Prelude 60D vs NA-60D: which one is for you?
First of all, you first have to read the Prelude review to get an idea of what the Seacam is about. The following are mostly my opinions about the design aspects of each brand. I try to be as objective as I can, but I have my biases and it may show up.
Design of functions and controls:
The most glaring difference between the 2 housings isn’t the color but the number of controls available. The Seacam Prelude is designed with a minimalist philosophy, with fewer controls as to hamper operation of the camera in video mode, without access to the menu and ISO. With stills, a lot of effort was put into getting as few controls as possible while maintaining maximum function to come up with the Q and QR buttons.
In stark contrast, NA-60D is fully loaded with all controls on the back of the camera available. Then there’s the optical strobe ports, built-in ring for a handle, wired strobe connectors etc etc. The sheer number of controls, the attention to detail like coloring buttons and levers red to ward users those controls open the housing are nice but the coup is the ISO lever in the operating wheelhouse of the right hand. For functionality and features, the Nauticam NA-60D wins resoundingly.
Tactile/Feel of controls:
While the NA-60D trounces the Prelude in number of controls, the way each manufacturer put them together is important. The tactile feedback of the shutter lever and gear ratios are all good (except for the Liveview/REC lever, which has no rebound spring), although the I did fire off a few shots while trying to hold the shutter lever down for metering.
The Prelude has far fewer buttons, but like the NA60D, the important functions are within easy reach of the hand. The tactile feedback is simply better than the NA-60D. I have to give the Prelude the win here.
Ease of Setup:
The NA-60D has an excellent port locking system, but aligning and pushing the port in without touching the 9” glass dome is a bit awkward. The extension rings lock, but need tools to unlock. There is also slightly stiff resistance sliding the camera tray in and out. I think the one thing that was slightly tedious was the need to pop up the flash only after the camera is in the housing. The zoom/focus gears either require removing the rubber rings on the lenses to install the replacement rubber rings which fit the gears, or using something like rubber bands to create enough height to use the gears without modifying the lenses. I think this design is not well thought out.
Conversely, the Seacam shows the experience of being a design force in the industry. Ports are screwed in so it’s possible to do it while standing with one hand on the housing and other on the big dome port. Camera mounting is a simple screw in after alignment, although the screw can come off the tray if you keep going all the way. Changing the viewfinder is a matter of removing a plastic ring retainer and pushing. Overall, it’s just simpler and faster to setup with the Prelude. So the Seacam wins here.
Product line accessories:
Seacam has the excellent array of glass dome ports (including a minidome), wet diopters, viewfinders, ETTL Seaflash 150D strobes and even an LED lighting system (oem from Keldan but in Seacam Silver). The extension rings are optimized to fit certain lenses and there’s a wide choice of extension widths.
Nauticam has even more ports made of acrylic and glass, white balance dome ports and viewfinders as well. They don’t have their own line of lighting options but the port with the ability to use MRL130 fisheye macro lens balances that out a bit.
Accessories are very much subjective and that makes this too close to call anything but a tie.
Build execution (quality control):
The Nauticam is a well designed housing. The execution is excellent overall, although there are a few elements where it is a bit clumsy. Unfortunately, the build quality isn’t not at the same level. There was rust in a few places on a new housing. Domes that pop off the assembly under unknown conditions (though it is purportedly fixed), and even the neoprene covers either don’t fit well or rip even when brand new. This means their manufacturing side has issues that haven’t been resolved since these problems have been around for awhile.
With the Prelude, it’s different. The velvet lining, precision build and overall reliability of the housing I tested can not be denied. I’ve heard of a few issues but overall I’ve hardly heard any complaints of Seacam housings having bad quality materials or assembly. I’ve owned 2 and have had no complaints.
With the problems of the NA-60D and the lack of problems with the Prelude, the Seacam wins the quality contest hands down.
The result of this comparison is pretty clear. The Nauticam NA-60D has a lot going for it but the quality issues need addressing. I’m sure not all their products suffer these probems since I know many people who enjoy their Nauticam products. Nonetheless, these issues exist and there’s an uncertainty in whether you’d get a good one or not. Nauticam is relatively young in the industry and I’m confident these “growing pains” will be etched out. The owner, Edward Lai, certainly knows of the issues and is working hard to address them.
On the other hand, the Seacam Prelude is a beautifully built housing that is hampered by 3-5 missing buttons for full functionality in video. If video doesn’t matter, then it’s actually a very good housing. Many people I know (most of whom don’t own Seacam) see Seacam as having snob appeal because of the high cost. I see it differently. It’s a small company selling low volume products. The silver color is obviously an esthetic design aspect, but that’s a small part of the cost premium. Currency fluctuations are a contributing factor as well.
So the bottom line is: If shooting video in manual mode, having optical strobe options and using lenses like the Inon MRL130 fisheye macro appeals to you, the Nauticam gives you all that. The owner just has to check the metal parts often to make sure there are no issues with corrosion and accept that lesser quality control in exchange.
If you are mainly into stills, and build quality, reliability, easy setup and excellent feel are high on your list, then you can’t go wrong with the Seacam. In fact, I think if as a customer, you go to your seacam dealer and offer to pay for Seacam to put in MENU, Q Up and ISO buttons, I don’t think Seacam would say no. I know Seacam dealer Scubacam Singapore have made such modifications on a Prelude D7000, but I think going directly to Seacam is the better option if possible.
PS: Don’t forget to check out Inon’s X2 for the 60D as well.