The seabed is an exciting and inexhaustible subject for photography. Over the past few years, the cameras designed for underwater photography have improved and become more accessible, and everyone can now take home souvenirs from their underwater explorations.
There are three types of camera on the market, with varying capacities for immersion: waterproof compacts, which are small in size and quite resistant, with a satisfactory optic quality (10 to 15m); watertight housing cases, which are adapted to compacts or DSLR cameras, and produce great results, but are bulky (about 40m), and, finally, action cameras (or “action cams”, of the GoPro type), with which you can make wide-angle videos in very high definition (they can generally be immersed down to 60 meters).
The immersion capacity is not a crucial factor for the snorkeler who freedives in a reasonable way. Watertightness down to 10 meters (the average generally found on entry-level watertight compacts) is easily enough. A model that is watertight down to 3 meters is sufficient for snorkelers who stay near the surface.
Waterproof compact cameras
Waterproof compact cameras, which have considerably developed over the last few years, are generally shock-resistant (they will resist a fall of 1.5 to 2 meters according to the model), crushproof (up to 100kg) and resistant to cold (up to -10°C on average). Entry-level cameras are now waterproof down to 10 meters, while more sophisticated models can be used down to -18 meters. Their optic zoom is usually limited (4x or 5x), but this is enough for underwater shots. Many models also have a built-in GPS, permitting instant geolocation of your photos (which is often useful in snorkeling). This feature is a drain on the battery, however.
Watertight housing cases
If you already have a compact camera, or if you want to use a reflex camera under water, watertight housing cases are worth considering. Most cases are designed in transparent plastic (polycarbonate). A number of features (waterproof push-buttons, small levers) are incorporated to access the camera’s release mechanism or settings. Watertight cases can be bulky, however, and hard to handle when snorkeling. They also require regular maintenance (putting waterproof oil on the seals). Cases can be expensive too, and are sometimes the same price as a watertight compact camera, but produce photos of much better quality.
The market for miniature waterproof action cameras has boomed in recent years. They are small, light, highly resistant, and make it easy to film sports activities on land or under water. With an ultra-wide angle (170° on average), a very high resolution and a rapid rate (up to 60 pictures a second, producing superb slow-motion films), they will help you make original and high-quality videos. In snorkeling, you can use them to film your explorations or to film yourself under water, with the help of accessories such as a head strap (leaving your hands free) or an extension pole. They have limited capacity in terms of photography, however.
Water, salt, sand – the marine environment is particularly tough on electronic equipment.
Before taking to the water, you should inspect the state of waterproof seals (for cracks and wear), and remove any harmful element that might be found on them (grains of sand, dust, hair, drops of water, etc.). These elements can reduce the case’s or the camera’s watertightness. Close the camera body and the safety catches carefully.
After your exploration, rinse your equipment in fresh water. If you don’t, the salt water will soon damage the most fragile parts of the camera (seals, screws, glass, etc.). It is recommended to leave your equipment in water for about 20 minutes after each exploration, in a bowl of fresh water, for example.