CAMERA Sea & Sea Motormarine III

DIGITAL reigns supreme in the world of modern underwater photography. Or does it I use both a digital and a film camera and both offer professional-quality results. The wet film process and digital imaging will live together side by side for many years yet, just as they do in the movie industry.
     Why Because although digital imaging offers much in terms of reduced material costs and convenient image-processing, a frame of film can still contain far more information than any computer file derived from the image on a tiny silicone chip.
     If youre after what director Ridley Scott calls filmic quality to your shots, you still need to shoot on film.
     Sea & Sea, the Japanese giant of the underwater photographic equipment world, knows this. Its vast colour catalogue of products for 2004 is split between three amphibious film cameras and five submarine housings for film SLRs, and one amphibious digital camera and six submarine housings for digital cameras.
     On the other hand, Nikon has lost interest in the underwater film-user altogether and has finally stopped producing the Nikonos V system 35mm film camera. So Sea & Sea has taken the initiative and stepped into this breach with the Motormarine III.
     Alas, the only mistake it made was with its name. This camera should appeal to the traditional Nikonos user, but the name will forever be associated with less serious cameras. The current user of the familiar yellow Motormarine II is nowadays more likely to go over to a digital camera set-up than stay with film.
     The Motormarine III is a 35mm film camera with a 20mm six-element focusing lens as standard and either aperture-priority automatic, semi-automatic or manual exposure control. It uses a standard five-pin Nikonos-style synch connection, which means that it can be used with a wide range of underwater flashguns Ãnot only those made by Sea & Sea à and it has a motorised film-advance. It is depth-rated to 60m.
     As part of its system, four supplementary wide-angle conversion lenses are available as optional extras. These are the 16mm w/a and 12.5mm fisheye, and two supplementary macro lenses (1:2 and 1:3).
     It offers a range of five shutter speeds to 1/250sec selected by push-button, a dial that makes strobe bracketing simple to achieve, and a built-in targeting light that automatically turns off just before the picture is exposed.
     An LCD panel has a built-in light which turns on for 10 seconds when the shutter-release is depressed slightly, and makes operating the camera in the dark relatively easy.
     Like the Motormarine II, this is a viewfinder-camera in that the user looks through a separate eyepiece rather than directly through the lens, as with an SLR. The viewfinder displays three coloured lights to indicate underexposure (red), flash ready (yellow), and correct flash auto-exposure (green). The camera runs on two AA batteries.
     There are a lot of family resemblances with the Motormarine II. It is bigger and a bit bulkier but its grey body is made of the same kind of plastic, and when you look inside it to load the film, it all looks very familiar.
     Plastic is a sensible material, as it is impervious to the ravages of salt water, but those who expect to get an anodised cast-aluminium body at this price will be disappointed.
     I tried the camera with the Sea & Sea YS60 TTL flashgun. This is an interesting item of kit in that it can be used in TTL mode where a camera allows it, but it also has a range of auto settings to enable it to be used with a number of different digital camera set-ups as well as the Motormarine III.
     It promises to give correct exposure at f/5.6 with ISO100 film in the flash-to-subject range of 30cm to almost 2m.
     The Motormarine IIIs 20mm lens fitted as standard seems like a good idea, because it is wide-angle in comparison to the standard 35mm lens that was supplied with the Nikonos.
     The two supplementary wide-angle lenses give a really wide-angle effect under water and, as any experienced underwater photographer will tell you, this is the secret of clear, sharp pictures. By getting as close to your subject as possible, you reduce the amount of water in the way, and its the non-optically clear water that destroys image quality.
     Wide-angle lenses allow you to do that. Close-ups are even easier. These supplementary wide-angle lenses are designed to be mounted and dismounted from the camera while youre under water.
     To get an aperture-priority automatic mode, you simply hold in the shutter-speed selection button for more than two seconds. The camera will try to give you the right shutter-speed to go with the lens aperture you have selected.
     If it cannot, because the aperture is too small for the slowest shutter-speed, the red light will show in the viewfinder when you depress the shutter-release slightly.
     I was slightly disappointed at first that the lens focus had only two positions - close-up and far. However, once I got my head round the fact that these are two positions for the hyperfocal distances at the widest lens apertures, I stopped worrying about what I first saw as a lack of precision.
     It may not have the ease of use of a state-of-the-art 35mm SLR in a housing, but the Motormarine III still gives the user the chance to take top-quality shots for less of a financial outlay than the former would entail.
     Taking successful pictures with this camera needs a lot more attention to detail than with a modern compact digital camera, too, but should you be lucky enough to photograph something that makes a saleable image, you will avoid the frustration of having nothing but a low-resolution jpg to offer.
The basic Motormarine III costs £467, or £667 complete with YS60 TTL flash. A 15mm wide-angle lens costs £154 and macro lenses £96 and £115.

  • Sea & Sea 01803663012, www.sea-sea.com

  • Divernet
    + A good-quality system camera that uses film

    - Not completely exposure-automatic