Sunday, March 21, 2010

DiCAPac Waterproof Camera Case Review

I went kayaking with several people today and they all commented on my DiCAPac waterproof camera case. The concept is great - make a clear plastic bag that is triple sealed so it is waterproof at up to 30 feet! You can use it for snorkeling and maybe even scuba diving. For kayaking, the DiCAPac also works well; there is no worrying about water splashing onto the camera and ruining it. Plus, the DiCAPac bag traps air and makes the camera float so you don't have to worry about dropping it into the lake and seeing it disappear forever.

I started the search for waterproof camera equipment with waterproof cameras.  I already have several digital cameras so I was looking for one that I would mostly use for kayaking or occasionally for snorkeling. A camera for this purpose would have to be relatively inexpensive, maybe around $100 or $125 dollars. I was also open to the idea of a nice camera that I would use for everyday shots but can also be used in water. For this I was roughly willing to pay up to $200.  However, I researched the top waterproof cameras but none has all the features that I wanted.

I wanted a waterproof camera that is
  1. Reasonably priced - for something that will be submerged in water and has a high risk of being damaged, I didn't want to spend hundreds of dollars and sudden find it with water damage
  2. Takes good pictures - the lower priced ones don't take good pictures according to Amazon reviews.  The one costing three hundred dollars takes good pictures, but it costs three hundred dollars. It is also bulking.
  3. Guarantee to be waterproof - reviews have said that the camera companies are not willing to replace damaged waterproof cameras, probably because they operate in dangerous environment for electronic equipment - underwater.  Some of these underwater cameras require an annual replacement of the waterproof seal which cost about $50 - too much ongoing expense.
  4. Waterproof depth - the lower cost camera are only waterproof to 10 feet, which doesn't have enough margin of error to make me feel comfortable
The FujiFilm Finepix Z33WP

This is the cheapest camera of the bunch, but the reviewers say that it doesn't take good pictures. This the equivalent of a point-and-shoot camera. I guess that if I wanted a marginal point-and-shoot camera, I might fork out around a hundred dollars for this, but I wanted to have a good camera.  A huge turn off was that the video capture take a few seconds to start after you press the button. A few seconds may sound like a small number, but in reality, it is the difference between actually capturing the moment or missing it.  Another big minus is that it is only waterproof to 10 feet. This means that if I accidentally drop it in the pool and it sinks to the bottom, I can kiss my $120 good buy.

Olympus Stylus Tough 8000

What I've read about in the reviews of the Olympus Stylus Tough 8000 says that it is slow. I've had an Olympus digital camera before, and yes, the shutter delay is huge.  It was impossible to take kid pictures with it because I never ended up taking a picture with the kid in it! By the time the camera shoots, the kid has moved away.

Pentax Optio W80

The issues with the Pentax Optio W80 is that it has no built-in image stabilization, which is pretty much a standard feature in modern cameras.  Without it, you would need to hold the camera really still to take a picture or have it come out fuzzy. For a $175 camera, you would expect to have image stabilization.

Panasonic Lumix DMC-TS1

With a camera at this price range, the photo quality is getting in the good range. However, for an expensive camera, the waterproof depth is only 10 feet.  That is not practical at all. According to the specification, if I go snorkeling and I want to dive down to take a close look at a coral, this camera will start leaking!

Canon PowerShot D10

Finally, the Canon PowerShot D10 is the Cadillac of the bunch. It has good picture quality and is waterproof to 33 feet. The reviews are mostly positive. However, it is bulky - not something that can fit into the pant pocket inconspicuously. And it's expensive.  Did I mention that it's expensive? 

Back to the DiCAPac waterproof camera bag

So here I am, without a good choice for a camera that can be used around or in the water.  Out of a whim, I decided to search for a camera bag that is waterproof, and I found the DiCAPac. The name is really awful but the quality of the case is good. I use it with an old Sony camera and it is working well. I tested splashing water onto it with no problems.  I tested trying to squeeze the air out of the bag after it's been sealed and no air leaked out. I assume this mean no water will leak in.

There are a few annoying issues with using the DiCAPac camera case.
  1.  While it is easy to push buttons through the clear plastic , it is really hard to turn dials. My Sony camera has a dial for changing functions, and it takes a lot of effort to change from photos to video. This is not a deal-breaker, just a minor annoyance.
  2. When I turn on the camera, I have to be careful to make sure the camera lens come out directly into the lens area in the bag.  If the lens is stuck, the camera will retract the lens and turn itself off. This can translate into a lost moment.
  3. When taking a picture, I have to make sure that the camera is fitted in the center of the DiCAPac. If it is not in the center, either the flash will get blocked or the camera will take a picture with dark corners, like shooting from inside of a tunnel. See the photo below for an example of this - note the lower left hand corner. Avoiding the dark corners takes some practice. I have gotten a system where I pinch the left side of the bag to make sure the camera is not too far the left.  This could be a problem if I wanted a passerby to take a picture of me.
Despite the issues, the DiCAPac appears to be a workable solution, especially given that it is very inexpensive and has a waterproof depth of 33 feet. By putting an old camera into this waterproof bag, I won't be too saddened if somehow the bag leaked and I damaged the camera. In the mean time, I am still waiting for that ultimate waterproof camera that is inexpensive, takes great pictures, and is waterproof beyond what I can reasonably dive.

Here are some underwater picture I took with a Sony DSC-P200 enclosed in my DiCAPac case at Kealakekua Bay (also known as Captain Cook's Monument) on the Big Island of Hawaii. The pictures have gone through some color and sharpness adjustments using a photo editor.

In the following picture, notice that a part of the DiCAPac was blocking the lens. This happens quite often. I have learned to pinch the DiCAPac bag on the left side of the camera to sort of center the camera in the bag. This works pretty well when I was taking pictures in a leisurely manner, however, when I needed to move quickly, I usually forget to center the camera in the DiCAPac.

On my trip, I pretty much had the camera in the DiCAPac whenever I go near water, be it on a kayak, on the beach or in a pool.

When the DiCAPac is taken out of the water, some water droplets remain on the lens cover. It makes some weird fogging effect and sometimes I had to repeat several shots in order to get one without the droplet.  Here is an example of the droplet on the DiCAPac:

Another issue is when I ask someone else to take a picture of us, I have to teach the person to pinch the DiCAPac bag in the correct places to center the camera.

You may be wondering if the camera ever got wet inside the DiCAPac. The answer in no. I didn't feel any sort of dampness at all when I remove the camera from the DiCAPac after being underwater. I took care each night to keep the DiCAPac open all night to make sure there is no accumulation of moisture.

With all its shortcomings, the DiCAPac has been a good investment. Instead of paying hundreds of dollars for a mediocre underwater camera, I just put my regular digital camera in the DiCAPac. Without it, I would not have been able to capture some amazing moments.

Kevin T
Inflatable Kayak Report

1 comment:

  1. thankyou for your review!
    I'm just about to buy one of the cases now! :)