A View From Below From SeaLife Cameras

Even Amateur Underwater Photographers Can Shoot Like a Pro

Sea turtle lying on the sea floor
SeaLife's underwater cameras have settings that let novices adjust for the water's depth, to ensure that colors look natural.Courtesy SeaLife

The developmental button rule. At SeaLife Cameras in Moorestown, New Jersey, that’s what they call the guidelines for how simply a camera’s features need to operate.

“Our lighting has one button — you control everything with it,” says Sven Harms, the company’s vice president. “Our cameras usually have three buttons, and our most sophisticated camera has four buttons and keys. That’s it. We figure that if you have any more than that, it’s too specialized.”

The company got its start in 1995, when film was dying and digital technology was evolving. By the late 1990s, SeaLife had developed an underwater digital camera.

“We had a 1.3-megapixel camera,” he says. “That was a big deal back then. It was very low resolution, but it worked, and it was digital.”

SeaLife Wide Angle Dome
The 0.5 Wide Angle Dome Lens ($499) works with SeaLife’s DC-series cameras. It doubles the field of view compared with a 31mm lens, and it can be attached or removed while underwater. The lens is designed to work for still photography and for shooting video.Courtesy SeaLife

Since then, of course, technology has advanced. Underwater cameras moved from alkaline to lithium-ion batteries, which were able to power things like newer LED lights. It became possible to build underwater cameras that capture high-quality images without bulky casings or elaborate setups.

It took awhile for SeaLife to make that point clear, Harms says.

“Many of the other camera companies kind of see us coming. They say, ‘That’s not serious gear; it’s beginner stuff.’ So last year we hired a professional underwater photographer. We had him shoot the same thing with our camera that he shot with his big rig. The images are amazing. It immediately silences anybody who says you can’t take great underwater pictures with a simple camera.”

SeaLife Micro 2.0 2500
This camera ($899) has a built-in Sea Dragon 2500 light, which produces 2,500 lumens. The light is on a flexible arm, so ­snorkelers and divers can aim the beam. There are no ­waterproof doors or O-rings to worry about; the camera is sealed for protection.Courtesy SeaLife

The most popular SeaLife camera, Harms says, is the Micro 2.0. It comes in 32-gigabyte ($499) and 64-gigabyte ($549) versions.

“That’s so simple, I could explain every feature in five or 10 ­minutes,” Harms says. “All you have to do is finish charging the ­batteries, and you’re ready to go. The whole setup is maybe five minutes. Then you download the app, and you can transfer the photos to your smartphone. You can ­instantly post the photos of the morning’s dive or snorkeling ­encounters to social media.”

SeaLife Sea Dragon Mini underwater light
The Sea Dragon Mini 900 ($79) is a hand-held underwater light that produces 900 lumens. The light also can be used as a one-second flash, or to produce an SOS signal in an underwater or above-water emergency. It runs for about eight hours on a single battery charge.Courtesy SeaLife

Maintenance on ­SeaLife’s gear, he says, amounts to recharging ­batteries and washing off salt water — just as with any snorkeling or diving gear. Cameras that come with lights arrive preassembled, and a quick-start menu lets users punch in water depth and a few other variables to start snapping images immediately.

“Having said that, a lot of people get a camera and get in the water and say their photos don’t look professional — you do have to have some skills, just like on land,” he says. “Shoot with the light behind you, not in front of you, basic things like that. Then it becomes easy and fun, and the results are amazing.”