Turn Memories into Snapshots

By Bonnie J. Cardone

Not everyone wants to invest the time and money needed to take professional quality U/W photographs. Many divers simply want to bring home memories of their vacations in the form of snapshots. If that's your goal, you should checkout the Sealife Reefmaster RC and its new close-up lens.


The Reefmaster RC Automatic Dive Camera consists of a lightweight, compact 35mm camera with a built-in flash and its own, specially designed housing. Powered by two AA alkaline batteries, the camera is point and shoot simple. You put in fresh batteries and film (the booklet that comes with the camera tells you how to do these really easy tasks), then move the switch under the lens to On. After that all you need do is press the shutter release. The camera automatically advances the film after each shot. When the entire roll has been exposed, press a little lever on the bottom of the camera to rewind the film.

The Reefmaster housing is not much bigger than the camera-about 51/4 inches long, 21/2 inches wide and 4 inches high. Made of clear Lexan, it has a yellow rubber coating, which gives it a nonslip grip. The housing closes with two stainless steel snaps and is sealed with a nonremovable O-ring. After turning the camera on, slip it into the housing and close the snaps. Voila-the system is ready to use. Clear Lexan ports in it allow you to see the frame counter, the camera ready light (green) and the camera viewfinder (useful for seeing if you remembered to turn the camera on before putting it in the housing-if you did, a red light will go on when you press the shutter release!).

Before taking a photo, make sure the shutter lock-under the shutter release on the camera housing-is turned to On. In the Off position, it prevents the camera from being triggered accidentally.

The Reefmaster is intended for use in clear water. When visibility is poor, the camera's built-in strobe (which turns on automatically when the camera is turned on) will illuminate the particles in the water, producing backscatter. (Soon to be available is a Sealife Slave Strobe, designed to minimize or eliminate backscatter.)

The Reefmaster takes wide angle photos four to six feet from a subject; with the Macro 3X Lens and Filter, you can also take close-ups. This lens snaps onto the front of the housing, over the lens port and has a lanyard that clips to a loop on the side of the housing.

When using the macro lens you should stay two to four feet from your subject (the Sealife booklet suggests extending your arm toward your subject and shooting no closer than the end of your fingertips.) The macro lens allows you to shoot photos of entire fish and other similarly sized creatures. It is coated to enhance red and yellow and minimize blue.

I found the Macro Lens fun and easy to use. On a trip to Southern California's San Clemente Island, I happily snapped photos of Garibaldi, Red Gorgonians and Spiny Lobsters. The results were excellent; the U/W photo you see here was taken with the first roll of film.

The Macro Lens can also be used on land to take close-up photos of subjects 8 to 12 inches from the camera.


Besides shooting only in clear water, the following are some other things you can do to improve your photos.

Pay attention to how far you are from your subjects: Estimating distance is the hardest part of point and shoot photography. After seeing the results of one or two rolls you'll know where you should be in relation to your subjects as well as what to photograph, with or without the Macro Lens.

Shoot on a level angle with your subject or from slightly below it: Avoid shooting down; subjects in photos taken from this angle tend to blend in with the reef and it's an uncomfortable angle to view.

Remain motionless when you trigger the shutter: Unless your subject is stationary it is likely to be moving when you take your picture. If both of you are moving this is likely to be evident in the photo.

Wait for the green light: It takes about 10 seconds for the flash to recycle after taking a picture. Count to ten slowly between photos. If you take a photo before the flash has recycled, it won't go off and your photo will most likely be underexposed.

Use 200 ASA print film: This is the best choice for underwater use with the Reefmaster because print film has more latitude (it compensates for minor exposure problems) than slide film. Topside, either 100 ASA print or slide film are good choices.

Maintenance: Soak the Reefmaster in freshwater to remove salt at the end of each diving day. You can do this with the camera inside. Before you open the housing, make sure you, your hair and what you're wearing are dry-and that the housing is dry-water dripped on the inner camera will ruin it.

Before closing the housing with the camera inside, check the O-ring for lint and other debris. It can be cleaned with a soft, clean cloth. The manufacturer also suggests cleaning the O-ring with "a mild detergent and running water." Do this several hours or the day before you want to use the camera so the housing has a chance to dry. I found water got in between the outside of the housing and the rubber coating and could drip on the camera while the housing halves were being put together. Be careful and take your time.

The Reefmaster RC is pressure resistant to 164 feet and positively buoyant. This little housing/camera combination is also perfect for taking topside photos in inclement weather and you can use the camera alone when the skies are clear.

The suggested retail price for the Sealife Reefmaster RC with Macro 3X Lens, a housing lanyard and a compact, unbreakable watertight carry case is $249. If you already have a Reefmaster, you can buy the Macro Lens for $39.95. For more information, contact Pioneer Research, 97 Foster Road, Suite 5, Moorestown, NJ 08057; (800) 257-7742, (609) 866-9191, fax (609) 866-8615 or e-mail info@pioneer-research. com. You can visit the Web site at www.pioneer-research.com.

The Reefmaster CL Compact Automatic Dive Camera has two fewer features than the Reefmaster RC: its clear Lexan housing does not have a yellow rubber coating and the camera does not have a flash override (i.e., the flash cannot be turned off manually). Also, the CL camera is yellow, the RC is black. The CL, which does not come with a carry case or Macro Lens, sells for $169; the Macro 3X Lens is optionally available for $39.95.