Fantasea FA6500 Housing Review

In-depth review of the Fantasea Sony a6500 and a6300 housing for macro and wide-angle, tested through a series of 30 dives in the Philippines
By Brent Durand

Fantasea, known for the great performance and fantastic value of their compact camera housings, has entered the mirrorless housing game with the Fantasea FA6500. This new interchangeable port housing works with both the Sony a6500 and Sony a6300. For this review, I shot the Sony a6500 on 30 dives during the Bluewater Photo workshop in Anilao, Philippines.

The Sony a6500 is Sony's powerful 24.2 megapixel APS-C mirrorless camera, with a fast 425-point autofocus system, 5-axis image stabilization and 4K recording at high framerates. Be sure to read our First Look at the Sony a6500 article (full review to be published in next week).

The Fantasea FA6500 closely resembles other Fantasea housings, however is packed with new features designed specifically for the a6500 and a6300, including camera tray, interchangeable ports, wet lens system compatible with several lens combinations, flash trigger and more. Let's take a closer look.

 

Jump to section:

Housing Features    |    Overview & Controls    |    Underwater Review

UCL-09LF Macro Diopter    |    UWL-09F Wide-Angle Wet Lens    |    FA6500 Housing Accessories

Conclusion    |    More Underwater Photos

 


Purchase the Fantasea FA6500 Housing


 

A nudibranch perches on a rock as current rips by. Sony a6500, Sony 16-50mm lens, Fantasea FA6500 housing, Fantasea UCL-09LF diopter, dual Sea & Sea YS-D1 strobes. @45mm, ISO 100, f/20, 1/160. Photo: Brent Durand


Fantasea FA6500 Features

  • Full access to all essential camera buttons & functions with clearly marked controls

  • Depth rated to 60 meters / 200 feet

  • Shock resistant construction

  • Ergonomic design

  • Double O-ring protection for a perfect watertight seal

  • Moisture Detector and Alarm, Hand Strap and Body Cap included at no additional cost!

  • Interchangeable lens port and lens gear system is available, allowing for the use of a wide range of lenses

  • Double fiber optic cable port

  • M16 port for a variety of connections, including HDMI, vacuum valve or electronic strobe triggering bulkheads

  • Shutter release extension available for easy access when using housing tray and handles

  • Additional optional housing accessories are available

  • Manufacturer's warranty

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

FA6500 Housing Overview and Controls

The Fantasea FA6500 is Fantasea's first mirrorless housing, yet it feels as nice and easy to use as their compact housings while still providing full access to all camera functions, controls and a wide variety of lenses. 

The polycarbonate construction is solid, the buttons have wide plastic caps so that your fingers don't hurt when pressing them repeatedly, and everything is very clearly labeled. I enjoyed the fact that most controls are placed in a similar layout as on the camera body, which maintains familiarity built while using the Sony a6500 topside. The knobs have large ridges that provide great traction on the fingers.

My (strangely favorite) buttons are the flash pop-up and depress buttons, convenient when switching between photo and manual video modes. Why? The camera's max flash sync speed is 1/160, and the a6500 limits you to that shutter speed when the flash is popped (actually a nice feature). For shooting 1080p video at 120fps, I wanted a shutter speed of 1/250, and pressed down the flash in order to make those higher shutter speeds available.

 

Accessory Highlights

The FA6500 housing has a M16 port for a variety of accessories, including HDMI output (e.g. for video monitor) or a vacuum valve. It also has a cold shoe mount for focus light on top of the housing (like all cold shoe mounts, check that accessories are mounted tightly before every dive). The dual fiber optic cable connectors are located on top of the housing, which is nice because you don't have extra light hitting your subject when using only one cable.

Fantasea will soon be releasing an LCD Screen Magnifier, LED Flash Trigger and Quick Release Bayonet System.

 

Port and Lens System

The Fantasea a6500 housing features a bayonet system for changing ports and lenses. Simply unlock the port, twist about 1cm and then pop it off. A camera lens release button is located on the right side of the port opening, making lens changes quick. There's no need to open the back of the housing to change lenses.

I set up the housing with the Fantasea FML Flat Port 34 and Sony 16-50mm Power Zoom kit lens, as this provided a versatile system for both macro shooting with the UCL-09LF diopter and wide-angle shooting with the UWL-09F conversion lens. While the lens isn't as sharp as some other Sony lenses, it was fantastic being able to change from macro to wide-angle mid-dive. The flat port 34 has a 67mm thread mount, so your other 67mm accessories are compatible.

View the Fantasea Port Chart for full lens and port compatibility.

 

Inside the Housing

Opening the FA6500 is simple. Just depress the red safety lever, twist the latch, and pull the housing open on the left side hinge. There are two o-rings sealing the housing back, which provides an extra layer of security against floods. 

To insert the a6500 camera, simply mount it on the tray and insert the tray into the sled, then lock it down. The tray does not block the battery compartment and is easy to tighten/loosen with fingertips or a coin.

 

For the review, I set up the Fantasea FA6500 on Ultralight Control Systems tray and handles, switching between Sea & Sea YS-D1 strobes and Kraken Hydra 5000 video lights.

 

 

FA6500 Housing Performance Underwater

The first thing I noticed with this sytem was the excellent buoyancy of the polycarbonate housing. I was using 4x jumbo Stix Floats and the rig was just slighly negative and easy to swim around with. Pitch was neutral as well - no front float or sink.

The buttons have nice action and did not induce fatigue, although everyone has different hand sizes, ergonomic preferences, etc. I did find myself placing my thumb on the back of the housing to stabilize the rig when depressing the shutter to focus and shoot. This was necessary in order to keep the system aimed and stable while applying enough pressure on the lever. This is a trend for me on several mirrorless housings, so can't be considered a negative.

The housing knobs were easy to turn ergonomically with finger/thumb tip, which is nice - no need to take your hand off the housing to grab them with fingers and thumb. Heavy-use buttons like playback and display stood up to the 30 dives and still feel like new - no jamming up.

 

 

Video recording is done through the small button on the right back side of the housing. Its low profile makes it easy to slowly press with the thumb, resulting in less camera shake and pressure that might shift the careful framing of a super macro shot.

The FA6500 ships with an extended shutter release lever, which I ended up installing after the first few days of the trip. Most divers will be able to install this on their own, if desired, as it's held with just a single screw on outside of the housing. I enjoyed the ergonomics much more with the longer lever.

Advanced shooters will be happy to know that the AEL button has been shifted slightly to the right, making it reachable for back-button focus operation.

There are a couple inconveniences with the system, however I attribute those to the Sony gear design and not the housing. The first is the electronic zoom slider of the Sony 16-50mm lens, which makes it tough to reach a desired field of view (a bit like zooming a compact camera lens) and is prone to being bumped out of place. The second issue, where the pop-up flash pauses the camera in order to recycle and cool down, has been addressed by Fantasea through a new flash trigger. No more need to watch the best composition to move away while waiting for the flash to recycle! Be sure to revisit and read my complete Sony a6500 camera review for more insight on the camera itself, which will be published on UWPG in the next week or two.

[EDIT] Fantasea has told us that the 16-50mm zoom gear is designed to work with the manual zoom ring on the 16-50mm lens, not the electronic zoom slider. We haven't had a chance to test this, but it makes sense as the manual zoom ring is more accurate for zooming than the electronic zoom slider.

 

Fantasea UCL-09LF Macro Diopter

I used the UCL-09LF frequently during our Anilao workshop. The Sony 16-50mm lens is versatile, however the minimum working distance is often too far away (25cm) for crisp macro shooting. Adding the UCL-09LF not only adds +12 magnification, but it reduces the working distance, allowing you to get closer and fill the frame with your subject. Shooting through less water also results in crisper images.

This specific lens and diopter combo requires you to zoom in a bit in order to move past the vignetting at 16mm. Once you do that, you have the flexibility to zoom the lens in and out depending on the size of your subject and desired working distance (which varies depending on zoom / field of view).

The diopter delivers sharp images, however my first instinct is that the Sony 16-50mm isn't as sharp for macro shooting as the Sony 90mm macro lens. I look forward to testing the diopter on that lens in the near future. But like I mentioned above, the 16-50mm is more versatile, so lens/port selection will really depend on the photo subjects you have planned during the dive.

 

A nudibranch reaches out across a sponge. Sony a6500, Sony 16-50mm lens, Fantasea FA6500 housing, Fantasea UCL-09LF diopter, dual Sea & Sea YS-D1 strobes. @39mm, ISO 100, f/16, 1/160. Photo: Brent Durand

 

An emperor shrimp crawls across a large cucumber. Sony a6500, Sony 16-50mm lens, Fantasea FA6500 housing, Fantasea UCL-09LF diopter, dual Sea & Sea YS-D1 strobes. @47mm, ISO 100, f/25, 1/160. Photo: Brent Durand


Fantasea UWL-09 Wide-Angle Conversion Lens

The Fantasea UWL-09F is a glass wide-angle wet conversion lens that allows you to zoom in and out while using the lens. The first benefit of this lens is that you can add and remove it underwater. The second is this zoom ability, allowing you to zoom out for a wide reefscape perspective and zoom in for more distant subjects like a sea lion or dolphin.

The UWL-09F requires you to zoom in very slightly to avoid vignetting, but after that the image quality stays impressively sharp from edge to edge. The photo below is shot at 21mm and uncropped.

 

A nudibranch reaches out across a sponge. Sony a6500, Sony 16-50mm lens, Fantasea FA6500 housing, Fantasea UWL-09F wide-angle conversion lens, dual Sea & Sea YS-D1 strobes. @21mm, ISO 320, f/13, 1/80. Photo: Brent Durand


Fantasea FA6500 Housing Accessories

 

Fantasea plans to release the following products for the FA6500 housing next month:
  • A Dome Lens Port designed for wide angle lenses such as the Sony E-mount 16mm F2.8 lens and the VCL-ECF2 Fisheye converter.
  • A Lens Port Extension Ring designed to help accommodate longer lenses such as the Sony E-mount 10 - 18 mm Zoom lens.
  • Lens Gears and Light Shielding pads designed for a variety of Sony E-Mount lenses.
  • A LCD Screen Magnifier compatible with all Fantasea Housings which provide an enlarged and enhanced view of the cameras LCD screen
  • Universal Flash Trigger Compatible with all Hotshoe equipped cameras. Thereby allowing for longer camera battery life and enhanced continues shooting modes.
  • New and improved Fiber Optic cables.

 

 

Conclusion

The Fantasea FA6500 is a solid, functional housing that delivers the best performance to value ratio out there. If you have a budget as you plan and purchase a Sony a6500 mirrorless camera rig, then this housing is a great option.

The compact size and light weight make the Sony a6500 and Fantasea housing attractive to DSLR shooters who are looking for easier travel and less bulk while diving. The versatility of using wet lenses for super macro and wide-angle on the same dive is very cool, and a setup I would highly recommend for advanced shooters looking to maximize photo opportunities throughout every minute underwater. That said, I would definitely also look to the Sony 90mm macro lens (and compatible port) if you're into the small critters.

The image quality, autofocus speed and other custom features make this a great system for compact shooters looking to upgrade. 

There just aren't many cons with the system. It can be used as a small snorkel camera with a handstrap or built up as a professional video rig with external monitor, tripod and lighting system.

 

Order the Fantasea FA6500 housing at Bluewater Photo.

 

Fantasea a6500 Housing Underwater Photos

 

A friendly green turtle hangs out for a portrait. Sony a6500, Sony 16-50mm lens, Fantasea FA6500 housing, dual Sea & Sea YS-D1 strobes. @37mm, ISO 100, f/16, 1/125. Photo: Brent Durand


Known for macro, Anilao also is home to gorgeous reefs. Sony a6500, Sony 16-50mm lens, Fantasea FA6500 housing, Fantasea UWL-09F wide-angle conversion lens, dual Sea & Sea YS-D1 strobes. @18mm, ISO 320, f/13, 1/100. Photo: Brent Durand

 

 

A nudibranch reaches out towards the housing. Sony a6500, Sony 16-50mm lens, Fantasea FA6500 housing, Fantasea UCL-09LF diopter, dual Sea & Sea YS-D1 strobes. @24mm, ISO 100, f/22, 1/160. Photo: Brent Durand

 

A mototi octopus crawls across the sand while hunting. Sony a6500, Sony 16-50mm lens, Fantasea FA6500 housing, dual Sea & Sea YS-D1 strobes. @33mm, ISO 100, f/14, 1/160. Photo: Brent Durand

 

Anemone shrimp are commonly found with eggs. Sony a6500, Sony 16-50mm lens, Fantasea FA6500 housing, Fantasea UCL-09LF diopter, dual Sea & Sea YS-D1 strobes. @41mm, ISO 100, f/29, 1/160. Photo: Brent Durand

 

Disclosure: Fantasea loaned UWPG the gear reviewed in this article.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Brent Durand is a weekend wanderer and story teller from California.
BrentDurand.com   |  Facebook  |  Instagram

Brent is a writer for the Underwater Photography Guide, an avid diver and adventure photographer, and shoots underwater any time he can get hands on a camera system. He can be reached at brent@uwphotographyguide.com.

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