There are several areas of photography that I’ve been wanting to get into for a while, but haven’t been able to due to the cost. Drone photography and ocean photography are the two main areas I’d like to explore and while the former is definitely out of my price range, there are ways and means to get involved in the latter.
Now I’ve weighed up various solutions to trying ocean photography. These have included a case for my iPhone and risking water damage on my DSLR by not using any kind of case. The problem is of course that proper waterproof cases for good DSLRs cost thousands of dollars – $3000 at an absolute minimum.
So I’d read about these waterproof packs made by DicaPac and wondered if it was a way to get my DSLR into the ocean for very little outlay. So this Christmas I put one on my list and Santa came through for me.
The product comes in a box with some foam inserts, a strap, a short manual and the case itself. The manual is about five paragraphs long and basically says that you should put some paper inside the case and do a waterproof test before getting it anywhere near water. I did that test in my pool, taking the bag to the bottom of the deep end (a couple of metres down) and the paper stayed dry.
On first inspection the bag itself seems pretty tough. It’s made from very tough plastic with a clear panel on the bag and a lens housing on the front. Getting your camera in and out is not an easy process and it’s something you’ll want to do at your leisure before you head out. I found that the best way to do it was to remove the lens and slide the camera in and then slide the lens in through the lens port on the front. You can leave the lens on and slide it into the bag but it’s quite difficult to manoeuvre the lens around the ‘corner’.
The bag is sealed in two places. Firstly there’s the zip-lock seal that folds over several times on to velcro tabs. Secondly there’s the cover on the lens port. It’s not a simple process to close either of these two areas and, if you’re anything like me, you’ll be checking and double-checking your seals for any possibility of leakage.
I used my backup camera – a Canon 550D – which is fitted with a battery pack. For this reason I did not need any of the foam padding pillows. The height of the pack is such that it fitted perfectly.
Under the Sea
Now it goes without saying, that a $150 bag for your camera is not going to compare favourably with a professionally constructed housing that the likes of Clark Little use. It is essentially a rugged zip-lock bag for your camera and there are many concessions that you need to accept before using one.
The first concession you need to accept is that you’re not going to be changing too many settings on the camera. I found auto-focus to be too hit-and-miss underwater and so set my wide-angle 10-22mm lens to manual and focused to infinity. With regard the other settings on the camera, dials in particular, are very hard to change once the camera’s in the bag. Accessing the menus via the back panel, however, was actually pretty simple. To make matters simple I just set the ISO to automatic, stuck the camera in aperture priority at f/8 and left it at that.
The second concession you need to accept is that there’s a bulbous bag in front of your camera lens and you need to use a lens you can zoom past the port or you’re going to have to always hold the resin cover plate in front of the lens or risk losing half your image to a massive vignette. To be honest, this is a royal pain in the arse and seriously compromises the usefulness of the bag. Perhaps a couple of large rubber bands, wrapped from front to back, would help fix the issue.
I tried the DicaPac in three different locations – my backyard swimming pool, a river and the surf. It admirably coped with the first two situations without any issues, but a had a case malfunction in the surf. It turned out not to be the bag’s fault, but mine however. When I screwed the resin lens port cover on to the bag, it was not threaded correctly and, despite the fact that I tightened it hard, there was a small gap in the thread. When I got the camera out of the surf I realised that water had leaked in – not rivers of water, but enough to trouble my non-waterproof 550D. I had a hell of a time getting the lens port cover back off again as well.
Taking pictures with the camera in the bag is a case of triggering the shutter through a waterproof finger hole. Getting a good angle is a lot harder than it should be because while your trigger finger is hovering over the shutter button, your other hand has to hang on to the baggy DicaPac. It’s very awkward.
Another issue I encountered with the DicaPac was condensation. After a few minutes in the surf condensation started building up on the lens port cover and on the panel on the back. After 10 minutes the lens port had fogged over completely and I was forced to give up for the day. Perhaps the application of spit, toothpaste or liquid soap will fix the condensation, I will have to find out.
Viewing pictures on the LCD screen on the camera is problematic because the clear plastic panel on the rear of the bag is extremely reflective. I found that unless I stooped over the camera and blocked as much light as possible with my body, it was impossible to see anything on the screen.
As to the quality of the images, they were actually pretty good. The resin lens port cover seems to be largely colour neutral and I didn’t notice it having any detrimental effect on my images.
After having spent some time using this pack I have come to the conclusion that it should only be used in calm water. I regularly go snorkelling and I suspect the DicaPac will be admirably suited to glassy water conditions. I do not think I’ll be taking it back into the surf as the swirling water represents too great a danger to the camera. It would also be useful when photographing in adverse weather conditions, such as storm photography.
The big questions is whether this item is worth $150. In hindsight, I’d say not. If you’re in a similar position to me and would like to try ocean photography but don’t have a huge amount of funds then I think that a decent action camera such as the Olympus TG-4 is a far better bet. The TG-4 retails for about $400AUD, has a 16Megapixel sensor, is waterproof down to 15metres, shoots RAW, has built-in GPS and wi-fi and will even take underwater HDRs. I wish I’d put the $150 towards that camera and left my DSLR on dry land where it belongs.