"cheap" caving camera?

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"cheap" caving camera?

Postby self-deleted_user » Aug 15, 2010 5:21 pm

I know there are other threads on caving cameras (I was reading through them!) but it seems most are about a year or more old actually, and a lot can change in a year.

I am a hobby photographer and I have a Nikon D60 with two lenses (18-200mm f/3.4-5.6, 50 mm f/1.8) but no way do I want to risk ruining this in a cave. I had an old point-and-shoot HP camera but it looks like that I busted in the last trip (it got really dirty and the mechanism for the lens is all jammed and the cover for it doesn't close either). Sooo now it seems I don't have a cave camera.

I really don't have much money, the D60 was a gift/years of savings (I"m still just a poor grad student!). And I don't think I really *want* to drag in a whole dSLR/lenses into caves, seems to be too much trouble plus I couldn't stand ruining it. I was looking at trying to get an old N-series (film) because those pop up cheap on craigslist often, but thing is, I can tell I still don't understand my camera enough yet because it will take me a few tries with the nice automatic feedback that digital offers to get settings right for different situations. So I don't want to go the film route after all.

Which goes back to digital, but a dSLR no matter what way you slice it, is a lot of $$ that I couldn't handle if I somehow ruined it. So that means no to the SLR part.

From what I've been reading of the old camera threads, I should want: no in-out lens thingie (so it doesn't jam up like mine did! ha!), waterproof, dropproof/shakeproof. Sounds good, makes sense! I looked up some of the cameras, and it seems they are still in the $300-$400 range which is still out of my budget. I'm looking for the $100 range here. But the thing is...I *enjoy* doing things manually. Auto stuff never seems to get me what *I* want in the image just what the camera thinks it should be. So I'll add to the standard good-for-caving-camera list: ability to manually adjust ISO, focus, f/stop, and shutter speed.

Also, please no Cannons. I have never been able to stand them from point and shoots to the SLR's. They just don't work with me, I don't know why, I just cant stand them nor ever seem to get them to do what I'm telling them to do. We don't communicate well I guess! I am used to Nikons and love them but I never saw a Nikon listed as a good cave camera. My second choice as far as cameras I tend to like would be Pentax. So far the closest to what I want from the archives seems to be the Pentax Optio W80. I can find it for $160 which is higher than I'd like but...a lot closer than these $300+ ones. Is that still the case that it may be my best bet?
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Re: "cheap" caving camera?

Postby NZcaver » Aug 15, 2010 6:04 pm

I was using a camera like what you need for quick shooting on a cave trip yesterday. But I'll spare you the details because like 2 of my other cameras, it's a Canon. :shhh: Nikon makes great bodies and lenses, but they're not for me in the same way Canons aren't for you. However I do have one non-Canon camera (my "best" caving camera is an older digital Olympus, because my big Canon DSLR does not go into caves).

Like most things in life, camera choices are often a trade-off. Small, compact, quick and cheap is very convenient, but tiny built-in lenses seldom result in true high quality images - especially without the use of additional lighting in cave environments. But if you choose to carry a camera in a Pelican case and take time to set up for each photograph, you can use just about any type of camera (DSLR or not) that you can physically carry. Case in point, I accompanied a guy with a huge large format camera on an alpine vertical caving trip one time. But unless you're on a dedicated photo trip like this, your companions may be a little reluctant to wait around for you to sort everything out. (I speak from experience here.)

I'm also looking to upgrade to a new point-and-shoot that's waterproof, a little more compact than what I have now, and has a little higher image quality. I'd be interested if anybody has suggestions. In my case, a 3-4 times zoom would be fine but it MUST have full manual shutter/aperture/ISO/focus settings, the option for a controlled-level single flash (no pre-flash), and good quality movie mode with sound. An optical viewfinder in addition to the screen would be a plus, as would the ability to be powered by standard AA batteries.
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Re: "cheap" caving camera?

Postby rlboyce » Aug 15, 2010 7:19 pm

I think NZcaver has given good advice. I have a waterproof Olympus X-560WP that I take into caves with me. It does alright, but as he said, the built in lenses seem to not like darkness very much. If I were you, I'd find a cheap-but-good, used non-waterproof digital and just buy an otterbox or something for it. As long as you clean your hands and all before taking it out, it should be a perfect setup for what you want.
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Re: "cheap" caving camera?

Postby self-deleted_user » Aug 15, 2010 10:07 pm

I just worry because I did try to be careful but still, 3 trips and this point and shoot is dead. Luckily, it was old and I was willing to ruin it (hence why I used it for this in the firstplace) but still, it makes me wary of how hard it is to get cameras in and out easily. I am new at caving (uh, those 3 trips would be my only 3, although some of the trips we did do multiple caves but still...) I honestly hate carrying that much around, I find the packs annoying on my back so I don't want to bring a lot of equipment with me. And yeah...stopping as much as I did to take photos people understood fine but I could tell people who had "been here done that" were getting annoyed and I was just pausing in the walking to grab a shot quick. In one trip though others were taking photos, a girl with a Nikon Coolpix got much better photos than my P&S so I know at least that does better by far (focused better, flash was better and lit up the room more, less than half the grain I'd get. My P&S is an old HP camera.) I understand the tradeoffs without having the nice lenses, the difference I see in what I can get now that I have a dSLR proves that for sure, but I do know also helpful is the ability to set things manually and since I'm not willing (at least at this point) to lug in lenses and all that jazz just a P&S that lets you manually set stuff is what I'm looking for.
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Re: "cheap" caving camera?

Postby NZcaver » Aug 15, 2010 10:37 pm

FYI - the number one rule in effective cave photography (other than don't drop/drown your camera) :big grin: is to get your light source (flash) OFF the camera. Or at least partially obscure your on-camera flash and use an external slave flash or two for your main lighting. This drastically reduces fog, spots, halos and other effects caused by the flash reflecting off mist or dust in the air. These defects are all-too-common in point-and-shoot cave photos.
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Re: "cheap" caving camera?

Postby self-deleted_user » Aug 15, 2010 11:29 pm

Makes sense. I can get around that mostly (by sheer luck probably though) but I still get it in my photos. I know nothing about lighting though. How do they work/what do they cost/how hard to set up?
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Re: "cheap" caving camera?

Postby NZcaver » Aug 16, 2010 2:06 am

Start with this topic.

Also take a look at cave photography guide websites like this and this.
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Re: "cheap" caving camera?

Postby KeyserSoze » Aug 24, 2010 2:31 pm

I just bought the new Olympus Stylus for a good price at $207 with free shipping. I had one for 3 or 4 years until it broke just recently when I dove underwater too deep with it.


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Re: "cheap" caving camera?

Postby harrym » Aug 26, 2010 8:20 pm

Sungura,

If you're looking to go "cheap" with $100 budget, then your options are severely limited. You can buy a "cheap" point-and-shoot for $100, but it won't have the features you desire. You are going to get an on-camera flash and a lens that pops out. But you'll be able to shoot in the AUTO mode and won't have to worry about setting shutter speeds of f-stops. In dry caves you can get good photos, but in humid caves you are going to have problems with fog. You might be able to find something that cheap on the second-hand market that meets your caving needs. eBay?

You can get really good cave photos (even with a simple point-and-shoot (P&S) camera) if you can get the flash away from the camera. But using an off-camera flash starts to complicate the whole process of photography.

The simplest (but not necessarily the cheapest) set-up would to use a camera with a hot shoe, and a hand-held strobe. (You can buy used strobes very cheaply.) In order to shoot in AUTO mode, you'll need to run an electrical cable (not a fiberoptic cable), also called a sync cord, between the camera's hot shoe and the strobe, so that the camera and strobe have direct communication. Most small, cheap P&S camera do NOT have a hot shoe, so you'll need to purchase either a cheap used camera with a hot shoe or a newer, expensive P&S camera with a hot shoe. Your cable will need to be specific for the camera and the strobe. Be warned that there are a few different types of connections between the strobes and hot shoes, such as one, two or three electrical connections.

Image
A more advanced point-and-shoot with a hot shoe

Image
A sync cord that connects a camera to a strobe

Once you eliminate the cable between the camera and strobe, the camera no longer knows that is should automatically expose for a flash. So you are going to need to shoot in manual mode and set the shutter speed and f-stop. You will need some kind of optical slave (not so good) or a radio slave (very good) to get the camera to trigger the strobe.

The problem with using an optical slave is that the camera's flash will still fire and you'll still have problems with fog. Most people will cover the camera's flash with something that blocks visible light (to avoid the fog) but still allows for infra-red light (to trigger the slave). I cut a small rectangle out of a white plastic shopping bag and cover the strobe using duct tape, leaving only a small sliver of light to penetrate to trigger the strobes.

Pentax has an infra-red slave system with their digital SLRs that allows you to shoot in AUTO with multiple off-camera Pentax strobes that are equipped with infra-red receivers. This is not cheap, but is very convenient because you can shoot in AUTO even with mulitple strobes, and you have full control of each remote strobe from the back of the camera!
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Re: "cheap" caving camera?

Postby NZcaver » Aug 26, 2010 9:01 pm

A few quick comments:

harrym wrote:In dry caves you can get good photos [using a point and shoot camera with built in flash], but in humid caves you are going to have problems with fog.

FYI - a built-in flash can also be a problem in dry caves. Many dry caves are dusty. The flash reflects off dust particles in the air and creates halos/orbs on your image. Very ugly.

The problem with using an optical slave is that the camera's flash will still fire and you'll still have problems with fog. Most people will cover the camera's flash with something that blocks visible light (to avoid the fog) but still allows for infra-red light (to trigger the slave). I cut a small rectangle out of a white plastic shopping bag and cover the strobe using duct tape, leaving only a small sliver of light to penetrate to trigger the strobes.

I use a small rectangle of white electrical tape, attached to the waterproof housing for my point-and-shoot. I usually reduce the flash power to one-third, unless I need more light to trip the slave. It's not a bad system, and most images don't seem to have any flash-related defects.

Pentax has an infra-red slave system with their digital SLRs that allows you to shoot in AUTO with multiple off-camera Pentax strobes that are equipped with infra-red receivers.

Canon and Nikon also have similar systems. Other manufacturers may too.

Good advice. Thanks for sharing.
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flash question

Postby Bumbalawski » Aug 27, 2010 9:15 am

I have a HP digital I use in caves , a hp photosmart 435. It takes decent pictures but the flash is really sucks. Any ideas of portable flashes or any idea how a couple of high powered spot lights would work? I am thinking (very dangerous) that the spot lights would not disperse the light for clean pictures. There is a cave across from my house that I would like to get some pictures of the back room. It is very well decorated and the size of the room (70 ft at peak) makes my flash useless.

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Re: "cheap" caving camera?

Postby rlboyce » Aug 27, 2010 2:52 pm

If you already got a rechargeable spotlight, you could make a homemade diffuser for it. Supposedly, this works well with cave videos (see this post: http://forums.caves.org/viewtopic.php?f=4&t=9383), so it might work with pictures too. At 70' though, you may want to skip the diffuser. Best thing I can suggest is to experiment and see what works best. Maybe a slave flash is the way to go?
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Re: "cheap" caving camera?

Postby Bumbalawski » Aug 27, 2010 2:54 pm

Well Ryan, you want to go to Long's next weekend and take some more pictures. I can get the spotlights. Can you come up with a diffuser?
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Re: "cheap" caving camera?

Postby JR-Orion » Sep 23, 2010 3:22 pm

Hope you don't mind if I chime in on this, as my Canon PowerShot A530 finally seems to have died. Plenty of cave trips, dropped a few times, and five or so years old, so that's not a bad run. Always liked the picture quality too.

So I've been looking around at affordable digital cameras. For general use, kids, pets, nature, and the occasional cave trip.

Kodak Z915. $100 (really?)
10mp
10x zoom (35mm - 350mm equivalent)
2.5" LCD
AAs

I like the AAs, as I can use my Eneloops and current charger. 10mp is fine, nice zoom, and is supposedly good in low light conditions. It's bulky, but that doesn't bother me at all. Add one of those drop / spill two or three year warranties through Amazon and that might be a good value.

Canon SX120IS. $200.
(oops, sorry about the Canon thing :) )
10mp
10x zoom (36mm - 360mm)
3.0" LCD
AAs

Full manual control if you want to try that, pop up flash, good low light, medium size.

Olympus Stylus Tough cameras... these are intriguing. Waterproof, shockproof, freezeproof, crushproof and shakeproof

Model 6020. $250
14mp
5x zoom
2.7" LCD

Model 8000. $245
12mp
3.6x zoom
2.7" LCD

Will have to read more about the Tough models.
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Re: "cheap" caving camera?

Postby self-deleted_user » Sep 23, 2010 4:57 pm

Yeah the Olympus ones seem really nice, I checked them out at a store - tried to shade it from light to see how well it would do in shadows, not as good as cave scenarios but it did pretty well.

And actually, I've seen a few people with nikon coolpix. If I take the same shot as they do, theirs ALWAYS turns out better - less halos and stuff from dust and moisture even. I love my Nikon dSLR so I think I will try and pick up a Nikon for caving as every Nikon even the P&S's ive seen used in one make much better photos than my current half busted camera!
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