Overall, I did like the control the housing gives over the camera… a lot! With the number of option accessories, this multi-configuration housing is fine for most shooting scenarios. It is due to this versatility that it is particular strong as it can fit various budgets. With a base price of $3990, it can be configured to the hilt with HD monitor and SWP44B Fathoms lens for over $10000 or a SD monitor with a dome port for under $6000.
The housing has the most controls of the aluminum housings available for this camera, allowing 18 on camera functions to be accessed. This also adds to the versatility of the housing in choosing the right settings for the scene, from accessing picture profiles to turning other features on/off via the assign buttons.. Moreover the tactile feedback of the controls is good, especially the zoom lever which was excellent for controlling the zoom speed. It is rugged and tough tested, having survived a drop in the Indonesian airport security check with merely a bent flip filter arm. Battery life isn’t an issue with the acceptance of the big FP970 battery and the 8 AA powered external monitor. The flat port worked as promise and allowed smaller achromatic diopters to be used. However to fit bigger diopters, it’s advisable to try the SP44 standard dome port.
I do highly recommend getting the EM43 external monitor. The battery life is great and it’s sharp enough to judge focus and white balance is pretty accurate. The viewfinder has marginal use and relying solely on it will be difficult. The monitor does suffer from the same problems all external monitors have in shallow water in bright conditions, reflections on the viewing window glass. These reflections made it very difficult for me to do anything but barely manage to frame IF the subject is really big and dark. ( We’re looking at a way to improve this.)
With the configuration I tested, it proved to be a strong macro camera, especially with the tripod ($600), which doesn’t replace a true tripod but the legs did help in stabilizing the housing for some shots.
There is no such thing as a perfect housing. The Gates gives many options for various conditions and budgets too. The controls were not always precisely catching all functions. I’m sure those controls can be adjusted to fit individual cameras. The balance and handling, while not ‘tight’ due to the versatility of the numerous ports and accessories, can be customized as well. As for the camera, this review revealed the CMOS rolling shutter problem (please read the page: The HVR-V1 Revisited)
In the end, I can easily recommend it as a good choice for the HVR-V1. It’s not a housing you can just buy and jump into the water. Nor is it the lightest or most compact of all the V1 housings. It requires more fine tuning and customization, then some time to get accustomed to the plethora of features and controls. In reward, you can control almost every aspect of the camera and that in turn allows you to use the camera’s abilities to the fullest, as any professional product should. That is half the battle. The other part is up to the user.
Gates V1/FX7 Housing Pros/Neutrals/Cons:
• Access to almost all the cameras functions, allowing the user to use the camera’s abilities fully.
• Multiple port configurations from macro to superwide angle
• Mechanical controls have good tactile feedback, especially the zoom lever, giving excellent control over zoom speed.
• Excellent battery life for EM43 monitor, which can match the performance of the FP970 on the camera. Low battery indicator adds that extra level of control.
• Viewfinder usefulness is limited due to lack of magnification and the flat window preventing the user to get close to the window
• The pin knob design: While I totally understand the need for them, the knobs are easily misaligned because they are unrestricted. The good tactile feedback is negated by this on a few controls
• EM43 external monitor lacks image controls during the dive (eg Brightness).
• The camera tray relies on screws to fasten down, which allows for user mistakes and also be shaken loose by vibrations. It also impedes quickly changing tapes between dives.
• Mechanical controls do require practice to get accustomed to.
• EM43 monitor suffers from bad reflections in shallow bright conditions, making it difficult to see.
• The rear bulkhead controls were finicky sometimes.
• The bulky design makes balance and handling difficult to set properly without further customization