appeared in DIVER December 2010

Everyone seems to have a digital compact camera of some kind nowadays. However, it’s no good buying a camera and looking for an underwater housing for it some time later.
The market moves so quickly, with new models arriving and making existing models obsolete almost overnight, that if I were to offer one piece of advice, it would be that you need to buy the two together.
With Christmas fast approaching, and your incoming as well as outgoing gifts to consider, here’s a roll-call of compact cameras that are suitable for underwater photography.
Every digital camera has virtually thousands of built-in features, but we concentrate on the core selling points.
These are the models available this festive season – at least, at the time of writing!

THINGS YOU NEED TO KNOW

AUXILIARY FLASH
Because you rarely encounter a full spectrum of light under water, and what there is inevitably comes from the same direction, experienced underwater photographers
take their own independent source of white light with them. The little built-in flash of a compact is rarely bright enough for anything but macro shots, and is too close to the lens axis to avoid backscatter from particles in the water. The solution is to take with you a separate off-board flash (triggered by the on-board flash of the camera), mounted on an extension arm.

HOUSING ERGONOMICS
The positions of the buttons on housings replicate those on the cameras inside. If you feel that the controls of a particular housing are too difficult to operate, you’ll probably have to choose a different camera.

ISO RATING
This adjusts the sensitivity of the camera’s sensor, but because the sensors of a compact are so small, uprating the ISO in low light conditions can introduce a grainy effect called noise. Try to use a compact at its lowest ISO setting.

JPEG
This is a file type that uses a lot of compression of data to get as much information into as small a space on the media card as possible. Most of you will shoot jpegs, and what you see on the LCD is, by and large, what you get.

LCD
This is the liquid crystal display on which you view your pictures, just before and on taking them. It doubles as viewfinder and confirmation of the result. The bigger the LCD, clearly the easier it is to view. Most compacts are menu-driven, and this too is revealed on the LCD.

LENSES
First rule of underwater photography is to get close, then closer still. All these cameras have zoom lenses, but it makes more sense to use the widest setting (or even to fit an ancillary wide-angle adaptor if the housing will accept one), get close and minimise the amount of water between the lens and your subject.
A good-quality camera lens can be less important than having good-quality water.
A wide maximum lens aperture is important only if you intend to obtain wide-angle views by ambient light. With close-ups, you need a smaller aperture to get everything in focus.
MacroExtreme close-up photography that typically produces richly coloured pictures of the minutiae of marine life not normally noticed by the naked eye.

MANUAL WHITE BALANCE
Sometimes called “custom white balance”, this control allows the photographer to adjust the camera to suit the light ambient at the time of shooting. Most compacts shoot jpegs with conveniently small file sizes for quick operation of the camera, so adjustment afterwards can have its limits.

MEDIA
Gone are the days when you were limited to the number of frames possible on a roll of film or simple memory card. All these cameras use SD/SDHC cards that can be obtained in capacities of the order of up to 16Mb, which will record several thousand pictures!

MEGAPIXELS (MP)
The megapixel-count of a camera’s sensor indicates to what size a picture can be enlarged without the individual pixel points showing up. It meant something in the days when the summit of 1MP was achieved but, thanks to the inverse-square law, the difference in quality between any of the cameras reviewed here, when it comes to pixellation, would be very hard to spot.

RAW CAPABILITY
If a camera is able to record RAW data, the photographer can make a wide range of adjustments to shots, including colour correction, exposure, highlight and shadow contrast, and even to individual colour channels, using a laptop or home computer, long after the image was recorded. The downside is that these files are large and take time to record, disabling the camera from making further shots while it’s happening – unless it has a processing buffer.

SHUTTER DELAY
This is inevitable where the camera needs to switch from writing to the LCD as a viewfinder to writing to the memory card. You can speed things up by pre-focusing, but the only other solution is to get the immediate response of a much more expensive digital single lens reflex (SLR) camera.



width=100%SNAPSIGHTS INTOVA IC12 £189
It’s quite remarkable that you can get a digital camera in an underwater housing for so little money, and this one even shoots high-definition video clips if you want it to.
The 12MP rating means that the pictures taken with this little camera can be blown up to quite a usable size without loss of quality due to pixelation, and the housing is rated quite deep enough for ordinary leisure diving.
The IC12 represents a route into underwater photography for the minimum financial outlay, and the same manufacturer can supply an off-board flash and its own wide-angle adaptor lens.
It has a panorama mode that could produce some interesting pictures under water.
Disappointingly, it fails to do the extreme macro close-ups that most of the other cameras here can manage.
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DEPTH RATING: 54m
RESOLUTION: 12MP
LCD: 2.4in
LENS: 3x zoom
MIN. MACRO DISTANCE: 20cm
WIDE-ANGLE CAPABILITY: 46mm port thread for wide-angle options
RAW CAPABILITY: No
CUSTOM WHITE BALANCE: Yes
MANUAL EXPOSURE ADJUSTMENT: Yes
VIDEO MODE: VGA and 720p with sound recording
www.cpspartnership.com

width=100%EPOQUE EHD-900AI £200
A big, robust-looking housing protects what might be a slightly flimsy camera, and the viewing hood certainly helps you to see what’s on the LCD screen when under water, reviewing what you’ve shot. This is an entry-level compact camera, and the designer has set out to keep things simple.
None of the important controls needed for ambient-light pictures are available, but this camera is obviously designed for use with its sibling off-board flashgun (an optional extra) and the positive method of connecting the fibre-optic trigger lead to the light emitted from the camera’s own flash cannot be faulted.
This is a good camera for those unsure of how far they want to progress with underwater photography.
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DEPTH RATING: 45m
RESOLUTION: 9MP
LCD: 2.4in
LENS: 3x zoom
MIN. MACRO DISTANCE: 5cm
WIDE-ANGLE CAPABILITY: M55 port thread for wide-angle options
RAW CAPABILITY: No
CUSTOM WHITE BALANCE: No
MANUAL EXPOSURE ADJUSTMENT: No
VIDEO MODE: No
www.camerasunderwater.co.uk

width=100%CANON IXUS 105 / WP-DC36 HOUSING£330
It may be almost entry-level, but this colourful sliver of a camera comes with a tough-looking housing equipped with a threaded round port that promises to accept ancillary wide-angle lenses.
It has 15 preset shooting modes, including custom white balance and a low-light setting for shots in darker conditions.
That said, the Ixus 105’s 12MP resolution promises big pictures not spoiled by the break-up of the pixels, and it has the menu-driven controls to give you the best opportunity of getting good jpegs under water.
The markings on the buttons of the housing are virtually impossible to see under water, so you’ll need to make yourself familiar with their functions.
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DEPTH RATING: 40m
RESOLUTION: 12MP DIGIC 4 processor
LCD: 2.7in
LENS: 4x zoom
Min. macro distance: 3cm
WIDE-ANGLE CAPABILITY: Optional add-on lens
RAW CAPABILITY: No
CUSTOM WHITE BALANCE: Yes
MANUAL EXPOSURE ADJUSTMENT: Yes
VIDEO MODE: Yes
www.canon.co.uk

width=100%CANON IXUS 130 / IKELITE HOUSING £400
It seems a little over-zealous to put this slim little camera into a brute of a housing like the one supplied by independent US manufacturer Ikelite, but the sea is an inhospitable environment and the Ixus 130 is well protected by it.
Not only that, but you get full access to all the controls you need, including that all-important white-balance adjustment and exposure control. The Ixus 130 will shoot HD video clips, and is among the kings of resolution here, with a large pixel-count for bigger enlargements of your shots.
While this camera offers more automation than earlier models, it’s still capable of responding to the underwater photographer who likes to make manual settings.
It offers a good specification, produces high-quality stills and videos and, with this robust housing, it will go deeper than most.
It’s bound to be a popular choice, but it’s a pity that Ikelite was not a bit more generous with its button markings.
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DEPTH RATING: 60m
RESOLUTION: 14.1MP DIGIC 4 processor
LCD: 2.7in
LENS: 4 x Zoom
MIN. MACRO DISTANCE: 3cm
WIDE-ANGLE CAPABILITY: Optional add-on lenses
RAW CAPABILITY: No
CUSTOM WHITE BALANCE: Yes
MANUAL EXPOSURE ADJUSTMENT: Yes
VIDEO MODE: HD
www.camerasunderwater.co.uk

width=100%FUJIFILM F80EXR / WP-FXF80 HOUSING £400
This is the compact that tries to give the terrestrial photographer more, with a huge zoom range and up to 18 different scene presets. Alas, none of this is of much use under water, but the massive high-contrast LCD certainly helps when making instant judgments about the pictures you get.
The rectangular port of the housing initially caused problems for us when fitting auxiliary lenses, but Fantasea Line makes a Big Eye wide-angle lens to fit, as well as a dedicated Fuji flash, and Inon makes an adaptor for its own close-up attachments.
This is one of the few underwater housings that can make effective use of the camera’s on-board flash because of its forward-mounted diffuser, although it will be effective only for macro shots.
We were knocked out by the quality of the jpegs we got from it when we used it, and a full DIVER Test is archived on www.divernet.com
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DEPTH RATING: 40m
RESOLUTION: 12mp
LCD: 3in
LENS: 10x Zoom
MIN. MACRO DISTANCE: 5cm
WIDE-ANGLE CAPABILITY: Optional add-on lens
RAW CAPABILITY: No
CUSTOM WHITE BALANCE: Yes
MANUAL EXPOSURE ADJUSTMENT: Yes
VIDEO MODE: Yes
www.fujifilm.co.uk

width=100%SEALIFE DC1200 £400
This is a very popular choice, if dive sites worldwide are to be believed, because SeaLife offers a simple camera package with wide-angle and off-board flash options. This makes it a one-stop-shop, and a no-brainer for those who just want to take some pictures under water, and not get involved in comparing specifications, or mix-and-matching cameras and housings. For example, I doubt whether many of SeaLife’s customers will be reading this.
That said, the DC1200 does what it does well, and the availability of essential accessories means that someone enthused by their success with it will not outgrow it quickly when they want to add accessories.
Remarkably, the housing is rated to 60m, and it has unmistakable and clearly marked controls that should not confuse the most befuddled diver.
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DEPTH RATING: 60m
RESOLUTION: 12MP
LCD: 3in
LENS: 5x zoom
MIN. MACRO DISTANCE: 5cm
WIDE-ANGLE CAPABILITY: Optional add-on lens
RAW CAPABILITY: No
CUSTOM WHITE BALANCE: Yes
MANUAL EXPOSURE ADJUSTMENT: Yes
VIDEO MODE: Yes
www.sealife-cameras.com

width=100%BONICA SNAPPER 1080P £448
Primarily thought of as a movie camera, this economically priced hardware will also shoot reasonable-quality stills, and is waterproof to 4m in its “inner skin” even without its underwater housing.
This gives it a second barrier for survival, should the worst happen and the housing flood.
It’s rather fiddly to install the camera in the housing, and we were disappointed in the skimpy instruction manual because, for example, we couldn’t find out how to set it in macro mode. We ended up thinking of this as “neither fish nor fowl”, and decided that although it offered the option of a completely dedicated system, including a wide-angle lens and video lights, it was probably a bit of an intruder in this line-up of compact cameras.
It’s a nice idea to have a printed key to the buttons at the back of the housing, because their markings often become difficult to read under water.
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DEPTH RATING: 58m
RESOLUTION: 8MP
LCD: 2.4in
LENS: 3x zoom
MIN. MACRO DISTANCE: n/a
WIDE-ANGLE CAPABILITY: Optional add-on lens
RAW CAPABILITY: No
CUSTOM WHITE BALANCE: No
MANUAL EXPOSURE ADJUSTMENT: Yes
VIDEO MODE: HD
www.blandfordsubaqua.co.uk

width=100%CANON IXUS 130/DC37 HOUSING £448
Canon wanted to keep things simple when it developed the housing for this camera, but unfortunately its designers didn’t know enough about underwater photography.
It cleverly defaults to either HD movie mode (which is good) or a preset underwater mode (which might be less than good) when you close up the housing, thereby denying you the chance to set a proper white balance manually.
I guess they were thinking along the lines of keeping the number of buttons to a minimum but this is a case of KISWS, or “keeping it simple was stupid”.
You are better off with the cheaper Ikelite housing solution.
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DEPTH RATING: 40m
RESOLUTION: 14.1MP DIGIC 4 processor
LCD: 2.7in
LENS: 4x zoom
MIN. MACRO DISTANCE: 3cm
WIDE-ANGLE CAPABILITY: No
RAW CAPABILITY: No
CUSTOM WHITE-BALANCE: Not when in housing
MANUAL EXPOSURE ADJUSTMENT: Not when in housing
VIDEO MODE: HD
www.canon.co.uk

width=100%SEA & SEA DX-GE5 £450
It was serendipitous that we got hold of an example of the DX-GE5 for these pages, because it was the first example to arrive in the UK.
This is the latest compact camera from the Japanese specialist manufacturer of underwater photography equipment. It is actually waterproof to 5m, which takes away
a lot of the worry about the housing not being sealed up correctly, because it will withstand minor leaks.
An interesting underwater application is this camera’s “panoramic” mode, which gives an almost 120° view by stitching a sequence of three pictures together.
The housing is well thought out, with great ergonomics, a hood for the LCD to help when viewing in bright sunlit waters, and a proper fibre-optic connection slot for an optional off-board flash. The DX-GE5 ticks nearly all the boxes.
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DEPTH RATING: 55m
RESOLUTION: 12.2MP
LCD: 2.7in
LENS: 4x Zoom
MIN. MACRO DISTANCE: 8cm
WIDE-ANGLE CAPABILITY: Optional add-on lens
RAW CAPABILITY: No
CUSTOM WHITE BALANCE: Yes
MANUAL EXPOSURE ADJUSTMENT: Yes
VIDEO MODE: Yes
www.sea-sea.com

width=100%PANASONIC LUMIX DMC FT2 / PANASONIC HOUSING £500
A camera designed to be waterproof to 10m as a stand-alone item, enclosed in its housing it promises to withstand all but the most extreme flooding of a housing at depth.
Thanks to rubber padding, reinforced glass and carbon resins inside the camera, the FT2 features an airtight body that you can carry almost anywhere and get good pictures.
The manufacturer even claims it to be impervious to being dropped from a height of up to 2m.
It is also said to be dust-proof, and to work in temperatures as low as minus 10°C, which should suit the hardest winter quarry diver.
The LCD brightness automatically adjusts to suit the viewing conditions. Huge resolution with a high pixel-count, with its Venus Engine HDII processor, make this among the most capable of small compacts for underwater photography. Alas there is no Raw capability.
The housing has a lot of anonymous buttons, but it really will slip easily into a BC pocket.
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DEPTH RATING: 40m
RESOLUTION: 14.1MP
LCD: 2.7in
LENS: 4.6x zoom
MIN. MACRO DISTANCE: 5cm
WIDE-ANGLE CAPABILITY: Optional add-on lens
RAW CAPABILITY: No
CUSTOM WHITE-BALANCE: Yes
MANUAL MODE: HD
www.panasonic.co.uk

width=100%OLYMPUS µ TOUGH 8010 / PT-048 HOUSING £540
Slightly disappointing, with the absence of full controls such as the custom white balance now recognised as so essential for underwater photography, the saving grace of this little camera is the fact that it too is said to be waterproof to a depth of 10m, even without the underwater housing.
As with the Panasonic Lumix above, a housing flooding may not be quite so disastrous as on some cameras, so these models are for those who have been put off by the nderwater photographer’s plaint: “It’s not if, it’s when.”
The housing looks pretty tough, and has a round port window with an M52 port thread for easy fitting of optional accessories such as wide-angle and fish-eye lenses. The all-important hood round the LCD assists when viewing in brightly lit conditions, and the button functions are clearly marked, so there won’t be any frantic trial button-pushing under water.
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DEPTH RATING: 40m
RESOLUTION: 14MP
LCD: 2.7in
LENS: 5x Zoom
MIN. MACRO DISTANCE: 3cm
WIDE-ANGLE CAPABILITY: Optional add-on lenses
RAW CAPABILITY: No
CUSTOM WHITE BALANCE: No
MANUAL EXPOSURE ADJUSTMENT: No
VIDEO MODE: HD
www.olympus.co.uk

width=100%CANON POWERSHOT S95 / WP-DC38 HOUSING £600
Distinguished by a function-control ring set around the lens barrel that is operated in the housing via a geared control, this smart yet slim new camera allows the underwater photographer full access to all the controls that might be needed under water.
It has a fast f/2 lens that is useful in low light conditions. Combined with a high-sensitivity sensor and DIGIC 4 processing, this camera seems ideal for ambient light photography under water, especially considering that it can also output RAW files if required for colour correction by PC later.
Canon’s acclaimed image-stabilising system counters camera-shake, so successful longer exposures are possible, too.
A dedicated shortcut button can also be configured to provide instant access to pre-selected functions, offering the photographer easy access to settings during shooting.
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DEPTH RATING: 40m
RESOLUTION: 10MP
LCD: 3in
LENS: 3.8x zoom
MIN. MACRO DISTANCE: 5cm
WIDE-ANGLE CAPABILITY: Optional add-on lens
RAW CAPABILITY: Yes
CUSTOM WHITE-BALANCE: Yes
MANUAL EXPOSURE ADJUSTMENT: Yes
VIDEO MODE: HD with stereo sound
www.canon.co.uk

width=100%CANON POWERSHOT G12 / WP-DC34 HOUSING £700
It seems that a good big’un will always beat a good littl’un, and the G series offers everything you’d expect from a fully-fledged DSLR, but in a compact form.
It looks and feels like a proper precision-made camera. Full control, using proper dials or 29 different presets, plus a fabulous-quality lens, makes this a favourite with keen underwater photographers, and when I first saw the results from one, I had to buy one for myself!
The newly arrived 4:3 format G12 might be a bit of a brick when compared to other compacts, but it promises to be even better than before.
Its new sensor system allows it to be used in much lower light levels without digital noise. And it can shoot both jpegs and RAW files concurrently, with a very short file-writing interval.
Familiarity with the camera controls will pay dividends, because the button markings of the housing are almost impossible to see under water. There is also a more robust (and more expensive) Ikelite housing available if you’d prefer it.
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DEPTH RATING: 40m
RESOLUTION: 10MP DIGIC 4 processor
LCD: 2.8in
LENS: 5x zoom
MIN. MACRO DISTANCE: 1cm
WIDE-ANGLE CAPABILITY: Optional add-on lenses
RAW CAPABILITY: Yes
CUSTOM WHITE-BALANCE: Yes
MANUAL EXPOSURE ADJUSTMENT: Yes
VIDEO MODE: HD with stereo sound
www.canon.co.uk

width=100%SEA & SEA DX-2G £850
With all the controls you need for serious underwater photography, including “aperture-priority” mode and manual exposure modes, the DX-2G also has a specially conceived “Sea & Sea” mode for underwater use, and three other special settings that can be registered to suit your own style of photography.
It has an ergonomically shaped housing with connections intended for linking up to two off-board flashguns (optional extras), and a port that accepts a variety of makes of auxiliary wide-angle adaptors.
The DX-2G is capable of RAW image photography, and comes complete with an enlarged buffer memory that allows you to take up to five continuous shots in RAW mode, the recording of which now takes only three seconds. We were very impressed with the high quality of the results when we reviewed the earlier DX-1G for DIVER Tests.
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DEPTH RATING: 55m
RESOLUTION: 12.1MP
LCD: 2.7in
LENS: 4x zoom
MIN. MACRO DISTANCE: 1mm
WIDE-ANGLE CAPABILITY: Optional screw-on lens
RAW CAPABILITY: Yes
CUSTOM WHITE BALANCE: Yes
MANUAL EXPOSURE ADJUSTMENT: Yes
VIDEO MODE: Yes (with sound)
www.sea-sea.com

Our thanks to Cameras Underwater for supplying most of the cameras and housings for this review, www.camerasunderwater.co.uk