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Artist seeks tough camera

Must survive saltwater, falls and still take good pictures

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BY SAM CALDWELL

As an artist, I’d be dead in the water — or maybe dead broke in the water — without tough cameras. Before digital images, there was the early Nikonos. Sturdy and waterproof, it required guesstimates of focus and exposure and had to be taken apart in three pieces to swap film. My first Nikonos survived boats, duck blinds, wadefishing mishaps and service in the surf. And it usually got a few usable photos.
The Nikonos IV-A came along as a miracle of engineering with onboard light metering. Open the sealed gate, change film, shoot. Go to camera store, purchase brick of Kodachrome 64 film, deliver rolls to processor, go back two days later to fetch slide images. I was gathering material for paintings and to copy sketches and final pieces of artwork I hoped publishers and collectors would buy. Not much has changed in that regard, but the cameras of yore have morphed into works of technical art.
Ah, digital. Pop a quarter-ounce disk into a camera slot and you have an entire camera store at your service, with some 1500 high-quality images available. Download in minutes, create print ideas for a new painting, or email to Dropbox for client perusal.
There have been a number of waterproof digitals on the market for some time. I have worn out an Olympus Stylus 790 SW and am on a second Canon Powershot D20. While these point-and-shoot cameras may look amateur, they have major advantage over my Canon 5D: They go in harm’s way, get a good photo and return. Many of my paintings and most of my photo omissions feature saltwater. Get a big splash of the morning tide on an EOS, or drop it on a bouncing boat deck? Sayonara. On the other hand while photographing a friend wadefishing, I whip out my Canon D20 and shoot as the splash hits my face. Front cover stuff.
There are some problems with these pocket-sized cameras, as there are with most point-and-shoot models. Primarily there’s that long, agonizing wait for the shutter to function. You can shorten some of that wait by turning off a lot of the extraneous features like GPS, wind filter and review. Or, for an action sequence, press the video button and later select the best frame.
Another issue is the slippery small size. I solve that by using a mini-tripod that serves as a nifty handle and also keeps my fingers away from the lens. Set the camera on the tripod for a video. Dunk the camera upside down for an underwater video of a fish.
I had a chance to work with the new Canon D30, Fujifilm XP70, and the Nikon Coolpix, all of which seem to shoot instantaneously. These little beasts include a plethora of useful tools.
They have 12 to 16 megapixels, making for incredible images even when blown up, burst modes at 10 frames per second allowing for quick continuous shooting, Wi-Fi connection, good flashes and a plethora of other useful tools. There are a number of tough, highly functional waterproof digital cameras on the market starting at $190 and going beyond $700 depending on the features.
I still use my hefty Canon 5D, especially for copying art in high resolution for reproduction as art prints or for potential magazine images, but only when I’m shooting far from saltwater and it isn’t raining. ♦
—Sam Caldwell is an outdoor artist, writer, editor and photographer. Caldwell, an OWAA board member, says his main goal with OWAA is to add 15 artists to the membership in 2015. His studio, gallery and home is near Houston, Texas. See his work at www.samcaldwell.com
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