We take underwater compacts for granted, but look how they have developed since the start of the century. Mark Koekemoer salutes their progress
WHAT DO YOU LOOK FOR in a camera for underwater photography? Megapixels? Exposure control? Ability to shoot RAW? Manual white balance?
Digital advances in compacts have changed the way we work under water. Let's track back to 2000, as they were starting to make their presence felt.
2000: The decade saw the introduction of the very popular G-series from Canon, the Powershot G1. With its 3.3 megapixel sensor, the G1 was aimed primarily at the "prosumer" market. It featured a flash hot-shoe, flip-out-and-twist LCD screen and introduced RAW capability as well.
Ikelite was able to make a housing for the G1.
Its transparent polycarbonate construction meant that you could check that the O-ring was seated correctly. UR Pro filters could also be fitted to the lens port for colour correction.
2001: Dubbed "the world's smallest 4MP digital camera", the Olympus C-40z comprised an array of innovative opto-digital functions such as noise reduction and pixel-mapping, and delivered.
Most notable were the six apertures for exposure - most compacts had only two. With
its attractive, aluminium-fronted design, and matched with the Olympus PT-012 housing and a 40m depth rating, the C-40z attracted serious underwater film photographers to try digital.
2002: Sony was also establishing itself in the world of underwater photography, and released the DSC-P9 camera and MPK-P9 housing. Despite its 4MP sensor and unlimited video recording time, the P9's lack of exposure and white-balance control limited its appeal to underwater photographers.
2003: Olympus returned with its popular Camedia C-5060 wide zoom. Incorporating 5.1MP, its fast start-up and short shutter-release time appealed to divers. It also gave them the flexibility of using xD-Picture card, Compact Flash and Microdrive cards.
Controls could be accessed through the Olympus PT-020 housing, and the C-5060 also
had an interchangeable lens port, so the Olympus wide-conversion lens could be used to widen the viewing angle. But as the interchangeable lens port was flat, the conversion lens made little difference.
Companies such as Sea & Sea, Epoque and INON were also creating interest in underwater accessories for compacts. INON had designed its own lens port to fit the PT-020 housing, which in turn allowed the use of true wide-angle lenses.
2004: With brands such as Olympus, Canon and Sony making inroads on the diving market, Nikon decided to have a go with its Coolpix 4100 model and CP1 housing. Other than the 14.5 MB of built-in memory, however, the 4100 had limited scope.
2005: Digital compacts were becoming a must-have for divers, and were now both accessible and affordable. There couldn't have been a better time for Canon to release its Powershot S80.
The new 8MP camera raised the bar. While maintaining its compact appeal, it was packed with useful features such as full manual exposure and white-balance control. The large 2.5in LCD monitor also made it easier to compose shots under water.
Coupled with the Canon WP-DC1 housing and the ability to fit wide-angle and close-up lenses, the S80 soon became a formidable contender against bigger prosumer underwater cameras.
2006: Fujifilm finally hit the scene with its "fabled" FinePix F30. With fewer combinations of cameras that offered sufficient exposure control with housings that would take accessories, the F30 provided what any enthused diver wishing to take up underwater photography needed.
The 6.3MP camera featured the new sixth-generation Super CCD and Fujifilm's ground-breaking Real Photo Processor II, which gave it an advantage in low-light conditions. With its heavy metal jacket and Fuji FXF30 housing, the F30 has become a classic underwater camera.
2007: Competition in the market was fierce, and Sea & Sea responded with its DX1G purpose-designed system. It adopted the highly reputable Ricoh GX100, incorporating the S & S mode to enhance the deep blues of the sea.
The housing was fitted with connections for fibre-optic cables to use with underwater flashguns. The DX1G also featured a hood for the LCD, which made viewing the monitor in bright conditions much easier. A range of wide-angle and close-up lenses was also available.
2008: With compacts flooding the market, the choice was bewildering for first-time buyers.
Sony made a comeback with the DSC-W300. Combining superior image quality with high optical-quality wet lenses, it proved excellent for underwater photography. With its 13.6 megapixels and titanium-clad, Sony set out to reaffirm its position in the underwater market.
Canon released the Ixus 980, the first Ixus in its range to offer shutter-speed priority and
a choice of two apertures in manual mode.
2009: With record numbers taking to the water and partners tired of being left on shore, Olympus filled the gap with its amphibious TOUGH 6000/8000 range. Waterproof up to
10m without a dedicated housing, TOUGH cameras became a favourite of snorkellers.
However, it is Canon that remains consistent in its dominance of the market. The Ixus 100 with HD movie recording (1280 x 720, 30fps) successfully combined high-quality stills and video-capture all in one unit.
Canon also released its successor to the S80 - the Powershot S90. With a high-sensitivity 10.0 MP CCD, f/2.0 lens, full manual exposure control and WP-DC35 housing to which lenses could be fitted, it became one of the best underwater compact camera systems on the market.
2010: The future of compacts in underwater photography promises to be very exciting. The latest developments in technology combine the small size of compacts with the flexibility of an SLR - they call it Micro Four Thirds.
Panasonic has already made a big impression with its GF1 Micro Four Thirds camera.
July's PhotoCall covers creative wide-angle techniques.
The theme for June entries was -
images depicting other divers or snorkellers.
Scenic Bahamas shot wins £300 for Peter
Placed top in the June heat of DIVER magazine's PhotoCall competition is this shot of a diver under the liveaboard Aqua Cat in the Bahamas.
Peter White of Leigh-on-Sea, Essex, took it with a Sea & Sea DX 2G camera using natural light (his flashgun had flooded) to fit the theme 'Keen Photographers", which invited images depicting other divers or snorkellers.
Peter wins a £300 INON UK voucher redeemable against lenses, flashguns or accessories.
Each month at Divernet.com we offer you a new theme with the chance to win the £300 prize and, ultimately, a 2-week trip to the Philippines worth £2800.