSLR: Large compared to point and shoot, possibly unwieldy. May make taking good photos harder, and there's more to lug around.

Pros for P and S: Small and easy to handle; not lugging a trillion pieces around with me and can shoot in one hand no worries. F.2 lens on Pentax good for low light, in fact better than dslr with kit.

Cons for PS: Resolution, sharpness, colour, basically all of the attributes that make an image will be indisputably shitter. Also due to sensor size, the f2 may not make much a difference for lower light. No real use for camera outside of snorkeling etc.

Any experienced underwater photogs have an opinion/experience that could help me make my mind up? Whenever I think I'm leaning towards one option, the other makes a comeback!
posted by smoke to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (13 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: If you go snorkeling I would keep the setup very compact and light.
Pay attention to buoyancy! If it floats like a buoy you will be fighting it all the time. On the other hand if it sinks like a brick it will be a pain as well. Use a good strap! I have had to rescue to manny camera's that slipped from peoples hands while getting back into the boat. (I have managed diveshops and had my own UW photography business on Bonaire)

Wide angle lens is the best choice.
Get the largest viewfinder you can get.
Forget about using the flash.
posted by Mac-Expert at 10:29 PM on February 24, 2015

Best answer: I'm a hobbyist underwater photographer. (Some of my photos are on my flickr page, most are on Facebook).

I always use a P & S, because I like to travel light. At the moment I have a Sony RX100 mII with Ikelite housing. Before that I had various Canon G models.
All of my cameras after the first one have had the ability to shoot RAW and to do manual white balance. For me these are the two most important features, as light behaves differently under water than above water. See here. I usually white balance off of my hand or sand, and shooting RAW allows for further colour correcting in software.

If you are only going to snorkel, in 5 - 10m of water, a P & S will probably be good enough. Most P & S cameras today have an underwater setting which adjusts the white balance for shallow depths. If you are diving/going deeper you will want to white balance each shot.

As you are a "fairly keen and knowledgeable hobbyist photographer" I would say go for the cheapo body and case for the m4/3 lense. This will give you better quality images and MORE CONTROL over your photos.

Try and get a body that allows you to white balance with one button push. This was possible on my previous Canons, but I have to go into the menu on my Sony, entailing many button pushes. Pain in the ass!

A tip I picked up while on my last trip to Palau; it's better to underexpose underwater shots and correct in software. It's very easy to overexpose under water, and overexposed shots can't be easily corrected. Err on the side of caution.
posted by DelusionsofGrandeur at 11:53 PM on February 24, 2015

Best answer: Shoot in RAW format and take a piece of white plastic with you. Take a shot during each dive of the white at various depths so you can correct the white balance later ;-)
posted by Mac-Expert at 1:38 AM on February 25, 2015 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I live in Hawaii and do lots of scuba, freediving, and photography. I would recommend a GoPro on some kind of buoyant handle if you are snorkeling. Bigger DSLR housings work best when you have a stable platform and plenty of time to shoot, so I can't imagine snorkeling or freediving with one. Smaller point-and-shoot setups work rather well, but the GoPro is far more streamlined and easy to use underwater. Especially when you are kicking down to 5-8m for a close shot on a single breath of air. The LCD backpack for the GoPro makes composing video or still bursts much easier, but chews battery. If you're not into the GoPro lineup, a Canon point-and-shoot in a decent enclosure is my next best recommendation.

Regarding Mac-Expert's comment on post filtering: get a red filter for your setup (GoPro makes one, or get fancy with a Backscatter Flip). At depth, the water gets so blue that you won't be able to pull much color out in post, whereas a properly filtered capture is a lot more flexible. I have not yet needed a white balance card, but ymmv.

Underwater photo (when snorkeling) can be tricky... simple is a good thing. If you do get certified (do it!) and plan to spend more time diving, then go nuts. Oh, and enjoy Fiji!
posted by roygbv at 1:56 AM on February 25, 2015

I'd say it depends to some extent on how much you think you might get into underwater photography in the future, as well as how much you already use your m43 camera. The fact that you only have a single kit lens (assumption) for your m43, and that you'd be using an older body (GF3) means that you're not really heavily invested in the format.

If you see yourself doing more underwater photography in the future, and/or you already use your m43 kit heavily, and/or you plan to use your m43 kit heavily in the future, and/or you're interested in adding to and upgrading your m43 kit, I'd probably go with the housing for an m43 camera.

I say all this as a fan of the m43 system. Metafilter helped me choose an Olympus OMD E-M5 back when I was shopping for a new camera almost 3 years ago. I've been very happy with the choice, and now own a small stable of m43 gear, including 7 lenses, an Olympus E-M5 and a Panasonic GM5 (super, tiny camera, but a little pricey - the GM1 is a tad smaller and somewhat cheaper but doesn't have the GM5's built-in EVF, which isn't a deal-breaker for some), and I'm planning to trade my E-M5 in for the just-released E-M5 Mk II ASAP.

In short, if you're into photography, m43 is a fun, compact, quality system with a range of different body styles and sizes, a ton of high quality native lenses and all kinds of accessories from a number of manufacturers. If you're interested in sticking to that format and growing your collection of gear, it would probably make sense to go the m43 route for this trip.

One other note - I would suggest doing some thorough searching for refurbished bodies. You may find that you can get a refurb (with warranty) GF5 or GF6 for not a whole lot more than a new GF3 - much better image quality at a very small price premium.
posted by syzygy at 5:36 AM on February 25, 2015

Best answer: I'm also a fairly nerdy amateur and I bought Mrs. Advicepig a predecessor to the Panasonic you mention. I swam with my nicer camera in a housing. I had no idea how much I fought with that housing. Using her underwater camera I was able to frame and shoot so much faster. We shot somewhere around a stop or a stop and a half underexposed and did very little cleanup afterwards. It's got a solid underwater mode for snorkeling, but the red filter mentioned above sounds super appealing. Next time we get a chance to go, I'll be buying another underwater camera.
posted by advicepig at 6:38 AM on February 25, 2015

Response by poster: The fact that you only have a single kit lens (assumption) for your m43, and that you'd be using an older body (GF3) means that you're not really heavily invested in the format.

Hey there, you have, I'm afraid totally misinterpreted me: I would be buying the gf3, and using the kit lens I hardly use now because of all my other lenses. I am, as mentioned, experienced, and knowledgeable, on land - it's how it all plays out in the water I'm not certain of!
posted by smoke at 12:46 PM on February 25, 2015

Response by poster: Advicepig, so you found the quality of the point and shoot okay?
posted by smoke at 12:49 PM on February 25, 2015

Best answer: Pros for P and S: Small and easy to handle; not lugging a trillion pieces around with me and can shoot in one hand no worries. F.2 lens on Pentax good for low light, in fact better than dslr with kit.

And, you're snorkling...Why burden yourself with all that kit? You'll find yourself taking more pix with the smaller more portable camera. There's no need to remove the camera from a case for above water shooting etc.
posted by Gungho at 1:29 PM on February 25, 2015

Best answer: I found the quality as good as I could reasonably expect. We made a wall calendar with some of those shots in it and they look great even printed at 12 x 12 in. I don't tend to print any larger than that, so I can't tell you how they would look in something huge.
posted by advicepig at 2:03 PM on February 25, 2015

Response by poster: Thanks everyone, I knew mefi would come through. Seems there's a general consensus to the smallest, easiest to carry around camera, which would be the P&S, despite its lack of raw.

Appreciate all the advice,
posted by smoke at 1:48 AM on February 27, 2015

smoke: I'm afraid totally misinterpreted me

Apologies! Sounds like you've already made a call, but I wonder how many of the posters in this discussion are aware of the size of the GF3 (or the GM models).

Micro four-thirds camera aren't, by the way, DSLRs (they have no mirror). Rather, they're mirrorless system cameras that tend to be significantly smaller than most DSLRs. As such, the difference in size between a point and shoot and a GF3 is usually much smaller than the difference in size between a point and shoot and even the smallest of DSLRs.

The two cameras in the Pansonic GM line (also micro four-thirds cameras) are super small -- smaller than some point-and-shoots. The GM1, with a modern sensor (2-3 generations newer than the GF3), can often be found for a pretty compelling price, and there are at least two dedicated underwater housings for it (one from Neewer and one from Meikon). I've seen both of those housings for sale at under $200.

Here's a size comparison of the Panasonic GM1, TS3 (similar to the TS25) and GF3.
Here's a size comparison of the GM1 and GF3 next to the Canon 100D / SL1 (the smallest APS-C DSLR ATM AFAIK), all with kit lenses attached.

If you've already made a decision for this trip, the GM (or GF) cameras may be good options for you in the future, if you decide to get more heavily into underwater photography.
posted by syzygy at 12:56 AM on March 3, 2015

Response by poster: So hey, I ended up buying a case for the gf2 in the end!

Handling: was a breeze, it wasn't too heavy to use one-handed. Indeed, the hardest part was the buoyancy of the human body; staying down and/or still was the biggest challenge, even when I could hold my breath! A weight belt would have been a little dangerous, but also a lot awesome, I reckon. Framing was challenging given this movement and the limited visibility (Especially if I had my arm extended away from my body, as was often the case). Certainly a lot of deleted photos. Also, focusing on fast moving fish could be challenging.

Camera: performed well. Got a bit fogged up from the heat of the lcd at times. Handled the light magnificently, and as I was able to shoot in raw, white balance wasn't too much of an issue.

you can see my photos here. I was very pleased with this for a first time effort. Indeed, we want to go back in January!
posted by smoke at 3:58 AM on July 2, 2015

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