When I started photographing canyons, I just took my landscape photography gear to task. Canon DSLR bodies and lenses, Gitzo tripods and RSS ball-heads and brackets. Although I experimented with HDR, I never liked it much, so I kept carrying my set of Lee ND Grad filters.
As I got deeper and deeper into canyoneering, it became obvious that I needed to minimize my photo equipment and needed more protection from impact and water. For a while, a small Canon DSLR, with either a 10-22mm EFs or a 17-40mm EF lens in a Mountain Smith photo cube inside a double dry-bag was my "to-go" setup. Sometimes, when logistics permitted, I would take a Gitzo Traveler tripod into the canyon.
Canon bodies and lenses. Gitzo tripods. RSS Heads and brackets. F-Stop bags
As the canyons got more technical, the approach to photography transitioned to a hybrid of "Landscape Photography" and "Action Photography"....something more in tune with "contextual portraiture". The determining factors shaping the equipment selection are:
This worked for a good while, until things became more vertical
For a while, all these factors kept pointing me back to some variation of my current gear, but sometime around 2014, Nikon released the AW1. A waterproof body with inter-changeable lenses, (10mm f/2.8 lens avaialble Nikon CX format) equivalent to ~27mm) high ISO settings and.....able to deliver images in native RAW Nikon format NEF.
Nikon AW1 with 10mm f/2.8 lens
This seemed like the perfect camera for canyoneering. And for a while it was for me. This camera takes beautiful photographs.
AW1 down in Keyhole
But during a photo-session in Keyhole in Zion....the camera developed a water leak. The leak manifested itself in the form of unresponsive buttons in the camera's back panel. Preview, menu, mode...buttons became unresponsive. The camera would turn on and off and take photos, but you could not change any current settings. A closer inspection revealed water inside the battery / memory card compartment. Somehow, water leaked through the back panel. The camera was still under warranty, so I sent it back to Nikon. They repaired the camera and sent it back. It took about 2,3 weeks. It took only about 2 more canyon descents for the repaired camera to fail again in the exact same manner. This time, I asked Nikon to replace the whole camera, no more "repairs". This process took a....long time. I think it was a couple of months for Nikon to inspect the camera and agree to replace it with a new one. All this this gave me ample time to research online and find similar reports of AW1s water leaks.
About this time, Olympus announced the release of the TG4. At the time I got my AW1, Olympus only offered the TG3, which had all the required specs, but no RAW shooting. But now, the new TG4 offered Olympus native RAW format ORF. I got the TG4 and it turned out to be a very versatile more agile camera than the AW1, but not without its drawbacks:
Still, with the proper knowledge of the TG4's limitations, in the right hands, the camera can deliver stunning photos.
TG4 hand held down a technical beautiful canyon.
TG4 crisp detail and rendering
Nikon finally sent me back a new AW1, and I started to compare the 2 cameras head to head. I like AW1 photos better, both because of the 4/3 format and the crisp, clean quality seems more consistent under almost all conditions.
Nikon AW1 vs. Olympus TG4
So far the new AW1 has not leaked, but I am definitely baby sitting the camera against hard splashes and dirty / muddy water....two factors present in previous failures.
So there you have it. Two cameras to consider for the rough task of canyoneering photography.