Review: Fantasea FRX100 IV by Becky Kagan Schott

Fantasea FRX 100 IV Review

By Becky Kagan Schott

I looked out at the water and we were the only boat out there. There was a beautiful snow capped mountain backdrop and about a hundred Steller sea lions (Eumetopias jubatus) lounging on the rocks. Around a dozen of them came out to greet the boat and see what kind of strange looking creatures were visiting them. They were spy hoping and I could see their cute faces popping out of the water and pushing each other out of the way to take a look. I excitedly grabbed my camera system and jumped into the water with the large, 6-700 pound pinnipeds.

It was my first trip with the new Sony RX100 IV camera in the Fantasea Line FRX100 IV housing built specifically for the camera. I was initially concerned that the buttons might be too small to operate using dry gloves but I was immediately impressed when I could manipulate all of the controls very easily. It is a compact system and its size make it easy to travel with. The camera and housing, together with all its accessories can fit into a backpack that I could carry on the plane. Bu itself, the camera is small enough to fit in a normal pocket if it’s being used outside of the housing.

As the sea lions curiously pushed and pulled at my gear I shot some still photos then with one button push switched to 4k video. Because there was so much happening I was happy to be able to easily switch between shooting modes so quickly. I don’t normally do that on a dive much but in this situation it made sense and it took no time to go from stills to video or vice versa. Many of the sea lions pressed their noses against the Inon fisheye lens and whether shooting video or stills the camera focused fast and the images were sharp. It’s a nice feature to be able to use high quality wet lenses and color correction filters with this set up. They are easy to change out and this could even be done underwater. The only downside I found to these wet lenses were trying to do split level shots. The water would drain out of the lens and a lot of water drops remained between the housing’s lens port and the lens itself.

The Sony RX100 IV shoots 20.1MP RAW images and I found that I could shoot at a frame rate of around 9 fps which was helpful with fast moving animals. In terms of exposure control, the user can choose to shoot full manual, aperture priority, shutter priority and choose ISO speeds. I was also able to do a few dives on deep walls and wrecks where I could see how the camera performed in low light conditions. It performed well at high ISO’s when shooting both stills and video.

I was extremely impressed with the high frame rate (HFR) video feature (slow motion). The camera can shoot 240, 480, or 960 frames per second. It was helpful to record at these frame rates and see the fast moving sea lions in more detail and giving the footage a more cinematic look. This feature is not available on many cameras and can really help you capture some unique footage. Timing the shots took me a dive or so to get used to but it’s very intuitive after you’ve used the feature a few times.

The only downside I found with this feature was the slow write times to the card. While it’s writing you cannot use the camera but you can cancel it if you feel like you didn’t get the shots you wanted. I only tested out 240fps on this trip. It would record about 4 seconds of actual footage and then slow that down into a 30 second clip all done inside the camera, with no post processing required. This created some of my favorite shots from the trip and for such a small camera to shoot such high frame rates was exciting to me.

Sea Lion video shot with Fantasea system

I would happily take this camera system with me anywhere in the world. It’s small size and capability of shooting 4k video, high frame rates and large images makes this a very desirable package.

I’m leading 2 groups to dive and photograph the Steller Sea Lions again this April and I’m looking forward to capturing more 4k footage and experimenting with even higher frame rates. It’s challenging with fast moving animals but this camera can handle every bit of it. The Fantasea housing is now a sea lion approved chew toy! No lenses were harmed in the making of these images.

About the author:

Becky Schott is a multiple Emmy Award-winning underwater cameraman, photographer, and accomplished technical diver whose work can be seen on major networks including National Geographic, Discovery Channel, and the Travel Channel. She is co-owner of Liquid Productions, Inc, specializing in capturing quality imagery in challenging environments. Her projects have taken her all over the globe from exploring virgin wrecks in over 300 feet of water in the Great Lakes, rappelling into caves in the jungle, filming under ice in the Arctic to diving cage-less with great white sharks.