How To Photograph Underwater Using A Mirrorless Camera

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The newest mirrorless cameras have a great balance between high-end image quality and physical practicality, which makes them ideal for underwater shoots. Since divers need to carry around a lot of dive equipment, the lightweight and compact size of mirrorless cameras can certainly make their endeavors much easier.
Nowadays almost every manufacturer is producing underwater housings for mirrorless cameras – any accessory you can get for your DSLR, you can almost certainly get for your mirrorless at a fraction of the cost. These housings are really reliable nowadays, especially those which belong to high-end brands and are made of quality waterproof materials.
Before we focus on various housings for mirrorless cameras, we’ll cover all you need for a successful underwater shoot. In case you’re an absolute beginner, you should definitely start slowly and skip things like strobe kits (you can practice with natural light only, at least in the beginning!).

Photo by Jacob Owens

What do you need for an underwater shoot?

The five basic items:

  • Mirrorless camera
  • Lens – preferably macro or wide angle
  • Underwater housing from a reputable seller
  • Lens port – its function is to correct the refractive properties of water
  • External strobe kit consisting of strobe, arm system, and cable – this is for more advanced underwater photographers

Additional five items for serious underwater shoots:

  • Focus light and holder to help you shoot more quickly
  • Second strobe kit if you want more elaborate lighting
  • Additional lenses – you can experiment with portrait ones as well
  • Additional lens ports
  • A case for safety – it’s watertight protection for photography gear
Photo by Jacob Owens

Finding The Perfect Underwater Housing

If you want to use a mirrorless camera for underwater photography, it’s really important to choose a camera that already has an existing underwater housing on the market. There are many third-party manufacturers that sell quality housings in case the camera producer doesn’t have any housing options. For instance, Panasonic and Olympus are one of the leaders on the mirrorless market and they make their own underwater housings, while Canon and Nikon don’t make them and housings for their cameras are produced by Ikelite, Nauticam, Inon, Aquatica, and similar brands.
What really matters is to choose an underwater housing that is made of quality materials. Underwater housings can be made of different materials – some of them are safer than the others. High-end housings are usually made of aluminum while cheaper housings are made of plastic.
When buying a housing, there are a few other things that you should look for in addition to quality materials. Additional important features on the housings are easy access to the camera controls, good ergonomics, fiber optic connections, good viewfinder options and also leakage alarms.
You should certainly avoid buying cheap underwater housings because they might start leaking at some point and ruin your camera. Cheap plastic housings are also too large and it’s really hard to handle them.

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Photo by Jacob Owens

Mirrorless Camera Underwater Housings

The following list includes some of the most reliable underwater brands and their housings:

  • Olympus – Their most popular underwater housings are for E-PL1, E-Pl2, E-PL3, E-PL5, E-PL7, E-PM1, and E-M1 Mark II.
  • 10-bar – They make housings for Olympus models E-PL1, GF-1, GF-2, and GH-1.
  • Ikelite – They are well-known for their quality housings for many camera models, such as the popular Sony A7R III.
  • Recsea -Their housings are made for Olympus cameras such as E-PL1, GF-1, GF2, GH-1, NEX-5, NEX-5N, NEX-7, GH-2 and OM-D E-M1.
  • Nauticam – This company makes housings for various mirrorless cameras, such as the Olympus OM‑D E‑M1, the Panasonic GH5, and the full-frame Sony A7R III.
  • Aquatica – They make aluminum housings for Olympus, Panasonic and Sony mirrorless cameras.
  • Sea & Sea – They also make quality aluminum housings, mainly for Sony models.
  • Acquapazza – This company makes great quality housings for Sony models NEX-5 & NEX-5N.

10 Tips For Shooting With Underwater Housings

These are the basic underwater photography tips everyone should know – they will make your underwater shoots much easier and less chaotic.

1. Get Closer

No matter what kind of subject you plan to shoot during your underwater session, you should get close to it – within 12 inches approximately. Bear in mind that water reduces color and contrast and that can make your images rather flat.

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2. Use Flash

While flash is not necessary, it will make your underwater sessions somewhat easier. Make sure your camera flash is turned on!

Photo by Panthum Danthanarayana

3. Position Your Flash Properly

In case you’re a more advanced user and you know how to use an external flash while shooting underwater, you shouldn’t forget to place your flash as far away from your housing as possible to reduce backscatter.

4. Stick To Low ISO

It’s crucial to stick to low ISO in underwater sessions and avoid noise as much as possible. In order to achieve this, you should set your camera to the highest resolution and the lowest ISO. Always shoot RAW during your underwater sessions.

5. Adjust White Balance

Setting a correct white balance can be somewhat confusing when shooting underwater. The best scenario would be to use auto white-balance when using a flash and custom white balance when using only natural light.

6. Shoot In Aperture Priority Mode

It’s a good idea to use manual mode or aperture priority mode underwater because these modes will allow you to have more control over the natural light as well as the light from your flash.

Photo by Liona Toussaint

7. Experiment With Spot Focus Mode

It’s not easy to focus underwater – sometimes it is the most challenging part of this kind of photo shoots. In order to focus quickly, try using spot metering.

8. Be Aware Of Shutter Speed

Your underwater photos might be somewhat blurry especially if you’re new to this genre of photography. The shutter speed you use matters a lot – it should be around 1/30th for still objects, 1/60th for slow-moving objects and 1/125th for faster moving objects such as fish.

9. Carefully Choose Lenses

Your choice of lenses should depend on the type of photo you want to get. For instance, you can use a 100mm isolate the subject just like in portraiture or wide-angle lenses for landscape scenes.

10. Bring A Dive Light

In case you plan to do deep diving or dive after sunset, you should bring a dive light with you in addition to flash.

Photo by Sebastian Pema Lambarri

If you plan to start exploring and photographing underwater environments, you should be aware of the fact that mirrorless cameras might be the perfect choice because they allow users to devote more attention to creative results without having to deal with large and heavy camera bodies associated with DSLRs. You should definitely give mirrorless cameras a try – you might be surprised at their quality!
To learn more about underwater photography and underwater housings, check out the following links:

Further Resources:

  1. Muses – The Awe-Inspiring Underwater Photography Of Christy Lee Rogers
  2. 5 Steps To Taking Powerful Underwater Photos
  3. NEMO Is A Drone Capable Of Underwater Diving Up to 100 Meters
  4. Underwater Camera Housing
  5. 7 Best Underwater Camera Housings
  6. Best Mirrorless Cameras For Underwater Photography

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Jasenka is our web designer and one of our content writers. She has 10 years of experience writing and 5 in graphic and web design, and you can get to know her better here.

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