Text and photography by David Oldale
I was at a loss, here was to be the full test on the INTOVA underwater camera system (to include the separate strobe) and I hit a glitch – so I am having it to put it on the back burner for a short while. So what the hell do I have to talk about? There’s only one thing for it, I will start twittering along and see where it gets us!
Well, there is now no doubt about it the digital camera is well and truly with us. To quote Cameras Underwater – ‘Film now only equates to 5% of the market.’ But there is a problem – as technology is increasing at such a fantastic rate, that brand new model digital camera that you bought yesterday was out of date before you had walked out of the shop! Whilst this may not seem too much of a problem for the budding underwater photographer who purchases a compact camera complete with underwater housing, strobe etc., in a package. The same is not the case for those that have bought a digital SLR (knowing that a housing was available at the time) and then tried to purchase that housing a few short months later – to be told, ‘Sorry your camera is an old model and the housing is out of stock and no longer available.’
The only advice I can possibly give is to wait until you can afford to buy both the camera and housing in one go. But do remember once the camera is out of guarantee and cannot be repaired (should a fault develop) the latest replacement model available will, in all likelihood not fit your expensive underwater housing! To me it seems that the digital camera revolution is very much weighed up against the underwater photographer. I would like to image that Nikon would bring out a Nikonos 6 – a waterproof digital SLR camera, the likelihood of which is probably about zilch! But this would definitely alleviate all these problems – so listen up NIKON something around 10 mega pixels should be absolutely spot-on and would be a winner! In the meantime I shall just soldier-on with my Nik 5 and Nikonos 15mm lens and pay out a small fortune for film. But there is one small recompense, in that I’m saving oodles of cash by using a digital camera for my land-shots – I’ve got no film to buy and as you know the results are seen straight after I have taken the shot – digital, it’s a bloody marvel but…
Some many years ago when in Malta, Mel at Meldives gave me a PADI publication entitled ‘Underwater Photography MACRO’. Oh yes, I read it through a number of times but never had felt the inclination to pursue this particular avenue. Being a photojournalist the shots mainly needed for Magazine work were always the big wide-angles – wrecks and large fish, with little requirement for pictures of tiny creatures no-matter how colourful or whatever! Then I was ordered out to complete a story on Seahorses; I would need to get close to achieve any decent shot – the wide angle lens would prove to be little better than useless – and I would have to go into Macro-mode. Out came the book which I studied; this would be a doddle – PADI said so in so many words – as most photographs started along this route before exploring the world of the wide-angle! But I needed more kit ie., a macro extension tube (to attach between the camera body and standard lens) and a wire framer. Here I hit the first problem as this kit was not so readily available as had been (NIKON had stopped producing the Nikonos 5 camera). Eventually I managed to get hold of a 1:2 kit (minus instructions) from Sea & Sea Ltd at a good price (so they said!). After much fathing about and wasted film I managed to work out that although the PADI book had stated that focussing had to be set to the minimal distance this proved not to be the case and would always have to be set to infinity (with this particular brand of make). So if you are still using film the ideal set up would be: Film – 50 ASA; Aperture – F22; with the strobe hand held to illuminate the subject (a modelling-light is a bonus). I have used 100 ASA film (at a push) and opened up the aperture to F16 with nearly equal results but don’t believe for one minute that macro is a push over and the results are guaranteed – they’re not! But when you do get it right and the subject is behaving the results can be breathtaking! Make sure that the subject is framed between the wire-frame but not touching it – this is paramount, we must harm nothing just for the sake of a picture!
The flashgun or strobe – Can you believe that when I first took a camera underwater my flashgun had bulbs which could only be used once and then discarded (to be replaced). We have come a long way since those early days. My first real strobe came in the form of an IKELITE 75 – a large heavy expensive affair with a built in rechargeable battery pack – it was great but didn’t last more than 4 seasons (of only average use) before giving up the ghost. I replaced it (as it worked out at a similar price for repair or replacement) again with another IKELITE the 100A (which is now very old) and it goes on and on and on – I absolutely love it – it works every time and will probably outlive me. The only thing that I have had to replace over the years is the lead that connects the strobe to the camera, as the internal wires tend to fail due to continual flexing – so if things start to go wrong – like your strobe fires when it wants to, it’s a good bet that you need a new lead. A spare really is a must and they are not repairable. I am probably the worst advocator of this rule as I haven’t a spare within my camera kit – I have been caught out before and no doubt will be caught out again but at £63 (they were much dearer a few years back) I will hang on a bit.
I had just returned from Tenerife by a few days (see Marine Life this issue) when I received a phone call from our illustrious Publisher Paul (who is based out there). It seems that our Videographic Editor Sheila had offered to help out at her brothers dive centre for a day and take out a party of divers (customers) to see the Stingrays. As she settled to the seabed she found herself right next to an Angel shark – which is most unusual during the summer months (it was July). The first thought that went through her mind – hey guys look at this, and then carefully started to fan away the sand from its short wings and body for the photographers in the party so that they could get a few shots! Up until that point everything had gone according to plan – it was not to continue!
As the group moved in the Angel shark obviously thought ‘sod this for a game of soldiers’, reared up from the sand and attacked Sheila… The divers vacated backwards rather quickly and were to say the least traumatised! The attack lasted no more than a minute in which time Sheila’s suit became shredded around her thigh and she received a definite munching – I always said her bum was too big – sorry Sheila! To get the Shark to let go she let rip with both fists and feet directed at the Shark’s head. Eventually it vacated the area.
Listening to this story over the phone I knew that I would have some absolutely fantastic pictures to put into this months Holiday Diver and that the photographers would achieve worldwide fame over-night… some hope! Not one of these guys had thought about taking a picture – they had forgotten that they were holding cameras! The moral of this story is – if you have the thing in your hands then bloody-well use it and be ready for any eventuality – when things happen they will happen when you are least expecting it! Make sure your camera is always ready for the next shot.
As I cruise around the World I meet many budding underwater photographers – who immediately show me the fruits of their labour. Many of the pictures shown are absolute rubbish, some are passable and then occasionally – you are presented with a portfolio that is ‘mind blowing’. When possible and with the photographers permission I obtain copies of their work (on CD) with the promise that I will reproduce some of their work within either one of my articles or give them a spot in Holiday Diver. To start the ball rolling this month I am using a picture taken by Andy Perkins (now a good friend and brilliant dive buddy) whom I met out in Sharm about 18 months ago and one by Gavin Galea (the son of Mel and Mhairi who own the Meldives Diving Centre, Malta). Now Gavin is just 16 years of age but has been diving for donkey’s years. Unlike his dad (himself a brilliant underwater photographer) who was brought up on film (like me), Gavin is of the modern age – the digital age. I saw his portfolio, I was most impressed – however I was even more impressed when I saw the camera equipment he was working with, not a digital SLR but a digital-compact in a housing with no external flash! But that is the way to learn – the hard way! As I always have said, ‘it’s the photographer that counts and not the tools’. So there you have it – Andy’s shot is of a shoal of Red snapper taken within the Ras-Mo Marine Reserve, Egypt whilst Gavin’s is of a Lobster taken on the wall off Cirkewwa, Malta. These, in my opinion are just two great shots!
Next Month – with luck there will be the final INTOVA test and new test on the Sealife digital camera.
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