Mostly Everything

Hands on with the Canon Powershot S95 Underwater

The stable of cameras at Casa Fernandez include a Nikon D40 with over 10 legacy lenses, a Canon 350D used exclusively for underwater shoots and a Panasonic Lumix LX3. So as you can see it’s really impractical for this geek to go out buying more cameras. When I saw Canon’s S90 release several months ago I snickered — not because this was a bad camera — in fact it was pretty good. But this was Canon playing catch up with Panasonic’s purely “viral” DMC-LX3. Many months later, Canon releases the Powershot S95 and I must say I’m floored with the results.

I took two cameras to Mobile World Congress but ended up using the S95 for everything because it was light and it fit into my pocket. It produced stunning images on Aperture priority (the default I use for attending conventions since I don’t have time to really care about settings) and like most cameras does really well in natural light. With the flash turned on, it seemed a bit sub-par compared to my Lumix flash, but hands down, this camera is a natural winner. If you want a compact camera that takes good photos and video, look no further. Just ask Winston.

All the photos taken at the Mobile World Congress were shot using the S95. All videos too.

If you’re choosing between a Canon G12 and the S95, you need only to consider two things: if you already own an external Canon flash and would like to use it with your point and shoot too, then you should settle for a G12. If not, get the S95.

So many blogs have reviewed the Canon S95 but it is rare to find a review of how the camera fares underwater. So here it is. The video above consists of snippets from depths between 15-40 feet (the more vivid videos) and 60-80 ft (the more “blue-ish” ones) because the deeper you go, color vanishes. Red is the first to vanish. I shot this using an Ikelite S95 casing which I borrowed from my instructor. Compared to my JVC Ikelite setup, I have nothing but envy for the S95 rig because it takes so much better video and excellent battery.

The only problem with the underwater setup is the casing: Ikelite has a design flaw with the knob used to rotate the dial to change settings. That’s why I don’t have photos: I couldn’t move the dial to enter photo mode!

I have to reiterate that this is one good camera. You won’t go wrong with this purchase. But please research price as you will find these to be much cheaper in Hidalgo than in your commercial establishments.

Mostly Everything

Balai Weekend: Koala, Secret Bay and Twin Rocks

Dove Koala, Secret Bay and Twin Rocks, once during the day and at night. This was a no-rush dive weekend spent with Wowie, Ilyong, Marie and Chie. Chie got to try out Wowie’s iDive 300 iPod casing and Wowie served as default barista for the two days spent in Balai making the frothiest cappuccino. Great times!

Dive highlights include the school of yellowtails and jacks at Twin Rocks, a black tip shark that only Marie saw, the bubbling ocean floor at Secret Bay and a Spanish Dancer that did not want to dance.

This was also the first time I was able to road test the effects of putting two packs of dessicant into a digital camera casing. Since I don’t have an aluminum case, the heat expedited by the JVC recorder creates a lot of moisture inside the acrylic case. Dessicant, found in all medicine bottles and gadget packaging is really useful for absorbing the moisture.

Mostly Everything

The New Rig: JVC Picsio FM1 + Ikelite Underwater Housing, V8 LED Lights

During its heyday the Flip was the only compact video recorder that delivered good results. In the same way that we use “Kodak” or “Xerox” as verbs, most people refer to compact video recorders as Flip recorders. Enter the 5th generation iPod nano, and the Sony Bloggie: affordable compact video cameras for posting on YouTube and Facebook are the new in thing.

JVC’s Picsio is an underdog in local marketing. Have you even seen one on the shelves? At best, you’re going to get an hour or an hour and a half worth of recording and photos on a full charge. The FM1 accepts SD and SDHC cards, with almost negligible internal memory. It has very simple controls, allowing you to switch from 1080p HD video recording to 8MP stills (not so good autofocus for photos). On a 4GB card, you will get 800+ photos, but more importantly, 41 minutes of video. Since the controls are dumbed down, you can’t change the recording quality to 720p or to anything lower. You will have to do this on your computer. The FM1 comes with a landscape and macro auto focus switch on the side which you can transition between even while recording. This gives you Jason Magbanua-ish effects for depth of field blur when focusing on close subjects. Charging is via standard miniUSB direct to your computer. The formats supported are .MOV and JPEG.

But OK folks, this isn’t why I bought the Picsio. In truth, the compact recorder is only 1/3 of the package. It came with this:

The complete set consists of the FM1 compact video recorder bundled with an Ikelite underwater housing with a red filter attachment. I went the extra mile with this thing and upgraded the unit with an Ikelite V8 LED light and arm. Here is a video sample I took while snorkeling (haven’t had a chance to dive yet). Pardon the Cloverfield moments as I was being swept by the waves. You’ll notice that the LED light brings the flora to life, removing the blues which most underwater videos have. If you want to see something more professional, check this footage from the Cayman Islands shoot.

This is by far the most affordable underwater video recording bundle I’ve seen and no other brand carries this promo. Ikelite also makes casings for the Flip camera but it is not on sale. It appears that the Picsio FM1 is a new product from the latter part of 2009 and the bundle is really a way to promote the set and sale of JVC recorders. It’s perfect. 1080p resolution is seamless and the controls are easy to use especially with the casing. When buying this, make sure you have after sales adjust the casing’s knobs so that they make direct contact with the buttons.

Underwater, Ikelite bundle works like a charm. Perhaps the only complaint I have is that the screen is small, which is a standard configuration for these types of recorders, so I can’t really complain.

Price breakdown:

JVC FM1 with Ikelite Housing: PHP 24,000
Ikelite V8 LED Video Light: PHP 12,000
Video Arm / Brace: PHP 4,500

There is only ONE PLACE in Manila where you can buy this, apart from ordering online: Splash Underwater Imaging which is across Krispy Kreme / McDonald’s in Greenhills. Go up the stairs to the second floor and hang a left. You’ll see Splash towards the end of the corridor with apparel for water sports and underwater cameras. If you’re looking for the widest solution of underwater imaging devices, Jovic Santos will have them. Look for him there. I’ve provided contact details below:

Splash Underwater Imaging is OPEN @ Shoppesville Arcade, Greenhills Shopping Center Level B, Store # 2003. Call us at +632 7249803 or +639175259639, email to [email protected] or [email protected]