Another digital starting point THIS IS NOT A PHOTOGRAPHY MAGAZINE. Although we use underwater photographs, until now we have always considered underwater photographers to be a minority of our readership and publish articles on the subject only from time to time. All that is changing. Why? Because the digital age has put the ability to achieve good pictures while diving into the hands of everyone, rather than the few dedicated to the pursuit of nicely composed, well-exposed pictures. Digital cameras will record a picture almost every time, and you don't have to wait until after your dive to find out how successful you have been. The SeaLife ReefMaster DC310 is a simple little black plastic 3.3 megapixel camera that comes with its own purpose-designed housing rated to 60m. There are two versions of the housing - one with a limited number of buttons, the other with all the controls accessible for those prepared to read the manual. An external ancillary flashgun, essential for good colour-rendition at depth, and a close-up kit are also available. I tried the more advanced version, but without the external flashgun. The main part of my test was to hand the unit over to an unsuspecting fellow-traveller who had no underwater camera of her own and see how she got on. In the event, Stephanie of Barefoot Traveller captured some very striking images, though most of them turned out to be blurred by camera-shake when I downloaded them later. Would-be photographers must realise that a digital camera takes time to record the image and this one seems to take quite a lot of time, so you must hold it still until the job is done. The instruction manual comes on a CD - not very helpful in a boat, so familiarise yourself before rushing off on a dive with the camera. The CD includes a version of Acrobat Reader, which you need in order to see the instructions in PDF format. Of course you will not be able to follow those instructions to enable you to load Acrobat Reader until you have seen the manual. Catch 22. All this is designed to help save the world's resources, so no printing out reams of paper to keep a permanent record, please. The only shame was that the contents index did not relate to the actual pages. The DC310 has an 8Mb internal memory but you can slot in SD memory cards to increase its capacity as far as 256MB. This will give you (please wait until I find the right page in the 60-page PDF) between 96 and 2880 shots depending on the quality you choose beforehand. As I had only the internal memory and no memory card, I compromised JPEG compression quality to get nine shots at the best resolution. The main control can choose set-up, viewing, video-clip or still picture mode. In set-up mode the wide choice of options includes white-balance, light sensitivity, LCD brightness, exposure compensation (auto and manual), and three choices of JPEG image quality and three choices of resolution. The higher the quality, the fewer pictures you can record. Most importantly, a 'Sea' mode automatically selects the best combination of settings for underwater use. All easy to understand. There are three focus settings, though it appears that you can use the camera only on one which equates to about 1m from the camera when it's in its housing. There is an in-built flash that you can turn on and off at will, and this is used to trigger the optional external flashgun. Most often the in-built flash gave us the best results, but we were using it in very clear water. The camera gives you three seconds to delete unwanted images as you go by pressing the shutter-release button a second time, or you can delete at leisure later. The CD also has programs (MGI Photosuite and PhotoVista) for downloading and managing pictures on to a PC. There seemed to be none supported by Mac, but I used iPhoto and Photoshop and it seemed to work OK. However, the camera afterwards continued to tell me that its memory was full, even though according to the viewing mode there were no images left to delete, so I never got it to work again. Looking at the pictures on the LCD at the time, things looked promising, but I was disappointed once I got the images home. I had assumed that this must be an entry-level underwater digital camera but its price is not exactly entry-level (see our recent comparison of underwater digital cameras under £500). The SeaLife SL148 ReefMaster DC310 costs £400 with its housing.
Sangers 0844 4770121, www.sealife-cameras.com
+ Range of useful accessories for underwater use + Straightforward to use
- Instruction manual time-consuming to access - More expensive than you would expect