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Today’s scuba divers want to bring images home to show their families and friends the beauty of the underwater world. Simple cameras bring back acceptable snapshots, but to capture the splendor of the underwater environment, you need a camera with manual exposure control, a wide-angle lens with macro capabilities, and a large sensor for better image quality.
The underwater image-maker could choose a DSLR or mirrorless camera with interchangeable lenses, but these systems tend to be expensive and heavy, which translates into extra hassle when transporting and using this gear. There is a new breed of compact point-and-shoot camera, however, which possesses the above features, necessary for underwater photography. The Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX100 III is one of the best of this category.
International Scuba Diving Hall of Fame member Howard Rosenstein is a diving pioneer in the Red Sea. He is an accomplished underwater image-maker and has worked with many top photographers, including David Doubilet, during his early years with National Geographic. In 2002, he took this experience and created Fantasea Line, a company dedicated to making underwater photography affordable and fun. Every year Fantasea Line releases new and inventive gear.
Rosenstein and the designers at Fantasea have hit a home run with the FRX100 III housing, made for the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX100 III. The housing is simple, but chock-full of elegant features with which even the most demanding underwater photographer will be happy.
The FRX100 III is constructed from durable injection-molded polycarbonate, and is rated to a depth of 200'. Because of the grip, it can be held easily in one hand. When you open the housing, you will notice it has double O-ring seals and a moisture detector—uncommon for polycarbonate housings in this price range. You load the camera into the back of the housing and it sits snugly in a cradle. The rotary lock closes the housing securely.
The housing features three mounting holes. The middle one is used with trays that have one screw. When attaching the housing to trays with two screws, use the outside holes. This prevents the housing from swiveling on the tray.
Mechanical controls, including dials and pushbuttons, allow access to all essential camera functions. In manual mode, a front ring controls the aperture and a rear ring the shutter speed. Accessing the rings through the housing is easy, and offers the feel of a DSLR system. The camera has a dedicated video-control button that you can trigger in the FRX100 III, allowing you to start video recording in any shooting mode. The controls on the housing are marked the same way they are on the camera. You should be able to operate your housing blindfolded, but this simple design feature makes the housing easy to use right from the beginning.
Framing your shot is done with the camera’s LCD screen. The housing has a removable anti-glare hood, so you can see the screen, even in bright sunlight close to the surface. The 55mm filter thread on the lens port accommodates accessory conversion lenses and filters.
The less water there is between your lens and subject, the better your images will look. The RX100 III’s built-in 24-70mm (35mm Equivalent) lens will allow you to get close to medium-sized subjects, but keep in mind that everything looks 25% larger and closer underwater. This can be a problem when a whale shark glides by. The Fantasea Line BigEye Wide-angle Lens Kit M55corrects this size distortion, so the camera’s built-in lens will have same angle of view underwater as it does on land; the dome lens has 67mm filter threads and includes a 55mm adapter ring.
The ocean is filled with tiny, interesting creatures you may want to photograph, as well as the whale shark. The RX100 III will focus down to 1.97" (5 cm) at the wide-angle end of the zoom. By adding the Fantasea Line SharpEye Lens Kit M55 + 8 or SharpEye Lens Kit M55 +4, you could magnify tiny subjects with a +8 or +4 diopter.
Unlike interchangeable port housings, the wide-angle lens and close-up diopters can be changed underwater. When not in use, the EyeGrabber Lens Holder M55 can be used to store one of the lenses on a strobe arm.
The warm colors of the spectrum are absorbed through just a few feet of water below the surface. Depending on the location of the body of water in which you are working, images will look blue or green. When shooting with available light, it is possible to use a filter to correct this color cast. For blue water, use the 55mm RedEye Filter and for green water, the 55mm PinkEye Filter—they can be used directly on the housing’s lens port.
LED lights for video and strobes for stills can also correct color and add more drama to your underwater images. Generally, you do not want to use lights and a filter at the same time, particularly in shallower depths in which there is still ample daylight. Using any camera’s built-in flash is not recommended—located close to the lens axis, this could cause a snow-like effect called backscatter. The housing does include a diffuser for the camera’s built-in flash, just in case this is your only option, but your results will usually look better if you light with external flash. The FRX100 III has dual fiber optic ports positioned in front of the camera’s built-in flash, making it easy to add dual strobes.
For the underwater photographer who does not own the Sony Cyber-shot RX100 III camera, B&H sells a kit that includes the housing and camera. Whether you purchase the kit with the camera, or just the housing, in both cases the Fantasea Line LED Nano Focus Light is included—free. The RX100 III’s autofocus functions well underwater, but when it is dark and the scene has low contrast, the camera could use a little help. This is especially true when capturing macro subjects under ledges. The Fantasea Line LED Nano Focus Light has an intensity of about 18,000 mcd, sufficient to help the camera’s autofocus. The light should be attached to the housing’s cold shoe using the Cold Shoe YS Mount. When using slow shutter speeds, most focus lights will cause a hotspot, but not the Nano. This light will turn off for a short time when your flash fires, preventing the focus light from affecting your image.
The Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX100 III camera in the Fantasea Line FRX100 III housing is a great choice for the underwater photographer who wants a well-designed, dependable compact system. This combination will give the image maker control and will help produce quality stills and video.