With the age of digital imaging, nearly every (shallow water) diver can be involved with underwater photography. This review is of a true beginner camera outfit. The Chinese made, SVP Acqua digital outfit includes the camera system and waterproof case for under $100. There are obvious limitations and we'll cover them in this review.
Don't expect professional results with this camera, but you'll be surprisingly pleased with the versatility this little compact outfit provides. With all the features you'd expect to find in popular brand ‘point and shoot' cameras, this compact system will easily fit into your BCD pocket. The specifications are listed after our review comments. Since the factory marketing brochure supplied these, we cannot confirm or dispute them.
First of all, before using this camera… view the enclosed DVD instruction manual provided with the camera. There are many features and settings that you'll need to know before you get out on the water to use your camera system. We've used many different brands and all seem to have some logical settings and some not-so-logical procedures. Like most ‘point and shoot' cameras, there is a delay between pushing on the shutter and having the actual shutter operation. After you become familiar with the operation of the camera and the features you're ready for the underwater part.
Like any housing, you need to keep the housing clean and free from sand or grit that could create a leak. Since the main seal is not really an o'ring, I was very careful to clean the surfaces with a cotton tip (Qtip) and apply some o'ring grease to the surface as well as a thin film on the seal itself. The seal is sort of a wedge shape, so it should provide a good positive pressure seal. The clean part is more for all the little control buttons that allow you to change settings of the camera underwater. We'll get into the best settings we found when using the camera underwater.
When they say the housing is good to 15 meters or around 33 feet, they are not lying. Not that we were trying to flood the housing or anything, but at 60 feet the camera is not operational because the pressure is squeezing the controls and shuts the camera off. At 40 feet, you might get the camera to work, but don't count on changing the settings. At 35 feet the camera seems to work fine with all the features and settings operational. For many divers, this will be too limiting because most of your dives will be deeper than 35 feet. However, keep in mind that the red/yellow/orange end of the spectrum is filtered out beyond this depth too.
The camera and housing combination are well matched and easy to operate. With the clear plastic housing, you can easily see the settings on the camera. Like most digital displays certain angles are more difficult to see, but with the proper shading and angle everything is visible on the 2 inch screen. Even though you can change the lens focal length from wide angle to zoom, we kept the setting on wide angle for the dives during the whole process because of the water. Keep this in mind for all underwater photography; stay close to your subject and use the widest angle possible for better results.
For the still shots, the camera was set for the strobe to fire with each shot. This uses up your batteries faster, but if the subject is closer than 8 feet, you'll have better imaging and color. The best results were our macro shots where we set the camera for ‘close-up' and used the flash. When using the movie mode, you'll be impressed with the sharpness of the images, but don't expect high quality audio. The housing must absorb a lot of the sound as much of the underwater audio is muted. More than likely, you'll edit with some musical background anyway.
The color balance was a little off. We did change the settings according to the instructions and the results were that the color balance was a little on the blue side for topside shots. This was not an issue for the underwater shots as the greenish tint of the water was eliminated. Most of the color balance issues can be handled in the editing phase.
The claim of being 12.0 mega pixels is a little deceiving because this is the ‘hardware interpolation' not the ‘image resolution' which is 5.0 mega pixels. All in all, we were not disappointed in the quality results of the better pictures. However, some of the shots showed camera shake even with the built in flash. This means that the shutter does adjust for the amount of light, so it's important to squeeze the cameral and hold it as still as possible.
We used an 8 GB SD card because we expected to take a lot of video and had ample memory space for two dives. We didn't use the provided USB cable because we use a card reader to our laptop and then back up the memory to a portable hard drive. The power source uses two triple A Alkaline Batteries, so it's not a problem having new batteries for each dive. We didn't use the ‘voice recorder' feature, but from our underwater video experience, it would not be recommended inside the underwater housing.
Now for the bottom line advice on this gear: If you plan to take your underwater imaging seriously, save your money for a more comprehensive system. This could be the perfect outfit for a sport diver that wants to share their diving experience with their friends and family. For less than $100 (prices range from $70-100), not including your SD Memory card or batteries, it is a value. The SVP cameras are available at some dive shops and are directly marketed from several importers online. The next “point and shoot” underwater outfits, without an external strobe, will most likely cost over $500. So, if you are going on vacation and thinking about having your own digital camera outfit for shallow water, this is the answer. Of course, for around $35 at most diving centers you could rent a camera with everything included. Sometimes the choice is not easy, but you can know a lot more from someone who has tested the SVP out. It is a great still and video camera outfit for around the water and underwater to about 35 feet.
Specifications from the Manufacturer:
· Waterproof design: Don't be afraid to take this Aqua camera to the water-even underwater. The waterproof case will protect this camera to depths of 30 feet.
· Very sleek and small camera design
· Takes Pictures, Video, and Audio Clips with it's built in microphone.
· Resolution sensor gives you the option of taking: 5 MP, 3.1 MP, 1.3 MP, and 300K Resolution Images.
· Takes, 12 and 8 MP pictures through hardware interpolation.
· Movie mode: When a picture isn't enough, shoot 640 x 480 (VGA) video, with sound, at 30 frames per second.
· 2.0″ LCD screen: This compact color screen has plenty of room to help you compose your shots.
· Zoom: The 8x digital zoom enlarges pixels to fill the frame with your favorite part of the image.
· Adjustable Flash
· Self timer: 2/10/10+2 Seconds
· Tripod Capabilities
· Onboard White Balance
· Waterproof to 50ft
· 16MP Built in Memory, Takes SD Cards to expand memory.
· Power Source: 2 triple A Batteries
· Time Stamp Options: Off/ Date only/ Date and Time
· Comes with software, hookup via USB 1.1
· Video/TV out supported- Via video out cable.
· Automatic power mode- Prolong batteries life by auto-switching the camera power off.
· Auto Flash, Auto Flash with Red-eye reduction, Slow Sync, Fill-in Flash, Flash off, Auto, Daylight, Cloudy, Fluorescent, Tungsten, Sunset, Custom etc…
· MULTI-LINGUAL INTERFACE 8 Menu Languages including: English, Portuguese, French, German, Spanish, Italian, T. Chinese, and S. Chinese.