REVIEW - DiCAPac Underwater Housing for (D)SLRs

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chrish
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REVIEW - DiCAPac Underwater Housing for (D)SLRs

Post by chrish » June 27th, 2012, 6:08 pm

As many photographers who like to dive or snorkel quickly learn, underwater housings for most larger cameras (DSLRs) are very expensive (i.e. more expensive than the cameras!). However, I stumbled across a less expensive option that will allow you to use a DSLR under water at least down to 20 feet or so. For herpers wanting some underwater turtle shots, this could be a really good tool.

In the past, I have taken some underwater shots with a Point and Shoot with a housing (SeaLife DSC 1200) (http://www.fieldherpforum.com/forum/vie ... 90&p=29593).
This DiCAPac setup combined with a small DSLR blew away the SeaLife in terms of both quality and terms of use. It not only focused faster, but it allowed me to use the full power of my DSLR's superior focusing, better image quality, and the flexibility of using different lenses (up to a length limit).

The basic idea is a heavy duty plastic "bag" which covers the camera with a clear plastic lens covering. Here's a photo I shamelessly stole from Amazon of the unit -

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The top of the "bag" closes with a roll-down zip closure that was held down by Velcro. This is similar to the closures used on dry-bags for kayaking, etc.. The closure felt very secure when closed correctly and I had no leakage issues except a minor trickle when I went deeper than the housing is rated to go. To be fair, it might have also been that I didn't seal it up carefully enough that time. Only a few drops of water ended up in the housing and no harm was done.

These come in different sizes and I unfortunately ordered the WS-5 size which didn't fit my Sony Alpha 700 body. They do make a larger WS-10 housing, but I ordered the wrong one. :oops:

However, I had a Sony Alpha 100 body and a Canon Rebel XTi body as well and both of those fit with small zoom lenses attached. I tended to use the Sony more because although its CCD sensor isn't as good as the CMOS in the Canon, I have better quality Sony lenses.

It is a bit of a tight squeeze getting the camera in to the bag, but you can take the lens off and put the camera in with no lens. The front of the lens tube unscrews and you can then attach the lens to the camera after it is in the bag and screw the front of the lens housing back on. It is a bit of a pain, but you don't risk damaging the bag by stretching it too much.
Obviously, you can't change lenses underwater. I used the Canon kit lens (18-55) and my Konica-Minolta 28-70 D lens on the Sony.

There are small plastic "finger-sleeves" which allow you to access the shutter control button and other buttons nearby on the top left of the camera. There are another pair of finger sleeves giving access to the zoom ring of the lens. On the Canon kit lens, it was easy to turn the zoom ring, on the better built Sony (Minolta) lens, it was tough to turn this way. That sounds like it would make easy zoom ring of the Canon the better choice, but this led to a different problem I will mention later.

As for use, it was pretty easy to use underwater. It floats which makes it easier to manage when snorkeling because you don't have to worry about dropping it. Both cameras focused well and I got great quality shots from both. I could generally adjust things like ISO, exposure compensation underwater. Zooming was a different issue. Although it has finger sleeves to help you turn the zoom ring, it is hard to do, particularly in the water.

My feeling is that this is a great unit for snorkeling. I haven't tried it out on turtles in freshwater yet, but it seems like it would be a perfect tool for that as long as you had adequate light.

There were a couple of issues I found:

1. If your cameras has a sensor that turns off the LCD when your eye is up against the camera, this can cause an issue. Underwater, the plastic housing will activate this sensor and shut off the LCD even though you aren't looking through the camera. If you are trying to adjust settings or review photos, you have to pull the plastic away from the eyepiece to make the LCD work. It was kind of a hassle, until I figured out that if I left a lot of air in the bag before closing it, the increased "inflation" of the bag fixed this problem.

2. If found the shutter release button to be too far forward and very difficult to reach on the Canon XTi. With the Sony camera, I had no such problem.

3. Of course, you can't use your flash with this setup. So you are limited to using natural light or perhaps flashlights.

4. It is only rated to 5 meters. One several occasions, I dove deeper than this with the camera while snorkeling. Only once did I find any water seepage into the housing. I think if you were very careful to seal it correctly and treated it gently underwater, you could safely dive to 20 feet or so. I wouldn't risk it more than that however.

5. The increased pressure of being underwater pushes the flexible part of the lens tube back towards the lens. On the Sony (Minolta) lens this was not an issue but the flimsy zoom ring of the Canon lens always got pushed back into the wide-angle setting underwater and it was hard to zoom it back out.

Photos:

Here's a photo of me using it while snorkeling in Bonaire (taken with our other underwater P&S - the SeaLife DC1200) -

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And some photos taken with the housing using the Sony Alpha 100 or Canon Rebel XT

I had no problem focusing close using the macro capabilities of my lens -
Image

The unit is responsive enough to be able to focus on active animals -
Image

Even difficult lighting situations are pretty easy to adjust for, although I did have to adjust WB in Adobe Lightroom.
Image

Getting my old SeaLife to focus on an actively swimming fish was almost impossible. My DSLR had no trouble while housed in the DiCAPac
Image

Obviously, the clarity of the water is a major influencing factor in your ability to capture wider angle shots:
Image

The beauty of being able to use your DSLR is you can use your good lenses (as long as they aren't too long to fit in the housing). You could easily put your macro lens on there if you wanted to photograph small object or use a faster lens than most point and shoots allow.

Image
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Are you going to get the kind of photos you could get using a dual flash setup and a Ikelite housing? No, of course not. But you are spending less than $75 for the case, not $1500+ dollars.

It is well worth the $70 I spent and will make a great addition to the gear bag of the Sea Snake or Turtle enthusiast who wants to get in the water with their photo subjects.

Chris

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Re: REVIEW - DiCAPac Underwater Housing for (D)SLRs

Post by bgorum » July 1st, 2012, 6:21 am

I think one of these could be a lot of fun for shooting calling frogs with the camera half way submerged, so you get above and below the water at the same time. I’m wondering if the built in flash on Nikons could be popped up in the bag and used in commander mode to trigger an external flash while the camera was in the bag? The external flash could be mounted on a tripod above the water I suppose. Don’t know if it would work, but for only $75 it might be worth buying one and trying it.

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Re: REVIEW - DiCAPac Underwater Housing for (D)SLRs

Post by CCarille » July 1st, 2012, 7:54 am

Nice review Chris! I think you may have convinced me to go get one. As you point out, $70 is a long way from $1500 - which for snorkeling, not scuba, purposes seems well worth it.

You had said it floats - was this only when you added excess air to the bag, in a sense "inflating it?" or is the closure buoyed?

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Re: REVIEW - DiCAPac Underwater Housing for (D)SLRs

Post by chrish » July 1st, 2012, 8:33 am

bgorum wrote:I’m wondering if the built in flash on Nikons could be popped up in the bag and used in commander mode to trigger an external flash while the camera was in the bag? The external flash could be mounted on a tripod above the water I suppose. Don’t know if it would work, but for only $75 it might be worth buying one and trying it.
I might give that a try. I should be able to try it on land. I'll post the results later.
The issue might be the ability of the flash to penetrate the surface of the water to light the lower part of the frog.
CCarille wrote:You had said it floats - was this only when you added excess air to the bag, in a sense "inflating it?" or is the closure buoyed?
There is enough air trapped in the housing (bag) even if you try to flatten it out to make it buoyant. Maybe with a really heavy camera-lens combo and if you squeezed all the excess air out you might be able to make it neutrally buoyant, but I doubt it.

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Re: REVIEW - DiCAPac Underwater Housing for (D)SLRs

Post by walk-about » February 28th, 2013, 5:55 am

This thread is AWESOME!!! And I have learned so much. Yes, from what i know, stay away from any 'Sealife' camera. Bad investment. They fail quickly and quality of work poor.

Dave

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