Many of our customer inquiries are by photographers / divers looking for a way to use their Canon / Nikon dSLR’s underwater without breaking the bank. I created this post to summarize all the options available and what are the pros and cons of each.
What does it take to create a DSLR Underwater Housing?
The first things one must realize regarding using DSLR’s underwater, is that they are fairly complex and large devices, with many different controls of various types – buttons, levers, rotating dials and more.
Also, DSLR’s are divided into 2 parts – body and lens.
In order to create an underwater case for a DSLR camera, the manufacturer must create a housing larger than the camera itself, with two separate parts (body housing and ports) to support different lenses. The housing must also support most of the controls if not all of them, demanding hundreds of hours of engineering and testing, only to support one camera model only, which usually have a product life span of 1-2 years and are sold in much smaller quantities than the actual cameras.
All the above, makes it pretty darn expensive to create a good quality underwater housing for dSLR’s! Both for the manufacturer, and of course for you, the customer.
So what are my options?
Ikelite DSLR Housings
The best value option you can get is an Ikelite housing. Ikelite have been around for a long time and have plenty of experience with creating quality and affordable housing, making them one of the most popular manufacturers worldwide. Their port system is very extensive supporting almost all relevant lenses for underwater photography, and their DSLR housings have a fair price tag of US$1600-US$1800 for the body housing only, no port included.
Ports vary from US$250 – US$600 and the zoom gear is usually included in the housing, so your total for taking your DSLR underwater will be US$1850-US$2400, depending on your choices and camera.
Given the amount of engineering put into these housings and the great reliability and usability they provide, this is a great price.
Update 2017: Ikelite has revamped their DSLR line-up with new and more affordable housings (grey instead of clear), adding great new features such as a vacuum valve and additional port options.
You can browse Ikelite housings for your DSLR here.
Nimar DSLR Housings
Nimar are an Italian manufacturer, with over 25 years of experience. They make excellent quality, affordable, polycarbonate DSLR housings. Nimar has a very extensive port system to support all the popular lenses for underwater, and even some of the less popular lenses.
The great thing about Nimar, is that they offer underwater housings for older DSLR models, such as Nikon D3000 or even D70 and D50, as well as Canon 350D /450D etc.
All of the Nimar housings are priced between US$1275 – US$1385. Add one port and you can take your DSLR underwater for as little as US$1500 USD. That’s not a bad deal at all!
Most zoom rings come included with the ports, which range between US$230 – US$440, with a few special glass ports priced around US$800-US$900.
Another significant advantage, is that on the entry level DSLR’s, Nimar has left space for the built-in flash, so you can trigger external strobes easily via fiber optics, using the pop-up flash on the camera. In addition, all of the housings included a 5-pin bulkhead for standard sync cord triggering.
Browse Nimar Underwater Housings for DSLR’s here.
Ewa Marine Soft Housings
As a solution for photographers looking to take their DSLR’s into wet environments, such as lakes, rivers, ocean, pools or shooting in the rain, soft flexible housings were created. The housings are made in a few generic models to fit various camera models and lenses, making them more affordable, since they are not made per model.
There are plenty of these options made by many manufacturers, but none share the same quality and experience in the field as Ewa Marine. Ewa Marine is a German company, with over 40 years of experience in making flexible underwater housings. Each of their products goes through rigorous testing before leaving the factory, ensuring maximum customer satisfaction.
When considering these, it’s important to understand their Pros and Cons.
You can read my review on the Ewa Marine housings which may be useful, including samples from the pool and the ocean.
Let’s go over the most frequently asked questions regarding these housings:
– Are they reliable? Will my precious camera stay safe and dry?
As mentioned above, Ewa Marine have 40 years of experience, so they know what they’re doing. As long as properly maintained and handled, with periodical integrity inspections to make sure the housing is still sealed, your gear should be safe. Most floods occur due to human error, such as installing in a rush, forgetting pre-dive checks, using excess force when inserting the camera, etc..
It’s important to remember that the ocean is the world’s harshest environment and no housing in the world can ensure 100% guaranteed seal for life.
– Can I use all the camera’s functions?
No. However, most of the controls will be within reach, some of them easier to reach and some harder. Zooming is possible but not always easy and might get harder in depth. Shutter button is always accessible with a special finger pocket. It’s important to follow the guidelines for adding initial air before going under according to manufacturer instructions, to make the controls easier to reach.
– Can I fit the XXX lens in the housing?
The “100 type” can fit lenses with a thread of 77mm or 82mm while the “non 100” can fit lenses with a thread of up to 72mm.
The Z types (Such as U-BZ) have longer lens compartments to fit zoom lenses such as 70-300mm.
– What’s the best lens to use with the housing?
That depends on your type of photography. For videos it would be best to get a regular wide angle lens. For photos you can try an ultra wide such as Sigma 10-20mm or even Tokina 10-17mm but remember that you will probably encounter significant vignetting on the widest mode.
If you just want mid range shots, even a 50mm could work, as well as macros with the 60mm lenses.
If you are using this for outdoors, such as Kyaking or hiking in the rain, perhaps a telephoto lens might be in order with the zoom housings.
– How deep can I go with them?
There are 2 different types for different depths.
Most of the housings are good for down to 65ft/20m. The ones marked with P can be used deeper, down to 150ft/50m. (Such as U-AXP100).
However, the best environment for these housings would be shallow water and pool dives, since the controls become harder to handle at depths and the risk of improper installation and insufficient air added before the dive, can cause harmful stress on the camera itself.
– Which model would fit my camera and lens?
You are welcome to consult with our experts on that. Another option would be to use Ewa Marine’s website which has a product finder on the top right side. Simply search for your camera model and see the compatible options, then search for them on our store.
Buying Used Systems
If the above options are still not suitable for your needs, perhaps you can try to find a complete UW system sold as used. Many UW photographers take very good care of their gear, and you can find used systems at 30-50% of retail value. These will be older models of course but they took excellent photos a few years ago, so no reason that would change now.
You can visit our used section to see if we are offering anything at the moment or any other online resource.
Not Getting A Housing For Your DSLR
If none of these options matches your needs, then maybe you should consider leaving your DSLR above water and getting an alternative for your underwater adventures. Read about the many advantages of compacts for underwater photography HERE.
Getting A Cheap Generic Housing For Your DSLR
This is my least favored option. There are many manufacturers out there creating very low cost DSLR housings. While this may sound tempting, most of them aren’t reliable enough and have a higher risk of flooding.
For me the worst part is not the damage to the camera, but mostly getting stuck without a camera in the middle of a dive trip which I was waiting to go on for a year or more. That’s why I prefer not to take chances on this.
If you dive regularly and you have an older DSLR which isn’t worth too much now, then perhaps that’s a risk you’re willing to take.
Other Ways To Save $$ When Buying An UW DSLR System
- When choosing Ikelite you can opt for the more extensive and versatile port kit, which includes the modular 8″ dome and extension, or get the basic fixed-length port which will work with your lens and save about $300.
- Flat ports are usually cheaper than dome ports, so you can settle for a basic flat port for your kit lens. If you’re mostly interested in macro photography, you can opt for a dedicated flat port for a macro lens such as 60mm or 100mm/105mm.
- Use a macro lens behind a dome port – Yes it might not be ideal, but it can usually be done, saving your the money on an extra port but still getting nice close-ups and a different angle than your usual wide lens under the dome.
- Get a “Mini DSLR” system – Ikelite has started offering this incredible value system a while ago, and after trying it myself, I believe it’s one of the best UW systems you can get, allowing you to use a DSLR underwater at about half the regular cost.
I hope this article helps some of your considering to take the next step in UW photography but held back by the price.
If you have more ideas on how to save money on an UW DSLR system, feel free to share with us in the comments!
Visit his personal portfolio at www.ranmorphoto.com.
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