Canon 5D Mark II underwater housing shootout

The Housing: Features and Setting Up

Sea & Sea MDX-Pro 5D Mark II

Due to space constraints, we only tested the Zen 8” port with the 16-35mm f2.8L II and 15mm fisheye for wideangle, and the 24-105mm f4L with the dome port for some fish portraits.  We also tested the Magic Filter 82mm with the 16-35mm II, kindly supplied by Alex Mustard and Peter Rowlands.

The MDX-Pro 5D2 is a sleek aluminum housing with a Dark Olive color finish. It looked really well made and obviously had been designed to include minute details.  It uses the standard Sea & Sea port opening, which is large and can fit the fattest Canon EOS wide angle lenses like the 16-35 II.

As I opened the box and cleared out all the packing, the first thing that I noticed were grooves from each set of controls on the housing. Each set of buttons had a raised aluminum sidewall and a groove which was designed in to allow water to flow out. I looked at every set of buttons and all of them had this drainage groove.

The drainage system for each row of controls. Note the visible blue o-ring

One noticeable feature I’m accustomed to but is missing on this housing, is a clear window to view the top LCD where all the exposure/modes information is displayed. To view exposure information, I had to use the INFO button on the rear LCD or peer through the 0.5x viewfinder, which doesn’t allow 100% of the viewfinder view with all of the shooting display.

While familiarizing myself with the housing, I found that the AF ON, * and AF point selection lever controls, were reversed in direction on the housing. All of the housings I’ve ever used had those particular levers facing back for easy actuation. However, on this housing, both levers faced the front. The top lever can be pushed down for AF Pt selection or up for *. The bottom lever hits the AF-ON button. 


The AF ON(Bottom Lever), * (push up on top lever) and AF Pt selection (push down on top lever) control levers

It comes standard with 2 strobe ports, a Nikonos 5 pin on the right and a Nikonos 6 pin for Sea & Sea’s own TTL converter on the left (referenced from the back of the housing).  The 2 ports face upward and are identified by different color port screws.

The grips are standard Sea & Sea with 2 big screws attaching a T plate with a metal plate with a ring for tethers or a most useful handle for handing up the camera to crew (something I’d personally like to see standardized on all housings.)  There is one zoom/focus dial on the left of the housing. For manual focus on a zoom lens, you’ll have to get a port with a focus knob to actuate both.

The rear plexi-glass plate allows almost 100% view of the LCD monitor, which is important when shooting video.  The very edges of the monitor are obscured behind the aluminum window, but it’s a negligible loss and typical of SLR housings.  The 4 button Multi-Control stick controls are also on the plexiglass rear screen and goes through the aluminum back.  On the rear cover, there are 2 rubber buttons, which came loose but had no real function, or did they? (More on this later)


The inside view of the AF-ON control assembly. Note the fine detail and quality of the workmanship.

Setting up the housing was simple, even without a manual (because I wasn’t given a manual (thanks for the confidence in my deductive abilities, Ryan but in spite of my ego, I did find the manual was available online from the Sea & Sea website)) However, if I hadn’t grumbled about a hole in the port (like why have a hole in the port when there’s nothing to …oh wait what’s that?) I’d have missed the port lock system, which is basically a metal latch, which slides into a hole in the port. After that, I put my ego in check and read the manual thoroughly. Unfortunately, the port lock system (which is quarter turn bayonet style system) is only on the housing to the first connecting port. Any subsequent extension or port cannot be locked. It also means that every time one wants to change a port configuration, the housing has to be opened.

Fortunately the single o-ring bayonet lock system is stiff and strong, requiring some effort to rotate open. In fact, I almost bent the port locking mechanism trying to pry off the dome port without removing the port extension. Based on effort needed to open the port, I didn’t duct tape the ports to prevent accidental rotation, something I’d do with other brands which have bayonet mounts with thinner o-rings.


The highly visible and thick blue o-ring for the housing.

The o-rings don’t require too much silicon grease and are highly visible bright blue, in case it is clipped while closing the housing. I should add that the 60mm extension ring I tested was from Athena and NOT Sea & Sea. Ryan sent me his tested optimized setup for the 16-35mm II with the Zen dome port, which is a 3rd party brand. Sea and Sea’s own port charts recommends a 40mm extension ring with their NX Fisheye Dome Port only. I couldn’t test that but the nodal point of the 16-35mm is farther forward that I don’t think 40mm is enough for optimal corners. Seacam and Aquatica both list 55mm and 54mm respectively for the 5D mark II housings.

The camera is mounted on a quick shoe tray, which slides into a groove slot and locked down with a switch. There is no real way to mess up camera alignment with the controls.  Sliding the camera requires little effort except to align the zoom gear’s teeth to the housing’s own gear, and also pulling the mode dial up a bit as it does rub a bit. If using a non-USM lens, one also has to switch the zoom control to the shallow groove if using the control for focus, leaving it in the deep groove could damage the lens when using AF, according to the manual.

Closing the housing , I discovered another “small details” feature on the housing. While trying to close the snaps, I naturally placed my thumbs on the two rubber stops I previously maligned. There was a useful function for them, to brace your thumb while closing the housing snap locks and help against slippage. Still, those rubber nibs popped off in the box and being rubber I just snapped them back in. So they aren’t very resilient.


The rubber stops beside the SET button is used to brace the thumb as the user opens the housing

All in all, it was easy to setup. The housing design’s obvious attention to some detail, combined with the bright blue o-ring made it easy to check for debris and clipping while closing the housing. I was confident that the housing was sealed every time and the pre-dive fresh water dip proved it.