ACTION CAMERAS ARE A TEMPTING PROPOSITION for underwater film-making. They’re small enough not to dominate your dive, completely automatic and fitted with an ultra-wide-angle lens, so all you need to do is point them in roughly the right direction and press the button to record footage of your dive.
The only drawback is that action cameras are designed primarily for use topside, and underwater results can be disappointing without colour filters or video-lights – and then you’ve lost the whole point of a video camera the size of a box of Oxo cubes.
Blue mode-selection ring set to video.
Enter the Paralenz, an action camera promoted as having been designed by divers, for divers. Paralenz, based in Denmark, invited “ordinary divers” to apply for tester status, and sent cameras out to around 250 worldwide, inviting feedback and comments so that all the little problems that can make underwater photography so much fun could be taken care of before the final product came to market.
With a back-story like that, I confess that I was really looking forward to using one.
The camera comes in a small zipped case complete with a soft bag, spare O-rings, a wrist lanyard and a USB charging and download cable, plus mounts for your mask-strap or a camera tray.
Unzip the case and you could easily mistake the Paralenz for a small torch. It’s a black cylinder just over 11cm long and 3cm in diameter, and solidly made from a combination of what the manufacturer calls “military-grade” aluminium and polycarbonate.
Rated to a maximum depth of 200m without an additional housing, the Paralenz looks entirely capable of standing up to the use and abuse diving can dish out.
Look more closely, and there’s a pull-switch at the top front and a wide, blue-coloured metal ring about three-quarters of the way along.
The ring is marked with settings for power on/off, video filming, still pictures, a custom mode, settings mode and a lock.
The ring turns either way and can be spun right round without coming to a stop. Beyond it is a large cap that you unscrew to gain access to the memory-card and connect the cable to charge the built-in battery, and when you screw it off you’ll see three O-rings preventing water entering the camera.
The cap has a very coarse thread, so when you screw it back on, the lanyard-mounting lug can be either top or bottom of the camera.
You switch the camera on by turning the blue ring until the power on/off symbol is uppermost, then pull back on the slider and hold until you hear and feel a little buzz.
You’ll see a tiny screen at the back of the camera light up with the Paralenz logo, and then change to show the state of charge of the battery, how much space you have on your memory-card, if wi-fi is on or off and also if the automatic colour-correction system, DCC, is on or off.
This DCC system, which stands for Depth Colour Correction, is way cool. Water absorbs light and colour, of course, so the deeper you go the less colour and contrast you get.
Paralenz handheld with thumb on operating slider.
External colour filters are the usual solution, but the Paralenz uses a depth-sensor to automatically adjust the image.
You can choose between bluewater and greenwater settings, and switch DCC on or off at any time with three short pulls on the slider switch. DCC is applied to both stills and video when it’s turned on.
You set up DCC in the settings menu, where you can also set video quality to 4k, 2.7k, 1080HD or 720HD at various frame-rates and set RAW or jpeg for pictures, plus a variety of other bits and bobs including time-lapse recording.
To shoot video, turn the blue ring to the video-camera icon and the screen information changes to show how much footage you can shoot and the quality you selected. To start recording, pull back the slider and hold until you feel a buzz. Stop recording by pulling back the slider and holding until you feel another buzz.
If you want a still picture, select the still camera icon. The rear screen shows the word Snap, the image type you’ve selected and the number of frames you’ve taken. Pull the slider back to take the picture and, yes, you’ll get a buzz as it takes the snap.
The Paralenz on its universal mount and with the end cap removed to show the three sealing O-rings.
In truth, it’s a doddle to operate. It’s also ergonomically good. Hold it in your hand like a torch, and your thumb naturally falls onto the slider used to operate it.
Attach the lanyard and you’re good to go, but Paralenz also sent me its accessory-mounting kit. This contains what it describes as a universal mount and a mask-strap mount.
The universal mount is compatible with GoPro mounts, so I was able to attach it to my usual camera tray and lighting rig. This means that the camera can appeal both to the casual user and more serious photographers.