I have an awesome job. I get to try all of the latest underwater photo gear, and get to travel to some great spots to try it out. (interested in joining this year in Lembeh, Grand Cayman, Bonaire (Digital Shootout or Reef Photo Workshops), Dry Tortugas, or in Anilao next year?. I'm asked just about every day about what kind of camera I'd recommend, what lenses to choose, how to outfit a complete system, and many similar questions. I make it a point to try every camera that Nauticam supports, both shooting on land and underwater. I want to know how the camera operates so I can make a recommendation based on experience.
I recently decided that I wanted to give an underwater system to someone close to me. I wanted to get her a system that was very capable, that she wouldn't soon outgrow, but was small and easy to use. She's a divemaster and instructor, so having a small rig that won't get in the way of a dive is important. After some thought, I finally settled on a particular setup..... and it dawned on me that I should write up my thought process and share it here in case it would help anyone else in a similar situation.
The first point I'd like to make about choosing a camera system here in 2013 is the cornucopia of riches when it comes to camera systems that are currently available - and that Nauticam supports. From compact cameras like the Sony RX-100 and Canon S110, to m4/3 interchangeable lens systems from Olympus and Panasonic, to APS-C mirrorless systems from Sony, to the outstanding new SLRs from Nikon and Canon, the current camera offerings are amazing. Nauticam has chosen to make underwater housings for the best of these cameras, and it is impossible to make a bad choice. The cameras we support are all excellent, and all are capable of great images. It is, after all, the shooter, not the camera, that makes beautiful images. That said, however, there are still some differences that are worth considering.
My criteria for her system included: a system that is relatively small and easy to travel with and dive with, interchangeable lenses to allow her to choose the right lens for the right scene, good lens selection, easy to use automatic flash exposure, and HD video shooting. I also wanted the biggest "bang for the buck", i.e. a good value. After some thought, I narrowed my list down to the Sony NEX-5R and NEX-7, the Olympus E-PL3, Olympus OM-D E-M5, the Panasonic GX1, and the Panasonic GH2. I thought briefly about an SLR like the Nikon D7000 or the Canon T4i, but opted for the smaller size of the others on my list. Choosing between these cameras might seem like a tough task, but I've had a chance to dive with all of them and knew pretty quickly which I wanted - the Panasonic GX1.
NA-GX1 in Action at the Digital Shootout 2012
The GX1 is a very capable m4/3 camera, with easy to use controls, excellent image quality, 1080p 60i HD video and more, all wrapped up in one of the best value for the money camera packages ever. I was able to buy the camera body with the 14-42mm lens for under $420, and the body alone is now under $320 in places. As I've written about previously, I've been struck at how solid and reliable the GX1 and the Nauticam GX1 housing have been during our demo events. So, the GX1 was my choice of camera.
Here's how I outfitted it:
- Panasonic GX1 Camera with 14-42mm kit lens
- Panasonic Lumix 8mm Fisheye lens
- Nauticam NA-GX1 housing (of course!)
- Nauticam Flat Port 72 (for the 14-42mm)
- Nauticam P1442-Z Zoom gear for 14-42mm
- Nauticam 4.33" dome for the 8mm
- Nauticam Easitray with Left Handle
- Nauticam Ball for Easitray
- Nauticam Hand Strap
- Inon S-2000 Strobe
- Nauticam Fiber Optic Cable (Sea&Sea to Inon)
- Nauticam Ball Adapter for Inon
- Nauticam 5" Arms (2)
- Nauticam Standard Clamps (3)
- 16GB SD Cards (2)
- Slightly Used Camera Backpack(not everything can be new :)
The 14-42mm kit lens will be usable for fish portrait shooting and as a jack-of-all trades type of lens. The 8mm fisheye, though, is the lens that I think will get the most use. It focuses fast, and very close, and is ideal for close-focus-wide-angle. The 8mm is my favorite lens for any mirrorless camera that I have tried to date.
If she at some point decides she'd like to shoot macro, there are two excellent lenses choices, the Panasonic 45mm and the new Olympus 60mm macro. At that point I'd also add an M10 mounting ball and a focus light. Since she likes to shoot people, I'll also consider getting her the Olympus 9-18mm or the Panasonic 7-14mm at some point. As of now, I've only included one strobe, so a second strobe is probably in the future as well.
I chose the Inon S-2000 for several reasons, but it's small size and accurate TTL are two keys for me. I chose the Easitray with left handle and a hand strap for the right side - the housing is really meant to be held with the right hand, and the hand strap makes that easier than a right handle, in my opinion.
It sounds like a lot of gear, but it all fits in the backpack and stows easily in the overhead on an airplane.