Part 1 Underwater Cameras and Housings
Kayaking with a camera presents its own set of hazards, the main one (obviously) being water. Today, cameras are more susceptible to damage if they get wet, than in the days of film. There are all sorts of stories about the old, fully manual cameras being accidentally dropped in water, the film being kept wet until developing (beautiful negatives and prints resulting,) while the camera was allowed to dry, maybe cleaned, if the water was really dirty, and the camera then giving years of great service.
Try that with digital cameras (unless you have one of the more specialized ones made for water.) Get your digital camera wet, and that could be it. Fried circuitry, watermarks on the sensor… not good.
This means we need to devise ways to keep our cameras safe, when kayaking. There are four main options, each with their own set of pros and cons. Some will work better for each person, depending on her kayaking style and what she wants from her camera.
First, there is the simplest solution. Buy a camera that is made to get wet. There are several brands out there, ranging in zoom capabilities and megapixels, but most of them coming back to the same benefits and shortfalls. They are generally smaller (this is a plus- easier to stash away when not in use, yet keep accessible,) they can survive being accidentally dropped in the water (big plus.)
These cameras are often fairly rugged, designed to take a little more of a beating than many of their dryland cousins. This can be handy when you are on swift moving rivers where there are many chances to tip over and perhaps hit a rock or bang against the kayak. These cameras are also usually slightly buoyant, and will float somewhat if dropped in the water.
Take note though, the ability of these cameras to go in the water is not necessarily the boon it seems. If you put the camera in the water to take pictures of a starfish or anemone, you’ve effectively disabled your camera for sometime for above water photography. There are now water droplets on the lens which either confuse the autofocus, or add distortion to your pictures. Drying off the lens, you must be careful of scratching the lens. Allowing the lens to air dry leaves watermarks that then need to be wiped off. (If you are on the ocean or in a bay, be sure to rinse the camera in freshwater each time before wiping the lens- dried salt can scratch lenses.)
Another drawback to many of the made for water cameras is that they don’t have hoods. I love having a hood for kayak photography. Not only does it keep the lens shaded from the sun, it also protects it from incidental water droplets that can drip from the paddle or splash up as you pass through small waves (or a myriad of other causes.) I’ve made simple throwaway hoods for these cameras using plastic bottles and black tape (to make the camera opaque, not to attach the hood,) but they were rarely sturdy enough for longer outings.
I’ve also found that if my camera has been getting regularly submerged I am more reluctant to change the memory card and batteries for fear of not noticing water droplets that could damage the camera while its innards are temporarily exposed. Caution can be a good thing when swapping out.
I suppose the final downside for me is that I am a lens geek. I really like having an array of lenses with me, changing them out as the shooting subject demands. Most of the ready made water cameras lack the ability to change lenses.
So what does all of this mean… Underwater cameras are good when you need extra rugged or you expect to be dumped in the water. They are also very handy if you want to be able to take pictures of what is under the water, by sticking your hand in. They are convenient, small and light weight. A good camera for basic photography and landscapes. Also what you would likely want on a river or in rougher seas.
If you plan on doing wildlife or bird photography above the water, chances are you want to try a different option where you can use longer lenses.
I am including underwater housings mostly as a side note in this post, as I find that much of this also holds true for them. Many of these same pros and cons apply. They are more rugged. There is no fear of getting them wet. There is the chance to take great pictures. But. Water droplets can be an issue. There is no hood. In addition, if using an underwater housing be aware of condensation inside of the housing. This can be an issue if you are frequently subjecting the camera to temperature changes by bringing it in and out of the water.
Happy paddling (and shooting,)