Wetpixel D7000 housing review

Review: Sea & Sea MDX-D7000 housing.

Sea & Sea announced their MDX-D7000 housing in mid-January, with US availability from March. In common with the other models in the MDX series, it is CNC machined from a single block of aluminum, and then black anodized for corrosion protection. Like the other D7000 housings reviewed thus far, the MDX-D7000 is compact and relatively lightweight.

MDX-D7000 during the review. (Thanks to David Kneale for the image)

The “crucial” controls on the housing’s left hand side are laid out with the main command dial (normally for aperture) on lower front and shutter release lever above. Both are a good size, and the shutter release is sensitive enough to cope with the D7000’s tweaky shutter release button. None of the reviewers had any issue getting autofocus (AF) to work without actually triggering the shutter release.

Behind these, is the lever controlling the AF/AE lock. Uniquely in the housings reviewed thus far, this is activated by pushing up rather than down or forward. This took a little getting used to, but was simple enough to use. Once again, the lever is large, and has moulded ribs to help maintain contact with it.

The AF/AE lever is activated by pushing it up.

A further red lever sits behind the AE/AF one, again to be controlled by the user’s thumb. This activates the video record function on/off in Live View mode.

The sub command dial (normally used for shutter speed) sits on the rear on the housing, and is somewhat inset into the body of the housings. I have average sized hands, and found that I could not get my fingers on to aperture dial, shutter release and shutter speed dials at the same time, in fact, I could not get my fingers on to the shutter speed control without lifting my fingers right off of the shutter release and aperture dials.

My thumb will not reach the shutter speed dial with my fingers on the shutter release.

If I shift my fingers off the shutter release and onto the grip, I can reach the shutter speed dial.

The grips are excellent, moulded and very tactile, but the clearance between the grip and controls is very tight; less than 1” (25mm). This means that people with large hands, or those who normally wear thick gloves, may find that their fingers do not fit. The grips can have T plates attached to them.

The rear of the housing, on the left hand side, has a small rotary lever for activating Live View mode and a large protruding button to activate the info button. the latter is an important control, as to view many setting adjustments while the camera is in the housing, the user needs to access the info panel on the LCD screen. This is due to the MDX-D7000, in common with all the other metal housing reviewed thus far, not having a window for the camera’s control panel screen.

Prominent info button.

The MDX-D7000 features a coated LCD window to minimize reflection, and reviewers remarked that it did indeed seem clearer, especially in bright sunlight. On the left hand side of the screen are the multi selector buttons. These were seen by all the reviewers as a weak point on this housing. They are very small and close together, and are difficult to activate even bare-handed.

Activating the multi selector buttons with gloves on presents a challenge.

The review housing was supplied with the standard 0.5 x optical viewfinder, which was clear and sharp. Sea & Sea can supply 0.66 x and 0.8 x viewfinders to order, and the housing is compatible with their VF45 angled viewfinder.

The right hand side buttons are set onto a gently curved edge, that makes for a very ergonomic feel to the controls. These buttons are larger and better spaced than those of the multi selector, and together with the good ergonomics, were found to be easy to use and well-placed.

Sea and Sea has opted to use a lever to control ISO settings. If used in conjunction with the “f7 Release Button to use Dial” setting, this can be used very effectively to alter the exposure whilst shooting video. Of course, one of the key advantages of the D7000 over previous Nikon models is its high ISO performance, so I guess it makes sense to capitalize on this by providing an oversized control.

The D7000’s awkward AF mode button and focus mode selector are neatly dealt with by a somewhat small (but well grooved) rotary knob for the focus mode, and a well sized and placed push button for the AF mode.

The zoom/focus knob is also well placed and sized. Once again though, the clearance between the grip and the knob is fairly tight.

Moving up the camera, what is interesting on the MDX-7000 is what isn’t there. The housing does not provide for the camera’s internal flash to be either raised or lowered. Essentially, the camera must be loaded with the flash up. It’s output can be disabled via menu functions, but there are no external controls to do so on the housing. Similarly, there is a control for the mode dial, but none for the release mode dial. Whilst it is arguable that these are not essential controls, are seldom used and some can be accessed via menu functions, the review team found that there were occasions when they wanted to switch the built-in flash off mid dive, and were unable to do so.

The housing is supplied with two fiber optic cable sockets, with rubber grommets that allow the use of type L fiber optic strobe cables. This solution works well although if you catch the cables, they do tend to pull out quite easily.

Supplied rubber grommets on type L fiber optic cables.

The system supplied reliable TTL triggering with Inon Z240 strobes in sTTL mode, as well as manual control via manual mode. There is an option to add a 5 pin Nikonos sync cord connector via an accessory port on the left hand side if required.

The housings closes with an interesting combination of a hinge hook on the top of the camera and two metal camming latches on the sides near the bottom. This is much easier to use than any system with three camming latches. In addition, the top “hinge hook” also has a cold-shoe attachment point for adding a focus light or strobe

The on/off switch is mounted on the right hand upper surface, in close proximity to two buttons that control the EV setting and the metering mode. Once again, these are quite small, and the two buttons are very close to the on/off switch.

Internally, the MDX-D7000 has a very simple and clean layout. The majority of controls seem to be routed directly to the camera’s. Whilst this may make some of the housing’s ergonomics less than ideal, it is a great way to ensure reliable function. During testing, every control on this housing worked every time it was activated. Whether this simplicity will, in turn, promote longevity remains to be seen, but it would seem likely.

Internal shot of rear door showing simple, clean control routing.

The housing is equipped with a port lock, which sits under the camera saddle tray, internally in the camera. It consists of a simple sharp plate that pushes forward to engage into an internal hole in the port or port extension. Whilst this is neat and effective, it does mean that the housing must be opened in order to change ports. In addition, there is no external lens release ability, so the housing has to be opened, and the camera removed, in order to switch lenses.

The MDX-D7000 has the following sizes and weights:

In use the MDX-D7000 proved to be a very light and nimble housing. It only needed a total of four of the excellent STIX buoyancy arm segments to be neutrally buoyant in fresh water with the Sea & Sea 8” acrylic dome and extension for the Tokina 10-17mm lens. The housing does feel very good in the water, and all the reviewers valued its responsive feel. Although it does not have some of the controls that other housings do, we did not find that the ones not represented were a major drawback, although it should be stated that this would certainly change in an environment with fast swimming pelagics for example. Despite excellent feel and response from all the controls, the size of and limited access to some of the controls may well limit this housing’s popularity with cold water or large handed shooters, and some control placements may limit its functionality even for those with small hands.

The MDX-D7000 has a suggested retail price of $3,100, with most stores listing a price of $2,999,95.

The review housing was kindly loaned by Andy Salmon of Sea & Sea USA.