I have owned a number of underwater housing (s) in my time. This includes housing from Ikelite (Sony TRV480 + Olympus Point and shoot), Amphibico (from my Sony TRV 950), Light and Motion (First Sony HDV), Aquatica (for my 5DMKII.) most recently I shoot with a Canon 1DX MKII in a Nauticam Housing with Dual Retra Strobes. Each system cost about 2x the previous. I am always interested to see how underwater imaging manufacturers re-invent themselves. Underwater imaging as we know is a very small niche market, and as technology changes, it provides us with new ways of capturing images underwater. So here are some pointers when it comes time to buy that underwater housing.
#1 Materials, Cost, & Batteries
Cost is always the biggest factor in purchasing underwater equipment, especially an underwater housing. Make sure when you are looking at a housing your understand where you are going to use it and what accessories you will need. The second will be the materials and electronic components. Solid Polypropylene housing vs solid machined aluminum, analog vs electronic components? Electronic components offer easier access, but also can fail. leaving you without an important feature such as white balance. Most DSLR housings are the body only. You still need to buy wider or macro ports which will set you back anywhere from $500 -$1000 each. Also strobes; how many, how much power do you need? Do you dive in darker or cold water conditions? You may need a focus light and lots of extra batteries. Remember cold water limits your underwater burn time and battery life. I have strobes that take 4 AA’s each, which mean I need at least 16 rechargeable batteries for a day of diving.
Remember if you diving with equipment that takes AA’s it may be more manageable than diving with strobes or lights that have built-in rechargeable packs. If this is the case then you will need two or enough time between dives to charge your gear. The best example of this is if you wanted to buy a Sea&Sea YS 250 vs a Sea&Sea YS 110α strobe. The YS 250 battery will last slightly longer underwater and has a much higher flash output with a land guide rating of 32 vs the YS 110α which has a land guide rating of 22, but may not last 2, 3 or 4 dives. You may also want to consider the conditions do you dive in? When you dive places like the Galapagos you have heavy currents. Large wide dome ports and equipment create a large amount of drag in the water.
#2 Portability, Size & Weight
Do you want to buy a larger DSLR housing with multiple strobes so you can truly create the shadows and lighting you want underwater? I have a Pelican case just for my Underwater housing and accessories and it weighs 49.6 lbs – So no extra airline charges, and everything is protected. But this also means that I have to figure out how to bring all my dive gear, clothes and accessories in another bag and keep it under 50lbs or you get charged overage fees or extra bag fees at the airport. My fiance dives with a Canon G10 point and shoots with 1 strobe. She can easily pack this in her pelican carry-on roller that is carry size and weighs about 20 lbs.
#3 Put the best camera you can afford in your underwater housing
The hardest decision for an underwater imager is when to buy and for what camera. I had a Canon 40D, but when I knew that I was going to drop $2,50o on a housing, why not house best camera I could afford at the time. So I bought a 5D MK II, I have never regretted this decision. If you are buying a point and shoot make sure you are not about to purchase a model that has just been updated or is about to be updated. For example a Canon s95 vs Canon S100. If you purchase a housing and S95 right now, the S100 will be out next month and in my opinion is a much better camera. Now the only decisions you are faced with is; Do I dive Macro or do I dive Wide? Obviously diving with a wide angle lens gives you some versatility, but if you like to spend tons of time in the little nooks and crannies like I do, then you probably will mostly dive Macro. That being said, there isn’t a stranger feeling of euphoria and disappointment than having a macro lens on your camera and seeing a large pelagic pass by.
#4 Protect & Insure Your Gear
This is simple, buy a Pelican case or other hard-sided case to protect your and buy insurance. If you have to check your gear, remember most airlines insurance runs out at $500, so insure it through your house insurance, DAN or other. Also, make sure you have a tether system that does not compromise your underwater safety, but also allows you to discard but not lose your equipment.
You can purchase underwater housing accessories to help with the buoyancy of your camera gear, so it is less negative in the water. I like my equipment to be slightly negative, but my gear is really negative underwater can be hard to operate. Lastly as an underwater imager, you probably already an expert in underwater buoyancy. Remember to respect the underwater world, don’t dislodge or abuse marine animals just to get the shot and make sure you are aware of your surroundings. Floating into a Lion Fish, or losing sight of your buddy are common things for underwater imagers. I often tell people, underwater photographers are the worst buddies. Remember the basics down there. Happy Picture taking…..