Seacam Prelude for the Canon 60D review

The Failed Attempt

(and how to get the right attitude.)

After setting up the housing, it was time to put it in water for the test.  The initial idea was to test the housing in South Africa during the Ocean Safari and various dives around this wonderful place. Unfortunately, weather nixed all my dives in Umkomaas and Capetown, while conditions and lack of familiarity with the 60D and the housing’s nuances made it a bit of a disaster.

Newbie Errors and other factors:

The first test was not good.  The most important factor was that I was not accustomed to the housing and camera workings when I jumped into a high octane, fast action of baitballs.  There were a new viewfinder, housing, camera and strobes to familiarize myself with.  I’ve used 60D for video a few times, but never shot a single still shot! I also planned to test the ETTL of the 150s and figured it wouldn’t be that hard to learn on the run, so I kept it on ETTL. My hubris would bite me hard!  Fast pace action on the Ocean Safari is not the optimal place to experiment and test new gear, although such tough conditions does reveal and amplify any issues there are.

I usually preset for early morning action, with low light in mind, in M mode, ISO400-1250, 1/250 and f/7.1, with the 10-22, with flash exposure compensation at -2/3 stop for ETTL.  However, the first dive’s action turned out to be just after mid day. I forgot to reset before jumping in (there was a shortage of action and thus I was overeager).

Diving in, I realized I had difficulty looking through the S10 viewfinder.  Being a creature of habit, I reflexed to positioning the housing so viewfinder would be at eye level.  With the 10° tilt, I had to readjust how I positioned the camera for shooting.

A Cormorant attacks the herrings. 1/250 f10 ISO400 FEC-2/3. EFS 10-22 at 22mm.

Then after taking a shot, I knew the settings were wrong.  I needed to change ISO and the flash since I had been using 250W flash before with those settings.  With the Prelude, there is no ISO button, only the Quick Control menu.  And thus I had to press the Q button, then press the QR button to cycle through the quick menu to ISO (or whatever function desired.).  Fortunately I was accustomed to using the LCD for such things.  Furthermore, the camera was in high fps mode, so the strobes couldn’t keep up in ETTL and I had several dark frames in a sequence and missed some good shots.  I was so accustomed to shooting manual with 250W high fps strobes that I didn’t adjust my mindset.  I got a tad frustrated, to say the least!  (A side note, the Prelude controls were easy to operate, with my 3mm gloves.  I’ve dived with my other Seacam housing with 5mm and dry suit gloves and have had no problems with the controls.)

About 15 minutes passed before I figured out what I needed to do underwater… leave Q mode at ISO for quick access, shoot at FEC -1/3 and switch to single shot to shoot first. It took quite a few presses to switch all those things because the housing controls only allow the scrolling of menus to go one way.  Just as I got into somewhat of a comfort zone, 2 divers came in and ruined the action for everyone.  With the action becoming sporadic, I decided to switch to video mode @ 720/60p to get some slow motion action.  The 60D is a huge step away from the previous Canon cameras in that it has a separate video mode that is accessed from the Mode dial, unlike the 1D4 , 5D2 and 7D.  It also keeps the settings the user inputs while in that mode, like the 1D4.  Unfortunately, my settings were at ISO100 and 1080/30p because I messed with it a few days before.  The problem is that there was no way to change this in the housing since there’s no Menu or ISO buttons!


Cape Gannet and Cormorants hit the herring baitball. 1/250 f10 ISO400 FEC -2/3. EFS10-22 f2.8 at 22mm.

A subsequent dive brought out another issue that occurred a few times throughout the entire test period.  I hit the Q button to change ISO and it jumped to the next window. Hitting QR wouldn’t scroll through the menu.  However, when turning Q on and off, it would jump over one window in the menu.  Obviously, the buttons were being depressed because the camera wasn’t secured properly and had shifted slightly in the surf launches.  I missed quite a few minutes trying to scroll through the menu. And with baitballs, the action is over before you know it.

After that, I was all ready to write a scathing review about how inadequate the housing was for “real” work.  It was then a good friend and professional cameraman, Barry, whose work has popped up on BBC and other broadcast channels, came to me and asked about the handsome housing.  I said it was handicapped and complained about the lack of manual controls etc.  Barry then said something that surprised me. He himself was looking for a DSLR rig and he would shoot in auto ISO mode for video.  He felt the less clutter the better and actually wanted to test the Seacam Prelude to see if he liked the handling.


The view from the S10 Sportsfinder.

That was something I hadn’t thought about. In my hastiness to judge, I was putting my own demands and “idiosyncrasies” on how a housing should perform.  Hardly a fair test when one has already decided what works and what doesn’t. I’d run out of time in South Africa and couldn’t dive anymore.  I wanted to be responsible and needed an extension to test it properly and asked Seacam and Canon for more time for a more definitive test in Bali.  Fortunately they said yes.

With South Africa in the past, I chose the wonderful island of Bali for the field test.  My venue of choice was, of course, Tulamben and Scuba Seraya.  This allowed for a much better and fairer test as I’d have time to familiarize myself with the housing and camera, without the rush of a baitball situation.  Reef, wall and wreck diving are the more typical dives of the general DSLR shooter.

Field Test Ergonomics:

With the lessons learnt in the short time underwater in South Africa, I was better prepared this time round.  In the unrushed environment of the Liberty wreck, I could also test the housing more intensely. 

The first thing I felt was that all the controls were precise and had excellent feel, especially the shutter trigger.  I could easily find ½ shutter press without shooting off a frame accidentally.  This was especially important for metering during composure and also video mode to check metering.

The positions of the dials and the shutter release were very comfortable.  In fact, for my hand, it was actually more comfortable than the Seacam 5D Mark II housing, where the trigger and front dial were a tad lower due to the sync connector.  I could use all 3 essential controls and the AF-ON lever without moving my palm off the handle.  The handle is the same handle that is used in all Seacam housings. I know a few people whose hands can’t reach round the curve but for my 21.7cm hand span (measured from base of palm to tip of middle finger), which is a medium large hand, it’s fine.  I’ve included the approximate measurements so you can see if your hands can easily wrap round the handle without shifting your palm at all.


Measurements of how big your hands need to be to operate controls without moving the palm of your hands at all.

The gear ratios on the dials were well chosen.  They were neither too sensitive nor required a lot of movement to change settings.  The rest of the controls were also as easy to operate.  Buttons were easily actuated with a good amount of resistance to prevent accidental pushing.  The housing is rated to 80m but I never took it further than 30m.

Next up: Shooting Wide Angle Stills