SeaLife DC 2000 Review

Mar 02, 2017

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Introduction

Last week I received SeaLife DC 2000 from Sea Life Indonesia, along with its underwater housing, Sea Dragon Universal Flash, Single Tray, Super Macro Lens, DC Fisheye Wide angle lens (and dock), plus an Ergonomic Grip, a  Flex Arm and a cold shoe mount.

I’ve been testing it throughout the Northeastern coast of Bali, including Amed, Tulamben and Kubu.

At this point I feel like doing a personal review on what I believe the equipment is all about, what I liked and disliked. For a technical review, please go to Sea Life webpage. You’ll find all the data you want. I’ll just focus on how it works for me, and what I’d use it for, so I divide it on 3 main sections and overall conclusions:

 

1 – Sealife DC2000 out of water: 

Manual mode

DC 2000 is a fixed lens (31 mm, full frame equivalent), waterproof (-18m), shockproof (1m) enthusiast digital camera.  On shooting stills, it can work through several user  modes, or completely manual, which was how I had it often. There are many modes available, but what they can possibly do is automatise what you can do for yourself on manual. I believe my choice of settings is more “enlightened” than a mindless computer, so I prefer to do it myself. The only auto feature which

No Auto ISO

I would happily use (auto ISO), isn’t yet available, on manual mode, in this firmware version. Hope it comes with the next one.

On manual mode, Aperture, Speed and ISO are always on display, and accessible through the OK button. ISO adjustment was chosen as a shortcut to stay with the other 2. They were always easy and fast to adjust, as they should.

Low Light

All cameras in the world do a good job on static subjects and good light conditions. This one still excels on less than poor light situations.

Jemeluk bay by night.

On shooting this night, long exposure shot, with a nearly wide open diaphragm, I found no coma, no chromatic aberrations, and excellent corner sharpness –  Bravo!

Autofocus

Autofocus isn’t supersonic but just fast enough for most circumstances, just as you’d expect on a camera within this price range (700 USD, including UW housing).

Tracking focus is solely made for you to focus and recompose, when your main subject is away from the center of the frame. (as you cannot select a focus area).

Raw files

Raw (DNG) files have 40 MB, if using the 3:2, 20 megapixel, mode. Plenty of data to deal with on post production, which can cover for small exposure / white balance mistakes. If you’re good on Photoshop, or any post processing software, you’ll be happy. (There is no automatic lens correction, so far, either on DXO Optics or Adobe Camara Raw. Hope it comes, one day.)

Jemeluk Bay panorama

Panorama mode

Panorama mode is restricted to Jpeg automatic shooting, and you have several options (120, 180 or 360 degrees from left or right, up or down)  It requires a tripod for good results. I did several attempts to shoot  his Jemeluk Bay panorama and the best horizon I could get, handheld, was this one. Still, if you need to shoot panoramas, with moving subjects, and you have a good tripod head, this feature may come handy.

Timelapse

There is a time lapse video function, where jpg 16:9 images are shot and combined onto a 10 fps movie.

Flash

Flash usage is limited to on and off (no ttl or power regulation), which deters from the whole purpose of the camera: being a beginner / intermediate introduction to more advanced shooting. It’s useless for a beginner and requires good knowledge of the triangle aperture / speed / iso to be successfully matched with ambient light.

Its usage is far from simple: As there is no communication between the camera its internal flash (apart from triggering it), exposure preview cannot “guess” how the picture will come out –  so  it acts as if there was no flash, darkening the screen just before taking the shot: something rather inconvenient as you cannot check framing or focus just before shooting.

Video

On video, it does a very good job. Image stabilisation really works as you can check out on the footage taken from a moving van in the beginning of this video.

Colours are lively and accurate, and white balance is easy to set manually. Be aware that video shooting, apart from white balance, is fully automatic – no aperture or shutter settings. DC 2000 shoots max. full HD at 60 fps which is enough for what’s intended for: social media small productions. My MacBook Pro, using Final Cut Pro and Compressor, dealt easily with its files, on a smooth workflow.

Focusing can be a problem: It’s somehow “safer” to focus before filming, rather than let the camera refocus while doing it. Otherwise, you may loose the main action. However, focusing in advance is a bit of trial and error. The screen is too small to check for sharpness, and no zooming is available. If you aren’t shooting close ups, lock the focus on infinity (yes, it can be done), and have fun!

 

2 –Sealife DC2000 underwater:

The housing itself feels good on your hand. I tested  it until -40m and the buttons work and don’t get stuck. They are big enough to be used with thin gloves. It’s also nice that they are clearly identified, for a fast and smooth operation. The rig is sturdy and ergonomic. The ability to press a button and remove and arm is very useful when you want to hand hold the strobe.

On shooting close focus wide angle shots like this one, with a single strobe, you may want to detach it and the arm, from the tray. Holding it in your arm and stretching it up, will create a wider beam and may avoid backscatter. SeaLife DC2000, Fisheye lens and Sea Dragon Universal Flash, full power. 1/100, f.4, ISO 125. (White balance and backscatter removal done on post processing.)

On a perfect world, the shooting / focusing button should be a lever. The photographer would then be able to feel when he’s locking focus and when actually shooting. On most circumstances it wasn’t a problem, though.

Sealife DC2000 coupled to my standard rig for wide angle, as a backup camera. It came really handy while diving the Kubu shipwreck (-16 / -36m), where some problem at depth prevented my big camera from shooting video.

Also a photo from the same dive. I coupled DC2000 with the 2 Subtronic Nova strobes through optical cables and it worked perfectly. (White balance and slight cropping were done on post processing).

Wide angle: 

I’ve been mostly an UW macro shooter on the last years. However, I have to say this camera brought me back to shooting wide angle, and close focus wide angle. Reason why? It’s easy and the results are satisfying. I can’t praise enough the manual white balance. Also, the camera easily  captures the correct one from just shooting the sandy bottom. Way better than red filters!

Beware that no camera in the world can guess where the reds should be if they simply aren’t there. Use white balance on good visibility until, maybe,15m depth. Below that, either shoot some sort of monochromatic blue and white, or get powerful strobe / video lights. White balancing at depths create weird purple halos and effects. Avoid it!

Jemeluk Bay in and out of water video. Keeping some consistency on the sea water colour requires setting white balance multiple times. That’s something unthinkable for other point and shoot video camera and red filters. With SeaLife D2000 it’s fairly easy to do.

I was immensely pleased to come out of water at nearly 18:30, from a dive in Tulamben (USAT Liberty shipwreck) and see the quality of the footage on really low light. (Go to SeaLife DC2000 – USAT Liberty Wreck video – from second 2:40). The huge sweetlips is incredibly sharp despite being filmed at dusk.

Sea Life Fisheye Wet lens

Every rose has its thorn, and shooting underwater with Sealife D2000 has its share:

– I found no way of successfully using macro focus setting with the fisheye lens (as the user manual recommends). So, I ended up sticking to normal focus. That could be have been more consistent (specially on low light videos), as it also created an enormous shutter lag. The best way to work around this issue is prefocus to a similar distance. You then  keep the button half pressed and shoot as you see the action coming.

– Corner softness can be a huge problem with the Fisheye Wide Angle Lens. If you need sharp corners, frame to crop. With 20 megapixels, you’ll still have many usable ones.  At 19 mm full-frame equivalent, the fisheye lens is not wide enough to allow getting close in some circumstances. I use both the Sigma fisheye 15 and Nikon 16-35, , for wide angle shotson full  frame. These 3 or 4 mm in difference can be immense, specially if you need to use artificial light on big subjects. As you need to increase your distance you also need to increase power. It can be good, however, for fish portraits and medium size subjects.

Jemeluk bay split shot.
I knew I was pushing the limits of this rig, but the result came out pleasant. It is, however, very visible both the corner softness and distortion (the image is still cropped), and the chromatic aberration between the forest and the sky. It didn’t prevent it to be very popular on Facebook, once I posted it. Moral of the story: yes, for pixel peepers the images are no technically perfect, but it shows the place fairly accurately and people love it.

– Chromatic aberrations and ghosting are a bit too much for what expected from the fisheye lens –  beware of backlit shooting!

– As I already mentioned  in the previous section, once you use the flash, it turns on some auto white balance mode. That is often too warm (yellow / greenish). It can be corrected on post processing (as it was, on all shots displayed in here).  Somehow it limits the usage of the camera on a simple workflow. You will need to process the images taken with flash.

Macro:

It’s certainly doable for static subjects or predictable ones, like the nemo image.

Here I could predict the nemo movement, so I pre focused and waited until it passed by to fully press the shutter button. I used a very small aperture for increased depth of field.
SeaLife DC2000, 2 X Subtronic Nova, 1/250, f.9, ISO 125. Image is cropped and white balanced on post-processing.

Again, the big DNG files allow fine tuning the white balance,  chromatic aberrations (not so noticeable as the ones produced by the fish eye lens) and, of course, cropping. Images can be crisp and sharp. However, if you use the flash the darkening exposure preview issue is a big handicap. It limits focusing, making it hard to get consistent results. I would recommend using continuous light (Sea Dragon Duo 5000, for instance)  for easiness and consistency. If you main interest underwater is to shoot macro, with strobes… If you expect to get results straight out of the camera, it may not be your best option.

 

3 – Conclusions:

I found SeaLife DC2000 to be a very versatile camera, and a perfect company for holidays, specially if there are water activities involved. With this pack, you’ll be good to go for family photos everywhere. You’ll be good to go, from the snowing days at the mountain, to the summer days by the pool or by the beach. Also if you want to get started on underwater photography, this rig is a good option. You can start exploring the worlds of video, wide angle and even macro still shooting, and. On the latter two, you can even control all parameters manually. Also, all accessories work smoothly and, being all the same brand, it’s easier to get help.

It’s also a good tool for dive centers for renting or to take footages of the student progression. Its basic use is pretty much self explanatory. Therefore, everyone can start having decent results from the start. The excellent low light performance guarantees that you’ll have usable images regardless of the sea conditions or time of day. That can be very important.

 

Pros:

  • Easiness to use: labeled buttons, intuitive menus, fast access to the most needed functions.
  • Shockproof and waterproof camera (-18m) and  housing (-60m): prevents most user mistakes that could result on flooding and allows usage on almost every imaginable situation.
  • optical image stabilisation: allows shooting handhold without an expensive gimbal.
  • Large DNG files: allow adjustments in post processing.
  • Excellent low light performance.
  • Good optics from the camera itself.

 

Cons:

  • There is no manual focus (autofocus can be slow on low light situations, increasing shutter lag)
  • Flash power cannot be regulated, nor there is a TTL mode. An external flash needs to be used on manual, which can be an advanced feature, for a common user.
  • White balance cannot be set in flash mode.
  • N manual settings on video mode (apart from white balance)
  • Poor corner sharpness / ghosting / focusing when using fisheye lens.
  • Exposure preview is useless if using flash and prevents accurate focus / framing.

Special thanks to:

SeaLife Indonesia – www.facebook.com/SeaLifeIndo

Bali Loisirs Dive – 1 www.facebook.com/BaliLoisirsDive1

Rita Cabral –  www.myelephantfish.com

Beten Enjung Homestay – http://betenenjung.blogspot.co.id


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