Those who like a spot of snorkelling are probably well versed in the ways of the disposable underwater camera. There are alternatives in this digital age, but they're neither disposable nor cheap.
Panasonic's DMW-MCFS5 is an underwater housing which fits either the Lumix DMC-FS5 or DMC-FS3 compact digital cameras — Panasonic also makes marine cases for other compacts in its range. The body of the MCFS5 is made out of hard, clear polycarbonate, although there's a spot of blue trim for the case's watertight seals, as well as flourishes of white, primarily around the locking mechanism and detachable flash diffuser. An adjustable blue wrist strap and a double-latching buckle should keep underwater mishaps — loss and water entry, respectively — in the same realm as winning the Lotto.
Prepping the FS5 or FS3 for an underwater sojourn is a simple affair: open up the case, pop the camera in its hidey-hole, find a spot to shove in the supplied desiccant, close the case and latch it shut. So long as there's a nice little whoosh of air rushing out when you're closing or latching the case up, you're ready to go. Should that whoosh ever go AWOL, the MCFS5 ships with a small tube of silicon gel to be applied to the case's main seal.
Every function on the FS5 or FS3 cameras — from zooming to playback and settings adjustment — can be accessed underwater by using the clutch of oversized knobs, buttons and switches protruding from the marine casing. Watching the case's buttons push and slide the appropriate control on the camera is a thing of beauty in itself — you know, if you're into that sort of thing.
Thanks to the glare from the water, as well as the reflections off the casing, it's nigh on impossible to view anything on the camera's LCD screen when snorkelling near the surface. This made framing a "zoom out and hope for the best" affair, while changing settings — like jumping from camera to movie mode and back again — a test of one's memory. Diving deeper, though, makes these issues disappear. Nonetheless, it's best to be familiar with the camera's controls before jumping into the water because although there are icons describing each button and switch etched into the marine housing, seeing them requires the eyesight of a cat.
Water-resistant up to a depth of 40m, the case is useful for all but the most hardcore of divers. And with the camera's underwater mode selected, plus — whisper it — just a wee bit of Photoshopping, image quality is several leagues ahead of what you'd get from a disposable underwater camera. You can view samples from the FS5 and marine casing combo atof Panasonic's launch event earlier this year at .
With the case retailing for two potato scallops less than AU$400, you're looking at a total outlay of more than AU$700 — the FS3 has an RRP of AU$329, while the FS5 is stickered at AU$499. So going underwater digitally is not a cheap affair. However, if you're a regular diver and want to document your adventures, it's a worthwhile investment and far more satisfying than using a disposable. If you can't justify the asking price but wish to dive digitally, and can live with a 10m waterproof rating, the Olympus Tough 1030SW or Tough 795SW might be a better fit.