Compact camera HOW TO BUY YOUR DSLR UNDERWATER CAMERA SYSTEM

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When using your first underwater DSLR system you will be enlightened how easy it is to use and of course by the amazing quality of the images. Most of the DSLR’s also shoot HD video. But many people feel unsure to take the step into the DSLR world. What do you need to make it work when you photograph on your local dives and on your valuable holidays? It is of course important that you have the right stuff for your needs. No more and no less. So in this quick guide you learn what is the minimum DSLR equipment needed to succeed and the considerations around extra equipment when building your own DSLR rig.
 

DSLR system The minimum five parts [DSLR system]

→ DSLR camera
→ Lens (macro and/or wide angle)
→ Underwater housing
→ Port (for macro and/or wide angle)
→ External strobe kit (including strobe, arm system, tray and cable)

DSLR system Additional five essential items

→ Focus light and holder
→ Second strobe kit (including strobe, arm system and dual synch cord)
→ Additional lens/es
→ Additional port/s
→ TTL converter
→ Case or box for added safety

 

Honesty sign Honesty last longer

An ideal set up, and you will want to have this sooner or later, is to have a great camera, both wide and macro lenses with supporting ports, double strobes and a great focus light rigged on your system. But it is perfectly doable to start smaller with one lens, macro or wide, and one strobe and maybe use an underwater light you already have to help the camera to focus. We just want you to know already now that you will most likely build up your system over time. 

 

Camera body Camera body & UW housing DSLR UW housing

When choosing your DSLR camera for underwater use it is important to buy a camera that have an existing UW housing on the market. This is almost always a third party manufacturer separate from the camera producer itself. Most people stick with Nikon and Canon cameras as they make great cameras and you have a greater selection of housings to choose from like SEA&SEA, Ikelite, Nauticam and Aquatica to name a few.

Housings can be made out of different materials. High-end housings are often made out of aluminum and lower-cost housings are often made of polycarbonate (plastic). Important features on the housings are; access to the camera controls, ergonomics, depth rating, fiber optic and/or analog connections, material, viewfinder options and leakage alarms.

 

Lenses & ports

As a DSLR user you probably want to use a wide angle lens and a macro lens. If you want to start of small then we suggest you start with the type of photography that interests you most. For example if you like marine biology then a macro lens is a good start. If you are a wreck diver then a wide lens is the obvious start. In the end you want to have both worlds but it is fine to start in one end.

Close-up photography macro lens Lens Nikon + flat port Flatport for macro lens

Macro, or close up, photography is opening the door to an amazing world and macro can be shot in any conditions and any environment and best of all it is really good fun. Most commonly used macro lenses by underwater photographers are in the range from 60 mm to 105 mm. The nerds use many different ones, for example I have four to choose from which is making me pretty nerdish.

Our most common recommendation is to start with one macro lens and we normally recommend the range from 60 to 90 mm. For the macro lens flat ports on the underwater housing. This is the part fitting around the lens. To find the right port you should consult the housing producers web sites and find the right port set up for your lens.

Wide photography wide angle lens Wide angle lens + dome port Dome port SEA&SEA

Wide angle lenses ar most of the time used for photographing big animals, schools of fish, wrecks and scenic shots. On the wide angle side of UW photography you need to make a few decisions. Do you want to use a zoom or fixed wide angle lens? Today it is more common to use wide-angle zoom lenses and they enable you to change the focal length underwater. Another question is if you want to use a straight (rectilinear) lens or a fisheye lens? Fisheye lenses are very popular for underwater photographers as they allow you to go very close to the subject. There are even fisheye zoom lenses to choose from today. The straight lenses give a more classic feel to the image, work well above water and does not bend the edges as a fisheye.

Bare in mind that full frame sensors demand high quality lenses and it is even more important to get a perfect port setup for that particular lens. Wide lenses are used in combination with spherical dome ports made out of acrylic or glass material. To find the right port for your camera and lens you go to the housing producers site. Our most satisfied customers get a short counceling from us before deciding on the wide angle lens and ports. Please feel free to contact us on this subject for our input.

 

UW strobe Sea&Sea YS-D1 Strobes add color and sharpness

A common question is "Do I really need a strobe?" The answer is very simple - yes! The strobes are adding high quality fast light on your subject making it possible to capture the true colors in a razor sharp image. Having a strobe you will use it on 90 % of your images. It is fine to start with one strobe. But in the end you want two strobes to be able to control the light and shadows. Automatic strobe power ouput, called TTL, can be enjoyed through the three big players SEA&SEA, Inon and Ikelite on the market. Exposure Underwater represent them all.

 

Arm systemArm systems that make a difference

To hook up the strobes on the camera housing we recommend a rigid and strong arm system for long lasting satisfaction. On most of the housings the arm system starts with a one inch ball at the end of the handle of the housing. From this ball base you normally need [clamp-arm-clamp-arm-clamp-strobe connector]. The arm sections can be varied in length and width. Adding arm width is normally adding buoyancy. You can fine tune the rig to perfection but most people start with a standard set up and most preferred buoyancy is to have the rig slightly negative. We have chosen to work with SEA&SEA, Inon,Naticam and ULCS to ensure long lasting solutions for our customers.

 

Cables connecting the magic strobes

To connect your strobe/s to the housing you can either use optical fiber cables or standard analog cables. Many of the new housings have the possibility to use both. Advantages with the optical cable are lower cost, automatic strobe power (TTL) and the connection is unfloodable. The pros with the analog cables are that they normally allow faster shooting and the connection between housing and strobes is more rugged and sturdy.

So remember you can start with the items above and upgrade from there, but the additional gear below is making a big difference and we want to explain why.

 

Focus light make your camera perform

Light FIX NeoIf you test your cameras autofocus in low light, just switch the light off and you will find out how difficult the camera has to autofocus in low light/contrast. Add light and you will notice the difference. So a good focus light is really crucial for underwater photography. To be qualified as a good focusing light the light source need to be durable, not to big, strong and wide beam, long burn time, white light to harmonize with the strobes color temperature and easy to attach to your camera rig. We have chosen to work with Inon and Fisheye FIX lights for best performance and endurance.

 

 

Second strobe for the professional touch

What about the second strobe? If you like underwater photography in the end you will use two strobes and if you can afford it go for it straight away. The second strobe will make it possible to control shadows, spread light over a wide scene and to imitate natural light in a much better way. The overall impression of the image will be more professional.

 

TTL Converter and well-lit subjects every exposure

The automatic dimensioning of the strobes, referred to as TTL, is a way to make underwater photography even easier. It works great in macro and action photography but for super wide lenses most people still use manual mode. TTL can be enjoyed through the fiber optic cables but you will have to wait for internal pop up strobe to charge. With a real TTL converter and analog cables you do not need to do that. Ikelite has a TTL converter built into their housings. Sea&Sea have an external converter bought separately that can be used with their and other housings. Personally I do not go anywhere without my converter.

 

Case for UW cameraA good case is saving money

The box, or case, protect your camera system snf is adding important safety to your gear. Many cases can handle great impact even it is dropped. And they are waterproof. So if your a in a small boat on the way to a tropical island with lenses, cameras and other equipment lying unhoused in the packing then they are they are still safe from rain or even if the boat flip over. A good case can be locked. So UW-photographers use a case to protect their equipment. One consideration is the weight of the box itself and another one is how durable it is. Most boxes come with soft padded and customizable foamed inside.

 

FeedbackYour valued feedback

We are here to help you get the right combination of stuff that work well together and for your needs and we hope you find our guides useful when looking for your valuable equipment. If you have suggestions on missing information please do not hesitate to mail us info@exposureunderwater.com.