A few months ago, I decided to upgrade my Nikon D200 system. I picked Nikon’s D7000 for a number of reasons - most important, I saw there was a SEACAM housing made for it. It’s not the traditional SEACAM Silver housing, however. It is a new, low cost housing introduced as the Prelude.
The Prelude line is made from the same material as the SEACAM Silver, it is coated inside with the same flocking material designed to wick up water in the event of a minor flood and has the same ergonomically placed double seal controls found on all SEACAM Silver housings. As you might expect, it also accepts all the same SEACAM ports and viewfinders.
The big difference, besides the lower cost is there were fewer controls on the housing. Unfortunately, some of the missing controls were pretty important to me. So, before I bought one, I decided to see if I could come up with some work-around to make the Prelude a viable option for me.
Missing #1 – Second Lens Gear Control One obvious omission on the left side of the housing is a second lens gear control knob. Having two control knobs allows you to zoom with one and focus with the other when using a zoom lens. With only one control knob, you can forget manual focusing and zooming. Well, I forgot manual focusing about 6 years ago when I found autofocus did a better job than I could. So, for a zoom lens, one knob for zooming is plenty.
With the older Micro-Nikkor 60mm or 105mm lenses, having two control knobs allowed you to operate the Auto Focus/Manual focus control ring with one and manually focus with the other. But, you can still manually focus those lenses without any control knobs. Compose the shot first, auto focus for that composition at that distance, turn auto focus off using the AF/M switch on the side of the camera/housing and touch up focus by moving the housing further or closer to the subject. It worked for me with Skeleton Shrimp and a +5 diopter on my Micro-Nikkor 105 lens.
It’s a moot point with the newer Nikon lenses since that Auto Focus/Manual focus control is now a switch rather than a ring so the second knob would be useless.
Chalk one up to I’m not missing that second lens gear control knob.
Missing #2 – Delete Button Sorry, don’t miss it. I do all my deleting topside. Moving on…
Missing #3, 4, 5 & 6 – Menu, WB, ISO & QUAL Buttons No Menu button was a deal breaker. Not so with the other three controls since they can be accessed from the Menu button. But, without access to the Menu button, nothing gets changed. Based on my suggestion, SEACAM added a Menu button. Also added were WB & ISO buttons. That was more than needed, but I’ll take the other two! Problem solved, deal back on.
Misplaced #7/Missing #8 –Start Button for Video Recording / Multi-Selector Buttons Originally, the Start button for video recording was placed so that it blocked the operation of the top toggle of the Multi-Selector on the right hand side of the camera back. And, instead of 4 buttons to control the Multi-Selector, there was only one that operated the Right toggle of the Multi-Selector. That’s a big obstacle for adjusting the focus point when shooting.
My suggestion was to sacrifice control of the AE-L/AF-L button on the back of the camera and use that control to activate the Start button. Then, the button that formerly operated the Start button could be configured to operate the Top toggle of the Multi-Selector. All it took was for Seacam to change two of the inner operating levers to make that happen. But, that still leaves two buttons short for the Multi-Selector. To work around that, I used Custom Function A5 on the camera menu. Access this menu to set the Focus point wrap-around to Wrap. Then you only need 2 buttons for the Multi-Selector. As you continue to press the Right toggle the focus point moves to the right. When it reaches the far right end, instead of stopping, it will wrap back to the left side and start the journey again. The same holds true for the Top toggle. As the focus point moves to the top, when it reaches the end it will wrap back to the bottom. I actually find this faster to control the focus point position. It is the same technique I used with my SEACAM Silver for the D200 even though I had all 4 buttons on that housing.
The Multi-Controller also moves you through the camera menus and the photos when reviewing. So, instead of using the Multi-Controller, use the Main Command and Sub-Command dials. You can set this in the Custom Function F6 menu. When you access this menu, Customize Command Dials, Set the Menus and Playback option to ON. Now you can scroll back and forth with menus and photos using the two command dials rather than the buttons for the Multi-Controller.
Missing #9 – AE-L/AF-L Button Never needed it underwater. That’s why I suggested sacrificing it to operate the Start button for video recording.
Missing #10 – OK Button (in the center of the Multi Controller) I wish I had that, but I can live without it. There are a few functions that require you to press the OK button. If you wanted to format the memory card using the camera menu, you can access the Format command, but you cannot format because it requires you to press the OK button. Guess I just have to remember to format my card before I close the housing. Not a deal breaker, especially since the D7000 has 2 memory card slots. Load them both up with 64 GB cards and you can probably shoot more than a week’s worth of images without the need to delete or re-format.
Now here are the controls I do miss. After I tell you what they are, I’ll tell you how to work around it.
Missing #11 – Metering Pattern Button At the top of the camera is a button that lets you change the metering pattern from Spot to Center-weighted to Matrix. That button is not on the Prelude. I really miss that. Come to think of it, if that button were there and the Delete button were there, I could format my memory card. That’s not the issue. The issue is not having access to the Metering Pattern button. I will change the metering pattern depending on what I am shooting. I have a fix for this, but before I tell you, I need to bring up one more missing control.
Missing #12 – AF Mode Button The Prelude will let you control the Focus Mode Selector (AF/M) switch on the side of the camera. With this switch, you can turn Auto Focus on or off. That’s not the issue. In the center of the AF/M switch on the side of the camera is a button. That button lets you switch from AF-S to AF-C to AF-A using one Command Dial and from Single point to 9 point to 21 point to 39 point to 3-D tracking with the other Command Dial.
As a quick review, AF-S is Single-servo Auto Focus. That means when the shutter button is depressed half way and the camera locks on focus, it stays locked at that focus distance until you either take the picture or release pressure on the shutter button.
AF-C is Continuous-servo Auto Focus. That means when shutter button is depressed half way the camera continues to focus until you take the picture or release pressure on the shutter button.
In AF-A mode, the camera selects the best choice of AF-S or AF-C depending on the subject.
This is the second control I really miss. Depending on the subject, I would shift from AF-S to AF-C all the time. With Wide Angle subjects, I would mostly stay with AF-S. Focus distance on the virtual image created by the dome and depth of field let me stick with AF-S 90% of the time. But when shooting close-up or really close-up, then it could be a 50/50 mix between AF-S and AF-C.
So that’s two missing controls and no work-around yet. Here is how I solved for that.
There are two user programmable settings on the D7000 Mode Dial. If you are set on M - manual mode, rotating the dial clockwise gets you to first to U2 and then to U1. You can read your camera manual to see how to program these modes.
What I did was to program U2 as M mode (Manual exposure control), AF-C with 21 focus points and Center Weighted metering.
For U1, I programmed it to A mode (Aperture Priority exposure control), AF-A with 21 focus points and Matrix metering
There are other things you can program into each of the two user modes, but these are the key settings for me and the ones you cannot change when the camera is in the housing.
Finally, before I close the housing, I have my camera in M mode set for AF-S and Spot metering.
I shoot mostly in M mode. So when the conditions change, I can go to U2 and have AF-C and Center Weighted metering when I need it. I might do this with Macro photography to get the AF-C setting or with Wide Angle to get the Center Weighted metering pattern.
If the subjects require, I can continue to U1 to get Aperture Priority, AF-A and Matrix metering. This would be exclusively with Wide Angle lenses and moving subjects with even ambient light like in Galapagos with Hammerheads or Turks & Caicos with Grey Reef Sharks or Palau with Mantas.
I can switch back to M mode and be in AF-S and Spot metering again. That’s my work-around for these two missing controls.
SEACAM listened. Using my suggestions, they modified the Prelude and released the Prelude v2 for the Nikon D7000. That is what I bought. I’ve just returned from my second dive trip with it and here is my opinion.
First of all, it performed as a SEACAM housing should. It felt great in my hands, the controls were positioned to give me full access without taking my hands off the handles or my eye from the viewfinder.
The shutter lever was redesigned to be more of a pulling action with your finger rather than a pressing down motion. At first I found it different than what I have been used to for over 10 years, but I quickly got used to it. After the first few dives, it was like I had been using that type of trigger from day one with my first SEACAM housing.
The newly designed locking mechanism is much easier to operate. Instead of exterior metal clamps on either side of the housing, there are 2 levers recessed into the rear of the housing that lock or open the housing simply by pressing them in or out. Hooray for simple!!
The rest of the controls are all there, Play, Menu, WB and ISO are all direct access buttons. The Mode dial is controlled by a knob at the top of the housing. There’s an On/Off knob that’s easy to operate. And, as with every SEACAM housing, there are two flash bulkheads, your choice of Nikonos or S6.
With the modifications SEACAM made on the Prelude v2, I had no problem accessing the camera controls I really need underwater. Like my three previous SEACAM housings, I expect this one to give me years of service.
FTC Discolsure: The reviewer purchased the housings for the review. As he provides a repair service for Seacam housings, Seacam USA did offer him a discount.
About the reviewer: Mike Mesgleski has been teaching Underwater Photography for over 25 years, helping students create thousands of beautiful images of our underwater world. Together with Mike Haber, they run the Jim Church School of UW Photography on board the Aggressor Fleet and Dancer Fleet. When he is not teaching, he also services Seacam and Aquatica housings, based in Miami Florida.