July 20, 2006

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Under the sea
Darling it’s better down where it’s wetter
By John “jaQ” Andrews  jandrews@hippopress.com

If you’re like reality show competitors the world over, you won’t be able to avoid going scuba diving sometime this summer.

As long as you’re down there, you might as well commemorate the occasion with some photographs, but darn, will your camera work underwater?

No. Don’t even think about it. Dummy.

Unless, that is, you have a specially-made digital camera case specifically made for underwater use. This isn’t just a “waterproof” case or a Ziploc bag. Taking electronic equipment into the blue is a high-stakes game; a tiny breach can spell the end for your investment.

Underwater cases typically look like huge, bubbly, transparent versions of your camera. The vast majority are made for one specific camera model, with watertight joints and indentations or external buttons for controlling the shutter, zoom and menu functions. They’re usually rated for use down to a certain depth — beyond that, water pressure could compromise them.

The first place to look for a case is on the Web site of your camera’s manufacturer. It’ll probably have a list recommended accessories, and if the company makes an underwater case, it’ll be listed there. Olympus and Canon offer a number of their own, while Nikon and Fujifilm make just a few; anyone else and you’re likely on your own.

If your camera vendor doesn’t offer an underwater case, it’s time to go searching online. If your camera model plus the word “underwater” doesn’t bring up any useful results, try just the brand with “underwater.” Many retailers list the compatibility by camera line rather than specific model number.

You might not want to risk your fancy digital camera at all. If all you’re going for is a set of vacation photos, a waterproof case might be too expensive anyway — often, they can cost as much as the camera itself. If you’re willing to give up all the cool features of your painstakingly selected digital, save some money and buy a cheap film camera specially made for going underwater.

The GoPro Submersible camera is 20 bucks, comes preloaded with film and attaches to an included wriststrap. Take it out of the waterproof casing to reload the film. For even less hassle, pick up a waterproof one-time use camera at just about any drug store.

Then again, you might not have to give anything up. A South Korean company called DiCAPac offers a line of supposedly universal waterproof cases for digital cameras. Just the fact that they offer more than one belies the claim of universality, but the compatibility matrix on their Web site (www.dicapac.com) does list an impressive number of compact camera brands and models. The site also offers some delightfully prominent Engrish for your reading pleasure.

I only found one retailer selling DiCAPac’s cases, an online store called GoShotCamera.com. It’ll set you back $34.95 plus shipping, which is cheaper than any custom-fit case. Honestly, I’m skeptical. It’s basically a flat bag with a round extension on one side for the camera’s telescoping lens. The case’s opening folds over several times to form a seal, much like waterproof cargo bags used by boaters. The company recommends putting tissue paper in the case and submerging it before each use; if the paper gets wet, your camera will get wet.

Waterproof cases are also handy for keeping sand away from the lens, LCD screen and delicate motorized parts of your camera. Because a ruined toy is a real bummer on your vacation.

Yes, I do occasionally answer reader letters! E-mail jandrews@hippopress.com.


Comments? Thoughts? Discuss these articles and more at hippoflea.com

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