It started innocently enough - a quick visit to Amazon to purchase a disposable waterproof camera to get some underwater shots. Four hours later, I had somehow managed to develop an underwater camera obsession, and could even be seen eyeing up Ikelite Housing for my DSLR at a whopping $1,700. I have looked at everything from disposables to "rugged" cameras to underwater housings, so I thought I'd put all that recently gained knowledge to good use and list some of the options that are available to you if you fancy taking some underwater pictures yourself.....
1) Disposable Camera
A very cheap and cheerful option priced at around $9 a go is the waterproof disposable camera. Image quality will be poor and you get zero control of any description, but if you just want to record the moment you can't really go wrong. This is what I have used in the past, and whilst the image quality is poor (poorer than an iPhone snap) for price they can't be beaten.
2) WaterProof Housing for iPhone
The second option I looked at was a waterproof housing for the iPhone - I looked at two: the LIfeProof ones, and the Watershot ones (which someone else helpfully pointed out to me) Of the two, the Watershot one looks the best - the number of reviewers stating that their cameras didn't work after using the Lifeproof case really put me off: I want my $500 phone to be in one piece after an outing to the pool! There are a few of these housings available, just do your research and make sure you test them before bringing your iPhone into water with it. This is a great option if you just want to take casual pics, and have the ability to use what you already have!
3) Rugged WaterProof Point and Shoots
There are a few of these on the market, each at different price points. As a rule they are all waterproof, shock proof, drop proof and so on, making them ideal for handing over to the kids to take photos or for general family holidays at the beach or pool etc. The downside to these is that the Image quality is poorer than those taken with a comparable point and shoot that doesn't have the same "tough" factor.
Here are some of the ones available and their price points.
Naturally, as you go up the price points the features go up: if you are interested primarily in photo quality look at the aperture, ISO speed, sensor size, autofocus speed and frames per second, just as you would with any camera. If you intend to do deeper diving etc, then look at the "toughness" specs - they all have different ratings for underwater etc.
4) Point and Shoot with Underwater Housing
If you already have a point and shoot then this might be a no-brainer, you can simply pick up an underwater housing for it and away you go! The only point and shoot I have is years old, and therefore the specs of it are surpassed even by the rugged point and shoots, and to add to it, underwater housing hard to come by for this model and therefore expensive. If you have a newer model though, you should be able to pick up a housing relatively cheaply. You'll get better results if you get a housing built specifically for your point and shoot model, so you'll need to search on Amazon for it. These range from about $100 to $400, depending on manufacturers etc.
If you don't already have one, but are more serious about underwater photography, then you can of course buy a decent point and shoot and the housing, and this will give you better control and image quality than the rugged versions above. A friend of mine said that she noticed that many pros used the Sony RX100 (original model which is priced around $400) combined with a underwater housing (at around $150 upwards depending on brand) and were taking amazing images with them - and as usual she was right :) It looks like a good combination that is relatively inexpensive and will give you great looking images.
5) Waterproof Housing for your DSLR
If you are really serious about taking decent underwater shots, then you can also invest in an underwater housing for your DSLR. At this point, I would not scrimp on quality as if water gets in, it's toast for your DSLR so it's a pricey mistake. Ikelite are generally considered to be the best - the one for the Canon 5D Mk3 comes in at a whopping $1,799 though. This takes it out of many people's price range, and although of course you can get cheaper versions (one from Neewer for example only costs around $600) it's still only worth it if you are serious about underwater photography.
The plus side is you get complete creative control of your images, both in capture and in processing.
Which is the right one for you?
I think that covers all the types of options available, and I don't believe that one is preferable to the other: it depends on how serious you are about underwater photography, or whether you just want a family friendly option, and of course how much you are willing to pay. If you just want a laugh with the camera then choose a disposable or one of the cheaper rugged point and shoots. If you still want to take semi-decent pics, and love the idea of having a camera that is virtually indestructible (i.e 5 year old proof!) and something for family holidays then get one of the higher priced rugged ones. If you really do want to get the best pictures possible but still in a "normal" environment, then either a point and shoot with housing is your best bet, or an an underwater housing for your DSLR if you are very serious about it.
What I Went For...
Wondering what I plumped for in the end? Well, naturally I ended up spending more money than I wanted to, and the disposal camera I was first going to buy was upgraded to the Olympus TG-4. There were a few reasons I plumped for this: firstly, I wanted something that was rugged as I figured this would make a good family camera, and one that could be handed over to the youngest member with no issues at all. As I had intended getting him a camera at some point, it made sense to combine the two. Of course a cheaper one would have sufficed for this, but I really couldn't resist the ability to shoot in RAW, the F2.0 aperture, and focus control that you got with the TG4 over the cheaper models available. And, if you really want to hear all my reasonings, I also recently won a $100 Amazon voucher in a raffle, and I figured that this would make up the difference from the cheaper versions, so really it just cost me the same as the cheaper ones......(women's logic at play here, don't intervene)
Only time will tell if this will end up a impulse buy that I regret spending money on as it gathers dust on the shelf, or the best thing that I have purchased for a while: unfortunately I don't even have it in my hands yet to get an idea of what it will be, but as soon as I know, you'll know!
UPDATED TO ADD - YOU CAN READ A REVIEW OF THE TG-4 HERE!