Your first purchase after getting a camera body and lens, will be an underwater housing.
Housings can be made out of Polycarbonate (Fantasea, Ikelite, some Sea & Sea housings), Aluminum (the more expensive housings like Subal, Nexus, Aquatica, Sea & Sea), or a combination of the two (some Sea & Sea housings). Scroll to the bottom of this article for links to specs and reviews of popular cameras and underwater housings.
Underwater housing manufacturers
Here is some thoughts about the various housing manufacturers. Most of these housings are quite good quality, and you may want to discuss with your UW photography store which housing is best for you. Please note that some housings have limited support for ports & repairs, depending on where you live.
Ikelite – the most popular housing brand out there. Several models are made from 1 mold, so they are not as compact. Loads of loyal customers, and many critics. Great bargain, especially since they contain a TTL converter. Having a TTL converter included in all of the housings is a big advantage. Some have criticized their port-locking design as being easier to flood than other designs. As of Nov 2009, they have improved their port locks.
Patima – Korean company, same as Epoque. Prices in the low to mid-range area. Housings are made of aluminum and stainless steel. Supports the Canon G9 and a few dSLRs.
Sea & Sea - solid mid-range choice, with a great housing for the Nikon D300, although prices have been creeping up. New versions for lower-end dSLRs are polycarbonate, and allow the strobe to fire via fiber optics, called the RDX series for the nikon D40/D60. The MDX-d700 also supports fiber optics.
Aquatica - solid mid-range choice, known for listening to customer feedback, and deep depth ratings. Offering an inexpensive way to upgrade from D200->D300 housing. They announced a D300s underwater housing at the end of 2009, which has support for fiber optic cables.
Nauticam - new company in Hong Kong with a mid-range aluminum Nikon D90 & D700 underwater housing, with more models on the way including the D300s. Here's the Nauticam D90 housing review.
Light and Motion - mid-range choice, all camera & strobe controls are controlled electronically. Users swear by them, although eventually electronics may fail.
Fisheye (FIX) – Japanese company, makes a housing for the Canon G10 and G11. Sister company of Seatool.
10bar – Hong kong company, makes a few compact & dSLR housings, including a great one for the Lumix LX3.
Seatool – known for their video housings, they produce camera housings for a few models. Some housings allow you to use the popup flash.
Hugyfot – Belgian company. Solid aluminum housings, mid to high end choice. Housings for a wide range of dSLR cameras.
Subal - High end choice, Austrian made. All glass ports. Users rave about the great ergonomics. Housings for the Canon 500d, Nikon D90, and Canon 7d were announced by Subal in late 2009.
Seacam - Very high end, all glass ports. Used by many professionals. Seacam announced a Canon 5d Mark II housing and a Nikon D300s housing at the end of 2009. Based in Austria.
Sealux - German company, all glass ports, makes well-built aluminum housings for many dSLR models.
Watershot - based in San Diego, USA - they have a machined aluminum underwater housing for the Canon 500D and Canon 5D mark II.
Zillion - based in Japan, can be difficult to get outside of Japan
Nexus - based in Japan, mid to high range housings. Good reputation, and their D90 housing has received good reviews due to fiber optic support. Read our overview of Nexus underwater housings.
Epoque - based in Japan, they have less expensive housings for the Canon digital rebel series, and compete with Ikelite. Some of their latest housings support fiber optics.
Fantasea - they no longer make dSLR housings, but they still make some compact housings.
Ewa-Marine - these are like expensive, thick zip-lock bags. People use them for snorkeling, surfing, kayaking, etc. but I haven't heard of anyone using them for underwater photography on scuba. But that doesn't mean there aren't people who have used them in very shallow water.
Some of these higher-end, compact housings can be very heavy underwater with a macro lens. Be prepared to add lots of extra buoyancy to your setup. You have been warned! The Ikelite housings have a little more air space inside so they tend to be a little more neutral.
When you decide to upgrade your camera, you will most likely need to get a new housing. When deciding how much to spend on a housing, keep in mind that many UW housings have a significantly lower resale value than when first purchased.
Note: some housings can be “upgraded” or converted by Sam Chae. Sam builds conversion kit for d200,d300 -> d700.
Important Features in dSLR underwater housings
The following features may or may not be important to do. If they are, you should discuss them with your underwater camera shop.
Access to all controls
Most underwater housings have controls for the important buttons. Some controls may or may not be important to you, for example I always use the C/S/M lever, but rarely use the focus lock button. Other people have opposite preferences. Make sure your housing supports the controls you use.
If you are a technical / deep diver (past 40 meters), you'll want to check the depth rating on your housing.
Support for fiber optic connection
Some people are starting to prefer fiber optic connections for their underwater strobes. Some housings from Nexus, Seatool and S&S are starting to support this, and there may be others. Check on your particular model.
Aluminum and polycarbonate are the most popuar, with aluminum usually being more durable but more expensive.
Smaller is usually preferred, but larger housings can be more neutrally buoyant.
Some of these housings can be quite negatively buoyant underwater, especially the smaller aluminum housings, check with some of your friends who have similar housings. The people selling you the housing might stretch the truth on this one a little. Larger size "Buoyancy arms" are starting to become popular.
Type of port mounting
Some manufacturers have reputations for better solutions than others, regarding how their ports mount. For example, Sea & Sea has a great port locking mechanism, and owners rarely have problems with their port/housing connection. Ikelite ports "snap on" in a way that some feel can be improved. Ask around to find out the reputation of the housing you are looking at.
Support for Glass dome ports
If you want a glass dome port, which can cost much more, make sure your housing manufacturer supports it. For example. Ikelite does not, while Seacam also sells glass ports.
Cost of ports & zoom rings
when looking at the price of a housing, don't forget to include the additional cost of ports, extensions, focus rings, port covers, and zoom rings - it can add up.
Support for different size ports and rings
Smaller underwater housing manufacturers might not support all the lenses you want to use. Check to see how many ports they have, whether they support small and large dome ports, and what size extension rings.
If you are interested in an external viewfinder, which will help you see your subject better and/or easier through the viewfinder, check to see what your options are, and check the price, they can be expensive.
Support for large lenses
Some lenses like the new Canon 16-35mm II can be very wide, make sure your housing supports them, not all do.
Some housings have built in leak alarms, I know for a fact this has saved several cameras. Some housings, like Ikelite, are clear, and you may not need a leak alarm because you can see inside the housing if water droplets appear.
Ergonomics of the aperture / shutter speed dials and shutter release
Some housings vary vastly in how easy it is to adjust the aperture, shutter speed, and release the shutter. Ideally, you should be able to operate the housing with one hand. Really the only way to determine this is to try out the housing. In some housings, the ergonomics are so bad I would never use the housing.
Compact camera underwater housings
Housings from Canon, Fuji and Olympus are often known as "OEM" housings - Original Equipment manufacturers. Other companies (third parties) also make camera housings.
Canon housings - canon housings for g7/g9/g10 are good deals. One downside is that there is no hot shoe for a sync cord connection to the strobes.
Fuji housings – These are very well built. They have a dual o-ring system
Ikelite housings – Sturdy, a little bulky. Considered "higher end" than OEM housings for compact cameras.
Patima housings – recently getting more popular, high quality aluminum housing
Olympus housings - considered quite good housings for a camera manufacturer
Fisheye FIX housings - considered one of the best housings for the Canon G10, and coming out with a Canon G11 and Canon S90 housing. This are "high end" housings, that allow port changes for wide-angle.
Underwater housing and camera reviews:
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