Friday, October 10, 2008

SeaLife DC800 in the Red Sea

SeaLife DC800 tutorial, by Liz Johnson, Stephen Frink Photographic
Additional comments by Bjorn Harms, SeaLife

In an effort to learn more about the variety of very capable compact cameras there are now available for underwater photographers, I took one of the most popular with me on a recent trip to the Red Sea, SeaLife's DC800. However, to save me the trouble of reading the owner's manual, and because my retail manager at our Key Largo studio, Liz Johnson, had already done the research, I asked her to prepare me a cheat-sheet for operating the DC800 and the new SeaLife digital strobe. Her suggestions, and those additionally provided by SeaLife's very own Bjorn Harms, helped me in my underwater tests, so I share them here:

Both camera and strobe – clean and inspect gaskets/orings
DO NOT LUBE any of the orings or gaskets

Takes 4 AA batteries

Unlock lock before lifting latch - Be sure and relock latch so that back door of strobe case does not catch on hose/cable or divemaster’s finger and open by itself.

Set pre-flash setting to 0 (for SeaLife camera)
Auto bright setting should be #1 (for SeaLife camera)
Set flash control on back door of flash to “A”

* Note: Easier to open and close back door of strobe than in older SeaLife strobe models. Battery compartment definitely more stable
* Bjorn - Optical cable connection is super easy and cannot be misaligned.

Camera settings:

Top of camera:
Set mode to camera to “camera” for stills of “video” to shoot movies. This control is not accessible through housing! Must be set in camera mode before dive

* Bjorn - You can switch between playback, video and still pictures by pushing the LCD Display button, so you don’t need the slide switch when the camera is in the housing.

Using menu button to immediate right of LCD: SeaLife doesn't advise messing with the ISO setting.

* Bjorn - Just set the camera to Ext Flash mode and the ISO will automatically range between 50 and 100 for sharp Images without the graininess you get from higher ISO.

Set Camera scene to External flash mode

Set WB to Auto

*Bjorn - We don’t suggest fiddling with WB when in Ext Flash mode. The WB Is pre-calibrated to match the color temperature of the flash. In reality, once you set the camera to the external flash mode, the camera sets the iso and wb. If you set the camera scene to ext flash MNL the camera aperture and shutter settings must be manually set to achieve the desired effect.

Lower right of camera back:
Control dial
At top of dial, you can change the focus mode:
To macro (displays flower) 2in to 2ft
* Or infinity setting (displays mountain) 2ft to Infinity
Or standard AF (focus 1 ft to infinity, it says) Does not display an icon – will be blank

*To minimize shutter lag, they suggest setting to infinity. Everything from 1.5 feet will be in focus

On right side of the dial you can also change the flash mode:
*Automatic exposure control with external flash– suggested default for most us pictures - no icon displayed – will be blank

To flash macro (3 ft or less) – flash with flower displayed
Or flash far (beyond 6 ft) flash with mountains displayed
Can set to MNL – press the set button and you get aperture (adjust right or left)
Press set button again and get ss (adjust to the right or left)
Press set again to exit
Aperture only goes 2.7 and 5.3

* Note from Bjorn Harms - The "Macro" flash and "Far" setting will decrease (darken) or Increase (brighten) the camera's onboard exposure program. In other words, you don’t have to select Macro Flash for close-ups - you can keep it in macro flash for the whole dive if you like a slightly darker exposure. This is a short cut to controlling the cameras exposure.

To charge battery:
Leave battery in camera and plug in ac adapter to side of camera.
You should get at least 3 dives, 300 pics/videos, or 3 hours of operation with the long-life battery fully charged. Never change batteries between dives.

A lot more intuitive to change camera settings and easier to work your way around the camera as well for underwater. Easier for the person that wants to point and shoot – set and ignore other than flash control

Note: I left the digital zoom turned off – but you can change it through the menu.

*Bjorn: A few more things to consider.

1) Video: Push one button to switch to video. Take continuous video for as long as you want depending in the memory card. When camera is in Ext Flash mode, and you switch to video, the underwater color correction is automatic, so you don’t need to mess with the WB setting.

2) 3 built-in color correction filters: For non-strobe divers (which represents about 60% of all underwater photographers), the DC800 offers 3 built in color correction filters - Blue Ocean, Green Ocean and Lakes/Rivers.

3) Use up to 16GB SDHC memory card: The DC800 specifications suggest up to 4GB, but we just completed tests with popular brands of SD and SDHC memory cards and that 8GB and 16GB work fine.

4) Big shutter button for easy grip and shooting.


Steve said...

Thanks for a great post with heaps of tips for DC 800 setup. I am brand new to UW photographpy and currently looking to buy a DC800 with the single strobe setup. Trouble is I am conflicted between this and the new Sea & Sea DX 1200. The conflict surrounds purchasing an older 8Mp camera with a strobe vs. new release (DX 1200) 12Mp with HD video but without the strobe. Q - am I better to go with tried and proven 8Mp with strobe or sacrifice strobe (for now - will buy later) for greater res and HD video. Appreciate any guidance you can offer. Cheers Steve

darlene said...

Thanks for the tips!! I did most everything my first time out except the macro flash. Problem; When switching to video mode, in less than 20 ft, the videos were either reddish in color or a few were distorted on 30% of the upper frame. Any suggestions?

darlene said...

Also, all setting set as manual suggests with ext flash. In water less than 20 ft, pics came out reddish in color. Any suggestions?

kava c said...

The DC800 is a disappointment to me. I've been using it now for a month and it has a fundamental flaw -- The edges blur in macro mode, which is where I spend all my time. This effect can be so severe as to destroy what would have been very good shots. Their older cams don't seem to have this problem.

See here for examples.