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

DIGITAL CAMERAS HAVE NOW SUPPLANTED film cameras almost entirely. This development carries on apace and seems, if anything, to be accelerating.
Only a few months ago , I was testing the then-latest Fuji compact camera for these pages when a newer model, the F100fd, was announced. When Fujifilm asked if I wanted to try this camera, I made it promise that it wouldnt replace it with a better model before I could get into print, though I dont know if that will be possible!
It seems that new consumer electronics can be designed and manufactured faster than a magazine can be produced and distributed.
That said, I set off for a diving cruise on the liveaboard Miss Nouran in the Red Sea, and gave the F100fd a try.
The new camera has fantastic features such as multiple face recognition, which means that it knows to focus on the people in a typical group photograph, rather than the tree in the far distance. I could dwell on all the new advances that this camera offers topside photographers but that is a job for a photography magazine. At DIVER, we want to know how good it is under water.
Whether you gather your images digitally with electronics or chemically on film, the basic rules of underwater photography remain the same. You need to reduce the amount of water between the camera and the subject by getting as close as possible, and restore the image size by employing a wide-angle lens.
Most compact camera housings allow you to fit a purpose-made supplementary wide-angle. The Fuji F100fd has a 5x optical zoom lens that will go wider than most, but the underwater housing is so designed that it isnt possible to add a real wide-angle as an after-purchase extra. Close to good, then, but no cigar.

Because daylight is filtered blue as it passes through water, you always need an ancillary light source once you are deeper than a few metres. The designer of the housing has thought about how the camera might work under water by positioning the diffuser for the built-in flash as far forward as possible. This means that the part of the housing that accommodates the lens does not cast a shadow in close-ups.
Thats good, as this was a fault I picked up with Fujis previous offering, the F50fd. The built-in flash is inevitably not going to have much range and, positioned close to the lens axis, it tends to light up detritus in the water, so its OK only for close-ups.
I used the built-in flash to trigger an off-board flashgun that Fujifilm supplies as an optional extra. An off-board flash allows you to get more interesting lighting than simply flat front-on.
This brought me to the second weakness of the new camera. It has no way of altering the brightness of the exposures you make with it.
It has no manual exposure control and, as the sensitivity setting is also taken care of automatically, there seemed to be no way I could correct over-bright pictures once the extra light of the ancillary flash came into play. So, again, no cigar.
The Fuji F100fd is incredibly light-sensitive, equivalent to ISO 12000. Thats around 120 times more sensitive than my first digital camera.
That said, pictures taken with that first camera (also a Fuji) are in my picture library and still adorn the pages of books, as well as DIVER.
The F100fd also has electronic image stabilisation, to reduce the effects of camera-shake. This means that it will work in very low light conditions, which would seem admirable for underwater use.
Alas, it doesnt have a manual white-balance control, so you are reduced to either fitting
a filter that will work for a set depth in the shallows or using the off-board flash, which
I had to control by holding it away from the camera to reduce its effect. The combined power of the two flashes was overwhelming but I had no other way of reducing this overall output to get better colour and modelling on my subject. No cigars here, either.
Having trashed the camera so far, whats good about it Well, it has an easily understood menu that includes a setting for underwater use. This works well at snorkelling depth in bright sunshine.
It has a reasonably quick grab-time, too, so the gap between pressing the shutter-release and taking the picture is quite brief. This used to be the Achilles heel of compacts. The F100fd also focused very quickly.

I ENDED UP TAKING THE SORT of pictures that I was able to take successfully. This included macro shots where the in-built flash worked well, even if the light was a little predictable and my pictures looked like everyone elses. So again, close but no Corona.
The Fuji F100fd has a huge megapixel rating. It has a 12 megapixel Super CCDVIII sensor with pick-ups arranged in a unique honeycomb pattern for high resolution and sensitivity with minimal noise, combined with a Real Photo Processor III that incorporates a double noise-reduction system for reduced graininess and super-sharp images even at high light-sensitivity settings.
Well, thats what Fujifilm told me.
Megapixel ratings have been used by manufacturers to promote their products over those of others. Photographers who know better call it measurebating.
The truth is that most people do not need a camera that can make a picture of more than
6 megapixels, because this is not a measure of quality, but of the extent to which you can enlarge a picture without individual pixels showing. Other aspects affect quality, and digital noise (grain) is an important one.
With a small sensor needed for a compact camera, digital noise is a big problem that goes hand in hand with higher pixel ratings and higher light sensitivity. Despite what Fujifilm says, this camera seems to be no exception. So again, close, but cigar-smokers must go without.

THE BIGGER THE PICTURE FILE, the fewer you can squeeze onto a media card. I got 102 jpegs of the highest quality possible with this camera
on a 512Mb SD card. Thats more than enough for any dive. It also uses xD cards. The battery is good for that many shots, so I recharged it while downloading the pictures to my laptop.
Deleting the bad shots individually while under water seemed a cumbersome process involving several steps. It left me scratching my head at times.
In the end I waited until the card was full and then deleted all the bad shots in one go to free up space. This was irritating when having to work quickly, as we tend to do when diving.
Bad workmen blame their tools, but a good craftsman can appreciate having the right tool for the job in hand. Sometimes I get given something to test that doesnt measure up to my expectations. I promise I tried my hardest to get good results.
Im sure that Fuji will sell a lot of these cameras. They are very good for surface use,
and the big market is that of normal people, not the tiny majority who want to risk flooding their camera under water.
If you have a very good digital compact such as the Fuji F30fd, dont rush to swap it for this one. Its not meant for us divers.

Canon Powershot G9 £409, housing from £180

Divernet Divernet Divernet Divernet
Camera £230, WP-FX100 underwater housing £130, off-board flashgun £100
PIXEL RATING 12 megapixels