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SeaLife DC1000 With SeaLife SL961 Digital Pro Flash
 June 12, 2009 @ 09:08 PM (EST)
By Karin Brussaard
SeaLife DC1000
The SeaLife DC1000 is a new compact camera with underwater housing, launched by SeaLife in addition to the already existing DC800. The features of the DC800, such as a long-lasting battery, have been kept while at the same time several improvements were made. The most astonishing one is the easy set-up menu. Even if you don't know anything about photography, it is a piece of cake to set up the camera. The camera can be expanded with a wide angle lens and with one or two external flash units. Since both the camera and flash can be set manually, you can grow with the camera.
 


SeaLife
The motto of the American company SeaLife is to design user-friendly cameras that every diver can use right away. These are “entry-level cameras”. In this digital era, SeaLife has developed special software with which its cameras stand out from the crowd of regular brands of compact cameras. Also noteworthy is that SeaLife realized that it's easy to make a mistake and flood your camera by greasing and replacing the O-ring. To minimize this risk, SeaLife uses an O-ring that should not be greased.

DC1000 camera

The SeaLife DC1000 is a 10 megapixel compact camera with a 6.9 cm LCD screen. The zoom lens has a range of 37-185mm (5x optical zoom). The camera works on a rechargeable Li-Ion battery. The claimed battery life is 2+ hours or 200+ pictures. The battery lasted for 3 dives of one hour each in the warm waters of the Philippines (28 degrees Celsius). SD and SDHC memory cards are used in the camera. Focusing is possible from a distance of 5cm. What's most special about this camera is its four color correction filters that can to be used underwater - two for blue water and two for green water. The eight white balance functions for above water can be used underwater too, including a manual white balance. ISO ranges from 64 to 1600. Shutter speed in underwater mode is 1/60 to 1/1500; when an external flash is used, 1/60 to 1/500.

DC1000 underwater housing
The underwater housing is made of polycarbonate with a black rubber mold. The housing was tested to a depth of 60 meters, which is 20 meters more than the average depth for underwater housings for compact cameras. The housing is pleasantly firm and can withstand a few bumps. The camera and underwater housing are negatively buoyant. With external strobes, the unit becomes positive. In order to compensate for this, a weight can be mounted to the set which makes it nearly neutral. The O-ring is made of silicone and cannot be greased. This is made clear in the instruction manual. All buttons clearly indicate the function they serve. The only button that is not directly operable is the slide button on the top that serves to set the camera into the photo, film or play mode. However, these modes are accessible through a different button on the back of the underwater housing. On this button, symbols of a film and video camera and a play-mode arrow are placed so it is clear that this button lets you switch between the three modes.

SeaLife SL961 Digital Pro Flash

While there is nothing “Pro” about this strobe, the SeaLife SL961 Digital Pro Flash is an easy to operate flash unit that provides much needed artificial lighting underwater. The flash unit includes an arm and mounting tray that screws on to the bottom of the housing. Even the optical cable is already mounted to the flash. Mind you, it is possible to detach all these items, but there is no need to do so. This means that you never have to worry how the flash and optical cables should be attached. To be able to operate the flash unit, all you have to do is place the optical cable in front of the internal flash of the camera. This is very easy. You just jam the optical cable in the cable grip of the included plastic adapter that fits around the lens, after which you push the adapter into the housing. No annoying struggles with Velcro straps or other difficult accessories. The flash unit works on four AA batteries. The advantage of using these is that they are available worldwide, including the rechargeable versions. In addition to the auto setting, the flash also has a manual setting. There is a large dial on the back of the flash to operate these settings. The SeaLife SL961 Digital Pro Flash cannot only be used with the SeaLife camera, but with all types and brands of cameras that contain an internal flash. Since cameras of different brands work with different types of flash light, (one or more than one pre-flash), the flash unit provides four different modes. All you have to do is try out which mode works for a specific camera. You have to test this prior to diving because the setting button is placed behind the back cover on the inside of the flash unit. Like the underwater housing of the DC1000, the flash unit can also be used to a depth of 60 meters and also features an O-ring which cannot be greased.

Easy set-up menu

The menu of the SeaLife DC1000 is designed with the idea that the user will likely use the camera underwater. When the camera is turned on, it will ask you if you want to use the camera underwater. If so, the second question the camera will ask you is if you will use an external flash. If the answer is yes, the camera knows that the internal flash should be activated in order to operate the external flash. If the answer is no, you have to answer another question; 'Are you going to use the camera at a depth between 1 and 8 meters or deeper?'. Depending on your answer, a special filter will be selected and the camera is set and a confirmation will appear on the monitor. One thing I appreciate is the fact that the camera stores the latest settings so when the camera is activated after sleep mode or deactivation; it will start in the same settings. The SeaLife DC1000 neatly remembers all your settings, among which are functions like; use underwater, blue sea, deeper than 8 meters, macro and flash macro. This saves a lot of thinking when activating the camera from sleep mode. If you see a sea turtle pass by, you want to be able to shoot immediately and not have to set the camera again. By the time you have all the settings ready, the photo moment will be long gone.

SeaLife SL970 Wide angle lens

The focal legnth of the 37 mm lens is not wide enough to capture large subjects. You'd have to keep so much distance between the subject and the camera that there would be no color left in the picture. The closer you are to your subject, the more color appears in the picture. To solve this problem, you can use a attachable wide angle lens for 24 mm focal legnth. The wide angle lens is attached to the front of the lens on the outside of the underwater housing. The space between the housing and the lens adapter has to be filled with water. You should always attach the lens to the housing underwater. If you don't do this underwater, the edges of your pictures will turn out black, which will clearly show on the LCD monitor. The wide angle lens can be used at a small centimeter-distance from the subject by setting the camera to micro mode. Using these features, I was able to capture a 15cm anglerfish although I was as close as 20 cm. If I had not used the wide angle lens, I would have had to keep more distance, the colors would not have turned out this beautifully, and I would not have captured so much background in the picture.

During a dive, for convenience, the wide angle lens can be inserted in the special lens holder (SeaLife SL972) which can be attached to the tray's back. However, the lens sits rather low in the holder when not in use which could be annoying if you want to shoot a fish on the seabed since you can't keep the camera low enough without the wide angle lens touching the seabed.

Macro
In macro mode, focusing is possible from a 5cm distance. For macro opportunities, the 37mm lens of the camera is an advantage. Small subjects can be captured full format on a larger distance than with a 24mm lens. This prevents scaring off little animals without having to zoom in. The zoom function can be used in macro mode, but you will need an extremely steady hand to keep the camera still. When I zoomed in a bit more than halfway, the focus field turned red instead of remaining green. If you take the picture with the focus field red, it will always turn out blurred. It's better to zoom in slightly less and trim the picture afterwards on the computer.



Moisture Muncher
capsules
Digital cameras produce a lot of heat. The battery will get hot and the internal flash does not only provide light when it goes off but also heat. When not shooting underwater, this heat disappears in the air and there is no problem. However, it is not possible to get rid of the heat underwater. Eventually this heat will turn into dampness causing a moisture problem in your camera. Most camera suppliers include silica sachets with their underwater housings. You have to stuff this sachet somewhere in between the housing and the camera, always making sure it does not get caught between the O-ring. SeaLife has come up with a better solution. Inside the back of the housing, there is an indentation which fits a moisture-reduction capsule. The capsule is a transparent tube with a length of a few inches. A purple colorant has been added to the silica inside the capsule which will change color if moisture gets to it. If the capsule is completely pink, the silica has done its job and the capsule needs to be changed.

SeaLife SL961 Digital Pro Flash (auto)
The SeaLife DC1000 is designed such that the internal flash does not go off when the diving programs are selected, relying on the built-in filters to provide the colors. If you want extra light, you have to purchase external flash units. The easy setting menu can be set to use an external flash. The flash will be set to the auto mode. In auto mode, the flash measures the amount of light needed. You have to help the flash somewhat; if you select the macro function of the camera, you also have to set the internal flash of the camera to macro. The tulip (which is the macro mode symbol) will appear on the monitor alongside the flash symbol. The external flash is then aware of the fact you will shoot at a distance of 50cm max and it will use less flash light. In practice this works well. A scorpion fish lying quietly is a nice subject on which to try out the flash in auto mode. In flash macro mode, the scorpion fish was lit evenly when two flashes were used. In the 'distance' mode of the internal flash, the scorpion fish was clearly overexposed.


SeaLife SL961 Digital Pro Flash (manual)
While in auto mode the flash provided good results without a diffuser, but while in manual mode the diffuser was necessary to not overexpose the pictures. In manual mode, you can adjust the flash power via the dial on the back of the flash. This dial works well; it is large enough and it rotates easily. There are clear indications showing to which side you have to rotate to increase or decrease the flash light power. I find the flash arms rather short. This makes it hard to correctly position the flashes if you want to shoot up close (up to 5cm in macro mode). It is hard to keep hold of the set when you use a second flash. This is because the distance between the flash arm on the right and the underwater housing is too large to reach the shutter release button yet too small to place your hand comfortably in between the flash arm and the underwater housing. Moreover, when two flashes are attached, the set tends to lean slightly backwards in the water.

Filming

Like nearly all compact cameras, this camera provides a filming function. It is striking that the SeaLife DC1000’s simple set-up menu also works in film mode. Here too you will be asked whether you're going to shoot underwater or not. If you select the underwater option, the camera will request the depth and the red filter will be customized to your answer. The filming results are a lot more colorful compared to other cameras thanks to the use of filters. The blue sea filter works perfectly, even at a depth of 18 meters. When snorkeling or diving on the surface in clear water, the images become too red when the filter is activated. I then preferred the colors when the camera was in the on-land mode. The auto white balance provided nice colors in the videos. During filming you can zoom in. To be able to film close-up (up to 50cm), you have to activate the macro mode.

Manual white balance
Although the auto white balance does a perfect job, it might be more convenient to set a manual white balance underwater since colors tend to disappear underwater if you go to a deeper level. A newbie photographer is not likely to use this function so it is not included in the simple setting menu but rather in the follow-up menu. The camera comes with a white plastic card to set the white balance. And on the back of this card, the very user-friendly instructions show how to set the white balance. You don't need to memorize these instructions, they are always at hand.

Conclusion
In my opinion, SeaLife does fulfill their promise of launching cameras which are specially designed for divers. The SeaLife DC1000 is a user-friendly camera, suitable for a beginner underwater photographer yet enhancing the user's photography skills at the same time. The simple set-up menu adjusts the camera to the correct mode after asking some simple questions. After attaching an external flash unit, the camera also does the thinking for you. The results with the external flash in auto mode are superb since the flash correctly measures the necessary flash light. If you prefer to be in command, the camera provides many manually operable functions. The flash units can be set manually, too. After deactivating the camera (sleep mode or actually turning it off), the camera will automatically start up using the most recent settings. I consider this extremely pleasant since you can use the camera right away without having to readjust the settings. The color correction filter, for use at a depth more than 8 meters, provides excellent colors, but in snorkel mode, I find the filter too strong because it creates unnatural red colors. Between the depth of 0 and 3 meters, the auto white balance is preferable in clear blue water. It is a bit difficult to hold the camera when two external flashes are attached. If you hold it by the flash arm, the shutter release button is out of reach and the space between the camera and flash arm is too small to place your hand comfortably. The flash arms are a tad too short to correctly position the flashes when shooting in macro. Optionally, the flash arms can be enlarged.

++ user-friendly camera
++ four built-in underwater filters
++ external flash calculates exactly the amount of required light
- - difficult to hold the set when two external flashes are used
- - standard flash arms too short

David Gilchrist
Jun 13, 2009 11:06 AM
David Gilchrist wrote:
I would agree with the review. My friend and I have been using the DC 1000 in Ontario, Canada for the last few months ( Cold and green) We have had some issues with the U/W filters in shallower waters, but the camera is flexible enough, that you can execute alternative techniques, ie manual white balance. I wanted a camera that provides beginning u/w photo enthusiasts lots of flexibility to experiment and learn with, and the DC 1000, provides it. Easy enough to start off with and get good photos from the first dives, but flexible enough to move beyond just point and shoot. The Pro flash, wide angle lens and range of settings allow this.

Spelling correction 'Moister monster' should read Moisture Muncher on the heading.
Matt J. Weiss
Jul 20, 2009 7:09 PM
Matt J. Weiss wrote:
thanks for the comment ivakdiver, spelling fixed :)
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