Today’s Question: Do you recommend buying a dedicated underwater camera, or using an underwater case for a camera or smartphone?
Tim’s Quick Answer: The answer here depends in large part on your personal preference and how serious you are about underwater photography. For casual underwater photography I recommend a dedicated “rugged” camera that is waterproof. For more serious photography I recommend employing an underwater housing for a digital SLR.
More Detail: Photography has a (well-earned) reputation for being a relatively expensive pursuit, and taking your photography underwater can certainly increase the cost when it comes to equipment. An underwater housing for a digital SLR, along with strobes and other accessories, can easily cost several thousand dollars. Especially for photographers who are just looking for a casual way to include underwater subjects in their photography, that can be an option that is considered too expensive to pursue.
I’ve used a variety of underwater cases for different cameras. As a good “in between” option I’ve made use of a relatively inexpensive underwater bag for a digital SLR, with very good results. I used a bag from Ewa-Marine, an example of which you can find here:
I’ve also used several different cases for a smartphone, which I’ve had mixed results with. My current favorite is a bag that has proven to work quite well overall, an example of which you can find here:
In general I’ve found that when I want to achieve the best quality possible for my photos, I prefer to use an underwater housing (such as the bag from Ewa-Marine noted above) for a digital SLR or mirrorless camera. For more casual underwater (or near the water) photography, I’ll protect my smartphone with an underwater case or bag.
However, every time I go underwater with my iPhone, I realize that it probably isn’t worth the risk of damaging my phone in pursuit of casual underwater photos. Therefore, I think a dedicated point-and-shoot camera that is waterproof and rugged in general makes the most sense for more casual photography in or near the water.
For example, this CoolPix model from Nikon provides a rugged point-and-shoot photography option that is also waterproof to depths of up to 100 feet: