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DIGITAL CAMERASea & Sea Aquapix

WHEN GEORGE EASTMAN INVENTED THE FIRST CAMERA FOR POPULAR USE, the Kodak No 1, it was so simple that you didnt even have to put film in it. That was done at the factory. All you needed to do was line up a shot and press the button. Kodak! was the noise it made, hence the name.
     Of course, technology being what it was, most pictures didnt come out. Today we have the fantastic technology of the microchip available to us, so getting your pictures to come out has been well taken care of. Digital cameras give users the instant gratification of seeing their pictures immediately, and they always seem to come out.
     The problem appears to be that the computer nerds who design these things are unable simply to leave it at that. They have to give us lots more options. Why Because they can!
     We can choose file sizes, colour balance, record a brief audio note, even shoot a live-action sequence. They can connect us to the cell-phone network to send our art instantly to another, probably uninterested, party.
     We can tell the time in China, get the half-time football scores and remotely switch off the oven thats cooking the Sunday lunch when its done (I made up that bit).
     George Eastmans challenge was to give the public the simple facility to record a moment in time, a snap. If they could do that, they were happy. When Im under water and I see a tiger shark taking a bite out of a hapless turtle, I want to press a button and record that split second. I want nothing more.
     Digital photography nerds might sneer at the Sea & Sea Aquapix camera. Im told its already old technology. Well, I dont want technology. I want pictures and I dont care how I get them. If you want pictures youve taken under water, read on. If youre a digital nerd, youre better off reading Wot Digital mag.
     Unlike its competitors, the Sea & Sea Aquapix is not a digital camera in a housing. Its an amphibious digital camera depth-rated to 45m. What appeals to me about it is that it has been designed for use by underwater photographers, and we all know how unclever we can be at times. So it has some very simple-to-understand controls.
     On the top, one can choose between the modes for initial set-up, taking pictures, playing them back and making short video clips. Then there is the camera on/off switch and the shutter release. Easy so far
     Theres a lever that allows you to position a diffuser in front of the built-in flash. You wont need that; Ill explain why later.
     At the front is a lever that allows you to choose between normal focus, close-up for subjects about 10cm away, and a filter for use without flash when in the shallows, to take out some of the blue. Still with me
     At the back are six buttons. The top four are for turning the flash on, setting up the self-timer (not that useful except when trying to photograph shy garden eels), and telephoto and wide-angle effects. These are electronic rather than optical and have a ratio of 3:1. The Aquapix will accept Sea & Sea accessory wide-angle lenses from the MX-10 range, too. These top four buttons are also used for navigating round the set-up menu options.
     Then there are the menu/OK and LCD activation buttons, use of which become obvious when the camera is in your hands. Thats it. If you dont feel overwhelmed by now, you have qualified to use the Aquapix successfully.
     The whole thing runs on two AA batteries, accessed through an O-ring-protected hinged door in the side of the camera. This is where you can insert an optional Smart Media card.
     The number of shots you can save depends on the size of the card, whether you choose to save fine- or normal-quality jpegs, and what file sizes you choose.
     There is also an on-board memory of 16Mb. This will give 21 pictures at 3 megapixels in fine jpeg mode or 2min 46sec of video action. A 128Mb memory card will save up to 795 images at the least-good quality of resolution or save more than 23 minutes of live action, enough to scare any of your friends away for the evening.
     Whether you shoot onto a digital CCD or chemical light-sensitive film, one thing is certain. For good underwater photographs with a full range of colour, you must have a light source other than the daylight that is filtered blue as it passes through many metres of water.
     I used the Aquapix with the Sea & Sea YS 25 Auto flashgun. This was a little difficult to set up, as the instruction manual was not good at explaining the options - it was anything but Auto in function. After a lot of experimentation, I found that I needed to set it to switching-on option one (of two) and set the power setting control close to minimum for well-exposed pictures at about 45cm from the subject.
     Like the camera, the external flash uses two AA batteries and is synchronised to the on-board flash by means of a reliable fibre-optic cable. However, I did find that I needed to cover the on-board flash with black tape to stop it lighting up detritus in the water and causing backscatter - which is why there is no need for the diffuser option.
     The LCD screen, the only viewfinder system supplied, has a little rubber hood to keep out extraneous light. The images it displayed were so burnt out, however, that I had a hard job deciding what Id captured anyway.
     I could find no way of adjusting this and had to wait until I downloaded the images on to a home computer. Not good.
     Taking a picture under water was not an instant occurrence. First, I found that I had to turn on the camera, because it was set with a power-saving switch-off that came into effect after about three minutes. You can set this to either one, three or five minutes.
     Then I had to turn on the on-board and external flash and wait for both to be ready. I often forgot to switch on the on-board flash in the heat of the moment, and would then get virtually nothing.
     I then lined up the subject and pressed the shutter release. The delay seemed interminable before the camera grabbed the shot.
     This could be the Achilles heel of this camera. Youre limited to images recorded when the camera is good and ready. My fishy subjects had often vacated the field of view before this had happened.
     A second O-ring-protected hinged door in the side of the camera revealed the connections for both the USB and RGB cables for connecting to computer and TV set respectively.
     It was straightforward to download my efforts on to my Apple Mac using the software provided and Im sure it would be the same with a PC, but I took the precaution of ensuring that I had two fresh AA batteries in the camera first.
     It was only now that I discovered that the 3 megapixel camera producing 3Mb jpeg files did not give me the quality I had come to expect from the 17Mb TIFF files of my professional 12 megapixel camera. I shouldnt have been surprised.
     For personal snaps of the sort one might e-mail to friends, this camera is more than adequate. The average user will have far more success in obtaining recognisable images than they would attempting to do the same thing with Sea & Seas MX-10 entry-level film camera. I anticipate the demise in popularity of that little yellow plastic job in favour of this little yellow plastic job.
     I found the Sea & Sea Aquapix intuitive to use, if frustrating in its inability to capture the moment. A word of warning: because, without a capacious memory card, I had only 21 pictures to play with, I found myself going through shots I could delete to make room for more.
     Its easy to lose track of time doing this, so keep a close eye on both air supplies and deco no-stop time. People with newly purchased digital cameras have drowned in the process.
     Early purchasers of the Aquapix might have been disappointed to find that they were not entirely water-resistant. Since then, a new rear door has been designed and should be retro-fitted by the distributor.
     If you already own an Aquapix, return it to where you bought it as soon as you can for this important modification.
The Sea & Sea Aquapix costs £389, and a YS 25 Auto flash, mounting bracket arm and synch cord costs another £490.

  • Sea & Sea 01803 663012, www.sea-sea.com


  • Divernet
    Moray
    Moray eel captured with an Aquapix - the photographer didnt see the cleanerfish till later because of the shutter delay
    Nudibranchs
    Nudibranchs are also good subjects for this camera as they dont move fast
    Divernet
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    + Unique amphibious digital camera
    + Designed to be simple


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    - Slow grab-time
    - Complex procedure to get picture with external flashgun
    - Poor LCD