|Ikelite housing for Nikon D100|
Models Reviewed in This Article
|Aquatica housing for Fuji S2
Canon S400 Digital Elph in Canon WP-DC800 housing
Fantasea CP-4 for Nikon Coolpix 4300 and 885 digital cameras
Ikelite housing for Nikon D100
Light & Motion Titan D100 housing
|Olympus PT016 housing for Olympus 300 and 400 cameras
Sea & Sea DX3000 housed digital camera
Sea & Sea AquaPix 3100
Seacam housing for the Canon EOS1Ds
Sealife Reefmaster DC310
By now, it's no surprise that the world of photography is moving more and more toward digital imaging, with photo manufacturers putting most of their energy into their digital lines. Statistics from the Camera and Imaging Products Association show why that's the case: Digital camera shipments jumped 93 percent in the first half of 2003, while film cameras plunged 20 percent.
The manufacturers of underwater cameras and housings are well aware of the advantages of digital capture, including the most obvious advantage: instant review. The power of seeing the image on the camera's LCD screen immediately after pressing the shutter is empowering, and definitely accelerates both the learning curve and increases the percentage of "keepers" for an underwater shooter. Aside from a couple of notable exceptions, virtually all new products are in support of digital underwater imaging. Here is an overview of some of the latest and greatest, just in time for you to stuff the Christmas stocking of your favorite underwater photographer.
1. Aquatica housing for Fuji S2
|Aquatica housing for Fuji S2|
One of the best new camera options in the digital SLR realm is the Fuji S2. Like the popular Nikon D100, the S2 is built on a Nikon N80 platform, and accepts Nikon lenses. The big advantage to the S2 over any other digital SLR is that it functions in TTL exposure mode with modern submersible strobes.
The Aquatica housing for the Fuji S2 is ergonomically designed with a special eyepiece containing an integral diopter to assist in looking though this camera's rather tiny viewfinder. Zoom, manual focus, mode control, shutter speed, aperture and shutter release are easy to access without having to remove your eye from the viewfinder. Push buttons control the important functions on the back of the camera. Price: $1,899 (housing and single Nikonos connector; w/o ports). Web: www.aquatica.ca.
2. Canon S400 Digital Elph in Canon WP-DC800 housing
|Canon S400 Digital Elph in Canon WP-DC800 housing|
The S400 Digital Elph is a powerful camera offering amazing features in a small package. With 4-megapixel capture, and a 36-108mm 11X zoom, the camera is a perfect casual tool for underwater photography. Simple buttons engage all of the camera's relevant functions, and photographers can decide whether they want to shoot still images or motion jpegs. A diffuser helps control lighting using the built-in strobe, and a simple click to the close-up mode shifts minimum focus to only a foot away in order to capture those tiny reef dwellers. Price: Camera, $499; housing, $169.95. Web: www.usa-canon.com.
3. Fantasea CP-4 for Nikon Coolpix 4300 and 885 digital cameras
The Fantasea CP-4 is a compact injection-molded polycarbonate housing featuring a double-gasket seal and push-button controls. The camera simply drops into the housing with no muss, no fuss, and a latching buckle on the back door makes it very easy to prep for diving. Built-in flash and easy-view LCD screen make this camera both simple and intuitive for underwater use.
Actually, there are two models of the CP-4, differing only in the number of accessible controls, both of which are affordable. In addition, there is now a CP-3 featuring minor internal modifications to permit the use of Nikon's popular Coolpix 3100 and 2100 lenses. Price: CP Sport, $129; CP Pro, $179 (prices include flood insurance for one year). Web: www.fantasea.com.
4. Ikelite housing for Nikon D100
|Ikelite housing for Nikon D100|
This housing is a classic example of Ikelite ingenuity. It takes the company's tried and true Lexan SLR-MD for the front of the housing, uses its existing ports, and adds a new back plate machined from aluminum. A clear plate providing button access to all relevant controls is incorporated in the back. This provides an excellent view inside the housing, which is reassuring in the unlikely event water ever seeps inside. The Ikelite "Super-Eye" viewfinder is one of the better magnified viewfinders available today, and it is a big advantage when using a camera like the D100, which has a rather small viewfinder. Price: $1,800 (w/o ports). Web: www.ikelite.com.
5. Light & Motion Titan D100 housing
|Light & Motion Titan D100 housing|
Specifically designed for the Nikon D100 6.1 megapixel SLR, the Titan system brings several new innovations to the camera table. The most significant is the fingertip control of most camera functions using both mechanical interface and infrared controls through clever "Smart Grips." The photographer can hold the housing securely by means of these ergonomic grips, and then just use his thumbs to toggle between shutter speeds, apertures and other oft-accessed controls.
Use Light & Motion ports or conversion rings to adapt Subal, Aquatica or Sea & Sea ports to the housing. The Titan also incorporates the impressive ROC strobe controller, allowing the photographer to choose between 12 manual strobe power settings on most TTL-compatible strobes. This provides the ultimate in light balance control between primary and secondary strobes, all without touching dials or switches on the strobe. Price: $2,699 (housing with two Nikonos bulkheads and two baseball mounts). Web: www.uwimaging.com.
6. Olympus PT016 housing for Olympus 300 and 400 cameras
|Olympus PT016 housing for Olympus 300 and 400 cameras|
Olympus has a close relationship with independent housing manufacturer UN in Japan, which allows UN to get an early start on the design end. Consumers benefit with housings often introduced at the same time as the camera. For example, the new 5-megapixel Olympus 5050 has already been housed, and at least 10 other Olympus housings are presently available.
The lens ports are threaded so that accessory macro and wide-angle lenses from both UN and Inon can be used to expand the range of photo subjects. For optimal color under water, the camera's built-in flash can be used, or a fiber optic receptacle allows the use of external strobes. A rubber lens hood shrouds the camera's LCD to optimize the view even in bright, shallow water. Price: Housing, $149.95; 300 camera, $359.95; 400 camera, $449. Web: www.olympusamerica.com/underwaterhousing.
7. Sea & Sea DX3000 housed digital camera
|Sea & Sea DX3000 housed digital camera|
Featuring a 3.24-megapixel Ricoh camera on the inside, and a sophisticated polycarbonate housing on the outside, the Sea & Sea DX3000 is an ingenious system that takes digital imaging beyond point and shoot. The camera focuses very close, down to just 1cm, making it perfect for fish and macro imaging. Additionally, the front port offers a bayonet mount to accept both macro and wide-angle accessories from Sea & Sea's MX10 line of cameras, further enhancing field-of-view options. A flash shutter is built in to the housing to allow use of the camera's built-in flash or to deflect the light to a fiber optic port. This allows the use of several compatible Sea & Sea external strobes. The camera has eight megabytes of onboard memory, but also uses SD media cards in sizes up to 256MB, and the optical 3X zoom offers a range of 35-105mm in 35mm equivalent. Price: Camera and housing, $899. Web: www.seaandsea.com.
8. Sea & Sea AquaPix 3100
|Sea & Sea AquaPix 3100|
The AquaPix 3100 marks a significant milestone for underwater imaging: It is the world's first amphibious digital camera. Digital cameras that fit inside housings can be wonderful tools, but because this one was designed from the drawing board up to be used for diving, there are some intriguing features built-in.
The AquaPix 3100 is a 3.1 megapixel camera, complete with a 1.6-inch LCD preview screen, automatic shutter speeds from 1/40th to 1/100th second, 16 megabytes of onboard memory, and the ability to accept easily obtainable SmartMedia cards. External O-ring-sealed doors provide access to battery and media on one side; USB output on the other side. The molded construction allows strobe lighting via the built-in flash or external flash via fiber optic cord. Additionally, there is both an internal color filter and a close-up lens that can be switched in and out of place using external levers. The macro lens will allow capture as near as 10cm, but the camera will also accept the bayonet accessories from the MX10 series, making the 20mm wide-angle an easy application as well.
Unlike other housings that feature a number of identical silver buttons, inviting the shooter to guess which button does what, the AquaPix has logical pictographs on rear buttons to indicate zoom, self-timer and image review/delete. This intuitive feature alone should make it the dive industry standard for rental use. I predict we'll be seeing lots of these cute yellow cameras on dive boats around the world very soon. Price: $619. Web: www.seaandsea.com.
9. Seacam housing for the Canon EOS1Ds
|Seacam housing for the Canon EOS1Ds|
This is the flagship housing for Canon's 11.1 megapixel flagship digital SLR, and the tool that finally takes digital imaging beyond film in many respects. The Canon EOS1Ds is an acknowledged leader in the digital resolution race, and with the full-frame 35mm CMOS sensor on board, digital shooters get the same angle of view they were used to on their film cameras.
The Seacam housing features a resilient silver exterior finish and a black-flocked interior that traps light bounce or any stray drops of water. The ports are of mineral glass, with several different domes available, and flat ports to accommodate all popular macro configurations. However, the Seacam housing is best distinguished by its interchangeable viewfinders. The Pro viewfinder is relatively conventional, but both the Sport-180 and the Swivel-45 offer 1:1 magnified viewing and the ability to customize the viewfinder correction as much as plus or minus 3 diopters. Price: Housing, $4,995 (w/o ports and viewfinder); Pro viewfinder, $321; camera, $7,999. Web: www.seacamusa.com.
10. Sealife Reefmaster DC310
|Sealife Reefmaster DC310|
Sealife pioneered underwater digital imaging with the introduction of its first Reefmaster iteration a few years ago, but its new DC310 brings on a whole new level of performance. The 3.3 megapixel camera features a 1.6-inch LCD display and unique one-button operation for the novice. More complete controls are available of course for those seeking greater technical sophistication. But in keeping with the Sealife devotion to simplicity, the camera can be set in one of several custom modes.
The "Sea" mode features shutter speed and aperture optimized for the kind of conditions that might occur under water, while the "Land" mode is perfect when using the camera out of the housing or in "splash" applications. There is even an "External Flash" mode whereby the on-camera flash is bounced to an external slave strobe. This setting defeats the digital-preflash and assures that the external strobe operates in synch with the camera.
Internal memory is 8MB, and SD cards of up to 256MB can be added. Both macro and wide-angle accessories can by mounted to the lens of the DC310 by means of a secure bayonet, and images can be captured as jpegs or AVI (motion jpeg movies). For even more simple operation at a very affordable price, Sealife also offers the 2.1 megapixel DC250. Price: $599.95. Web: www.sealife-cameras.com.