Vivitar 6200W - A Diver's Review
Once upon a time divers had to either dig deep for a specialist Sea&Sea or Nikon camera with waterproof housing or else buy a specialist after market housing for their standard cameras. Those days are thankfully over; at least to a certain degree. A search on Amazon.co.uk for 'Underwater Camera' gives 3,600 results. These results include, 'Use once and throw away' 35mm housings for just a few pounds. Refining the search to 'Underwater Digital Camera' gives 1,122 results with the fifth being the Vivitar 8400WP - the big brother of the 6200W - currently for sale at £49.99
I bought my 6200W two years ago in Sulmona, Italy for €84 to include a 516MB SD memory card.
I lke to go on snorkelling trips andI originally bought this camera, which is rated to a depth of ten metres, to take with me to Positano a stunningly beautiful sea-cliff town on the Amalfi coast. For snorkelling this camera surpassed my expectations.
From the outset the camera's bright yellow rubberised casing invokes a great deal of confidence. The two inch LCD display is very bright and clear and set of six functions buttons are easy to use as long s you're not wearing gloves. The shutter release button is large and comfortable to use. The only control that isn't easily operated is the Macro switch which I have found to be somewhat stiff and difficult to use.
This is a six mega-pixel camera with a maximum resolution of 2816 x 2112. With the 516Mb memory card supplied this gives a capacity of 154 images. I later bought a 2GB SD card giving me the possibility to take 617 maximum resolution photographs. All of the standard digital camera functions are accessibily via the control buttons. The flash can be turned off completely wich is very useful. The most common function that I use is the timer which can be set to either two seconds, ten seconds or 2+10 seconds. The latter setting is at first counter intuitive; rather than a giving twelve second delay before taking a shot this function takes two shots - one after ten seconds and then a successive shot after further two seconds.
The camera boasts a 4x digital zoom which isn't really worth bothering with other than in preview mode when it's really quite useful.
Power is in the form of two AA batteries but make sure to use either rechargeables or high quality alkelines like Duracels. This because notwithstanding a battery full indication, as the batteries begin to deplete, the camera will turn itself off. This will occur when it is writing the captured image data to SD memory. Always carry spare batteries with you and when the camera does start to play up in this way don't dispose of the old batteries - they will be perfectly good for all sorts of other applications.
The SD memory card slot, battery compartment and USB connector are grouped together behind a waterproof door. The sealing arrangement for the door is excellent. I found that it worked perfectly down to 15m and I'm quite sure that it would continue to seal correctly a lot deeper.
The camera works equally well both above and below water. This shot was taken at Positano in bright sunshine...
This shot was taken at the same location but underwater close to the shore...
The camera is fixed focus so care should be taken with close-up shots. In macro mode it will focus down to 15cm but very distant objects, beyond ten metres, will appear slightly out of focus. In normal (non macro) mode the focus is to infinity but not closer than a metre or so. Underwater I tend to leave the camera in macro mode especially because at the best of times it's very dificult to manipulate the actual macro switch. If you have one of these cameras and the macro switch is easy to use please let me know.
In the old days of 25mm film we could choose between five main ISO values:
75 - Professional - general requiring studio lighting. Has the highest density.
100 - Outdoor - produces excellent results in ambient natural light.
200 - General - more responsive but graininess dicernable in dark areas.
400 - Low Light - produces generally very grainy images but is very sensitive to light.
800 - Very Low Light - produces very grainy images but is the most sensitive to light.
The difference betweent the five types comes down fundamentally to the density of silver halide crystals - the photo sensative layer of the film. ISO 75 has the highest density of crystals producing the best the result but also requires lots of light. With ISO 800 the crystal size is the largest and thus rendering the film very sensitive to light. The side effect of the large crystal size however is the presence of noise (grain) in the final image.
In the digital camera world cameras generally have an ISO adjustment option; but how can this be when there are no silver halide crystals involved?
At the heart of a digital camera we find a photo sensitive device called the CCD (Charge Coupled Device). The CCD is rectangular in shape and made up of millions of individual cells aranged into squares of one red, one blue and two green elements - the human eye is most sensitive to green light. The CCD array is read pixel by pixel and the resulting data values written to an image file - usually a jpeg.
Let's assume we're taking a photograph of a sunset with very low ambient light available. In order to register an image that isn't too dark we can tell the camera to amplify the output from the CCD thus giving us an image that we can actually see. The unfortunate side effect of amplifying the CCD's output is the concurrent amplification of the electrical noise that the CCD produces. This noise is visible in the form of speckling and looks very similar to the grain effect produced by silver halid crystals as their density is decreased.
The Vivitar 6200W has four ISO settings; Auto, 75, 100 and 200. I tend to leave the camera on the Auto setting and concentrate instead on the EV setting - the Positano boat shot above was taken in very bright sunlight with the ISO set to Auto and the Ev to -1. EV stands for Exposure Value. There are two ways that the EV can be adjusted:
1) Increase or decrease the shutter speed.
2) Increase or decrease the aperture.
Alternatively the ISO setting can be adjusted which in the case of a digital camera means altering the CCD amplifier gain.
Decreasing the EV setting on the 6200W allows us to avoid over exposing very bright areas which the camer's automatic exposure system may well overlook. Whether it's worth bothering with the EV adjustment on the 6200W is debatable, especially underwater, because as long as the image isn't rediculously over or under exposed it will always be possible to 'pull' the image out using graphics software like Photoshop or Paint Shop Pro.
From a diver's point of view the camera is negatively bouyant which is handy and it also comes with a reasonably strong lanyard.
It has a standard tripod mount which underwater is ideal for use in timer mode, for example with a small tripod amongst the coral.
Using re-chargeable batteries will allow for uninterrupted shooting on a per day basis.
The camera's controls are easy to use except that is for the Macro lever.
Considering the very low price of the camera the image quality is excellent.
Shots taken in very shallow water won't need any adjustment at all really - perhaps a little sharpening. Shots taken at depth however will suffer from the sea's natural filtration of red light. The results will have a strong green/blue cast which, to a large degree, can be corrected using digital image manipulation software such as Photoshop or Paint Shop Pro. For further information on correcting such images together with examples please visit my page on Underwater Photography.
For further photos taken with the Vivitar 6200W please read my Review of a recent diving trip to Hurghada.
is qualified to PADI Open Water Instructor level and lives with his wife in central Italy.
They run a lovely self catering holiday apartment in the Sulmona valley.