I am a long-time Subal user and because of their consistent design philosophy I find any new addition to their range fits automatically into my hands. Diving with the ND700 required no adaptation. Subal’s ergonomic placement of controls means that every important function falls easily to fingers. Push buttons have just the right resistance and command dials require just the correct rotation to change aperture and shutter speed settings. Subal housings are hard to criticise.
Compared with other manufacturer’s I see Subal’s design evolving more slowly with each generation of housing. Fans would argue that there is no need to fix what is not broken, pointing out that increasingly more and more of Subal’s design solutions (such as for gearing for command dials, camera trays and latches) are emulated on other housing brands.
My only criticism of the housing was that the zoom gear did not seem to be correctly aligned with the gear on my 17-35mm. It worked OK, but seemed to be touching the camera. As it was Peter’s housing I decided to leave it alone rather than fiddle with it. I suspect the problem was the position of the gear on my lens as it worked perfectly at DEMA.
Since the ND300, Subals have been available in two different port opening sizes. At present the only lens that requires the wider port opening is the 14-24mm. Peter Rowlands, like me, is far from convinced about the potential of this lens underwater and has stuck with the older narrower port size. The 14-24mm is phenomenal on land, but underwater, behind a dome and unable to take a dioptre, it can be expected to struggle with corner sharpness meaning its potential will be hard to realise. That said, if you are new to Subal, with no money tied up in existing “port holes” it makes sense to go for the wider Mk4 ports. In the future, lenses will surely get fatter not thinner. Adaptors are available to convert between the two port sizes.
The ND700 is much smaller than the ND3, being about equal in size to the ND300. This has advantages for travel and for getting down to eye level for creatures on the sand, but disadvantages for buoyancy. The ND700 is noticeably negative in the water, even without strobes and strobe arms connected. With my heavy Subtronic Alphas attached it became arm-achingly weighty. Neil Rosewarn kindly lent me some spare STiX buoyancy pieces with him, which I slotted over my UltraLight arms. I was using Subal 45 degree viewfinder (WS-45) for the first time on this trip, but I found that having a neutral rig was essential to get comfortable handling with this eyepiece.
One ergonomic advantage of the ND700 over the ND3 is the placement on the ISO, WB and QUAL buttons on the top, which of course is dictated by their position on the different cameras. On the ND3 (and ND2) they are on the back of the housing, which means that you must take your hand off one of the handles to push them. On the ND700 they are on the top of the housing on the left, within easy reach of your thumb, while still holding the handle (and keeping your eye on the viewfinder). With a camera with such ISO flexibility, this is a particularly useful.
The most challenging button for housing manufacturers on the D700 (as well as quite a few Nikons) is the flash control on the left side of the pentaprism. Quite a few housings fail to provide access to this important control, which allows you to select different flash modes, such as rear curtain synch, and to add exposure calibration for TTL flash. Subal’s neat solution is a lever on the left side of the top of the housing in front of the push buttons (see above).