are quite a number of makes and models of housings available
to you at a range of different prices to suit most pockets.
This article discusses the features to consider when purchasing
a housing. The accompanying table enables you to find out which
camera / housing combinations are available off-the-shelf with
links to the manufacturer's and UK retailer's web sites to assist
you in your choice.
choice of SLR housing may depend on whether or not you already
have a camera that you want to house.
SLR camera housings are only available off-the-shelf for a
relatively small number of the makes and models of SLR land
cameras, so there may not be a suitable housing off-the-shelf
for your existing camera. You may therefore need to consider
which camera / housing combination you need. Although
some manufacturers will make a custom housing for you, this
is likely to cost more. Or you could consider making your
own, as several BSoUP members have done.
for underwater photographers, housings are available off-the-shelf
for many of the Nikon and Canon models and for some of the
Mamiya, Minolta, Olympus, Pentax, Vivitar and Yashica models
of SLR cameras.
you already own an SLR camera from one of the manufacturers
listed above, you can use the table below to check if there
is a housing available off-the-shelf for your make of camera.
If your camera is not listed, then you should consider building
or having built a custom housing or purchasing a new or second-hand
camera and an appropriate housing. With the increasing emphasis
on digital cameras for the land photographer there is quite
a competitive market for second-hand SLR cameras. All
of the housing manufacturers listed below make housings for
one or more Nikon SLR cameras, which are probably the most
widely used by underwater photographers.
the most popular choice amongst BSoUP members is a Subal housing
for a Nikon F801 or F90, although some members use others,
including Aquatica. Although with the availability of the
new Nikon F100 and suitable housings this will almost certainly
change in the future. Their choice, however, may be dictated
by availability and proximity to a retailer within the UK.
My wife, in contrast, uses a Hugyphot housing for a Pentax
LX purchased at a time when Hugyphot were available in the
UK . A number of other successful photographers use a housing
from other manufacturers or a housing that they have built
aluminium or alloy
are usually made from injection moulded polycarbonate, aluminium
or alloy. Polycarbonate housings tend to be cheaper
their aluminium or alloy equivalents, which can be more expensive
than the camera they are designed to house.
and Nimar each make two different sized housings (Nimar 2
and 3 and Ikelite TTL SLR-AF and MD-size respectively) from
polycarbonate for a range of different makes and models of
SLR camera, although the choice of controls available for
Ikelite housings varies considerably, dependent on the camera
'one size - fits all', polycarbonate housings tend to be bulkier
and more buoyant than aluminium housings designed for a specific
camera. Their one major advantage is that you can see when
they leak, if you have failed to maintain the all-important
o-ring seals. They will also accommodate more water before
the camera gets wet. Although tough, polycarbonate housings
can easily be scratched and cracked if abused, but they will
you want to house a Minolta, Olympus or Yashica SLR camera,
you currently have no option but to choose a polycarbonate
manufacturers housings, made from aluminium or alloy, tend
to be smaller and less buoyant than their polycarbonate equivalents.
Aluminium and alloy housings, usually designed for a specific
make and model of camera, will fit so snugly that there is
little space between camera and housing. In the event of a
leak the camera will almost certainly be ruined. Aluminium
and alloy housings are more robust than polycarbonate housings
and can take a fair bit of abuse without coming to much harm,
although they can corrode, particularly around stainless steel
fittings (where present), if not thoroughly soaked in freshwater
after immersion in sea water. Some housings come complete with
a leak detector and for those that don't, you should purchase
one from an independent supplier.
front and back part of a housing may be secured either by
or screws. It is possible to under or over tighten screws,
either of which can lead to a leak.
design of the housing should be such that the primary controls
are readily to hand. At the very least you should be able
to hold the housing comfortably whilst still being able to
press the shutter release and focus in a controlled manner.
As a test, hold the housing by its handles or grips at eye-level
and try half depressing the shutter release, with your fore-finger,
to activate the camera's LED display without taking a picture,
and focus on something using the thumb and fore-fingers of
the other hand. If it doesn't feel comfortable and natural
check to see if the handles can be adjusted or replaced with
more suitable ones for your particular hand size or, if not,
try a different make of housing.
housings include external controls for the shutter release,
focus and aperture. Most housings also include other external
controls e.g. on/off, shutter speed , Film speed, exposure compensation, manual, single or continuous exposure and spot,
centre-weighted or matrix metering etc.
will also be one or more bulkhead connectors to which your
flash or flashes connect externally. Although you might be
tempted, if money is no object, to buy the housing with the
greatest number of controls for your chosen camera, you should
think carefully about which you actually need to use underwater.
The simpler you make it the less chance of error!
will need to consider the ease with which you can compose
and focus your camera once it is housed. Not all SLR cameras
have built-in viewfinders which allow you to see 100% of the
area which will be exposed to the film when you press the
shutter. Cameras with Sports or Action finders give better
coverage than others. Make the wrong choice of housing and
its built-in viewfinder port may reduce this area further.
As a general rule the closer you can get your eye to the housed
camera's viewfinder whilst wearing a mask, the greater your
chance of seeing the same area that is exposed to film.
addition of a magnifying lens to the camera's or housing's
viewfinder may enable you to see more of the subject area,
but it will
also make the subject look smaller and therefore make it more
difficult to focus on and compose your subject. Of course,
if you are using auto-focus then focusing should not be a
should think about the lens or lenses you want to use underwater.
The prices quoted for most housings do not include lens ports.
BSoUP members use a 50 mm and/or 105 mm macro lens and a 20
mm wide-angle, and some find that a 16 mm fish-eye and a zoom
lens can be quite useful underwater. You will need different
ports to accommodate the length and angle of each different
lens. If you are buying your first housing, then start with
a macro lens and port and master this before investing in
additional lenses and ports.
generally use a bayonet type fitting, sealed by a serviceable
o-ring, to the front part of the housing. Glass ports are
usually better optically than perspex, and less easily scratched.
lenses work perfectly well with a flat port, but wide-angle
lenses need a dome port. The reasons for this are that a flat
port reduces the angle of a wide-angle lens; causes colour
distortion at the edges of the frame, causes geometric distortion
and reduces the focusing range of the lens, which can only
be corrected with a hemispherical dome port. Usually the more
complete a hemisphere the better the optical quality, but
larger domes can be almost as bulky as the housing and a greater
risk of damage.
ports introduce further problems, which require the addition
of a positive lens or diopter to the primary wide-angle lens
of the camera to compensate for the negative effects of the
dome. The manufacturer or retailer should be able to advise
you as to the strength of the required lens. Once you have
the correct diopter for your lens/dome combination you should
be ready embark on wide-angle photography.
which are sold for more than one wide-angle lens are likely
to give better results for one of the lenses than the others.
Housed zoom lenses should be of the type in which the lens
does not change length, focusing being achieved internally.
attachments and connections
flash connects externally to a bulkhead connector on the housing.
Most bulkhead connectors accept Nikonos type flash plugs.
If you want to use multiple strobes, say a master to light
the subject and bring back the colour and a slave to fill
in some of the shadow, you should purchase a housing with
two bulkhead connectors, although
it is possible to purchase a splitter to connect two flash
units to a single bulkhead connector. Connection between the
bulkhead and the camera is via a cable either to the camera's
hot shoe (TTL makes and models) or x-synch (manual makes and
models e.g. Pentax LX).
flash arm may be attached directly to the handles of the housing
or to a tray secured to the base of the housing, dependent
on make. Of course, if you are only using one of the currently
available ring flash units for macro photography, then you
will not need flash arms. These units fit onto the macro port,
although they do produce a very flat image.
like amphibious cameras, housings rely on o-rings to maintain
their water-tight integrity. The number of o-rings will vary
from one model to another and from one camera to another,
dependant on which external controls are available. Generally,
as in the Nikonos range of amphibious cameras, there are only
two easily serviceable o-rings, one to seal the front to the
back of the housing and the other to seal the lens port to
the front of the housing. However, the o-rings sealing the
control levers can certainly be serviced more readily than
those of a Nikonos. The more external controls there are,
the greater the potential risk of flooding, so you should
have your housing regularly serviced if this is not your forte.
are a wealth of accessories available from the major housing
manufacturers and others.
or trays to attach flash arms, are a must. Wide-angle photography
requires longer flash arms than macro photography, unless
you are prepared to hand hold your flash unit. If you intend
to hand-hold your flash unit when taking pictures, then you
will need a flash arm that, although securely attached to
the housing, can be easily be detached.
leak-detector, if not supplied with the housing, is an essential
item for any camera system. No matter how careful you are
there will always be that one occasion when you haven't checked
the o-rings thoroughly or secured the front and back parts
of the housing or port before entering the water.
lanyard is a must. Not only will it provide a means of allowing
you to free your hands in the event of an emergency, it will
provide a means of passing the camera safely in and out of
spotting torch ot laser pointer attached to your flash unit
can help ensure that the flash is illuminating your chosen
light meter attached to the housing can also be very useful,
even if your camera has a built in meter.
remember, the simpler you make it, the more likely you are
to take consistently good shots.