CAMERA Sea & Sea Dimage XA digital camera to fit your pocket
I was off to do the latest Diver regulator comparison, loaded to the gunwales with all the regulators and other kit needed, when I got a call asking me if I wanted to try the latest underwater camera.
     The caller obviously did not hear my sigh as I pointed out that I was already 100kg over my weight allowance and politely tried to delay this test for another time. He sent it to me anyway.
     I need not have worried about the extra weight. I slipped the 2 megapixel Minolta DimageX and its MC-DG100 underwater housing into my top pocket and set off for the airport. Yes, it really is that small.
     The camera is about the size of an old-fashioned flip-top pack of 20 cigarettes. (Does anyone still smoke) Its brushed aluminium finish goes further, to make it look like a pack of Lambert & Butler. It could hardly be more convenient. The clear plastic case fits it like a glove.
     Of course, with its standard 8 megabyte flashcard it is really good only for JPEG snapshots. I set it for the best quality and got an image on a TIFF file that was good enough for reproduction in this magazine, but one image of this quality was the best it could manage. You can buy a far more capacious flashcard (64 megabyte) for about £80 extra.
     The camera seemed reasonably easy to set up for land shots, although its menu of options required considerable dexterity and moving the cursor both up and down and across and back to obtain the desired options. Those of you who have had the benefit of years of practice with a Nintendo will have no problems.
     It also has an optical zoom lens in addition to the electronic zoom, so I thought I was quite well set up.
     Under water, however, things were different, because in the bright sunlight and clear waters of the Red Sea, the ambient sunlight falling on the LCD viewing screen made it impossible to see anything at all.
     I ended up aiming the camera in the general direction of my subject and firing away in hope. I had to wait until I got back into the shade provided by an indoor setting to see what I had in the way of captured images. Sometimes my aim was less than true.
     I also had trouble knowing what all the buttons did, as their labels are obscured by the housing and those on the housing were fairly illegible.
     To get good colours down deeper, you need an external flashgun. Sea & Sea can provide one such as the YS-25DX to synchronise with a digital camera. It runs on two AA batteries and has a continuous brightness control and three different syncro settings to suit different cameras.
     I found that the DimageX worked effectively with settings 1 and 3. The brightness of the image achieved using the continuous control was hard to judge, even when deep, and what you could see on the LCD screen depended on the angle at which you viewed it.
     In common with many little digital cameras, the housing needs a little fold-away hood to keep out extraneous light and make the screen more usable.
     The YS-25DX bolts to the Minolta housing via a Sea & Sea DX stay and bendy DX arm. Alas, in bright sunlight it failed to see the built-in triggering flash of the camera but it worked well in the shade of reef overhangs.
     The guys at Sea & Sea tell me it will soon be possible to use all the accessory lenses for the yellow Motormarine II, which will extend the usefulness of the DimageX considerably.
     You can download images onto both Macs and PCs, using software downloadable from the Internet.
     The DimageX is one of those consumer goods that you want to possess rather than to use. It is seductive but not a serious tool for an underwater photographer.
     The images obtained are great for e-mailing to friends but nothing more. Still, that is exactly what most people take photographs for. I suppose it is an alternative to the Sea & Sea MX5 and similar small cameras.
     The DimageX and its underwater housing are sold only as a complete package by Sea & Sea and cost £449. This could be a bargain when you consider that there is no additional film to buy. The YS-25DX complete with the DX stay and DX arm costs £309.
  • Sea & Sea 01803 663012, www.seaandsea.com

  • Divernet Divernet Divernet
    + Incredibly small and convenient

    - LCD screen unshaded
    - Only really good for pictures for personal use