Housing Sea & Sea DX100 submarine housing

IS FILM DEAD Is everyone using digital imaging now Hardly. Film still rules when it comes to the image resolution demanded by published professionals.
     Unless, that is, you count those who use digital backs that fit on Hasselblad cameras, and have the support staff standing by for the time-consuming task of downloading and storing images. Or newsmen for whom time and the telephone wire are more important than quality.
     Its for the same reason that cinema features are shot on film rather than video - the final image quality. Thats not to say that these images are not digitised later.
     When it comes to amateur snaps, however, the digital camera has blown away film just as video blew away 8mm cinÃ. Digital cameras are becoming as common in the hands of those taking pictures under water as any of the cheaper viewfinder-type amphibious cameras were, but they are still not good enough for serious quality stuff.
     I can already hear some underwater photography buffs spluttering into their tea-cups. What rot, they say.
     Heres my reasoning. First, theres the lack of spontaneity. Viewfinder-type digital cameras are too slow to gather action shots and tend to miss what a single lens reflex camera can grab.
     Second, light is light, whether gathered digitally or chemically. I still believe that you need to take some white light down with you, and that usually comes in the form of a flash. There seem to be all sorts of problems with flash and digital, including effective exposure-control and synchronisation.
     The popular new Nikon D100 is the first serious SLR available at what I would call a floodable price. Its the digital equivalent of the Nikon F80, and submarine-housing manufacturers are rushing to produce a housing for it.
     However, the D100 will not give auto TTL exposure control with flash, and it uses an image-gathering area a lot smaller than the full 35mm film frame. This means that your wide-angle lenses will give only around two-thirds of your accustomed camera angle. And wide-angle lenses are essential unless you take only macro shots, when your 60mm lens effectively takes on the angle-of-view of a 90mm.
     Theres another thing. At its highest definition setting with a 512Mb memory card, the D100 will gather only 28 high-definition TIFF images before it needs to be downloaded to a PC. With the standard Compact flash card it takes only seven shots.
     How many Kodak-moments will you miss while you go through and delete shots to make space for what you hope will be better ones during a dive
     The way to go would seem to be to use RAW NEF files and save them onto a 1Gb IBM microdrive. You can save more than 100 shots, but need to read them on your computer using Adobe Photoshop software, with the plug-in provided with the camera.
     And how useful are those images Not very for the professional, because the file sizes are too small. They are just about good enough to reproduce across a full page of a typical magazine but, at least at 300dpi, they will not stretch to a double-page spread.
     But most of the pictures in Diver take up less than half a page, you say. Sorry, I want to know that if I take a shot thats worthy of a 64-sheet poster (and Ive done a few in the past), it will be of good enough quality. I dont want to disqualify myself from that chance before I even drop into the water.
     Also, magazine art editors without exception want the option to use only a small part of the frame. They rarely want to use a picture the way the photographer cropped it. They have their own ideas. So definition is very important.
     If the pictures you take are only for you, for personal print-outs or projection, or your ambitions for the use of your photographs are less, the Nikon D100 could be for you. And youll get 10 times as many pictures per load in JPEG form.
     Having heard my reservations about the D100s ability as an underwater tool, you may not want to read what I have to say about the Sea & Sea DX D100 housing, but here goes.
     I have used a Sea & Sea housing for the Nikon F(N)90X for some years and been extremely pleased with the results. I especially like the edge-to-edge sharpness afforded by the large-diameter dome port available for use with wide-angle lenses, and I looked forward to trying this DX housing for the D100.
     My first impression was that, instead of producing a fit-like-a-glove cast-aluminium clamshell, Sea & Sea had gone over to a mixture of heavyweight ABS and polycarbonate plastic, in a massive rectangular box.
     It measures around 22 x 21 x 13cm, not including handles, and weighs nearly 9kg out of the water (the spec sheet says 3kg), and thats without camera or any regular Sea & Sea lens port fitted.
     It has a characteristically simple route for its big O-ring, something that can help prevent you flooding it, and it is closed with four cam-catches.
     All the camera controls are accessible and linked mechanically to the camera, which sits precisely by sliding onto a mounting on a special tray, and is locked in place by a cam-lever. There are two flash bulkhead connectors.
     I am used to shooting a 36-exposure roll of slide film, using two flashguns, with everything set to TTL automatic exposure control, bringing the film back and receiving 36 perfectly exposed frames from the lab a couple of hours later. Any successes are down to those marvellous designers and technical wizards at Nikon.
     With the digital D100 camera, I had to do a lot of fiddling about. I had to take a shot, view it, make adjustments to the flashgun settings, and shoot another. The problem arises because there seem to be no underwater flashguns dedicated to the D100 in TTL mode, so I had to resort to manual exposure mode.
     Why is this When you fire off a photo with a Nikon film SLR, the camera measures the flash and turns it off when its had enough. With a digital camera, it needs to make several pre-flashes to assess the exposure. If youve seen someone using a digital camera in low light, youll know that it looks like a regular blitzkrieg. But none of the serious underwater flashguns I possess will do this, and that means taking a picture and assessing the result yourself.
     Im not used to operating so many controls and having to make so many decisions with a camera while diving. Its OK in the studio with an inanimate subject, but under water the wildlife tends to bugger off in the meantime.
     The LCD monitor sucks up battery power, too, so I was reluctant to use it too much. It takes some two hours to recharge the camera.
     So its not the housing I dislike, bulky though it is, but the lack of automation in the image-gathering process. The flash problem takes us back to the days of the Nikonos III and manual flashguns.
     This camera can be tweaked to take passable shots without flash, and some say that photographs so obtained are more realistic. So what I want my images to be vibrant with colour, not like what it looks like down there. I need the colour of my own white light shone through as little water as possible.
     Digital fans argue that you can adjust everything later with Photoshop. How labour-intensive! I recently shot 900 pictures on one trip, but this way I would never get them all adjusted before I went off on my next one.
     Whats more, the LCD monitor did not give a true rendering of the subjects. By the time I had the images rendered in Photoshop on the big boys computer at the office, we found that they were all about one and a half stops dark. So much for fiddling about to get it right.
     Film can cost a lot. Once you have bought the camera, and assuming that you have a suitable computer for image storage, digital imagery is seductively economical.
     However, the D100 costs around three times the price of the F80, the equivalent film camera. When you flood it - and everything gets flooded at some time - the price difference will account for quite a few rolls of film.
     Storage and accessibility to the images is another matter. I can pull out a sheet of 36 frames of film from my library of more than half a million filed images, scan it by eye and know whats on it in a moment. No PC is yet that fast.
     So my review of the Sea & Sea DX D100 camera housing has been coloured by my disappointment about what goes in it, and the need for complicated controls to view as you go.
     Digital photography may be the future, but for serious underwater photography that future isnt here yet. When it is, I will be using it.
     If you have yet to buy a digital SLR, I suggest that you stick with film until the problems I mention have been solved, or risk taking a technological step backwards.
     Meanwhile, Im not unhappy to see so many underwater photographers seduced into using digital cameras. It removes much of the competition for the sale of publishable pictures!
     The Sea & Sea DX D100 submarine housing for the Nikon D100 costs £1250. A lens port costs from £200 extra. The Nikon D100 costs around £1500 plus some £600 for a Nikon lens.

  • Sea & Sea 01803 663012, www.sea-sea.com

  • Divernet
    The Sea & Sea housing carries the full set of digital controls for the Nikon D100
    The simple O-ring route minimises the risk of flooding
    + Some photographers will envy you

    - Our art director will not be one of them!