Digital Photography Report

Underwater with the Olympus 3040 Camera

by Kenneth Knezick - Island Dreams

Digital Photo from Wakatobi Resort - Taken with the Olympus 3040 Camera

Karen Contemplates the Colorful Reef at Wakatobi

Copyright © 2001 - Ken Knezick, Island Dreams, Inc. All rights reserved.

Once you've read this report, you are invited to view Ken's Digital Photo Gallery

On my recent trip to Wakatobi (a very rewarding fifth visit for me), I enjoyed my maiden voyage into the world of digital underwater photography. At the suggestion of pro photographer James Watt, and with the excellent assistance of Fred Dion at U/W Photo Tech, I obtained the Olympus 3040 digital camera system.

At time of purchase, cost of this camera was about USD $650. That price surely will decline as the new 4040 model comes to market. The camera came with only a 16 meg card. The addition of a 128-megabyte smart memory card added an additional $79 to my cost. At a resolution of 2048 by 1536 pixels, the 128 meg card allows the storage of about 180 images. The 3040 camera also makes Quick-Time motion pictures, with a 30-second shot rendering a file approximately 10 megabytes in size.

Courtesy of Jim Watt, during this trip I was able to try Light & Motion's finely styled aluminum Tetra Housing, as well as Olympus's own inexpensive polycarbonate plastic housing. I would love to have also evaluated the Ikelite housing, but this was not on hand. In addition to my own efforts, there were also two other photographers on my trip equipped with the Olympus 3040. Both had the Tetra housing. One was a relatively well-experienced film photographer, while the other was a first time shooter with little or no knowledge of basic photography concepts. The following observations are drawn from my own experiences, as well as my scrutiny of the other two shooters and their respective results.

General Impressions - When compared to a traditional 35 mm SLR film camera, the 3040 camera itself is so small and light that at first one might discount it as a toy. That impression is quickly dispelled once one begins to explore and evaluate the camera's substantial strengths. Onboard lens for the Olympus is an f 1.8, 35 mm-105 mm zoom. The basic system, used underwater with no additional supplemental lens, seems to best accomplish a task equivalent to a housed SLR camera with 60 mm macro lens. The Olympus 3040 runs on 4-AA batteries. With the back display turned on, battery life can be relatively short. It is highly advisable to employ rechargeable batteries, have at least two sets, and be sure to change out batteries every day, or even after every dive. Lithium batteries, or rechargeable NiMh batteries, with rating of 1500 MAh or more, are recommended. At the end of the day, it is a simple task to download "keeper" images to a laptop, thus freeing up the card for more shooting. By completely obviating the need for film and processing, which can easily total USD $12 per roll or more, the cost savings afforded by digital photography are quickly evident.

Strobe Lighting - In the Olympus housing, surprisingly good results were obtained with the camera's own onboard strobe, simply shooting through the clear plastic housing and its simple built-in diffuser. With the aluminum Tetra housing, a supplemental strobe must be used. If a conventional u/w strobe is used, it can only be employed in manual mode - TTL shooting is not an option with the Tetra. My Ikelite Substrobe 200 worked great with the Light and Motion set-up, while my Substrobe 50 did not seem compatible. The other shooters did just fine with Nikon strobes. Another alternative is to use Ikelite's new digital strobe, specifically designed for this application. In any event, a large strobe is not a major requirement. As the camera is highly light sensitive, the supplemental strobe was most often used at its lowest power setting.

Manual Shooting - Once you get the hang of it, underwater shooting in full manual mode can prove very effective. A "Custom" setting option enables you to bring the camera up to a preset selection of camera settings, including exposure, zoom, etc. Both housings offered satisfactory access to all camera controls, including easy access to f-stop, shutter duration and exposure compensation. A comprehensive programmable preset feature enables the shooter to set virtually all camera options to the most desirable settings for a specific task. Considering the complexity of this task, this programming is best done topside, before committing the cameras to its housing.

What you See is What you Get - The most prominent benefit offered by digital photography is the ability to view results immediately, and then to make adjustments in exposure and composition until the picture is "perfect." When the photo subject was amenable, or fixed to the reef, it was possible to repeat the shot until the best possible image was accomplished. Bad shots could be deleted immediately after taking them.

Software - The Olympus Camedia software that comes with the camera approximates a very simplified version of Photoshop. This affords the ability to easily manipulate the digital image after the shot. Once you have the pictures just right, Camedia's unique "Slideshow" feature makes a very effective tool to display images on your laptop or home computer. Mom and Dad will be amazed!

Olympus PT-007 Housing - Assets

Olympus PT-007 Housing - Limitations
Light & Motion Tetra Housing - Assets Light & Motion Tetra Housing Light & Motion Tetra Housing - Limitations
Bottom Line - To an old mossback like me, the innovations presented by underwater digital photography prove immensely exciting. The many innovative features of such a camera system can quickly afford the user a radically enhanced photography experience. Because I could easily remake the shot until I had it right, my percentage of keepers was probably substantially improved over my film shooting efforts. The opportunity to display my images on the resort's TV at the end of the day, directly from the camera, or equally simply viewed from my laptop, added a lot of fun to the experience. The ability to also make short quick time motion picture shots was just icing on the cake. My Nikon film cameras are not on Ebay just yet, but I had a great deal of fun with the Olympus 3040, and got some good results at Wakatobi, both topside and underwater. I certainly hope you will have an opportunity to do the same!

Here's wishing you great diving, photography fun, and a world of adventure... Ken

Kenneth Knezick - President, Island Dreams Travel
1309 Antoine Drive, Houston, Texas 77055
(800) 346-6116 ** (713) 973-9300
Email: ** Web:

Copyright © 2001, Island Dreams, Inc. All rights reserved.

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Read Ken Knezick's latest digital photo report: Diving the Nikon D2x

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