By Steve Miller
I've been an underwater photographer upwards of 45 years now, and I've done a lot of traveling to some of the top destinations in the world, shooting everything from big animals to super macro, and this is what's in my bag. Scroll down to get Steve's full gear list.
My bag is going to change for every trip. Ideally, I'd love to throw all my stuff into a bag and take it with me, but I would need ten cases instead of just none. That's not an option, so what you're looking at here is going to be my essentials, my favorites for right now.
1 | Camera and Underwater Housing
The camera that I like to shoot right now is the Canon R10. The Canon R10 is one of the best price-to-performance ratio cameras currently on the market. Combine that with its low profile, ergonomics, lightweight body, it makes the R10 a no-brainer for underwater photographers.
The housing for the R10 is very small, very light. I like to use the small dome on here, which works great with wide-angle lenses. But, depending on the trip, if I wanted to shoot of a lot of over-unders I'll also take the 8" Dome Port with me. It's a little easier to control the waterline when you're using a bigger dome.
The dual handle assembly for the housing is highly recommended. When you go to pass your camera up to somebody on a boat, they've got something to grab on to and it's bright red which makes it easy to spot. Also, the handles are going to accommodate my lights.
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2 | Lenses
The Canon R10 is a mirrorless camera, and with the adapter I can use all of my favorite Canon EF lenses. In this case, my favorite wide-angle, which is the Tokina 10-17 millimeter fisheye - beautiful lens. I've used this exact lens on 15 different cameras over the years, so I'm obviously a big fan of it. I'll also have my wide lens. I'll have the 18-45mm kit lens - this is a very bright lens, good for all around fish portraits. And then if I plan on shooting macro, I'll also take a flat port and a macro lens with me.
• What port should you use? Find the right port for your lens using our Port Chart.
3 | Second, Topside Camera
I also like to carry a second camera body with me, even if I don't carry a bunch of extra lenses. And the reason for this is that when I put my system together, I want to be able to go to bed and have it ready to go the next morning. So I can just grab it, it's under pressure, the batteries are charged, there's plenty of room on the card and I just wake up and go. Therefore, if I don't take a second camera body, I don't shoot around the resort, or around the boat, or do any astro or night photography. And if you don't have a spare camera body or want to save room, an alternative would be to get something small like the Olympus TG-6. This is a great knock around camera for when you're not doing your serious dives.
"Ikelite strobes are the only ones I have found to be dependable enough for professional use in the harshest conditions on Earth."
-Norbert Wu, Arctic photographer
4 | Underwater Strobes and TTL Accessories
For lights I'm using two DS230 Strobes. These are the newest strobes from Ikelite, and they're the most powerful and fastest flashes on the market right now.
From there of course are the ball arms that are going to attach to the housing, these feature the latest knuckles and wing nuts which are smooth and tight. I'll bring two arms since I'll be using two lights. These arms are pretty much indestructible so if you're looking to save space or weight in your gear bag, these arms can be thrown in your dive bag.
You're going to need a Dual Sync Cord for the two strobes, and I'm a big fan of the TTL Converter. Over the years, Ikelite TTL circuitry has been in 99% of my underwater photographs. I always put my strobes on TTL and shoot the camera on manual.
I always, and most people do, carry a second cord. I've never had one fail in 20 years, but if it did, you wouldn't be able to use your strobes. Securing a spare dual cord is not the worst idea.
5 | Chargers
Of course, chargers. Chargers for the strobes, charges for all of your parts and pieces. Charger for your laptop, camera, etc. These are things that you might need to move around to other bags, because the goal is to keep this gear bag finished just under 50 pounds (22.6 kg).
6 | Vacuum Pump
Another standard thing to always have with you is the vacuum pump. I’m a big believer in drawing a vacuum on your housing, this way I can rest assured knowing my housing is fully waterproofed. I like to do this the night before so that I know in the morning I see that that the housing is still holding pressure.
Vacuum systems allow you to pressurize your underwater camera housing to check for leaks prior to entering the water.
7 | Accessories
One of the accessories I like is the carrying handle. This goes across your strobe arms and makes it a lot easier to carry your system to and from the boat or to and from the beach or through surf. I consider this an essential accessory.
As far as filters go, I don't use a lot. I don't use any for underwater, but for topside it's nice to have a variable density filter and also a circular polarizer. It's great for clouds, or for seeing through the water and seeing the reef when you're shooting from the boat, for example.
I always like to have a little tripod with me just because it's so easy to pack. Depending on the trip, I might take a full sized tripod as well, but that's obviously a challenge to travel with. Tripods make astrophotography much easier.
Another accessory I'm a big fan of is the 45º Viewfinder. It's a magnifying viewfinder. I travel with it off of the housing because it protrudes, but it takes about one minute to thread into the back of the housing.
When you're using this you're going to see corner to corner - your entire frame. And if you're shooting a mirrorless like the R10, you can even preview your images through here. This so good when you're in a sunlit reef and you go to look at the preview screen on your camera through the housing, when sunlight hits, it's going to be washed out, you're not going to be able to see much at all. But when you look through this, your head comes over, you see corner to corner and it's totally shaded. So, 45º Viewfinder, I'm a big fan of that.
Our new Zoom Gear Retainer Tool # 0945.22 has an extended grip which makes it easier to install and remove your zoom gear retainer and should be a go-to for your spare parts kit.
8 | Spare Parts
We always recommend carrying a spare parts kit. This should have some basic tools, a flathead screwdriver, a little allen wrench for removing the shroud around the port. You'll want some spare cords, spare O-rings, and any other specialty tools you might need.
You're going to want to pack your gear with padding between items so that there are no two hard items or a glass item and a hard surface that are actually in contact with each other. Imagine your bag taking a hit from 4ft (1.2m) as it falls off of the the belt at the airport. That's what you want your bag to be able to survive. And that's one of the advantages of using a hard case as shown in this video.
Get the Gear
- 200DLM/D Underwater Housing kit for Canon EOS R10 # 69744
- Tray with Dual Handles # 9523.64
- Vacuum Kit # 47012
- Shutter Trigger Extension # 4077.95
- DS230 Strobe # 40230US
- DL5 DS Link TTL Converter # 46075
- Dual Sync Cord # 45152
- Wide Angle Ball Arm # 40782
Ambassador Steve Miller has been a passionate teacher of underwater photography since 1980. In addition to creating aspirational photos as an ambassador, he leads the Ikelite Photo School, conducts equipment testing, contributes content and photography, represents us at dive shows and events, provides one-on-one photo advice to customers, and participates in product research and development. Steve also works as a Guest Experience Manager for the Wakatobi Dive Resort in Indonesia. In his "free" time he busies himself tweaking his very own Backyard Underwater Photo Studio which he's built for testing equipment and techniques. Read more...