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Underwater compact camera review

Canon Ixus 130is | Ikelite ultra compact housing

Equipment review

The camera | Being accustomed to my previous (and now quite old) Fuji compact, this tiny Canon did take a little while to get used to, but like most in this breed of camera, many functions are similar enough to find them instinctively. The camera is small (92.2 x 56.1 x 17.8mm) with a big screen (2.7 inch LCD screen) but no viewfinder. The function buttons on the back are very, very small and completely flat to the camera, which makes it sleek and attractive but can be hard to use for bigger fingers. Long fingernails are good!

A lot could be said about this camera and it's useability, but suffice it to say that all the things a normal person looks for (a few programmes, flash, self-timer and so on) are all there and all fine. The big bonus for me, was the wide angle lens (not new to a lot of compacts, but new to me) and the calibre of the lens. The image quality is extremely good at 14 mega pixels. Land images showed no visible pixelization at full size even on our 26 inch iMac monitors and the HD movies are clear and smooth at full screen. I did find it a little difficult to keep the camera steady as it is so small and light but patience and practice would remedy that.

The housing | Canon did not produce a specific underwater housing for this Ixus model – well, they did, but it doesn't allow access all the features. Very odd! Consequently, I was sent the appropriate Ikelite housing. There are pros and cons to this and it all depends what you want to do underwater. My requirement is to have something small enough to slip into my BC pocket, that I can grab for a quick shot of an unknown critter or a passing manta ray. I don't want a strobe or extras so for me the Ikelite housing, at more than double the size of the camera, was too bulky. However, if you want to attach a video light or flash to the set-up, the Ike is a chunky little housing that would feel balanced and sturdy. Unfortunately, the one we tested had issues with the housing buttons not reaching the camera buttons properly so we couldn't assess it as thoroughly as hoped.
Colour and exposure tests
Land images Underwater videos
Taken on the Canon Ixus 130is: detail in the dark areas is particularly good.a
DEPTH: 12 m, white balance slightly green
DEPTH: 3 m, white balance a bit pink
Taken on the Canon Ixus 120is on macro at 4cm from subject. Good detail and quick focus.
DEPTH: 3 metres, exposure too light
DEPTH:15 metres, white balance good
Correcting colour underwater

The whole point of using this camera underwater is that you can do a manual white balance in both picture and video modes and at depth. The process involves a few button clicks: settings –> white balance –> OK –> display –> take frame of back of next divers tank –> OK and you will have a pretty good colour correction.

Using the back of a tank was a hint from Cameras Underwater and a really good one. This method supplied much better results than using my hand or white plastic but a white soft coral was also good. We were advised to do this every 10 metres but I found every five meters was more appropriate.

If the scenery changed dramatically, I rebalanced between all little sections of video. For example, a part of the reef with a lot of colourful fish balanced more realistically than an area that was mostly neutral-toned hard corals. The videos above show some examples that are not quite perfect, but could be corrected. Another camera setting allows you to drop the brightness a couple of notches, a good idea as the videos were often too light, but the Ike housing did not want to play on this function.

I didn't get any underwater still images for the same reason, but the land images and manual white balance demonstrate the potential for taking good underwater images without a strobe.

Test video | Diving in Aqaba, Jordan

On the right is the final edited piece from our experience with the Ixus 130. The footage is a bit light as explained below (and because QuickTime lightens a movie when it optimizes for internet. However, the image quality is really great, especially at full size.

LOCATION: Aqaba, Jordan

DIVE SITES: Cables, The Tank, Gorgon 1, Japanese Gardens,
Yellowstone Reef

DEPTHS: 6 - 20 metres

click > to play

Read the
Canon Ixus 100is review here for
a comparison.
All in all, I was very impressed with the small videos from the Canon Ixus 130. The quality is smooth, the colours are fairly natural (where they aren't, it's because I didn't white balance well enough) and a few tweaks in Apple iMovie corrected most issues.

For myself, if this camera had a smaller, dedicated housing I would buy it. As it doesn't, I was thinking of searching around for the Canon Ixus 120 and it's dedicated Canon housing*. However, for those who don't want to use the camera as a pocket-size toy, I can't imagine a better choice in the current market. Check out the Ikelite AF35 strobe or the PRO-V8 video light.

* Typically, Cameras Underwater advise that a new range of Ixus models with Canon housings is due for the Autumn of 2010.
Contact details are below.

Canon Ixus 130

The Ixus 130 and inside the Ikelite housing – size comparison.
This camera is known as the Powershot SD1400 in some countries.

For more details and options within the
Canon Ixus range, contact Cameras Underwater.

Cameras Underwater

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