What to Look for in Choosing a Video Camera Housing:
So, you’re interested in getting into underwater videography?
There’s no doubting that it’s an expensive hobby, especially in terms of the equipment you need to buy.
This means that in choosing a video camera housing and camera for the first time, it is vital that you do your homework for the package that is right for you – but without experience or being able to test different models underwater, how do you choose the right system for you?
There’s a large selection of video cameras and housings on the market, ranging from very cheap budget options to serious professional set-ups. The different models and technologies can be quite bewildering, but there are some easy decisions you can make to narrow your options down.
What is your budget?
It’s easy to get drawn into the benefits of the next best model, and then the next, and so on.
Technology moves on so fast that, whilst it’s almost impossible to keep up with owning the latest model, nowadays, even standard consumer video cameras, can shoot some great footage.
You should not feel that a slightly cheaper model would not suit your needs – in fact you could argue for choosing the least expensive or minimum model that meets your requirements – so that you can go out and get plenty of practise, whilst you save for a bigger and better model a few years down the line, when technology has marched forwards again, and you are in a better position to know what direction your underwater filming is taking.
Bear in mind as well, that the more expensive cameras and housings tend to come with more expensive add-ons and accessories, plus of course service & repair costs, which should also be considered when you decide on your budget.
What type of footage do you intend to shoot?
You should also take time to consider what you want to use your camera for. Do you just want to film for fun on holidays. Are you planning to find work as a videographer with a dive shop? Or maybe you want to get into TV production and make very high quality underwater productions or documentaries?
Choosing the right Video Camera for the job
If you want to film just for fun, almost any consumer video camera on the market should be fine and will produce images of a good enough quality to enjoy. If you want to work at a dive shop, you need a camera with a little more quality and a few more controls at your disposal underwater, especially the ability to manually set the white balance.
Cameras like the Sony Handycam HDR-CX550V or the Canon HF20/21 are good choices on the market at the moment.
Most of the newer models can film in HD which is great for your images, but can make the editing process a bit longer due to the larger files you will be working with. Many newer video cameras also have internal hard drives or flash drives which capture your film, rather than the older tape/dvd models. This gives you much more recording time and can save money in the long run from having to buy lots of replacement tapes. However, the technology means only the most robust computer systems will be able to handle the editing of these files.
You also ideally need a camera that is not too big and that you can easily carry around every day, but most of the models on the market today are quite compact and lightweight.
If you aspire to make programs for television or to enter into underwater film competitions, you’ll need to think a little bigger and go for a camera that is ideally a 3-CCD model that films higher quality, such as a Sony DCR-PC1000 or Canon XH A1/G1.
Another simple decision that you can make straight away is whether you want a PAL video camera or an NTSC model. PAL and NTSC are two differing TV systems that affect your video footage as they use different frame rates. PAL systems record at 25 frames per second, while NTSC systems record at 29.97 frames per second.
Generally, NTSC systems are used in North & South America, Japan, Korea & the Philippines, while the rest of the world use PAL. Make sure you pick a camera model that works with TVs for your area.
Choosing an Underwater Housing
Ok, so have an idea about the camera, now what about the housing? First, it’s very important to make sure there is at least one, but preferably a few housings are available for the camera you are looking at. It’s not a good idea to set your heart on a particular camera, or even go out and buy it, only to find that there is not a housing available. It may even be a good idea to look at underwater housings and casings first – to see what is available and then use this information as a starting point to choosing your video camera.
At the moment, Canon and Sony cameras seem to have the most underwater options available. Good underwater housing and casing manufacturers include; Ikelite, Gates, Amphibico, Light & Motion, Aquatica and SeaTool.
Manual or Electronic Controls?
You’ll also need to decide whether you want to go for a manual housing or an electronic model.
Manually controlled housings, such as Ikelite housings, connect to the camera controls manually via a series of rods & buttons.
Manually controlled housings tend to be cheaper and are often considered to be more reliable, but on the downside, may not have all the controls you need easily accessible.
Electronically controlled housings, such as Gates or Amphibico, connect to all the camera’s functions electronically, so all the controls you need are at your fingertips, at the touch of a button. This makes them very convenient & easy to use, but on the downside, they tend to be significantly more expensive to buy, and due to the complex electronics, can be a little less reliable than manual housings.
By considering these simple points, you can begin to narrow down a smaller range of cameras that are suitable for you and also what housing might be better. You will almost certainly be left with a few options though. How do you narrow this down to just one camera & housing?
How do you know if you’re making the right decision?
Firstly, if you are purchasing the equipment from a reputable dealer, they should give you honest advice on the strengths and weaknesses of individual models. Ask around a few different shops and concentrate on the quality of advice, rather than just the price.
Secondly, internet forums are a great place to receive advice or learn of other people’s experiences with a particular camera or housing. There are a range of useful websites with information and forum topics, both for video cameras and for underwater photography & videography.
Things to consider are if the camera is considered reliable; if you can access all the controls you need underwater; if they shoot good colours; if they are good in low light situations and if they have any glitches or small design faults.
Another good option is to take a short course in underwater videography, or make a few try dives with an instructor and a video camera before making your final decision. Once you have a little experience for yourself, then you are in a much better position to make an informed decision on the features of a camera & housing set-up that are most important to you.
By following this process and finding the answers to these questions, you will be able to get an excellent idea of which video camera & housing is right for you – ensuring that you avoid any expensive mistakes & enjoy your new hobby from the word go!
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