The world of underwater photography can be a little overwhelming for the interested amateur, with underwater housings and lens options sometimes costing five times more than the camera itself. Mark ‘Crowley’ Russell took a very reasonably priced Fantasea FG7XII underwater housing to Indonesia with him, with some surprisingly good results
To say I was impressed with the Fantasea FGX7II housing would be an understatement. It is a great product. Review over.
For those wanting a little more detail, a little background is in order. Even though I am (technically) a journalist, I came to it in a rather circuitous way, and as a result, I am not an expert photographer.
I am, however, an interested amateur; somebody who’s had enough experience with underwater cameras to know what most of the jargon means, has a good idea of what makes a reasonably good picture, understands enough to know that I have reached the limitations of my existing equipment, but didn’t have the budget to buy what I really needed – until now.
The Fantasea FG7XII Housing
The Fantasea housing I acquired, thanks to Nautilus Diving, the UK distributor for Fantasea Line Products, is designed for the Canon Powershot G7XMkII which has its own proprietary Canon housing available at a lower cost, but Fantasea’s system is designed with a complete range of available accessories in mind, including lenses, trays and lights.
The injection-molded polycarbonate FG7XII housing has a very solid feel to it. It’s a little larger than the Canon version, but it’s also double O-ring sealed and there’s a little extra space around the camera itself, which I will come to shortly. The rotating locking mechanism closes with a very satisfactory feeling and I’m not saying it’s necessarily more secure than other devices, but it definitely feels that way.
All functions are available through the housing almost exactly as they are on the camera. The GX7MkII camera has a rotating front control ring which can be programmed for a variety of purposes, and a circular dial on the rear which performs different functions depending on what mode you are shooting in. In the camera’s full manual mode, these function as the controls for aperture value and shutter speed respectively. A geared knob on the side of the Fantasea housing operates the ring, a twiddly push-button knob on the rear operates the dial and allows access to the camera settings to change, for example, the ISO speed.
Full control of the camera, in every respect, is therefore very easy, especially important during some of the test dives as the clouds kept rolling by and the fish just would not stay still. I didn’t have a strobe or light, but the housing can accommodate both a cold shoe flash and a fibre-optic strobe. Using the inbuilt camera flash without a diffuser is reasonably pointless (regardless of which brand of housing you have), as the extended front of the housing gets in the way. The diffuser supplied as standard with the camera helps, but as with all equipment that goes beyond the simple requirements of point-and-shoot, the addition of a separate lighting rig is highly desirable.
The Fantasea housing is rated to 60m rather than the Canon’s 40m, which is a significant bonus although I personally rarely stray beyond 30m. Much more important, however, is the optional moisture sensor, which I very strongly recommend potential buyers of the housing should have fitted (Nautilus provide the sensor as standard at no extra cost).
I already knew it was sensitive as, while extracting the camera from the housing post-dive, I accidentally swiped a finger across the sensor and the piercing noise it made set my pulse to racing. Not nearly as much as the next morning when, on the second dive of the day, the sensor’s flashing LED and insistent beeping almost gave me reason to require a defibrillator.
To my horror, at a depth of 5m, I realised the latch was not properly locked. I surfaced as rapidly as it was safe to do so while my buddies waited down below, boarded the boat, grabbed two towels and carefully opened the rear of the housing.
To my surprise, and extreme satisfaction, the camera was unaffected – not even a single drop of water had touched its surfaces. Setting it aside I examined the case and, turning it upside down, at least a tablespoon of water poured out of the housing. This is why I mentioned the spacing around the camera at the beginning of the review. Water came in, but because of the housing’s design, and the substantial gap between it and the camera, it was directed away from the camera and battery compartment, and no harm was done.
The housing and camera together weigh in at just over 1kg without accessories and is very positively buoyant. A couple of additional housing weights would be very useful, if not completely necessary.
- Depth rated to 60m/200 feet
- Shock resistant
- Double O-ring seal
- Special mount for lighting accessories
- Removable double fibre optic cable connection
- Removable flash diffuser
- Removable anti-glare hood for the LCD screen
- BONUS – Moisture Detector, Hand Strap and Port Cover are included at no additional cost by Nautilus
- Threaded 67mm front port for wet lenses and filters
- Weight (with/without) camera on land): 1,025g / 725g
- Dimensions (without accessories): 16 x 11 x 12.5cm / 6.3 x 4.33 x 4.92in
The UWL-09F Wide Angle Wet Lens
One of the major benefits of the FG7XII housing, certainly for me, is the 67mm threaded front port, for which Fantasea has produced its reasonably priced BigEye (wide angle) and SharpEye (macro) wet lenses that can be interchanged quite easily during the dive. This is not especially unique to the brand, but the effect you get for the price you pay is magnificent.
The Canon Powershot range of cameras, generally speaking, handle macro photography pretty well using the built-in macro function, as long as the subject is not too small. You can get pretty decent pictures of seahorses, small crabs and the like without any additional lens. The tiny wee stuff will always need a macro lens, of course, but I’m all about seascapes and big fish, and the standard lens in a compact camera can never do them justice. Half a whale shark isn’t much fun, nor a gorgonian fan without the context of the surrounding reef.
Nautilus sent me the largest product in the range, the UWL-09F wide angle lens. A solid, expertly crafted piece of kit weighing in at just over 1kg and it does, indeed, deliver the ‘stunning results’ that Fantasea claim.
Without accessories, the camera and housing combination by itself is, as mentioned, positively buoyant. The addition of the UWL-09F lens makes the system rather negative, and with the size of the lens, I did find it a little unwieldy. It was still easy to use, but I mounted the pair on a tray, and although that made no real difference in terms of the ability to use the camera, it did instil a great deal more confidence in terms of carrying it around and passing it to and from the crew of the dive boat.
The lens produces crystal clear images at all zoom lengths, although at zero length there is a small vignette in the corners of the image. A little bit of zoom removes this quite easily (as does Photoshop cropping!), but it still maintains a fantastic 130-degree field of view, enough to capture an entire green turtle with the lens almost touching its beak.
Jared Herb, dive instructor and photographer at Manta Dive, Gili Trawangan, was equally impressed. Shooting with a Sony RX100V, the Fantasea FRX100V housing also has a 67mm threaded front port and therefore also compatible with the UWL-09F lens. ‘As soon as we dropped into the water I started with over/under shots and was very impressed at how easy it made them to achieve,’ he said after a test dive. ‘The field of view is amazing! Paired with the dome I was able to get shots that I have been thinking about for a long time but was unable to capture.’
The Canon G7X MKII Camera
Canon’s Powershot series has long been at the forefront of compact cameras for both the interested amateur and as a backup for professionals. They are easy to use, the menus are very intuitive and they have a lot of functionality along with a 1.0 type sensor and 20.1MP high-resolution capability. The Sony CyberShot RX100 series is often rated as a superior product, as is the Panasonic Lumix LX100 with its larger sensor, but – importantly for many people – the Canon’s price point is much more attractive, retailing at almost half the price of the RX100V, and with much less expensive housing options than the LX100.
Unlike some of its predecessors, the G7XMkII will shoot in RAW even when it’s set to full auto mode (older incarnations only provided JPEG in full auto). which will allow a point-and-shoot diver who has access to Photoshop the possibility of taking some okay pictures, as long as nothing is actually moving. Like many digital cameras, the G7XMkII comes with an ‘underwater mode’, which may work when you’re snorkelling, but at depth creates no real advantage. It also has an underwater white balance setting which, if you want to take pictures with full manual control, needs to be turned off. I’m not actually sure what the software is trying to do, but even in the bright sunlit waters of Gili Trawangan I was trying to overcompensate with high ISO settings to combat the darkness, hence some very noisy shallow water photographs.
It’s a quality compact camera. It’s never going to produce the delights of a DSLR with all the trimmings but at £539.99 it’s a very reasonably priced option.
As I said at the beginning of the review, I’m not an especially talented photographer, and still in the process of learning that craft. Rather like learning to play a musical instrument on a poorly-tuned piece of equipment, underwater photography becomes incredibly frustrating when, despite all your efforts, you can’t produce the results that you think you should be able to.
I have been searching for a solution to advance my mid-level photography skills that doesn’t require me to re-mortgage my mother’s house in order to do so. Apart from the reasonable price point, the camera itself is somewhat secondary. The Fantasea FG7XII housing coupled with the outstanding UWL-09F lens, however, have given me the confidence to realise that I can achieve good results on a limited budget. I have a lot to learn and I may not know as much about underwater photography as some of my colleagues, but I know what I like, and I like this product very, very much. And so does my bank manager.