I suffered a photographer’s nightmare on this trip, the loss of an expensive camera system because of an equipment failure. I was snorkeling off of Key West when I noticed some weird behavior by my Olympus E-5. It sounded like the shutter button was locked in the firing position and blasting a stream of images. The camera then stopped responding. I swam back to the boat and handed my gear up to one of the crew.
“Is this camera waterproof?” he asked.
“No. It’s supposed to be water resistant,” I answered. (The E-5, like other “pro” cameras is supposed to be weather sealed to provide some protection against the elements.)
Once on the boat, I checked the camera expecting the worst. Sure enough, I could see water inside the LCD display and the lens. My flash and battery pack were also toast. Sea water is the absolutely worst thing for a camera and I had no doubt my gear was wrecked.
What happened? I was using an Ewa Marine UAXP soft housing. While I didn’t have a lot faith in it as a dive housing, I was confident it would be safe for simple snorkeling, especially since I’d wet tested it in my sink at home and then in the hotel pool the day before this excursion. I never had it more than two feet below the surface while snorkeling. Somehow it just didn’t get the job done.
I’m now hoping my homeowner’s insurance will cover at least some of the loss. If not, well, I was aware of the risk I was taking and knew there was a chance things could go terribly wrong. I did have a backup camera with me and still have a Canon DSLR system to fall back on (plus photography is not my job anymore, I just do it for fun these days). I can eat the loss if I have to, but I guarantee I’ll never trust Ewa Marine (or any soft housing) ever again. If I do decide to go beyond a cheap underwater point and shoot (like the SeaLife point and shoot I ended up using) I’ll go with some kind of hard camera housing.
When you have as much equipment as I do, planning what to take on a vacation can be a real challenge. After 30 plus years as a pro photographer and photography writer, I’ve accumulated a lot of gear (heck, I even helped write a book on photo gear and accumulated even more stuff in the process).
The Old Battle Axe and I are getting ready for a trip to Key West. While we’ve never been there before, there’s obviously a lot to photograph and we only have about three days there. One highlight for us will be getting a chance to do some snorkeling. We tried snorkeling for the first time a few years ago during a visit to Grand Cayman during a Caribbean cruise. At the time, we purchased a small Olympus underwater digital camera and were quite pleased with the results.
Over the years we’ve experimented with other inexpensive underwater options. Our best results so far have come from a little Canon point and shoot and hard case underwater housing. We’ve used this snorkeling in Cozumel, Mexico and underwater nudes in a swimming pool back home with excellent results.
This time around I’m trying out an Ewa Marine soft underwater housing I bought off ebay last year. I plan on using my Olympus E-5 in this housing rather than my Canon 40D for two reasons. One, I’m currently writing a user guide to the E-5 and two, the E-5 has better sealing against the elements so if there’s a small leak in the Ewa Marine, I’ll have a better chance to save the camera.
I’m also bringing my Olympus E-P2 and a backup Ewa Marine soft housing I bought a few years ago (it’s a much older model designed for a small SLR film camera). The two can share the E-5’s lenses (with an adapter) and use the same flash units. I can also use my Lensbaby kit with the E-P2, but not the E-5.
The next question becomes which lenses to bring? The 9-18 is probably the best choice for underwater; the 12-60 SWD is a great all around lens and the 55-200 SWD is a quality optic with some serious reach. I also have the Olympus 70-300 which is smaller, lighter and has even greater reach, but isn’t a fast when it comes to light gathering or auto focus as the 50-200. I’ll probably leave the 70-300 at home because of that.
For the E-P2 I’m also going to bring my Panasonic 14-140, which I normally use with my GF1. This has turned into my favorite micro four thirds lens because of its ruggedness, AF speed and versatility. It will work just fine with the E-P2.