Wetpixel D7000 housing review

Review: Aquatica AD7000 housing.

Aquatica released the AD7000 in March 2011, and in common with the other D7000 housings reviewed, it incorporates some significant design improvements over what Aquatica has done before. It also is the most highly featured housing reviewed thus far, as it is supplied complete with a hydrophone.

Aquatica has purchased significant new engineering machinery, and now has a 5 axis milling machine. This means that they can remove more metal and shape the housing better than they could before. This equates practically to significant size and weight losses. The official size and weight is:

The amount of extraneous metal the new engineering process can remove makes for a slimmer housing.

In addition, many of the precise fitting internal components are laser cut, which allows for shaping that conventional machining does not.

The look and feel of the housing are significantly affected by the use of the new engineering techniques. Everything has been slimmed down, giving it a robust yet compact feeling. Many of the review team commented on how good it felt in the hand, perhaps a tribute to this. The external finish is hard anodized and then powder coated giving a “rough” finish, that is also very tactile.

Great thought has gone into the ergonomics of this housing. Controls have been moved and adapted to mimic those on the camera, and to place them in positions that ensure that they fall to hand. These refinements have inevitably increased the complexity of the housing.

Multi selector, Live View, record and info buttons mimic positions on camera.

The view inside to achieve the button positions.

The sizes of the controls show Aquatica’s temperate origins. Buttons, levers and knobs are all over-sized and almost all accessible with gloves. Interestingly, the grips are of a hard material, that reviewers found to be less tactile than some of the other more rubberized grips in the review.

As mentioned in previous reviews, I feel that the right hand controls are the most critical ones and feature: Shutter release, aperture and shutter speed dials, EV lever and AE/F lock. The D7000 features (at least in mine and several others) a real hair-trigger shutter release. Getting it to focus without triggering the shutter on land can be awkward! The AD7000’s sensitivity was just sufficient to get it to focus, but it did take some concentration. The position of the front command dial was perfect, it was easy to keep one finger on the shutter, and adjust it. It is also a large knob with oversized grooves that worked really well with gloves. It is perfectly positioned so that even those with short fingers or small hands can reach it easily:

The shutter speed command dial position is a point of contention amongst the reviewers. Some found that they could rest their thumbs on it, and turn it by running their thumbs along it. Once again, it has large grooves in it, that allow for a good friction fit against a glove if required. I found that I didn’t have sufficient control when simply running my thumb against the knob, and ended up having to move my hand off of the grip in order to adjust shutter speed.

I find that I rarely adjust the EV underwater, and hence the easily accessible EV lever is not critical, but I do use the AE/F lever a great deal to recompose images. I thought that the position of the AE/F lever curled under the shutter speed knob, would render it useless for using with gloves on but was proved wrong. It works-just! I would like to see the lever extended a tad, to allow the glove to catch it. However, without gloves there was no problem at all.

Just above the shutter release is the on/off switch, and Aquatica has cleverly incorporated a menu item into this. As the housing lacks a window to view the top right screen, in order to view changes to the ISO, image quality, AF focus patterns, etc. it is necessary to use the info function, which displays this information on the LCD screen. Within the D7000’s menu is an option to have the information displayed if the backlight is activated, by rotating the on/off switch. The AD7000 features a lengthened on/off lever to take advantage of this.

The actual info button on the rear of the housing, together with the multi-selector and record buttons are all oversized and feature a concave top surface. This makes them really easy to access and use. These buttons activate the camera controls via the control arms pictured above. The alignment of these is critical for access to the camera’s functions, and on our test model, we did experience problems with them. Typically, the button would stick and then all button related functions would also cease. These issues have been raised in the forums, and Aquatica are addressing them with redesigned parts being supplied and fitted free of charge to affected housings.

The Live View lever also resides here. The viewer window is a good size, and allows for an almost full view of the LCD screen even with the Aquatica Aquaview viewfinder attached.

To the left of the screen are the 6 oversized buttons, with a large image review button. On the left hand side of the housing is the zoom/focus knob, again large, grooved and well placed, the focus mode button and focus selector switch.

As mentioned before, the focus mode button and focus selector are difficult controls (for the housing manufacturer) on this camera. Aquatica’s solution is very elegant, with a large push button and lever that can be easily accessed.

Above these are the camera mode and shooting mode selector dials, well served with the customary grooved knobs. The hydrophone also sits just forward. To the back is a lever that “pops” up the built-in camera flash, and also via some clever engineering, lowers it.

The camera has two fiber optic ports, one of which is adapted to accommodate type “L” cables. These performed reliably in both manual and sTTL mode with the Inon Z240 strobes. An electronic bulkhead can be fitted in place of the hydrophone if required. Strobe arms can only be attached to the top of the handles, there are no attachment points on the body of the housing. This proved to be another discussion point amongst the test team, with opinions varying as to whether this is acceptable or not. Personally, I prefer body mounted arms, as the arms do not flex as much, and it allows the strobes to be pulled very close to the port for close focus wide-angle or macro. If I am planning to shoot vertically oriented images of subjects that dwell close to the bottom, I will sometimes remove one handle to get a better angle, which is not possible if my strobes are attached to it.

I would also question the hydrophone on this housing. The other housings reviewed produced sound when recording video that was as good a quality as that produced by it, using the cameras own internal microphone only. The camera has a rubber shield over the microphone plug, that is very awkward to place if using the hydrophone and increases the risk of a flood is not done very carefully. The best I could come up with was to fold it back on itself:

I guess you could remove the shield completely although this would be to the detriment of the cameras weather sealing for topside use (or minor floods). My personal preference would be to remove the hydrophone and then blank the hole, or add an electronic flash bulkhead or a video out.

One lever is now used for locking/unlocking the port in place and also to disengage and move the pinion gear out-of-the-way to let the camera and lens (with its gear attached) slide out of the housing. Pushing down the external lever will engage the camera’s lens release button. This is a really neat piece of engineering, although the port lock never seemed to engage as firmly as I would have liked.

Aquatica has redesigned the camera saddle completely, and their new design saves significant amounts of space in the housing allowing the height of it to be lower as well as providing a very precise secure fit.

With the camera, Tokina 10-17mm lens, Aquatica 8” dome, extension and twin arms, the full rig just floated with four Stix buoyancy on each side in fresh water. With three per side, it sank. For perfect performance with this set-up, I would use three in salt water, and four in fresh.

The AD7000 represents a quantum leap in Aquatica housings. The ergonomics and design of it are very good, and the investment in engineering processes by Aquatica certainly show in it’s size and weight. Which controls are critical will vary from user to user, and there is no problem accessing any of them. The problems with control arm alignments and button function is, I think, a teething issue that is concurrent with some very radical design changes and improvements for the company. Aquatica has an enviable reputation for after-sales service, and I know are working hard to correct these issues where they have occurred.

Many thanks to Blake and Jean at Aquatica for supplying the housing and ports, and also the team at Cameras Underwater who, as Aquatica’s UK distributers, provided valuable logistics support with the testing.

The Aquatica AD7000 retails at $2,689.00.