Crisp, wide aperture lens. 920k-dot LCD. Waterproof to 60 feet. Includes 200-foot underwater housing. Wide-angle lens adapter available. Wi-Fi.
Quirky controls. High-ISO JPGs disappoint. Raw shooting slows performance. Omits optical zoom.
- Bottom Line
The SeaLife DC2000 is a capable point-and-shoot camera on land and under the sea, thanks to a crisp, bright lens and 1-inch image sensor.
By Jim Fisher
SeaLife isn't the first, second, or even third name you think of when it comes to buying a digital camera. But if you're in the market for a rugged, waterproof compact, you'd do well to look at the company's DC2000 ($699) to see if it's a good fit for your needs. It sports an f/1.8 prime lens backed by a large 1-inch, 20MP image sensor, and the price includes an underwater housing that can go as deep as 200 feet. It's a strong option for underwater photographers, but the lack of a zoom lens limits its mass market appeal. Our Editors' Choice tough camera, the Olympus Tough TG-4, has a zoom that covers a wider angle and is also quite bright at f/2. But the TG-4 is hard to find at retail, as it's set to be replaced by a new model, the TG-5, next month.
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The SeaLife DC2000 is built to survive some abuse. At 2.6 by 4.6 by 1.4 inches (HWD) and 8.3 ounces, the camera is wrapped in a tough metal exterior with a brushed black finish and red accents. It's rated to survive drops from heights of about 5 feet, and is waterproof to 60 feet, making it a solid option to use poolside or in shallower depths.
Serious scuba folk can use the included housing to take the camera further. The big enclosure measures 4.0 by 5.9 by 3.0 inches (HWD) and weighs 1.5 pounds with the DC2000 nestled inside. It's rated to 200 feet, beyond the limits of recreational diving, but it's also a good idea to use it when shooting in saltwater of any depth—it saves you from having to rinse the camera off with fresh water after returning to dry land.
The lens is an 11.6mm f/1.8 prime, delivering a field of view roughly equivalent to 31mm on a full-frame system. The moderate wide angle, just slightly narrower than an iPhone rear camera, is a solid focal length for travel and snapshots. The DC2000 has a strong macro capability, locking on to subjects as little as 3.5 inches away from the lens. If you want to shoot at a wider angle, consider the Fisheye Wide Angle Lens add-on. It adds $279 to the cost, widens the field of view to a 19mm equivalent, and can be attached or detached while underwater.
Top controls include a power button, the shutter release, and a record button to start and stop videos. A flat Mode dial sits on the back, at the top right corner, with standard PASM modes, as well as specialized settings for shooting underwater, an array of Scene settings, and an in-camera panorama option. The wheel has ridges along its edge to make it easier to turn using a fingernail—you'll really need to use them, as the turning action is very tight.
Rear buttons include Menu, Play, and Wi-Fi, as well as a four-way control pad with center OK button. The direction pad adjusts EV compensation, flash output, macro focusing, and the self-timer. Buttons feel a little mushy, typical of a waterproof camera, but aren't difficult to press. There is one quirky aspect—to change the aperture or shutter speed you must press the OK button first, which is not that weird, but the up and down direction controls that adjust them are, in my mind, reversed. If you're at f/1.8 pressing up changes the aperture to f/11, while pressing down scrolls through f/2, f/2.8, and so on. Likewise, pressing down when changing the shutter speed results in a quicker speed, while pressing up slows down the setting. When playing back images, you'll also need to use up and down to scroll through photos—the left direction rotates orientation and a right press prompts you to delete.
The external housing gives you access to some, but not all controls. You can set the Mode, just make sure the camera and housing are lined up before placing the camera in the housing. The buttons on the housing—Flash, Focus, Menu, OK, and Play—are oversized and easy to press. Even if you're not going down to extreme depths, using it will make it easier to change settings if you're wearing gloves. The housing also has a gray window that diffuses and softens the flash output. If you want a more powerful light, you can buy the DC2000 along with an external flash ($999) or dive light ($1,099).
The 3-inch rear LCD is bright, sharp (920k dots), and has strong viewing angles. There are no real complaints to be made about the screen. It's actually quite a bit crisper than the 460k-dot LCD that Olympus puts in its flagship TG-4 and TG-5 tough cameras.
I didn't take the SeaLife under the sea itself—I'm not a diver by any stretch. But I did submerge both the camera and housing and they continued to work perfectly. It also survived dozens of drops from about 5 feet with aplomb.
The DC2000 includes Wi-Fi for file transfer and remote control. But like some other aspects of the interface, it's a little tricky to use. You'll need to download the Link123 Plus app, available for Android and iOS, and use the app to turn on the camera's Wi-Fi by using its Wake Up function–the DC2000 also includes Bluetooth, which is what's used to turn on its Wi-Fi.
Once that's done, you can connect to the camera's network using its default password (12345678) to authenticate. When you have everything up and running, you can transfer photos to your smartphone, and use the app as a remote control to snap photos and record videos. There are some limitations to the remote—you can only adjust EV and white balance, and Raw capture isn't supported.
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The camera sports a single door with a dual-locking design so there's little chance of opening it inadvertently. Inside you'll find the battery (rated to 292 images by CIPA), a microSD memory card slot, and a micro USB port. The battery is recharged using micro USB. Spare batteries cost about $30, and if you want to buy an external battery charger you'll need to spend another $30.
Performance and Image Quality
The DC2000 starts, focuses, and captures an image in about 3.1 seconds. Autofocus is a little slow, requiring about 0.25-second to lock on to a target. Continuous shooting is only available in JPG mode, but is speedy at 6.2fps for up to 10 shots at a time. Switching to Raw capture slows things down considerably; even with a fast memory card you'll wait about 6 seconds between Raw shots.
I used Imatest to check the sharpness of the DC2000's lens. At f/1.8 it notches 2,521 lines per picture height, a strong result for a 20MP image sensor. More importantly, even the edges of the frame are better than the 1,800 lines we like to see at a minimum—they show 2,200 lines.
Narrowing the aperture a bit improves clarity. At f/2.8 the camera scores 2,970 lines, and it's still a good performer at f/4 (2,887 lines), f/5.6 (2,700 lines), and f/8 (2,465 lines). You should avoid shooting at f/11, as diffraction cuts into image quality, reducing the score to 1,897 lines.
Imatest also analyzes images to check for noise. As you increase the ISO—the sensitivity to light—image noise increases, robbing photos of detail. The DC2000 keeps noise under 1.5 percent through ISO 12800 when shooting JPGs, but it uses some very aggressive noise reduction to get there. In practice, you'll want to keep the camera at ISO 800 or lower when shooting JPGs to keep image quality high. There's some slight blur at ISO 1600 and 3200, and beyond that the JPG engine renders images poorly—they're both blurry and pixelated.
One of the advantages of the 1-inch sensor compared with a typical 1/2.3-inch chip, the type most tough compact cameras use, is better performance at high ISO. The DC2000's JPG engine is on the same level as you get from Sony cameras with the same sensor, like the RX100 III, which is a shame, as Sony's JPG engine delivers solid results from the same 20MP sensor through ISO 6400. Still, even with its brute force approach to noise reduction, the DC2000 delivers noticeably stronger image quality than the Olympus TG-4 through ISO 3200.
If you're willing to shoot in Raw format, which slows the camera down and requires you to process the images using software like Adobe Lightroom CC before sharing them, you'll enjoy the real benefits of the larger sensor. When shooting Raw you can see details in images all the way through ISO 6400, although both grain and color noise are visible. Lightroom CC is our standard Raw converter and usually does an excellent job of removing color noise, but it doesn't have a profile for the DC2000 (you can open images in any version, as they are stored in the standard Adobe DNG format), so you see some false color splotches. You can also shoot Raw images at ISO 12800 and 25600, but I don't recommend pushing the camera that far. Noise is a real issue, and the Raw shots are noticeably underexposed. Thankfully, the bright f/1.8 lens mitigates the need to use such extreme settings.
There's no 4K video, but the DC2000 records strong 1080p footage at 30 or 60fps. Details are quite clear and the camera does a god job adjusting focus as the scene changes. Audio sounds a bit distant and hollow, typical of a sealed camera, but that shouldn't matter when shooting underwater. My main complaint is that there's no option to record at 24fps, the preferred frame rate for cinema production.
The SeaLife DC2000 is a solid choice for photographers who want a tough, waterproof camera, but don't necessarily need a zoom lens. It can go 60 feet down on its own, and includes a housing that improves its depth rate to 200 feet. Its 1-inch sensor captures 20MP images, and while its JPG engine isn't as advanced as we've seen in other cameras, it still manages to deliver image quality that's much stronger than you get with a typical waterproof camera. Serious photographers will appreciate the Raw capability, but be aware that it slows the camera down.
With some improvement in performance and to its user interface, the DC2000 would be a contender for Editors' Choice. As it stands, it's a camera that delivers excellent image quality, but is not without some drawbacks. Our favorite waterproof compact is still the Olympus TG-4. That model is on its way out of production, set to be replaced by the TG-5, but we've not yet had a chance to test the new model.
By Jim Fisher Senior Analyst, Digital Cameras
Senior digital camera analyst for the PCMag consumer electronics reviews team, Jim Fisher is a graduate of the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, where he concentrated on documentary video production. Jim's interest in photography really took off when he borrowed his father's Hasselblad 500C and light meter in 2007. He honed his writing skills at retailer B&H Photo, where he wrote thousands upon thousands of product descriptions, blog posts, and reviews. Since then he's shot with hundreds of camera models, ranging from pocket point-and-shoots to medium format… More »
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