Underwater photographers on iNat, how can you guys get such clear, high resolution photos, while the pictures I take while diving/snorkeling are blurry/low resolution or grainy? I am using an Akaso V50 Elite to take my pictures. Should I upgrade to a higher-end action camera or maybe even a DSLR with an underwater case? Do you have any tips on cameras, settings etc? Thanks.
You can start with checking older posts about it: https://forum.inaturalist.org/search?q=underwater
I don’t think you’ll be able to get great photos with an action camera because the lens and sensor are not designed for that. However, diving with a DSLR is a serious investment. If you have any doubts about spending the money, I recommend searching for a used compact camera like the Olympus TG series with a dive housing. It’s cheaper, smaller and easier to manage on a dive and you’ll see a dramatic improvement in quality over an action cam. It does have a limited upgrade path (no lenses).
I personally use an old, beat up micro 4/3s camera. It has a lot more upgrade options than a compact, but I was able to buy the body, single lens and a dive housing for less than the cost of just a DSLR housing.
The other thing to consider is lighting. Where I dive (US Pacific Northwest) the best camera in the world is useless without a set of strobes. That may not be a requirement if you’re diving in clear, shallow water, but you’ll get better photos once you understand and control the lighting.
Your gear needs are also going to be different depending on your goal. My camera is capable of far better photos than I normally take, but I’m usually just trying to catalog what’s out there rather than shoot a magazine cover photo.
I can’t speak to this much but for a lot of underwater photographers the locations they shoot in have very clear water and artificial light is frequently used.
I can, however, speak to my experience with an Akaso camera. I don’t know how they manage such great reviews on Amazon but the one I bought was terrible and they essentially lied about their specs by claiming 4k and 16 megapixels but really all it was was upscaled from a much lower resolution which to my eye seemed like 800x600 or possibly even lower. I remember a particularly frustrating experience where I was basically on top of this goby and couldn’t manage a coherent photo https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/101026316 .
I switched to an Olympus TG6 and, and while my photos are not superb it is a much easier and more enjoyable experience, the macro is fantastic for both underwater and above and zoom works well with it, and I feel I’m the limiting factor between good photos and the ones I’m getting (as well as where I choose to take pictures, accessories, etc). Here’s a couple photos of a sand shrimp I got with this camera https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/122489953 . Again, nothing amazing as I mostly snorkel in murky saltmarshes, but the photos are nice and clear, the photos were an easy point and click, and I think the zoom is pretty impressive for a point and shoot.
That is not to say the TG6 is the best camera or that I’m saying that’s the one you should use, but I would recommend trying other options besides the Akaso, if possible. If you’re stuck on action cams, I’d see if you can try out a GoPro to see the difference in IQ, I’d bet it would be a reasonable step up but is mostly useful for wide angle like landscapes or large critters.
Also jinx @greenwaterdiver , and welcome to the forum!
Firstly, to echo what others have said above, you are limited with what you can capture with an action camera. If you’re looking to invest in your underwater photography then an Olympus TG5 or 6 would be my recommendation too. They have a good price point, intuitive to use, idiot proof (as in, they’re waterproof without a housing. So while I would definitely buy a housing for it, if it ever floods you won’t lose the camera) and while you can’t get lens add ons the in built modes offer good flexibility and you can supplement it with a video light or strobes.
I used a TG4 for years and now have I a TG6. I’ve recently also bought an EM5 which I’ll start using for more underwater macro photography.
Now that’s out the way, here’s some basic tips and tricks to improve your underwater photography:
- Be a good diver first! So many people go straight to buying a camera. Make sure your buoyancy, trim, dive awareness etc are all excellent before adding in the camera.
- Low and slow. Approach marine life slowly, don’t chase or touch or you’ll spook/damage them. Try to not take photos from above the organism, approach from a low angle to get some depth of field into the image.
- Lighting. Where possible (with your current camera or if you’re not using external lighting) make use of natural lighting. You lose colour rapidly the deeper that you go. Pictures in the shallows will come out nicer. If you upgrade your camera, seriously consider a video light or strobe to bring out the colours. If not using natural lighting make sure you know how to set the white balance on your camera.
- Get close! Closer is generally better underwater. Water is a denser medium than air and getting close is key to reducing backscatter in your images and having them come out clearer.
- Know your subject. Fish are tricky, they dart about a lot. Practice on stationary or slow moving marine creatures. Sponges, tunicates and corals are often overlooked by divers; I find these to be particularly rewarding subjects to upload to inat even though I’m terrible at identifying them. Sea slugs, starfish, crabs and snails all make for excellent practice subjects since they don’t move too much.
Upgrading your camera equipment will certainly help to an extent. I’ve seen plenty of photographers get incredible shots with a ‘basic’ camera set up like the TG series compared to some people that have splashed the cash and ended up with ‘all the gear but no idea’.
Not to detract from OP’s post, but since I think the question will be relevant I’m going to ask- What is the rationale behind a housing if the camera is water/shockproof? I only take mine snorkeling in shallow water and rinse it after each use, but would consider getting one if it makes sense. I always just thought the housing would make it harder to access buttons and such.
For snorkeling I don’t think there’s a need for it. However, the camera itself is only waterproof down to 15 metres which is quite a shallow restriction for diving. My ikelite housing is rated down to 60 metres (although I’ve found anything past 40 metres and the buttons stick so much it becomes unusable). Most divers will be going to a max depth of 30 metres so the housing will allow them to take the camera on most recreational dives.
Since I’m using it at depth, I never submerge mine without the housing. It’s just extra protection against the damage of saltwater. But I know it’s designed to withstand that and a proper freshwater rinse should be sufficient to maximize the lifespan.
I’ve used the TG series for a long time and am on a TG-6 now with the Olympus housing. The reason I got the housing (and a simple tray) is that it is so much easier to use with gloves underwater. If you want to switch settings or attach the camera to your wrist or attach a strobe(s) the housing makes it very simple.
That’s good to know, I would have thought it would make it harder. I’ll have to look into one as I often wear gloves when snorkeling, thanks!
GoPro is a good fit for underwater photography
Thanks everybody for the replies! I’ll look into the Olympus TG series.