Text and pictures copyright © 2001 Julia Hazel
Olympus C-3030 and PT-007 housing - first impressions
May 2001

May, 2001

I'm really pleased with this digital setup, albeit based on only a couple of brief opportunities to use it so far, and knowing in advance about limitations I would have to accept. I've put a few pics on this page, and will add some comments below, in case others interested in simple underwater digital photography may find the stuff useful.

I should just say that seeing sample pics may be of lesser use to anyone thinking about buying equipment, than trying to clarify for yourself what kind of underwater photography is most important for you. There are so many possibilities, and you need to pick the best equipment for your specific needs. In this game, there's no one size fits all!

For my purposes, and for dives when I plan to carry only one camera, I expect my new digital will be my choice much of the time, though I have an old-but-still-good Nikonos III kit as well. The underwater versatility of digital cameras like this (Olympus C-3030, C-3040, Nikon Coolpix CP950, etc) is great.

I chose the very compact Olympus housing because it's ideal when dive conditions don't allow total dedication to photography. I can clip it on and forget it, yet still be ready for a wide range of potential subjects. (For very helpful info about Olympus housings look at http://www.marscuba.com/uwdigital.html)

Ikelite make very good housings for several digital cameras, and theirs are more bulky and cost more, but excel on all other points over the simple Olympus housing. (Olympus housings fit only Olympus cameras of course.) There are other good housings too, at the higher end of the price scale.

For me it's of great value to have pics ready as soon as I care to download them to my laptop, because I'm often far from processing facilities. Mostly I use my pics only in digital form, so the whole digital aspect suits me perfectly. If your end use is mainly prints or transparencies, and you have good processing facilities at hand, digital would not have the same benefit for you.

Another plus for digital, if you are learning and/or want to experiment, is the freedom to photograph as much as you wish without concern for film and processing costs. If you have a lot of throw-aways (does any photographer NOT have a lot??) the Recycle bin on a computer is far more efficient than a conventional trash can!

Regarding quality, provided the "operator" component is good -- lots of variables there! -- you can get picture quality from these digital cameras that is fine for most general uses. (Not for posters, double page spreads in quality books/mags, etc.) If you want your pics to end up as prints then consider where and at what cost you will get prints made from digital files (outsource or buy desktop printer and consumables) as quality can be compromised at that stage of course.

There are some notable limitations with this kind of digital setup underwater, and you need to decide how much they will matter to you.

There's a short time lag between pressing the shutter release and the picture being taken. It's less with current digital models than earlier ones, but still very disconcerting when you first encounter it. It remains a limiting factor, although one can learn to minimise the problem. But if fast action is your main interest, underwater digital is probably not ready for you.

Artificial lighting is another big consideration. Built-in flash on digitals (or any camera) is of very limited use underwater. Unless you do mostly available light stuff (which I prefer), you need to check your strobe options with whatever housing you select. Ikelite have new strobes for digital cameras and I have no doubt they are excellent, though I have not seen them in use. Conventional underwater strobes are not suitable for many digitals --Ikelite has good info on this too, at http://www.ikelite.com

Also take into account the high battery demands of digital cameras. With the camera in a housing you are dependent on using the LCD screen all the time. Even a good set of freshly charged NiMH batteries may run out before the end of your dive, depending of course on dive duration and camera usage. Above water, if you turn off the LCD and use the viewfinder only, batteries last much longer.

For someone wanting only one camera for general purpose "dry" photography as well as underwater, a digital in this range may be a good choice. If you want a dedicated underwater camera optimised for wide angle or optimised for close up (macro) then you may be better off with as many of the proven Nikonos and housed camera options as you can afford! And if you still need to get rid of spare cash after that, let me know!

Text and pictures copyright © 2001 Julia Hazel

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