To charge or change the battery or remove the media card from the GF2 camera meant taking off the lens dome port, removing the large clip ring to enable the zoom control collar to be slipped off, unscrewing the base port, releasing the front-loaded lens by poking something like a pencil past it to its release button, unclipping the housing back and pulling out the camera.
That’s not something I’d like to be doing in the sometimes wet and windy conditions on a boat, especially as the all-important camera sensor will be exposed to the elements at this time.
Even a drip of sweat would cause havoc if it touched this essential part of the digital camera.
Of course, it would be easier with a less ambitious lens configuration. However, if you’re going for a sophisticated interchangeable-lens compact like the Panasonic Lumix GF2 for use under water, why limit yourself to the sort of lens that would give you only conventional compact-type results

The Camera
The GF2, a simplified version of the GF1, has a 12Mp CMOS sensor that can record jpegs or RAW files via its powerful processor on an SD, SDHC or SDXC memory card.
There is a choice of formats, but I went for the full 4:3 ratio for maximum use of the sensor. It can also shoot high-definition video in AVCHD format.
It has manual white-balance controls that are not needed if you shoot in RAW mode, sensitivity variable between 100 and 6400 ISO equivalent, a 3in LCD screen and the ability to accept a wide range of auto-focus wide-angle lenses, from an 8mm fish-eye through the 7-14mm wide-angle zoom I used, to the 14-45mm zoom with a range of several fixed focal-length lenses in between.
In this way it seems to offer all the features needed by an underwater photographer and needs only to be coupled with a suitable housing, which is where the INON X2 comes in. A problem I often encounter is that the original camera designers rarely consider this option.

The Housing
The camera may be no bigger than a packet of Benson & Hedges, but the INON X2 housing is not a fit-like-a-glove design.
It has a lot of air space inside it and the back, held shut by two asymmetrical cam-locks, bears down onto an O-ring that has a route only slightly less than tortuous.
I guess this leaves a bit of space for water should you encounter a slight leak in time. Ocean Optics prefers not to supply the housing without the optional leak detector.
The 7-14mm lens is quite a lump, which is why it can’t be fitted to the camera before the camera is in the housing.
The camera drops in nicely, located by a large turn wheel that screws into its tripod bush.
The clean O-ring at the back is static, while the O-rings at the front bear down as the port and its base are screwed on, so they need to be lubricated properly.
The zoom control ring is linked rather cleverly to the magnetic ring that is fixed to the lens itself, so there are no through-body housing controls to worry about here.

Setting Up
I used the camera with a little INON S-2000 flash, mounted on a rather massive INON bracket that featured a huge buoyancy chamber, no doubt needed to counteract the Brunel-style construction of the housing itself.
The single flash was synchronised with the camera’s popped-up on-board flash via a fibre-optic connection, of which there are two on the housing. There’s a little lever for stowing the on-board flash when you want to switch it off.
The touch-screen LCD normally operates the menu of the camera, but of course there is no access to this once it’s housed.
Instead, I had to use the menu buttons combined with a control wheel. I wanted to use the camera in manual mode, and although I could operate the control wheel for shutter speed, it could not be pushed in and turned for the lens opening setting when in the housing.
I had a high old time changing this so that simply turning the control wheel would alter the lens opening setting instead, and had to settle on a fixed shutter speed (1/100 sec).
The INON instructions tell you to use the quick menu control to adjust a setting that can’t be altered by simply turning the wheel but, try as I might, it wouldn’t work for me.
As soon as the camera went into sleep mode and was rewoken, it reverted to shutter speed adjusted by the control wheel and fixed the lens aperture, which was very frustrating.
A lot of phone calls resulted in me finding out the following: the quick menu does not have aperture setting initially, and one needs to add it manually.
This has to be done using the touch screen before encasing the camera in its housing.
After pressing the quick menu button, you then touch the Q icon on the left bottom corner of the LCD screen. You select the F setting by touching it too, finally pressing the “set” button.
I shot in RAW mode and, for simplicity during my first outing with the camera, I left the auto focus set on a central position in the picture.
As with all modern electronics, there are far more options than you would actually use, but you’re meant to be able to customise the apparatus for underwater use to do exactly what you want.

In the Water
Once the whole thing was set up with the external flash and mounting bracket, it was only marginally less bulky than my full-frame SLR rig.
The big questions for me were whether it would react quickly enough, switching between writing to the LCD screen and to the memory card, and was there a buffer to allow for quickly repeated shots Would I miss action moments due to electronic delays
There was some delay, but it didn’t seem too bad. The big RAW files were certainly recorded quickly enough, so I was limited only by the speed with which the on-board flash recycled.
The shutter release is on a hair-trigger. Passing the rig between me and my buddy usually resulted in an extra and unwanted picture being taken.
What was disappointing and rather essential when using a camera under water at a British inland site in summer was the inability to focus really close with this 7-14mm lens. When the water is loaded with green plankton, close-focus wide-angle shots are the only way to go.
On land and in air, this lens does appear to focus close enough, but once behind the dome port it was certainly not close enough for me.
I found that I could photograph myself in focus only with the camera at arm’s length, which put the dome port at around 50cm from my face.
The two pictures of my buddy reproduced here are taken at around the minimum focusing distance, with the lens set at its widest and narrowest angle of view respectively. It’s close but not close enough.
One could argue that the sort of person with the money to buy this complete rig will be diving in exotic waters, but I would point out that many seas in the tropics are rich in nutrients so less clear than one might expect.
The main problem for the GF2 camera is that it succeeds the highly successful GF1, which was equipped with dials. With its wide-angle zoom lens and INON housing, it certainly looks the part, however.

SPECS
PANASONIC GF2
TYPICAL BASIC PRICE £600
MEGAPIXELS 12
LCD SCREEN 3in
SENSOR CMOS 4:3
LENSES Interchangeable
FEATURED LENS Vario 7-14mm f/4
FEATURED LENS PRICE £700
MANUAL WHITE BALANCE Yes
RAW CAPABILITY Yes
VIDEO AVCHD
MANUAL CONTROL Yes (partial when in housing)
VIEW FINDER None
MEDIA SD, SDHC, SDXC
NUMBER OF RAW FILES ON 2GB CARD 132
CONNECTIVITY USB 2.0

INON X2 HOUSING
PRICE £2099
PRICE OF PORT SET-UP FEATURED £815
SYNCHRO CONNECTION 2x fibre optic
ZOOM CONTROL Magnetic
CONTACT www.oceanoptics.co.uk
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