First experience with underwater photography and the SeaLife DC800

As promised in my last posting about my scuba diving safari through the Southern part of the Egypt Red Sea here now comes my report about lessons learned and first experience with underwater photography in general and the SeaLife DC800.

SeaLife DC800 Underwater
Housing

I purchased the SeaLife DC800 from divestore.de for around € 700 as a package together with a flash light SL 961 and a bag. It is supposed to be a camera suitable for beginners as well as satisfying advanced photographers. The camera comes with numerous programs especially also for underwater photography. A “Sea” mode allows taking good pictures also without a flash light and further options allow to specify whether you are in the blue ocean or green river water. It is a 8 mega pixel camera and allows capturing videos in VGA resolution. The flash light has the great advantage to support an automatic mode as well as adjusting intensity manually – which turned out to be a real important feature.

My very first underwater shot with the SeaLife DC800
"My very first underwater shot with the SeaLife DC800"

Befoe using the camera under water I tried it out on land, as recommended in the instruction manual, without and with housing. The first pictures I shot to me appeared to be less brilliant and sharp than the one my Sony Cybershot DSC-S90 delivers, which of course is well known for its good quality photos.  The results however I now brought back from my scuba diving safari have convinced me that I have made a good purchase with a good cost/performance ratio. People who know what you would have to pay for a professional underwater camera or video camera probably would agree with me.

I spent almost the entire last Sunday to create a slideshow with Windows Movie Maker including combining my video clips to a 8 minute video, burned it on DVD and watched it on my LCD TV screen: absolutely nice and convincing ! Throughout my slideshow one can see how my skills taking underwater shots improved. At the beginning I had some problems with using the flash light properly and lots of photos are too dark ( see my lessons learned further down below ). Later on photos turn out to have more light and color and some time I also got the idea to use the zoom function and take closer shots.

A few of my photos and some video clips are available on my flickr-Account.

As I mentioned in my last posting here underwater photography is more complicated than taking photos on land.

Too dark shot

First of all on land you usually stand secure on both legs ( most of the time Winking) while under water you first have to maintain a proper buoyancy before pushing the trigger. Additionally you try to find a nice view angle to your motif and may be a point at a rock or reef to hold to for a more stable position. During that you have to avoid hitting the sand with your fins since then the sight very quickly might turn into a milky environment ruining your photo.

Another challenge is the proper adjustment of your flash light intensity. The SL 961 as most probably most flash lights has of course an automatic mode but this turned out not to work well in all situations. As long as you take a picture of a fish may be 2 meters away in blue water it works quiet well, but as soon as you are getting closer to something or in case you have sand or light corals as a background the flash intensity appears to be too high. Luckily – as a real valuable and important feature – the SL 961 comes with a control dial to manually adjust the flash intensity on a scale from 10 to 1. In those situations I just described a setting of 2 or 1 turend out to be sufficient to get a photo with the right amount of light.

Shot with too much light

As many beginners I went through a couple of mistakes at the beginning I like to share here with you:

  • Wrong adjustment of the flash light angle. I assumed wrongly I should have the flash light arm adjusted in a way that the flash light was more pointing downwards to get a good light for a photo in 2 meters distance. This yielded photos being too dark and it turned out to better have the flash light more pointing straight forward or just slightly down.
  • After the first re-charge of the camera and putting it back into the housing I forgot to set the slider on top of the camera to the “capture” position; I left it in the “display” mode. In this situation there was no way to get the camera into capture mode under water. (Unfortunately this happened during the dive when we met a shark under our boat Sad). This is mentioned in the instruction manual but a good hint for further dives is: turn on the camera once before jumping into the water to see whether it is in the correct mode, especially after you had taken it out of the housing before the dive. Once the slider is set right the camera is in a mode where you can change to all other modes through the DISP key: you can view all your pictures under water and you can also put it into video capture mode.
  • One time it happened to me that accidentially I pushed the power switch instead of the tripper to stop a video capture. This caused the camera to hang up completely thus it became unusable for the rest of the dive and after getting back on the boat I had to remove the batteries to fix that situation. Luckily this happened towards the end of a dive.

I noticed the following two strange behaviors of my camera :

  • When turning on the flash light initially the red light does not turn on and I am not sure whether the flash light actually operates properly. Only after moving the slider to the TEST position once the red light then turns on right away after setting back the slider to ON.
  • Below a depth of 30 meters my camera started to behave real strange:  When pushing the DISP button it started to ask me whether I want to delete pictures.  Hmmm ….

Overall I am happy with the SeaLife DC800 now allowing me to capture nice remembrances of my dives. It is handy and delivers good pictures, especially the quality of videos surprised me in a positive way, and in combination with the flash light SL 961 it is a real powerful equipment to take nice underwater photos.

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