Cameras for underwater photography were once the realm of the well financed professional diver, or teams of documentary makers with a niche specialty. This is no longer the case, and cameras are now very affordable and very available to both recreational divers and professionals. Personally, I seldom dive without one now, and have had one as part of my standard kit for some time. This is a brief write up on the cameras I have used, and what was good and what was bad about them.
Sea & Sea 860G: this was the first camera I ever owned for underwater photography, I purchased it prior to taking my Advanced Open Water course in Bali, back in 2008. It came with a small close up lens, lithium battery and charger set with indonesian and north american attachments. At 8 megapixels, it took decent photos above and below the water and was fairly simple to use. What I liked most about this camera was the ease of use, but the instruction manual left something to be desired. I was never quite able to calibrate it perfectly for underwater pictures, but it certainly provided me with good memories in both the warm waters of Bali and the cold waters of British Columbia. Over all I’d say this is a sturdy, workman like underwater camera set up. With the proper attachments, you can approach professional levels of photography, and the case is fairly rugged, making it a good travel companion. The main downsides for this camera comes from the lithium battery (averaging only one and half dives) and the finicky nature of setting your underwater settings.
Sealife DC1000: this camera came to me in Afghanistan, as a replacement to my trusty 860G (it having befallen an accident back in Canada) in preparation to returning to Bali for Rescue Diver and Divemaster courses. This camera was a mixed bag to me. It provided excellent service in it’s short life, and would have continued to do so had the “O” ring not failed. This camera came with several underwater settings, a ruggedized and rubberized casing, lithium battery, charger, and 10 megapixels of picture taking power. After experimenting, I’d say ignore the “Scuba” setting underwater, it flooded red pixels into the pictures that made them difficult to work with after. Use the “Snorkel” setting at depth and normal at shallower levels to get good pictures. Beyond that, the pictures and movies were good, the battery could sometimes slug it out part way into a third dive and the controls were very, very intuitive. The reason this camera is now a piece of useless electronic and plastic paperweight on my kitchen table is because of the “O” ring system. This housing uses the “Trench” system to hold it’s “O” ring, and, as I found out, it will close and lock with part of the “O” ring out of place. Initially everything was fine, then at 18m a spurt of water across the window alerted me to failure. Over all, this camera is a good one, but is brought low by an unreliable seal.
Ikelite Housing with Nikon Coolpix L22: this is my current camera, and one that I hope will last some time before needing replacement. I ordered it online and put it through the gears in Hawaii, where it out performed my own and my instructors expectations. The housing is a robust Ikelite creation designed to hold and operate a Nikon L22 camera. The camera itself is 12 megapixels and runs on two AA batteries, but features no underwater settings. Operation wise, the housing takes some getting used to, but is quickly mastered. The quality of pictures is what sets this camera apart. Several pictures I took with it border on professional levels, and that was without a strobe. An additional benefit to this camera is that if something happens to it, you can buy another one at the local electronic store and call it a day. That and AA batteries are available almost everywhere. Downside? Well, none so far, aside from a short learning curve, but we’ll see how well it performs here in BC.
I’d recommend the 860G or Ikelite/Nikon package to anyone, mostly because of the robustness of the systems. The Sealife is a good camera, but that “O” ring experience left a very sour taste in my mouth. As an aside, shop around before buying your camera, as prices can dip quite reasonably for you. Avoid used cameras if possible, unless you can inspect it first and determine that it’s good and functional. This was my first gear review, so feel free to ask any questions on topic that you may be curious about that I missed or that you’d like elaborated.