In response to several enquiries, here are my thoughts/experiences
from a few years of underground digital photography, mainly
for the production of this site!
What to look for:xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxback to the tour?
~ Should be easy to operate, not too fiddly ~ with cold
~ Solid grip ~ so you don't drop
it into the void!
~ Manual focus (not hidden deep in
the menu) ~ autofocus does not work well underground.
~ Manual exposure with full shutter
speed and aperture control ~ some cameras only allow one or two
~ Wide angle zoom and a bright lens
(equiv of 28 or 35 mm f2 or 2.8)
~ Hot shoe or sync socket (get flash
away from camera) ~ don't use the camera's own flash.
~ Check that you can turn off any
auto pre-flash or anti red-eye flash ~ otherwise any secondary
(slave) flash guns will fire too early. (See below for slave units).
~ How many pixels ? 2 meg for web,
4 for 1/2 page, 6 or 8 for full page printing. You can print larger
for a given size of pixel capture, but there is no increase of
absolute detail. (This was written back in 2005 os so - now you can double these figures, and modern sensors are much more sensitive with lower noise than back then and people are photographing by the light of headlamps - PCW 2020).
~ What size of memory card ? ~ At
least 512 mb, 1 gb is better. Set the quality to its highest jpg
setting, and your pictures will be between 2 and 3 mb each, giving
around 160 pictures from a 512 mb card. (Again as per above paragraph, you are looking at 32 or 64 gb these days!)
~ I currently (2005) use a Canon G6 (though
most shots on this site were taken with an Olympus 2500 or 5050,
some others use the the 8080 (no we don't work for Olympus!).
Nikon D70, Canon 10 or 20D or Canon G3 are also popular ~ check
these out dependant on your budget.
~ For camera reviews, look at www.dpreview.com
It has many digi cams reviewed with techie details for those that
want them, as well as concise summaries.
~ Use good proven slave units like the Firefly or David Gibson's designs (he now has one that takes
account of auto camera pre-flashes). These units work from the
Infra-Red light that all flash guns emit, they work over long
distances and even around corners, and are not easily triggered
by caving lamps. Try to use the hot-shoe connection as this is
more moisture-proof than the little pc socket connectors.
~ I use Vivitar 283 and 285 models. The 285 has a zoom
head and variable power, which is useful, but these are hard to
find now. Use the hot-shoe connector, via an adaptor, as this
gives you more immunity from damp causing spurious flashing. These
models seem to be fairly damp-proof. Some flash guns start to
trigger spuriously in damp atmospheres. Occasionally I use Metz
CL45s (these are bulky, but powerful - get the type that takes
NiCad battery packs).
Underground photography tips:
~ Caves EAT light, get as powerful
flashguns as you can.
~ Don't use the camera's own flash.
Turn it off or cover it with a piece of unexposed, developed slide
film. (This will only let infra-red light through, but this is
enough to trigger most slave units). Watch out for the "pre-flash"
when the camera is on auto (there may not be one on manual).
~ It's tempting to use the 400 asa
setting on your camera, but these can give pictures that are too
noisy (like film 'grain'). I stick to 100 or 200 asa and use a
wide aperture, f4 or so. Cameras with larger image sensors (like
dSLRs) don't have that problem, but they are more expensive and
~ The replay screen will be your
best friend and allow you to check your shots. However, as your
eyes will be extra sensitive underground, the screen will look
very bright and fool you into thinking that underexposed shots
are ok. So from the menu, turn down the screen brightness to about
1/4. If your camera shows an exposure 'histogram' then all the
better (but not essential). It's easy to underexpose.
~ Get lots of NiMH rechargeable batteries.
These are now available at 2500 mAh, and you will need spare sets
for your flashguns, as you will now be taking many more shots
on every trip! Also a spare battery for your camera.
~ Before an important trip, give
your equipment a trial run underground (or outdoors at night)
to get used to it. Study the results carefully, especially focus,
exposure and 'noise'.
~ I can recommend Chris Howes' excellent book 'Images Below' ~ A manual of underground and flash
photography'. A very complete reference with plenty of real examples
Have fun! Let me know how you get on!
Oct 2004/5/6/7 updated 2020
Back to the tour?