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How to pick your underwater camera

Updated: Apr 25, 2023

Tiger shark approaching underwater photographer in Hawaii

When it comes to shopping for photography gear, digging through cameras is never easy, not for a beginner and not for a professional photographer. As an underwater photographer, the task is even

harder because you can’t just research the right camera for your needs and budget, you also have to find the right underwater housing which is usually only gonna fit the camera you choose.

In a way, I got lucky. I picked a camera when I started my journey to become a photographer but in college, I got to work on many different leading brands of cameras, different gear, and formats, so when it came to picking an underwater housing I knew what I wanted but I still had to learn the hard way that what works really well on land is not necessarily gonna create amazing underwater content.

First things first, choosing a camera that can function well in low light will save you a lot of headaches. In photography terms, this doesn't just mean picking a camera with a high ISO capability. Almost more important than that is photographing with autofocus that picks up the contrast even if there is very little available light. This is for two reasons specifically: for underwater portrait photographers “studio” lights work better at dawn, dusk, and at night. And if you are shooting wildlife in the ocean, sometimes your water visibility won’t be ideal even in Hawaii's dream water and in broad daylight. That means you have a super low contrast for your autofocus to work with. A well-lit photo with no noise or a phenomenal interaction means nothing if the whole subject is out of focus.

If you have the budget, another important factor when you are looking for cameras is pixel count. I know a lot of photographers argue: more pixels on the same size sensor equal more noise but so far as an underwater photographer this is my preference and the reason is simple. Underwater photography doesn’t work the same as regular photography for the simple fact that you are shooting through a dense liquid where light travels a lot slower. To adjust for this challenge we pick wide lenses and try to stay closer to the subject to avoid losing details. I pick lenses that are wide but not extra wide so I can take a step back, lose subject distortion, and then crop in a little. This is where the high pixel count comes into play allowing me to crop a photograph without losing sharpness and detail.

Finally, what underwater housing should you pick? I’ll give you an unbiased list of options for the niece of underwater photography you are getting into and then go over my equipment list. If you are a surf photographer you want a light housing you can push out of water even if you have nothing to stand on. Having housing that floats will also save your setup. If you are a portrait photographer working in pools or shallow water only, you can save a little money by buying a plastic housing that fits your camera and has a good surface seal. And if you are working at depth or with wildlife an aluminum case will be your best option.

tiger shark approaching underwater housing underwater in Hawaii

I personally don’t do any surf photography but working in pools and in the ocean I chose a sturdy aluminum underwater housing with a double o-ring on the main port. It has a vacuum system to make sure you are not going into the water with any leak and it doesn’t float which makes it ideal for fast movements in the water. The housing I use is manufactured in Italy and the brand is called Easydive (you can see it in this photo taken in Hawaii by underwater wildlife photographer Cam Grant). This housing is the first of its kind and for so many reasons my favorite. First of all, it's universal. What does that mean? It means when I change cameras I keep my housing and only change a small platform inside it. This saves so much time and money. I now own a Nikon D800 and a Nikon D850 and I can still use them both in the same underwater case. Last but not least, Easydive pressure tests housings for a depth of 150 meters. Not that I will need it but I also don't stress that my gear won’t be able to make it to a specific dive vs a shallower one.

Equipment list

Camera - Nikon D850

Underwater Housing - Easydive Leo 3

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