A couple of months ago, I made the decision to upgrade my underwater equipment. I had gotten by just fine taking photos on my Olympus Pen (you can read all the details of this setup here). The photos looked nice and I got a great response from people about them. So great in fact, that I started getting lots of requests for prints of my work. It was then I realised that the sensor on this little budget camera was not good enough to print large, and while the shots looked fine on Instagram, they were cleverly hiding a lot of noise. So I decided that if I was going to be serious about being a photographer, I would need to invest a little more (well, a lot more) and upgrade my housing so that I could take my Nikon D750 underwater.
I deliberated a lot over what housing to choose. The options for this camera were fairly limited, which made it easy to narrow down. I was left with three choices: Nauticam, Ikelite, or Aquatech. Nauticam would be a great option for diving, however I was not about to put down nearly $5k on a housing. Aquatech have such a great reputation and some of my favourite photographers use this brand, so that’s pretty much how I made my decision. I was able to get a pretty good deal on this gear purchasing through Vagabond Photographic.
Other than the camera that it houses, the main difference between my Olympus setup and Aquatech, is that Aquatech housings are only waterproof to 10 m. This was a real concern for me, as one of the main reasons I chose to upgrade when I did was so that I would have my new setup ready for a trip to the Bahamas - a diving trip. But I decided that if I wanted to shoot when I was diving then I could just use a GoPro, and I really needed a lot of natural light to get good shots anyway, so I figured I’d find a way around it. Which I did. I dived, and then had the boat captain lower my housing to around 5-7 m towards the end of the dive so I could take some photos in shallow water. Aside from that, I snorkelled with my housing and stayed shallower than 10 m. I was pretty nervous doing this, but I’m happy to report - no leaks.
So what’s the main difference between the two camera setups? First of all, let me explain that I bought the Aquatech Elite Sport housing and not the basic one, which meant that I have full control over all my settings. Well, almost all. With my Olympus housing, I had access to every single setting. However, with Aquatech, there are a few things you need to set before you put the camera in, because you cannot change them after. These include: shooting mode (manual, aperture priority or shutter priority), focus mode (auto or manual), autofocus mode (single, continuous etc.), burst mode (single, high continuous etc.), and metering mode. So this requires a bit of planning beforehand. The only setting I wish I had access to while in the water is my autofocus mode, as I sometimes like to switch between single shot and continuous. But, hey ho.
Another thing to note is that not only do I have a different camera underwater, but I also have a different lens! The great thing about Aquatech housings are that you can purchase different ports for different lenses rather than having to buy the whole housing again if you want to use another lens. I chose to get a port for my 16-35 mm f/4-5.6 lens. The lens on my Olympus was 14-42 mm on a crop sensor camera, so it was not nearly as wide, and check out the difference… I love how thin that line is!
One of the downsides to having a more complex housing, is the time it takes to set up and de-kit. No more can I just lube up my o-ring and close the hatch. Now I have three o-rings to care for and I have to allow a lot more time to set things up. It probably takes me about 15 mins to set up and about 10 mins to de-kit, as you have to unscrew all the ports after you’re done as well. And one of the things that struck me most when reading the instructions on my Aquatech housing is that you do NOT put silicon grease on your o-ring. This is the first time I’ve ever seen this, and I had to check and double check that this was correct. The small amount of grease they provide is for any buttons that might get a little stuck. I would highly recommend watching the tutorial videos on Aquatech’s website when you first get your kit so that you feel confident putting everything together.
One of the first things I remember when I tentatively got into the ocean with my Aquatech housing (after having tested it three times with no camera in a pool) was how unbelievably buoyant it is! I know there’s a fair bit of air in there but I wasn’t expecting it to be so different to my Olympus housing. When I took it on a shallow dive, I need a lot of extra weight on me just to stay at the same depth and I had to wear a weight belt freediving. On the plus side, it’s a great way to take a rest when you’re in the surf and bobbing about on the surface. It acts like a lifejacket!
One thing I was told before I purchased my new housing was that if I shoot anything closer than 24 mm, the images will start to go soft. So I’ve used this to my advantage and created some deliberately soft ocean images like this one, which was shot at 35 mm.
So, would I recommend an Aquatech housing? Yes, definitely. For me and the cameras I already owned, this was the right choice for me, and it keeps my options open to purchase different ports to take other lenses underwater without having to buy a whole new housing.
However, if you’re on a bit more of a budget and are looking for a versatile, low maintenance housing, I would highly recommend the Olympus housing and I would spend a little more on an up-to-date mirrorless camera to put inside.
I hope this review helps you if you are trying to decide what housing to purchase. If you have any other questions, please feel free to leave a comment or shoot me an email.