Nearly every household has a compact camera and the manufacturers have not been slow to see the marine potential. Small and rugged the waterproof versions offer an excellent entry into holiday water sports or underwater photography for those who want to experiment.
By Steve Newman
Compact cameras that can operate above and below the water, are known nowadays as 'weatherproof' and they are becoming the the ideal holiday camera. Some will also lend themselves for photographing in museums, at the barbecue at night or high up on the ski slopes.
Technology has now caught up with these cameras making them compact, lightweight and shock resistant. The internal electronics and lens construction have also gone through great advances offering as standard on most models what was considered very special only a year or two ago.
Check to see what their minimum close up distance is for photographing coral or shells. Some have add on or optional accessories such as sports finders to help you compose a shot. Just remember two suggestions; select subjects that are between one and two metres away and use flash to bring out the vivid underwater colours.
One thing is important to remember, these cameras must be washed and cleaned after they come into contact with mud or sea water. The latter is very corrosive and you risk damaging your investment beyond repair if you ignore this advice.
One other thing that a lot of people forget if you are deliberately trying to take a picture underwater is that if you don't wear goggles you wont be able to see through the viewfinder!
The alternative to buying an underwater camera is to use your present SLR or compact. This is actually possible because if you can't stretch to an underwater camera then your alternative is to buy a housing. Basically this is a watertight casing, which houses the camera and lets you use your normal camera for underwater purposes.
There are now on the market housings available for disposable cameras. Among these is the Ikelite from Aquashot from suppliers such as 'Cameras Underwater' in Devon or Videoquip in Leicester. The Aquashot which will take Ikelite and certain Fuji or Kodak disposable. You can even get amphibious disposable cameras from chemists these days such as the Kodak Fun Sport but they're only waterproof to about five metres.
The digital revolution has also not been forgotten as some manufacturers now make durable and shock resistant aqua cases. These shield the compact digital camera from water so digital photography becomes possible when swimming, skiing, diving or crossing the desert!
It's worthwhile checking before you buy that the housing will actually take your camera as some are dedicated to a single manufacturers model. Perhaps the point to remember about underwater photography whatever method you choose to pursue is that the most important factor is water clarity not how expensive your lens is.
Remember too if you're going no deeper than the diving board end in the hotel pool there's no point in spending thousands. How much you're willing to spend depends on the depth of your enthusiasm. There's no point in spending a kings ransom if you only ever intend to take the odd shot now and then. On the other hand if you are committed to underwater work then you'll need to properly equipped.
Here is a range of models for watersports, bad weather and photography on the beach or by the pool. Whilst they may not currently be available, they could be worth searching out on second-hand websites.
Canon Ixus-1 140
This APS camera is claimed to be the world's smallest underwater camera and considering it can fit inside your trunks that's probably right, although it is waterproof only to a depth of five metres. The flash fires automatically in low light conditions and has built in red-eye reduction and a self-timer lamp. Brimming with features it comes with a strap and carrying case.
The focusing range varies depending on the mode used and whether the shot is taken on land or underwater.
Minolta Vectis Weathermatic 260
The world's first underwater compact with autofocus and zoom capabilities it also has a dual lens selection.
Using the APS system, which means you can get a choice of three print sizes from one negative, this camera is waterproof to a depth of 10 metres. It offers underwater autofocus as well as zoom capabilities. Large easy to use bold controls and its long eye relief mean you can still see through the viewfinder if your wearing goggles or sun glasses.
Bonica Sea King Snapper 130
This is a fun motorized compact underwater compact using 35mm film. A fixed lens and aperture make it ideal for point and shoot photography. Although the shutter speed is fixed at 1/125th second you can use 100, 200 or 400 ISO film. It's powered by two AA batteries, has an optional close up kit and external flash in the system and is waterproof down to about 30 metres .
Minolta Vectis GX4 75
This APS camera is waterproof to a depth of five metres. It comes with a large external switch to choose which format you want with all three frames visible inside the viewfinder. There's a Built in flash and self-timer with 10-second delay.
The electronic display data panel acts as a frame counter, self-timer indicator, and flash charging symbol and battery strength warning. In short the camera is well designed with chunky switches that make operations easy to carry out.
Epoque ET100 200
This underwater camera can go to a depth of around 45m. Using 35mm film it has its own onboard flash, but a second dedicated flash is also available for an optional clip on close up lens. Focus and shutter speed are fixed the latter at 125th of a second and you can use 100 or 400 ISO film which also affects the aperture.
Designed for ease of use it has automatic film loading, runs on two AA batteries and is available in a range of colours.
Canon SureShot A-1 110
The Canon Sure Shot A-1 is safe to use up to a depth of five metres. It has a large viewfinder with a high eye point, which also includes the autofocus frame and an 'OK to shoot lamp'.
Underwater the camera switches automatically to the two fixed focusing settings, namely 1-3 metres and 0.45 to 1 metre and if you let go the Sure Shot will float to the surface.
A built in auto flash fires only when the light is insufficient for correct exposure and has red eye reduction lamp.
Focusing and exposure are automatic with autofilm loading and DX coding. I found it just the right size for underwater work whilst it's landscape and portrait shots were pin sharp.
Sea & Sea MX5 145
Sea & Sea claim this camera to be the smallest and lightest amphibious camera for the dedicated underwater photographer enthusiast to date. It's a point-and-shoot designed specifically for the casual shooter with an active lifestyle. It has a maximum depth of around 30 metres. Constructed of impact resistant non-rusting polymers it has a fixed shutter speed of a thousand of a second. Depending on your taste it's available in five 'tropical' colours and will take 100 and 400 ISO 35mm film.
Sea & Sea Motor Marine MX10
If you want an uncomplicated 35mm camera that performs like an expensive one then this is well worth looking at. Waterproof up to 45 metres this no fuss, compact, lightweight camera has a 32mmF4.5 lens and takes 100-400 ISO film.
Running on two AA batteries it has automatic film load, advance, rewind, built in flash, full aperture range control, built in light meter and if that wasn't enough an in viewfinder low exposure signal.
The camera also has an infrared signaling system to synchronise with the accessory strobe with the camera shutter.
Sea & Sea MotorMarine II -EX
Renowned for ease of operation and outstanding performance this 35mm has to be looked at if you're serious about underwater work. It will take 50, 100 or 400 DX coded film and has automatic film advance and motor driven film rewind.
TTL flash photography is offered and it is equipped with bayonet mount to take macro and wide-angle lenses that can be attached underwater. It runs on two 1.5 volt AA batteries and will go as deep as 45 metres. There's a whole range of accompany accessories to take your underwater camera that stage further.
The professional's camera, the Nikonos V sets the standard for all underwater work. Rugged compact and easy to handle it will withstand the pressure of up to 50 metres. An amazing amount of lenses and accessories make this the leader in underwater photography.
The camera has TTL metering with shutter speeds stretching from 1/30 to 1/1000s. All joints are sealed by O-ring gaskets to ensure watertightness. In practice the shots seem to include slightly more than the frame.