*NOTE* This review covers a preproduction Ikelite EOS Digital Rebel Housing
Ikelite debuted a preproduction housing at the Miami DEMA show. This initial review is based on a brief (4 dives) use of the housing, Canon's EOS Digital Rebel camera and new 18-55 mm EF-S zoom lens. The housing is smaller than Ikelite's SLR and MD-SLR models and has room to accommodate future DSLR cameras, which may continue to shrink in size. Changes to the housing will likely be made prior to production housings being shipped.
In case you¹ve been in a cave, the Canon EOS Digital Rebel (the "EOS300D" elsewhere in the world) is the first camera with 6.3 megapixels to break the magic $1,000.00 price point. Canon's new 18-55 mm EF-S lens can be used on the Digital Rebel but not on previous EOS digital cameras (D30, D60, 10D or EOS-1D and EOS-1DS.) However, the Digital Rebel can use all previous EOS lenses and maintains the 1.6X equivalent magnification factor of previous EOS models (except the 1D and 1DS PRO models, which are full frame.) Attached to the Digital Rebel, the new lens gives the user a range equivalent to 29-88 mm, which is a great working range for new digital underwater shooters migrating to DSLRs.
CANON DIGITAL REBEL
The Canon Digital Rebel was fairly easy to learn with the manual in hand. Even this Nikon D100 user (but a previous EOS film SLR user) was able to figure out which buttons did what. The body is light without feeling cheap. The camera features good ergonomics, both the settings display and review LCD screen are located right below the eyepiece for easy viewing. The settings display can be illuminated underwater with the press of a button, which is very nice for night dives.
The viewfinder shows 95% of the frame, according to the manual. I found that framing right to the edges of the viewfinder still resulted in space around the subject on the review screen, but this could be from not being able to get my low profile mask close enough with the flash bulkhead and cord next to it. [this is what a 95% viewfinder should do. -editor]
The Digital Rebel only has one command dial on the body. When used in manual mode -- what most of us shoot in -- the command dial changes shutter speed. Changing aperture necessitates pressing a thumb-positioned button, and then turning the command dial. This was a challenge in the housing (which will hopefully be addressed somehow). In manual mode, the exposure bars in the viewfinder are bright enough to judge exposure levels.
Colors in the default Parameter 1 mode (2 steps more "vivid" than previous digital EOS models, according to some reviews I've read) look great right out of the camera in Fine/Large JPEG files. The CMOS sensor is the same as the one used in the Canon 10D, as is the autofocus system. Focusing is quick. You can select one point or multiple points to lock in on. I used multi-AF for wide shooting, and a single center point for fish. The center of the AF point "flashes" when locked on, which is very nice. The camera fires with a very soft "click," and the lens noise of 18-55 lens was quiet enough not to spook fish.
The new Canon 18-55 mm EF-S lens is a marvel for a $100.00. Very sharp! Light falloff at wide settings isn't as obvious due to the rear-element distance to sensor design. New DSLR shooters will be satisfied until they want a dedicated macro or wider angle lens. The battery is Canon's proven BP-511 which lasts virtually forever, depending on how long a review time you have set. Review display can be set to display all shooting data settings and a histogram.
The new smaller mold has a nice "prism" SLR curve on the top, making the housing compact but not too tight. Future DSLR housings can easily be brought to market because the camera is mounted on the back plate of the housing. Some criticize this arrangement, but it makes the spring loaded button alignment (on the back of the camera) more precise, and insertion into the front housing section easier.
As noted in my Nikon D100 housing review, large memory card prices are continually dropping, and the batteries on DSLRs seem to last longer with each generation. This minimizes the need to pop the camera in and out of the housing to change these two items.
For surface shooting (and for testing your camera before descending) the housing is light enough to hold up to your face on a bouncing boat. The bar underneath the housing has a lead weight, which can be removed for buoyancy adjustments dependent on your strobe choice. With a single DS125 and Ikelite's Deluxe Ball Joint arm the housing, was slightly negative with the lead attached. If I would've removed the lead the complete rig would be close to neutral in salt water.
The built in Super Eye viewfinder magnifier partially blocks the very top of the Digital Rebel's LCD data screen. Tipping the front of the housing down a bit allows you to see the details, change focusing areas, or review shutter speed, aperture, ISO, and flash mode settings.
The standard Ikelite port opening means that this new housing is compatible with other Ikelite SLR housing ports. Two port locks secure the port and snap down tightly. The easily visible o-ring means that you can check the seal after the port has been locked on.
This preproduction housing had the strobe cord bulkhead (a standard Ikelite 5 pin connector) on the back of the housing, to the left of the viewfinder, which blocks your eye from seeing the complete viewfinder. Even though the intent was to keep the camera entirely attached to the back plate of the housing, the bulkhead should be moved to the top of the main housing body. This would allow full use of the viewfinder and would route strobe sync cords directly up to strobes, instead of having them poke out of the back.
The Canon Digital Rebel and Ikelite housing are a very interesting combo for those who have held off from converting to digital because of the price poin -- especially to Canon EOS film shooters who can still use their EOS lenses with the new set-up, and to current underwater digital shooters putting up with shutter lag on their consumer rigs. I never thought a $1,000.00 camera could be called "low cost," but in today's electronic arena, we've come a loooong way in a short period of time.
Even though I am a Nikon shooter, I really enjoyed using a Canon EOS camera underwater again. I think that this system is going to be the ticket for a lot of underwater shooters.
GALLERY (SAMPLE SHOTS)