REVIEW: SEA&SEA DX-GE5 UNDERWATER CAMERA
Sea&Sea has been bringing out digital underwater compact camera kits for a while now. Some of them have been more successful than others and the recent DX-2G model definitely divided opinions. Sea&Sea have usually opted for two different kits for each “generation”: Cheap and expensive. The new DX-GE5 is the former one. Sea&Sea has of course never made digital cameras and in today’s digitalised world small manufacturers are not able to do that generally anyways. The only option Sea&Sea has been left with is to source cameras from a 3rd party manufacturer and then re-brand them for their housings. This has meant that many Sea&Sea cameras have been questionable quality, with an unknown manufacturer and technologically they have been at least couple generations behind the major brand cameras currently on the market. The previous, now discontinued, atrociously bad quality, DX-HD1200 will serve as a fine example of this.
With the new Sea&Sea DX-GE5 the company has opted for a different approach. They have decided not to re-brand the camera. The good thing about this is that now everybody can check what they are actually getting in the package. The camera is made by none other than GE. The American conglomerate has some years ago also taken on photography and are now producing value range cameras seen even on the UK market. The camera Sea&Sea has selected this time is the GE G5WP. You can actually buy this camera from a shop in the UK. The camera is rather basic 12 Mega pixel, 4 x optical zoom ultra compact camera with one difference. It is waterproof down to 5m. So you should be able to go swimming with the camera only and small housings leaks deeper down should not wreck the camera immediately. There are not many waterproof cameras on the market that you can also get a proper diving housing for. Panasonic FT2 and Olympus mju though 8010 are pretty much the only competing products. The GE5 camera has very substantial looking gaskets on the single opening it has. Panasonic and especially Olympus gaskets on their cameras seem much more delicate. Therefore I have hope for G5WP that it will keep water where it belongs. The GE camera in the DX-GE5 package has been given “SS” moniker (G5 WP-SS) most likely to stand for some small firmware changes made. However I can’t be absolutely sure about this as I don’t have the original camera on hand.
Sea&Sea advertised their previous DX-HD1200 camera as HD video capable. The new DX-GE5 has only rather strange NTSC DVD standard definition video resolution of 720 x 480 (not to be mixed with 720p HD) and the camera records to AVI container. In theory AVI files should be very good quality but the video, after my short tests is just… well… tolerable. HD1200 video was notoriously bad and looked like something from a 60s home movie. Although The DX-GE5 resolution is lower it probably produces slightly more pleasing picture without the screaming colours and jerkiness of the HD1200 video. DX-GE5 video sound quality is very bad as was the case with the HD1200 also. There is a constant loud hum on all video files and the ambient sounds are faint in the background.
Stills quality is what one can today expect from a value digital compact camera; decent but dull and as long as you keep the ISO down, acceptable. In the end this camera is only a rather basic £140 camera. The focusing is quite slow and there is a small annoying wait after each picture is taken. Most today’s basic major brand compact cameras are faster than GE5. Another thing that bugs me with the camera is the missing aperture and shutter speed info. For example all Canon compacts show this info on the screen once the shutter release is pressed half way. Not that you can control the values straight with any of these cameras but it gives the photographer quite important info on the picture about to be taken. On a positive note the camera has both underwater stills and video mode and good custom white balance control. Disappointingly you can’t use the custom white balance function on the video mode.
The housing, that is depth rated to 55m, is very well made as always with Sea&Sea. It has exceptionally good grip and comes with very useful shade for the LCD screen. It is pity the LCD shade is something most of the manufacturers have lately dropped from their housings. I find the buttons very light to press with long and pleasing action. The housing features an accessory shoe and a bayonet for external lenses. The available wide angle lens SS52115 is the same that fitted the HD1200 and even some previous models. To the bayonet you can also fit the very small and cheap SS52114 macro lens. The accessory shoe should be something all compact underwater housings have. Today for example Canon housings do not have them. For this review I fitted Fantasea Nano LED spotting light on a Sea&Sea Mini Hot Shoe arm on top of the housing. This light is perfect little tool for night dives and any darker situations. In night diving conditions many cameras including the Sea&Sea DX-GE5 will not focus. GE G5WP camera has an auto focus light but this will not work underwater as the housing occludes it. Some sort of focusing light is mandatory for diving in any dark conditions. Nano light has auto shut off when flash is detected. In this way it works like a studio modelling light. You will never see it in your pictures. The light is not very powerful and will work really only in close up situations. Great little lights still.
As a basic starter underwater camera kit the Sea&Sea DX-GE5 would be a decent contender but it is well overpriced. The package costs about £470 in the UK. The GE camera bought separately costs about £140. This leaves £330 for the housing only. Yes…the housing is nice and well manufactured but for example excellent Panasonic and Fuji housings are only £200. If you compare the DX-GE5 with similar packages on the market, like the Canon IXUS 105 + WP-DC36 diving bundle, you will realise that the price is not right. The Canon Ixus 105 camera is somewhat better camera and the package with the housings costs only £330 in the UK. That is £140 difference, which is unjustifiable. Only way you could excuse the price is to look at it with the wide angle lens. As the Sea&Sea wide angle lens is pretty cheap and it does not need bayonet adapters like Canon housings the prices are more even. DX-GE5 with Sea&Sea wide angle lens is only £630. Canon package with Inon lens and Inon DC33/36 mount base is £780.
Pros: Excellent quality housing. Accessory shoe. Sea&Sea fibre optic port, Well priced external lenses.
Cons: Sluggish camera and below average video quality. Price.