Diving with Your Camera: What to Consider When Buying an Underwater Housing

By Rick Carlson

The thought of it may have been kicking around in your head for a little while. You’ve seen divers taking photos on their trips, and have seen what they’ve experienced underwater. Or you’re a Professional photographer looking to take things to a different level. Maybe you just feel you’ve taken your GoPro to its limits. Whatever the reason, you now find yourself interested in underwater photography but don’t know where to start.

One of the first pieces of equipment you’ll need for more serious underwater photography is a camera housing and dome port. The camera housing is the hard structure that surrounds your camera and allows you to operate it. Each camera housing will be unique to a specific camera.

Housings can offer many different features. For instance, some offer audio and/or visual alerts to notify you of a loss of pressure. You will find many different options to customize your housing, offered in many different price ranges. Just remember that this is the piece of equipment preventing your camera from meeting a quick, watery end. So, this might not be the place to cut corners.

Dome Ports

Just as the housing is unique to the camera, your dome port will only operate with specific lenses. Make sure to do your research on how you want your photos to look before purchasing the first port that fits your current topside lens.

Typically, dome ports will be made from two materials, acrylic or glass. Glass will be more difficult to scuff or scratch, heavier in weight, and tend to be pricier. Acrylic on the other hand will usually be less expensive, lighter in weight and will be easier to scratch, however, scratches can be polished out to a certain degree.

You can also choose a dome port with a focus ring, which will line up to a dial on your housing and allow you to manually focus the camera. Otherwise you will be shooting only in auto focus. What you choose for your housing set-up all depends on what type of diving you plan to do.

Let’s talk accessories…

Once you’ve chosen the body for your underwater camera system it’s time to look at accessories. Basic needs would be a lens cover, some sort of carrying handle, bolt snaps, possibly a small white balancing card to help with adjustments at depth.

Any photography or videography work past a meters or feet will require you to use some form of lighting. This can be a strobe, which are programed to release a quick flash, or video lights. These lights will be mounted to your housing via arms and ball joints.

Basic housing arms are negatively buoyant. Positively buoyant float arms can be purchased. These can help relieve some weight from the rest of your camera.

After you’ve used your camera system a few times you will be able to recognize what changes, additions, or adjustments you will need to make improvements. This will be a learning experience. So don’t be frustrated if your trim if thrown off or your photos do not look the way you hoped. Shooting underwater will be completely different from shooting topside.

An underwater camera system should be treated like any other piece of diving equipment.

There will be routines you must follow to mitigate the risk of system failure. Your pre-dive habits will generally include inspecting and lubricating the 0-rings before sealing and locking the system. If your housing offers these features you will also test batteries supplying power to your alert system, and pressurize the housing using a small pump.

Once in the water, before starting your dive, you will perform a bubble check. Do this by removing and stowing the lens cover, submerging the system, slowly if possible, and rotating it at different angles to see if there are any leaks. Small bubbles are common as air will be trapped in any crevices. If you notice any repeated bubble trails, you should remove the housing from the water and inspect it further.

If you were diving in salt or contaminated water, dry the housing enough to remove your camera. Then allow the system to soak in fresh water. Be sure to exercise any buttons or dials while it is under water. This will help expel any salt or sediment remaining in the crevices. After soaking, perform one more quick rinse and let dry in a climate-controlled environment.

Just like your regulators, your hosing will need to be serviced once a year. This is an integral part of your housings maintenance. The professionals who perform this have the experience and know how to check this equipment.

Dive Dive Dive

When diving off a boat there will be a few things to think about. These include:

  • How do you enter and exit the water?
  • Where do you store your camera?
  • What do you keep in your camera kit?

There is more to consider now that you have your new setup, but it is nothing to stress about. Entries will be handled similarly to how they were prior. You can perform a giant stride while holding your camera against your chest. You can also enter the water and have a crew member pass the camera down to you.

When exiting, simply pass the camera back up on board. The crew will generally place it in a rinse tank that is specifically for cameras. If you keep your lens cover on board and politely ask a crew member, to replace it before it goes into the tank.

So, what if your camera’s battery dies or an O-ring is damaged? Just like you keep a save-a-dive kit for your other gear you will keep a similar one for your camera. This will contain items such as:

  • extra batteries
  • O-rings
  • white balancing slates
  • lens cleaning clothes
  • O-ring lubricant

No matter how prepared you are, there is always the chance of things going wrong. It may not be a bad idea to purchase an insurance plan for your new underwater camera system.

Just remember this is a major investment and should be treated as such. However, with the proper forethought, preparation, and care, its one that can bring you much enjoyment for years to come!

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