My first rig was based on an Olympus C-3040. I used it from April of 2002 through January of 2003. During this time period I took over 10,000 pictures on over 200 different dives. Then in January of 2003 the camera stopped working --- 3 weeks out of warrantee. Olympus charged me $179.00 to replace a fuse in the camera and now it's as good as new.
My C-3040 Rig - The camera is an Olympus C-3040, 3.3 meg digital with a 128 meg SmartMedia memory card. It's housed in an Ikelite housing with an INON wide angle lens and two Ikelite DS-125 digital camera compatible strobes. Total street cost about $3500 - $3750.
I started out with only one strobe and I was very happy with the arrangement. Then I added a second strobe. I was even happier. In particular, I like the even lighting across the picture. To avoid flat lighting I set the strobe on the left arm to 50% power and the strobe on the right arm to 25% power.
Tip: Put your name and phone number on your rig. Better yet, put your business card in the housing. This will give an honest person the chance to do the right thing if you happen to loose or misplace your rig.
Tip: Put a clip on your camera and clip it to your BC when entering and exiting the water. Better yet, clip it to an extendable pull cord during the dive to prevent loosing your rig. This is particularly important for deeper dives and dives with a lot of current.
Housing - The housing by Ikelite is available from your local dive shop or online for $600. While this housing is not as sexy as some of the other housings available, it meets all my needs and it's depth rated to 200 feet.
Tip: When buying an Ikelite housing, buy it from a dealer that doesn't have it in stock. While this may seem backwards, the fact is that Ikelite constantly updates their housing designs based on user feedback. Forcing an order from the factory insures you will get the latest version.
Note: As it turns out, none of the available housings are really compact when you add a mounting tray and strobes. So forget about a setup that fits in your BC pocket, it ain't going to happen. Click here for an Ikelite picture that makes this point.
Strobes- Ikelite has two strobes that support digital cameras, the DS-50 and the larger DS-125. Both are available with a slave sensor which is used to detect the built in flash in the camera. And both have TTL exposure control. But only the larger DS-125 has the coverage needed for a wide angle lens. Without the diffuser it covers 90 degrees. With the diffuser it covers 100 degrees. The built in rechargeable battery is good for 150 full power flashes and has a 1 second recycle time, --- this strobe can really put out light. I bought the DS-125 as a package with the slave sensor, ball socket mounting arms, and quick charger.
Lens - The INON lens claims to be a "Super Wide" 100 degree achromat lens. I continue to recommend this lens because it has served me well AND because an INON dome port is available as an add on feature for this lens.
Note: The wide angle lens should not be used with the internal strobe since it partially blocks the light from the strobe causing uneven lighting of the subject.
Bottom Line - I think I lucked out and bought a rig that was at the knee of the price performance curve in 2002 and it served me well in 2003 i.e. were I to have spent more, I don't think my pictures would have been much/any better.