Underwater digital photography poses its challenges, both in hardware and technique.  Getting your camera under water can be a scary and expensive proposition.

 

Underwater digital photography poses its challenges, both in hardware and technique. Getting your camera under water can be a scary and expensive proposition.

 

Waterproof point and shoot cameras put new options in the hands of consumers. Alas waterproof is a relative term. The camera’s are usually rated in terms of depth and time. Finding a camera that can handle the depth seems easy enough. But something harder is how LONG can it stay in the water. If you look at the fine print many cameras can are only rated for an hour. That’s fine if your going scuba diving but if your spending hours in the water it’s not enough.

 

Also some manufacturers require you to send the camera in for replacement seals every year ($40 expense) to maintain their rating. Look on Amazon on the reviews for waterproof cameras and you’ll see a whole lot of flooding going on. Not something you want with your $250+ camera ($160+ for the cheap models).

 

Also some manufacturers require you to send the camera in for replacement seals every year ($40 expense) to maintain their rating. Look on Amazon on the reviews for waterproof cameras and you’ll see a whole lot of flooding going on. Not something you want with your $250+ camera ($160+ for the cheap models).

I had personal experience with flooding and also found that in beach environments the very, very fine grit suspended in the surf can get into the buttons and controls messing things up (though it could often be washed out later).

So with the prospect another summer around the pool and at the beach I went in search of a replacement for my now dead waterproof camera.

I decided to give bags a try as they have many advantages. They are cheap, they fit a wide variety of cameras, and they are small and easy to pack. But would the flaws and hassle be worth it over buying a doomed to die waterproof camera.

 

Shoot Through Bag

The first bag I got was a standard shoot through bag. You can find these at a wide variety of sporting good, camera and other retail stores. It’s essentially a waterproof bag with a clear side. It has the advantage of being very cheap and flexible. It can be used as a general waterproof sack or for your smart phone.

http://www.amazon.com/Lewis-N-Clark-Waterproof-Purpose/dp/B0010Y0ZNW/ref=cm_cr-mr-title

That design has three basic problems.

First while flexible you have to be more selective about your camera choice. If your camera has an expanding zoom when you turn it on its going to face resistance on the bag. This could potentially damage the camera zoom mechanism with repeated or hard use. Thus this type of bag is best use for cameras with small or internally folded zooms or camera phones.

The second problem is distortion. You’re shooting through soft, flexible plastic. If its bent or twisted you’re going to get artifacts and distortion. Unless you are diligent to make sure all the area in front of the sensor is flattened out this is going to give your shots a bit more “artistic” touch than you probably want.

 

The second problem is distortion. You’re shooting through soft, flexible plastic. If its bent or twisted you’re going to get artifacts and distortion. Unless you are diligent to make sure all the area in front of the sensor is flattened out this is going to give your shots a bit more “artistic” touch than you probably want.

 

The third problem is film/scratches. Soft plastic will start to scratch and haze long before other optical materials. This is especially true if you’re in a rough environment. It also picks up a grime layer faster than glass drying water and it’s harder to clean off.

All this together put the shoot through bag in the “unacceptable” category of image quality in my book. I suspect if I used it for a camera phone (very small sensor with no movement) I might find it more acceptable.

 

Dedicated Bags

The next step up is the dedicated bag. These are bags that have a dedicated window made of a hard optical grade material. The model I got had a snoot on it to accommodate expanding zooms. You get your camera in the bag, get it lined up and then turn it on and take your pictures.

http://www.amazon.com/DicaPac-WP110-Waterproof-Digital-Optical/dp/B001CMB66W/ref=cm_cr-mr-title

This type of bag also requires some thought for camera selection. While the previous bag worked best with internally folded zooms this new bag works best with expanding zooms. I used my relatively inexpensive Panasonic Lumix S-3 point and shoot camera. Getting the camera in and out can sometimes be a bit of a wrestle (though it gets easier with time).

 

This type of bag also requires some thought for camera selection. While the previous bag worked best with internally folded zooms this new bag works best with expanding zooms. I used my relatively inexpensive Panasonic Lumix S-3 point and shoot camera. Getting the camera in and out can sometimes be a bit of a wrestle (though it gets easier with time).

 

Once inside the limited controls were easy enough to operate, though if you’re shopping for a camera to use in one of these bags consider getting one with bigger buttons.

I’m happy to report that it worked! Hours of use in and under the water, battering waves and I got some passable pictures at the pool and the beach. But the system was not without its flaws.

 

The first problem has to do more with camera-bag match. The Panasonic is a fairly small camera. Its focal length is 28-105 FF equivalent and the snoot does not stick out as much as others I have had. While this is generally good it became a problem in the bag. When you were at the wider angles (say 38mm and under) there was a very good chance that it was going to pick up the snoot as well as your image. You had to either zoom in or carefully adjust the position of the camera in the bag (or both) to prevent some really strong vignetting.

 

The first problem has to do more with camera-bag match. The Panasonic is a fairly small camera. Its focal length is 28-105 FF equivalent and the snoot does not stick out as much as others I have had. While this is generally good it became a problem in the bag. When you were at the wider angles (say 38mm and under) there was a very good chance that it was going to pick up the snoot as well as your image. You had to either zoom in or carefully adjust the position of the camera in the bag (or both) to prevent some really strong vignetting.

 

The second problem was water drops on the optical plate. This problem is not unique to this bag. I had the same issues with my waterproof cameras. But being a smaller surface there was less chance of that. In addition the front of the snoot has a raised edge. This can trap water you’re trying to fling off.

 

The second problem was water drops on the optical plate. This problem is not unique to this bag. I had the same issues with my waterproof cameras. But being a smaller surface there was less chance of that. In addition the front of the snoot has a raised edge. This can trap water you’re trying to fling off.

 

The third problem was framing your image. Again not unique to the bag, trying to frame an image with bright sunlight reflecting off the water (or underwater) on an LCD screen can be a challenge. The bag doubles the challenge because it introduces another surface to scatter and reflect the light. This often made it impossible to tell if you were suffering from the vignette problem or the water drop problem.

 

The third problem was framing your image. Again not unique to the bag, trying to frame an image with bright sunlight reflecting off the water (or underwater) on an LCD screen can be a challenge. The bag doubles the challenge because it introduces another surface to scatter and reflect the light. This often made it impossible to tell if you were suffering from the vignette problem or the water drop problem.

Film and grime could accumulate on the optical plate, often introducing that 20 year old bad film look, but it washed off much easier than from the plastic bag.

 

Film and grime could accumulate on the optical plate, often introducing that 20 year old bad film look, but it washed off much easier than from the plastic bag.

 

Overall the bag gave serviceable snapshot quality pictures. If the conditions were right and you had the time you could get as good a shot out of it as the camera was capable of taking.

 

Is it the ultimate waterproof solution? I don’t think so. I certainly got better and more consistent results with a dedicated waterproof point and shoot. But if you’ve already got a point and shoot that your using it’s a good option if your happy with snapshot quality .

 

Is it the ultimate waterproof solution? I don’t think so. I certainly got better and more consistent results with a dedicated waterproof point and shoot. But if you’ve already got a point and shoot that your using it’s a good option if your happy with snapshot quality .

 

I don’t think my search is over yet, next summer we will see what is happening and what new products will be available. Until then I’ll be bagging it.

 

I don’t think my search is over yet, next summer we will see what is happening and what new products will be available. Until then I’ll be bagging it.