Canon S90 Underwater Housings
OEM, Fisheye FIX and Ikelite Canon S90 Housings
By Scott Gietler
The Canon S90 is currently the hottest compact point and shoot camera out there. It has an excellent 10 megapixel sensor, large viewfinder, has full manual controls, RAW, and a fast F2.0 lens. It does not have a hot shoe and can't support an external flash. I would probably pick this camera over the Canon G10 or G11 because it's more limited zoom range (28-105mm) is better for underwater photography.
Update: The Canon S95 is basically the same as the Canon S90, but adds HD Video.
The Canon S90 has a new wheel, called the front control ring, to allow the user to easily control aperture, and a rear wheel that controls the shutter speed. It is a fairly small camera, smaller than the Canon G10 or G11, but I didn't find them very large either. I guess I'm used to the size of a dSLR.
Like other Canon cameras, Canon TTL works in P, TV, and AV modes. This is true whether using an internal flash topside, Ikelite TTL, or a strobe fired via fiber optics. In manual mode, you must set the strobe power manually.
I do not expect image quality of underwater photos to be noticeably different between those of a Canon G10 or Canon G11. I've used the camera several times and I thought the image quality was excellent for a compact.
Canon, Ikelite and Fisheye all make underwater housings for the Canon S90.
Canon S90 Macro Capability - the bad news
The macro capability on this camera is less than stellar, especially once you start zooming in. As you zoom in, the maximum size of an object you can take changes from 2 inches to 4 inches, not good, especially for skittish fish and critters you'll need to zoom in for. To make matters worse, the in-focus indicator does not seem to work properly when you get very close to the subject, and the camera easily slips out of macro mode unless you use custom settings. Test this out for yourself carefully.
Canon S90 Underwater Settings
I've done a separate writeup on the Canon S90 underwater settings
Canon S90 WP-DC35 underwater housing
This housing made by Canon is actually quite well built and works well with the Canon S90 controls. However, there is no way to control the rear dial, so you must push buttons to change shutter speed. Depth rating is 130ft. Dyron sells an adapter that allows the housing to work with some wide-angle wet lens made by Dyron.
Controlling the rear dial
As with thehousing (and the housing) there is no way to control the rear dial, so there is a workaround which involves two hands: Press the "S" (shortcut) button, and then the left and right dial pushbuttons change settings up and down, instead of rotating a dial. This method works reasonably well, according to users, but it does require two hands on the camera and multiple button pushes even for relatively small settings changes. An alternative is to switch to Tv mode, use the front dial, and then switch back.
Here's some feedback from Kalani Patterson:
"I was very impressed with the precision fit of all the control dials and rods. All push or turn in the precise place needed. The mode dial turns the top mode dial very positively. I believe it is a thick rubber disk that is compressed against the dial when you close the housing, and thus easily maintains enough grip, regardless of depth, to turn the dial. The left side control for the front control ring has "gears" whose "teeth" positively engage the mode dial, turning it perfectly, and delivering tactile feedback in addition to the on-screen display. Again, it's position will make it impervious to depth issues. The zoom lever is spring-loaded to return to center... significantly, the Ikelite housing is NOT spring loaded, and there is little tactile feedback on the mechanism, and you can't see the control arm from behind the screen since the control is in the front of the camera."
Canon OEM housing photographs taken by Kalani Patterson.
Canon OEM Housing wet lens options
Inon has released an adapter that allows several wets lenses to be used with this housing. This is exciting news, here's the full article
Canon S90 Ikelite underwater housing
This housing is much smaller than other Ikelite housings, and is more compact. It doesn't cost too much more than the Canon housing, $300 versus $175. Since the S90 does not have a hot shoe, this housing does not have TTL. 67mm threaded lenses can be attached, although due to vignetting issues, wide-angle capability is limited to the Ikelite WP-20 wide-angle lens, which has a flat port, and only restores the original 28mm field of view, not true wide-angle. If you do get the Ikelite housing, I also recommend getting the wide-angle lens.
Using the controls is fairly easy, even with 5mm gloves. The shutter lever could be a little longer, it's fairly short - so pressing the shutter halfway to lock focus is not easy.
The Ikelite housing partially blocks the internal flash on some shots, so if you get this housing you should probably plan on getting an external strobe. Also, there is no way to control the rear dial, so you must push buttons to change shutter speed in the menu (see the instructions in the Canon OEM housing section above), or switch to Tv mode and then use the front dial.
One other small complaint is that the fiber optic cable is difficult to attach to the housing in front of the flash because of the round shape of the housing, and comes off sometimes underwater. One other small complaint is that the zoom lever is not spring-loaded to return to center, making it a careful affair to stop zooming. And until the zoom control is released (centered) other buttons will not press.
One person I know actually bought a B&W +4 67mm diopter for macro, and simply screws it onto the underwater housing. A very simple, innovative solution for macro! When not using the lens he must carefully place it in a case which he keeps in his BCD pocket.
Depth ratio is 200ft.
Canon S90 FIX underwater housing
The FIX housing is the most expensive ($800 in the USA with standard port), but the one serious underwater photographers are leaning towards, because of it's wide angle lens support.
It looks like this housing may support, with adapters, both the Inon UWL-100 wide angle lens, and the FIX UWL-04 wide angle lens. It will also have a couple choices for macro - using Inon UCL-165 AD macro lenses, or the FIX flip macro lens. The Fix housing offers adapters to attach Inon AD28 mount, 67mm, or Fix add-on lens accessories. This housing also has a "cold shoe" on the top of the housing to allow the mounting of focus lights and similar accessories without needing to attach them to strobe arms, which saves complexity.
Changing F-stop and shutter speed is very easy with this housing, as it has controls for the front and rear dials. The housing also has built-in adapters (4 total, 2 different sizes) to attach one or two fiber optic cables from Inon or Sea & Sea strobes.
The housing may not come with a user guide, so make sure whomever you buy it from will give you support when you need it. The company that made the FIX Canon S90 housing now makes the RecSea S95 housing, and it's even better.
Canon S90 or S95 purchases:
Support the UWPG and purchase your Canon underwater housing from the UWPG staff at Bluewater Photo
Many thanks to Kalani Patterson for help with this page.