Below The Waterline

With winter behind us and our boat over 2000 kilometers away in Queensland for another two months, we are missing our sails on weekends.  It is so strange being landlubbers, but as you would expect, we are plotting our next escapade: we have an extra-long weekend coming up for Melbourne Cup and will fly north to the boat at the end of this month, accompanied by friends, for a float around the Keppel Isles.  This not only means sailing in the tropics, but also beautiful snorkelling and… underwater photography.

For underwater shots, until now Wade’s five year old waterproof Olympus TG8010 camera has been put to the task.  However the images we get lack the vibrancy and quality that SLR equipment or even the latest compact cameras bring.  As the years have gone by, we have seen amazing technological advances in photographic gear.

We have been debating for a while whether to invest in an underwater housing for the Canon 7Dii or simply buy the latest waterproof compact camera.  Underwater housings for SLRs are frighteningly expensive and bulky, whereas the modern compact cameras, capable of being taken on a dive or snorkel are small, practical and comparatively cheap.

Power snorkel

Power snorkel – Photo taken on our old boat

Although we are both qualified divers, on a catamaran like ours, refilling dive tanks or running a big compressor is too much bother and we instead either just snorkel or use the Power Snorkel, a free floating hookah made by Power Dive.  So we are generally at less than 10 meters’ depth.

We investigated the full kit for the Canon, the intermediate step of buying a Mirrorless camera and housing, and the basic compact waterproof option.  In the end we opted to play at the budget end of the spectrum.

What lurks underneath at Butterfly Bay, Great Keppel Island

What lurks underneath our hulls at Great Keppel Island

We now have a new dedicated snorkeling camera: the Olympus Tough TG4, in the same series as Wade’s old one, but several generations newer and thus more capable.  It goes to 15 meters below without housing, produces bright and vibrant images, and supports RAW capture.  We have also bought a fisheye wet lens for super wide angle and over/under the waterline shots, and an underwater LED torch, as light is always an issue even at shallow depth.

It is a compromise.  You cannot get the lightening speed auto focus, image quality and minimal shutter lag of a great SLR, but you do get the ease of going from wide angle to macro underwater without needing to surface to change lens.  And best of all you get a nimble, diminutive set up rather than a big bulky rig, and at a fraction of the price.  I might get frustrated with the disadvantages of our choice, and if I do we can always re-assess!

For now, here are a few of the last shots taken with the old camera: not bad, but we will soon be able to do better… Look out for future posts from our forthcoming underwater explorations!

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