A great underwater photography set-up begins with the camera inside the housing. The second step is to have a housing built specially for that camera. Olympus has done just that and accomplished a compact and effective underwater photography rig that is effective, affordable, and easy to use. More importantly, it takes great underwater shots with minimal knowledge in underwater photography. It is a system that is versatile and can be built upon, allowing the buddy underwater photographer to grow.

The PT-016 housing fits either the Stylus 300 or 400 camera. These cameras are virtually identical except the 400 shoots up to 4.23 megapixels and the 300 only 3.34. The price difference is only about $50-70, so I’d spring for the extra bucks and go for the higher resolution. You’ll be happy you did.

I tested the housing with the higher resolution Stylus 400 camera inside. There are two thing I really liked about this camera even before I put it into the housing. First, it is ultra-compact, easily fitting into the palm of my hand. Not only does that make this an easy camera to casually carry just about anywhere, it will also require a much smaller housing for underwater use—important if you want to have a camera you can shove in your BC pocket. Second impressive feature of this camera is that it is “all weather.” You can take it out into the rain and snow without the fear that dampness will damage or destroy delicate electronics. It is “hardened” against the elements. What that means to me as a diver is that I can schlep around a wet tossing boat deck with this camera around a bunch of soggy divers and I will not be afraid of having my camera damaged. Also, (although I do not count on this to get me out of a full flood) should I get careless with ‘O’-ring on the housing and a bit of water creeps in, I think the camera will stand a better chance of survival.

The camera is a full featured with a 3X optical auto-focus zoom lens. It uses an xD-picture card for image storage and has all the features you would expect on a good quality digital camera; however,
I am just amazed how they can get 4.23 megapixels out of such a small package!

As stated previously, the PT-016 housing was made specifically for the Stylus 300 or 400 cameras. As such, all controls on the camera can be operated from outside the housing. If you know the camera (which is easy to use), you can control the camera in the housing. The housing is made from a crystal clear polycarbonate allowing the user to immediately detect “O”-ring problems or leaks. Ergonomics design was incorporated with a red right hand grip and thumb “dent” on the back. A shade is included for better viewing the monitor under bright sunny conditions.

The auto-focus on the camera works well from within the housing but takes a bit of practice. Shutterlag is minimal.

Olympus has long been known for top quality optics. Their digital cameras carry on this tradition so why shouldn’t their housings. The lens port is made of florite glass surrounded by a tough aluminum metal ring. The ring is threaded so as to accommodate third party supplemental lenses for ultra wide-angle photography.

If you want to expand the system, not only are third party lenses available but also strobes, trays, and arms. Sea & Sea makes an excellent strobe that will work well with this camera.

The housing uses a diffuser to make use of the camera’s onboard strobe. With most housed cameras similar to this arrangement, the onboard strobe is practically useless except to fire a slave strobe. But with this diffuser setup, the camera’s strobe does provide some good quality lighting (although weak) for macro and clear water shots within five feet. With this strong diffuser, backscatter is minimal.

Olympus has just this year introduced a whole series of housings for many of their compact digital cameras. Most of the housings are under $200, a great value. The Stylus 400 camera is also a good value (for a 4.23 megapixel camera) at around $400 to 450. I chose this combo because of its high megapixel capacity, compact size and the weatherproof camera. I recommend it to any diver or watersports enthusiast.

For more information, visit Olympus online at www.olympusamerica.com/underwaterhousing.