Mauricio Handler is a professional commercial marine photographer based in
the British Virgin Islands.
He was a principal underwater photography assistant to David Doubilet with whom he has explored many oceans of the world on assignment for National Geographic. His first hand experience in the field includes maintenance and troubleshooting in tough environments. His personal editorial work has appeared in all mayor underwater publications and his international commercial clients include amongst others Rolex International. He teaches week long housed system workshops both in the BVI’s as well as the Aggressor Fleet. He is the author of two books- The Diving Guide to The British Virgin Islands and The British Virgin Islands a Photographic Portrait and is the field technical advisor to Aquatica.
Aquatica D100 Review
All good things come to those who wait, so it has been said. I have waited and I am now ready to give you my first impression and review on the new Aquatica D100 housing for the Nikon D100 camera. One thing I will say is that it was worth the wait. Aquatica has remained loyal to all its past housing owners by standardizing all ports and extensions between all Aquatica bayonet mounted film housings and the new Aquatica D100. These include the A90, A100 and A5. This is excellent news for all of us who will still continue to use our film cameras next to digital. I for one appreciate this fact. My pocket book reiterates it.
The first thing I noticed when I took an initial look at this fully functioning prototype was that it was very similar in look, size and feel to other Aquatica housings particularly the A100. The cast aluminum housings are anodized black and painted using a durable polyurethane powder paint with a clear top coat giving the housing a very stylized finish. The housing felt comfortable in my hands from the get go. The handle grips are adjustable for those with larger hands or if wearing cold water gloves. This is a great feature. With the 8” dome the housing is still slightly negative. Same applies with the flat port and the 105. With most lens/port combination the housing will be negative.
There are two main SS latches (with safety locks) on the side of the rear lid that open easily without sacrificing fingernails in the process. Inside I found a totally mechanical functioning housing the only electrical fitting is the bulkhead connector which is easily replaced in the field. Installation of the camera is one of the simplest I have experienced. Simply align the msc focus switch and tighten the saddle knob. It’s that simple. After this, all of the contacts between the camera, housing and read menu area align perfectly.
A note on internal space and the Fuji S2
When the Nikon D100 is installed there is plenty of extra room surrounding
the camera and the saddle.
The extra large casting was intentionally made this way to accommodate in the near future, the new Fuji S2 camera and other future cameras. A different rear lid will be needed for those wanting to use this camera. It will be available in summer 2003.This move by Aquatica was a smart one given the fact that the industry changes extremely quickly. This will extend the life of this housing many more years and will allow many new users to jump into this professional digital housing. Many of us do enjoy both cameras. So this option is a smart one in a production sense. The housing is still relatively small so extra weight and size are minimal.
The Aquatica D100 is one a few housings currently on the market that is a fully functioning housing. This means that you can access all the D100 camera features through the housings, and I mean all of them You can review your last image, enlarge the file to look at composition, focus and exposure. You can edit, delete or lock any image to avoid an accidental erasing of said image. You can change all the mode settings from the dial on the top of the camera or within the extensive setting selection inside the menu. One minute you can produce small file jpgs on Program mode and soon after you can go to manual mode at full TIFF size. Switching between metering modes is a cinch.
You may not use all of these features but they are all there in case you need them. After testing the unit for macro and wide angle, I found myself reviewing often the last image on file as well as deleting bad images to save card space. It is hard to bypass the temptation that this feature gives you. Instant feed back on your image making is what digital cameras are all about. Being able to take advantage of these features underwater is really helps to secure the image one is after.
I tested the A100D with an 8” dome for wide with a 16mm 2.8 as well as flat port and a custom port extension for 2:1 macro using a Nikkor 105 an d 2x Kenko Teleconverter.Both worked beautifully. The images that accompany this review were all done on manual mode both on the camera and on the flash and all are with manual focus.
I loaded the D100 with a 1GB IBM Microdrive which held 57 shots at the maximum TIFF resolution or about 300 in high jpg mode. Either way you get the most out of your system if you use the largest card possible card. Underwater time is precious and having a larger card to fire away is great. I did do some deleting to maximize the cards capabilities. The AD100 made all of this very simple as all rear delete/edit buttons are straight-forward. If you know you camera you will find using this housing a synch.
The housing comes installed with a Nikonos bulkhead connector. I had mine installed with dual bulkheads for dual strobe use. This bulkhead has become more or less the industry standard for housing connections. This again, is a nice feature as many housings in the field have these connectors making life a lot easier if you happen to need an extra one while in the middle of the Pacific.
Housing controls include:
Left hand side
Manual focus knob
Lens removal gear (please do not use this underwater!)
MSC focus gear
Right hand side
Shutter release (mechanical)
Exposure compensation dial and flash selection dial
Mode control (P, S, A, M)
Top LCD/battery check panel light (press to turn on)
Flash Compensation dial
Metering mode (go from matrix or center weight to spot)
In addition, you have access to all of the following camera functions:
full menu access
image enlargement review and edit
full scroll bar
The Nikon D100 comes with a top viewing LCD that gives you information on battery, frame count, image file size and a myriad of other useful data. This LCD is viewed through a top window in the housing. The LCD light in the camera is not as bright as other Nikon bodies so it is difficult to read this data in bright sunlight. At night or in dark situations this is not a problem but in daytime this viewer more difficult to read. Aquatica is currently reviewing the installation of a small light inside the housing to aid in viewing this information. This problem will be dealt with in the near future. Having said all this I did not really need to review the information, as I do not change my file size underwater. Frame counter and other date is also viewed through the main camera finder. The housing finder port gives you a pretty good view of the internal camera finder given the fact that the D100 eyepiece is small to begin with. I have been spoilt using Finders such as the D20 and D30 action finders so it is difficult to step back in image viewing size.
Aquatica’s 8”dome ports are excellent in quality, durability and in images sharpness. Many ill informed readers have commented on the negative the use of high quality Plexiglas ports. Any inclination on the lack of sharpness of these ports is simply not true. Without going through a complete list of the top underwater photographers in the world who have used these ports, I can assure you that the sharpness and durability is second to none. These ports are also easily re-polished in the field in case of accidental scratching. This is something not possible with glass. The cost of Plexiglas is also a fraction to optically correct glass.
All in all this is a really great housing. It offers access to all camera features underwater, allows for quick mounting of lenses, and ports and the housing is rated to 300 feet. All gear shafts are double o-rings and all housing parts are easily serviced in the field.
The housing will be available from Aquatica dealers around the world mid-march. The housing body is priced at $1895 with 8” dome ports at $350 well beneath any other manufacturer. In fact a total package with ports and gears will run you about $1000- $1500 less than other makers. You can do all the math after adding parts and pieces. Aquatica continues to offer the best overall value in professional underwater housings on the market today.
For more information please feel free to contact Aquatica directly. If you prefer I will also respond to any technical or creative questions you may have.