I am a video shooter by trade and have thoroughly enjoyed filming with my EX1 rig over the past 3 years. This year however, a number of projects requiring a more portable solution, and one capable of capturing both stills and video, compelled me to invest in a DSLR underwater housing for my Canon 5D. I now have both Gates EX1 and Aquatica 5D systems in my toolbox and I choose based on what best meets the requirements of the assignment.
In addition to the obvious portability advantage, the 5D also offers some distinct performance advantages over the EX1, including greater dynamic range, sharper image, better low light performance, and the ability to interchange lenses. There are however, major shortcomings when capturing underwater video with a DSLR rig. As I am accustomed to shooting with a well-balanced, professional video housing, I expect to capture stable, well composed, properly exposed and in focus video footage. Transitioning to a DSLR rig, I found it to be near impossible to consistently achieve these objectives when shooting video.
With only a tiny LCD display on the back of the camera and its lack of critical focusing capabilities, I nearly gave up on shooting underwater video with my 5D housing. Since I typical work at the extremes (big animals and tiny macro), I could not consistently achieve proper scene composition in dynamic situations, nor be confident my subject was even in focus. The partially obscured rear LCD is simply too small and awkwardly positioned to be effective in managing both framing and focus. If only I had an external monitor like my EX1 system!
Then along came the Wahoo HD, one of the first DSLR underwater external video monitors on the market. At a breaking point with my current situation, I purchased the Wahoo HD on the spot at the DEMA show, and a week later I was in the water testing it. The following is a first look at the Wahoo HD and once I have more time with it underwater, I intend to post a follow up delving deeper into the nuances.
Installing the Sony CLM-V55 monitor in the housing is a snap. The User Guide includes easy-to-follow, step-by-step instructions with images showing you how to do this. In a nutshell, you permanently remove the rubber connector guard on the monitor, snap in the battery, pop open the 4 latches on the monitor housing, slide monitor in from right to left, connect the HDMI cable, and close it up. Installing the monitor shade is also trivial except for those tiny screws with even tinier washers that slip off and magically vanish somewhere on the floor below the camera table.
Wahoo Cable Self-Installation.
I must admit I was initially hesitant about removing a bulkhead plug on my housing and installing the Wahoo bulkhead. Like all underwater shooters, I have a deep-seeded fear of the camera “flood.” A glance at the User Manual and I found that I also had to disassemble the aluminum jacket on the HDMI cable…now I was in the deep end! I took a long breath and went for it, and to my surprise, the task proved quite trivial. Removing a single bolt, I slid the HDMI jacket right off. Removing the washer and nut proved a bit more challenging, but with a few twists and tugs, these popped off as well. I inserted the bulkhead assembly into the housing, greased the bulkhead O-ring, slid the washer and nut on, tightened appropriately, re affixed the HDMI jacket and that was it. For the less technically inclined, Backscatter offers free installation and pressure testing with a monitor purchase.
Tip: The User Manual shows installation of the cable in one of the top holes in the Aquatica housing but I found I preferred installation on the left side behind the focus dial.
The Wahoo HD attaches to the housing with an Ultralight clamp, clamped on to an Ultralight ball that is threaded into the top of the Aquatica housing. While the ball on the Wahoo housing has a locking detail, the ball on top of the Aquatica has a tendency to loosen under the leverage from the monitor twisting during use. I had to really tighten the ball down to minimize this.
Tip: Apply loctite to the threads of the ball to keep it from loosening.
It is important you select the right settings on the monitor to maximize usability. The key settings I settled on are as follows:
Backlight – 100%. Though apparently brighter than most monitors out there, the monitor still struggles to compete with bright ambient light.
Brightness – Centered (50 of 100). Brighter is washed out, darker is flat.
Contrast – Centered (50 of 100). Same issue as brightness.
Color Temp – Default value = 6500. Monitor offers 2 other presets and I have no idea why one would intentionally shift the viewing color temp relative to the actual color temp?
Focus Peaking - On and Off. This is perhaps the most exciting feature of the monitor! Painfully absent in the Camera LCD, the peaking function on the monitor enables one to maintain critical focus. Two taps on a lower control lever is all that is necessary to toggle peaking on and off.
Other Functions – I don’t use. There are various functions such as TV Safe, Magnification, and Color Tone that I don’t use. Leave on default setting.
The control interface of the Wahoo HD is quite simple and intuitive. Press and hold the upper right lever to power the monitor on and off. The lower right lever accesses the monitor’s menu functions and the center right dial lets you scroll through these. Since I pre-set my menu items to the setting above, I only use the menu to access Focus Peaking underwater. The good news is the monitor remembers the last menu position, so once you have it positioned on Focus Peaking, all you need to do is tap the lower right lever twice to turn peaking on/off.
Note: With the external monitor connected, when you turn Live View on, you will only see the image in the monitor and not in your LCD. As a consequence, if the monitor battery charge runs out, you have no ability to monitor video recording or still image preview at all. The good news is, battery life is quite good and I was able to get several hours with the monitor powered up before I lost charge. (Backscatter has tested the burn time of 3.6 hours of constant use).
The monitor is relatively slim in comparison to traditionally more bulky external monitors, and coupled with three mounting points for the Ultralight ball, provides for excellent flexibility in positioning the monitor to fine-tune balance and viewing angle. This slimness comes with a price however, with the monitor almost a pound negative underwater. I took advantage of this negative buoyancy to offset balance issues with my system configuration. (Word from Backscatter is they have a neutrally buoyant sculpted foam block that will bolt on back of monitor. Due out mid Jan).
Tip: I position my monitor forward, just over the dome when shooting wide to offset the positive buoyancy of dome. When shooting macro, I position the monitor back towards me to offset the negative buoyancy of the macro port.
Wide-angle - The Wahoo HD offers some decisive advantages when shooting wide angle. Most important, you can now properly frame and compose your shots as you would with a traditional underwater video system. Working a zone, allowing the animal to enter, follow and leave the frame, and monitoring background elements are now feasible with a DSLR. ‘Heads-up” shooting enables me to evaluate the action to better frame my shots while also focusing on stability and smooth panning. I do a lot of shallow snorkel work where looking into the rear LCD is nearly impossible, creating major framing and stability issues. The external monitor enables me to drop the housing below the surface and away from the chop, while also easily monitoring my video.
Tip: I recommend positioning the monitor as close to the top of the housing as feasible for better ergonomics. This helps a lot when swimming hard or fighting currents.
Macro – Prior to using the Wahoo HD, I was about to give up shooting macro with my DSLR rig. The 5D has a very narrow depth of field and with a tiny LCD and no Focus Peaking, trying to follow focus on a macro subject was near impossible. The large 5-inch monitor with Focus Peaking in the Wahoo HD is a game changer for DSLR macro shooting. I can now easily set my focus, check my depth of field and follow focus as the subject moves about in the frame. I have a secret passion for macro work, and once again, it is a delight to pursue because my subjects are in focus!
Tip: Turn your lights up as much a possible, crank your F-stop to the smallest aperture possible for proper exposure, and see that depth of field expand in your monitor.
The Wahoo HD stows away in a compact neoprene travel pouch. The charger and batteries are quite small, so no need to allocate significant space in your luggage. Backscatter recommends you travel with the monitor connected, stowed in the neoprene pouch and tucked behind the housing rear door. For most users this makes a lot of sense. For me, I carry my entire rig in a backpack, and disconnecting the monitory makes more sense. Since it takes less than 10 minutes for me to reinstall the bulkhead on location, I look at this as a non-issue.
- Solves framing issues for much better subject composition.
- Solves most focus issues with Focus Peaking feature.
- Ability to track focus means great macro work is again feasible.
- Better housing stability with heads up filming.
- More enjoyable filming experience, focus on creative aspects.
- Ability to also use magnifying external viewfinder to shoot stills and then use monitor for video!
- Buoyancy challenges as monitor is almost a pound negative.
- Some housing clutter with added monitor, cables, ball and clamp.
- Ergonomic challenges as Wahoo HD is relatively large relative to DSLR housing, creating increased drag and balance issues.
- Removable cable - so I can easily detach the monitor and stow it away.
- Longer enclosed monitor hood - to cut down interference from ambient light.
- Brighter monitor – 50% brighter Backlight would aid in bright ambient light (though this has also been an issue with all the other monitors I have used to date)
With both video and stills as a priority for me, the Wahoo HD is an essential component in my underwater kit. I honestly cannot imagine going back to shooting without it. Proper framing, creative scene composition in dynamic situations, and follow focus are all core to my work. The Wahoo HD solves these issues and raises the bar for DSLR underwater video. For me, the addition weight and ergonomics are well worth the sacrifice to capture professional images.
Shawn is a passionate cinematographer, scuba diver, and marine conservationist. An independent filmmaker and founder of Blue Sphere Media, a production company specializing in underwater, adventure and conservation films, he has acquired considerable first-hand knowledge of the oceans most important marine areas. He has worked with leading film and journalist teams including CNN”s Anderson Cooper, Yann Arthus Bertrand, and National Geographic and delivered projects for many of the top marine conservation organizations including WildAid, Shark Savers, Conservation International, The Nature Conservancy and Pew Environment Group. And teaming up with John Weller, the two are creating a global film series to raise awareness and support campaigns for marine conservation.
The Wahoo HD was purchased at a discounted price by the reviewer from Backscatter.
- HOUSING: $1299.00
- MONITOR: $ 499.99
- BATTERY: $ 69.99
The housing is available from Backscatter.
WAHOO CLM-V55 HOUSING.
- ORIGIN: Designed and manufactured in the USA.
- CONSTRUCTION: Aircraft grade anodized aluminum.
- DEPTH RATING: 450 feet / 137 meters.
- CONTROLS: All monitor functions accessible by smooth oversized controls designed for use with cold water diving gloves.
- BATTERY: Compatible with Sony NP-FM500 battery for a 3.6 hour burn time.
- MOUNTING INCLUDED: 1/4-20 and M6 threaded holes in three locations for maximum flexibility. Monitor Housing Removable Aluminum Shade Custom HDMI Cable Neoprene Travel Pouch.
- ADD-ONS: Housing Mounting Hardware.
SONY CLM-V55 MONITOR.
- SCREEN SIZE: 5 Inches.
- SCREEN TYPE: TFT LCD.
- VIEWING ANGLE: 90 degrees / 90 degrees.
- RESOLUTION: Super dense 1152K Dots / 800x 480 pixels.
- Auto switching.
- 1080 / 720 resolutions.
- 16:9 / 4:3 aspect ratios.
PAL / NTSC formats.
- 3.6 Hours with NP-FM500 Battery.
6 Hours with NP-QM71D Battery.
FOCUS PEAKING: Easy focus verification in black & white for maximum contrast with red highlights on sharp areas.
- Focus Peaking.
- Pixel Magnification.
- TV Safe Display Masks.
- Color-tone (Hue).
- Color Temperature.
- Built-in Speaker Volume.