I have, for the longest time, wanted a real underwater camera (not some flimsy plastic where you put in your camera and hope to heavens that it does not leak and destroy thousands of pesos of camera equipment), but due to time and monetary constraints, I had never gotten around to buying one.
That is until my Southern Luzon Roadtrip came, I knew I just couldn’t go without an underwater camera this time. I had already regretted the fact that I didn’t have one during last year’s trip to Coron, this time I’d be armed and ready.
In buying new gear comes the tedious part of researching what to get. This is the part I really don’t like in buying things I’m unfamiliar with, but it is essential that we know what we are getting before handing out our hard-earned cash.
I have already eliminated getting the underwater packs where you zip your precious digicam (they even have one for DSLR’s) into a transparent plastic and dunk it underwater. I’ve heard a quite a few horror stories about those bags and I really don’t want to be part of the small statistics of drowned cameras.
Professional underwater casings are also out of the question since they are, most of the time, more expensive than camera bodies.
The only option left are underwater point & shoot cameras.
I thought to myself that since I also need (want) a camera that I can bring with me everyday, I’d be hitting two birds with one stone. With that in mind, it was time to choose between brands and models.
As far as I know, Pentax and Olympus are the two leading brands for underwater shooting. Panasonic, Sony, Kodak and Canon also have entered the market, but they’re relatively new into this kind of thing.
It turns out there are quite a few things to check when buying a camera you’d be submerging under the water.
First is the depth you’d be using the camera in, not all underwater cams are built equally, and some can go deeper than others. The standard for most cameras in this category is at 8-10 feet, perfect for us regular snorkelers who doesn’t even reach 8 feet with our vests on, haha. But this would be frustrating to serious divers, good thing there are some models that can reach higher depths, Canon and Pentax have models (Olympus Tough TG810 and Canon Powershot D10) that can be used up to 33 feet deep.
Second, check if the camera has image stabilization. This is quite important as you’d be floating while shooting and you’d have nowhere to anchor yourself into. You’ll be needing in-camera stabilization for your shots to be sharp. Camera manufacturers have different tags for these (IS for Canon, VR for Nikon, SR for Pentax, etc.).
Third would be the camera’s zoom range or focal length. For divers, this may not be a problem since they can go as close to their subjects as they can, but for snorkelers zooming in is pretty high priority. Since you can’t really dive deep enough, you’d have to rely to your camera’s zooming capabilities. When I bought my camera, the standard zoom range was at 3.6x, it has now been upped to 5x for the current models.
And lastly, ask for the warranty inclusions. A certain camera store where I was inquiring told me that some brands don’t include water seepage as part of the warranty and this is definitely not acceptable to me. This is an underwater camera and dunking it underwater is, of course its primary use, I want a camera that I can submerge without worrying if it would be replaced by the manufacturer if ever its seals fail.
After checking camera stores and reading multitude of reviews, I came down to getting the Canon D10. It was hailed as top dog in the underwater category back then, having the most depth allowance, the best picture quality in and out of the water, and most importantly, it has warranty over water seepage.
The D10 is far from perfect though; its zoom range is pretty standard at 3x, it is quite bulky in size (you’d have a hard time fitting it in your pocket), it doesn’t shoot in raw format (in fairness, there are very few cameras in this category that shoot in raw), and it is prone to lens error (since the camera is shock proof, a simple bang with the hand fixes it though).
Other than those, I’m pretty satisfied with the D10 especially with its image quality which knocks my older superzoom Canon Powershot S3is three times over.
Waterproof cameras are definitely fun; you can shoot in the rain, on waterfalls, and below the sea (the fun triples once you have the gang with you).
Don’t let shooting opportunities pass you by just because you can’t dip your camera under the water, the most affordable I’ve seen before was a Pentax that goes for just around Php10,000. Priced almost the same (or even cheaper) than regular digicams, it’s really a no-brainer which camera you’d be better off with.
For those wanting to get new underwater cameras for your snorkeling and diving needs, you may also check out these resources which has been the basis of my review:
Top 10 FAQs In Buying A Waterproof or Underwater Digital Camera Answered! by David Lee Tong
2011 Group test: Waterproof Compact Cameras by DPreview