The other day I got a call from Tal (Mozaik CEO), telling me he’s going to send me a nylon bag to put my Nikon D7000 in, and go diving.
Of course my initial reaction was: “Are you insane?!”
Once I pulled myself back together, and realized it was serious, I started reading a bit about Ewa-Marine. Turns out they have quite a history in the camera business. They were founded back in 1947 near Munich, Germany, and began producing flexible protective housings for photo gear in 1970, over 40 years ago!
Each unit is hand made in the German factory and thoroughly examined and tested before arriving to the customer.
Reassured with the new gathered information I took my new Ewa-Marine U-AXP Soft Underwater Housing, and went out for testing.
The housing comes with a very practical bag for carrying and storage, an instruction manual, silica gels to avoid humidity, a set of rings to fix the lens to the port and two pieces of foam to adjust the position of the camera in the housing.
The moment I laid my hands on it, I saw that this is not some ordinary nylon bag. It’s made out of heavy duty, transparent, flexible, double laminated PVC and seems very durable. The opening is sealed with two metal bars bolted together. There are straps that are perfectly designed for easy carrying and handling, and a special finger-sized recess intended for better reach to the shutter button. On the bottom side of the housing, there are two detachable straps intended for weights, to neutralize the buoyancy and perhaps useful for more creative purposes.
At first glance, I was a little worried about the hole used to let air in and out of the housing. It’s similar to that of a beach ball or mat, which isn’t conceived as a very high-end method for waterproofing. However, as soon as I took it to the test, my worries disappeared. The fact that the pressure inside the housing and outside it is the same, eliminates almost any pressure on the housing and specifically this vent.
Setting Up The Gear
By far, the coolest thing about this housing is the fact that I can use my regular on-camera strobe flash, just as if I was on dry land. With that in mind, remember that the distance of the flash unit from the lens is small and you might get some backscatter because of that.
My first instinct was to set my gear outside, and just slip the whole thing into the housing. Big mistake. It almost fits, but that’s exactly the point where you might damage the structure of your housing. It’s much easier to fit the body first and then attach the strobe inside. The set of rings that come along are easily fitted on your lens and once they’re attached, the lens fits perfectly in the port. Make sure your lens diameter is supported by the housing you acquire! The U-AXP can hold a lens of up to 72mm in diameter, which unfortunately didn’t fit my Tamron 17-50. However, I was able to fit the lens inside the port without the Ewa-Marine filter adapter.
Once you get your gear inside, just attach the metal seal, screw the bolts tight and you are almost done. The last thing that needs to be done is set the amount of air inside.
Adjusting The Air Inside
The varying amount of air is unique to this type of housing. Regular housings are designed for slight positive buoyancy which is ideal for handling underwater and preventing loss of the camera to the deep ocean. The Ewa-Marine, because of its flexibility, requires adjusting the amount of air according to the depth you intend to dive to. The deeper you go, the more air you will need. Your goal is to get the correct amount of air so that when you are at the deepest part of your dive, your camera would not feel the pressure but instead would be snug inside the housing, but not smothered by it. This requires some practice to get right. My first couple of dives were rough because I stayed very shallow, forgot to take out the air, and forgot to add extra weights to neutralize the buoyancy. Therefore it was a constant struggle to keep the camera from floating to the surface.
The purpose of the air inside the housing is to prevent the outside water pressure from squeezing the bag and then your buttons. The air inside is pressurized to the same pressure as the water and therefore no forces are applied on the camera.
Button Usability and Ergonomics
This is the weak spot of the housing. While the shutter is fairly convenient to reach as are most of the rear buttons, the command dials are hardly usable. For the average photographer that is used to shoot manually, this can be quite frustrating. While the buttons are accessible, using them to adjust to desired values takes too much time and effort and I wouldn’t rely on it. I highly recommend shooting in a semi-automatic mode with this housing and avoid frustration. The front dial is easier to use due to the shutter finger recess but the rear dial is harder. This becomes more evident as you go deeper and the pressure grows.
Controlling most strobes is very easy since the buttons are usually only on the rear and very accessible.
* Note that the lens port is flat, so wide angle lens will not function as wide as they do above water, due to optical refraction.
After testing it out with 2 bodies (D90 and D7000) and 2 lenses (Tamron 17-50 and Tokina 10-17) I can say that this is definitely a good value for your money. The fact that you get that type of versatility and reliability for a price 4-8 times lower than a regular housings is amazing, and well worth living with the few disadvantages of it. The major advantage is that you can take your regular strobe with you underwater and save a heap of money on underwater strobes, arms and cables.
Bottom line – Ewa Marine is the best way to get your DSLR underwater and produce amazing photos instantly and on a very tight budget. We mostly recommend it for snorkelling, pool photography, water sports and shallow diving. It is usable and reliable even at 60 feet and some models up to 150 feet but I would not consider it a good choice for constantly shooting at these depths.
Visit his personal portfolio at www.ranmorphoto.com.
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