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Sea Life DC500
Sea Life DC500

Sea Life DC500

We've given the DC500 a grade of D+.

Editor's Review

The allegedly innovative Sea Life DC500 is a lightweight underwater camera good to depths of 200ft. Time Magazine has named the Sea Life DC500 one of its "most innovative inventions of 2005," but we can't see what all the fuss is about. While the DC500 has reduced the bulkiness and awkwardness of traditional underwater cameras, it doesn't seem like a tremendous leap forward for underwater photography. Its 5 megapixel sensor and 3x optical zoom are decent enough, but this camera seems more the product of clever marketing than real innovation.


  • 5 megapixels
  • 3x optical zoom / 4x digital zoom
  • autofocus
  • 2 inch LCD
  • proprietary lithium battery
  • "shark" mode
  • movie mode
  • Part Number: SL155
  • UPC: 077068411598
  • Release Date: Nov 28, 2005

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Sea Life DC500 Reviews

Sea Life DC500 Reviews by Digital Camera-HQ Users

  • 4.0 out of 5
DC500 (Len Jones — 01/08/2011)
At first I did have some problems with the external flash not working underwater. Resolved the problem by painting the inside of the cable housing white, and making sure the optical cable retaining screw was n't over tightened in the housing. Very pleased with the photos I have taken over the last several years. Since last September whenever the battery is installed, the LED charge indicating lamp remains illuminated, and runs the battery flat, but does hold enough charge for one dive. I have been told no spares are available for this model, and is not economical to repair. So I have bought a DC1200, so I can still use my strobe and wide angle lens.
  • 4.0 out of 5
Had a problem but I'm a satisfied customer (Greg Ulrich — 12/22/2009)

After 3 years of ownership my DC500 started encountering an error message some of the other owners mentioned which rendered the camera useless. After some false starts with their customer service department I decided to write a letter to the president of the company who personally returned my call. He explained that some of focal motors installed in the DC500 had a higher than normal rate of failure which was fixed in subsequent models. I was offered a cash incentive towards the purchase of a newer model which was above what they normally offer. I'm really happy to know that the president of SeaLife takes such an active role in customer satisfaction and I'm looking forward to my new DC1000.

  • 3.0 out of 5
Good Bad & the Ugly (Darol — 11/14/2009)

A lot better choices are out there, first off the buttons for the shutter and the On Off are in the wrong places. I now have four of these cameras and housings, you can usually find them on Ebay, cheap. The camera had some softwear issues when it first came out, that were addressed. I have taken some fantastic shots with this camera and have gotten use to it's idosyncrasies. Like any underwater camera, over time they tend to leak, O-rings need changed from time to time.
I've taken some good video and still enjoy using them. I would never buy another Sealife Product, there are a lot better choices out there.

  • 4.0 out of 5
Negative reviews are not the camera's fault (Tim — 07/30/2009)

My underwater (UW) photographing friends: the negative reviews of this camera appear to fall mostly in the category of user error. With the exception of true defects that cause malfunction under use, most of the problems described here are lack of understanding of UW photography at depth, lack of understanding of how the camera functions, lack of preparation, and unfounded user expectations. I have owned this camera for 3 years, and have taken thousands of photos with it. In only one sad experience, the camera malfunctioned at the end of a dive and it turned out to be truly a manufacturing defect. Sea Life replaced the camera promptly and with no fuss or cost to me. Otherwise, it has been very reliable.

There is no comparison between a point and shoot camera that is waterproof to 10 feet and a camera in a housing that is waterproof to 150+ feet. Trying to compare the value of those two devices is like comparing swim goggles to a dive mask. They have two completely different uses and therefore designs and costs.

Any certified scuba diver should know that one never enters the water with equipment that has not been tested first in the water. Even if (and especially when) the equipment is brand new. If you are doing this with a regulator, you are bound to have a serious, perhaps life threatening problem. Don't do it with your camera rig either. It is bound to have something fail that you can fix easily on the surface, but will be a disaster at 90 feet.

This camera, like all other UW/diving cameras, requires additional lighting for full color acquisition in the water. This is a fact of physics - don't bother taking any photos below 6-8 feet without a strobe. You might get lucky - but your shots will mostly be disappointing. Adjust the strobe on the surface as the user manual explains, and as other experienced UW photographers have explained on the web. If you have a TTL slave like I do, the sensor needs to be positioned in front of and looking down at the camera slightly to detect the flash trigger. Any time my flash has not triggered it has been my fault, not the camera; it is my role as photographer to ensure the rig is positioned correctly.

Start out taking macro shots, and use the camera's menus to set up for macro. Anything you shoot in this mode needs to be within 2 feet for best color and sharpness. Shift out of macro if you are aiming beyond 2 feet. If you are photographing something in open ocean and you don' have lots of mechanical lighting that is timed and aimed correctly, don't be surprised or disappointed with back scatter and mostly blue in your photos. Again, this is physics, and 100% user error. Great photos under water have really good mechanical lighting.

Make sure you begin your first dive of the day with fully charged batteries in the strobe and in the camera. I use rechargeables in my strobe, and recharge them after every two dives. If there is a third dive before I return to the charger, I plan to have a back up set of batteries or I expect that the strobe will not perform. This is part of my plan before I leave the dock. My DC500 battery is also charged every two dives. I usually turn off my camera, or put it in standby with the LCD off between shots. This saves battery life and allows me to think about the composition of the next shots. If you are looking for fast action shots, this camera is not for you anyway - land or sea. With practice, you get used to planning ahead to allow for the time it takes the camera to power on. I can usually get 60-80 shots during a 45 minute dive this way.

In summary, this camera is a very good value for entry level UW digital photography. You absolutely need to understand the operation and limitations of the camera, but this is true no matter what device you purchase. It is my first digital UW camera, and compared to my previous film based system it is wonderful. UW photography is a specialized hobby, and while it has some comparisons to land photography the two are not equal. With this camera, as with any other, you have to practice, practice, practice. And just like with my land camera, I am very happy if I get 1 keeper out of 10 shots - which is the beauty of our digital world! Anything better is gravy!

Happy and safe diving - and leave only bubbles, take only pictures.

  • 4.0 out of 5
Good camera for the price (Greg — 07/15/2009)

I have been very happy with this compact underwater camera. Works better underwater than above. Battery lasts for two full tanks/120+ underwater pictures. Takes OK pics in sea mode, but I recommend the digital strobe to bring out the true colors (a must for any serious underwater photography). Have had absolutely no trouble with the camera.

  • 1.0 out of 5
Very poor camera (Doug — 11/09/2007)

I was given the DC500 as a retirement gift (at my recommendation, unfortunatly) and used it on dive trips to Little Cayman, Roatan, Mykonos, and twice to Hawai'i; I recently used it in Alaska to protect my "good" camera from the weather. I should have known better. Underwater, it is worthless without a strobe (I purchased the SeaLife SL960D), but the pictures were poorly exposed, even after fidgeting with the flash intensity (fish don't wait!): colors were not representative and washed out, shutter lag was unacceptable, battery life was abysmal, focusing was poor, and options for manual control were limited to non-existent. I previously owned a Sea & Sea film camera which was far superior than this misbegotten wreck. I was lucky enough to sell this thing, and am in the market for a good underwater camera, but I don't want to be bothered with the hassle and bulk of an SLR, even though they have become reasonable in cost. I would not consider any product from Pioneer Research, at this point, though their service was good when the first strobe died on its second dive in Hawai'i.

  • 2.0 out of 5
Not worth the trouble (Scott Leary — 10/16/2007)

I bought this camera for my wife who is an avid diver. I wanted to buy a camera suitable for a beginner until we learned more about underwater photography before investing more time and money. This camera proved unreliable and in the end not worth the time we have struggled with it. A requirement for taking photos of any significant depth is the digital flash attachment, which is such a mickey mouse set up that it worked half the time at best. When we bought the camera initially the flash mechanism did not work at all. The dive shop where we purchased it sent the camera back to the manufacture which supposedly repaired it. The camera and flash are undependable, and so discouraging when seeing something very cool underwater and then have the camera let you down. I am mad at myself for buying this camera, everything about it is cheap.

We have since moved on to the Sony cybershot. Far superior. Easy to use, great photos, affordable, and no unwieldy flash attachment.

If you want my Sea-Life DC500, you can have it, just send me postage.

  • 3.0 out of 5
Not too bad, needs assistance (Alex Klingen — 08/01/2007)

I've taken my DC500 on three 2 tank dive trips and it works OK. The first trip was learning, so can't count that, the second the camera worked great, got many great shots. The third trip was terrible. External flash stopped working after about 16 pics and didn't work again in the water. There happened to be another diver on the boat with the exact same set up and his external flash did not work either. I ended up using it in shallow water without the external flash and it work great, again. Some things I've learned....have an extra camera battery and spare flash batteries because they wont make a 2 tank dive. But be careful since the locking up problem others have discussed is due to the camera overheating so by the middle of the second dive it may lock up even though you have plenty of battery juice. If you're underwater you're screwed. All pics will need to be enhanced through editing software to improve quality.

  • 4.0 out of 5
Good Photos Are Not A Problem! (Harley Winter — 03/28/2007)

I live on an island in the South Pacific and am in the water about 4 days a week. I shoot about 200 pics a week with the DC500 and generally am very pleased with the camera. It took me several trips to get used to the camera and its quirks but now am able to set up shots from Macro and beyond with little to no problem.
Two things I changed which have helped immensely are (1) switched to a Sea & Sea YS 120 flash which is generally set at about 1/2 power with the DC500 set at 1Meter exposure even for macro shots and (2) screwed a small 6 inch flexible tripod onto the bottom of the flash frame mount under the camera body. I then set the camera onto the surface (sand or reef) carefully to let the autofocus do its job and then snap the pic.

  • 4.0 out of 5
Excellent entry level dive camera (Mark Hofer — 01/02/2007)

My wife gave me the DC500 as a gift based on on-line reviews. Although I have very little photography experience the camera provides excellent photos that make the camera an excellent value. I recently bought an external strobe, which does improve the color intensity but is not neccessarily a must have unless diving in low visibility. I used the strobe while diving in Cozumel last week and took some excellent pictures...but drained the strobe's batteries and could only use the camera's flash during the second dive. The camera, with only the on-board built-in flash —in those clear waters— provided excellent pictures with brilliant color. The camera is easy to use, and is also kind on batteries...I can easily take 300 pictures on one charge. It is an excellent camera for the money and you won't be disappointed.

  • 1.0 out of 5
This thing sucks (Tony Noto — 12/18/2006)

I bought this camera to replace my other "cheap" digital u/w camera that when through batteries like crazy. After testing it as a land camera I was pretty impressed. BUT, I finally got underwater. The then locked up or wouldn't flash either internal or external. It wasn't responsive when it did work. And even in blue water with bright sun and about 30 ft vis, I was getting black photos of subjects just 3 ft away. Of about 80 photos, 3 came out decent. I may be a bad cameraman, but nobody is that bad. I would have had better dives if I would have left the camera on the boat or even in the bottom of the ocean. The frustration totally ruined the dives.

  • 1.0 out of 5
Don't buy this camera (Sandra McCann — 11/24/2006)

On my second dive trip with this camera, approximately 7 times down, it froze up taking a picture. I missed so many gorgeous shots. If it wouldn't have been littering I would have left it in the ocean. What a waste of money!!!! The external flash went off about 2/10ths of the time. It just broke my heart. Thank God my buddy had a disposible camera so we got a few nice pictures.

  • 1.0 out of 5
This is Innovation? (Dennis Pearce — 11/12/2006)

I bought into the hype and purchased this albatross just prior to leaving for a once-in-a-lifetime flyfishing trip. I had wanted something waterproof for my many outdoor endeavors (sailing, flyfishing, backpacking, snorkeling, etc), and this seemed like just the ticket. I have a Canon G6, which was purchased after my G4 died, and I have been thrilled with the results I've gotten from that camera. As the G-6 is a 7.1 MP camera, and the DC-500 is a 5MP, I expected there would be some image quality difference, but as the G-4 was a 3.2 MP which gave excellent results, I was certain it had to be minimal. Suffice to say, I was bitterly disappointed. Image quality is abyssmal, the lens is useless, and the interface is designed for still life shooting. I tried to take it back, but was told they 'don't accept returns'. They were willing to send it to the factory to see if there was actually anything wrong with it, but the replacement offers the same substandard results. $600 down the drain. I'm hopeful no one else will make this mistake. The folks at Sea and See have a lot to learn about acceptable image quality.

  • 4.0 out of 5
You get what you pay for (Jim Hilton — 10/08/2006)

I have takin my DC500 with ext flash on two dive trips. It's been underwater about 20 times now.
I have read most of the other reviews and can agree with some points, for example the battery life and the ext flash not flashing.
I am happy with my purchase for the following reasons. The first being that I have thru settings on the camera been able to make the camera last for a 2 tank dive, taking about 70-80 shots each dive. While I admit I would like to make it last longer, as the title says (You get what you pay for). The other major issue being the flash. I read some sugestions on this site and a few others. I bought a new fiber optic cable of good quality and painted the inside of the optic clip white. It has been working perfect eversence. I had the opertunity to compare photos with someone that had a camera that cost 5 times what mine cost and guess what?
The DC500 won.

  • 3.0 out of 5
SeaLife DC 500 - wish I knew then what I know now (Pat Wikstrom — 09/28/2006)

Thought I’d done my homework but turns out I probably should have paid a little more for another product.

The very tiny base camera has a fairly large viewing screen and takes very nice pics at up to 5 mega pixels. Several significant complaints:
1) The supplied software was not very user friendly, did a poor job of creating slide shows and couldn’t accommodate incorporation of the mini-movies into the show, and had a nasty tendency to lock up my computer. Tried it on two different computers with no luck. Had to delete it from both machines.
2) As delivered the fiber-optic cable was very difficult to align causing Reefmaster strobe to fail to fire. Returned complete unit to SeaLife. They gave me an up-graded cable which seems to work fine now.
Neither of these is terrible and in fact service from mfg was very prompt. However:
3) Battery life sucks. Very tiny flat battery pack for the camera can’t even make it through a standard two tank trip. Consistently ran out of juice 2/3 into the second dive. One of the most important features of digital as far as I was concerned was that I’d get many more shots underwater and wouldn’t have to open the darn housing between each dive to change rolls of film. But if I’ve got to open the back to swap battery packs it’s almost as bad. When it says you’re on low battery you’ve only got three or four more shots then locked out.
4) The number of buttons you’ve got to push to turn on and off the underwater strobe is ridiculous. No simple flash on/off. You’ve got to change modes from regular sea mode to sea flash mode then you’ve got to choose the type of strobe mode. Very annoying since many times in the heat of the action I want to take both ambient light and strobe shots of a particular scene one after the other. Too many buttons to push and you loose the shot.

On sale from I spent $819 for the original kit (camera, housing, strobe, wide angle lens, cords, 256MB memory card, software, & soft case), then an additional $103 for an extra battery, charger, and second memory card. That money would have gotten me well on the way to a more robust system. I wish I’d known then what I know now.
Mr. Pat

  • 5.0 out of 5
great "starter" camera (Whitney — 09/15/2006)

This is my first underwater camera minus the cheap ones you get at Walmart. It works great above and below water. I have not taken it diving yet but I have gone snorkeling with it and it took great pictures! I am just now experiencing it freezing up on me but according to the troubleshooting website for it, it can be fixed with a simple free update download. It's definately worth the price in my opinion.

  • 1.0 out of 5
Piece of @#&*#@ (Martha Pearson — 09/07/2006)

This camera works great on solid ground. However; I bought it for underwater use. It locks up every other dive and can't be "unlocked" under water. The built-in flash only works when it wants to, and the external flash hardly ever works. I just spent a week in the Bahamas, and saw my first Lionfish ever. Unfortunately; only two of 10 shots I took are "in color" because the flash didn't work. I didn't expect to see Lionfish, and I doubt I ever will again because I normally dive in the Caribbean, so thanks to Sea Life for ruining my big opportunity. The other couple diving with us also had a DC500, and theirs didn't work any better. Most of our conversations during the week were about this piece of poop camera instead of reliving our daily dives.

  • 4.0 out of 5
external stobe (kevin gardner — 08/08/2006)

The link for the external strobe never works underwater!! I just removed the cable pointed the sensor towards the flash and it works everytime go figure. I have taken some beautiful shots with this camera use a diffuser and shoot close in you will be surprised

  • 5.0 out of 5
You can do it. Pictures will be fantastic. (anonymous — 07/18/2006)

For fantastic pictures do not use wide angle lens, it blocks auxiliary focus laser (red). Set for max focus. Bee still. Give time to focus (you will get a "green"). Must always use diffuser on external flash. Always "execute" "white balance", under water point camera at flash diffuser and chack when camera sees it as white and press OK. If you are confused use AUTO. For external flash to work you need to paint inside of fiber optic "clip" white for more reflecton (I used WHITEOUT). Harvest fiber optic cable from Nite Ize 20 inch fiber optic adaptor for Mini Maglite AAA (find it at End toward flash cut square. End toward the camera cut slanted an rotate in proper dirrection so light bouncing inside tht "clip" could enter. Polish both ends with fine abrasive paper to make tham more permeable and evenly disperse light. Work with 7/64 drill for very tight fit when enlarging holes in "clip" also in "button" for fiber optic cable(it might be metric).Use Marine Adhesive (from Home Depod)in both holes and on small screws (make surfaces of cable rough for good grip).Lead fiber optic under neophrene on external flash. Use narrow strip of electrical tape to secure "clip" on your camera. Use 1/8 brass rod (Home Depot),scuba hose protector, adhesive, and some rubber tubbing, to make a pencil, or use underwater pencil to press controls on camera while wearing gloves. Tie all accessories. I see no quality in manufacturing of Sealife DC500. I believe that only high quality product of China are chinise people. I also understand that camera involved in scuba diving could be damaged at any minute during a dive. Visibility in Atlantic of North East is limited. DC500 with flash is compact and not very expensive. Some of my pictures are super sharp, colorful, just amazing (a keep those LOL). I love the way this camera works, but I would not recommend it to my mother.

  • 2.0 out of 5
External Flash Never Fires (anonymous — 07/18/2006)

The DC 500 camera it's self is great but the external flash never fires underwater. Once you get on the surface it fires fine but as soon as you go under water it quits working. I am in the process now of trying to get in touch with Sea Life now to ask about this problem, but their customer support phone is never answered and goes to a voice mail. I have left 4 messages in the last week and have yet to get a return phone call. I will never buy another sea life camera due to the terrible customer service / support.

  • 2.0 out of 5
Sony Cybershot with Housing is Better (anonymous — 07/18/2006)

I have this and the Sony Cybershot DSC-something (4 MP), and Ilike the Sony better. Yes, the DC500 is 5 MP and has a bigger LCD screen, but that's where the advantages stop.

Here's what I found to be bad about the DC500:

1. Proprietary battery: this is a bummer, because it won't last for a full day of serious picture-taking, and since it's proprietary, you can't just pack along extra AA's or whatever, like you can with the Cybershot. I see that as a serious limitation.

2. There's no viewfinder: maybe not a huge deal, but sometimes it's nice to use a viewfinder when composing shots on land. ALSO: when you consider the fact that the viewfinder uses more battery power, combined with problem #1, it becoems a more serious issue. I like the Cybershot because it has the option to turn the LCD off to conserve batt. power and shoot through the viewfinder.

3. It's black: sure it looks cool, but as any experienced diver knows, if you lose something underwater, the last color you want it to be is black—you'll never see it again. At least add a yellow stripe or something to give it some visibility. (The Cybershot housing has yellow trim).

4. Moisture munchers: it's inconvenient to have to keep ordering more "moisture muncher" packs to always have on hand to prevent fogging. The Cybershot housing is made of "anti-f0g" material, does not require the use of add-in dessicants, and it's never fogged on me once (neither has the DC500—but I have to make sure to remember to insert a new dessicant before each U/W use—a real pain).

I don't know what Time Mag. was thinking when they named this "Product of the year." Nothing innovative or new about it. It's "okay." If it cost only $100, it would be a geat value, but for $550—please!

  • 4.0 out of 5
Solve Freezing Up Problem (anonymous — 07/18/2006)

After reviewing online manual (not printed manual that came with camera), I lowered from a 1gb sd memory card to 512mb. The freezing problem ceased. Regarding failure of external strobe to fire, updating firmware seems to have resolved this issue.

  • 4.0 out of 5
DC500 Fix (anonymous — 07/18/2006)

After locking up on multiple occasions, I stopped using my 1gb memory card and changed to a 512mb card. Has not locked up since. Firmware upgrade to 107PIE5 solved problem of digital strobe not firing. Battery life (using full charge) is good, achieving 70 photos per battery. New independent battery charger is good. Don't have to charge battery while in camera.

  • 2.0 out of 5
Sucks (anonymous — 07/18/2006)

Camerea works OK without the external flash, assuming you are content with not much color. Out of 15 dives the external flash only worked one time. Too much of the dive trip was spent trying to get the crappy external flash to work.

  • 1.0 out of 5
external flash went off only sporadically underwater (anonymous — 07/18/2006)

Very disappointed. The external flash went off only sporadically underwater at 15ft to 110ft even with the upgraded latest firmware which was suppose to fix this problem by creating a brighter flash to trigger the external flash. The external flash would work perfectly on land (where it's not needed). When using the macro lens I would get rounded corners on both top corners of the pictures. The battery in the camera didn't make it through 1.5 dives either. The battery can only be charged in the camera which takes 2 hours. This means the camera can not be used during this time. If you do 4 dives a day. You better have a new battery charged up for each dive you need. The dive shop said they can only send it in for me. Well see.

  • 4.0 out of 5
Works for me. (anonymous — 07/18/2006)

Got the DC500 as a Christmas gift. At first the camera was slow to take pictures underwater, but I found that it was due to not enough ambient light for the auto-focus to work at depth. When this happens, the reticle will not go from yellow to blue. Added a strong light to the bracket and fixed that problem. The flash worked for me, but it is slow to recharge. The camera does double duty for me as I use it on land more than in the water. I like it a lot for the compact size and ease of use both in and out of the water.

  • 1.0 out of 5
Nice idea, terrible execution (anonymous — 07/18/2006)

I received this camera as a Christmas present, and took it on a dive vacation to the Bahamas in February. It is the biggest piece of junk! The external flash would work perfectly on land (where it's not needed), and would invariably fail to function underwater. Out of hundreds of underwater pictures, it worked about 3 times, and I wasted a tremendous amount of my underwater time fiddling with it. The camera itself is so-so, decent pictures when it works but a really slow cycle. The biggest problems were its constant fogging up, even with a fresh dessiccant capsule, and its freezing up fairly regularly. I missed some of the greatest shots of my life on a 140' wall dive because it froze up at the beginning of the dive and I couldn't reset it underwater.

  • 3.0 out of 5
Pictures average for 5MP, good size, but no separate charger? (anonymous — 07/18/2006)

This is the first non-SLR camera I've ever owned. My expectations were low coming from such mid to high-end cameras such as Canon d20 and Panasonic FZ-20. I compared it to my mid-level FZ20 and the pictures are similar, but the small lens will take some getting used to. My biggest complaint is the inabiliy to take fast photos. It seems to que every time you take a shot, but I'm used to instantaneous, manual-focus driven picture taking where nothing has a delay. The consequtive mode is a joke, because it refocuses between every frame. I have yet to try it underwater, but from the other reviews, I'm not going to get my hopes up. I'm just drawn between purchasing the external flash to get any results at all, or just saving my free time altogether and returning it before I break it (from what I've read, it doesn't take much).

  • 1.0 out of 5
External flash option stinks (anonymous — 07/18/2006)

The external flash went off only sporadically underwater. It's not fun spending all that money for a camera that doesn't work as advertised. The battery in the camera didn't make it through 2 boat dives either. I am going to try to get my money back

  • 1.0 out of 5
it doesn't work (anonymous — 07/18/2006)

I got this package as a fabulous Christmas present and it doesn't work!!! The casing shuuter button does not line up with the camera shutter button so when the camera is in the housing it doesn't take pictures. This is in addition to the multiple software problems the camera has. Does anyone else have this problem?

I have to say the people we bought from GBsail are trying to resolve these problems.

  • 5.0 out of 5
Best camera I ever owned! (anonymous — 07/18/2006)

this camera takes great pictures and is very easy to use. Get a great deal at scuba-market USA!