My Underwater Camera Gear
Updated: Jul 22, 2020
This page is to highlight the gear that I am currently using. As a passionate marine ecologist and a self-trained photographer who wants to capture the underwater world, I have spent months scrolling forums and watching videos about techniques, lens choices, price comparisons and then doing analysis of specs, auditing the 'future-proof' potential and weight issues to make a camera package that keeps traveling easy and less expensive and gives me the gear to get the shots I want.
I have tried to make my kit the ultimate light weight travel ensemble with the possibility to extend the longevity of the gear when I can afford to upgrade to more high-end compatible lenses to hopefully, match my growing photography skills.
Value, versatility and travel-friendly were my key criteria with building this package over the years. I am incredibly happy with the gear that I am using at present and am looking forward to adding to my collection going forward.
My camera is the Sony a6500 mirrorless body. The camera packs a 24mp APS-C into a tiny, lightweight body which is also capable of shooting 4K video. The 5 axis in-body image stabilization means that all photos taken on any lens will benefit from top end image stabilization. The size and weight is one of the smallest and lightest cameras on the market, comparable to the top end compact cameras which makes it so easy to travel with and handle underwater.
The main drawback for Sony cameras has been their battery life and their lenses were few and expensive, but they have recently released more lenses and at great prices. They are still missing that native fisheye option such as the equivalent revered Tokina 10-17, but adapters are allowing those lenses to now be used on Sony bodies with good results. As for batteries, I can typically get through a day diving on a battery, or maybe need a change on a 3-4 dive days, so a pre-charged battery swap over is pretty painless and quick in the right settings.
The 16–50mm F3.5–5.6 OSS zoom ‘Kit’ lens.
The zoom kit lens again is a tiny, lightweight ‘pancake’ lens that works perfectly for medium sized stills and video. The collapsible barrel means that the lens contracts into a tiny 3 cm when not in use and weighing just 166 g, making it incredibly travel friendly. At the 16mm end, the lens offers an angle of view of 83 degrees which allows fantastic flexibility underwater, especially when used in conjunction with macro and wide angle wet lenses for even more versatility.
The Fantasea-AOI UCL-09F macro wet lens is a +12.5 diopter. My thought was that if I want to shoot macro, I might as well be able to shoot super macro, as the zoom lens already allows nice close up capabilities. The lens again is super compact and lightweight (280g) and the aluminum lens barrel threads straight into the flat port. I have a wet lens holder attached to the strobe arms, allowing me to swap out the macro lens easily under a minute - often to the dismay of the dedicated lens photographers. It is the perfect combination for locations where you might run into a turtle and nudibranch on the same dive.
Housing & Ports
The camera is in the FA6500 Fantasea polycarbonate housing with the FML Fantasea Flat Port 34. The housing comes with a 60m depth rating as well as double O-ring protection and a moisture alarm. The V2 housing now also have an additional hybrid Vacuum system so that you have peace of mind before stepping foot onto the ocean. Being made from polycarbonate it is again, incredibly lightweight compared to its aluminum counterparts. The flat port comes with a 67mm thread for wet lenses to screw quickly onto the front.
The camera setup is accompanied with two Sea & Sea YS01 strobes to provide that extra lighting. These two sentimental stalwarts are an older model but they are a great value strobes as they are incredibly compact, light and tough as nails. They have TTL available meaning that the strobe will set the power output level automatically for those macro and fish shots. The battery compartment set up is designed so that any leaks mean that the rest of the components inside the strobe are safe. I have had one leak and one battery leak inside the strobes, that were fixes with a little TLC and the strobes are still good to go. The in built LED target light works well and I have even used it for night dive and cave dives.
With this set up I can fit everything camera related, including my laptop, strobe arms, sync cables, battery chargers and all cords into my carry-on, meaning it is not going anywhere without me, giving me total peace of mind when traveling. When I do get my inevitable upgrades- Looking at you Tokina 10-17 or the Fantasea-AOI UWL-09Pro wide angle wet lens then I may have to get a little creative with the packing arrangements, but for now, it all comes together perfectly.
Cuttlefish taken on Sony a6500 with Sony 16–50mm F3.5–5.6 OSS lens in the FA6500 housing with the FML Flat Port. Pygmy seahorse taken by adding the Fantasea-AOI UCL-09F macro wet lens to the Flat Port
Also recommend checking out the work of Duncan Heuer at Aussie Bubbles, who has been a long time Fantasea line and Sony a6300 user in Australia who does workshops for underwater photographer and has given me some sound advice.