After having used this camera for a few days whilst scuba diving at the great barrier reef I'm now ready to provide my thoughts on what this camera is like to use and what observations I've made whilst using it.
When choosing an underwater camera you have several things to consider such as:
- the depth you will be diving to, and if you're a qualified scuba diver how deep it is possible for you to go,
- if an underwater housing is available for your current camera,
- the quality of the images you want to be able to take,
- whether or not you want to be able to capture video,
- and finally how much you want to spend.
These are all points I tried to consider when looking at cameras, and I had hoped to get a camera somewhere around the £200 mark. Looking at what underwater cameras and housings are available it was obvious if I wanted an underwater housing that I'd feel safe putting my camera in it was going to cost around £800 which made me realise that something I hadn't thought about was how often I'd be using it. If an underwater housing costs more or almost as much as the camera it's to house you have to question if you're going to be using often enough to warrant the price tag. In my case I was only planning two dives - one to the Great Barrier Reef off the coast of Australia, and once more around the Galapagos Islands area. Although I thought both trips were once-in-a-lifetime opportunities I decided I didn't want to spend that much as I wasn't sure of how much usage beyond that they'd get and how long it would be before changing my DSLR.
With this in mind I started to look at dedicated underwater cameras and noticed that a lot of the ones in the price range I was looking at didn't actually have a depth suitable for scuba diving. With a standard PADI qualification you can dive to around 15 metres but with other courses you can dive much deeper - such as around the 30 metre mark. Looking at the supported depth of underwater cameras does help to narrow down your choices if you're hoping to go quite deep and from the brands I looked at I found the best choices seemed to be either the DC-800 or DC-1000 from SeaLife. The main difference between these cameras is the number of mega pixels that the photos can be taken in so the difference in price tag may or may not be worth it. I chose the DC-800 primarily because I didn't think the extra quality was worth the additional price so I went for the 8 mega pixel DC-800. In the UK the distribution of SeaLife cameras is fairly limited but if you search by make and model on Google you are bound to find a few results that sell the camera. Included in the box are:
- 1 x DC-800 underwater camera,
- Pack of 5 moisture munchers,
- Underwater housing for DC-800,
- US charger with UK plug adapter,
- Manual, CD, and cable.
In addition to what was included I also opted to get additional moisture munchers, a spare O-ring, a travel charger and a spare battery just because I couldn't be sure how quickly I would need them. Having spent a few days out on a boat miles from shore you can never be certain of what the conditions are going to be like, but you can find out what facilities the boat has - this means if you're unsure of how much power you may need you can find out if it's possible to charge your battery up on the boat. In my case I was expecting some heavy usage and already knew that the charger that came with the camera requires it to be plugged directly into the camera (meaning you can't charge a spare whilst you're using the camera) which is why in this case a travel charger is worthwhile as you can charge your battery whilst you're out diving.
I found a single moisture muncher actually lasted throughout each of the dives over the three day period. It wasn't until I left the moisture muncher in the underwater housing whilst flying that it finally detected some moisture and turned red to show it had been used. I think this really goes to show the quality of the underwater housing as you can get cheap housings out there which do let tiny amounts of moisture in which can cause fogging. As a test SeaLife do recommend you putting the underwater housing in a filled bath for a period of time to ensure it doesn't leak before putting the actual camera into it.
The camera itself is small which means means it can double up as the sort of camera you just keep in your pocket for when you don't want to carry the weight of a DSLR around with you. It uses SD memory cards and also supports the newer SDHC standard which means you shouldn't have any problems using an 8Gb card with it. The camera also includes a handy pouch to protect the camera when it's not in the housing and a wrist strap; however the wrist strap must be removed before putting it in the housing as it will affect the seal. With the seal you should also check the O-ring regularly to ensure there are no particles (bits of dirt, etc.) that could stop the seal from being watertight. The camera features the following "scene" modes:
- Program AE,
- ExtFlash Auto,
- ExtFlash MNL,
- Night Portrait,
- Splash Water,
- Flow Water,
- Anti Shake,
- User Setting.
I think that's an incredible number of modes, but it's also a sign that the camera is geared more towards amateur photographers who want a point-and-shoot solution but don't mind switching modes. You'll notice there is a mode for "Sea" which of course is the one you want when you're using it in the housing. What you must remember here though is that you also need to set the colour balance as this mode will not set it for you. The white balance modes of note are Auto, Ocean Blue, Ocean Green and Lakes/Rivers. Sadly I forgot to change white balance from Auto and the photos of the Great Barrier Reef from underwater all look blue. When photographing subjects underwater there is always lighting considerations to make. The deeper you dive the more colours you will find missing from your pictures which is why depending on your depth your likely to need "Ocean Blue" ranging down to "Ocean Red". If you find yourself still getting badly coloured photographs the alternative is to get an external flash (or two) which easily attach to the underwater housing and do include their own modes under white balance. The camera does have it's own built-in flash, but it's not that strong. For those of you who are a little more experienced with photography the camera does also include a white waterproof card to allow you to perform manual white-balancing whilst underwater. This is something I'd only recommend if you're also an experienced diver as won't want to be diverting too much attention away from your surroundings or from keeping an eye on your dive computer.