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I'm interested in getting into either underwater video or underwater still photography. Do you have any suggestions? Is one less expensive or easier than the other? I'm just interested in doing this for fun. I'm not looking to get professional results.




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Questions and Answers (Q & A's)

From Alan Broder (from Ocean Realm Magazine - April 1996)


Having watched literally thousands of people getting into both underwater video and still photography, I am now utterly convinced that just about anyone who remains uncertain as to which path to follow should probably go the video route. How would I know so quickly? Simple! Video is simple—if you can jump off a boat, push the tape run button, then get back to the boat alive, you will almost certainly have at least some decent video. Video cameras are designed to do primarily wide-angle. I They generally come set up that way, and you have to modify or accessorize them to do anything else. You’re almost always hooting available light on auto exposure and will mostly get properly exposed footage of just about anything you are likely to point the camera at. There’s virtually always enough light around for video—you can even do some interesting video at night, providing there’s a moon and/or some stars and a few dive light held by other divers! You could aim a video camera into your pocket, push the tape run button, then count your change on the television screen—they’re that sensitive to light!

Since you’re shooting wide-angle, you have loads of depth of field, so at a preset focus everything is sharp! You’re using a very small format in 8mm or half-inch VHS video as compared to the much larger 35mm still format. All you have to know about this is that you get a whole bunch more depth of filed, which means that just about the entire ocean is in focus at all times. So you’ve got focus and exposure insurance. About all that’s left for you to deal with is composition, or what’s in the picture. Since most wide-angle video covers about eighty or so degrees, just pick a compass direction, and everything in approximately one quarter of the ocean is in your frame. Run the camera for a few hours, and you can’t help but get twenty or so minutes of something that will blow away your landlubbing friends and relatives. Wide angle means you get schools of fish, wrecks, reefs, divers, the boat, whales, and whatever in your video. There’s action and interaction going on everywhere. It’s virtually certain immediate gratification!

Stills—that’s another story. If you were destined to shoot stills, you’d probably somehow know it. Still photography is a calling, sort of. You must be willing to pay your dues. The likelihood of instant success is remote. Fortunately, standards evolve along with technical skills and understanding, so the experience isn’t totally crushing. You’ll probably even get a few or maybe even a couple dozen nice photos out of your first fifteen to twenty rolls. You may even get a killer shot or two with some serious luck. You’ll soon see, however, that outstanding photos are hard-won. You must master the technical skills in order to have well-expose, in-focus subject with no distractions or backscatter (snow-like particles in the water lightly lit by the strobe) in the frame. There’s no action to carry viewers along at much too quick a pace to allow them to concentrate on flaws in the image. When you’re watching video, each image is seen only for a small fraction of a second; then there’s another, and another—and a hundred more. When you look at a still photograph, booboos are frozen in time.

"Geez, what’s that thing hanging down in the corner? Look at all the junk in the water! Isn’t that fish’s eye a little out of focus? You’d think she’d rinse that stuff outa her mask before you took that picture!" You see the problem. Not that recording moving images can’t be an art, demanding as much skill and creative ability as a good still photograph—it can. The better the videographer, the better the video. But it’s still true that a beginner can consistently get interesting, even spectacular video infinitely easier than the same in still photography.

Now for monetary considerations. How much will you have to $pend for an entry level purchase? The first question I generally ask is, "Do you have a video camera? Do you want to have a video camera for vacations, the kids, whatever?" It usually costs about the same amount of money to get into still photography or video. The exception would be snap shots. If all you want to do is to get a memory/proof of an underwater encounter, you can buy a point-and-shoot "box type" still camera for seventy-five dollars for an Ikelite housing and the cost of a disposable camera for each roll you’ll use in that housing. Or you can spend about $350 for a basic Motormarine MX-10 to around $600oi for a somewhat more sophisticated Motormarine II with automatic flash exposure. Somewhere between $1,00 and $1,500 buys you either a basic Nikonos V system or a comparably equipped Sea & Sea Motormarine basic system set up for close-up and fish portrait photography. You could house any one of a number of popular SLR still cameras for about $1,000 for similar types of underwater photos.

If you already have a video camera that suits you, a housing will cost between about $700 and $1,300. For most practical purposes, a new video camera and housing will cost about $2,500—about the same for a new still system with strobe light. You could pick up a used Hi8 UW system for under $1,500, and a used regular 8mm system for something over half that amount. The Hi8 format produces significantly higher resolution than regular 8mm.

If spending money is your thing, and underwater imaging is only the arena in which you’ve chosen to pursue your true interest, we can unhesitatingly give the nod to still photography. You can get into virtually broadcast video with, say, a three-chip digital camera with the best housing built for around $6,000, about the cost of an entry level Nikon F4 or Nikonos RS still system. "Filling out" one of these entry-level "professional" systems could see you still spending from $10,000 to $15,000 and beyond—hence the designation "Still photography."



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