The Digital Underwater Camera Mask by Liquid Image isn't as clunky as its name. For swimmers and snorkelers who want to take photos of their watery adventures, this device is a snap once you get used to aiming the lens.
Let's say you want to capture the stunning images of an upcoming scuba diving trip. Or you're swimming with friends and your underwater antics require instant documentation. In the past, you had to deal with single-use underwater film cameras. They're decent. But what if a company introduced a scuba mask featuring a waterproof digital camera capable of video recording too?
Thanks to Liquid Image, based in Antelope, Calif., the ultimate device for pool photography is here. The 5-megapixel Explorer Series Digital Underwater Camera Mask 302 ($99) works well for most swimmers and snorkelers, since it's rated for 15 feet. It takes photos and video, although the Explorer Series is best known for photography.
DigitalJournal.com couldn't resist taking the Camera Mask for a spin swim.
At a Toronto pool with my girlfriend, I fitted the yellow mask snugly around my head. I admit, it looks dorky but who cares about looks when you got the coolest gadget in the pool? I got used to the controls -- a yellow button on the upper right side of the mask takes pictures and starts or stops video. A red button works as a power switch and toggles between video and camera mode. Also, a red light switches off briefly when a photo is taken, useful to find out when the camera is ready for the next shot. In video mode, a blue light flickers on when in standby, and blinks when the camera is rolling. This helps ensure you don't soak up too much battery and disk space.
Courtesy Liquid Image
The Explorer Series Digital Underwater Camera Mask 302, from Liquid Image
It's powered by two AAA batteries, the compartment tightened with four screws. Liquid Image claims the Camera Mask lasts for 400 pictures or 30 minutes of video.
Since the Explorer Series Camera Mask has 15MB of internal memory, it only holds 27 to 35 photos. That's around 45 seconds of video. Not that great, true, but it allows you to slip in a 2GB microSD card for additional memory. Too bad it doesn't allow for cards over 2GB, like a 4GB card we had lying around.
Snapping photos isn't easy at first. There are crosshairs on the tempered glass goggles but they're more deceptive than helpful. It's all about trial and error, and around half of your shots won't turn out they way you want them. I had to remember the camera was on my forehead, a bit of a learning curve for digi-cam junkies who are accustomed to shooting pics at eye level. Once I tilted my forehead at the right angle, the pics came out great.
This underwater photo was taken with Liquid Image's Explorer Series Digital Underwater Camera Mask
Underwater, it's almost fun to shoot pics. My girlfriend and I held our breath at the same time and I snapped as many pics as I could within 15 seconds (I'm no Michael Phelps). The Camera Mask is afflicted with a few seconds' worth of shutter lag, so staying still while underwater is key. Not everyone can pull it off.
After a few treading-water sessions, I was able to snap some high-res pics of Chelsie smiling underwater, giving me the thumbs up. The file size came out to around 312KB each, but some packaged photo-editing software lets you tweak a photo's properties.
Video is a bit tougher to capture, so the gadget is ideal for photos mainly. Since you can't record a lot of video (at 640x480 res) with the internal memory, snorkelers who want to film up-close fish should shell out for a microSD card. The video quality is decent in the DigitalJournal.com tests.
At first when I swam underwater water seeped into the mask. It's important to tighten the straps to ensure you have a dry face, so don't just rely on the strap length out of the box.
The Camera Mask takes great close-up photos, if you don't mind seeing some air bubbles too
Uploading pics is simple: just plug the USB connector into your PC, fasten the other end to a slot on the Camera Mask and the PC should automatically open the appropriate folder. It's so intuitive I bet my Luddite grandfather could do it.
Also, the Camera Mask doesn't have a flash, so grey days might not turn out so well. But on a shiny summer day, like during our test, the image quality was pretty good for an underwater camera. It definitely trumps the single-use flash cameras from back in the day.
Liquid Image also offers a few other models: the Scuba Series HD works at a depth of 115 meters and features video resolution of 1280x720; and the VideoMask Series D1 is ideal for video and even audio recording.