Appeared in DIVER April 2008

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John John Bantin has been a full-time professional diving writer and underwater photographer since 1990. He makes around 300 dives each year testing diving equipment.

CAMERA SEA&SEA DX-1G / YS27-DX

SEA & SEA USED TO DOMINATE THE INEXPENSIVE underwater film camera market, but the fact that every compact digital camera manufacturer now appears to offer a submarine housing has tended to leave the specialist underwater photography-kit manufacturer out in the cold.
The company has fought back by adopting digital cameras made by Ricoh, adding menu features such as the unique Sea & Sea mode to suit underwater conditions, and combining them with its own manufactured housing. The DX-1G is the latest and probably the best so far.
It may be a lot cheaper than a digital single-lens-reflex camera, but a glance at the round-up of digital compacts and housing combinations in our December issue reveals that there is a price penalty to pay over other digital compacts. So what do you get for the money

Camera
The DX-1G has a 10 megapixel sensor, which is big but not the biggest. The megapixel rating indicates to what size a picture can be enlarged without individual pixels becoming noticeable.
Similarly, the LCD screen is big without being the biggest, and is well hooded to make viewing easier under water.
Importantly, the DX-1G is one of the few compacts that can output RAW files. In this way, you record virtually all the data collected by the sensor and can re-arrange it later on your PC or Mac with software such as the Adobe DNG RAW Converter. Youre free to decide on colour quality and exposure and many other parameters long after youve left the water, which is why professional underwater photographers use this system exclusively.
You can also shoot conventional jpegs, but this means that you have to get the technical details right at the time of shooting. Adjustments later in PhotoShop can lead to disappointment when it comes to printing.
A RAW file from this camera is 14.5Mb. This takes up a lot of space in the memory, and it records a jpeg at the same time, so there is only space for 26 pictures on a 512Mb card.
I sense that most buyers use the jpeg mode, because post-processing is simpler. In this case, there are 10 permutations of picture quality (size), and the higher the quality, the fewer the pictures that can be recorded.
The internal memory of the camera will record 1 to 276 files. A separate 1Gb SD memory card will record 51 to 10,071 pictures! It also shoots short movie clips.
Its best to start with extreme close-ups (macro), because theyre easier. The DX-1G will focus down to 1cm, although I preferred to switch to the maximum telephoto setting (in macro mode) and keep my closest subjects about 4cm from the front of the camera.
Even so, the on-board flash is limited in its application, so I used it to trigger a separate Sea & Sea YS27-DX flashgun.

THE LAWS OF PHYSICS remain the same whether you shoot on film or digitally. Taking your own supply of controllable white light down with you makes all the difference. So if you are going to spend this sort of money, go the whole hog and buy an additional flashgun before you find yourself in deep water.
The light from the on-board flash triggers the off-board flash via a fibre-optic connection. The LCD blanks out while the on-board flash is recycling, so an over-enthusiastic trigger-finger wont cost you shots.
A nice detail is that this camera allows you to store a couple of rafts of personally suggested settings. I chose one for macro and one for wider shots and could switch to these at will, which speeded up the picture-taking process.
The manual has more than 200 pages of dense information. A software user-guide on CD explains how to download your pictures.
The camera itself is a slim little unit with its own li-iron rechargeable battery. It powers up instantly and the lens protrudes.
Apart from the underwater mode, novel presets include a skew correction for getting rectangular subjects looking as it they were shot square on, and a mode for shooting text clearly - handy for industrial spies!
The manual setting allows you more creative control. Once you get used to it, youll use it a lot. This lens has a wide maximum aperture (f/2.5) for low light conditions without resorting to higher ISO ratings. A higher ISO normally means a grainier picture.
A fast shutter speed such as 1/250sec will allow you to get sharp pictures of fast-moving subjects like feeding sharks, and a small lens opening (high number) will give you maximum sharpness when shooting in macro mode. It shuts down to almost f/16 , which is ideal.
The zoom range is quite small, but except in macro mode youll be using it at its widest setting which, although wider than some other cameras, is not very wide at all.
Manual white-balance allows you to get the optimum colour in your underwater pictures. Finally, to avoid a frustrating dive, its important to take the lens cap off the camera before you install it in the housing!

Housing
The housing is a bit more over-styled than the usual plastic box and buttons supplied for other compacts. Its back closes up against its sealing O-ring in a satisfyingly positive manner that inspires confidence before committing it to submersion.
You must remember to flip up the built-in flash when slipping the camera into its place in the housing. It has a couple of connections for the fibre-optic cable that will allow use of two ancillary flashguns.
There is an in-water adjustment for positioning a diffuser over the built-in flash. There is the option to fit a supplementary wide-angle lens. I didnt have one for this test, but its another indispensable accessory.
The push-buttons at the back of the opaque plastic housing are clearly labelled, though you are left in the dark when it comes to the main command dial.
You must become familiar with the icons on the (LCD) display to know what youve chosen.

Efficacy
Like all Sea & Sea products, this one handles well under water, even when fitted with the YS27-DX flashgun on its tray and mounting arm.
This is important to avoid shake when using a camera at arms length to see the LCD. The shutter release lever is long, which helps with pre-focusing and discourages jerkiness. Many peoples pictures are unsharp because of camera shake.
At first I shot in RAW mode at ISO 100 for best quality, but the files are so big that it takes around 14 seconds to record to the card - a long time to wait between shots if youre photographing plenty of action.
So while RAW is an option, in practice most people are going to use jpeg format. Switching to the highest-quality jpeg file (3.5Mb) meant that the pictures were recorded in a moment.
Its best to set the white balance manually when shooting ready-made files like these. Its quick and easy once youre familiar with the menu-driven camera controls.
I spent a happy couple of hours in the pool with Colin (pictured) and the camera.
I suggest that this is a good investment in time for anyone with a new set-up. A dive with real photo opportunities is not the time to be wrestling with unfamiliar functions.
In manual-exposure mode, setting my own selection of shutter-speed and lens opening, the image on the LCD became quite dark and hard to see properly. It was almost as if it was giving me an idea of how the picture would look at the exposure, but it had no way of knowing that I was using an external flash.
When it came to shooting in macro mode, I was frustrated by the fact that the LCD blanks out for a second or so between pressing the release and gathering the picture.
A lot can happen in that time, including changing the camera-to-subject distance, resulting in unsharp pictures even of something as unchallenging as a computer on your buddys wrist.
Shooting in jpeg mode for best results, I had to take several shots at different flash outputs, adjusting the power-setting dial of the YS27-DX flashgun.
I also found it best to blank out the on-board flash with my finger. A short length of black electrical tape would have been better.
Without an additional wide-angle lens, I abandoned any idea of getting a clear sharp picture of anything wider than a head and torso shot of my buddy. There was too much water to look through, even in a clear swimming pool.
Once the pictures were downloaded onto my computer and opened up in the Adobe RAW converter, I was knocked out by the sharpness. Every pore and badly shaved hair was visible on Colins face. I wish Id chosen a better-looking subject!
A TIFF file made at native format (the proprietory file format of a given application) takes up 38.7Mb of space in your computer, so may call for an extra hard drive.
Where I had the exposures spot-on, the 3.5Mb jpegs looked pretty good too. The penalty you pay for a high pixel count on a small sensor is increased graininess at higher ISO settings, but with the ancillary flash the need for such settings was eliminated.
Overall, it proved possible to take very high quality pictures with this camera. The problem is the one common to all digital compacts - the time-lag between pressing the shutter and taking the picture, which occurs even if you pre-focus by half-depressing the shutter release.
If you can get round this drawback, no-one will be able to tell the difference between pictures taken with this camera and one that costs four times as much.

COMPARABLE HOUSED CAMERAS TO CONSIDER:
Olympus SP550 + PT037 £519
Nikon Coolpix P5100/Fantasea FP5000 £460
Canon G7 + WP-DC11 £509



Divernet
Pictures
Pictures are of high quality.
Divernet Divernet
This
This is as close as you can get in Macro mode.

SPECS
SEA & SEA DX-1G/YS27-DX

PRICE 799 (+ Flashgun with arm, 300)
MEGA PIXELS10
WHITE BALANCE Yes
MANUAL CONTROLS Yes
ZOOM 3x (f/2.5 to f/4.4)
MACRO 1cm
ISO RANGE 60 to 1600
MEMORY CARD SD
LCD 6.4cm
DEPTH RATING 55m
CONTACT www.sea-sea.com
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