This review is the result of 18 dives with the Canon G16 and Fantasea housing in the Maldives on board MV Leo in the last week of November.
I was lucky enough to be one of the first in the world to be able to try out this housing underwater. A big thanks to the Fantasea team for lending me a final prototype of the housing for the trip.
The Canon G16
The Canon G16 was announced in September 2013, a bit under a year after its popular predecessor the G15, the added features are Wifi support , 60fps video and improved low light capability. As such anything I talk about in this review is completely relevant to the Canon G15 as well.
Here is a short overview of this cameras specs:
- 1/1.7″ (7.44 x 5.58 mm) CMOS Sensor with 12MP
- 3″ 922K LCD
- 28-140mm lens with minimum aperture of f/1.8-f/2.8 (maximum aperture is f/8.0)
- Full HD 1080p Video @ 60fps
- RAW shooting and continuous at 10fps
- 2 Programmable dials, dedicated EV+/- dial and One-Click video button
- Superb macro capabilities with 1cm minimum focusing distance.
When looking at point and shoot cameras with a 1/1.7″ sensor this is probably as good as it gets. The camera is especially a good fit for basic users that have a passion for photography and want to learn and master the aspects of shooting manual. Canon’s slick interface and intuitive controls make shooting with this camera a breeze and provides great results both in the automatic modes and when shooting manual.
The Fantasea FG16 Underwater Housing
The FG16 is the fourth of Fantasea F series of housings. Fantasea has set a very high bar for Polycarbonate housings and they are getting even better with every model that’s released.
The housing allows control of all the cameras functions, even popping the flash in and out. Using it feels just like using the camera and occasionally even better due to the ergonomic hand grip. The housing comes with all the goodies you would want: Hand Lanyard, Diffuser, 2 Fiber Optic connections, Cold Shoe Mount, LCD shade and Moisture Alarm.
The moisture alarm is a very neat feature that I even saw in action during my dives. On one of the dives, it started beeping and flashing on me after the descent at about 15 feet. I immediately went back up and gave the housing back to the guys on the boat. I returned from the amazing shark dive (the best dives are when you have no camera 🙂 ) only to find that I must have dripped some water from my hands when replacing batteries in the morning. So the housing was perfectly fine but it gave me a glimpse on how this alarm may have saved my housing/camera from a leak.
The housing has a slight positive buoyancy in the water which is great as you can never lose it. The latch is very easy to open and close and has a reassuring safety lock which prevents it from opening underwater. The buttons are all clearly marked and are as soft at 100 ft as they are on the surface. The dials hardly ever miss a click and I especially liked the back dial which is slightly over the buttons and as such very easy to use even with gloves.
The Fantasea diffuser is big enough to get quite decent shots with the cameras built in flash. The effective distance is about 2 feet which is enough for most shots.
Fantasea designed the F series of housings with the accessories in mind and their snap on/off port system is very easy to use. The available optics are a wide angle dome, macro lens (with 67mm adapter), Red/Pink filters and a lens holder for them all. Snapping the accessories on and off underwater is much easier than screwing a thread and thus my preferred connection for external lenses.
This housing is perfect. Combine it with the Accessory system, Fantasea’s superb customer service and the affordable price point it is a clear winner over the competition.
Using the Canon G16 Underwater
The Canon G series of cameras have been very popular for underwater use since they were first released. The reason being that these cameras are very DSLR-like and are capable of shooting RAW with full manual controls which are both crucial for getting good results underwater.
Flash – The built in flash can be used in Auto mode (with TTL) and Manual mode (choosing between Low/Mid and High).
When the cameras is on Auto/P/S or A, the flash is set to TTL mode and only flash exposure compensation is available. When the camera is in M (Manual) mode the TTL mode is not available and the flash is automatically put on manual, all Canon’s are like that and that’s a shame as TTL in manual mode is very useful for underwater photography.
Every camera has its limitations in this aspect, for example, the RX100 is TTL only in all modes. The Nikon P7100, However, which I reviewed a while back, supported TTL and manual in all modes.
See Explanation – http://www.housingcamera.com/blog/faqs/strobe-ttl-vs-non-ttl
Controls – The G16 has a very cool button (marked with a star) that sets the correct shutter speed/aperture on your camera when in manual mode according to the frame. That’s a great aid for someone just learning to shoot manual. Of course it does not help when using an external strobe as the camera has no way of knowing what the light level will be.
I shoot underwater in 2 modes, M or A. The M mode I use for flash photography so I set it up for low ISO, flash on at the lowest level, JPG and a default shutter/aperture of f/5.6 and 1/125. The A mode I use for ambient light and set it up for no flash, RAW, EV at -2/3, ISO 200 and default aperture at f/2.8. This makes it very easy to switch between flash and no flash using the mode dial.
I did miss a smaller aperture than f/8.0 but as most compacts do not allow that, I learned to live with it. Some cameras like the RX100 offer F/11 or more, that has some advantage when shooting with external strobes.
Color – I don’t use manual white balance or filters as I am avid lightroom user and love to post-process at home. For those who prefer not to do that, I would recommend a Red filter and manual white balance to improve the colors. We’ve recently started selling an underwater photo processing software called Vivid-Pix, that is a very cool and simple JPG only alternative to lightroom that produces surprisingly good results with one click.
Video – The FG16 produces excellent Full HD at 60fps video. The quality is great but the Auto focusing in video mode is lacking, especially underwater. When shooting Mantas or sharks, if they are not very close, the camera would lose focus occasionally in the middle of the video. This mostly happens in unclear water or at depth where colors blend and make it more difficult for the camera. I found the auto focus when shooting stills to be quite good.
Macro – Now, this is where this camera really shines. It focuses on anything, at almost any distance, almost eliminating the need for a macro lens. This is a huge advantage when encountering things like a Mantis shrimp while you are trying to take a great shot of a Bat Fish above a wreck. Many cameras like the Sony RX100 or Canon G1X will require screwing on a macro lens at this point when you simply do not have the time to do so. That is not to say a macro lens is not needed, it does in order to give you some working distance by zooming in (you can’t get 1cm from a Mantis shrimp!).
To cut a long story short: Great camera, perfect housing and spot on price point make this bundle the perfect choice for beginners, advanced photographers and even professional photographers that shooting underwater is not their profession.
The G16 Housing, Bundle and Packages can be seen and bought here.
My Setup and Images from the Maldives
When it comes to generating really good shots, I usually leave the work for the more talented. Included are my best pics from the Maldives and some additional images taken by Arik Amzaleg, Boaz Samorai and Howard Rosenstein during the test dives of this housing.
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