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I took a Casio Exilim Z4 to the Maldives on its first great adventure and was at a nice beach on the far side of Lohifushi when the heavens opened. Not wearing anything other than T-shirt and shorts means I was a little lost for where to put the camera so that it would remain safe and dry until I ran for cover. When I say the heaven's opened - I truly mean the heavens opened. I stuffed the camera in my armpit but alas to no avail. By the time I reached the nearest hut (about 300 yards), every inch of clothing including armpits was soaked. The camera was stuck in an open position with no sign of life anywhere. I put some divers silicone sealant around the on / off button, but apart from the lens closing somehow on its own it never showed any sign of life after that. This is the down side to the digital camera - its technology is not designed for the water. I did not claim on travel insurance as really I expect I did not have a leg to stand on, but was determined from that point to get a camera that was fit for purpose. I started to research waterproof cameras and ordinary digital cameras with waterproof housings. It was sometime close to this that I also took up scuba diving. Then I had a brain wave. Why buy a waterproof camera for underwater and when its raining when I could buy an ordinary digital camera WITH a purposefully designed waterproof housing that can not only be used underwater at depth, but also in conditions likely to cause damage to any ordinary camera - such as in full pelt rain, or on a muddy hillside, or on a sandy beach ~ that was it ~ now WHICH camera would be the best option?
I hunted and hunted and trawled the reviews. It came down to one or two. An Olympus or a Sony ~ my analysis of the market was based around the size of the camera, the size of the housing, the simplicity of the housing, the ability to use the buttons and knobs on the housing underwater, and of course the number of mega pixels. At the time the Cybershot P200 had just come onto the market. The P200 has a bigger screen but pretty much all of the same features. What it doesn't have is an underwater housing, and what is more, it's not going to have. I didn't like the look of the Olympus underwater housings; they were much squarer and fatter and seemed altogether a lot more cumbersome.
THE CYBERSHOT P150
The decision then was for the Cybershot P150 which does have its own housing ~ the MPK-PHB from Sony. I picked up the camera in a really good deal with almost £100 off list as it was old news and the new P200 was just out and camera shops had lots of stock of the newer version. I thought it would be simple to get a housing for it as it was only a few weeks earlier that I had made enquiries about it when doing the research. I was of course surprised when everyone I contacted had run out of stock of the housing. While researching, the housing had been on offer for about £120-£150, but when I actually needed one
Pictures of Sony Cyber-shot DSC-P150
Very blue - no flash
- there were none to be found, not even on that great auction site where everything can normally be found! Time ticked away and I learned how to work the camera and got used to its functions. The great zoom modes, the macro options, the preset features for taking black and white and sepia shots, flash bounce, red eye and all of the little features which make this camera so great. Meanwhile I kept an eye open for the housing ~ as time ticked nicely down to our next holiday ~ which was to be a scuba holiday ~ for which I would certainly need the housing to justify buying the camera for that very purpose!
Meanwhile I played with the multi focus and central focusing systems, the spot and multi metering for the flash. I got to grips with the image sizing and the memory capacity, pre-focusing and auto focusing, the optical zoom and the digital zoom. I tried the preset scenes and took photos of fireworks and night shots, landscapes and portraits. I got to grips with taking bursts of shots and single shots, and of course deleting shots straight away when obvious they would not work or which were duplicates. I hunted for a seller on THAT auction site that had a good quality 1gb memory stick pro card (memory stick pro DUO does not work in this camera), was lucky enough to find one at less than half price and (touch-wood!) there have been no problems with it. STILL NO HOUSING
Now I was down to the wire with the housing. Eventually I located one in a shop on the Strand in London. I live in Lincoln! But as luck would have it we were flying out of Gatwick for the Maldives on the Monday morning so we could get to the retailer on the Saturday to collect the housing. Got stung for full retail though at £199! Still a bargain considering how cheap the camera and the memory card had been. We stayed with friends that weekend and I became acquainted with the housing, the Sony (none silicon) grease and how to keep the seals clean and spotless. A single hair can cause a water leak so keeping the seals in top condition is vital.
MORAL of the story
When buying a digital camera, if you intend to buy any add-ons do it at the time of the camera purchase. The camera models have a limited shelf life as manufacturers try to keep pace with each other. Housings etc are only going to be around for a few months after that its down to old stock and second hand. Any dealer I know of now no longer stocks this housing! Then it is down to companies such as INON from the USA to produce housings that are fit for purpose for cameras that no longer have a manufacturers own product. INON are a very very good alternative but at up to 3 times the cost of the original version. You have been advised!
Learning to dive and playing with a new camera at the same time was a complete learning experience. The camera and I survived! I paid attention to sealing the housing every time it was opened. On average this was every other day, as the battery needed charging. To do this of course the camera had to be out of the housing. Then the seals had to be fully cleaned and then re-greased and closed again - checking that all was well before immersing the camera in the ocean.
A point to note here . When you get a new housing - stuff it full of tissue paper and take it under water to depth (this one is rated right down to my limits as a sport diver of 40 metres) WITHOUT the camera inside. Play with the knobs and buttons and wheels and give it a good going over as if you had a camera inside. When you get it back onto the beach or boat - dry the housing off with a towel but do not open it until you are certain that all water has dried from the outside. Open it up and check to see if you can see water on the tissue paper. Only then - put your precious and expensive camera in for the next underwater trip.
My first shots were pretty much rubbish. The land based shots were 100% no matter what I did and I tried all sorts. Images were crystal clear and sharp. Underwater - a different story all together. In my amateurish wisdom I thought I would get better shots if I did not have the flash on - plus I did not want to stress the fish and the turtles. So I made sure the flash was off. The result! BLUE HAZE everything seemed to be coming out blue. Now I had heard that all of this could be corrected when back on dry land with a computer and some neat software. Alas this was not strictly true and those first few hundred shots are still as blue as the day they were taken. I would get better I vowed.
Next diving trip I kept the flash on almost 100% of the time. This brought out the main colours. It also helped to alleviate an annoying problem. With no flash the camera has to work out distance and movement and current and lots and lots of other things before it can assess what to put the settings on (when in auto mode of course). Fish have this idea that they are not there to pose for stupid bubble fish in neoprene and tend to buzz off after a few seconds. The result of this is a lot of shots of tails leaving for better waters! The fish might be in the middle of the frame at the start, but then the camera does its distance checking and in those few crucial moments, the fish moves. Hence - the flash alleviates this issue on the shutter delay - making it more like an SLR taking the image without too much delay.
Images when viewed on the screen at the back may look crystal clear and in focus. When viewed on the computer screen however, so many of them are out of focus. It might not always be possible to take a computer with you so here are a few pointers.
If the resort has a computer it might just have a USB port that you can use. In which case it may be worth taking a small card reader with USB cable with you so that you can view the images on your cards and be sure that you are only keeping images worth keeping. If that's not possible and you want to limit the amount of money you fork out on memory cards then you could invest in a portable card reader or hard drive. Some of them come with a viewing screen but this makes them expensive. We invested in a GIGA ONE from Jobo (camera shops have them). This reads most types of memory card (we needed a multi card reader as my hubby uses micro drive, XD and SD cards in his cameras) and can store 30gb of photos on its drive. Every time the camera was out of the housing then it was a simple case of pushing the card into the portable drive, downloading the images and then deleting them off the card. In this way we could be sure that we were not filling up the cards, we could keep as many shots as we wanted to just in-case they were or weren't in focus, and it was a backup as well. This also allows the user to run off as many shots as they want without worrying about freeing up memory stick space - even though the 1gb card will hold about 550 images at 7mega pixels! Of course the smaller the size of mega pixel used the more shots you can squeeze onto the card right up to something silly at 1 megapixel ~ 2700 images in standard mode! One thing though - the camera and card do not like changes in temperature, sometimes there is a format card error on the camera when its turned on if there has been a sudden move from a cold room to a warmer room. This then involves removing the card for a few seconds and then replacing it - and then all seems to be well again. (It could of course be that it's a dodgy card!).
So there you have it. It's a great camera. It has more functions than I know what to do with and it takes simply fabulous photos. The card can go into a card reader, or the camera can be plugged direct into the computer with the USB cable. Photos can be cropped and edited with any editing software ~ I use Paintshop Pro but I understand that PhotoShop is a really good software tool. The more mega pixels the original shot have the better the quality for printing but I guess you know that already. I like this little bundle of joy so much I've decided to purchase a separate flash gun / strobe for it. Sony does not make such an item for this camera so I'll be looking at the INON. It looks as though I'll need a strobe, some cables and the mounting plate. All in all some £800 or so. Apparently the built in flash is used on the camera itself to fire the externally attached INON system. The strobe is triggered within milliseconds of the master flash so that the slave then fires at the right time. Getting the flash away from the camera at an angle to the lens provides for better definition on the shot itself. We'll see - I'll keep you posted on progress of purchase and subsequent shots. In the meantime - I've attached shots as they were taken with just the standard functions of the camera - I'm sure you'll agree - for a hand held point and shoot - these are quality images. Remember the "blue" ones were the one without the flash. Enjoy!
All my favourite subjects in one review, The Maldives, Diving and photos...fantastic review.. I know what you mean about keeping your bouyancy and taking photos, its an Art in its self. The photos are great -lots of detail. We snapped up a bargain at Male Duty Free this December ( it was half the price we would have paid here in the UK)and So we treated our selves to a underwater digital video camera...carn't wait to try this on our next dive holiday....Mary
salem_witch 20.03.2006 15:41
I just love the pictures!
patriciat 20.03.2006 11:07
Fab. pics, enjoyable review. Well done on finding Nemo! Pat.t xx
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