The Philippines is an archipelago of more than 7,000 islands. The irony is that a lot of the action happens in the city Manila. In its odd state, you would think that for a country that is surrounded by water, we would have at our disposal a stable of underwater cameras or housings with underwater cases for sale in most gadget stores. Sadly this is not the (underwater) case. **Pun Intended**
If you take a look at the UW housing landscape in the Philippines, save for a dedicated store that deals with UW housings, it is quite rare to find manufacturers outfitting underwater cases for cameras. The reason isn’t so much as lack of demand, but warranty. It is very hard to put a warranty tag on a decent acrylic housing that can be submersed at depths of 100+ ft. Not that it would flood. But the risks may be bad for business.
Nonetheless, bringing down a camera to the underwater depths has its rewards. I for one have been diving for more than 2 years, shooting amateur UW video for a little more than a year, and indulging myself in underwater photography for a little over six months.
Last Tuesday, Jan and I accompanied some friends from Microwarehouse to an exploratory dive in Anilao, Batangas to test out two point and shoot cameras from Samsung. These are the PL120 and SH100, both below PHP 15,000.00. The goal was to enclose them in an underwater case and see how well they fared shooting beneath the surface. Note that these two cameras were not UW ready and we made use of a Seashell enclosure to make them waterproof.
Above: The Seashell comes with a visual guide to help you position any camera model within the housing’s dimensions. That’s almost any point and shoot camera, save for the bigger ones (i.e. it won’t fit a Canon G11 but it will fit a Canon S95).
Seashell is one of the most innovative inventions for marine photography. It can house almost any point and shoot camera configuration of any brand. The case comes with several square-like fillers made of plastic that can be stacked together to hold a camera in place. In essence, you’re creating a mold for every possible camera body that can fit inside the Seashell’s dimensions. The only disadvantage is that since it is a generic case, the only buttons you can press while underwater are the power and shutter. You won’t be able to change from stills to video mode or adjust or shooting mode.
But you know what? The pros outweigh the cons.
The Samsung PL120 and SH100 have similar sensors so the photos are essentially of the same quality. The difference is that the SH100 is a 14MP WiFi camera. Oh god! These days we treat our phones like cameras. Today, our camera turns into a phone. A WiFi camera has a built in receiver allowing you to upload photos to Facebook, email, Picasa, etc through a data connection. The PL120 is an entry level point and shoot camera.
Here is a sample video taken at about 5 ft of water. Ayos, diba?!
For those curious, we dove off Balai in Anilao and made our way to Balai Rock and then to Twin Rocks to photograph the schooling jacks. Perhaps the most noteworthy feature of these cameras is Samsung’s auto white balance feature that tries to eliminate the blue haze which you get from underwater shots. It’s not perfect, but it’s the best we’ve seen in this price bracket. Other cameras have an UW mode that puts a red tint over the photos to compensate. This one doesn’t need. We went a little further with our experiment and put a red filter over the lens, which produced even more amazing results. Here are a couple of photos which we took at varying depths between 5 ft and 60 ft.
Since you won’t be able to change your settings with the camera inside its case, that eliminates the brain work on trying to get the perfect settings for underwater. The full auto / white balance adjustment is decent for an entry level SCUBA diver. From there, you can move on to upgrade the case by adding a strobe, which will drastically improve your shots.
You can get the cameras and the case separately as of now. The case you can buy through Jovic. The cameras are widely available. But if this pushes through, you’ll be able to acquire the whole package at a cheaper price.