Cathy travels frequently, especially for her underwater photo trips and workshops. Visit her photo trips to see when she’s traveling.
3. What are the advantages and disadvantages of a housed compact digital camera versus an SLR underwater?
Compact digitals cost much less. Complete systems can cost as little as $2,075. An equivalent SLR that can do small macro and wide angle will require multiple lenses with gears and ports and can start around $4,700 just for the housing and cost well over $10,000 to $18,000 for a complete Nikon system with strobes, lenses and ports.
Compact digitals are smaller and easier to travel with.
They are more versatile in the water—a good system allows you to shoot from infinity to as close as just a few inches away. Many also allow you to add a wide angle lens underwater to shoot large subjects on the same dive. With SLR cameras, once you choose a lens, you are limited to shooting within the range of that one lens for the dive.
They are easier to handle. By holding the camera out in front of you, you can see your subject, and you can see your surroundings while you shoot. With the SLR, you must keep your eye to the viewfinder while trying to find the subject and adjust your position on the reef.
It is slower to focus so there is a longer delay in taking the photo. This can be a major problem when shooting moving subjects such as fish. The SLRs focus so fast that you can often take the picture virtually right away.
The LCD screen on the back of the compact digital may be hard to see in some lighting conditions. You can always see clearly through an SLR viewfinder (providing you have a reasonable housing). In certain conditions it is hard to distinguish subject details in the LCD screen. With an SLR viewfinder, your entire eye is involved in the visual image in the viewfinder so you are more likely to see the proper focus, composition and details.
It is impossible to give you a quick answer on what type of camera or strobe to buy. As with most photo equipment, you often get more when you pay more, so determine your budget and buy within that budget. We carry systems from as low as $500 to as much as $18,000. Strobes vary from around $350 to $900.
Our favorite right now is the Sea and Sea YS-D1. I like small, lightweight strobes that just take simple AA batteries rather than a proprietary battery that cannot be replaced in places like Indonesia. I like them small so that I can work in tight places. I rarely need higher power as I prefer to work close to my subject for better color and contrast. Large, high-power strobes are heavier in my baggage, get in the way underwater, and although they provide a faster recycle time when used on low power, so do my small strobes when I work in close. Be careful in choosing a housing—what may seem like a small disadvantage can be a major obstacle to getting the photo underwater.
For example, some camera/housing combinations require two controls to change the f-stop, making it impossible to change f-stops while looking through the viewfinder. Others require a long, awkward reach to get to the f-stop. The best way to properly answer your questions would be with your own private instruction with Cathy or her wonderful staff in Grand Cayman. Here you can actually handle the camera system before making a major investment decision.
During the course we can discuss the advantages and disadvantages as they relate to your, not MY needs, or the needs of anyone else. YOU have to set the conditions that you need filled and no one can shortcut that answer. Check the next question below to see why you should buy your camera gear from us when you are in Grand Cayman.
In our photo centre in Grand Cayman we sell everything that Cathy recommends. Check out our camera section here. Don’t be surprised when you find that our prices are competitive, usually even lower than NY prices, and when you pick up your gear here during your Cayman visit, there are no taxes, no duties, no shipping and you do get free instruction.
We on rare occasion will sell used equipment that has a been in our rental pool, but they are quickly purchased locally. We do not take used camera systems for trade. It’s such a challenge to stay current with the new cameras; the digital camera market has an extremely rapid turnover rate. About the time we have received a housing for a specific camera, then the manufacturer has announced its replacement. Anyone interested in selling their old equipment should check out eBay, scuba diving boards, or other sales methods.
All equipment purchased from Cathy Church’s Photo Centre is sold for pickup from our store in Grand Cayman. This allows us to sell our equipment as a duty free purchase. We do not ship equipment outside of Grand Cayman.
We can arrange sales from our gallery or custom prints to be delivered outside Grand Cayman.
Call us for details.
Start by taking any combination of courses and private lessons that we offer at the photo centre. To become a professional you will need to find a way to be able to take a lot of photos underwater. Several of today’s professionals started by working as divemasters, photo pros at diving resorts or as boat captains. Read everything that you can find about underwater photography. Don’t believe it all (some is actually wrong or misleading) so experiment and find what works best for you.
Be ready to work really hard. Read about how Norbert Wu stays under the ice an extra twenty minutes (while every one else got way too cold and went up) so that he can get that terrific photo, or how I hire four staff to work on a complex photo that I can’t do alone. The easy photos have been done and are everywhere. Look for ways that you can do something that no one else is doing. And don’t think it’s all been done! People have thought that since time began but we still keep creating something new. If you can visualize what you want to become, then you can do it. It doesn’t matter what you are doing now, or how old you are; if you want to, then do it.
Keep in mind that there is relatively little money in underwater photography, so you should have a variety of ways that you can earn an income. Obvious ways are to sell photo equipment, teach photography, run a dive shop and dive tour business, be independently wealthy from selling your computer business or marrying someone with a real job. Regardless of how much you want to become a pro, you must never give the picture away just for a photo credit. If every beginner gave their photos away, there would not be a decent market for anyone to sell their photos.
That is partially why the market is presently so poor for underwater photography. I am constantly asked for free photos for advertising brochures for the Cayman Islands. I know that when I turn them down, they will turn elsewhere and get photos for free. If they couldn’t get free ones, they would realize that they should budget properly for photography and we (especially beginners) would all benefit. Good luck with your dreams. Remember, that for every subject that you have ever seen, the best photo of it has yet to be taken.