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DIVER
EXTRA

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Sea & Sea MX-5 II
An entry-level conventional film amphibious camera rated to 40m which works with either 100 or 400 ISO film. It has a fixed-focus lens that worked best at about 1.3m from the subject, so is good for photographing your buddy. It is slightly wide-angle, which helps with perceived clarity in the shot. Sharpness was exceptional for such a simple camera, though image brightness did fall off considerably towards the edges, which is hardly surprising with such a simple lens.
The film is advanced and rewound automatically and the camera runs on two AA batteries. The built-in flash fires automatically if it senses that there is not enough ambient light, so we had to cover this for the test to avoid backscatter. The camera has an open-frame viewfinder but the optical viewfinder worked acceptably with a diving mask. Its a neat little unit but needs a lot of luck in getting good pictures if used without an ancillary external flashgun (optional extra). Best results are obtained in the shallows.£147.
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Sea & Sea Motor Marine MX-10
Part of a well-established range of conventional film cameras, most of which command a price that puts them beyond the scope of this review. The MX-10 has a simple lens with its focus fixed but with a range of lens apertures (f/4.5 to f/22) available so that the focus range varies according to the brightness of the light available and the speed of the film (100 or 400 ISO) used.
Its simple lens gave the least distortion (revealed in the grid pattern of the tiles) of any of the test cameras, though there was some fall-off in brightness towards the edges. Exposure control is manual, film advance and rewind is automatic and it uses AA batteries. It can be used with a range of auxiliary lenses and external flashguns (optional extras) but without these it needs a certain amount of skill or luck to get effective results. Again, best results were obtained in the shallows.£270.
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Olympus mju 410
A 4.0 megapixel camera that shoots between 181 and 3195 images on a 512Mb card, depending on which of eight qualities of jpeg is selected. It has to be switched on before being sealed in its housing but goes to sleep to save power at any point between 30sec and 30min, depending on how you want to preset it. It took 5-10sec to wake up.
Its 3x auto-focus optical zoom has a super-macro mode and, once awake, its grab-time proved almost instantaneous. It was negatively buoyant in its housing, which has a hood to help with viewing its LCD monitor and accepts accessory wide-angle lenses via a screw thread.£375.
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Fuji FinePix F420
This tiny camera uses an advanced Fuji CCD which gives an estimated resolution of 6.3 megapixels. This will record between 347 and 3993 images on a 512Mb XD memory card, depending on which of four qualities of jpeg is selected.
You can choose different effective film speeds. Higher speeds mean more noise in the image or more grain, but allow use in lower light levels. The autofocus 3x optical zoom lens allows you to get so close that the lens can almost touch the subject if you so desire.
Additional features include choices of colour saturation (useful under water) and the ability to take four pictures instantaneously and then automatically select the best exposure. After going to sleep, it fired up for use in an instant. The housing takes accessory wide-angle lenses via an adapter but there was no hood to keep out extraneous light and make viewing of the LCD monitor easier.£399.
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Sea & Sea DX-3100 Aquapix
This is not a surface camera in a housing but a new, purpose-built polycarbonate amphibious camera, depth- rated to 45m. The designers have taken account of underwater requirements and simplified the number of functions available and the way in which they are accessed. Youll find full details of this significant launch in this months Diver Tests.
During the test we noticed that the image was constantly rewritten on the LCD as we framed up our subject, and this was very noticeable against the tiles of the mosaic. This gave a strobing effect as the camera panned across the subject.
The DX-3100 achieved the most neutral colour but with some image fall-off towards the edges.
Older technology means a longer grab-time than some of the state-of-the-art digital cameras tested here, and a slower wake-up time too.£399
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Olympus C5000
A more advanced digital camera with the usual 3:1 optical zoom. Its 5 megapixel CCD can record from 32 to 6390 images on a 512Mb memory card, depending on whether you select one of its many jpeg choices or go for a high-resolution tiff file. It offers the choice of fully automatic exposure in different programs or full manual control with lens settings from f/2.8 to f/8 and shutter speeds from 16sec to 1/1000sec.
It has ISO adjustment for low-light use, full TTL flash with flash compensation for fill-in use (on land), and you can set the white balance manually for best colour under water. Auto focus can bring you as close as 4cm from your subject in super-macro mode. Not only that, but the housing has a hood that helps you view the LCD monitor perfectly.£420.

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Fuji FinePix F700
Another Fuji camera that uses a CCD with an interpolated 6.28 megapixels. It can record between 343 and 1101 jpegs, in four ranges, depending on file size and compression on a 512Mb memory-card. It also will record in RAW mode.
You can vary the effective ISO range for use in low light levels, the camera has a 3:1 optical zoom lens and, remarkably, it gives a choice of three zones within the viewed frame for the auto focus to select.
It also has Super Macro mode, which allows you to focus to within around 5cm of your subject. Auto exposure bracketing, flash compensation and white-balance controls for improved colour rendition in difficult lighting are all relevant to the underwater photographer and there is also a choice of colour saturation levels.
Overall, we found that this cameras superfast response time made it feel like a far more costly digital SLR. Its a pity there was no hood on the housing for better viewing of the LCD monitor. We also needed to press quite hard on the shutter-release button of the housing, which could induce camera shake.£450.

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Olympus C750
This more advanced digital camera will appeal to those who also photograph wildlife on land, because it has a 10:1 optical zoom lens. It has manual controls and settings like the Olympus C5000 and uses 4 AA size rechargeable batteries.
A 4.0 megapixel camera, it will record between 185 and 5324 jpegs according to file size and compression, or 44 high-quality tiff files, plus RAW files. It has one of the smaller LCD monitors, but we were surprised to find how easy it was to frame up the shot accurately, such was the quality of the image on it.
It felt very well balanced too, despite its housing being bigger than that of most competitors. The housing has a hood for the LCD monitor. The recorded image gave a good auto-white-level colour balance.£450.

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Canon Powershot A75
Newly released when we got it, this 3.2 megapixel camera can record between 304 and 4368 images on its 512Mb Compact Flash memory card, depending on which of five resolutions and three compression-levels is selected. It has a 3x optical zoom, five pre-settings for white balance, exposure compensation and three choices for auto exposure - spot, centre-weighted and integrated.
It has settings for colour and sharpness, and manual controls for the shutter that range from 1/2000sec to 15sec. The auto-focus works from around 45cm and macro-mode allows you to get within 5cm of your subject. Expected to cost around£450.

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Konica Minolta Dimage Xg
A seductive I want piece of kit, not much bigger than a pack of cigarettes, this 3.2 megapixel camera records between 9 and 150 jpeg images in a choice of three qualities on its 16Mb SD or Multimedia memory card.
It has a fast start-up time, a 3x optical zoom and auto-focusing down to
15cm from your subject. It has either spot or full-frame exposure metering and you can choose to shoot in colour or B&W (though why you wouldnt want to make that decision later with your pictures downloaded to your PC is a mystery). Controls are operated through a menu by means of closely clustered buttons.
The neat little housing is depth-rated to 30m and takes Sea & Sea auxiliary lenses. Previous owners of Sea & Sea conventional cameras will find this option attractive. The housing has no viewing-hood, which makes the LCD viewing screen hard to see in bright conditions. Negative buoyancy made it convenient to handle.£495.

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Sony Cybershot DSC-T1
OK, weve cheated - ever-shifting prices have left this sliver of a 5.0 megapixel camera in brushed aluminium a shade above our price ceiling, but we couldnt leave it out.
It records onto a proprietary Sony memory stick - ours had a 32Mb Duo stick that could record from 12 to 196 pictures, depending on which of five jpeg qualities and two compression levels you choose.
It proved simple to use, though navigating the menu for operating options proved less than intuitive. As if to prove this, we found later that we had shot our picture at the lowest resolution setting, not the highest.
It gives five choices of white balance plus auto and has a 3x optical zoom. Most obvious is its massive 6cm-plus LCD monitor. This was the biggest and clearest of any we have reviewed here, and even allowed two of us to view the subject under water at the same time. It also has a permanent histogram graphic display which allows you to set the best exposure possible.
This digital camera probably gave the most evenly rendered image, and was nicely negatively buoyant in its housing.£520.

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Conclusion
Assuming that you dont have the special needs that require traditional film, digital cameras deliver what most people require. All these cameras are fairly basic, yet although we have singled some out for special mention, none of them will disappoint.
They dont give you the sophistication, nor the high-quality results, that you could expect from a modern digital single-lens-reflex. That said, they are small and convenient to use and produce significantly more reliable results than was ever possible before in this price range.
The quality of the pictures they can produce at their highest setting (least number of shots that will fit on a memory-card) is the equal of reasonable-size prints of around 10 x 8in.
And if you merely want to e-mail shots to friends or view them on your computer, the lower-resolution jpeg settings are quite sufficient. This is the future for non-professional pictures.
  • Cameras Underwater 08700 660384, www.camerasunderwater.co.uk
  • Sea & Sea 01803 663012, www.sea-sea.com