AQUATICA AD7000 HOUSING.
Prior to the release of its Nikon D90 model, Aquatica manufactured its housings primarily by using an aluminum casting process, followed by 3-axis CNC machining. This imposed a number of design restrictions, giving the housings a hard-edged and relatively “boxy” look.
Now, however, they use an in-house state-of-the-art 5-axis CNC machine that can produce very smoothly-contoured surfaces, overhanging internal features, and can eliminate more excess material than ever before, creating lighter housings without compromising strength. There are hardly any straight lines on the D7000 housing, making it look far more sleek and stylish than my father’s D300 housing.
The CNC machined aluminum bodies are anodized black, and then all of the critically-dimensioned areas are masked before baking on a hard powder-coating for increased durability, scratch-resistance, and corrosion prevention.
All of this is great for those interested in aesthetics, but what is (or should be) more important is the housing’s functionality – in particular its ergonomics. In the following, I discuss all of the D7000 housing controls, pointing out their strengths and weaknesses.
The redesigned camera saddle (first seen in the AN-5 for the Sony NEX 5) slides smoothly along two guide-rods into the housing, and locks firmly in place, providing a consistent camera position every time it is installed. It screws into the base of the camera, and can be tightened with most coins. To remove the camera/saddle assembly from the housing, you need to press down on a flat lip extending out from under the camera, then pull on the body, making sure that it is free of obstructions.
The memory cards are easily accessible with the back plate of the housing removed, but the battery compartment is blocked by the bottom of the housing, so the camera needs to be slid out a few inches (not all the way) to access it.
I never took the tightly-fitting backplate o-ring from its groove – I just wiped it and its mating surface with a t-shirt, and sealed it back up every day. However, I was a bit more careful with the port o-rings. Whenever I changed ports, I’d clean the o-ring, groove, and mating surface before attaching it to the housing using their standard bayonet mounting system.
RIGHT HAND SIDE:
Shutter release lever:
The correct amount of pressure needed to trigger the shutter is subjective. Some prefer a spongy feel, requiring significant travel to operate, thus making it easy to differentiate between half- and fully-depressed states. Others prefer a hair-trigger, to minimize the time it takes to click off a shot. The AD7000 shutter-release lever is somewhere close to the hair-trigger end of the spectrum. When in “Ch” mode (continuous high-speed shooting, 6 FPS), I would occasionally squeeze out an extra couple of exposures accidentally, so I opted to use the “Cl” mode (continuous low-speed shooting) set to 3FPS instead, and my problem was eliminated.
Both my middle and index fingers were able to access this vital lever while solidly gripping the right handle.
Newly introduced in this Aquatica housing is a shutter release travel-limiter, preventing the mechanism from being pressed too far which can damage the camera or return spring. This is a useful safety feature that numb-fingered cold water divers will surely appreciate.
Main command and sub-command dial knobs:
The shutter speed and aperture controls are two of the most frequently used camera functions, so the design and position of the housing’s access knobs are very important.
Their deep ridges, knurled edges, and textured powder-coating combine to give the AD7000’s knobs enough grip to be controlled with a single finger. Because of their large diameters, they require very little torque to rotate, which in my opinion is a good thing. However, because the knobs are so easily spun, it was sometimes difficult to feel the characteristic “snap” when changing these settings on the camera. It’s a trade-off that I’m more than happy to make, since one-finger control is far more important to me.
A toothed pulley connects the housing’s sub-command dial knob to a spring-loaded gear assembly which presses firmly against the camera. It gripped the dial very well, and never missed a beat. This design does its job very well, but on one occasion the pulley shifted so that it was partially hanging off one of the gears. This was more of a head-scratcher than a “problem”, since I couldn’t recreate it, it didn’t affect the knob’s function, and it corrected itself after I rotated the knob a few times. I pointed this out to Aquatica, and they immediately solved the problem by adding a stopper on the problematic gear, preventing slippage from occurring.
The main command dial gear assembly is also spring-loaded along a track, ensuring that the dial is properly engaged every time the camera is installed. It uses a more traditional gear/shaft transmission system to relocate the housing’s knob closer to the user’s thumb, and to make space for the D-PAD, REC, and Live View buttons.
With my index finger on the shutter release, my thumb and middle finger had no difficulty reaching and rotating these knobs, allowing me to quickly adjust exposure settings when shooting moving subjects.
+/- EV control lever:
This spring-loaded lever is positioned just behind the shutter-release, and can be held down with either the middle or index finger. While it’s depressed, your thumb can easily rotate the main command dial knob to set the EV compensation. This information is displayed in the viewfinder, so immediately after reviewing an image’s exposure, you can return to framing the subject and make the necessary EV adjustments. I seldom use this camera function underwater, but it’s good to have it available nonetheless.
AE-L/AF-L button lever Located just in front of the main command dial knob, it can be triggered with your right thumb to lock focus and exposure settings. The function of this button can be re-assigned through the menu (CUSTOM SETTINGS MENU>Controls>Assign AE-L/AF-L button). I usually kept it assigned as an AF-ON button (which simultaneously de-activates the shutter-release’s AF function) for shooting supermacro. It can also be assigned as an AF-L button only (without locking exposure), or to lock flash exposure when using optically triggered strobes.
On the prototype that I used, there was nothing to prevent this lever from being rotated indefinitely, so there was no indication of when my thumb had pressed it far enough. Within a few days of hearing this, Aquatica sent me 3D renders of a modified internal component, which restricts rotation to a 30 degree arc (approximately). This revised design will be incorporated in production models.