Underwater photography

Underwater photography

As I planned my photo options for the Maui trip, I definitely considered underwater photography.  While we would only be snorkeling for this trip, I knew I would get some good chances for images.  As a new member of Nikon Professional Services, I contacted them to get a loaner underwater casing for my Nikon D700.  Unfortunately, Nikon does not make underwater housings and they do not provide third-party accessories.  I certainly did not want to invest the $2,000 for underwater housing for a two-week trip.  So, I resolved to see what my options for renting would be once I got to the island.  Certainly the many dive shops would have some good options.

As it turns out, I was wrong.  There are no dive shops on the island that rent professional-grade underwater camera packages, or even underwater housings for DSLRs.  It is simply too much of an investment for them and not enough return; that is, not enough people like me looking for that quality of gear.  So, I checked several point-and-shoot rental options, but did not settle on a rental.  I decided I would try to purchase an underwater digital point-and-shot for the price that it would cost me to rent one over three days.  I went to the Wal Mart (god forbid) and purchased a Fuji XP1o, which is 12 megapixel and rated to be waterproof down to ten feet.  I took it out on one snorkel at a spot we had been to before and was able to come away with some acceptable images.  But one of the things that irritated me about the camera is that I could not change the ISO.  It had only one ISO setting, and that was “Auto.”  I wanted a higher ISO option for the darkness of the water.  But when I took the camera out a second time, it filled with water and I returned it.

I went back to Ed Robinson’s Diving Adventures, which was the first place I had checked out my options, and made arrangements to rent their Sea & Sea camera setup.  It included a basic point-and-shoot digital camera, but had its own housing and an underwater strobe.  After some tests underwater, I was able to find the best setting that provided for a higher ISO setting as well as use of the strobe.   But the major drawback to the setup, as is a problem with any of this class of camera, is that there is a delay between triggering the shutter and the actual taking of the image.  Additionally, as is typical for point-and-shoot digital cameras, the only file option is JPEG, with no opportunity for RAW capture.  As such, there is limited opportunity to correct the white balance in processing, leaving you completely at the mercy of whatever the camera selects. 

In addition to our own snorkeling destinations, Michelle and I took three snorkeling tours from Maui Dive Shop.  The first was their coral gardens trip, the second was a trip out to Molokini Island and “Turtle Town,” and the third was a ride on the Ali’i Nui out to “Turtle Point.”  The highlight was the Ali’i Nui, a 65-foot sailing catamaran, that took us out to a large coral outcrop that also hosted a large Hawksbill sea turtle population.  The waters were calm and clear, out to at least 60 feet.  After snorkeling for about an hour, we came back onboard to a great spread of food and exceptional drink selection.  I drank a POGmosa, which is a pomegranite-orange-guava juice with champagne.  On the trip to Molokini, the best part was not Molokini itself.  Molokini is a small half-exposed volcanic crater of an island, so situated that its sheltered crater provides for exceptionally clear conditions, with up to 100 feet of visibility.  But, quite frankly, I found it to be a bad snorkeling destination.  The rough seas – with at least ten foot swells – made for tough snorkeling and it was too deep in the areas where it was safe to snorkel.  I am sure it would be a great scuba destnation, however, because of the clarity.  After leaving Molokini, we headed toward Makena, seeing  bottlenose dolphins and a breaching calf humpback whale along the way.  The “Turtle Town” spot was much better, with shallower waters, great coral, abundant fish, and several turtles.  We even saw a spotted eagle ray, which was a nice touch.  Even then, it was still not as good as it could be because of the high swells that day.

All in all, I am now determined to do two things before my next tropical destination.  First, purchase an underwater housing and strobe for my D70o.  Second, wipe the dust of my PADI certification, so to speak, and familiarize myself again with the gear and techniques to make sure I can SCUBA next time.

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