Wish you could get some awesome underwater shots with your camera but the thought of taking your expensive equipment underwater makes you break into a cold sweat? Yeah, I get the same chills. About two years ago, I started researching the best way to take my land-bound DSLRs into the water. Obviously you can purchase an underwater camera, but I wanted to make it happen with as little cost as possible without investing in another camera. Once you start researching underwater housings, you quickly discover two options. You can buy a clear hard case housing designed to allow you to operate most of the functions on your camera for a price that is probably more than the cost of the camera itself, or you can purchase what basically amounts to a fancy ziplock bag at a fraction of the cost. The hard-case options are usually brand AND model specific. If you buy a new camera or want to use a different body, even from the same manufacturer, it probably won’t work with the same hard-case. Trying to keep the costs to a minimum, I opted for the cheaper sealed bag route. I simply could not justify the cost of a hard case housing for what would probably amount to limited use long term. Enter the DiCAPac WP-S10 case.
I purchased this case online for about $60 for a recent underwater shoot. The company has a couple of different models for DSLRs and I picked the one that would allow for a longer lens should I want to use a longer lens in the future. The bag closes with a heavy gauge plastic ziplock seal on the top (very much like a freezer ziplock bag). The top then folds over and is secured by a velcro strip. It folds over yet again and sealed once more by another velcro flap. There is a finger hole on the right side that allows for taking shots and two smaller finger holes on the lens portion that are supposed to allow you to adjust the zoom of your lens. The front lens housing has a detachable cap allowing you to change lenses if necessary.
Upon receiving the bag, I followed the instructions and tested it. I placed toilet paper inside of the case and submerged the case in a fish tank to see if there were any leaks. To my surprise, there were! Water was entering the case around the removable lens cap at the end of the housing. It wasn’t a huge leak, maybe a bubble or two every 5 seconds or so. Regardless, water was entering the housing. I tightened the lens cap and re-tried the test. The second trial run was dry. I then later attempted a test with my cheaper camera in the case. I kept the bag submerged for about 10 minutes in a fish tank. Everything checked out ok. A few days prior to the actual shoot, I tested the bag again with the camera I was going to use for the shoot for about 15 minutes in a swimming pool. Again, everything was fine.
All of my cameras have battery grips attached to them (astrophotography typically requires additional batteries). I had to remove the battery grip to get the camera to fit inside the case. This isn’t a big deal as I wasn’t really intending on having the camera underwater for that long. The case comes with small foam pads that you can place at the bottom of the bag to raise the camera body up if needed. I had to use these to get the lens to center in the lens housing. If you have a tripod mount on the bottom of your camera, remove it. Some of those mounts have sharp edges and might puncture the housing when placing the camera inside or taking it out. Also, it’s probably a good idea to remove any camera straps as well.
I would highly suggest setting up your camera before putting it in the bag. Trying to get the correct settings after the camera is in the bag will most likely result in a nosebleed and some degree of a headache. Although there are finger holes to allow you to adjust some settings, it is difficult to use. My Nikons have a scroll wheel on the top right back side of the camera for shutter speed and with a little work, I can manipulate it to some degree. The scroll wheel on the front to change aperture is a little easier to use but still not something you will be able to quickly change over and over. Try setting the camera into aperture priority mode or even shutter priority mode. In short, the less you have to deal with, the better. I think this is one of the few scenarios I would seriously consider “auto” mode. If you don’t shoot in raw mode normally, this is the time to use it. Water has a tendency to soften the image and change/mute colors, especially the deeper you go. Shooting in raw allows you to recover as much information as possible. If you are going to take the time to do an underwater shoot, you don’t want to limit the best image quality by saving the images in a jpg format.
Actual under water use takes a little practice. For starters, it can be difficult to look through the viewfinder eyepiece to line up your shots. Keep in mind you will probably have goggles or a mask on making it even more challenging. If you have live-view, use it. It will definitely help. The bag has air in it and will act like a buoy sometimes making it a little difficult to keep steady underwater. Also, if you have the longer lens version of the case with a shorter actual lens, you will find yourself reaching forward with your left hand to pull back the lens housing to prevent the housing from showing up in your images. Keep in mind you are doing all of this as your body is moving around and floating to the top as well. If you can, find a way to anchor yourself in position before beginning. I would also recommend placing some desiccant bags in the housing to prevent the inside from fogging up. Like most photography, it’s a lot about trial and error.
Overall, I was pleased with the outcome of the shoot using the housing. I like that the housing is cheap (relative to the hard plastic housings). I also like the fact it is fairly universal allowing me to use any of my DSLRs. Our underwater shoot lasted about 3 hours and the camera was in the pool the entire time. Some shots were at the surface and others were taken at the bottom of the pool (roughly 6 feet deep). There were times I needed both of my hands to move something in the pool or assist a model and I would simply let go of the case and it would float to the top of the water. Honestly, after about 20 minutes of use, I had no concerns about the safety of my equipment at all. I will admit that I kept the camera in the case the entire shoot and did not take the camera in and out of the bag to check images or download pictures. Once it was sealed and working, I let it be! The clear lens piece at the end of the housing didn’t seem to interfere with the quality of the images. Obviously the biggest factor with image quality will be the water column itself. At first, I used the strap that comes with the housing but took it off after a while. I found it was just another item I had to make sure wasn’t floating in front of my lens during a picture.
There are some drawbacks to the housing however. The ability to use most of the camera controls is very limited. The lens portion of the housing is bulky and will require some attention to keep it out of your shots. The housing is buoyant and you will sometimes find yourself fighting your camera to keep it under water. I have read some reviews were people have placed something heavy in the case with the camera to assist in keeping it under water. The finger holes in the housing to adjust zoom and to snap a picture seem a little on the small side to me but perhaps I just have big fat fingers. I was hopeful I could use the pop-up flash on my camera if needed, but the housing did not line up for my flash to be effective at all. Luckily we did the shoot on a bright day and a flash was not necessary. The housing itself is a little on the big side and sometimes the camera shifts enough that you have to move it around before taking your next picture.
If you are looking for a relatively cheap option for taking your DSLR in shallow waters, give it a try WITH TESTING PRIOR TO USE. For deeper use, I cannot speak to its ability. If you are looking for something that will stand up to repeated use at higher depths, it’s probably a good idea to look into the clear hard-case options. If I thought underwater photography was something I would do on a regular basis, I probably would have purchased something far more substantial. Keep in mind you are purchasing something around $60 that you are entrusting to safeguard your equipment probably costing thousands. Sometimes cheaper isn’t better so buyer be warned. Yes, the case has a warranty but only against the case itself. If it is leaking upon arrival, they will replace it. But if the case is leaking upon arrival and you have not tested the case before use, the warranty will not cover your camera. Having said all of that, the case worked great after making sure it was properly sealed. There were times I would just allow the case and camera to float in the pool as I was doing other things. Again, the case and camera were in use, in the water, for about 3 hours nonstop. At the end of the shoot, the inside of the bag and the camera were bone dry! Even if you don’t plan on submerging your camera, this is a great case for protecting your gear from sand on the beach or fine powder if you photograph color runs. I also think this case will come in handy when photographing mud runs and other wet/messy conditions. Based on my personal experience, I would recommend this bag for limited underwater use.
Anyone that follows my work knows that I like to experiment with my photography. Underwater photography is right up there! The shoot was a blast and we all had a lot of fun despite trying to overcome buoyancy. If you have any interest, give it a shot! You can get a lot of cool underwater photos and with some editing (some very specific editing), you can get some amazing pictures. However, editing underwater pictures is a topic all its own! Hoping to follow up with a tutorial on that as well.
Keep the interesting parts of life in focus.