An Underwater Photography Kit for Under $1,200

An Underwater Photography Kit for Under $1,200

In early February I spent nine days in Costa Rica and finally decided to try something other than lugging my Canon 40D everywhere I went – so yet again I delved into the ever-changing landscape of digital cameras.

I wanted something portable that could also take photos I could make large prints of (I have a few 30″ x 20″ prints on my walls), but also – and this was the most complicated corner of the triangle to balance – something I could use for underwater photography.

Balance the cost, quality and underwaterness

Balance the cost, quality and underwaterness

Underwater photography isn’t trivial, which is one of the reason’s I never got into it – not for lack of desire, because the photos I’ve seen look amazing, but I just couldn’t justify $1,500 on an underwater housing alone that would fit exactly one camera (they only fit a single camera model).

Some of you may be thinking I hadn’t seen those waterproof flexible zipper/velcro cases for $20 (example) – oh, but I had. I had. And that’s how I ruined my first point and shoot – water got into the case on a trip out to the lake (the camera never went deeper than 10 feet of water).

If you’re in the territory for this type of case I’d strongly recommend going for a sub $500 waterproof camera similar to the Olympus I mention next.

Also think about what you’re putting between your camera lens and your subject, because you’re shooting through that waterproof case.

The setup’s fell into roughly three categories –

Not Quite There

At around $500 we have 10-15 megapixel point and shoot cameras that are generally waterproof up to 40 feet. I was actually on the edge of buying the Olympus TG-1iHS 12MP before I decided I just wanted more out of a camera (I wanted RAW and a better maximum aperture) so if this fits your bill, grab it.

Pros – Cheap; rugged; built-in waterproof so I wouldn’t need an extra case

Cons – If I went diving (which I did) 40 feet might not cut it; 12mp just isn’t that great these days; no RAW (if I print photos I do prefer to start from RAWs)

Can’t Quite Afford

I already had a Canon 40D – so if I went this direction I was only looking at purchasing the housing, which would save me the $1,000 for the Canon 40D (or today’s equivalent, the Canon 70D), but did I want to spend $1,500 on a housing for a camera that was already seven years old? I would really be locking myself into the 40D dropping that much money on it – and I really couldn’t justify that.

I spent a bit of time pricing out replacing the 40D with either the 70D or a 5D Mark II, but all came back to being more than I wanted to spend at the time ($2,500+).

Pros – All the settings and functionality I grew accustom to with my SLR; fantastic photo quality; RAW

Cons – The cost is just too damn high; needing an underwater housing and lens adapters

Aww Yeah, Just Right

Sony RX100 II and the Ikelite underwater housing, well traveled after Costa Rica

Sony RX100 II and the Ikelite underwater housing, well-traveled after Costa Rica

At the $1,200 price point the key is to find a good camera and underwater housing combo that won’t break the bank – and while unfortunately we’re still looking at fixed lenses, maybe that’s not so bad.

After repeatedly debating with myself what I wanted out of a camera I decided being able to shoot both RAW and have a wide open aperture were clutch – this lead me to the Sony RX100 II.

The RX100 II (not the RX100) shot RAW and had a f/1.8 max aperture – and since it was a fixed lens camera I wasn’t going to get shafted on the price for an underwater housing. Finally something I could afford that should take wall-quality photos.

The technical

  • 1-Inch 20.2 MP Exmor R sensor for extreme low-light shots
  • Bright F1.8 Carl Zeiss Vario-Sonnar T lens w/3.6x zoom
  • Simple connectivity to smartphones via Wi-Fi or NFC
  • Recording Media Types: PRO Duo™ / Pro-HG Duo™ media Memory Stick, SD, SDHC and SDXC Memory Card

Pros – Shoots RAW; 1.8 max aperture; fits in my back pocket

Cons – Limited to the fixed lens; won’t have as good of quality as an SLR (though I’d challenge you to see a difference)

The Verdict

I bought both the Sony RX100 II for $700 and it’s associated Ikelite underwater housing for $400; with a few accessories it came out to just under $1,200. And damn did those pictures rock – and not just underwater, but suddenly I didn’t have to worry about being around water at all.

Beach? Check. Waterfalls? Check. Zero-concern about ruining another point and shoot with water? Priceless.

Kit & Kaboodle

One For the Road

Not afraid to get the RX100 II wet, booya

Not afraid to get the RX100 II wet, booya


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