The SeaLife ReefMaster DC250 has a lot going for it, including plentiful accessories, ease of use, and, in its basic form, affordability. This underwater camera is actually made up of two components: a housing and a removable 2.1-megapixel digital camera with a fixed-focus lens, for dual-purpose wet/dry shooting. But as much as SeaLife gets right, we were less than impressed with the DC250's underwater image quality and frustrated by the housing's dearth of controls. You'll need to put a couple of optional items on your shopping list with this camera, too: an SD card to supplement the 8MB of internal memory and two rechargeable AA nickel-metal-hydride batteries.
The rubberized housing, depth-rated to 200 feet, easily withstands the rigors of diving and boating. Its black nonslip grip and included wrist strap help you keep hold of it, and since the housing is positively buoyant, it will float if you let go. You can view the camera's main 1.6-inch LCD and smaller status LCD easily through the housing windows, and SeaLife includes a sportsfinder (external viewfinder), although it's accurate at only a distance of at least four feet.
Unfortunately, the housing sports a mere three buttons: power, shutter release, and LCD power/Playback. While this arrangement makes for straightforward use, it also forces you to rely solely on the flash, white-balance, and exposure settings you chose before you put the camera in the housing. Since underwater conditions are a mystery until you splash down, you must guess at how to set up the camera in advance. If you're wrong, you have to get out of the water, dry off the housing, and start over.
The camera itself has a compact 7.3-ounce design and is easy to use. However, its poorly constructed sliding lens cover feels loose, and the control buttons lie flush with the camera's surface, so they're difficult to push. We were also disappointed with the LCD's performance under dim and indoor lighting, where it displays a noisy image with a slow refresh rate that creates a dragging effect. There's an optical viewfinder on the camera, but it's small and provides a slightly distorted view.
With the housing back on the camera, we needed a flash to obtain proper exposure and accurate color even at 12 feet underwater; however, the Auto flash setting didn't agree. Forcing the flash on helped, but after the camera automatically powered down, the setting returned to the default Auto--even though we had switched off Return To Default. The best solution is probably to purchase the external strobe offered by SeaLife, but it costs almost $200. The good news is that whether you're shooting underwater or on land, you'll barely notice the DC250's shutter lag, and its shot-to-shot time is a reasonable 4 seconds with or without the flash if you're not using the Quick Review mode.
When it comes to image quality, the DC250 delivers mediocre results. The automatic white balance handles optimal, sunny conditions well but produces color shifts underwater, indoors, and in the shade. We got better results with the white-balance presets, and using the flash underwater helped, too. However, in shallow water, the flash tended to blow out our subjects. Similarly, while our sunny outdoor shots were well exposed, pictures taken under less favorable lighting often suffered from blown-out highlights. Image detail and sharpness were middling for this camera's class, and we also saw some noticeable purple fringing in our shots.
Shooting underwater has never been inexpensive, and SeaLife certainly offers a reasonably priced option. But for a little bit more, you can buy a setup that delivers more flexibility and better image quality. If you already have a digital camera, you may be halfway there. Check your manufacturer's Web site for optional underwater housings, or take a look at what third-party vendors such as "--="" rel="nofollow">&siteid=7&edid=&lop=txt&destcat=ex&destUrl=http%3A%2F%2Fwww%2Eikelite%2Ecom%2F" target="_blank">Ikelite offer.