For several years I have spent my summers at Surf City, North Carolina. The entire time, I have been curious about what it would be like to work with a water housing. Thanks to the team over at AquaTech, I was able to spend a couple of weeks getting familiar with their product, and I was able to formulate a number of ideas about using water housings for DSLR photography.
The housing arrived in several parts. Setup and mounting of the camera was very intuitive and obvious, with no major "puzzles" to solve from a hardware standpoint.
The main housing is a plastic case that surrounds your camera. On the front, there are threads where you install different ports, depending upon the lens that you are going to be using. You need the correct port for each lens, because it needs to be the correct length. In my case for the review, I was supplied with a 24-70 port, as well as a 16-35.
Inside the housing is a mounting plate that you attach to the bottom of your camera. It slides into the mount inside the housing, to position the camera body in the exact right location. Inside the case, there is a standard remote trigger connection that you attach to the camera, exactly like you would a standard shutter release.
The remote trigger passes through the housing, and is connected to the two buttons on the pistol grip. Here was the only miniscule snag I found when first setting up the system. I use back-button focus. With my camera body set up to BBF, and the shutter button half-press only triggering a meter reading, the top button didn't function as intended. I needed to go into my custom controls for the camera, and switch back to the half-press engaging the Auto Focus mechanism of the camera. Once I made that change, the top button would attain focus, and the bottom one would engage the shutter. It worked extremely well.
The one thing that I found a bit challenging as a newbie was the fact that it was often very hard to tell if you were pressing that lower button hard enough to actually be taking photos. The button had a fairly extreme tension to it, and you had to press the button VERY hard to take a photo. While under water, getting plowed into by waves, I found that I wasn't squeezing the trigger aggressively enough. For my personal preference, I would rather have the trigger too easy to fire, rather than too hard. I'd rather take some unintended photos that I need to cull away, rather than missing shots that I had intended to take, due to a hard press trigger button. When you use a camera in normal circumstances, you obviously feel the shutter vibration, hear the click, and know that you have taken the photo. Inside the water housing, and in a rough sea environment, that's definitely not the case.
Once the plate is installed on the camera body, the trigger remote is attached, and the camera is slid into place, you secure a flat acrylic backing over the entire apparatus. As you can see above, there are a number of buttons and a rotary knob in that acrylic backing. The buttons don't operate every single button on the camera, but they do operate all of the most essential functions. The black knob on the right spins the rotary knob on the back of the camera. The black circle that you can see above the "7D" etching is actually a pad that pushes the camera all the way forward into the casing, to ensure that it isn't slipping around inside the housing.
You will see the "Elite" designation on this camera plate. The Elite option allows for the pass-through controls for your settings. There is also a "base" version, where the plate does not have pass-through controls. That is a cheaper option, but of course you would have to set your camera on some form of "auto" mode, and accept those results accordingly. There would be no control access through the housing.
With the Elite version, you have control access to: AF-On, Start,Stop, Video / Stills switch, Q menu, Right Multi- Controller, Set Button, Zoom In, Playback, Delete, Auto Focus Point Selector, Rear Control Dial, Shutter
The acrylic backing is secured by four very sturdy industrial clamps. They pull the acrylic down and lock into place. There is a very secure locking mechanism that ensures that the clamps don't inadvertently loosen while you are shooting. To open the clamp, you have to press a release switch, then lift up on the lever. It's well designed, and very well built.
There is a large hand hold grip on the left side of the encasement, as well as the pistol grip located on the bottom of the housing. You can also see on the left above, a blurry wrist leash. It's a very secure tether to ensure that even if your hands release for some reason, your gear is not going to float away or sink.
One thing worth noting, is that the housing, combined with the weight of a DSLR and lens makes for a rather heavy piece of gear to wield. I found myself wishing while I was on the beach, but not in the water fully, that there were some sort of arca swiss plate on the outside somewhere, that could be placed on a monopod, to help support some of that weight. Once you are in the water, the floatation of the device actually helps to mitigate the heavy gear very nicely.
It's a weird feeling to take your camera and lens out into an ocean for the first time. I found myself constantly looking around the rubber seals, to see if any drops of water were getting into the housing. I had a fairly understandable amount of healthy paranoia at first. But after fully submerging a few times, and getting completely demolished by some heavy surf, I very quickly gained a lot of faith and confidence in the design and safety of the housing.
I had an absolutely amazing time taking my camera out into the ocean.
The real question for me comes down to a matter of pricing. The gear is 100% rock solid, and a phenomenal tool for someone who wants or needs to do photography in a water environment. As much as I loved using the water housing, and as much as I would love to have one, the price tag is a fairly large one. In fact, too large for me to be able to justify the investment given that I have no real commercial use for it. The vast majority of my business is weddings, portraits and performing arts photography. None of those really demand having a water housing. I do a lot of recreational surf photography, and for that, this is the perfect tool, but I don't have a revenue stream from surf photos that warrants an investment that is quite this substantial.
The housing themselves vary slightly in price, depending on configuration, but here are some basic numbers:
A base version (with pistol grip, and a plain acrylic back that doesn't allow access to controls) - $995
Elite version (no pistol grip, but the upgraded back) - $1595
Pistol Grip - $395
Conversion Back (a new back, if you change camera bodies) - $595
Flash housing - $695
Lens Ports - $195 to $495 depending on size/shape
A New Perspective
Hands down, the most exciting and immediate thing that I noticed is the exciting change in perspective. Being able to be out in the waves, taking photos back towards shore, or of a surfer in the water was incredibly exciting. The area where I was shooting (Surf City, North Carolina) didn't have water clear enough to shoot underwater, but even shooting from the surface of the ocean provided a wonderful change.
Mark is a professional photographer working in the eastern United States. He is based in suburban Philadelphia, but shoots regularly in New York and eastern North Carolina, as well. Specializing in wedding & portrait photography, he is particularly obsessed with capturing special events, important moments and emotions.
In October, 2018, he will be presenting a series of classes at Cardinal Camera in Lansdale, PA and in November, 2018, he will be presenting a hands-on gear show through the Pennsylvania Center for Photography. Details about both of these opportunities will be available here when they are available.