This will be an interesting review for me to write. I’ve used Aquatica housings in the past, having purchased and reviewed for Wetpixel an S2pro housing in 2003, and also reviewing the Kodak ProSLRn housing and finally the Canon 5D housing in 2006. Naturally, I was interested when Jean Bruneau emailed me to see if I would “test pilot” their new housing for Canon’s 21 megapixel “monster” the 1DsMkIII. To summarize in one sentence, Aquatica has moved forward “light years” since their first DSLR housings for the D100 and S2 Pro.
Aquatica Housing for the Canon 1DsMkIII Camera, TLC strobe arms, and Ikelite DS200 strobe
All of the housing components came very well packed in individual boxes with tissue paper inside. I liked the fact that cardboard and tissue were used, because they can be easily recycled.
Instruction Manual and Assembly:
Being a man it’s hard to admit this – but I highly recommend reading the instruction manual, and not just putting the housing together “from scratch.” Because the housing has a port lock, it needs to be set in the right position before the port is installed or removed. The lens release lever must also be put into the proper position, or it will bind with the zoom gear. Installing the Aquaview finder is easy and only takes a second, however it has a preferred orientation which is indicated in the instruction manual so that the locking lug fits into the detent on the finder. The housing only took a few minutes to put together and the only tool that was required was the included Allen wrench for the handle installation.
Fit and Finish:
This housing is not cast like some past Aquatica housings – it is machined from a solid block of Aluminum alloy. The material is stronger than cast, and it is no thicker than it needs to be. The finish is what looks to me like a powder coating – which is commonly used to protect aluminum on oceangoing boats. It’s a matte black and very durable. The housing also comes with a number of replaceable sacrificial anodes which are used to prevent corrosion.
Housing back showing the large LCD window
The base of the housing showing tripod/tray mounting points (1/4-20) and sacrificial anodes
The camera mounts on a removable tray which slides in on two posts, assuring a good line-up each time and also making the camera easy to remove in a pinch for topsides shots.
The inside of the housing, showing geared command controls, camera mounting tray, and port lock engaged
Everything fits and lines up very well. I noticed some plugs and blanks in the housing, which I think may be artifacts from the case sharing the set-up for the D3 housing. There is a plug on the upper right which I think is a penetration for Aquatica’s new remote socket bulkhead. The two main command dials are well-placed and use gearing to control the aperture and shutter-speed dials on the camera. I did notice that the gearing was a bit “crunchy” so it was hard to finger-feel when the camera dial clicked to the next setting.
The rear of the housing showing leak alarm and geared command dials as well as the * button control shaft
The case also uses suitcase clamps to close and pre-load the main o-ring. This o-ring is a new design for Aquatica and uses a groove on the front half to capture the o-ring and a face sealing surface on the back half. With the amount of pre-load imparted from the clamps, it’s a very secure seal. Another nice safety feature I noticed is that the hot-shot is held in place by Velcro to keep it out of the way and to keep the wiring from getting clamped into the gap. My only small nit-pick here is that when I place the housing face-down to close the clamps, the top clamp always swings around and drops into the gap. It’s easy to pull out, but has to be done each time.
In The Water – Handling and Balance
The author – hairier than ever
Underwater, set up with the Megadome and Aquaview, the housing is almost neutral and is a pleasure to use. The main and sub-command dials have been placed at the fingertips, as has the zoom knob. The Aquaview gives a big bright viewfinder image, however your eye needs to be fairly well lined up with the axis of the viewfinder. In the 3 hrs that I used the housing, I had no trouble getting the hand of pulling the housing to my eye and getting a good view.
The shutter release is a bit hard to reach if you have small hands.
Using the included Aquatica handles, I found the shutter release a bit hard to reach. I have not heard this reported by other users, but perhaps I have small hands. I’m partial to an adjustable handle system, so that I can get everything just to my liking. This housing has the mounting holes to support a 3rd party tray and handles, or some of the aluminum adjustable Aquatica handles. An alternative would be for Aquatica to make the handle supports smaller, but include adjustable mounting blocks, similar to the Nexus and Sea and Sea system.
Aquatica has added features with each new housing based on user feedback. The two new features that immediately come to mind are the lens release lever, and the port lock (the viewfinder goes without saying). The port lock keeps the port from rotating and can be accessed from the front of the housing. I’m not sure how it functions when an extension ring is used, but it may be a good idea to somehow fix the extension ring to the big dome. The lens release is a great feature – and absolutely necessary if you are using a lens with a zoom gear (common now) and want to change without opening the housing.
Lens release lever and port locking pin
I used the housing for about 3 hours in the swimming pool photographing some of the dancers/directors for Houston based dance company Planet Funk. This was a great opportunity to check out the performance of Aquatica’s new glass Megadome. I shot exclusively with the Canon 17-40L and the recommended extension ring. Based on my review of the photos, I would say performance is as good as any dome I’ve used with the 17-40L – especially when using apertures above f11. Some small samples are included – to show what this camera and lens/port combo can do.
f/11 @ 1/125
f/11 @ 1/125
f/7.1 @ 1/100
f/9 @ 1/100
Housing Compared to Seacam 1DsMkIII
Since I already own a Seacam housing for my camera, I thought it would be interesting to show some side by side photo of the two setups. Both are shown set up for the 17-40L lens, and both have comparable features (large dome, magnified viewfinder, etc). I weighed the two setups on a digital scale, and the weight difference was surprising. The surprise was that the weights were identical! Since the Aquatica set-up traps a bit more air, I think it must be slightly lighter underwater – but I haven’t tested that.
Without taking a housing on a dive trip and really putting it through its paces it’s hard to give it an actual rating. However as the most affordable housing on the market, I would not hesitate to recommend the Aquatica to friends looking to house their 1D/1Ds Mark III cameras. Handling is good for a housing this size: the controls are correctly placed, there are ample mounting points for additional hardware. Compatible housing accessories (ports, arms, viewfinder, etc) are all available and integrate well as a system. The housing feels good in the hand, it’s fun to use – any small foibles are soon forgotten – and it gets the job done well.