Why Is Choosing Your Underwater Housing Important?

by Chris Kovaz

Every time I go diving on a boat, I always get a remark, “What is that thing?” The “thing” the diver is referring to is my underwater camera housing. After I explain what it is and tell him/her how much it costs, they think I am completely insane. Underwater camera housings can cost from $200 to $10,000 or more with all the bells and whistles. I think that the cost of your housing should reflect the price of your camera. For instance, I wouldn’t have a ten thousand dollar housing with a cheap compact 5 Mega pixel camera. And vice versa, putting a Canon 1DS Mark II or the Nikon D2X in a cheap, hundred dollar housing just doesn’t fit. For people who shoot compact digital, I will always tell them to go for something plastic, like Ikelite housings. It’s likely that, down the road, they will replace their camera system, so this is just something they have to get by with for now. I have sunk way too much money into finding the right housing, and the ordeal of switching systems has got to be one of the hardest things to do financially. On the other hand, if someone has a digital SLR camera that I know they will be keeping for a while, I wouldn’t send them down the plastic housing route.

I chose Sea Cam for my housing, but I will not always recommend Sea Cam, as your housing needs depend on the camera and the photographer. Not to mention that there is a chance that Sea Cam won’t have a housing for your particular system. When I had my Canon 300d digital Rebel, I used Sea and Sea. This was a great housing that had an inverse of half metal (front) and half plastic (back). I had no problems at all with this housing and have great respect for the company. After I had decided to shoot the Canon 1DS Mark II, I discovered that Sea and Sea had no housing for the MKII, so I went with Sea Cam. It is an all-metal housing with a moisture alarm system. Housings have various controls, options, and features for using your camera underwater. It’s important to understand how your camera works and then research the features of the different housings that work with your camera. Depending on what you’re looking for, you could easily narrow your search by eliminating housings that don’t meet your requirements.

Figures: Inside of the housing

Now, I can’t say which type of housing is better. It’s all about the user and what you want to do. I like Sea Cam better now for a few reasons. It’s the lightest housing I have ever used, which makes it easy to position my camera when setting up my subjects. It has the most interchangeable port systems. Along with that, they can make a focus ring for any lens that you use. What they do is measure the lens and then create a focus ring just for you. That way, I never have to worry about buying new lenses and them not working with my housing. Next are the viewfinders. With the new 45 and S180 viewfinders, Sea Cam really got my attention. These new enhanced viewfinders give you an increased magnification of -0/+3, which gives you the advantage of perfect vision underwater, even for those of us who wear glasses. Finally, Sea Cam created optical coating for the ports. This ensures that there is a better chance of not having the lens’s reflection from the port in the image. I don’t know about other photographers, but I have had countless images ruined because of my lens’s reflection in the image. Even with Photoshop, sometimes the image just can’t be saved, which can be very frustrating.

Dome Port
Dome Port

I hope that, in the future, photographers take their time and research their cameras and housings before buying them. While ultimately the decision is yours, I urge you to take advice from tech’s and professionals before spending a lot of money.

Chris Kovaz – February 2010

DivingInDepth.com last displayed Chris Kovaz’s work several years ago. Chris has graciously supplied more of his photographs for display.

Chris, is currently Digital Media Director for DiversOnly.com. You can hear him weekly on Divers Only Radio.  He is an active diving photographer whose photos first appeared on DivingInDepth’s website several years back. He graciously agreed to appear on our site again!

Chris has been diving 15 years, since the age of eleven. His certifications in rescue diving, nitrox, wreck diving and underwater photography.  His diving mask is custom and is fitted with prescription lenses.

His equipment:  a Canon 1DS Mark II with a Sea Cam housing. He  uses Ikelite 150 and ion z240 strobes.

Next trip: Chris is going to Soccoro  islands in January of 2011.


email Chris [email protected]

the pictures …

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After the Basic Underwater Photo Course

What Do I Do Now?

Mike Haber from the Jim Church School of UW Photography coaches a student during an Aggressor Fleet charter
Mike Haber from the Jim Church School of UW Photography coaches a student during an Aggressor Fleet charter

If you’ve already done the basic photo class, where do you go and what do you do now, other than go out and dive, dive, dive. After the first introductory photo course, there are other basic and more advanced or specialized classes available. These cover the range from locally taught advanced classes to vacation photo trips to exotic locations and live-aboards around the globe. Talk to the divers in your local dive club and local dive shop. That’s frequently a great place to meet other photographers and find out what’s going on locally. Many scuba clubs have a photographers group within the club. Your dive shop owner knows which of his/her customers are photographers and may even be planning a trip based around photography. Ask! Check out the next scuba expo or show near you, there may well be a professional photographer teaching an underwater photo seminar there.

Mike Mesgleski from the Jim Church School of UW Photography conducts a class aboard the Aggressor Fleet

Even if they are teaching a short “basic” class or seminar, I’ve found that I frequently pick up little pearls of knowledge that help tie all the pieces together. Check to see if there is an underwater photography organization in your area. For example, South Florida/Miami area has the South Florida Underwater Photography Society http://www.sfups.org/ and the Los Angeles, California area has the Los Angeles Underwater Photography Society http://www.laups.org/. Organizations such as these really help you learn more about the art of underwater photography, as well as find like minded people to talk to about underwater photography. Look through the scuba publications; many pros, groups, and businesses advertise the photo classes and trips that are currently being offered. There are even classes on the web. Marty Snyderman offers a class on the web; the class is at http://www.theunderwaterphotographer.com/. The folks at Underwater Photo Tech http://www.uwphoto.com/ have an offer to give you the first Marty Snyderman class for free! The folks at Underwater Photo Tech also have photo dive trips/vacations. If you’re interested in making prints of your photos, and would like to learn more, Epson has a course on line that covers a variety of photo and printing subjects and info at http://www.epsononlineexperience.com/ .

Frequently, the more exotic trips for photographers are set up for the more advanced skill levels and equipment configurations. One notable exception to the “far away is only for the more advanced” thinking, is the Jim Church School of Underwater Photography taught by Mike Mesgleski and Mike Haber aboard the Aggressor Fleet live-aboards worldwide http://www.jimchurchphoto.com/ and http://www.aggressor.com/. They teach from beginners to the advanced, and everything in between. Beginners need not be intimidated. These entertaining and personable guys truly enjoy showing their students how to bring home great underwater photos. By the way, they also teach video if you or someone you know is interested in that aspect of the underwater photo world.

Another exception to the “far away/more advanced” thinking is Cathy Church. If you’d like to get away, but prefer a land based photo class for whatever reason, then, the Cathy Church Underwater Photo School at Sunset House on Grand Cayman might be more to your liking http://www.cathychurch.com/ and http://www.sunsethouse.com/. Cathy teaches from beginners to advanced and can take you from wherever you are on the learning curve and really help boost your knowledge and skills.

In addition to the photography classes, groups, dives, and vacations, don’t forget the specialty classes about the different aspects of improving your diving skills and widening your experience. The diving specialty classes can help improve your ability to get the photo that you want, (such as Peak Buoyancy), as well as widen your potential list of photo subjects, (wreck, deep, fish ID, night, or advanced OW course, to name a few). The choice is up to you. Now that you’ve got the basics, work on improving your knowledge and skills. You’ll love the results and the feeling of accomplishment.

Featured Manufacturers and Products Showcase

We have moved our discussion of gear and featured products to DivingGearGuides’s featured products and manufacturers showcase. Each of the manufacturers, along with some of their products, that we’ve featured so far are listed on the left in Featured Manufacturers. Each month we feature different products and equipment manufacturers.

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