Subal housings have always remind me of German-built luxury cars. You know that when you close the door of a Mercedes, it will shut with a reassuring “thunk”. Similarly, you know that when you pick up a Subal housing it will have a reassuring solid feeling and the pieces will just fit together seamlessly.
When I was enlisting manufacturers support for this review at DEMA in 2010, Subal were amongst the first to pledge their support. The company restructured in early 2011, and this lost valuable prototyping and production time which in turn delayed the release of the ND7000 until it started trickling out of the factory in June/July. Wetpixel was fortunate to have had an early review of the new housing written by Andrej Belic in June. Our review housing finally arrived in early September, and will be the last housing to be tested in this review series.
Once again, the D7000 seems to have provoked innovations in design. The ND7000 is the first Subal housing to be equipped with fiber optic triggering of strobes as standard, with electric triggering only available as an additional option. The housing is equipped with a port lock (although the review housing was not due to it having Type 3 port rings). Lastly, Subal has apparently developed a new viewfinder with a 30° prism specifically for viewing video on the LCD screen.
The ND7000 is a small, compact and light housing with a simple clean design. The design is very recognizable as a Subal housing. One of the review team commented on the way that the standard Subal grey color with its black buttons, dials and levers makes the controls very obvious. It is perhaps ironic that it is with this housing that Subal has started offering different color choices. The small body of the D7000, together with the large number of controls it has, presents a dilemma for all housing designers. It is difficult to get all the controls on the housing without cramping access to them. This further complicated by a consumer demand for small and lightweight housings. Subal have faithfully reproduced all the camera controls (with the exception of the fn button), but this does come at the expense of some of the control pathways being a little tight to get at.
Subal have added several ports for an additional bulkheads onto the housing. These can be used for electronic flash triggering, a hydrophone, remote release or other customizations.
In addition, the new port lock is normally situated below the command dial knob. As I mentioned above, the review housing was equipped with a Type 3 port ring (as my ports are all Type 3) and I understand that the port lock is only available for Type 4 ports currently. Hence I was not able to review this feature.
On the right hand side of the housing, are the three crucial exposure controls. The ergonomics on these is very good, with access to shutter release, aperture control and shutter speed control all controllable simultaneously with one hand without lifting the hand from the handle. In practice this allows the photographer to control exposure without lifting his or her eye from the viewfinder. We experimented with people with small hands, and found that they were still able to manipulate all three. Similarly, the controls were accessible whilst wearing thick dry gloves as well.
Also on the housing’s right, is the AE/AF lock lever. As discussed in previous reviews, I use this control quite a lot, and although the position on this housing is good, the lever itself has been rounded off and tapered with a flush fitting against the side of the housing. This is aesthetically pleasing, but I found it hard to get a good purchase on, especially with dry gloves on. With bare hands, the lever was fine, and in fact was very tactile, so perhaps the designers have leaned towards this as an intended usage for this housing.
Moving further back, a similar tapered and rounded lever activates the video on/off. As above, the review team had reservations about these levers when used with gloves. Moving onto the back of the housing and from right to left, the housing has a lever that control the Live View activation. This was the only control with which the review team had any specific problem, in that it seemed somewhat prone to sticking, however the position actually makes the lever design work well, despite the fact that it is the same type as the AF and Record levers above.
The five buttons that are used to control the multi selector switch are quite small and close together. Subal has cleverly used different height buttons to give some tactile feedback, which improves the function somewhat, but all the reviewers voiced concerns about their size and closeness.
The info button, situated below is easy to access. The Subal, unlike all the other aluminum housings reviewed so far, has a window to allow the user to view the control panel LCD and this means that the info button is less critical for setting up ISO, white balance and image quality for example.
Subal have managed to provide a generous LCD screen, which allows for a complete view with the standard viewfinder. Magnifying viewfinders (both 180° and 45°) will compromise this view somewhat by virtue of their bulk, as they do on all the housings reviewed this far. Subal has announced an additional unique viewfinder option, dedicated to Live View and hence video use. This will incorporate a prism that will tilt the viewing angle of the LCD by 30°, making for easier review and framing of video footage. This option was not supplied for review, but when released, it is likely to make this housing a very good choice for video use.
The left hand buttons control image review, delete, menu, white balance, ISO and image quality. These are all accessed via buttons, rather than the lever/button combinations in vogue with other manufacturers. The spacing on these controls seems adequate.
Moving around onto the housing’s left hand side, the housing features a large and easily controlled zoom knob, with the standard AF/MF lever to engage or disengage the gear. It also has a lever for the AF Focus Mode, and in the lever pivot, a button for AF mode. These controls are difficult from a housing design point of view, as they are small, fiddly and very close together. Subal’s solution is very elegant, but we found somewhat awkward to use. The general criticism of the lever shape used is certainly true in this case, and I found it awkward to feel the position of the Focus mode lever.
Also on the left hand side are a further two ports for additional bulkheads. On the front of the housing, on its left hand side is a lens release control.
Moving on to the top of the housing, but staying with the left hand side, Subal have used some very clever ergonomics to create space in what amounts to a very cluttered control area on the camera. The Mode Dial and release mode dial controls are of different lengths, which allows access to them despite them being quite close together. The key flash control button has plenty of space around it too, as does the bracketing one. Subal has also left in their window to allow the user to visually view which mode the camera is shooting in.
On the right hand side top, is the control that depresses the pop-up flash. Whilst the mechanics of this control work well, once again, the reviewers found that the lever design is awkward to operate.
The other controls include the On/Off switch, metering area selector and EV adjustment. The latter two are quite small, but have enough space around them to be functional. Lastly on this side, the housing has a visual leak alarm light and a large and easy to read control panel window.
The housing accepts type L fiber optic cables. The grommets used to attach these are pure engineering genius. Comprising a machined nylon plug with an o ring to hold it in the port, the cable is locked into place using a tiny Allen grub screw, threaded into the nylon. In order to prevent the cable from being damaged by the screw, Subal even supply a metal foil sleeve to distribute the pressure onto the cable. Amazing attention to detail.
Strobe arms may be attached to the two T plates on the housing, and there is an additional screw-in attachment point in the center of the housing.
The housing is supplied with the standard Subal had strap on the right hand handle. This simple device is an amazing enhancement to control. It seems amazing that it isn’t more widely copied! Subal has used their standard hard and somewhat narrow handles. Comment from reviewers was that others’ were more tactile and comfortable.
Internally, the housing’s mechanics are typically Subal. Clean, neat and with a minimum of unnecessary complications. The camera is held on a fairly standard saddle, which slides onto two positioning rails. When inserting the camera, particularly with “fat” lenses, it is critical to disengage the manual focus gear, ensure that the lens release lever is swiveled out of the way and the MF/AF selector is pushed outwards. In time this does become fairly automatic but it is a somewhat complicated process.
In use, all the reviewers particularly appreciated the additional windows that allow viewing of the control panel LCD. The ability to access the information on his without using the info button is a significant advantage underwater.
By contrast, although the window on the shooting mode dial is nice to have, it is certainly less critical. The shutter release is adequate for sensitivity, and the camera can be focused without releasing the shutter, but this is hard to do with thick gloves on. It is important to bear in mind that this is a common theme with the D7000, and is largely to do with a very sensitive shutter release on the camera itself.
Subal’s decision to house all the camera controls on buttons or levers that are effectively directly on the housing, rather than off-board levers as used by most of the other manufacturers has two effects. Firstly, it adds to the compact and clean lines of the housing, which in ideal conditions will enhance productivity. Secondly, it forces the controls closer together, and to some extent complicates access to them. Please notice that this is not a complicated housing by any criteria, however this very simplicity can make some controls somewhat awkward to access.
Despite this, Subal have, in my opinion, ensured clean and very ergonomic access to key exposure controls, and the (for me) crucial ability to control exposure without lifting your head from the viewfinder is only matched by one other housing reviewed thus far.
As a previous Subal owner, I was able to use my ports and zoom/focus rings with the review housing. However, it is important to be aware that the full picture is not quite so simple. I tried to use my Sigma 12-24mm rectilinear lens with its Subal zoom ring (which is really a legacy product now), and the teeth did not mesh with the control. I sound this caution as this would be a real problem if I was out on the boat planning to shoot and it had occurred.
The housing with an 8” Subal port and two Inon Z240 strobes is very slightly positive with 8 Stix buoyancy segments in fresh water. In salt water, 6 would be ideal. In common with many housings, it tended to float port up, so may need trimming off for extended video use.
- Width: 245mm (9.6”).
- Height: 180mm (7.1”).
- Depth: 145mm (5.7”).
- Weight: 2.2kg (4.4lbs)
On reflection, I think this is a very clever housing. It is immediately recognizable as a Subal, both by look and feel and previous Subal owners will find adapting to it painless. It does incorporates some important updates that had been requested, namely fiber optic triggering and a port lock but by providing multiple additional bulkheads, does not alienate Subal’s tradition market that wants electronic flash triggering.
The Subal ND7000 carries a price tag of $4800, so is significantly more expensive than the other housings reviewed.
The ND7000 housing for the review was loaned by Subal. Many thanks to Rolf Sempert for making this happen, and for Cameras Underwater for assisting with logistics. The strobes used were once again supplied by Inon.