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From the Kayak

Not the greatest of images I've shot, but I've been asked questions about kayaking with cameras before, so my recent trip makes this a good time to answer them as a teaching point.

First up, you really want one of the cameras designed for water use when you're only six inches off the water all day. I've tried a dozen of those waterproof compact cameras, and the only two that do well for a serious photographer, IMHO, are the Coolpix AW100 and the Olympus T-G1 (this photo was taken with a TG-1).

Pity that none of these cameras shoot raw, though. For that, you'd have to go to a bigger camera with a dedicated waterproof housing. For example, I use the Canon G1X with Canon's inexpensive housing when I need to shoot raw on the water, but that makes for a slightly bulky package on a kayak. Manageable, but barely.

However, today's main point is this: note how my partner's camera is vulnerable: handstrap not attached, holding the camera with gloves. Very easy to have the camera slip from you, and then all your images are gone to the bottom of whatever you're paddling. (Hint: download before you head out.) But you can't really have the handstrap always attached while paddling, as the camera gets in the way. My way of dealing with this potential problem is to use the AW100 or TG-1 with a "floatie strap".

Even if you don't use a waterproof camera you'll still want a floatie. First, these straps are easier to get on and off your hands when kayaking. But if you drop your camera into the water, it will float (at least enough to retrieve it and all the images you've shot so far). The downside is that they're bulkier to deal with overall, so make sure you've figured out where the camera goes while you're actually paddling and how you'll handle the awkward floating part.

My camera slips into a pocket on the front of my PFD with the floatie left hanging out. Yes, that means that I had to pick a PFD that had a pocket in which my camera would fit. A lot of kayakers instead use a clear waterproof box strapped to the deck just in front of them. They put their camera away in the box when it's not in use. There isn't a camera store at the dock where you depart, so you've got to figure all this out long before you put your bottom end down the cockpit. And yes, we're headed for that cave in the glacier ;~)
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I've had good luck shooting from a kayak using a DSLR. I usually reach for an older camera-lens combination that generally sits dormant on my shelf (in case it gets destroyed, I won't feel so bad)... something like a D90 + 55-200 VR. The whole kit goes in a dry-bag, which is then strapped right in front of me in the kayak. When opportunities present themselves, I then take the camera out and fire away. I've done it this way at least half a dozen times with good results. It may not be as quick to draw as a waterproof point and shoot, but the image quality is a lot better. The only real problems I've had are when seas are so heavy that waves break over the nose of the kayak. In this case things are obviously too rough to use anything but a waterproof camera.

I haven't yet kayaked anywhere as exciting as Alaska, but it does pretty well down here in Massachusetts:

http://www.flickr.com/photos/cialowicz/6016371198/lightbox/
http://www.flickr.com/photos/cialowicz/7292077802/lightbox/
 
I don't kayak much, but have done a fair bit of motorcycle touring.  Although dropping a camera while at speed (held with motorcycle gloves) won't lose it in the ocean, what you recover won't be pretty.  I secure the camera on a cord around my neck or jacket buckle long enough to allow composing but short enough to avoid falling onto the motorcycle (much less the road).  Note- If around your neck, use a cord strong enough to save the camera, but weak enough to break in case of an accident.  Much easier than dealing with a case.
 
I´ve tried a waterproof camera some years ago and had (on whitewater) always problems with drops on the lens. That ruined some good shots.
I use SLRs for 30+ years in a kayak now and never had problems.

While sea kayaking I have it in a deck-bag an shot out of the boat, in rougher conditions sometimes with stabilizing help from a partner.

On whitewater I store camera + lens(es) in a Peli-Case and take pictures out of an eddy or get out and shoot from the bank.

I now have the 4th camera and all of them still work.
I know this is not an advice for beginners of course. ;-)
 
I've been reading byThom for a couple of years now, and that's the first comment I've seen from Thom that's even remotely complimentary of a Coolpix :)
I have an AW100, and it tends to get used for situations where it is likely the camera might get dropped (water, ground, snow, whatever). Much more responsive to use than any previous compact I have owned. GPS actually works, too. 
For creative use of a waterproof camera, the award goes to my son, who has just designed and built a styrofoam floating housing on a leash for his Fuji XP20, which I can only assume is to be used to surprise some unsuspecting fish in the local river.........
 
+Andrew Holmes Well, it's perhaps an indication of how bad the waterproof market is ;~). As a compact camera, the AW100 is okay at best. But as a camera you can put in extreme danger and get images from, it's about as good as it gets at the moment (though the recent Olympus TG-1 is a bit better, IMHO). Too bad none of these companies can actually execute worth a damned, though. You can get a TG-1 in stock. You can even find the wide angle lens attachment in stock if you look hard enough. What you can't find is the thing that attaches A to B: out of stock everywhere, and I'm not sure it has ever been in stock in most places here in the US. Total Fail.
 
Last time I went sea-kayaking at any frequency, digital cameras weren't good enough or waterproof enough (2004). SLR in a drybag was my solution of choice, waterproof (film) compact a pretty close second. Can't say I was happy with having to stop and steady for every shot with the big camera. Today's waterproof compacts, with all their drawbacks, are a much better solution.

I wonder, +Thom Hogan, what did you find that sets the Nikon and the latest Olympus apart from the rest of the pack? Except for battery life, I'm quite happy with my Panny. The fill-flash metering and WB are surprisingly good.
 
Hi Thom, a few months back I did a similar kayak trip in Norway at one of our glacier. Absolutely wonderful experience and a dream for any landscape photographer. I used my D5100 with the 18-105mm and was holding it tight.
 
What about the XZ1, a great little camera with the inexpensive underwater housing?
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