I Love My Underwater Camera

Me, camera, and a glass of water, Oakland, CA, 2008
Me and my camera joking around at Asmara restaurant, Oakland, CA, 2008. Photo by Brian Brooks.


 

I love my underwater camera. It is a Pentax Optio W60. It is completely waterproof. I bought it eight years ago and I still use it all the time.

Swimming with the camera’s strap around my wrist, and the body gripped tightly in my hand, is the BEST feeling.

The act of taking underwater photographs is precious to me because it was one of my first awakenings to what art could do to the artist.

My First Underwater Camera

My first underwater camera was a gift in college. I was about to travel to the South Pacific to study abroad. I used a point-and-shoot 35mm film camera with Ewa-Marine underwater housing (similar to this model).

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Two stingrays in the Pacific Ocean, Moorea, French Polynesia, 1999. Taken with a point-and-shoot film camera in Ewa-Marine underwater housing.

The hardest part was being limited to a 36-exposure roll of film. Taking pictures under water requires a lot of trial and error, so often the whole roll would be blurry, out of focus, or awkwardly cropped.

Before long, the underwater housing leaked and destroyed the point-and-shoot camera within, which I’d borrowed from my uncle and always felt bad about never returning.

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Me and my friend Nikita in the Pacific Ocean, Moorea, French Polynesia, 1999. Taken with a point-and-shoot film camera in Ewa-Marine underwater housing.

My Current Camera: The Pentax Optio W60

After many years of saving money and waiting for technology to improve, I purchased a digital underwater camera on July 23, 2008.
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Resembling a typical compact digital camera, the Pentax Optio W60 has no waterproof housing. The entire camera is waterproof.

Nearly a decade later, waterproofing is finally becoming widespread, and has even begun to include camera phones.

The Pentax Optio W60 in action, Oakland, CA, 2016. Eight years old and still amazing in every way.
My friend Mark on a rope and San Francisco skyline, San Francisco Bay, CA, 2015. Taken with the Pentax Optio W60
My friend Mark Bittner on a rope in front of the San Francisco skyline, San Francisco Bay, CA, 2015. Taken with the Pentax Optio W60.

The Unseen Details

When in the water, viewing the camera’s display or looking through the viewfinder is totally impractical.

It is an exercise in accepting partial blindness and embracing constantly changing images: understanding the camera and conditions of the water without being able to see what the camera sees.

When I review the photos, there are always surprises waiting: images that I never saw and could never plan.

Hotel Pool, Quechee, VT, 2010
Under water in an inn, Quechee, VT, 2010. Taken with my Pentax Optio W60.
Motel Pool, Minot, North Dakota, 2011
Bubbles by the light in a motel pool at night, Minot, North Dakota, 2011. Taken with my Pentax Optio W60.
Drake's Beach, Point Reyes National Seashore, 2011
Crashing waves at Drake’s Beach, Point Reyes National Seashore, CA, 2011. Taken with my Pentax Optio W60.

The Cross-Section

Anytime there is a body of water, there is a water line, and the possibility of a cross-section photo where the water comes up on the lens: one world so close to another, and yet so totally different.

Backyard pool, Redlands, CA, 2013

At the surface of a backyard pool, Redlands, CA, 2013. Taken with my Pentax Optio W60.

Sparkling sand at low tide and Cynthia, Michael, and Brian playing croquet on a sandbar, Brewster, MA, 2015. Taken with a Pentax Optio W60.
Sparkling sand at low tide and Cynthia, Michael, and Brian playing croquet on a sandbar, Brewster, MA, 2015. Taken with my Pentax Optio W60.
Boca Grande swim. Cartagena, Colombia, 2015. Taken with the Pentax Optio W60.
Boca Grande swim, Caribbean Sea. Cartagena, Colombia, 2015. Taken with my Pentax Optio W60.

The view from the water

The camera doesn’t need to be waterproof to photograph great images out on the water. But if it hadn’t been, I wouldn’t have had a camera with me at all.

Drake's Beach, Point Reyes National Seashore, 2011
My bathing suit and legs just off Drake’s Beach, Point Reyes National Seashore from the Pacific Ocean, 2011. Taken with my Pentax Optio W60.
South End Rowing Club and Dolphin Club, San Francisco, CA, 2015
South End Rowing Club and Dolphin Club, San Francisco, CA, 2015. Taken with my Pentax Optio W60.

 The feeling of being in the water

I don’t love swimming as a sport: I enjoy the sensory experience of the water: the act of  leaving the land and floating in a giant lens.

This feeling, and the photos, are enough to offset discomfort: the cold, the clothing hassles, the hours of wet hair.

Me dipping my face into a backyard pool, Redlands, CA, 2013
Self portrait with my face breaking the plane of the water in a backyard pool, Redlands, CA, 2013. Taken from underwater with my Pentax Optio W60.
Indian Springs, Calistoga, CA, 2009. Photo by Anna Engberg.
The underwater me, Indian Springs, Calistoga, CA, 2009. Taken with my Pentax Optio W60. Photo by Anna Engberg.

I never get tired of it

Experimenting with my underwater cameras was my first exploration into how changing our sensors changes our experience of the world. Jumping into the water with my camera in tow can lift my mood like nothing else.

I never get tired of it.

Me in the locker room, South End Rowing Club, San Francisco, CA, 2015
Me and my Pentax Optio W60 camera in the locker room getting excited for a swim (i.e., treading water and taking pictures). South End Rowing Club, San Francisco, CA, 2015

All Photos by Emily Wick Unless Otherwise Noted

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