With so many controls on the housing, ergonomic reach is important for the more important functions. From the shutter trigger to the control dial at the back, the distance was 18cm, so the NA-60D’s controls were within easy reach with my right hand. This meant I could use all the essential controls, including the ISO lever without shifting my hand off the handle.
The NA-60D’s controls had good feel. Each lever gave sufficient feedback that the button pressed without mashing the lever down. The AF-ON lever took a little adjustment for me, since I’ve been shooting housings which actuated by the thumb pressing down. With the NA-60D, it’s a forward press. I’m not sure why it felt a little unnatural for me. Was it just me not adjusting to a new way of pressing buttons, or perhaps while the functionality was awesome, the execution could be improved? The lever requires the user to push on the lower half of the lever. For me, it’s much more natural to push once I move my thumb laterally over to the AF-ON lever, instead of moving down. Nonetheless, it’s a minor issue. The spacing of the controls were excellent as there was plenty of space for my thumb to access ISO.
The dials had a nice gear ratio so I could change settings with ease. The buttons had good feedback. The shutter trigger lever had good feel, but I did fire off a few accidental shots occasionally when I was trying to lock exposure and recompose. I could feel the shutter button well enough.
I tested the standard viewfinder (0.66x) which does give a good (but smallish) view of the camera’s viewfinder. It certainly allows the user to view the LCD screen without an issue, which is a boon for using liveview or video. The lever for Liveview/REC confused me because it did not have a rebound spring, so it sometimes stayed depressed and other controls wouldn’t work because of that.
The housing is negatively buoyant, weighing a hefty 2.62kg (without camera). I used Seagadget carbon fiber positively buoyant arms to offset the weight.
4.33” Dome Port
*Many of the modes for the camera have been reviewed in the Seacam Prelude 60D review*
In the last 3 years, the small dome has made a comeback, but with a more curved dome to allow better close focus shots with fisheye lenses like the Tokina 10-17. Nauticam’s acrylic dome port is very light compared to other glass dome ports. Some say that acrylic is a terrible choice for a dome port since it scratches easily. I, on the other hand, like acrylic. They are cheaper, lighter to travel with and unlike coated glass, any minor scratches can be polished out under an hour. I used the 30mm extension with the port for the 10-17, the same extension ring Nauticam reckons the Canon EF8-15mm L would need. Unfortunately I got the lens only after the test and could not test it.
Rhinopia howling at the sun. 1/250 f14 ISO200 ETTL Average FEC 0. Tokina 10-17 at 12mm
The 4.33” dome (aka minidome) port facilitates close focus wide angle shots by reducing the bulk of the dome so that one can light the subject with strobes when the dome is very close to the subject. The controls of the housing were so complete I really didn’t have to bother with presetting anything except remembering to pop the flash up (which I forgot on a few occasions when removing the camera for battery charges etc.), since I had access to every menu, control and custom function. I also tried to get the dome to flare with the 10-17 but couldn’t find the right spot.
The Liberty Wreck. 1/125 f11 ISO640. Tokina 10-17 at 11mm
One discovery I have to thank Alex Mustard for since he accidentally discovered something I wouldn’t have noticed. He borrowed the 30mm extension ring for a dive. Just as he walked away from my work area, he doubled back with a “I didn’t break it, did I?” look. In his hand was a rubber ring from the extension ring. He discovered Nauticam’s fix for onboard flash leak from the housing. This rubber ring seats in the extension ring to block the light leak. It’s nicely designed to be removable. However, it’s runs the risk of being knocked slightly out of position by careless mounting of the lens with the port installed. In my case, it was probably improperly re-installed. It’s a very thin slit that the ring fits in and requires a bit of care.
The falling rubber ring from the extension ring.
Using the Z240 driven by the ETTL through the fiber optic, I have to say it was a pleasure to shoot CFWA shots with the mini-dome. Lighting the subject and foreground is so much easier with the small dome. Mike Veitch wrote a technical tip on that so I won’t expand too much further.
There were a couple of issues I found with using the 60D onboard flash. When it fires a full dump, the recycling time is about 2-3 seconds, not to mention the drain on the battery. I don’t usually shoot more than 100 shots a dive on a reef dive. However, with fast action like the trevally, using the onboard flash caused the camera stall until the flash was recharged. It couldn’t do high fps with ETTL on.
In order to get my fps back up, I set the camera to Manual Flash and power level at 1/128. Then I did experimented a little with the STTL mode of the Z240, which meters from the strobe. For CFWA, it worked decently somewhat when I pushed it to STTL A(+), but overall it would underexpose unless the subject was up close and the flash is facing the subject, which can cause backscatter. I had more success with macro, which I’ll discuss in a later section.
9” Glass Dome Port
The Liberty Wreck. 1/125 f11 ISO640 Manual Flash. Sigma 8-16 at 10mm.
In order to clarify the significance of this test, I think it’s best to reiterate the history again. I had first person experience of the glass dome in 2 separate incidents. Both were in South Africa, and neither housings were mine. The first time I’d heard of this happening was in the Wetpixel forums. I presented my findings in the forum and Edward Lai replied saying there were manufacturing tolerance issues and also situations where positive pressure were exceeded. He later informed me of a redesign and asked me to test the new dome with the NA-60D.
The Liberty Wreck. 1/25 f10 ISO1250. Sigma 8-16 at 8mm
The camera was on loan so I was more than a bit trepidatious about testing it. I decided to test the dome for just 2 dives near the end of my test trip. I did try to replicate certain circumstances Edward had mentioned, namely great pressure change and heat. By sealing the housing with the 9” port and driving to 700m altitude while leaving it in the sun in the back seat, I was hoping it’d get hotter than 35°C. I then tried to move the dome by hand. This was a similar test to what happened to my friend’s 9” dome in South Africa. He drove with the housing in the van and when he arrived, the dome was off the assembly. It was still seated in the assembly so I dunked the entire rig into the pool, which was 27°C. It survived my mini-stress test on land. Now I had to test it in the water.
I chose to use the Sigma 8-16mm because I like the rectilinear look more than the fisheye barrel distortion. With an equivalent 13mm in 35mm equivalency, the 9” dome is almost required to get the corners cleaner. However, I only had the 30mm extension ring so it was not optimized for the lens.
The Liberty Wreck. Again with ETTL, there is a bit of overexposure at the bottom of the frame as TTL doesn’t control power on each strobe. 1/125 f11 ISO640 ETTL Evaluative FEC -1/3. Sigma 8-16 at 8mm
Still the lens performed quite well from f10 onwards, so long as the subject or corners are flatter. Once there are objects closer in the corner, the distortion became noticeably worse. I know it will perform well with a
Balance with this big and heavy port was push forward, and this made the housing want to nose dive. To balance this configuration would take some work, although with a bit of effort and using the Z240 as balance, the stability of the housing with the big dome is decent, good enough to shoot decently steady video.
Flare was also very well controlled with this lens and dome port. I probably didn’t try hard enough but all I could manage was a small flare in the corner with the sun in the direct upper corner. The coatings on the dome and the lens design did very well.
The Sigma 8-16 flares but you have to try hard. 1/250 f9 ISO200
Fortunately, the dome survived the 2 dives intact. I have to say that the domes I saw with the issue also worked once the dome was replaced, but not without extreme trepidation from the user! I’ll belabor quality control in the conclusion section. While on the subject of quality control, another minor issue was the brand new neoprene cover for the dome port had a small rip at the seam after 1 day of use.
There was also a problem that popped up (or more accurately off) was the rubber ring that was the light leak fix actually fell off during the dive and fell onto the dome port in front of the lens. I ended up playing catch the ring underwater with the rig a few times, but gave up. The rubber ring can be knocked out of its seat (a thin rubber lip in a thread inside all the newer ports and extensions) by careless lens insertion or if it is not reinserted properly.
For more on how the 60D performed in various modes, please go to the Seacam Prelude review here.
Next up: Macro