Getting a waterproof case for my PowerShots as I was headed down to Mexico for ten days of sandy and underwater fun seemed like a fine idea, but bringing three different cameras and three different housings to test seemed a little nuts since I am not an experienced diver.
The cameras I took were Canon's newest pro compact cameras in the G and S PowerShot series: The PowerShot G1 X, PowerShot G12 and PowerShot S100. I also brought their matching waterproof cases: the WP-DC44, WP-DC 34, and WP-DC 43 respectively.
The truth is, it was a remarkable experience on several different levels. I have to admit, I am sold on these cases. Read more to learn some underwater shooting and editing tips as well as proper set-up and usage of Canon's waterproof housings.
Before and after submerging a waterproof case in water, especially salt water, it is extremely important to follow some basic preparation and maintenance steps, which require just a few minutes, but are paramount to keeping your case, and therefore your camera, waterproof.
The O-ring is the key element that keeps your camera safe and sound. This watertight barrier seals the case and prevents water from coming into contact with the camera. Hold one section of the O-ring between the tips of two fingers without stretching or pulling it. Be sure the entire O-ring does not contain any foreign objects, like hair or sand. It is hard to believe, but a single grain of sand could cause a leak!
Once you have determined that the O-ring is clean, use a finger to spread a droplet of watertight silicone grease (included with the case) along the full length of the O-ring. Carefully return the O-ring to its groove in the case. All the cases come with a locking mechanism that is very easy to use. Be sure to check that the catch is locked securely to prevent water from damaging the camera.
To double check the case, without putting the camera at risk, here's a cool and simple trick that a friend passed on to me: Submerge the empty case in water the night before a dive to check for any leaks. Then, repeat this test on the day of the dive with the camera inside the case just for a moment. After both tests have been successfully completed, you are ready to play with your waterproof case!
On land, I generally prefer to use the optical viewfinder, but in the water with the case, the diving mask, the water, and waves it can get really tricky to frame properly. Having a large LCD on the back of the camera makes it quick and easy to compose and frame the desired shot.
I found that the best time to shoot underwater was right around noon (which is normally the worst time to shoot on land, due to challenges with direct mid-day sunlight). However, don't forget to put a lot of sunscreen on your back and shoulders, especially if you are snorkeling!
The front lens element waterproof case will get dirty from a number a things: fingerprints, sun block, sand, dry droplets, etc. To avoid scratching it, make sure there's no sand or dirt on it before you wipe it clean.
Guess what: The cases float! If necessary or preferred, small weights can be purchased separately (as an accessory), and they are really easy to install.
The battery performance for the three systems was excellent. Paired with a large capacity memory card (I was using 32GB cards), I was able to shoot all day without removing the cameras from their cases.
To avoid motion blur (especially when the waves were hitting hard), I used the fastest shutter speed that I could. I set my cameras on Shutter-priority and took advantage of the Auto ISO feature with pleasant results.
It only takes a few simple steps to maintain the integrity of the watertight seal on the underwater housing. After each day of use, remove the camera and then soak the case (without the camera inside!) in fresh water. Repeatedly move all of the case's buttons and dials (except the lid buckle) to remove any sand, salt, hair, or any other foreign particles. If sand is found in the case, hold the case with the buttons facing downward and vigorously rinse it in water.
When home from your trip, be sure to soak the case in lukewarm water to dissolve any salt that may have entered smaller crevices. I used a cotton swab for this. It is important to note that it is recommended that you replace the O-ring once a year.
The Yucatan Peninsula – a humid environment with drastic temperature changes – is a tricky place to shoot. Any camera and lens (and even waterproof watches) will fog when going from cool dry air to warm humid air. Precisely because the waterproof cases are sealed so well, they keep the humid air inside and when the temperature changes, they fog up. This happened when leaving the freezing hotel room and going straight to the beach, or right after getting off the tour bus. I experienced the same situation in Hawaii, but there the fogging was caused due to the island's drastic elevation changes. A simple solution was to remove the camera from the case, wipe off the condensation from both the case and the camera with a soft, dry cloth, and wait a few minutes for any moisture to evaporate.
What really sold me on the waterproof cases was the fact that I used them for more than just underwater activities. I used them at the beach, in the pool, throughout a couple of days of nasty tropical storms, and on day trips exploring the Mayan ruins of Ek' Balam and Tulum.
If you already own a Canon PowerShot there is a good chance that there is an underwater housing/accessory made for your camera. In the case of EOS DSLRs, underwater housings would be made by a third-party party manufacturer such as Seacam or Ikelite. Waterproof cases might seem expensive at first, but I truly believe that in the grand scheme of things they are not. The cases I brought to Mexico cost roughly half as much as a point and shoot, but they provide photographers who want the best image quality AND full camera control an elegant and affordable solution. The cases also offer something we all want during our vacations: peace of mind.
Shooting under, and over, the water's surface provides some unique challenges. There is only so much you can do in camera so some additional steps are often required in post-processing to enhance your images.
Water absorbs different wavelengths of light, starting with red and then followed by orange and yellow. This can make the image look flat and desaturated. If you are shooting RAW, as the G-series and S-series PowerShot cameras allow, you have great flexibility to tweak the white balance in post-prossing to bring back these lost colors using Canon's Digital Photo Professional, or similar RAW processing software. Comparing the same RAW underwater image as shot with the auto white balance preset versus a Cloudy white balance (±6500–8000 kelvin) preset, and a custom white balance with added contrast, the differences are evident that a small adjustment yields a more natural and pleasing result. Professional underwater photographers such as Explorer of Light, Stephen Frink uses specialized off camera strobes to bring the colors and contrast back to the image.
Tip: Using the "Underwater" shooting mode preset in camera makes the images a bit warmer when shooting JPEGs.
There are a few things to consider before purchasing a waterproof case. Since I was traveling for fun (there were no plans to scuba dive among sharks!), the most important technical consideration I had for the waterproof cases was ease of use.
Some photographers might rank manual control first, especially if they are using underwater flashes, which, not being E-TTL, require manual exposure settings. They should be sure to test the cases and verify that they can easily control the desired settings with the camera in the housing.
Professional divers might have the case's depth rating as their top priority. The three waterproof cases that I used are rated up to depths of 130 feet (40 meters). Just as a reference, a children's play pool may go from 1 to 4 feet (0.3 to 1.2 meters) deep and a pool specifically designed for diving may slope from 9.8 to 18 feet (3.0 to 5.5 meters) in the deep end.
I strongly recommend reading the instruction manuals for both the camera AND the waterproof case before using them. At the very least, familiarize yourself with the most-used controls like shooting mode, playback, ISO, zoom, and the locking mechanism before heading to the water. An additional helpful resource is the PowerShot Underwater Photography section on the Canon USA website.
Nearly three quarters of the earth is underwater. Canon's waterproof cases allow you to explore this vast and fascinating environment even further. By following a few simple tips and tricks, you can take your underwater images from good to great.
The CDLC contributors are compensated spokespersons and actual users of the Canon products that they promote.