You class your photography as beginners photography, and are either thinking about buying a Compact Digital, or upgrading ........

For those of us who consider their expertise to be somewhere around beginners photography, I have started this page to put together all the information, tips and terminology that I have come across -
I needed a course in photography for dummies and as I was not in a location where I would find one, I started by asking a hell of a lot of questions on forums, trial and error (LOTS of those!) and researching digital photography basics on the internet.

overwhelmed by the amount of digital photography basics research!

My quest in learning photography was as a result of a trip to The Maldives a while ago, on my second day diving I flooded my Compact Digital……… what…...a……disaster! The first lesson in beginners photography, particularly underwater photography, is to make sure you have finished setting up your camera and that your housing is completely secure! All underwater photographers will bear this out....

digital photography basics, dont flood your camera while scuba diving!

On the same trip a friend of mine had a Camera outfit which dwarfed mine (that’s always a problem for a man….), and on top of the size the mechanisms seemed terribly complex which just added to the feeling that along with my beginners photography expertise, I wouldn't know what do with all that stuff. I wasn't to clear even on the digital photography basics, let alone what appeared to be 'rocket science' - real photography underwater!

The main issue for me was whether I was prepared for the additional cost and not really having too much idea how to use a DSLR properly would I get value for the money spent? Also being at a beginners photography level, it is quite intimidating, you need more than digital photography basics to master the technicalities.

Like a lot of upgrades there is usually a question of higher technology and therefore more expense, the difference here is an upgrade from Compact to DSLR is almost an exponential increase in costs because the equipment that is available,to enhance the potential for high quality pictures,seems never-ending!

I suppose with Compact Digitals, it is all contained within a very automated compact unit, and by and large the available additions to the unit are just about limited to a couple of strobes, some external lense conversions and filters - perfect for beginners photography. With the DSLR you can go on upgrading and adding bits and pieces ad infinitum……

For the moment lets put aside the ‘pity me I’m broke because I upgraded’ scenario and do a basic comparison between the two types:

an example of a compact digital camera

Compact Digital – often called a ‘Point and Shoot’

an example of a DSLR camera

DSLR (Digital Single Lense reflex)

The first and immediately obvious difference between the two is price (or maybe size?) –

Lots of lenses!

The DSLR is a lot more expensive for the basic camera. Probably two to three times the price of a decent Compact at least. In addition to this you need to buy separate lenses which go for anything from USD100.00 to several hundred dollars.

an example of an Ikelite housing

The Compact Digital is a lot simpler to use, on the face of it, as a great deal of what it does is automatic. Perfect for beginners photography! Of course you do get decent underwater photos as well.

DSLR in an Ikelite housing from the rear

As you can see there is a lot more to a DSLR......

DSLR in an Ikelite Housing with dome port

Here is shown an Ikelite DSLR Housing with a Dome port on the front, all DSLR housings will have a port of some description, which covers the lense and allows the lense to move as it zooms.

Some points of comparison:

  • A Compact generally allows you to adjust White Balance and ISO settings and not a lot more. A DSLR has a wide range of manual settings which allow the user to be far more creative with their underwater photos.
  • A Compact has what is called Shutter lag – meaning there is a definite delay in how many pictures you can take, one after the other. A DSLR can take many pictures at a high speed depending on the settings you have set up.
  • A Compact has one lense which you have a zoom control DSLR Cameras have interchangeable lenses which provide the photographer far more choice when deciding what kind of scuba diving photos he wants to take.
  • When you take a picture with a Compact, what you see through the viewfinder is very often quite different from ends up being the picture you take (the viewfinder blacks out during the picture taking process). What you see through the viewfinder of a DSLR will be what comes out in your photograph.
  • The image sensor in a DSLR is much bigger than in a compact and so is able to reproduce higher quality underwater photos than a compact.
  • The size and weight difference is significant (Compact is smaller obviously) and therefore a consideration when it comes to convenience. The decision to take your camera along with you is more significant when it means a large camera, lense and case rather than a compact camera which may fit in your pocket!
  • Compact cameras have video, DSLR only recently gained this facility but the DSLR requires manual focusing which can be quite difficult when filming(?) moving objects……..
  • Compact Cameras zoom is controlled by a button. DSLR zoom is manual – the zoom mechanism is in the lense which is a separate part from the Camera itself, so is controlled by twisting a ring on the lense.
  • Compact cameras have ‘mega-zooms’ available. To have the same zoom range on a DSLR you may end up spending over USD600 on a lense (the size of this lense will also be fairly significant).

At the end of it all, I think the main point about comparing DSLR to compact is what you want out of your scuba diving photos:

Basic pleasure in taking underwater photos to record what you have seen without too much consideration for settings, light and all of that? So stay pretty much at beginners photography level.


You want to really get into underwater photography equipment, get creative, be able to change your settings according to each situation and try to create images of a high quality? (you need that photography for dummies course? - Just kidding!)

If it is the former then get a compact digital and go enjoy yourself! (which doesn’t mean you won’t enjoy yourself with a DSLR!)

To learn more about beginners photography click here


Click here to see a collection of scuba diving photos

Give us your comments, questions or feedback

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