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Published : Sunday, December 7th 2008
Written by Karin Brussaard
"Dive Expedition Spitsbergen Norway"
When In the midst of June I am transported to the airport of Amsterdam, the Netherlands. With envious glances I spot the many passengers travelling in their flip-flops and shorts and checking in their one and only suitcase. There's too big a difference between their outfits and luggage, and mine. I am trying to move around in jackboots, my heaviest pair of trousers, two sweaters and a winter coat. Furthermore, I am heavily packed with a large bag containing my diving gear, among which a dry suit, two sets of thermal underwear and two sets of scuba sets. A second bag holds lots of thick clothes, another set of jackboots, hats, gloves and scarves. And on top of that, two photo rucksacks with the Sony Alpha 350, an underwater housing for this camera, three underwater flash units, a wide angle lens, a large telephoto lens, two storage tanks, an extra camera, many batteries and a fistful of battery chargers inside. I think it is rather obvious that I am not on my way to Bonaire for a week.
Scuba diving in Spitsbergen BS Kinetics Gibson housing review
Dive Expedition in Spitsbergen Sony Alpha digital SLR camera
Spitsbergen
Sony Alpha
Spitsbergen Dive Expedition Longyearbyen Sony Alpha A350 underwater housing test
My destination is in the Far North. And although June means summer in Spitsbergen, the dive information of Waterproof Expeditions is unmistakable: it is cold on the water and diving will be even colder underwater; and therefore only safe with the right diving wear that is cold-resistant. My flight goes from Amsterdam to Oslo, Oslo to Tromso and finally from Tromso to Longyearbyen. Having to change flights is not easy at all with the two huge rucksacks, let alone with my two enormous bags that I have to drag from one plane to the other. I am not at all happy with this, and I am thus relieved to get to Longyearbyen and finally into the hotel. My arrival at midnight and the fact that there is no time-difference to overcome are still no guarantees for a good night's sleep. The reason I cannot fall asleep is the daylight. It never gets dark in Spitsbergen in June and it is just as easy to do some sightseeing in the middle of the night as it is during daytime. And that is just what I do!
The Sony Alpha 350, put in the market by Sony, is a digital reflex camera for the advanced photographer. Professionals will probably find the speed of 2.5 frames per second too slow. However, underwater photography does not require extreme speed since you nearly always make use of flashes and you also have to wait for the flash batteries to recharge before the next shot is enabled. Sony uses Carl Zeiss lenses for the Sony Alpha 350. The camera is light with its 582 grams, as well as compact and has a pleasant hand-fit. The CCD sensor offers 14.2 effective megapixels. Pictures can be stored in RAW, JPEG as well as RAW + JPEG. The Alpha 350 supports various storage memory cards. Not only the Sony types (Memory Stick Duo, MS Pro Duo and MS Pro HG) are supported, also CF cards type I and II. To tackle the dust problem of dust sticking to the sensor, the Alpha 350 has been equipped with a dual anti-dust system. The sensor has an anti-static coating and a shake mechanism. This mechanism is activated automatically after changing the lens, giving dust no chance to stick to the sensor. The tilting LCD of 2.7 inch can be folded out to 90 degrees upwards and tilted downwards at 45 degrees. It facilitates using the Live View. The Live View function of the Sony DSLR-A350 not only works at manual focus, also at auto focus. Focussing in Live View is carried out even faster than using the optical viewfinder!
BS Kinetics Gibson housing BS Kinetics housing review
BS Kinetics Gibson
BS Kinetics
BS Kinetics camera housing Made in Germany BS Kinetics Carbon fibre housing
BS Kinetics is a German company manufacturing underwater housings for photo cameras and video cameras. In addition, BS Kinetics also produce video lamps. The housing for the Sony Alpha 350 belongs to the Gibson models. This series of underwater housings of BS Kinetics is made in particular for digital reflex cameras that fit in the dimensions of this series (180 x 190 x 130 mm). Other series of underwater housings are available for larger reflex cameras and compact cameras. The underwater housing is compact and the small size of the Sony Alpha 350 benefits from this. The set as a whole remains pleasantly portable. BS Kinetics is one of few manufacturers that use carbon fibre for their housings. This fibre is light and solid at the same time. Despite this, the underwater housing weighs 1900 grams. This slightly surprised me, since I really expected a carbon fibre housing to be much lighter. However, this weight can easily be explained; the underwater housing has been tested to a depth of 80 meters. The pressure at a depth like that is of such height (9 bar) that a thicker layer of carbon fibre is required to withstand the pressure. Obviously BS Kinetics deliver a large amount of ports for wide angle as well as standard and macro lenses. The ports feature bayonet mounts.
Waterproof Expeditions
Dive Expeditions
The scuba dive expedition to Spitsbergen that I am joining is organized by Waterproof Expeditions (waterproof-expeditions.com). This company organizes expeditions to the Arctic as well as the Antarctic area. You will stay on a ship during the expedition. Don't picture a luxurious cruise ship, since our polar vessel should be able to withstand cold and, most of all, ice floes. The vessel however, does offer warm and comfortable cabins, a dining room and rooms for speeches. The group is always international. Binding factor is the passenger's fascination for the nature of the Polar Regions. Emphasis lies on photographing this unique area. For part of this group, it is the underwater wildlife, but the non-divers are not left behind: when the divers are underwater, they are brought on land in a zodiac to explore life on land and search for other sea mammals and birds to capture with their cameras. The divers on the other hand, will also make a few visits to the land as part of the complete polar expedition. The information I received prior to the journey was extremely extensive and reliable. The destination is not like the usual holiday destinations and the cold circumstances make this trip a real expedition.
Waterproof Expeditions Dive preparations Going down
Scuba Diving
Scuba Diving Safety
Scuba Dive Expedition
Scuba Diving Dry-suit Scuba Diving Safety Dive Expedition Camera preparations
Diving in the polar region means diving in the most extreme circumstances, as you can imagine. The human body functions best with a body temperature between 36.6 and 37.3 degrees Celsius. Therefore, long-term exposure to cold is not too good because the body temperature drops. The road from chattering your teeth to becoming inactive and losing consciousness is a small road. Underwater the body cools down even faster than above water; for water conducts cold as much as seven times faster. The only way to be able to dive in water that is as cold as 0 degrees Celsius is to wear a dry-suit. And since diving in a dry suit requires different skills than diving in a wetsuit, Waterproof Expeditions demands that divers are experienced with diving in a dry-suit. They also strongly advise not to bring new diving gear. You are advised to use and try-out all diving gear at home, so you will not encounter unpleasant surprises during the expedition. An additional demand is to bring two scuba sets. In cold water there is a chance your scuba set will freeze as a result of which it blows a lot of air, which in turn causes your cylinder to empty very fast. Nor is breathing through a blowing scuba set very pleasant. Mounting two scuba sets to the cylinder will enable your buddy to close the blowing one, which will stop the blowing immediately. The second scuba set will let you breathe again normally. This situation however, makes you having to blow off the rest of the dive. Thankfully, my scuba sets were able to withstand the cold water. They really lived up to their names: Cressi Sub Alaska. Not only my own body, also the camera has to be handled with extra care. The main rule is to leave the camera out of the warmth once exposed to the cold. Large temperature differences cause condense and digital cameras do not like this. That is why I change batteries, lenses and flash memory cards outdoors. The cold is also a nuisance for the battery. During a polar expedition you can count on half the battery-life the manufacturer claims. Thankfully, the Sony Alpha 350 has a lifespan of approximately 720 pictures when using the optical viewfinder and 410 pictures using Life View, and the remaining capacity of the battery is constantly displayed. Even half of the battery's lifespan is sufficient to take pictures during a dive or an expedition on land. Capacity of the battery never was at stake or a limited factor during a dive; the low water temperature itself limited the diving time to 45 minutes per dive anyway.
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