Canon Powershot S45 is the first digital compact camera that I've bought in 2003. Until then, I had never used a digital camera at all. This was a beginning of digital photography era for me.
At the time it was introduced, it was one of the better compact digital cameras available. 4MP sensor has plenty resolution for standard 15x10 cm (6x4 in) prints. Mechanical build quality is fantastic, very robust, mostly metal construction. Somewhat heavy but very, very robust. So robust that it still works fine and after years of sitting dormant in my drawer, I have recently revived it for some underwater use. More on this you can read couple of paragraphs below. P
Biggest problem with compacts (most of them) are the small sensor (pixels per sq. mm), tiny lens and terrible low ISO performance. Picture quality of S45 is so so, mainly due to inefficient processing, small sensor and wimpy flash. Good enough for occasional, casual snapshots. Forget about anything more ambitious, it just won't cut with this one. Hey, this is a 2001 design camera and a lot has changed since then.
I always wanted to shoot some photos underwater while diving. Problem was to justify spending roughly the same amount of money on fancy piece of plastic as I have just spent on my shiny, new camera. I could not buy a housing for my Panasonic DMC-FX9 since Panasonic does not make one for this model. Also, I missed couple of good deals (HP offered one of the compacts with the housing for a really good price) and got extremely frustrated. I was looking at the various new cameras and housings but price was way to high for such a combo. Why would I buy a new camera if I have a perfectly functioning one already? I could not justify such an expense. One day I was browsing the Allegro web site (polish equivalent to Ebay or Ricardo) and have noticed someone selling (almost) brand new Canon WP-DC300 Underwater housing for my Powershot S45. It's a dedicated housing made by Canon. I did not think twice, bought it immediately, for a bargain price of approximately 100 USD. It tured out that it was virtually brand now, not a single scratch, all original packaging. I could not wait to try it out. First time I got a chance to use it was during my last summer holiday in Croatia.
It's not a perfect combination. There are issues. First of all, WP-DC300 is only rated to a depth of 30m (100ft) while most modern housing are rated to 40m (130ft). I do quite a number of dives beyond 30m but within the 40m limit. 40m rated housing would've been much, much better. But I'm stuck with what I've got. Being myself, I decided to take a risk and see if the housing will hold below 30m. On my trip to St. Margherita Ligure, Italy last year I took it to 39m and voila, it did not crack. After the dive I have carefully inspected it for micro fractures, none were visible. Obviously, Canon's rating's been very conservative. Since then I have done number of dives, some again to depths beyond 30m and no problems at all. No leaks, no fractures, nothing. Perfect! Still, this is not what Canon tells you to do, Canon rates this housing to 30m so taking it beyond that is risky. You've been warned!
Second problem is the picture quality, rather poor. I shoot in RAW to allow me greater flexibility and ability to edit photos afterwards to correct number of issues. After I do all corrections/fixes I batch convert the photos to JPEG. One thing I noticed is that white balanced is screwed. Set in auto results in colour temperature of about 45000K, yuck, ugly. This is easily corrected in editing software such as Photoshop or ACDSee. I just set it to whatever looks good, like 5000K. I experimented a bit and found out that setting the white balance in the camera to Flash mode fixes the problem so no need to edit later. Next is overexposure. This camera's meter overexposes by about 2-3 stops, approximately 2/3 - 1 EV. I set the exposure to correct by -0.7 or -1 EV. Works like a charm. This does not fix the overall poor picture quality though. Compared with some newer cameras like Canon S90 there is a noticeable difference. But hey, it cost me 100 bucks for this setup and at this price one cannot complain, right?
One more thing. I have noticed that it's much better to shoot without a flash. Built in flash does not provide enough illumination beyond couple of the meters anyway, even more so underwater. What it does though is that when the light bounces off the micro particles present in the water you end up with some ugly spots/dots/speckles on the photo. I just switch off the flash and shoot without one, whenever I can. Only if I want to do some close up of fish, coral or whatever, I switch the flash on. This limits the usefulness dramatically as in same cases it's too dark for the photos to expose but at least I get a nice photos without those starry speckles all over.
For a hundred bucks I got myself a decent underwater setup. It's not a professional stuff but it does the trick. I was able to reuse a camera I was just about to dispose of. It works and it's a main thing! Maybe (or rather definitely) in the future I'll get myself a nicer setup but for now it'll have to do.
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