Suggestions To Manufacturers Of (Amphibious) Underwater Cameras
The following suggestions are based upon upon my longtime experience with housed and amphibious cameras gathered in 50 plus years of diving photography. Even when regarded merely as a sort of wish list, it has been provoked by lots of frustration from current models. All of those are useless to deep divers because of their depth pressure limitations. Even the extra housings which are often offered as an option, shield the cameras down to -45 meters, and this is not half sufficient, since divers using contemporary technology often go twice as deep.
Perhaps I should add that the camera improvements I propose would not raise the production costs by much, so the end-user price should not be overly affected by production cost. In turn, the sale of large number of such units could be expected. There are ever more divers around, and almost every one among them needs an able camera to have along.
Let me also say that I am aware of problems emerging from popular approach to camera design, but in my view the major percentage of diving community would gladly trade the shirt pocketability of a camera for its ability to operate at -100 meters. The fact is, the cameras need not be neither bigger nor much more expensive to have such abilities! All it takes is a willingness to approach the designing using the help and suggestions of someone that actually uses the products.
Assuming that there is someone out there with enough patience to go through the rest of the text, let me suggest what I think would be the main advantages in an ideal amphibious camera.
- Design a camera body along more convex shape, keeping flat surfaces to a minimum. This alone should go a long way to withstand the depth pressure, even with the same material thickness.
- Plan for at least -60 meters (7 Bar) of pressure resistance, and you will have the whole of the diving community vividly interested in your camera. The ideal operational depth should be envisioned as -100 meters (11 Bar), and tested to 150% of the working depth. Many deep divers would find this extremely useful.
- For commands, employ a magnet traveling in the comb-like groove, to activate the reed switches on the inner side. This removes the need for sealed push-pin commands, which are affected by depth pressure. This solution would also greatly reduce the water ingress risk, malfunctions, and fidgety maintenance as it removes the need for additional openings in the camera case.
- Underwater usage of the camera ergonomically differs from dry-land application. The photographer's body position is not the same, so the shutter release position should move from the upper side to the front of the camera. I'd suggest the same magnet-reed switch approach, and the line of the shutter release movement should ideally travel inward, parallel with the upper camera surface. See Nikonos III solution; it was ergonomically perfect. There are ways to construct the shutter command so that it can be operated from both sides (front and upper surface), of course.
- Please avoid gaskets of any kind other than O-rings, and use only one hatch for dry contacts, battery and memory card. This greatly reduces the risk of water ingress. O-rings will also remove the restricted time of device exposure to pressures, which is the only proper way. All rotational commands are also sealed by o-rings, so rotating dials present no problem. Any other kind of sealing is inadequate, risky, and weak spots which should be abandoned by all u/w equipment manufacturers. More about this can be found here.
- If the camera is to be constructed for interchangeable lenses, consider placing all cable contacts within the objective attaching area of the body, as it is covered and sealed by the lens O-ring. Same should also work well for the insertion / removal of the micro-card. This would further reduce the need for additional ports, thus significantly raising the safety factor.
- The batteries should be removable for charging! Charging the battery internally, especially considering an unusually strong casing augments the risks of explosion force. Internal charging also makes the camera unusable for several hours which could be awkward. Such charging warms up the camera, so the immersion of warm camera into cold water may promote internal condensation and humidity-related problems, such as fogging and/or electronics failures.
- Battery chargers should be available for various power sources available in the Outdoors, e.g. by car and/or boat battery (12 or 24VDC), and the options should perhaps include solar chargers. (It would be appreciated with all „outdoorsy“ camera models).
- With models that do not employ interchangeable lenses, it would be advantageous to make a battery / memory card / contacts compartment gas-sealed from the rest of the camera volume, and fill the camera with Nitrogen to avoid condensation and internal humidity issues. The battery compartment is opened to outside air, but sealed from the rest of the camera volume, so Nitrogen would not escape. Nitrogen is also good in thermal conductivity, which would benefit the camera in the same way it benefits the vehicle tires.
- Augment the battery capacity radically. What with lower ambiental working temperatures, scarce recharging possibilities in the outdoors, and power-hungry functions like GPS, such cameras should be able to make 1000 shots per charge.
- Extend GPS capability to accept and use normal navigational maps (such as BlueChart).
- It would be useful to have "artificial horizon" indicator in the dark of the depth.
- Program the noise removal routine to be adjustable. This way, users can decide when the fine detail is more important, and set the automatic de-noising as they need.
- Redesign the front of the lens port to accept the clips for add-on ("wet") lenses. The clips would be two metal pieces swinging around the connecting point, each carrying one add-on wet lens, fixed so to be able to lock / rotate.
Thus, each lens could be swung around to the front of the objective and locked / screwed into position for use, while the other lens would remain parked outside the field of view, ready for use.
Such arrangement is welcome, since add-on lenses would be a lot easier to control and implement than when diver has to keep the add-on lenses in, say, a BC jacket pocket. The clip and the wet lenses should be easily removable for dry-land use of the camera, of course.
- Arrange a hinge on the back bottom rim of the camera to place an articulated cover with the mirror on the monitor side. By opening this cover, the monitor could be seen in the mirror and the scene could be composed by looking from another angle. It replaces the need for the wholly articulated monitor, further reducing the water/pressure risks while offering almost same functionality in frame-composing. For those who want it, this add-on could be an optional item, easily fastened by two screws.
- See the sketch of my „Fingerplate“. This is a small addition to the wrist strap/rope which helps you hold and operate the camera using one hand only. Many small cameras do not have any handgrip worth speaking of, so this device lets you hold such cameras more securely - even when your hand is open! All camera commands can be operated one-handedly, and this is especially useful in underwater use. Although anyone can build such an Fingerplate that would serve its function well, my sketches suggest an industrial version, which requires more specialized tools for mass production. Manufacturers and DIY people, feel free to use the idea. It would practically cost the same to produce (compared to any other wrist strap), but it will perform way better than any other.
Look at it as a present from me, for your patience and serious consideration of my suggestions!
Fingerplate construction (top and side view). Note the camera line length adjustment, for ease of usage with or without gloves