Overall, the housings handling is good and the controls within easy reach of all but the smallest of hands. The central control panels require releasing the grip for smaller hands but since the controls there aren’t useful while shooting, it does not affect image stability.
The monitor is bright and just sharp enough to judge general focus. It does suffer from what most other LCD monitors do, and that’s reflection from sunlight in shallow water. The lack of a proper full shade to block incidental light compromises the shallow water usage in certain instances. The electronic white balance failed to work but according to the manufacturer, it does on the rest of HC series camcorders. I can’t substantiate this so be sure to ask for your specific camera model.
It has a good quality wide angle adapter in the Fathom WP80. At this price point (€395), the limited zoom isn’t unexpected (but it’s not ideal either) the resolution held up pretty well for a relatively inexpensive wide angle adapter. It’s not very wide but does increase coverage for average wide angle shots. However, it is not an all-purpose lens due to the lack of full zoom. Moreover, without access to the telemacro function on the A1, having full zoom capability on the WP80 would be ineffective anyhow, due to the unnaturally far focus at full zoom on the A1. In air, closest focal distance is 18” away for the A1. Basically, to shoot macro with the WP80, one would have to bring the lens right up to the subject at full wide, which usually isn’t possible. Full zoom is a feature of the WP100, a wider, more expensive lens, but this lens was not tested and I cannot comment on it. With many of the small camcorders, macro is one thing that suffers most due to the constraints of the lens design. Telemacro mode access is critical if one doesn’t want to use a macro flatport or use diopters.
The MVD-L2 does have a flatport option which allows the use of 67mm screw in lenses from Inon, Epoque and Ikelite. I didn’t test this configuration, which limited my overall testing ability since I was in an area where the macro sealife was much better than the wide angle.
I liked the easy-to-use latch system, but unfortunately it doesn’t open the housing directly. (this rotary latches are not intended to do that, they are just that, a rotary latch) Instead Aditech provides a little lever tool to pry it open. It is designed to hang off the housing with a lanyard. I personally don’t like things dangling around the housing and the lever would be lost for good at sea if the lanyard breaks for whatever reason. It could also be easily lost on a camera table on a liveaboard or on a boat. The housing does require more vigilance in maintenance and care.
The extra care extends to drying the housing properly after a dive. I couldn’t just dry only the rear bulkhead section because I’d prop the housing on the monitor back to open the housing, so the entire housing has to be dried before opening. This is very important as electronics board is fixed on the rear bulkhead and although it is protected by a metal sheet, the batteries are still exposed and the water drops can seep through. (Water never gets pass the inner O-ring, it only reach the first O-ring, so when you open the housing there are no water drops than could reach the inner of the housing, on the other hand you are supposed to properly dry the housing before opening it.)
I was very disappointed that the Electronic Manual White Balance did not work with the HVR-A1P I used. To me, that was one of the biggest selling points of choosing this housing. Then there was mysterious battery drain of the lanc control not turning off the camcorder completely makes it difficult to setup the camera the night before, especially since the bigger batteries cannot fit. This was an issue that I had to deal with a few times, although I can’t pinpoint the cause.
The modular design of the Mangrove housing means it can be refitted to house a new generation of camcorders (which is commonly replaced every 12 months). The PC boards, front port bulkhead and tray position are changeable for a fee by Aditech. They say it will cost less than a new housing, which gives the Mangrove a partial future proofing for newer camcorders as they change.
With electronic white balance (if supported with your Sony camcorder), good ergonomics, an effective back mount LCD monitor and decent lens options, the Mangrove does come in at a very decent price point compared to other competitors, giving good value for the feature set. It must be reiterated that I only tested the HVR-A1U with this housing. The camera is 3 years old and that’s ancient by digital video standards. The housing’s LANC system is supposedly more effective with the new SR/HC/CX camcorders and the interface more solid. However I cannot verify this.
Overall, the LCD monitor back with long battery life, electronic controls and adjustable balance do make this housing competitive with others in the price range, despite its shortcomings with the older HVR-A1U camcorder in this test. Combined with the Fathoms WA len options and different macro port options and modular design for future camcorders, it does prove to be a nice package. If your camera choice is one of those which can fully function with this housing’s LANC system, I would recommend considering the Mangrove as a serious contender for electronic housings.
Summary of my findings and opinion:
- Handling and balance is easy to customize with bottom weights.
- Good ergonomics. Controls are within easy reach for all but the smallest hands
- LCD monitor back option is great value in the housing price range. Sharp enough to judge general focus and accurate enough for color rendering judgement.
- Long lasting LCD battery life with Li ION batteries
- Excellent and easy to use latches for the housing. (*Latches do not open the housing)
- Modular design allows for housing future camcorders with front bulkhead and PCB changes.
- Use of a small and easy to lose accessory to open housing.
- Flipping the housing onto monitor back to open housing. Requires more vigilance in drying the entire housing before opening it. (this is not correct, please see again page number 4 in the User´s Manual, and see also the pictures, it doesn’t say anywhere that you need to Flip the housing onto monitor back to open housing) * Yes, it doesn’t say that. However, the pictures show one must do that to close the housing. In my opinion, that is the best way open and close it without damage to camera due to the design of the rear bulkhead and how it supports the housing. It’s not the most elegant solution but that is what happens when the rear bulkhead had the support feet instead of the main housing body.
- Lack of a full zoom wide angle port as tested.(The WP100 rectifies this issue)
- Use of Li ION batteries for the monitor back, instead of more easily available AA batteries.
- Lanc cable is a little long. While the design does not allow the housing to close if a wire as thick as a lanc cable is in the way, you can still damage the LANC cable.
- Electronic White Balance did not work for HVR-A1U.
- Camera in sleep mode still drains batteries overnight. ** Could be an issue with just the HVR-A1P.
- Does not accept bigger Q/FM70 or larger batteries, limiting battery use to one dive before recharging/changing.
- No Tele-Macro function access, limiting macro use without the macro port.