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Underwater compact camera review

Fuji FinePix F80 EXR | Fuji WP-FXF80 housing

Equipmment review

Canon Ixus 130

The camera | The Fuji Finepix F80 compact is a thing of beauty - it's coated in a shiny metallic, rich burgundy colour and is smooth to touch but has buttons that sit slightly proud of the body along with some raised dots so you can feel what you are doing without having to look at the camera as you use it - great for spontaneous shooting.

The camera size is 99.3 mm x 58.9 mm and it weighs just 183 grams. It's not the smallest of small, but I feel this is advantageous as the buttons are a realistic size and you can see the symbols on them. Physically, this is an easy to use camera and that, along with the tactile feel, definitely makes it an object of desire. It certainly got noticed a lot on our last trip!

Using the camera on land was great fun - it has a large range of pre-set programmes that are very useful. The night and low-light programmes are incredible and the Pro-light setting (which takes a sequence of four shots and merges them together to give good detail) is great. It's meant to be used motionless, but you can get some interesting effects shooting people or other moving objects. There is a preset underwater programme as well as the option to take manual white balance readings but only on photos. The lens focal length runs from 5.0-50.0 mm, equivalent to 27-270 mm on a 35mm camera. The image quality is extremely good at 12 mega pixels and even at full zoom, results are mostly clear and sharp.

The housing | Produced by Fuji to specifically fit this camera, this is a chunky item. Depth rated to 40 metres, like the camera itself, it is a lovely thing - substantial, solid and well made. My favourite feature is the double o-ring system with one o-ring on the rear door and one on the inside of the housing, a true belt-and-braces bit of design ideal for people (like me!) who don't want to work too hard at looking after things.

The other great feature is the way the housing opens and shuts using a rotating dial that slides into position as it closes and then has a small lever that locks the housing shut. This is a solid, sturdy housing that is reassuring and easy to operate.

The downside of the housing (for me) is that it is too big to slip into my BC jacket pocket, measuring nearly 10 cm from front to back while the camera is only 3 cm. This is to allow for use of the long telephoto lens, which I never did use underwater.

Colour and exposure tests

Photos | Using this camera underwater is easy but does have it's limitations. Note that I did not test it with an external light source, only the integral flash.

The flash on the camera is located to the side so, although the light spread is good, it is uneven (refer to the porcelain crab image, far right). This would be easy to correct with a small strobe of some sort. If you do want to add a strobe, there is a hotshoe on top of the housing to make that easy.

LOCATION: Bali, Indonesia
DIVE SITE: Seraya Bay
DEPTH: 18 metres
SETTINGS: Auto with integral flash

LOCATION: Lombok, Indonesia
DIVE SITE: Secret Garden
DEPTH: 22 metres
SETTINGS: Macro with integral flash

Also, although this camera can focus on tiny subjects just 5 cm away, the shape of the housing means a shadow is cast if you use the internal flash. Images taken at 30-50 cm from the subject are much better (urchin and seagrass, right).

Another option is to set the custom white balance and not use the flash, or to try using both at once. The coral image (far right) was taken from about one metre and used both the flash and manual white balance.

LOCATION: Lombok, Indonesia
DIVE SITES: Gili Layer
DEPTH: 6 metres
SETTINGS: Macro with integral flash

LOCATION: Lombok, Indonesia
DIVE SITES: Gili Ringgit
DEPTHS: 20 metres
SETTINGS: Integral flash & white balance

Videos | Both HD and low-res options worked well on land, but sadly, this camera does not allow manual white balance on video. The preset underwater white balance performs fairly well in the top 10 metres, but isn't optimised to cope with long distances or depth.

Note that QuickTime lightens a movie when it optimizes for internet.

This movie shows the clips as they were shot, with no corrections using software.

This movie shows the same clips but after using Apple iMovie to correct the colours.

More information and similar cameras are on the FujiFilm website.

There is no doubt about it, I like Fuji compact cameras. I have been the proud owner of a Fuji FinePix F50 for some time and have been very happy with it. What's best for me is that they are sturdy, well built cameras – an important consideration if you do as much travelling as we do and if you have a tendency to be a little clumsy. Sad to say, but most of my stuff does hit the deck a little bit too often.

Despite the lack of manual white balance on video, I still loved the newer Fuji FinePix F80 EXR camera. It was fun to use and easy to play around with. The focus is quick, the programme options are a bonus and the build quality - especially of the housing - is superb. For someone who is willing to add a flash and mostly wants to use it underwater for stills, it would be a great camera to own.

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