One Stop Diving, Koh Tao gave us a challenge “go out and test this little camera and tell us what you think, see of you can break it” said Kieran "but seriously please don't".
Well as is my want I don’t do things in a little way, I went out and shot everything I possibly could and then got other people to have a go too. Please bear in mind this review is completely non- scientific and subjective just a fun look at a new tool.
The camera that we were testing was the Sea Life MicroHD+, the major feature of this camera apart from the fact that is a action cam is that it is also that it is permanently sealed meaning there is zero chance of getting a stray hair or piece of grit stuck in an o-ring and flooding the darn thing or any need for replacing broken housings etc. This could potentially make it an ideal rental for a dive operation.
My initial reaction was well its an action cam - how good can it be in the water? And yes whilst it has the limitations of most action cams in their basic form underwater there are some great features too.
What comes in the box?
The Sealife Micro HD+ Underwater Camera (we had the 32GB version), A wrist Strap, a wall charger with USB plug, a usb adaptor, a series of international plug adaptors, a usb cable, a camera pouch , the warranty and the instruction manual. We where also provided with the optional accessory a “selfie stick” the Sealife Aqua Pod.
What does the Sealife marketing say?
[one_half last="no" class="" id=""]Permanently sealed and flood proof with no water proof door and o-rings to maintain. Fully rubber armored and shock resistant.
Well its design is just that, a single unit looking somewhat like and off road tyre (in my humble opinion) which certainly gives you the impression that it is rugged and durable. Sealife developed the set of principles which underpin the rugged rubber armoured of the Micro HD+ system way back in 2003, they have just perfected it in this mini version. The beauty of this little thing is it sits in its rubber casing which never opens, there is one access point to download and charge your device; all you need to do is pull out a little cover that covers the “waterproof usb contacts” you attach a usb adaptor (when it is completely dry) plug it into your computer and down load your images or footage. If you want to charge it you simply plug it into a computer again or use the wall charger with usb plug. All extraordinarily simple. I found, the only problem I had with this was remembering to swap out the adaptor for charging for the protective cover before I went diving and although it says the usb port is fully water proof - extensive exposure to water did caused salt build up and made achieving contact problematic. This was easily solved by a quick cleaning but having the rubber cover in place for a dive makes life easier.
13 mega pixel Still images and full 1080p HD video
13MP (140° Super wide 4:3),
10MP (130° Wide 16:9),
7MP (Super wide 4:3),
4MP (Super wide 4:3),
2MP (Super wide 4:3).
and Video can be recorded at 1080p 30fps, 720p 60fps, 720p 30 fps, 240p 120 fps and 240p -240 fps This is captured by a 14 MP1/2.3” CMOS sensor in a MPGEG4. h264 (.mp4) format.
Wireless sharing to your smart phone or tablet.
This is so simple you just need the free Action Cam HD app on your smart phone and bob’s your uncle your away. the instructions in the manual talk you though set up easily.
140 degree fish eye lens, Instant focus lens from 12in / 30cm to infinity
The focal length is 3.5m which sounds ridiculous but in relation to a 35mm sensor or film this would be the equivalent of a 20mm lens with a fixed aperture of 2.8. The focus is instant and good over the entire range.
The camera can also be switched to 130 degrees wide setting; 140 being the super wide and 90 degrees as standard.
Easy set up mode
We where a bit gun-hoe and went out with this camera straight out the box, we didn’t look at the instructions at all and just went for it - having completed the first dive we did realise that we had alternative white balance choices than the "auto" setting for underwater. They are located in the easy set up mode - which we didn't even look at! Having gone in and used the very simple "easy set up" we found the settings for underwater shallow and deep significantly improved performance and colour.
Waterproof to 200ft/60m
We didn’t go to 60m but we did go to 40m with no effect on the cameras performance or activation of the controls. Although the cameras reaction to low light situations using just ambient light was as expected and it didn't adjust well obviously with lights the performance was significantly better.
Easily expandable system with one or two Sea Dragon Photo/Video/Dive Lights and Flex-Connect accessories as well as the 10x close up lens for closer shooting distances.
We found it was easily compatable with our existing equipment grips and lights.
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Piano Key controls for easy underwater operation, Soft Rubber grip design for sure grip.
Not that we where wearing them but the big chunky keys would make operation of this camera easy even when wearing gloves underwater. We did find that the system was so simple we kept trying to push the wrong button, expecting to have to scroll through more menus, but I think this is more a reflection on us and other set ups we are used to than the camera!
There are four setting modes, Easy set up, Picture settings Video Settings and System settings beyond this there are only two levels of selection and the controls are clearly labeled and easy to understand, with just a few features thrown in for the more advanced user like, white balance control with underwater settings for shallow water and deep water as well as daylight, cloudy and auto settings for on land situations and exposure compensation called exposure value in this camera. All
Big chunky keys that you can’t miss allow you to shoot video and to operate the menu controls which are SIMPLE Ultra compact design
In picture mode you can select from a range of scene types you could be shooting with options for Land, Diving - for depths greater than 8m , Snorkeling - for depths under 8m, as well as having settings for use of external lights both a single light or double light use for underwater.
You can shoot photos as single frames, continous - up to 10 frames per second, Time lapse at intervals between 2 secs and 30mins and you have an Auto bracketing mode allowing you to take one picture at three different exposure settings. They even go as far giving you control over the Sharpness, ISO and Metering which make this a pretty versatile little camera.
In video mode you don’t have accèss to the scene controls but if you have this set from the easy set up it carries through. Although you retain metering, sharpness and quality controls as well as the ability to switch the cameras built in microphone on or off, although the sound quality is less than desirable due to the waterproof casing design. The manual also specifies Dual Stream control which allows for a smaller file to be recorded for quick viewing - but we have yet to find this any where - it would be extremely helpful to turn this off to keep the file sizes down - we will let you know when we find it or please let us know.
Large 2.4” TFT Color LCD for easy on-camera viewing
The lcd screen is a great addition it isn’t super hi resolution so it doesn’t tell you much other than the framing of your shots and the colours and exposure cannot be accurately judged but you do have a sense of what your shooting. Whilst we where feeling disappointed and slightly underwhelmed after the first shots having only seen the lcd screen results, when we actually viewed the footage on the computer we where very pleasantly surprised.
Sea life Aqua Pod. is non-corrosive and resistant to salt water, making it unique among other monopods and the perfect underwater photography accessory. Includes a wrist strap and a mount for GoPro cameras.
We have to admit we didn’t do extensive testing with this because we are of course shy!! however it does “do what it says on the tin” and the stick is non corrosive- neutrally buoyant, sturdy no limp bits at the end! easy to maintain and clean and yes we can mount our GoPro 3 to it too. We have had great success with it on land and because of a screw mount in the base we have even managed to make our own glide cam out of it - so its good value and versatile
Our footage was collected in a number of different ways the majority was gathered using a grip support for extra stability. Where we have side by side underwater comparisons of footage the GoPro 3 (with red filter) and the sea life Micro HD+ were mounted on the same rig with the GoPro 3 a little further back and slightly above the Micro HD. We didn’t test filming on land but used the time-lapse function to record a sunset with both the GoPro and the sea life.
With out the internal underwater filter the colours where very green, but there is good contrast in the image, and as expected the colours and contrast over greater distances where softer.
In underwater modes much more consistent colours and where reproduced with good contrast and a significantly more accurate rendering of colour than the GoPro 3 which tended to have a greenish tint even with the red filter.
When using the internal underwater filters - we found the shallower of the two setting most consistent in its results giving less red hue in the barrel distortion from the lens. It worked well in clear tropical waters to a depth of 14m. As you can see in the footage of the durban dancing shrimp, it focused better had better definition and colour where as the GoPro 3 struggled.
Again in the underwater test the contrast was better with the Sealife as can be seen with the Barracuda shots whilst the framing is significantly different the cameras where mounted less than five centimetres apart and the definition in the Sealife footage is far greater.
For our on land test we utilised the time lapse function, shooting a sunset on the beach. As you can see the go pro handled the changes in exposure well although there is a significant exposure change at around 19 seconds whist the Sealife works well until well.... it doesn't and we loose all detail.
Additionallly the barrel curve of the lens is quite pronounced, which can be fixed in post and there is a yellowish tint, the GoPro maintains a good representation of the reds and purples throughout the. Admittedly had we used a higher ISO with the SeaLife we might have got a better result.
We like the sea life very much underwater it is durable and easy to use ergonomic in the hand and easily mounted on accessories. As far as shooting is concerned underwater Sealife have engineered a great colour and contrast space and the filters work well. On land the GoPro would be my choice, but if you want an action camera for underwater use the Sealife with out doubt produces a much better result out of the box and would be for us the recommendation for anyone who is an underwater enthusiast for us the choice out of these two.We wold salsa recommend these cameras to Dive Businesses looking to rent a robust camera to clients as the appear to be indestructible!!!
If you would like to purchase one of these cameras in Thailand please go to One Stop Diving. www.onestopdive.com Specifically for Koh To based peeps https://www.facebook.com/onestopdivekohtao