CAMERA Sea Life Digital Reefmaster DC2000
I have begun to covet other peoples cameras. Instead of entering the water with an outfit that is massive in both bulk and cost, I see people jumping in with little digital cameras in plastic submarine housings smaller than my five-year-olds school lunchbox.
     To add insult to injury, some of them even sneer at me for still shooting old-fashioned film that needs to be taken home for processing. So I armed myself with a little plastic SeaLife Reefmaster DC200 1.3 mega-pixel digital camera, with external flash, and set off to see what I could achieve.
     I used the external flashgun because light is light, whether recorded digitally or not, and I knew that the little in-built flash of the camera would merely serve to light up unwanted detritus in the water rather nicely.
     Its like using your car headlights on full-beam in fog. Better to use your fog-lights, positioned as they are further from the axis of your line of sight.
     There was no way I could fly by the seat of my pants with this one. I sat down to read the manual and, surprisingly, found it quite straightforward. First, I had to charge the four AA-size ni-mh batteries supplied.
     In keeping with all digital hardware, there are lots of options. This includes control of exposure and colour balance. I opted to keep things simple and went with all defaults set. I pre-set the camera for use under water and with the external flash, and chose to record fewer pictures on the memory of the camera but at the highest quality possible.
     Bigger file sizes means fewer pictures. An additional Compact Flash memory card is available as an optional extra, and this will allow you to record more shots.
     I then dropped the camera into its underwater housing, snug as a bug in a rug, and closed it up, first making sure that the two captive O-rings were free of foreign bodies. I did not say I greased the O-rings, you notice. Its not recommended.
     The external flash runs on four AA batteries. It is fired using a slave cell that responds to the cameras own built-in flash by way of a mirror that fits over and thereby disables it. The external flashgun has its own on/off/test-fire switch.
     From then on I just had to jump into the water and frame things up with the digital LCD monitor screen or, alternatively, look through the rather crude open-frame sports-finder. There is an optical viewfinder too, for use when the camera is out of its housing and safe on dry land.
     One button turns the camera on and a second is used to initiate the picture. I dont say snap the picture because it takes a little time to get all the information. This, I found, meant that I needed to hold the camera really steady.
     Moving subjects seemed to blur. At worst, the camera can take up to two seconds to grab the image.
     I took the SeaLife outfit as deep as 35m and it proved watertight every time. It is rated to 60m.
     A useful LCD display tells you how much battery power and unused shots remain, as well as confirming the image quality selected and the resolution. After each dive, I was able to go through and delete those pictures which were failures, so during a series of dives I was able to build up a collection of 23 successes.
     You can zoom in 2x and 4x to check details on the LCD monitor when viewing the results. In this way I began to realise that head-and-shoulder shots of my buddy were just about the limit of what this camera was good for. He was very pleased, because I ended up shooting a lot of them.
     When I tried to take pictures of my children in an open-air swimming pool, brightly lit by Mediterranean sunshine, the external flash failed to see the cameras own triggering flash, so I re-set the camera for under water (with no external flash) and obtained reasonable results.
     Although its brightness can be adjusted, the monitor was impossible to view under these conditions. There is an option to turn it off to save battery power. Ironically, the best results were of one of my daughters at the poolside, out of the water, but taken by me while swimming in it.
     The next task was to bring the pictures home, download them onto my PC using the MGI PhotoSuite software provided, and e-mail them to my buddy and those family-members and friends who wanted to see my kids on holiday. Despite some conflicting information between the instruction manual and the quick-start guide, it was extremely easy to download the shots and all proved to be lots of fun.
     However, this camera is the modern equivalent of the underwater box-Brownie, no more than that.
The SeaLife Digital Reefmaster DC200 camera costs £500 and the external flash £180.
  • Sangers Consumer Division, 08844 4770120

  • Divernet
    The camera range proved ideal for taking pictures of John Bantins buddy
    + Instant gratification

    - Only for holiday-snaps, even when diving