Canon’s PowerShot G-series compact cameras are highly regarded for underwater use. Although the compact camera segment is rapidly dwindling due to the impact of camera equipped smartphones, high-end compacts are still differentiated enough to maintain sales. This is fortunate, as these make excellent underwater cameras. The G15 is the latest incarnation of the range, adding a faster lens (f1.8-2.8), and better autofocus performance over its predecessor.
Housing options for compact cameras typically consist of a polycarbonate housing from the manufacturer. These tend to be fairly simple cases that do not offer built-in compatibility with external strobes, and may need adaptors to attach third-party wet lenses. Some do not offer access to all camera functions either. In the case of the G15, Canon offers the WP-DC 48 housing, which does not give access to the front command dial, or flash disable and requires third-party solutions to attach either strobes or wet lenses.
Fantasea has entered the G15 housing market with their FG15 housing, This is a fully featured polycarbonate housing with a depth rating of 60m. It has a reassuringly robust feel and the use of a black polycarbonate on the front of the housing helps to give it a robust appearance. It is designed to have superior ergonomics over those of the Canon offering, and has molded front and rear cut-aways which make it sit well in the hand.
The housing gives full access to all camera controls, and has a removable bulkhead for the attachment of fiber optic strobe triggers.
Whilst speaking of strobe attachments, the housing has three threaded attachment points on its base, ensuring that it will be compatible and secure with almost all tray systems. It is also equipped with a “cold” shoe for attaching smaller lights or strobes to the top of the housing.
It has a rotating closure mechanism with a lock and the rear door is sealed with dual o-rings.
The interior of the housing has rubber guide posts that secure and hold the camera in place. This makes installing the camera easy (although the mode control dial needs lifting as you insert it), and ensures that its body is not marked by the housing. It also guarantees correct control alignment.
The housing is fitted with an audible and visual leak detector, and although it is listed on the Fantasea website as an optional addition, Howard Rosenstein assures me that it is supplied as standard. Leak detection is an important feature on any housing, and I would suggest that this is a feature that significantly differentiates this housing from its Canon sibling.
Externally, the control dials are all chunky and easy to use. Access to the camera’s front command dial is an important feature for underwater photographers.
The G15’s front dial can be programmed to control a variety of functions including White Balance so, for those shooting in ambient light, the addition of this control is crucial. The rear control dial is accessed a rotating control and push buttons, some of which are quite close together.
The button controlling Macro/Manual focus is recessed in and hence shielded when the (supplied) LCD screen shade is used. Many of the controls on the rear command dial are either not needed or can be remapped onto other buttons, so this is not a major issue, although those who shoot in thick gloves may need to find work-arounds.
One control that seems very well thought out is the video record (“movie”) button. This sits apart form the other controls on the camera and is easy to activate inadvertently. Fantasea has built a collar around it, which should help reduce this. It also sits really neatly under the right hand thumb. Another nice and effective feature is a control that allows the flash to be “popped-up” and activated and to be depressed and switched off.
The flash can also be locked into the depressed position, preventing inadvertent triggering.
As mentioned above, the housing is supplied with a plate that allows the user to attach two L type fiber optic cables for triggering strobes via TTL if the strobe allows it. The plate is removable, and the housing is supplied with a large diffuser that can be attached to spread the output of the internal flash if it is used.
Fantasea offer a wet wide-angle lens for the housing that clips on to its lens port as well as an adaptor that will accept any M67 threaded lans or filter.
The housing is very buoyant in the water and although the attachment of a tray, arms, strobes and wet lenses will reduce this, when on its own I found that care had to be taken when framing and composing images. Another option to reduce this would be to attach a weight to the its base. It is also wise to use a substantial lanyard, as if you let the camera go, the housing will float away rapidly. The housing is equipped with lanyard attachments points.
The Fantasea FG15 incorporates the features that an underwater photographer wants on a housing. It offers a significant increase in performance at a relatively modest cost over that of the Canon housing. If you are considering the PowerShot G15 for underwater use, you would be well advised to visit your local Fantasea dealer before making a housing choice.
The FG15 retails at around $499.95 and is also available direct from Fantasea. Further information about the housing is also on Fantasea’s Canon Dive webpage.
FTC Discloure: The FG15 was loaned by the manufacturer for the review. After the review, the housing was sold.
Many thanks to Howard Rosenstein of Fantasea and my friend and diving buddy John Harkes for the loan of his camera for the review.