Flip Ultra HD with Ikelite housing and PRO-V8|
Handy camcorder and Ikelight housing and light: A powerful, convenient choice for shooting video underwater without getting weighed down
(by Carol Cotton; video and stills by Carol Cotton and Conrad Blickenstorfer)
As scuba divers, we travel far and wide, we don our scuba gear, and we jump into the deep blue seas to enjoy a sport we love. How often have you wished you had a camcorder with you to record your experiences only to be turned off by the bulk of the equipment or the cost? It doesn't have to be that way, not if you use one of those handy Flip video cameras and a reliable underwater housing/strobe combo like what Ikelite makes for the Flip.
It's been almost two decades since I bought my first underwater video system. I spent well over two thousand dollars for a used system and I that didn't even include lights! Those were the days of Hi8 video where you had to use expensive systems to edit your footage, and because of tension on the tape your edits and cuts might or might not be very accurate. You'd have to spend hours looking at the tapes, marking the number on the counter, rewind and play again to double check your numbers were accurate. You'd spend endless hours editing the tapes, putting them together, choosing music, adding the music to your videos, then copying them on to video cassette tapes. And, of course, who even has a VCR anymore (or would want to use one)?
Times have changed and so has technology, thank goodness! Today you can buy a very small, very sleek camcorder and housing, along with lighting for well under a thousand dollars!
We often have the most current video cameras from Flip Video in our lab, and the current roster includes a Flip Ultra HD and a Mino HD here. These very small high definition video cameras are a lot of fun and do a great job shooting high quality movies. We have used them indoors, outdoors, with great lighting, low lighting, action footage, footage of my newborn nephew, children opening packages during the holidays, sunsets, cats performing silly stunts, turkeys flying onto the fence outside our office. We've even used the Flip Ultra HD to record a hot tub being lifted over my house by a crane!
So, it's safe to say we really like Flip's video camcorders, but I also love scuba diving and wanted to take the Flip Ultra HD video camera with us during our dives. Since the Flip itself is not waterproof, an underwater housing would be needed. Flip offers a waterproof case, but it's only rated to 30 feet and most of our dives are between 60 - 100 feet. Ikelite to the rescue!
A few months ago I was back home visiting my folks and stopped in a local dive shop. While looking around I spotted an Ikelite housing for the Flip Ultra HD. Back in the days when I managed a dive shop I'd call Ikelite and order housings for our customers frequently, so I am somewhat familiar with their products and reputation. Ikelike has been in business since 1962, so they've perfected the art of custom-making cases for most brands of cameras and video camcorders. In my opinion, their products are practical, simple, and easy to operate. They are also reasonably priced and generally should please even the pickiest photographer.
Not only does Ikelite make waterproof housings, but they also manufacture underwater lights and compasses and have a lot of experience there as well. Ikelite made the first O-ring sealed light for underwater use that incorporated a fixed beam bulb. They also made the first compass with a rotating bezel and direct read that could be used underwater!
As for cameras, Ikelite manufactures housings for many point-and-shoot and dSLR cameras from most major manufacturers, as well as digital camcorders from Sony, Canon, JVC, Kodak and Flip. And Ikelite strobes and strobe mounting systems are known around the globe for their design and construction, and they have a large line of unique accessories to be used with their underwater housings.
Ikelite doesn't sell directly, but their products are available in dive shops everywhere. The Ikelite website, though, is definitely worth checking out as it gives a good, concise overview of all their products, has a good FAQ, and there are hundreds of downloadable instruction manuals.
Anyway, Ikelite was nice enough to send us a housing for the Flip Ultra HD as well as one of their PRO-V8 LED video lights along with the mounting hardware for it.
The Flip UltraHD
When the little Flip vidcams first appeared on the market, no one knew what to make of them. Yet, the Flip concept caught on, Flip has sold about five million camcorders, and grabbed a good bit of marketshare from the big boys. For our separate review of the Pure Digital (now Cisco) Flip Ultra HD, see here. So here's just a brief recap:
The Flip Ultra HD camcorder is small, lightweight and easily fits in your pocket or purse, so it's convenient to take along anywhere. With an internal memory of 8GB, the camera will shoot two hours of high quality video, and the rechargeable AA battery pack will last the entire time on a full charge.
The camera has a nice 2" display, so it's easy to see what you're recording. The camera does a great job in low light as well as in brightly lit environments, and the 2X digital zoom is very helpful when you want to get closer to your subject but can't physically. When shooting underwater video the 2X zoom also comes in very handy because a lot of fish are rather shy! This camera shoots in 16:9 widescreen, HD 720p (1280 X 720) at 30 frames per second, and records video as MP4 files.
Flip is named for the flip-out USB connection on all of their camcorders. The USB arm connects directly into your PC or Mac for easy charging and downloading of your video files. Flip video cameras come with their own pre-loaded FlipShare software that makes downloading and sharing videos super easy. You can email video clips, edit your clips, and even make custom movies. You can also capture individual still-image snapshots and upload your videos to any number of sharing sites that are accessible through the Internet.
The only problem we had with the camera resulted in an easy fix. The batteries wouldn't charge and the camera froze, but once I removed the batteries and hit the reset switch, the camcorder worked beautifully once again. Unfortunately, it took a bit until we figured that out, and so we got a lot less underwater time than we had hoped for.
The Ikelite housing
The Ikelite housing is a small, lightweight housing made of clear molded acrylic and is water pressure rated to a depth of 200 feet. The housing is 5.5 X 4.25 X 3.0 inches in size and weighs less than a pound, plus it's neutrally buoyant in salt water. Make sure you read the included instruction manual. It always pays off to familiarize yourself with anything you take under water. The housing comes with a spare O-ring and a tube of silicone lubricant.
All of the knobs, buttons, and latches on the housing are easy to use and are well positioned. The control buttons on the back line up with the controls on the camera, so there's no confusion as to what button is for what function. If you know how to use the Flip, you know how to use it in its Ikelite housing.
The Ikelite PRO-V8 Video light
If you shoot video underwater, you need all the light you can get. If the sun shines, you have great visibility and you're in very shallow water, ambient light may be enough to make your video look good, but for the most part you never have enough light down there. The result is grainy video even in HD and all that greenish-blue that makes even the most wondrous underwater scenery look boring. Use a good light, however, and things light up in glorious, thrilling color.
The picture below is a demonstration of what light does underwater. The picture of the Flip in its Ikelight housing taping an anemone was taken at a depth of about 45 feet. At that depth, you can no longer see orange, yellow or red (note the perceived color of the normally bright-red PRO-V8!). The video light, however, illuminates the actual color.
The PRO-V8 video light turned out to be an excellent source of light and worked very well underwater. It has three 5-watt LEDs that provide a bright, even beam for up to ten hours on a set of eight C-Cell alkaline or NiMH batteries. The beam is smooth and even and gives off a warm, daylight tone for nice warm and natural looking colors underwater. That's important since the warm tones (red, orange and yellow) are gone by 30 feet or so underwater. Unlike some video lights, this unit can be used above water as well as below, as it burns cool.
The on/off switch is large enough to be used while wearing thick gloves. The PRO-V8 is water pressure rated to 300 feet, well deeper than the suggested 130 feet limit for recreational diving. The rear clamp design allows for easy access when the batteries need to be replaced, and the safety latch makes it next to impossible to open accidentally. The housing of the light is virtually indestructible and has a rubber shroud around the front to protect the lens and to block unwanted reflections that lights often get around the sides.
The PRO-V8, mounted on a compact tray, can easily be attached to the camera housing by tightening two screws and bushings. Connecting the light to the tray is a flex arm composed of pop-beads. These pop-beads are easy to position and allow for the light to be aimed exactly where you want. The pop-beads are a very different solution from the usual rigid arms and joints, but they worked amazingly well.
What can you expect from a Flip Ultra HD with the Ikelite housing and light?
We took the Flip Ultra HD and Ikelite housing along with a PRO-V8 LED video light to the California Channel Islands with us for a few days of diving. Conditions were a bit challenging, but we made several really good dives while we were there. The visibility was limited and the surge was strong during most dives, plus we had strong current on a couple of dives, as well. Under such conditions, you really learn to appreciate having a small and handy setup!
The water was very green and nutrient-rich, large forests of kelp were everywhere, as well as sea urchins, huge schools of Pacific Sardines, sea hares, starfish of many colors and sizes, a horn shark, a swell shark, and of course, California's state fish, the very curious Garibaldi. We made several dives around the sealion rookery on the island of Anacapa. We were treated to an exploratory visit from a curious sealion pup who entertained us by hanging around on the boat's dive deck for several minutes, then swam away as fast as he appeared.
That trip was only three days of diving, and we felt we needed more time with teh Flip/Ikelite, so we took it to Roatan/Honduras on our next Scubadiverinfo.com product review trip. I'm glad we did because diving conditions were much better there, and the footage we got was even better. We saw lots of damselfish, squirrelfish, seahorses, spotted eagle rays, creole wrasse, eels, crabs, colorful corals, sponges, fans, and more. And the weather cooperated as well.
The color and the clarity of the footage produced by the little Flip Ultra HD camcorder is amazing. The Ikelite housing is small, lightweight, and easy to use and care for. The Ikelite PRO-V8 light produces a nice even, natural source of light and all the natural colors were quite visible.
All in all, I really like the Flip Ultra HD camcorder, the Ikelite housing and Pro-V8 video light. The system works well together, and it's obvious the housing was designed specifically for this camera, with a good understanding of what makes the Flip special. The complete system is reasonably priced and certainly is a bargain, considering the results.
The Pure Digital Flip UltraHD with Ikelite Housing and PRO-V8 light...
Not so much:
- The system is compact in size and relatively lightweight.
- It's easy to use and it has good viewability.
- It's easy to see inside the clear housing.
- It's neutrally buoyant in saltwater, so it's easy to carry around.
- The LED light is very well made and easy to use.
- Long battery life in both the camera and the lights.
- I'd prefer the light mounted on the right side rather than the left, for easy one hand use.
- The record button was stiff. To start recording was fine, but much harder to stop.
- The power switch seems a little exposed. As a result, our camera was accidentally powered on a few times while in the rinse tank, so the battery burn time was reduced.