UW photography: questions on film & digital equipment

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Posted by Dick Analog on March 17, 2005 at 14:55:33:

Thereís no doubt Iíve been bitten badly by the UW photography bug. And like most who are similarly afflicted, I feel the need to find better tools than those Iím currently using. I want better optics, better illumination, more control over the cameraís operation, and finer image resolution. I stand by an earlier statement I made on this BBS Ė that in the hands of a skilled and patient photographer, film can produce results that are more visually appealing than todayís state-of-the-art in digital photography. But, the convenience offered by digital cameras is impossible to ignore.

Hereís what bothers me most about the prospect of UW film photography: film handling between dives. Based on my own modest-sized sampling, it seems that most (if not all) local dive boats lack dedicated camera tables. This means having to elbow your way around one of the galley tables, while trying to avoid dripping seawater onto someoneís hot ham & cheese sandwich. Or worse, risking getting some of that sandwich into your rig.

Aside from the film handling issue (which Iíd love to hear comments on), there are number of questions that Iíve always wanted to ask the experienced UW film photographers out there. Here they are, in no particular order.

1.) Framing the shot: is it possible to look through the cameraís viewfinder to frame and focus the shot, as well as monitor any indicators that may be visible in the viewfinder? Or, do you simply point the camera, based on experience, without the benefit of an optical viewfinder? I know itís difficult for me sometimes just reading numbers on my compass and gages underwater, let alone trying to sight through a tiny viewfinder that is encased in a housing.

2.) Focusing: assuming youíre not using an AF camera, do you actually focus the lens through the housing, or do you simply set it at infinity for shots with a wide-angle lens, and use a mechanical framing/distance device for macro shots?

3.) Cost of film & processing: It seems like shooting 3 rolls of film + the cost of processing per dive day could add up to a substantial sum, especially if you dove 4 or 5 days each month. Do any of you do your own E-6 processing (at home)? If not, is it because itís too messy, or inconvenient, or not cost effective?

4.) Camera suitability for UW photography: I already own a decent SLR and lenses that Iíve used many years for dry-land photography, so if I decided to go the film route I assume it would just be a matter of getting a housing, dome port, and strobe. Are most high-quality SLRís suitable for UW photography, or are there some film cameras that are better suited than others?

Finally, not to leave the digital crowd out. Iíve put together (on paper) a digital set-up that seems to offer an attractive performance/cost ratio: an Olympus C5060 wide/zoom, an Ikelite housing with optional dome port (to get the most out of the 5060ís wide angle capability), and a single Ikelite DS125 strobe (+arm) with hard-wire TTL. The question for digital guys & gals: if one were to spend $2.5k-$3.5k for a new digital set-up, any recommended variations on the system described above?

A sincere thank-you in advance for your responses.

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