Sea & Sea MDX Pro
It was easy to see that Sea & Sea spent some thought on the ergonomic design of the MDX Pro housing. From the reversed AF control levers to the drainage channels for control panels to the ability to remove the CF card without removing the camera from the housing, the housing is very well designed and optimized for still shooters.
The video ergonomics for video shooters is lacking (SET button far from right grip) and the lack of accessories like hydrophones is incongruous with the effort seen for the still side of the camera. This is especially ironic since Sea & Sea has a video division with all the necessary spare parts to build upon this.
Another area of concern is the accessory hot shoe 0.75kg/1.7lbs weight limit, which precludes using a bigger focus lights or even strobes on the top for fill. With the slip on design, it’s just not as robust or steady as a treaded ball head fixture. In fact, the manual suggests removing the accessory when carrying the housing out of water.
I only tested the Zen Dome so cannot comment on the Sea & Sea range of ports. However, seeing how well the Zen dome performed with the 16-35 II and 24-105L using a 60mm extension tube, I question Sea & Sea’s own lens charts recommendation of 40mm extension.
From the S&S lens chart, I can see only 2 extension ring widths, the 20mm and 40mm. I would also caution potential buyers to check with their local dealers on the port extension combinations as Sea & Sea may not have an optimized solution for some less popular lenses. Lenses like the Canon 17-40L or 24-70L, among others, may need different extension lengths for optimized performance. This is an issue people with many legacy lenses should be aware of . This is true for the entire product line of Sea and Sea. I have to urge potential buyers to check with their dealers and the wetpixel forums to verify the proper ports extensions necessary.
The added advantage of having a Sea & Sea is that many 3rd party vendors for accessories like 45° viewfinders from Inon and Zen ports etc will have adapters for Sea & Sea housings. It is no longer necessary to just look at the manufacturer’s offering only when purchasing. Still it is disappointing that Sea & Sea does not have a bigger choice of extensions or a bigger port design.
On the whole, the MDX Pro for the 5D mark II is an ergonomically designed housing with good balanced handling (again only tested with the Zen dome!). The lightweight design made packing it in cabin luggage easier (especially with the recent increase in weight limits for cabin luggage). The housing was the only one tested with Multi-Control access, allowing the user more freedom with the menu system. Furthermore, with international dealers almost everywhere there is good diving, finding spare o-rings (I bought a 2nd set of O-rings in Indonesia) and other tidbits is easier than most other brands. It’s this sort of thing that makes a very good housing even better.
Price as tested MRSP: US$ 3695 (MDX Pro housing), US$ 1399 Zen 8” Dome, US$799 Athena 16-35 extension ring, focus and zoom gear.
Aquatica’s design philosophy is noticeably different from the Sea & Sea. Durability and toughness are the keys as one can gather from the textured skin of the housing and 90m depth rating, juxtaposed from compact and lightweight with the MDX Pro. The thicker walls have a weight penalty of 0.5kg/1.1lbs and a larger housing overall. The extra weight also compromises handling slightly. To balance the front/aft stability, the dome port should be glass, since the acrylic port is very nose light.
The Aquatica housing has many major controls for the camera at the user’s finger tips and is the only manufacturer to include a hydrophone for the 5D Mark II. Features like the port lock with external access and lens release, moving the SET button higher for easier accessibility makes it a competent package.
Most things worked fine and what didn’t work well (the shutter feel and on/off switch) was possibly due to the lack of fine tuning. Since the test housing was used and had travelled several continents in the 1 year of service, being a bit out of tune is to be expected. There are also a few rough edges like the ribbon wire hot shoe, which is too long. The hot shoe assembly is a bit messy compared to the Sea & Sea and Seacam. The acrylic port is too buoyant and makes the housing front light, which is a nightmare for shooting video.
The most foreign area of the design is the housing’s camera mounting/dismounting system. Removing the port, removing the lens then removing the camera isn’t what I’m accustomed to, especially to change the memory card or battery. With smaller lenses, I could easily remove the camera with lens. But fatter lenses (eg 24-105, Sigma 12-24) and those with gear attached, it is much easier to install the lens after the camera is installed. It is also easier for removing the camera from the housing by removing the lens. Problem is that one may have to remove the camera more often for both memory card and battery changes, which is can be tedious, especially in the field.
Overall, the Aquatica A5D2 design is comparable to a technical dive. The tasks are repetitive but crucial to the job. Technical divers are trained to do things a certain way so there are no mistakes. The housing is very much that way too. It isn’t a housing for quick changes of batteries and memory cards, nor is it a lightweight housing.
It’s built to work a certain way. It’s tough, can go deep and works but lacks finesse in the controls. It demands you follow the doctrine to work well but rewards you with a competitively priced housing system with some unique features.
Price as tested (MRSP): US$ 3218 (with moisture alarm, hydrophone), US$624 (8” acrylic dome with shade), US$459 AF/MF Macro port, US$418 2 x 18453 extension rings.