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 three options depending on your budget & how much gear you want to carry  & put at risk!

1. Go Big: Buy a camcorder & a dedicated case from manufacturers like ikelite (www.ikelite.com)
2. 
Go Mid Size: Get a point & shoot digital camera & an underwater case, or a camera that are waterproof to diving depths without needind a separate case.
3. Go Micro: Get an underwater micro-cam, e.g. GoPro


I've achieved good quality using the second and most recently, the third approach, but for #2, do some homework as not all digital cameras are created equal in terms of video capability.

full set up - UW zoom camera & GoPro

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 these days has at least 720P (720 pixel) at 30 frames/ sec (fps) HD & many have full 1080i HD or even ultra HD modes.
- If you get lower resolution camcorders, ensure that you can zoom while recording: most new cameras will
- With the microcams, ensure that the resolution is high enough for post-production cropping without losing detail
- 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 f2.8); key for low light images
- A high ISO rating: this measures the sensitivity, ideally ISO 800 or more, again key for low light situations, though more important for still shots
- If you use a zooming camera, get one with a large screen of 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), .MOV (Quicktime) or AVCHD. 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, fro the GoPro, go big, especially if you want to shoot 2.7 or 4K ultra HD

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 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 & 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.

- Get color correction: best is to 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, but it's not as good as a red filter. Some camera case manufacturers sell the filters.

With the GoPro, there are all sorts of attachments you can use. I use a handheld stick or a hot-shoe mount to attach it to my other camera & Sola light setup. - Finally - and this is the cheapest bit, get a dessicant pack that fits inside the case to stop condensation & lens fogging - a problem when air humidity is high, even in warm water. 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 camera & case 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. You'll be surprised how good your videos can be. I highly recommend getting lighting; it'll cost extra but it's worth it if you dive in dark places and/ or want to take photos.

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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