You’ve probably reached this article looking for the best way to get your camera underwater. The fact is underwater camera housings are expensive. It doesn’t matter if you have a compact, Mirrorless or DSLR, the housing for these would usually cost the same as your camera and in most cases even more.
In this article, we will explain why and go through the options you have for underwater housings. When we talk about DSLR housings, usually the same applies for Mirrorless as well, these are priced almost the same as they both require a ports system for the interchangeable lenses.
What does it take to create a DSLR Underwater Camera Housing?
DSLR underwater housings are complex and large devices. They feature many 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 an interchangeable lens camera, the manufacturer must create a housing larger than the camera itself. The housing usually has 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! All of that effort only to support one single camera model, which usually has a product life span of 1-2 years. The housings are also sold in much smaller quantities than the actual cameras and besides their main structure, they are actually hand made.
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.
If you have a mirrorless or DSLR and you end up with the conclusion that a such camera housing are beyond your budget, read about some great alternatives here.
Why Compact Underwater Housings are Not as Expensive?
Compact cameras have a fixed lens. What allows for their zoom/macro range are moving lenses that are integrated with the camera and electrically controlled. This makes their housings much simpler as no 2 parts are necessary but only one plastic or Aluminum mold to cover both the camera and lens.
Another factor is that wet lenses have become far better and more popular and therefore it is not even a must to allow the full movement of the built in lens inside the housing as macro or wide shots can be achieved with such external lenses. A good example for that is the Fantasea RX100 VII housing which does not support zooming in all the way.
In addition to that, compact cameras usually have less buttons and dials, some even do not have manual dials at all like the olympus TG-6. So less dials mean less parts, less by-hand construction and thus lower price.
So what are my options?
I would divide all underwater camera housings into 3 categories:
- Polycarbonate housings (basically super strong plastic).
- Aluminum housings
- Soft housings (looks like an expensive waterproof bag)
There are actually also Delrin made housings (made by Nimar or Recsea, still very new in the marketin) and also cheaper Polycarbonate housings (like Seafrogs) which I don’t consider in the 1st category as they cost much less and their reliability has not yet been proven.
Aluminum housings are far more expensive since their material is pricey, since we are talking about affordable underwater housings here, I will not be talking about them.
Now let’s talk about PC (Polycarbonate) and Soft housing…
NiMAR DSLR & Mirrorless Camera 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. They even support some of the less popular lenses such as telephoto ones.
The great thing about NiMAR is that they have several different housing classes, to fit literally any budget.
Their basic surf housing can cost as little as $599 USD (body only). Sure, it doesn’t have the same functionality as the fancier housings, but hey, you’re getting your DSLR in the water for under $1000! Not to mention it’s a very reliable and high quality housing!
NiMAR’s line-up includes their main line – N3D housings, the Pro housings and the Watersports housings, which include the Basic, Classic and Surf Pro. These vary mostly in the controls available and whether or not a pistol grip is included.
All of the NiMAR N3D housings are priced between US$1100 – US$1385. Add one port and you can take your DSLR underwater for as little as US$1500 USD, with full controls supported. 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 advantage of NiMAR is that they offer underwater housings for older DSLR models, such as Nikon D3100 or even D60, as well as Canon 550D / 60D etc.
Last but not least, 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.
This helps you save on strobes, since you can use any strobe in the market, rather than just the high-end ones with the sync cord connection. In addition, all of the housings can be fitted with a 5-pin bulkhead for standard sync cord triggering.
Newest NiMAR housings can also be equipped with a vacuum system and some of them come with an LED trigger included for optical triggering of your strobes!
Read my review on the NiMAR D500 Housing here.
Browse NiMAR Underwater Housings for DSLR’s here.
BTW, as of May 2021, Nimar are not making any compact housings, only mirrorless and DSLR with one exception, they do make a smartphone housing.
Ikelite Underwater Camera 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. This makes them one of the most popular underwater housing manufacturers worldwide.
For their mirrorless and DSLR series , their port system is very extensive supporting almost all relevant lenses for underwater photography, and their housings have a fair price tag of US$1600 – US$1800 for the body housing only, no port included.
They also have a couple of more compact mirrorless and DSLR housings that are even in the $1000 range for small cameras like the Canon SL3 or Sony a6xxx series
Ports vary from US$250 – US$600 and the zoom gear is usually included in the housing. Overall your total for taking your DSLR underwater will be US$1850-US$2400. This depends of course 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.
In 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.
The Ikelite compact housings are divided into 2. They have their regular housings and their action housings. The action housings have no fiber optic connections and limited controls but they cost as little as $299 even for high end compacts like the Sony RX100. Their regular housings cost anywhere between $400-$700 depending on the model. This would probably be your best choice of housing for a compact.
Fantasea Underwater Camera Housings
Fantasea make high end PC housings just like Ikelite but they take a different approach. They hand-pick very specific models which are expected to be the best underwater cameras and work for many months to engineer the perfect housing for them. At the time of writing this article, they support the Canon G9X II G7X III Sony RX100 V and VI and the Sony a6xxxx mirrorless series.
Their compacts are priced similar to the Ikelite housings, if you have or are looking to by one of these models, the Fantasea housings are more ergonomic and far nicer looking than Ikelite.
Ewa Marine Soft Underwater Housings (sometimes called Waterproof Cases)
NOTE – As of 2017 we no longer carry Ewa Marine housings (not because they are bad products just since they don’t make financial sense)
Soft flexible housings were created 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.
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 50 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.
Using this type of housing is great for casual use, when dipping your toes (and camera) in underwater photography and checking what it’s all about. For more serious work or scuba, the other options I mentioned are superior.
You can read my review on the Ewa Marine housings which may be useful, including samples from the pool and the ocean.
Read some Frequently Asked Questions regarding these housings HERE.
Outex Soft Waterproof housings
Outex are a fairly new player in the soft housing category. They are more universal than Ewa marine and are priced pretty much the same. If you can afford a proper Ikelite housing, I would highly recommend going that route but if you have to do a quick shoot underwater, such soft housings may do the trick.
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.
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 but moving to compact
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.
Compact cameras are getting better and better every year, and the high end compacts available today, 2020, are incredible!
You can easily find a complete bundle that includes the camera and housing for $800 – $1300 USD. Which is well under just a housing for a DSLR, even before ports and accessories.
Compact cameras such as the Sony RX100 series share capabilities that can rival with the best DSLR’s, including high image quality, rapid firing, low light capabilities, video capabilities and more.
They even have some advantages over the higher end DSLR’s such as unlimited shutter speed when using flash and the ability to mount wet lenses for versatility underwater.
Most importantly – they are tiny! So traveling with them is so much easier than the monster DSLR rigs.
Read about the many advantages of compacts for underwater photography HERE.
Getting A Cheap Generic Housing For Your DSLR
This is my least favoured 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
- Go for a Surf housing and set all settings prior to getting the water. It’s not ideal, but you still get the amazing quality of your DSLR for a fraction of the cost.
- 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.
- Get a housing for your Smartphone. These little smartphone cameras are getter better and better every year and you can get a housing for $300 or so and take some wonderful shots and videos with it.
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 Underwater system, feel free to share with us in the comments!
For more camera options, read our ultimate guide for the Best Underwater Cameras in 2021.