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Three Cameras Compared

As part of our test I gave samples of these cameras to two experienced amateur photographers to use while on vacation. Márcia Lebret is a 32 year old tourism agent. A photographer for 12 years she lives in Florianópolis Brazil. Ricardo Selling is 37 years old, lives in Brasília Brazil, works in computer science and has been a photographer for 10 years.

The cameras included the Kodak Ultra Aquatic, the Fuji QuickSnap Marine, and the Agfa LeBox Ocean (see their specs below). Both the Kodak and Fuji come loaded with a roll of 27 exposure 800 speed film (Kodak Ultra and Fuji Superia respectively). The Agfa is loaded with a 27 exposure roll of Agfa Vista 400 speed film.

Ricardo Selling got a chance to test the Kodak and Fuji cameras while traveling the wonderful beaches of Northeastern Brazil and the famous ecological sanctuary of Fernando de Noronha.

Ricardo: I had used cameras of this type before but hadn't been satisfied with the results. Now I was preparing for my first scuba dive on oxygen; but I wasn't planning to spend a lot of money buying a true underwater cameras to use while diving. So even with past bad experiences I thought it would be a good idea to try them again and check on the evolution of these cameras for use while diving.

I set out with two models, the Kodak Aquamatic and the Fuji Quicksnap Marine. Both are loaded with 27 exposure ISO 800 film. My natural choice would be the Fuji model, because I prefer Fuji films, but I was aware that the Kodak model allows for a 50 foot maximum depth while the Fuji allows just 33 feet maximum depth. 

Both the Fuji and Kodak are focus free. All you need to do is push the shutter release button and advance the film after each exposure with a thumb. The advance knobs are big, easy to find and easy to use on both cameras. 

The shutter button on both cameras is placed to the left side of the lens, but the Kodak's button is smaller than the Fuji's. 

In my opinion the biggest difficulty in using either of these cameras is the small viewfinder, which makes framing the image somewhat difficult. Out of water it's OK. But when you're underwater and wearing a diving mask that keeps the camera so far from your eye framing is difficult. It's like trying to look through a key hole while wearing a diving mask. In some cases framing was so difficult I gave up taking the shoot.

Here are some specific examples:

In the photo at left I was at a depth of around 10 ft and shoot my girlfriend on the surface. The photo on the right was the reverse with her on the surface shooting me at a depth of 10 ft. This simple camera was unable to handle the strong backlight, but that same light illuminated me nicely. The off center framing is a result of the mask / viewfinder problem described in the text.

These two images were shot at Atalaia beach, a natural aquarium. The shallow depth and mid-day sun gave me my best images, and the brightest colors.

Though close to the surface the weak, late day light, gives this image a strong bluish cast.

Below 43 feet even near objects show a strong blue cast and noticeable blurring as these cameras have no flash. 

Ricardo's Conclusion
While these cameras have their limits they are much better than older models. The key is to understand what they can and can't do and use them within their limits. In some cases you may be able to rent better quality underwater cameras in tourist areas. But the high cost of the rentals can add up quickly.

Brazilian photographer Márcia Lebret, recently traveled to some of the most beautiful beaches of Northeast Brazil, the Caribbean and Mexico while on a project for her company. While there she used Agfa disposable underwater cameras.

Márcia: I prefer to use Agfa Vista films so my preference was naturally Agfa's disposable underwater cameras. I even liked the Agfa Le Box Ocean's funny and colorful graphics. The camera is loaded with 27 exposure Agfa Vista 400 film, a film I'm very familiar with. It's rated for a maximum depth of 4 meters or 13 feet. 

I have tiny hands so I liked the Agfa Ocean's size. It's easy for me to handle, but I think it's small size could be an issue for people with large hands. I liked the camera's bright graphics, but I didn't like the transparent acrylic camera housing, it gets slippery when wet with the seawater and I only avoided losing my cameras because I always used the camera's rubber wrist strap.

The Agfa Ocean is very easy to use, you just press the big red button on the top of the camera and advance the film in the big textured wheel in the base of the camera. 

The viewfinder is another matter. It's fine for use on land, but it's too small for use with snorkel mask. It's difficult to frame images with this camera while wearing a mask and sometimes I had to guess at the composition. I liked the small magnifier in front of the frame counter, which made it much easier to read the remaining exposures.

This camera gives you the best results when used at very shallow depths, in clear water and when there's a lot of sun, the best photos I got with the Agfa Ocean were in those conditions. The level of transparency of the water is very important, as is the sunlight in order to get sharp photos and good colors.

The camera gives you the best results when used in shallow depths, in clear water with a lot of sun. The amount of sediment floating in the water is also an important consideration.

In this photo the fish in the foreground is blurred as the minimum focus distance is 3 feet.

This photo illustrates the problem with framing. When I shot it I was sure that all the fish were within the frame, but discovered I was wrong when I received the prints.

In shallow water with good light you can get sharp colorful images.

Márcia's Conclusion

Of course the Agfa Ocean won't produce photos as good as the pro underwater cameras used by National Geographic photographers, but I liked the results anyway. My advice to photographers who are going to spend their vacations at the beach is to take one or two of these disposable underwater cameras with them. You don't get the chance to dive or snorkel in clear water at beach every day, and the photos taken with these cameras are a very nice way to remember the experience.

Special Processing

courtesy Kodak

The low cost of these underwater cameras has led to a dramatic increase in the number of people shooting underwater. 

In response to this demand Kodak has introduced a service called Kodak Sea Processing

This unique  photofinishing process uses a blend of digital and traditional silver halide technologies to optimize underwater prints, putting life and color in the print more like what the photographer saw on the dive when the image was captured. 

Kodak Sea Processing is available in dozens of North American dive specialty shops, through film mailers from retailers or directly from Kodak, and through some independent labs and camera stores. 

A list of participating shops can be found by clicking here. If you normally deal with a good pro lab, you may find they participate in the program, even if they're not listed on the Kodak Web site.  

To find labs and/or dive shops offering Kodak Sea Processing outside the U.S. go to, their site will detect the country you're in and direct you to the appropriate Kodak Web site. Then type 'Sea Processing' in the search window and follow the links to the list of dealers in your area. 

Agfa LeBox Ocean
Film: Agfa Vista
ISO: 400
Exposures: 27
Min Focus: 3 ft.
Depth: 13 ft. 
FujiFilm QuickSnap Marine
Film: FujiFilm Superia
ISO: 800
Exposures: 27
Min Focus: 3 ft.
Depth: 33 ft. 
Kodak Ultra Aquatic
Film: Kodak Ultra
ISO: 800
Exposures: 27
Min Focus: 3 ft.
Depth: 50 ft. 


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