CAMERA
Coolpix 5600 and Fantasea Housing
Have you dived the wreck of the Dunraven in the Egyptian Red Sea It was discovered by Israeli pioneer diver Howard Rosenstein, who now manufactures and markets Fantasea underwater housings for cameras.
The Fantasea CP-6 is intended for use with the Nikon Coolpix 5600, an entry-level digital camera that is, at 85 x 60 x 35mm, quite small. The housing leaves a lot of space around it but is still compact enough conceivably to fit in a BC pocket.
The Coolpix 5600 sells at an entry-level price, so it makes sense that the Fantasea housing is inexpensive too. Together they amount to an outlay of less than £300. Not much to get you started, eh Not when you consider that I normally take around £6000 worth of kit to do the same thing. That is, get a few photos while under water!
The Coolpix 5600 is a 5.1 megapixel camera.
I am not sure why we are so obsessed with megapixels but digital camera makers have latched on to it as a selling ploy. However, bear in mind that many professional digital cameras are hardly rated higher in the megapixel stakes and yet they produce top-quality pictures.
So dont get your hopes of this little snapper too high.
I read the instruction manual (yes, I really do that!) and waded past acres of explanation of how to frame up a shot correctly until I found the set-up options. This camera has some pre-set scene set-ups including one for under water and, guess what, I went for that.
The camera also has a built-in flash and I chose to have that permanently operating because my experience tells me that shots taken with natural light at more than a few metres deep are rarely successful. There is an independent white-balance setting but if there is no red light penetrating the water, it doesnt matter how much you crank up the red side of the computers receptor, your pictures will still stay blue.
Relying on the built-in flash of the camera meant that I was fairly limited on distance at which it would be effective.
I decided that around 80cm was probably as far as I was going to get from a subject and still have it lit with white light.
That means portraits of your buddy as the biggest subject.
The housing incorporates a neat diffuser for the flash, which proved very useful when doing close-ups. The results looked evenly and naturally lit.
Fantasea also does a nice little multiple LED aiming light.
I had this mounted on a tray and arm in the way in which you might mount an ancillary flashgun. It contributed little to the overall exposure but helped the autofocus work.
The Fantasea CP-6 housing is as simple as you can get. You turn the camera on and drop it into its preordained place, closing the housing by a single large plastic clam catch so that it seals on a large watertight gasket.
Unlike piston O-rings, a gasket does not need greasing. However, you do need to be careful not to jam the lanyard in the housing when you do this - more easily said than done.
I countered condensation problems when taking the sealed housing from the warm but damp aft deck of the boat into colder water by inserting a fresh ladys tampon alongside the camera to soak up dampness in the internal atmosphere. Keeping one half of the bullet still in its cellophane wrapper stops the whole thing from fluffing up uncontrollably.
The extended lens of the switched-on camera neatly slips into a black plastic funnel within the housing, which stops internal reflections from the built-in flash.
Putting the camera in after switching it on, and so leaving it turned on, is quite heavy on the two AA batteries. There is the option of a battery-saving sleep mode after five minutes, but I was disappointed to find that once the camera went to sleep there was only one way to wake it up, and that was to push the on/off button rather than the shutter release.
The Fantasea CP-6 housing does not supply a button to do this, so if your camera goes to sleep during the dive, its goodnight nurse!
The LCD monitor also switches off to save battery power, to be reawakened by the shutter-release button. I adjusted the Auto Off setting
to 30 minutes but its amazing how long it can be before getting in the water if there is a long RIB ride to the dive-site.
The better option is to use rechargeable ni-mh batteries and charge them up before every dive. This allowed me to keep the camera awake by taking the odd, and I mean odd, snap during the RIB ride.
Grab-time with flash looked to be close to a second. This is a significant amount of time when photographing anything not prepared to sit still and pose. As usual with these inexpensive cameras, this resulted in me photographing a lot of spaces recently vacated by fish. Even pictures of anemonefish took a lot of attempts and patience.

Threateningly defensive
Sedentary animals such as scorpionfish and stonefish proved easy enough, as did close-ups of soft coral, and a big moray eel was confident enough in its threateningly defensive behaviour to sit for its picture.
Grab-time is important, too, because you need to hold the camera still while youre shooting, so focus and hence sharpness can alter. You also need to avoid the temptation to snatch the camera away before it has successfully completed the job, resulting in a blurred picture.
The LCD monitor is big and easy to see under water, but no help in telling you if your pictures are sharp. The sharpest picture I took with the Coolpix 5600 under water was of my own eyebrow but then, I was a very co-operative subject.
The camera took about 10 seconds to prepare for the next shot when used with its flash. That can seem like ages, too.
The controls offered by the Fantasea CP-6 housing include the zoom, which you do not need. Set the camera to its widest-angle setting and get as close to your subject as needed. This will give the optimum sharpness.
You can turn the flash on or off and you can switch from normal to macro close-up mode. This is useful. You can also review your results under water but you cant discard them, as there is no access to the rubbish bin button.
I put in a 512Mb SD memory card, which gave me 201 pictures in the highest quality setting or 624 at what Nikon calls normal quality, which I guess is suitable for sending irritating e-mails with pictures of where you have been to your friends. The camera also has a limited internal memory that will record five pictures at the highest quality setting.
I persevered with the Coolpix 5600 and got to understand its limitations. I chose co-operative subjects and concentrated on close-ups of them. In this way I got some very reasonable results in high-quality jpeg format.
The camera will also shoot short video clips. It is a good starting point on the road to digital snaps, but I fear that many who begin their journey here will end up proud owners of digital single-lens-reflex cameras and masses of other expensive equipment.
Nikon Coolpix 5600 £170. Fantasea CP-6 Housing £115. Fantasea LED focusing light £45. Arm & tray £48.

  • Big Blue Squid 02892639992, www.bigbluesquid.com


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    + A really cheap way to break into U/W photography
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    - Dont expect always to get fabulous results
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