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Seeking suggestions for "affordable" camera & housing purchase

Discussion in 'Underwater Photography' started by Steyr, Jul 21, 2020.

  1. Steyr

    Steyr Nassau Grouper

    # of Dives: 200 - 499
    Location: Melbourne, Australia
    Hi all,

    For about 5 years I've had an entry-level interchangeable lens camera in the Olympus E-PL5 with factory housing. For a while the camera has been showing wear and tear (niggly issues, loose buttons, etc), and more recently it died rather suddenly when the housing flooded (I had experienced a small leak once and managed to save it in time, but a few dives later it reoccurred at 40m and there was nothing I could do). I wasn't terribly upset, because I was half looking for an excuse to upgrade. I'm no expert photographer, but I had pulled some reasonable shots with the E-PL5 and was kind of hitting the limits of what it would let me do (eg. I was craving a broader ISO range, quicker AF/tracking, less noise, etc).

    Since then I've been researching cameras and to be honest my thoughts are all over the place. I'm canvasing for opinions, and perhaps for considerations that I hadn't thought of.

    My considerations so far are:
    1. Affordability (no set budget, and I can afford an expensive setup if I really must, but I don't want to spend money unnecessarily)
    2. Reuse of existing gear (Micro 4/3 lenses, possibly my Olympus flat and dome ports but that's unlikely) - this blends in with affordability
    3. Camera capability (low light performance; fast AF; in-body OIS would be nice, but perhaps not essential for most of my UW photography)
    4. Future-proofing
    5. Portability (not just for diving, but lugging it around on an occasional hike as well)

    Option 1: Olympus EM5 Mark III with Nauticam housing.
    This was my ideal option for a while. The EM5.3 seems like a great camera at an ok price point and I could reuse my existing lenses. BUT, there's no factory housing, I don't like the Ikelite housing, and the Nauticam housing (plus ports, zoom gear, etc) is VERY expensive! Also, with Olympus leaving the camera market, I'm wondering if I should begin moving away from Olympus gear, rather than investing further in it.

    Option 2: E-PL9/10 with AOI UH-EPL10 housing.
    This housing has only just hit the market but seems reasonable. Vacuum system; pressure-loss warning; water sensor; its own LED that plugs into the camera hot-shoe to fire optical strobes without using the camera flash. The E-PL9 (discontinued; limited stock around) and E-PL10 don't really offer me the camera I would really like (basically the same as my old E-PL5 that I wanted to upgrade), BUT, this setup is half the price of option 1. I could reuse my existing lenses, but have the same concerns about investing further in Olympus. In fact it seems Australian retailers aren't even stocking the E-PL10, and they all say they almost never hear from an Oly sales rep.

    Option 3: Olympus EM5 Mark II - housing TBD.
    With the EM5.3 out now, the EM5.2 is going at a bargain price. Paired with the factory Olympus housing (PT-EP13), I could reuse my current lenses and ports (assuming they're not the source of my leak) and be back in action at a much lower cost. Not as good as the EM5.3, but still an improvement over my old E-PL5. BUT, the PT-EP13 housing has been discontinued and I can't find any remaining stock anywhere. I could get the Nauticam housing (plus ports and gear), but then the overall cost skyrockets again.

    Option 4: Sony a6400 with Fantasea housing.
    Seems like a reasonable camera - a bit of a step up from my E-PL5 but not a high end system. Larger APS-C sensor is an improvement over the Olympus options. The Fantasea housing is a reasonable price, but with needing to buy lenses as well as ports the price adds up quite a bit. If I would spend this much, the temptation is there to stretch a bit further and get the EM5.3/Nauticam (or is that no big improvement over the a6400?)

    Option 5: Sony a7 III (or even a new Canon EOS R6) with Nauticam housing.
    I can dream... but I really can't justify the expense. Less portable as well.

    So those are the options I've looked at. Are there other noteworthy setups I'm missing?
    Are the Fantasea housings ok?
    If I was going to go a step up from the Sony a6400, what might that be? Does the a6600 add anything worthwhile to justify the additional cost?
    If one day I look at a full-frame shooter like the a7, is it worth beginning to invest in the E mount lenses now via the a6400?
  2. WS007

    WS007 Professional Photographer

    # of Dives: 1,000 - 2,499
    Location: Empersdorf (Austria)
    I break a lance for Nauticam housing. At the first glance they may look "expensive", but on long and midterms they are not: when you upgrade the camera body, all extensions and domeports can be used as they are, while with the "cheaper" plastic housings this is often not so simple. I have my dompeports (Zen DP170; Nauticam 140mm) in the N120 versions, since I can continue to use them even when I would upgrade my Oly to APS-C or FF. In addition, the vacuum system pays itself on the long run (e.g. my wife flooded her EPL-5 in the original Olympus plastic housing that does not have vacuum system).

    Here my 2 cents on the options listed:

    Option 1: when really on budget, I would go for EM1II (at present available for around 900$ new) and a used Nauticam housing (showing up on the second hand market in Wetpixel and here from time to time). Together you may come away with about 2000$. When money is abundand I would go for EM1III (together with a new Nauticam housing you pay a lot more for very little improvement over EM1II).

    Options 2&3: I previously had EM5II (and my wife EPL-5) and can say that AF (important for Macro) is much better on EM1II. Also DR and IQ is improved on th enew 20 Mpixel sensor. I would not invest now in any of the old 16 Mpixel cameras.

    Options 4&5: This is changing to a new system. If only one camera is intended, APS-C is regarded much better than FF.
    With FF it is not so easy to configure with domeports, that have to be large for rectilinear WA; fisheye lenses with smaller angle of view than 180o do not exist; wider angles are achieved using water contact optics like Nauticams WACP (very expensive and heavy) with standard zoom lenses (optics are then similar to the zoom fisheyes housed in small domeports available for cropped sensors like Tokina 10-17mm on APS-C or Canon 8-15mm on MFT (the Canon is a FF lens, but only provides the choice between circular fisheye and 180o fisheye on FF)). Watch for instance these nice videos on lens choices here:

    Wetpixel Live: Lens Choices for Cropped Sensor SLR cameras ::
    Wetpixel Live: Lens Choices for Full Frame SLR Cameras ::

    In addition the FF macro lens configurations are monsters compared to the MFT ones (e.g. Zuiko 60mm housed in Nauticam N85 planport)., From time to time I use the Canon 100mm IS EF Macro lens adapted on EM1II housed in Nauticam planport and this configuration is by far the most massive and heaviest I was ever diving with (AF is also very poor and sharpness is at most as good as the Zuiko 60mm).

    I cannot comment on the Sony APS-C 6400 (no experience; I would go for the A6xxx models with image stabilization and better AF; also consider Nikon and Canon), but I would buy in any case a Nauticam housing instead of the plastic one...

  3. Steyr

    Steyr Nassau Grouper

    # of Dives: 200 - 499
    Location: Melbourne, Australia
    Thanks for the great reply! I was just about to pull the trigger on the cheapest option, but will think further about the Nauticam housing...
  4. al248005

    al248005 Solo Diver

    # of Dives: 200 - 499
    Location: Bridgeport, Ohio
    Just so you know Olympus just announced last week or the week before they are going out of the camera business permanently
  5. wetb4igetinthewater

    wetb4igetinthewater Instructor ScubaBoard Supporter

    # of Dives: 500 - 999
    Location: Seattle
    Affordable and underwater photography do not go together!

    In all seriousness, while I shoot Olympus, I wouldn't look into investing further into Olympus gear. I'd look at Sony offerings if possible. I'd also look at how much trouble/pain you will go through with traveling with camera gear. I used to shoot a FF DSL (Canon 5DM3) and that made travel much more unpleasant. By downsizing to a 4/3 camera made traveling with camera gear tolerate. Not great, but tolerable. With strobes being the same regardless of camera setup, 4/3 housing worked for me.

    Good luck.
    dead dog likes this.
  6. dhaas

    dhaas Manta Ray

    # of Dives: 2,500 - 4,999
    Location: Stow OH
    One old guy's opinion here :)

    Full disclosure: I've been an Ikelite dealer for decades plus the last 5 years a Fantasea housing dealer. While enjoying decades of UW photography using beautiful lenses and set ups that joy has been eclipsed by two UW imaging changes. NEW small compact 1" sensor cameras and smart phones can meet the needs of the majority of recreational divers.

    99% of images are viewed on a phone, tablet, computer or maybe your TV. Hence the resolution of bigger systems is required MAYBE if you want to make a wall sized 4' X 6' print. Even then at viewing distance there are plenty of companies who can up res your digital file to make great looking decorative print from iPhone / Android smart phone pics. Wall sized prints on canvas, aluminum and even glass are out there folks......

    I still travel using a compact Canon G7X II (now also G7X III is out) in a Fantasea housing. The newest Fantasea Vacuum housings for Canon and Sony have a great pre-dve check system included.

    In the UWP112 issue from UwP, Your FREE underwater photography magazine there's an article where I spent a couple days with friends Phil Rudin (a friend and super accomplished pro photographer) and Christian Baki. We spent a couple days in Florida's Ginnie Springs after attending the scuba diving industry's DEMA show in Orlando last November.

    Christian being a super techno - geek along with his beautiful but large Nauticam Olympus camera used his iPhone 11 PRO MAX in a DiveVolk housing and produced incredible panoramas, time lapse shots and more with his smart phone.

    Read his article and you may rethink buying a large expensive set up for travel when it resumes, hopefully in 2021.

    UWPMag publisher Peter Rowlands also has a great article on smart phone housings in the same issue.

    One thing to add is I'm not "dissing" Mirrorless, SLRs, etc. I used them for many many years, made lots of underwater photography customers happy with real world advice (I used what I sold) plus did several paid shoots for book publishers, some magazines and licensed images for publication.

    Maybe my insights are also based now anting light and small for travel plus what's "good enough " for most folks use. I see a lot of snapshots taken with $5-10K underwater set ups too.

    If you can't dive 100-200+ dives per year always with such an expensive camera and don't PRACTICE with it your results won't be as stellar as the shooter in magazines, contest photo winners, etc. is all I'm saying.

    I truly believe compacts plus smart phone is where UW photography will evolve for the majority of underwater photographers. AI software, filters plus video lights will be a HUGE "sea change" similar to when film was replaced by digital shooting.

    My take is spend less, travel more and if you want to spend big bucks get a faster more capable computer. Learn to use any software you choose and share your pics. Have fun and don't make it like work :)

    David Haas - Old geezer diving 50 years in 2020 :)
    Former Dive Shop Owner, Scuba Instructor, Trip Organizer and Super Lazy Diver / Photographer

    Haas Photography Inc.
    peterak and mi000ke like this.
  7. Ministryofgiraffes

    Ministryofgiraffes Loggerhead Turtle

    # of Dives: 1,000 - 2,499
    Location: Toronto
    All good points above. Lots will depend on how much of a perfectionist you are and how much you want to play around with creative composition beyond ‘point and shoot’ ( will you be a diver who takes photos or an underwater photographer?)

    one thing missing from you considerations:

    -resale value... lots of nauticam kit holds its value well. You can buy an expensive rig setup and resell for ‘close’ to what you paid for it as it’s expensive and coveted.
    Also I generally find it a good idea to post these queries on wetpixel as well..always good to get as many opinions as you can.. mainly the ‘ I had that setup and preferred xxx for xxx reason’
  8. dhaas

    dhaas Manta Ray

    # of Dives: 2,500 - 4,999
    Location: Stow OH
    Ministryofgirraffes brings up a good point in resale of higher priced systems. The only thing that could affect that is how many potential BUYERS there might be for a one, two or whatever old generation camera housing.

    I've seen people sell stuff after a few years of use and get a decent price. I also see a lot of stuff being sold after someone who thought it would make their images "National Geographic quality". Just because they threw a ton of $$$ in they didn't realize it takes GEAR + PRACTICE and OPPORTUNITY (travel) to produce stellar images :)

    Again, this is only one long time diver / photographer's opinion LOL!

    Even after 50 years of diving I still delight in blowing bubbles and taking the occasional "happy snap" as my British friends call snapshots :)
  9. bvanant

    bvanant Loggerhead Turtle

    # of Dives:
    Location: Los Angeles (more or less)
    If you have u4/3 lenses, I would go with a EM-1 Mark II in Nauticam. The EM-1 focuses better than the 5DIII and has a bigger battery as well which means fewer openings of the housing.
  10. Steyr

    Steyr Nassau Grouper

    # of Dives: 200 - 499
    Location: Melbourne, Australia
    Thanks all for your input.

    In the end I got a good deal on an EM5 III, and will pick up a Nauticam housing. It's still a lot of money for me, but any other equivalent option was going to be considerably more expensive. I did consider an EM1 II, but the extra size added cost to the housing and it's that little bit less portable when travelling. The EM5 also uses the same battery as my previous E-PL5, so I even have spares of those.
    Blenny84 likes this.

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