Get set up for underwater video without spending a fortune


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Anyone who dives with a group has most likely seen an underwater videographer.  They almost seem to be carrying as much equipment as they're wearing and it occupies most of the dunk tank! While they get great videos, just watching them handling it all gives me back-ache!  Also, it takes a lot of skill - and investment - to get to that point. So, does that rule out underwater video for the rest of us? Absolutely not! 

There are two options depending on how much you want to spend and how much gear you want to carry around & put at risk!

1. Buy a camcorder & a dedicated case from manufacturers like ikelite (www.ikelite.com) or
2. 
Get a point & shoot digital camera & an underwater case, or one of the new cameras that are waterproof to diving depths without needind a separate case.

I've achieved good quality using the second approach - the lowest cost route, but you'll need to do some homework as not all digital cameras are created equal in terms of video capability. Most people consider video or movie mode on a still camera to be an afterthought or even a gimmick  (which it often is), so here's a checklist that I recommend:

1.  Choosing a Camera
- A good movie mode with at least 640x480 pixels and 30 frames/ sec (fps). Many offer 720P (720 pixel) HD & even full 1080i HD modes.
- Ensure that you can zoom while recording: most new cameras will
- Good battery life (based on # minutes / battery in video mode) - & I recommend you get a spare battery.
- A lens with the lowest f-stop # (no larger than 3.5, ideally 2.8). This is the maximum aperture size; key for low light images
- A high ISO rating: this measures the sensitivity of the film, ideally ISO 800 or more, again key for low light situations, though more important for still shots
- A large screen, but note that this often has a detrimental effect on battery life.  I'd go for at least 2.5" (6.35 mm) unless your eyesight is great
- Check the movie file types it stores, too: older cameras used "muxed MPG", which can be a bit more of a pain to edit if you want to capture sound - more on this in another article.  Others use .AVI (Windows) or .MOV (Quicktime). Regardless, make sure your computer / software can handle it. Most newer systems can.
- Get as big a card as you can afford. 4 GB stores ~48 minutes at 640x480 pixels & 30 fps); for 720 HD: I use a 16 GB card, but check the storage/ recording times in the manual

2. Getting it under water
- Make sure there's an underwater case for the camera that's good to 35+ m (130 ft) depth - check the companies' sites or www.ikelite.com. I personally prefer the manufacturers' cases over Ikelite: the controls are in the same positions as the camera, they come with a standard tripod mount & they're more compact. The Ikelite case for my Panasonic TS2 didn't work & I found the Panasonic case more comfortable & intuitive to use. It has a standard tripod mount which fit my Sony Underwater light, which the Ikelite case couldn't.

- I've lost a couple of cameras from underwater flooding over the years, so I chose a waterproof camera (the TS2 is waterproof to 30 ft) & put it inside the case. That way, if the case leaks, then perhaps the camera will be sufficiently waterproof to survive. Hopefully I won't have to test that out.

- In terms of color correction, either use an underwater color correction filter to counter the blue that otherwise blah's out the image (though the deeper you go, the less the filter will do) or make sure the camera has an underwater mode that works for video: the TS2 does, and includes an additional red-blue adjustment in underwater mode. Some camera case manufacturers sell the filters (Sony sells them for their cameras and Ikelite offers 2 colors: one for blue, one for green water).

- Finally - and this is the cheapest bit, you'll need a dessicant pack that fits inside the case. They stop condensation & lens fogging - a problem when the air humidity is high, even in warm water. Most camera stores stock them, but make sure they fit your case/ camera without obscuring anything important! They only seem to last a few months, even in the original bag, so get them fresh.

You should be able to get the whole set up for less than US$500 if you look around. It's cheap, & it's compact enough that you won't be dragging another suitcase with you or hogging the dunk tank. And another advantage - you can take underwater pictures, too and you'll be surprised how good your videos can be.

Check out the other pages above on the right for more on this subject

- Set up precautions
- Shooting tips and precautions for underwater video
- Lighting
- Editing, including handling muxed MPG's.

Happy shooting and feel free to email with questions.



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