I do a lot of activities with the Boy Scouts and with the family around water, including scuba, snorkling, kayaking, canoing, etc. For years, we had been using a used underwater camera, but it was made back in the Carter Administration and on the last trip last summer, it finally leaked at 60 ft. The camera store laughed at the age of that camera and suggested I take it the Antiques Roadshow.
Recommend this product?
So, with a Seabase snorkling trip and a cruise to Bermuda coming up at the end of the summer, I was looking for a replacement waterproof camera. Always wanted to get a true underwater rig, but that would take $2,500 to do it right, and not really be easy to use to in a canoe or kayak.
So, was surprised to see the Vivitar 8400 underwater camera on sale at Walmart for $99. Figured at that price, it was a near disposable type camera. Plus it could go to 10 meters underwater versus 3 meters most other cameras in this waterproof niche. Thought I would give it a try.
What a great little camera. It functions just as advertised. Could use it to take pictures on land and then jump into a coral reef and dive down to photograph a wreck. Simple and easy to use.
Took the camera out of the box, inserted a 2 GB memory card, batteries, and was in business. Took over 400 photos the week in the Keys snorkling. Granted this is not the most sophisticated digital camera, but it takes a good quality photo (up to 8 MB, though I lowered the resolution to save space).
There are a few quirks though. On the third day, we jumped into the water and swam to an island. On the island, the camera reported I had lost my first 200 photos. Really annoyed that I may have been burned. However, later that day, I found if I reseated the data card, they came back online. Put me in a funky mood for a day, but now know not to panic. Just dropping the rugged camera can loosen the card.
Other comments: snapped the cheap plastic open cover lever the first time I tried to open the camera to put in the batteries and storage card. Thats okay; camera stays sealed and its just as easy to open.
The only other comment is the lag to record to storage. The camera does not make a noise when the picture is taken, so you have to stay still until the image is recorded to storage. If you don't (say press the shutter, then move) you tend to get an interesting Salvador Dali melting of your subjects. Several shots of the sailboat made while floating in the water were interesting, but smeared to useless.
And lastly, there is 32 MB of build in storage; guess its to allow someone in the store to try out the camera without having an SD card in the camera. When the above SD jarring incident happened, subsequent pictures on the island went into the "temp" onboard storage. Got 72 pictures on the camera before the onboard memory filled. Problem is, I have not yet been able to figure out how to get them off the camera. They do not appear on the USB interface (I can see the SD card). The manual seems to be written for a non-waterproof version of the camera. However, the camera is simple enough to use that you can figure it out. Wish they could harden the casework a little more and get it to 30M rating, so I can take it on the deeper scuba trips.
For a knock-about camera that can go into the water with you, thumbs up. Live with the few quirks and it will serve you well.
[Update: Sept. 2009]: Just back from a cruise and dive in Bermuda. First off, the Vivitar shown with this review is not the underwater model: mine is in the typical bright yellow underwater case, not the silver case shown.
Now more use to the operation of the camera. Used camera as general on board ship camera and for a snorkel and SCUBA trip. Now that I know to hold the camera still until the image unfreezes after storing the picture to storage, I got a lot fewer Salvador Dali melted photos of things.
As far as its main design use as an underwater camera, it did an excellent job. The small "Instamatic" (showing my age here) form factor meant you could attach it to your wrist and just let it float until you needed it. Its small compact design is a definate plus.
We dove two dives on the SCUBA trip, both to a maximum 45 feet. The camera is rated to 10M or 33 ft. If this camera cost several hundred dollars, I would not have tried taking it to the extra depth, but it worked fine and had no consequences. I would not bring this down on a dive past this depth, as the O ring around the battery compartment is adequate for 10+M, but not heavy enough to go much further.
And in looking at the pictures and video captured, I am somewhat disappointed. The auto focusing feature seemed to have a lot of problems keeping the shots in focus. Even with pressing 1/2 way and waiting for it to focus, the frame got confused and about 25% of the shots were out of focus and had to be scrapped. But with a 2 GB card, you can shoot 1400 mid resolution photos and scrap what you don't like.
The underwater version does not have a view finder, only a 2.3" LDC back panel. As with most LCD's, they are useless in bright light. Many pictures were of the point in the general direction and click. Several pictures of divers with their heads cut off. Not sure what could be done here other than add as an option one of those large plastic square sighting devices on top. There currently is no mounting foot to put one on. There is a mounting plate on the bottom with the standard mount for tripods, etc.
I also find the brightness balance of many of the photos tended to be too dark. I can lighten them up on my computer later, but photos of my son wearing a black shirt just come up as a black field until you adjust the overall brightness on your computer. There are some adjustments to exposure or color brightness, but the default settings seemed to leave the darks too dark.
And my biggest criticism is the inability to set the flash exposure and keep it at one setting. Underwater, colors are washed out due to the filtering of reds and yellows by the water above you. Flash can put back some of the colors lost. Granted, what can be done with a small over lens strobe is severly limited. If I really wanted to address the problem, would have to have large strobes away from the lens. But then, you are into much more expensive camera gear.
When the camera is turned on, it always comes up with the flash turned off. You can set the flash to be automatic or as required, but that requires fumbling with the limited buttons while underwater. I sometimes turned the camera off by accident or it would turn off automatically after lack of use. When you turn the camera on, the flash is turned off by default. Then you have to work the menus to turn it on and wait for the flash capacitor to charge. Your subject would have swam away a long time ago. Would really like the ability to have a menu choice to set what mode you could set the flash state on power up.
And I did figure out how to get the pictures off of the internal camera memory (see above). Manuals and online help were of no guidance. If you remove the SD data card and then turn on the camera, the USB driver presents the internal camera memory instead. This may be a function of the USB drivers built in on the Mac OS X system. Windows drivers may work differently. But anyway, was able to save the pictures to the laptop. This also means if you are on a trip and run out of data storage space on the SD card, you can pull the SD card out, restart the camera and save a couple of dozen extra shots to the 35 MB built in.
But again, this camera delivers on its promise. A sub $100 underwater camera thats easy to use and does a fairly good job of allowing you to be a tourist while taking shallow water dives. Will also work great for trips canoeing or kayaking, where dropping the camera in the water won't ruin your day. Still recommend.
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Amount Paid (US$): 99
This Camera is a Good Choice if You Want Something... Easy Enough for Anyone to Use