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Best Underwater Cameras on a Budget

Submitted by admin on 2010-08-26

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So you're a scuba diver, you've got your regulator, fins, wetsuit and other equipment, you're meticulous in your logbook entries, documenting any interesting events that may have occurred during your dive- but do you have an underwater camera?

Personally I consider the camera to be another part of mandatory equipment, it provides the opportunity to capture those special events and to record a precious memory. How often does one get the chance to create art while in the process of doing something they love.

Whether your goal is to merely to document marine life, create art or create memories, you will be at ease with the selection of underwater cameras on a budget. In the past one would need to pay a fortune for a camera to work underwater, and separate housing was a must- but now days in the digital age, things have changed. Almost all professional underwater photographers now use digital cameras, and for those whom are not planning on spending an arm and a leg there are plenty of options too.

If you have the money the best option is a mid-range DSLR camera with a good quality housing, and while the camera may not be too expensive, the price of the underwater housing really can put a dent in your wallet, and sometimes sell for double the cost of the camera itself.

But don't fret if you’re not 'rolling in it', there are also options for you. There are some great underwater cameras out there that retail for less than $1000 that can offer lovely photographs.

Sealife DC 1200 - Prices From $450

The Sealife DC 1200 is a camera specially designed for underwater photography, it comes with standard housing, which means you don't need to spend extra money and effort trying to find the corresponding housing unit for the camera. The DC 1200 is a 12 megapixel camera which gives one enough resolution to make prints of your photos.

The camera comes with 4 general underwater settings:

Snorkel Mode: Using underwater colour correction for divers not using external flash and diving at relatively shallow depths.

Sea Mode: Using underwater colour correction for divers not using external flash and diving at deeper depths.

External Flash Manual: This setting allows for divers using external flashes to control their shutter speed and aperture settings.

External Flash Auto: The external flash auto setting will automatically determine the correct advanced settings such as aperture.

This camera, while being developed for the main purpose of underwater photographer, is not limited to below the ocean. The Sealife DC 1200 also comes with 12 different settings for your topside photos: Auto, Sport, Sunset, Sunrise, Snow, Beach, Panorama, Splash Water, Flow Water, Night Scene, Landscape and Fireworks.

The Sealife DC 1200 is a perfect underwater camera on a budget (a tight one), it's one of the cheapest underwater cameras out there and provides good quality photographs, an easy to use menu as well as the ability to use it with your friends or family back at the dive center. The camera also comes with plenty of little extras such as lens cloth, cleaning brush and TV cables.

Overall, not the best camera money can buy, but definitely good for the price and recommended for those whom are primarily shooting for fun or documentation.

Please note that the DC 1200 range prices begin at $450 and go up to $1000.

Sealife DC 800 - Prices from $365 (sale)

If you want to go even cheaper there is the option of the DC 800 Sealife series which begins at around $350 currently on a close-out sale! The DC 800 is a slightly older model and as could be guessed is an 8 megapixel underwater camera, still plenty high resolution to provide small prints of photos.

The DC 800 has the capability to both take underwater photographs and underwater video. Like the DC 1200 the Sealife DC 800 also has the ability to attach external flash devices for more advanced lighting control. The DC 800 has been depth tested to 200 feet and comes with full rubber armor to protect from any shock which may occur during transport or use. There is also a 'sea mode' where one is able to restore the loss of colour that is all too common with some underwater photography.

As with the DC 1200, this isn't a professional underwater camera but for those whom are not serious about their underwater photography just yet and have a budget then it can be a really good camera to use. The images tend to often come out rather crisp and with good colouring.

Top 2 Underwater Cameras on a Budget

Now we shall look at what in my opinion are the top 2 best underwater cameras on a budget.

Sea & Sea DX-1G - Prices from $669 (sale)

The Sea & Sea DX-1G is an absolutely amazing underwater camera, which actually happens to be on sale at the moment for over $100 discount.

The Sea & Sea DX-1G combines everything you need in an underwater camera, good colour quality, reliability and sharp image and all for a great price. The camera is a 10 megapixel camera and comes standard with housing, built in flash diffuser, macro ability, 2.5 inch LCD monitor and for a bit extra, an optional wide-angle conversion lens.

The Sea & Sea DX-1G has the ability to descend to depths just in excess of 50 meters and is known for its sturdy feel and quality feel. The build is very good and so is the camera itself- I've seen some fine images taken with the Sea & Sea DX-1G, in fact I've seen some of the sharpest and clearest underwater photographs taken with this camera. If you're currently looking to buy your first, or a new underwater camera on a budget I'd definitely suggest that you consider the Sea & Sea DX-1G... especially if you're looking to spend around $700.

Canon G10 + Housing - Prices from $999

The Canon G10 is a quality camera, yes you're going to likely be paying a lot more than other digital cameras which are made for the purpose of underwater photography. The reason for this is that the Canon G10 doesn't come with an underwater housing container by default and must be purchased separately.

You're going to be looking at around $700 for the camera alone and then around another $200 for the underwater housing, and while this may look pricey, if you're considering buying a DSLR camera with quality housing you'll be looking at around $4000.

I'm a big fan of Canon, it was the first camera I ever owned and the only make I have owned since. With the G10 I will definitely say it's got very good quality and colour clarity under water, and the manual settings allow for quite some room with adjustments. The G10 also allows for some fairly impressive general land photography. It has a 14 megapixel optical sensor resolution so you won't need to worry about the ability to print your photographs. There's a 5x optical zoom as well as a 3 inch LCD display.

Personally I'd have a tough time deciding between the G10 and the Sea & Sea DX-1G. They are my 2 favourites, and while Canon is known for its all around camera quality, it does cost about $200 more. If one has the money to spend, I may suggest the G10, but if you're hovering around $700 funds, I'll probably go for the Sea & Sea DX-1G.

Don't be fooled by thinking these are the only good underwater cameras on a budget, there are plenty of others available for sale, there's just no time to go through them all.

A reminder to all underwater photographers whom are not using correct underwater colour settings: It's a must that you edit your photographs in Adobe Photoshop or other similar software if you want to try bring out the original colours from a dull photo.

All prices indicated are valid at the time of publishing, prices may have chanced since.


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Interesting article but you did not consider film cameras, especially used equipment. Nikon made a great camera that was made for underwater usage. A used Nikonos with a 35 mm lens can be bought for about $200. The camera would need to be service before underwater usage and that would cost about as much as the camera. An underwater strobe can be had for about $100 (new). So, for about $500, the novice photographer can get started. Once printed, the film images would be better than the digital equivalent. I think it's a valid consideration.

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