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Underwater Housings for a Digital camera, Explained

guide to buying an underwater housing for underwater photography

Underwater pictures is crammed with technical challenges, hidden bills, and potential horror tales if one thing goes unsuitable – and all of it begins together with your camera housing. On this information, I’ll clarify what you should find out about underwater housings for your camera, together with the essential equipment you’ll want to be able to safely carry your pictures gear underwater.

Step one is to know the terminology of underwater housings. In any other case, it may be tough to do even primary analysis on the subject. For instance, what’s a vacuum valve or a dome port? Each of them are essential elements of a camera housing, however neither one will sound acquainted to most photographers.

That’s why I wrote this information. My hope is that I might help make the method simpler for you than it was for me. Under, I’ll cowl all of the elements of an underwater housing and what equipment are crucial earlier than you possibly can take your DSLR, mirrorless, or compact camera underwater.


Bringing an costly camera of yours underwater will be a daunting process. And there could be a voice in your head saying “what if it leaks?” – so, you could be questioning if there are alternate options to a full underwater housing setup. There definitely are! I take into account there to be three ranges of underwater pictures gear, with totally different value ranges and complexity:

  1. Capturing with a camera that’s already waterproof out-of-the-box
  2. Utilizing a ready-made underwater housing with a good compact camera, like a Sony RX100-series camera
  3. Doing superior underwater pictures with mirrorless/DSLR cameras and a customized underwater housing

Whereas the primary two forms of underwater pictures gear are pretty intuitive, it’s the third one – bringing a DSLR or mirrorless camera underwater – that takes some analysis. Devoted underwater housings for such cameras are giant, advanced, and costly. You often want to purchase the varied elements individually and assemble a working underwater housing your self.

Sadly, underwater pictures just isn’t low-cost. It’s about 3x as costly as common pictures, and because the gear will increase in high quality, so too does the value.

You might be tempted to attempt to discover the most cost effective route potential – however that’s one thing you’ll nearly definitely remorse. If there is just one factor you are taking away from this text, let it’s this: don’t low-cost out in your underwater housing! There definitely are methods to take underwater photographs on a finances (see my article on low-cost underwater pictures), however going with a low-quality housing just isn’t considered one of them.

On one hand, if a budget underwater housing leaks, immediately you’ll want to interchange your camera, making it a very costly housing. Even when it doesn’t leak, it should produce other points – simply scratched glass, dangerous reflections, caught shutter button (speak about missed pictures), difficult interface, and extra. I’ve skilled all of those personally! I might write a entire article simply on why you shouldn’t purchase low-cost underwater gear. However let’s get into the good things now.

On this article, I’m going to cowl the next matters:

  • The objects crucial to finish your underwater housing
  • Lens ports and the way they work
  • Retaining your housing watertight with a vacuum system
  • Methods to keep your housing to stop flooding
  • Extra gear that may enhance your underwater rig

After which I’ll attempt to reply any questions within the feedback part when you’ve got them.

Swimming with sharks underwater photography

What Is an Underwater Housing?

Because the title implies, an underwater housing for your camera is solely a waterproof case that lets you maintain working the camera underwater. Normally, housings are constructed for a particular mannequin of camera. Even then, the housing is probably not 100% operational and permit entry to each button and dial on the camera. The extra operation it has, the dearer it tends to be.

In a excellent world, you’d purchase an underwater housing, it will present up, and you possibly can simply stick your camera inside and be able to shoot away. Sadly, that isn’t the case with extra superior rigs for higher cameras.

Equally to how once you purchase a camera physique, it doesn’t all the time include a lens, once you purchase an underwater housing, it doesn’t essentially include a lens port (extra on precisely what that’s quickly). It is because the dome port you want is dependent upon what lens you’ll use. There are extra vital elements to the underwater housing you have to additionally get.

So I assume a higher query would have been, what all is a part of an underwater housing, and what do you really need to purchase? That’s what I’ll cowl subsequent. All of it begins with the lens port.

Lens Ports Explained

Identical to how a lens attaches to your camera, a lens port for underwater pictures attaches to the entrance of the underwater housing. It’s a crucial piece of kit that should be bought individually. With out a lens port, there can be a huge gap on the entrance of the camera housing. I don’t suppose that’s very waterproof!

Discovering the best lens port is often the toughest a part of conceptualizing your underwater pictures setup. It is because there are such a lot of lenses on the market, a number of underwater housings available on the market, and totally different lens ports accessible. To not point out that one lens port can typically work for a number of totally different lenses – whereas different lens ports are incompatible with sure housings.

So, let me undergo a few of the commonest questions and concerns subsequent.

1. Dome Ports vs Flat Ports

There are two fundamental forms of lens ports for underwater pictures: dome ports and flat ports.

Dome ports have a rounded, “dome-like” entrance and are used for wide-angle pictures. Then again, the entrance of flat ports are, unsurprisingly, flat. They’re used for photographing with narrower focal lengths – which, for underwater pictures, nearly all the time means macro photographs.

Dome port vs flat port for underwater photography
Dome port (left) for extensive angle pictures vs. a flat port (proper) for macro pictures

Because of the nature of how water impacts gentle, particularly on the interface between gentle and air, the lens port acts as an additional lens aspect. It performs a main function within the optical system and picture high quality of your underwater photographs.

When you have ever been to an aquarium or appeared into any fish tank, you could be aware of how objects can look very distorted behind flat glass. That is due to the best way flat glass refracts gentle. A flat water-air interface just isn’t superb for underwater pictures due to the extreme refraction. In photographs, that is evident with chromatic aberration and extreme distortion. The problem turns into more and more outstanding with wider lenses.

That’s why dome ports are used for wide-angle underwater pictures – they fight the refraction brought on by flat glass or acrylic. Perhaps at an aquarium you possibly can bear in mind sticking your head into a little dome-shaped viewing gap, inside which you get a a lot wider subject of view, and the fish look smaller and fewer distorted. That is the thought behind dome ports, too. They drastically enhance the sharpness, distortion, chromatic aberration, and different refraction-induced points when utilizing wide-angle lenses.

As a rule of thumb, any lens with a focal size wider than a 35mm full-frame equal must be used with a dome port, whereas flat ports are higher for macro pictures.

You might be questioning if you should use a dome port for macro pictures, too. The reply is sure – however the magnification of your photographs will likely be decreased considerably. Much more importantly, it’s straightforward to scratch the costly dome of the dome port for those who get near your topics for macro pictures. This is the reason flat ports are extra generally used for close-up underwater photographs.

Given all that, I hope you possibly can see how vital it’s to place collectively the proper underwater housing and never simply purchase one with out considering. The lens port isn’t simply a waterproof piece of clear glass or acrylic – it’s a new entrance aspect for your lens, and it must be handled simply as importantly as one.

2. Extension Rings and Zoom Gear

Generally, the proper dome port doesn’t exist for the lens you need to use underwater. In any case, there are numerous extra lenses available on the market than lens ports. The largest concern is that the lens might protrude too far into the dome (particularly in case your lens has an exterior zoom or exterior focusing).

Do you simply hand over and use a totally different lens at that time? Under no circumstances! As a substitute, you should use extension rings to push the lens port additional ahead to accommodate nearly any lens. Normally, on the underwater housing firm’s web site, you will discover info on the best extension rings for varied lenses.

Additionally remember that you’ll want further gear to be able to use any of the zoom or focusing rings in your lens. This gear usually must be purchased individually from the lens port itself, and because it is dependent upon the precise lens you’re utilizing, it’s one other factor you should purchase fastidiously. Once more, verify the suggestions on the underwater camera housing firm’s web site.

3. Diopters

There may be yet another aspect (no pun supposed) at play right here. For the optics of some lenses to operate correctly underwater, they require a further diopter. The optical motive is that the lens might not often focus shut sufficient to concentrate on the picture projected by the dome port (which is de facto how the dome port works on the finish of the day).

Particularly, the diopter permits your lens to focus nearer. That is much less generally crucial, however it could come up! You’ll need to analysis your lens forward of time for underwater use. It’s often straightforward to search out details about whether or not it should require a diopter or not.

Spanish Shawl Nudibranch photo taken by Nicholas Hess california underwater photography

4. How Do You Discover the Particular Lens Port for Your Lens?

The considered discovering the best lens port, extension rings, zoom gear, and diopter for your particular wants might really feel overwhelming and seem to be an inconceivable process. Fortunately, housing producers have made it straightforward to know precisely what lens port you want for your lens by offering “port charts” which comprise all the required port info for most lenses. In any case, it will be a horrible advertising technique to go away all of this to the shopper!

The port chart offered by the producer must be accessible on the camera housing product web page. The producer will let you know the precise merchandise you want for your lens and housing. You’ll nonetheless want to purchase them individually and construct the package your self as soon as it ships, nevertheless it’s not so onerous as soon as what you should get within the first place. Hopefully this text has already helped you perceive the function of every merchandise.

The excellent news is that the entire lens port course of is essentially the most difficult a part of constructing an underwater housing. Nonetheless, it’s not the one factor you should perceive earlier than shopping for a housing. Subsequent up, I’ll speak about vacuum techniques.

Underwater photography opens many new ideas for photography

A Vacuum System for Underwater Photography

In contrast to lens ports, vacuum techniques don’t keep connected to your underwater housing – as an alternative, they’re a method to create stronger seals on the housing, and in addition to inform in case your rig is totally waterproof. The very last thing you need is for water to destroy your costly camera. So, I take into account a vacuum system to be a essential a part of any underwater camera setup.

The precept behind a vacuum system is fairly easy. Most underwater housings have a devoted valve which might hook up with a vacuum pump. Earlier than going underwater (however after placing the camera within the housing), you utilize the vacuum system to pump air out and reduce the stress contained in the camera housing. This tightens all of the seals.

Past that, you should use a easy stress gauge (proven beneath) to see if the stress stays regular, or if air begins to leak in over time. If the stress adjustments over time, the housing isn’t sealed, and subsequently isn’t watertight! Then again, if the stress stays the identical after at the least quarter-hour, you will be assured that your camera is secure inside. (Some underwater photographers will depart it in a single day to be further cautious, and ensure the needle hasn’t moved by morning.)

Most underwater camera housings could have the valve built-in, however the firm will promote the vacuum pump and stress gauge individually. Each are completely essential for your underwater rig, or a catastrophe is simply ready to occur.

Vacuum systems for underwater housings are important to prevent flooding

Equipment for Dealing with the Digital camera Extra Simply

For those who’re utilizing an interchangeable-lens camera underwater, the waterproof housing will likely be huge and hulking. It’s simply a part of the territory for underwater pictures – your camera is trickier to work with. Nonetheless, you can also make issues considerably simpler with two different equipment for your underwater housing: counterweights and handles.

1. Counterweights

Though underwater housings are giant, they aren’t heavy in any respect (at the least when you get underwater). That’s as a result of they develop into buoyant – typically a little too buoyant! The entrance dome port, the place there’s extra air, could have a tendency to pitch upwards. This could make composition difficult by placing a lot of stress in your wrist merely making an attempt to maintain the camera flat.

To counter this concern, underwater housing corporations will promote counterweights that may connect to the housing and cease it from pitching upwards. If you wish to lower your expenses, selfmade counterweights are additionally straightforward to make. At a minimal, you must zip-tie a weight to the underside of the to assist make it neutrally buoyant, slightly than pulling you upwards when diving.

2. Handles

Handles are a crucial add-on for an underwater camera rig. It is because the housing is so cumbersome and difficult to grip, making it difficult to compose photos underwater and even simply maintain onto the camera comfortably. Contemplating that the housing is buoyant, you positively need a agency grip.

I consider that one deal with isn’t sufficient; it’s well worth the funding to have each a left-hand and right-hand deal with. There will likely be occasions once you’ll need one hand free or the opposite, even simply to vary camera settings or take the image. You don’t need to make issues harder than they already are underwater!

Lastly, handles can act as an attachment level for underwater lighting setup corresponding to strobes or video lights. As with many of the gear I’ve lined up to now,  the handles are often offered individually and are a further value. As a result of they’re so essential, you should take their value under consideration when calculating which underwater housing to purchase.

Underwater housings are hard to handle underwater because they are big

Flash and Lighting Gear

It’s potential to make use of synthetic gentle underwater by utilizing strobes or video lights. In actual fact, it’s one thing I extremely advocate – bringing synthetic gentle underwater instantly improves the standard of your underwater photos.

You can not simply use the identical flash that you simply often use on dry land; as an alternative, you must get devoted underwater strobes. Most housing producers supply strobes that are appropriate with the housing.

Even for those who don’t plan on getting a lighting setup instantly, it’s nonetheless vital to know how strobes will be linked to your camera. Broadly talking, there’s an digital cable that connects the strobe to your camera’s hotshoe by way of a bulkhead on the skin of the camera’s underwater housing. Since this entire system wants to stay waterproof, it turns into costly quick.

Video lights are a cheaper choice to carry synthetic gentle underwater. The distinction is that video lights don’t flash like strobes, however slightly maintain fixed illumination. One perk of video lights is that they don’t require an digital connection to the camera, making them cheaper. Naturally, they’re additionally the one possibility for underwater video. Nonetheless, they’re much dimmer than flashes. Nonetheless photographers ought to strongly take into account going with a flash as an alternative.

Both means, I extremely advocate discovering a method to carry synthetic gentle underwater. Until you’re diving proper on the floor, there’s simply not a lot gentle to work with underwater – and the colours will likely be a lot better with synthetic gentle, because you’re countering the deep blue impact of water.

Green Sea Turtle and sunrays using fill flash underwater strobes

Sustaining Your Underwater Digital camera Housing

Underwater housings require constant repairs and upkeep to make sure they don’t leak. This additionally requires a couple extra equipment, though at the least they’re a lot cheaper this time. For starters, you should grease the O-rings in your housing earlier than every use (or nonetheless often the producer recommends). This requires buying a little further O-ring grease out of your producer.

The usage of O-ring grease is easy: You simply add a skinny layer of grease to the O-ring earlier than sealing the camera. This ensures the rubber doesn’t develop into liable to cracking and improves the seal.

I’d additionally advocate buying further O-rings in case one turns into broken. You don’t need to miss out on a possibility on an costly dive journey as a result of your O-ring is in dangerous form. Worse, you don’t need to discover an anomaly in your O-ring and take your camera underwater anyway out of worry of lacking out on one thing cool. Having a spare O-ring will prevent from each conditions.

Extra Gear

There’s a close to infinite variety of extra merchandise you possibly can add to your underwater camera rig to enhance it. Simply to call a few, there are exterior screens, flooding alarm techniques, focus lights, floats, snoots, and lighting modifiers. Not all of it’s crucial – most of it isn’t – however a surprising quantity of issues are potential underwater.

Nonetheless, I don’t advocate shopping for an excessive amount of else till you’ve really taken your underwater camera rig underwater and seen the way it works. There’ll all the time be a method to barely enhance your rig with this or that product, however you possibly can step by step work out what you want over time. The hot button is to have enjoyable within the course of – and to not lower any corners with regards to flooding prevention.

Giant Black Sea Bass photographed underwater at San Clemente Island California Channel Islands National Park While Scuba Diving


I hope this text has made the method of growing an underwater rig much less daunting! There are a few key takeaways:

  • Get the best lens port for your lens (by reviewing the chart port from the housing producer)
  • At all times get a vacuum system and stress gauge to verify waterproofness
  • Add two handles to the rig to make it a lot simpler to make use of underwater
  • Preserve the housing over time based on the producer’s instructions
  • Take into consideration your plan for underwater lighting even for those who’re not shopping for underwater lights instantly
  • Improve over time based on your wants; don’t purchase greater than you want up entrance!

Taking your camera underwater is a huge step and will be nerve-wracking. With the best gear and data, although, it’s a lot simpler to deal with. On the finish of the day, it is probably not a low-cost course of, however the outcomes are priceless.

#Underwater #Housings #Digital camera #Explained

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