Insider View of New Underwater Action Camera for Divers
Paralenz market their Kickstarter-funded ‘game-changing’ camera as ‘made by divers, for divers’. During the testing process, more than 250 divers around the world helped to develop the camera, sending feedback to the designers to assist with correcting faults and software bugs. Now that the Paralenz is ready for distribution, Divemaster Andy Harris and IDC Staff instructor Ian Herbert – both experienced divers and enthusiastic amateur photographers – gave us their experience of the camera as ‘A-testers’ during its development.
Andy: The reading on the crowdfunding site was good enough for me to go online there and then and pledge money to the project. In return, Paralenz would supply a test camera to recruit testers from all around the world, and we would receive a final unit when the camera was released onto the market. This almost sounded too good to be true.
Ian: Kickstarter was all new to me. I had never offered money to someone for an idea before. I pledged to donate the money and decided to become an A-tester purely because it meant I got my hands on this camera quicker!
After a series of delays as the team at Paralenz sourced parts and assembled the camera, the first trial products were sent out in April 2017.
Andy: The packaging was good, and the camera itself was supplied in matt black, well designed with a strong, sturdy casing manufactured from aircraft grade aluminium. There’s a threaded aluminium lens cover, a black plastic cover with a viewing aperture to the rear – where you can also access the memory card slot and charging socket – and a small view screen to assist with changing camera settings. The controls are straightforward with a sliding switch on the main housing that is smooth to operate and acts two switches with a short- and long-hold mechanism to access the menus. A versatile magnetic ring selector allows seamless transition between photo, video and custom modes, and it has a lock so it can be transported without accidentally switching it on and running down the battery.
Ian: it was a lot smaller then I imagined, in fact, it looked more like a small torch. That same evening I was in a 6m deep pool and it came with me.
Andy: The camera performed well under the water, but bear in mind that this was the first outing and I should have taken a little more care with the set-up. There are lots of goodies in the settings but the first cameras had a lot of the software options disabled to allow the guys at Paralenz to sort out any problems one at a time through software updates.
Ian: Easy to use, even with gloves on, I took the camera with me every time I entered the water. As with all new concepts there were teething problems, but the team at Paralenz was on it straight away. Battery life was the first problem but it was fixed within days with a software update.
Andy: Initially, the quality of the first video taken was very poor and the thread at the rear of the camera was too fine and easy to cross-thread. Paralenz took heed of the problems raised by more than 200 testers as they were identified and rectified them before moving onto the next. After a few more dives and a few more updates, the quality of the film improved and other options on the menus became active.
The one that stood out the most for me was the DCC (depth colour correction), one of the unique functions on the camera whereby a small pressure sensor interacts with the software to give truer colours at depth without the use of filters.
Ian: As A-testers, we supplied Paralenz with video and images from the camera for them to perfect the settings for the DCC feature. We supplied the Paralenz team with a lot of footage – and we constantly did software updates.
The Main Event
In June 2017, Ian and Andy took the Paralenz on a trip to the Red Sea, including a week’s liveaboard. Ian took his Canon G12 and a GoPro 4, and dived with all three cameras set up on a tray with a video light, to make some comparisons.
Ian: I couldn’t wait to download the images and videos to see what the results were like.
My videos improved as I got more familiar with the camera, so I started doing comparisons between the Paralenz and GoPro 4, and I was shocked with the results. I did several comparisons at different depths and did not hesitate to share my videos on YouTube for all to see.
We did have a massive problem with the camera freezing. With no prior warning, the camera would freeze and the recording would be lost, but this was resolved in the following couple of weeks.
Andy: I have to say that the results of the footage both Ian and I filmed on the liveaboard was astounding. Out of the 22 other divers on the liveaboard, all of them had questions as to where they could get their hands on one of these cameras once they had seen the footage, which considering the Paralenz was still in the extensive testing stage, was pretty good.
Features and settings
Ian: The Paralenz has the option to overlay the water temperature and depth onto the clips being recorded, but I would also love to see the time and date there as well. At around 5 inches long, the camera fits very comfortably in the hand, with the thumb-operated slide switch for switching modes vibrating on activation. I could feel the vibration easily, even earing 5mm gloves in UK waters.
The selector ring allows you to rotate to your desired mode and the small screen at the rear allows you to confirm which mode you are in. There is no viewing screen, but your aim gets better with practice. The small lanyard supplied just about fitted over my hand and the camera comes with clips that allow you to affix it to other hand-held poles and also your mask strap.
Andy: I mainly used the Paralenz in video mode, but have taken a few pictures with it. Image Stabilisation software is built into the camera, but like other cameras, the picture is only ever as good as the person taking it, so you need a reasonably steady hand to maintain the clarity of the final picture.
We found that under constant diving conditions, the battery life was well over the 2-hour mark and can be charged during the surface interval and be ready to go in less than an hour.
There are options for 4K, 2.7k, 1080 and 720 video at 30, 60 or 100fps, with custom settings for slow motion, time lapse and burst. Pictures can be taken in JPEG or RAW format. Built in wi-fi allows for a connection to the Paralenz app (available on iOS and Android), where you can access other features on the camera. Along with the optional depth and temperature overlay, the Paralenz records your complete dive profile which can be accessed through the app. This virtually does away with the need for a logbook, unless you wish to record the things you have seen, which I think you will be able to manually add later – the app still has room for development.
Ian: Resolution and frame rate and all other settings can be adjusted using either the app or the camera’s rotating ring and slide switch. It’s best to run through your settings and check whether the DCC is set to either blue or green, depending on the colour of the water you are diving in.
Activating or deactivating the DCC is a simple three quick slides of the switch and, once set to the desired mode, you pull the slider switch and hold it for around 1 second until you feel the vibration which activates the recording (or photograph). Sliding the switch again for one second stops the recording and the small screen also give an indication of mode and use.
Andy: There are some goodies out there as accessories, for example the third person viewer, a unique camera mount that's literally towed behind the diver and films them from an elevated rear position. Also look out in the future for other options as they become available, addition lens protection by way of a cap, and a mask mount that would have the ability for vertical and horizontal adjustment with an adjustable ball mount.
Ian: Not only does the Paralenz need no other cases or filters, it’s also rated to a depth of 200m.
The icing on the cake is this Paralenz wi-fi connection to the app, allowing you to log, tag, store and share your videos and pictures from a particular dive. At present, I have decided not to use the app as I have read on the Paralenz Facebook page that there are many issues with it, but I have complete confidence in the team at Paralenz that all issues will be addressed and the App will work fine very soon.
Andy: All in all, this is a great diving adventure camera designed by divers, for divers. Easy to use, strong, versatile, and small enough to forget about all the additional baggage when you go away. One thing to keep in mind when reading this write-up is that GoPro has had numerous models over the last few years and are still trying to get it right. Paralenz put all their knowledge, talent and professionalism on the line and have brought everything to the table at the same time. This should alleviate the need for updating the Paralenz camera to improve the quality and pictures and obtain the same desired results by carrying out a firmware update.
You can read more about the Paralenz action camera on the Paralenz website, or join the discussion for the latest updates on its Facebook page Check out the short video below edited together from Ian and Andy's Red Sea holiday....