I've been scuba diving for over 10 years both in the UK and abroad although these days due to lack of time and money my diving has been reduced to squeezing a few dives in when we go on holiday.
Although I wanted to combine my love of photography with my diving I don't dive enough to justify
spending thousands on photography equipment for underwater use but I did want to
have pictures to remind me of my dives without having to hire cameras from dive centres.
The Sealife DC600 turned up on Ebay for £135 which might not seem cheap but underwater housing
for a point and shoot compact camera costs around £200-£300 and you still have the cost of the
actual camera to add to that.
Sealife specialise in making underwater camera equipment this means the cameras are specifically designed for the purpose and can withstand the pressure at up to 60 metres/200 ft underwater.
This means the camera will have no problems coping anywhere upto the recommended recreational
dive limit of up to 40 metres.
This camera is an older model from around 2008 so it only has 6.1 MP but in reality that's all you
really need as the picture quality is good enough to enlarge to A4 size. There's also a video mode
which shoots at 30fps with sound with no time limits on the clips so it can keep running til you run
out of room on the SD card.
The camera has a focal range of 5.5mm-16.5mm with a 3x digital and 4x optical zoom giving a range equivalent to 32-96mm on a 35mm film camera. The DC600 can focus in normal range from 1 foot to
infinity but there's also a macro mode that will focus as close as 2 inches if you can get that close to
The Sealife DC600 is easy to operate underwater the buttons are clear and a good enough size
so using them with gloves on isn't a problem. Like many compact digitals there's no viewfinder
so you rely on the LCD screen for lining up your shots and also for playback or accessing the menus.
The 2.5" screen is bright sharp and clear although there are times when like most LCDs it is difficult to
see in bright sunlight.
When I first bought this like many other owners I initially thought that you couldn't change from
picture to video mode underwater as there's no access to the slider on top of the camera through
the housing and all of the internet pages about the DC600 I read at the time seemed to agree.
Thankfully this turned out to be untrue after asking on a dive forum about this I found out if the
camera is set to sea mode you can change between the picture and video through the on screen
menus so there's no need to use the slider on top of the camera. Unfortunately Sealife never put
this in the instruction manual so most owners and even the dive magazine staff who tested it
thought it couldn't be changed underwater.
The Sealife DC600 is a camera with a removable housing so you could use the camera on it's
own on land if you wanted to. The housing is easy to open and close with a simple hinge and
firm snap closure. You have to check the o ring seal every time before you use the camera
to make sure it's not damaged and it's free from sand or hairs that could break the seal and
leave you with a flooded camera and an empty pocket if you have to replace it!
The camera housing is more rugged than on most separate housings with chunky rubber grip
surrounding the polycarbonate housing it's easy to hold and robust enough to survive the
inevitable knocks it's going to get by getting scuffed against rocks or your dive gear.
Underwater photography brings a whole load of extra problems over land photography while SLR
cameras won't have this problem most compact digital cameras will suffer from some shutter lag underwater due a combination of the camera struggling to auto focus and your movement in the
water. The Sealife does have a very slight shutter lag but not anywhere near as bad as some of the
cameras I've hired or my friends have found on their Canon and Olympus cameras with the added housing.
Shutter lag means the delay between you pressing the button and the camera taking the
picture some compacts are better than others for this. Sadly the fish don't really care and won't
hang around posing for pictures so often you'll find the picture that was showing on the screen of
a fish against a rock as you pressed the button has suddenly turned into yet another picture of a
rock to add to the many others in your collection. Thanks to the Sealife my rock picture collection
is getting smaller and there's definitely more fish appearing in my pics.
Water absorbs light in different wavelengths which is why you see so many dull blue/greyish green
dive snapshots even when the diver was pointing the camera at a colourful reef.
Red is the first colour to gradually disappear at around 15 feet followed by orange and yellow and
the rest of the colour spectrum until you're left with blue, violet and ultraviolet which although
you can't see the ultraviolet it's due to this that fluorescent colours such as neon yellow or pink
can still be seen underwater after red and yellow are long gone. This is probably also the reason
for the horrendous range of neon coloured stripes added to wetsuits a few years ago and also
serves as an excuse for anyone still wearing one.
Although your brain actually compensates for this by fooling you into thinking you can still see the
colours your camera doesn't get fooled so easily and it needs a little bit of help.
As well as the usual land modes the Sealife has 2 underwater auto modes one for use with an
external strobe flash and sea mode which uses the onboard flash and has 2 auto white balance
modes one for depths of up to 25 ft the other for depths over 25 ft and you can also set the white balance manually. These settings hel pkeep a bit of colour in the shots but ideally to get the best
colour in your underwater shots you need to add the external flash strobe.
The progressive colour loss isn't only caused by the depth you are diving it's the total distance the
light has to travel. If you are at a depth of 15 feet and the subject is 5 ft away ambient light from
the surface travels 15 ft depth to the subject then 5 ft horizontally to your camera so a total distance
of 20 ft means instead of an orange red colour your subject is now a grey sludge green in colour and
not nearly as good looking in the resulting picture. The external strobe added to the Sealife camera
will give you more colouful shots but even without the strobe on the right settings the pictures can
still be good if you get close enough to the subject.
Sealife made a strobe flash for this camera which was available as a package deal or separately
we managed to pick one up from Ebay for £75. The strobe not only helps retain the colours
underwater but also helps to eliminate scatter where the floating particles in the water are
illuminated by the camera flash. As the flash sits off to the side higher than the camera you can
illuminate the subject rather than the water between the camera and the subject and reduce the
chance of scatter ruining your pics.
To get the best pictures you need to be as close as possible to the subject and preferably have
the external strobe. Our camera came with the additional wide angle lens which means you can
get close to your subject but also retain some background in the picture. A close up of any
underwater creature looks better if it's surrounded by it's natural environment rather than a
close up shot with no background that could be taken in a sealife centre or taken from a text book.
Some sea creatures are a bit on the shy side when it comes to a diver shoving a camera in their
face the Sealife DC600 comes with an auto shoot spy mode which can be timed to go off at 3,10
and 30 second or 1 and 5 minute intervals. This means you can anchor the camera somewhere
and capture the shy creatures who aren't going to even consider leaving the safety of their home
when there are 3 rubber clad aliens 100 times bigger than them sitting outside waiting for them.
The spy auto shoot is also good for getting shots of you and your dive buddies and you can leave
the camera for a bit either on spy mode or video and explore close by without having your hands full taking shots. Obviously you have to make sure the camera is well anchored and preferably still
attached to you by a line otherwise you'll be abandoning your dive to chase it as it happily floats off
to the surface without its owner.
If you want to take a lot of shots on your dive it's better to dive with another underwater photo enthusiast otherwise your dive buddy will get sick of hanging around while you mess about setting
up shots. Although I take the actual camera with me on every dive for quick snapshots the strobe
makes the unit quite bulky which can get in your way a bit so I now tend to plan a separate dive
while I'm away just for photography and take the strobe as well as the camera.
The new version of this is the Sealife DC1400 which has more features and 14MP this costs around
£460 without the strobe or wide angle adapter. If you can stop yourself joining the pixel race there's plenty of bargains to be had on the older models like the DC600 as people upgrade their cameras in
the never ending chase for extra pixels and features.
Overall I love this camera while the shots might not quite be up to standard for the National Geographic they're excellent for a compact point and shoot camera and perfect for showing your non diving mates what they're missing. The low price and good results make this an ideal choice for anyone looking to get decent photos underwater without spending a fortune and while it doesn't have the manual options or capabilities of an SLR camera it certainly beats many of the compact cameras I've tried underwater both on price and results.