In the last year, people have frequently asked in rec.scuba about the merits of the Sea and Sea MX-5, a cute, but in my opinion, rather useless UW camera. S&S took the MX-10, a popular model that is a bit pricy for the casual market, and came up with this model. Sadly, they removed the option for different lenses, and most critically, they removed the external strobe option. How important is this?

Even in tropical waters, light levels are considerably diminished at diving depths. Our eyes can adjust, but film cannot. This is even more true for the cheap UW cameras which tend towards fixed exposure. And just as bad, not only is it darker, but most colors are lost as well. Consider this image of a baracuda:

This was taken in Cozumel with an Aquashot 2. That generation used the simple disposables - it may or may not have had a flash. If it did, it was either too weak, or too far away. Blue dominates and while you have a picture of a 'dangerous' cuda to show your friends, no diver will think much of it.

Now the MX-5, along with the current reloading Aquashots and Reefmasters will have a stronger flash and a faster lens. Disposable cameras are pretty poor in both regards. But you still have the problem of backscatter as the flash shoots very nearly straight at your subject. Look at these taken in Hawaii with an Aquashot 3e:

Both the manta shot and the eel shot show the effects of backscatter. Even in rather clear waters, it's impossible to avoid it. The frogfish picture is clean in that regard, but suffers from the usual problem of the blues. The internal flash just isn't very powerful and can't cover much distance.

With the external strobe option available to the Aquashots, the MX-10, the Reefmaster, and most everything else out there, you attach a more powerful flash on a diagonal arm to get some separation between it and the lens. Dust particles will still reflect, but at a different angle. If there is a lot of silt, the image will likely be hazy, but you won't have large dots like in the prior examples. Range is still not great - beyond 10ft it does little. But in the 3-6' range that these simple cameras are designed for, it will give you all the color that is present.

Both the Aquashot and the Reefmaster offer a macro lens that allows "closeup" shooting where you shoot a target roughly 6x4 inches at a distance of 8" away. If you don't want to buy the strobe right away, you can still get great pictures with little trouble using the macro option, even in very murky waters like Monterey. At this range, the internal flash is fine. By placing a diffuser over it, you eliminate direct reflections and can get great shots of the tiny critters. It's still not 1:1 like the nikonos extension tubes where you can take a pic of something the size of a dime, but it's still something.