Almost five years ago I was among the first to take the Canon 7D underwater using two different housings (an Aquatica on loan and my Nauticam) and posted a review of these two housings here on Wetpixel called:
With the release of the Canon 7D MkII and Nauticam NA-7DMKII housing late last year I decided it was time to upgrade from my well used Canon 7D/Nauticam NA-7D to the new arrivals from Canon and Nauticam. Once again finding myself amongst the first take this combination underwater I thought I’d follow up my earlier review with my thoughts on the latest versions. I received the new rig just in time to take on a trip to Ambon over the Christmas/New Year period and have now done 30 dives with the combination.
Canon 7D MkII
Rather than go into a pixel peeping, measurebating blow by blow review of the Canon 7D MkII (there are plenty of those out there on the web, eg here, here and here) I’ll just go through the features for underwater still photography (I don’t shoot video) that set it apart from the original 7D. For me there are three features that stand out, two relatively minor and one very important:
- Custom Shooting Mode Display – I use custom shooting modes extensively and after years of frustration with the Canon 20D, 40D, 50D and 7D having to peer through a tiny window in the top of the housing to determine which mode I was in, the7DMkII saves the day by clearly displaying what custom mode you are using on the rear LCD display.
- Image Review – All my four of my previous Canon dSLRs had the same controls for image review but the control setup for image review on the 7D MkII is very different. I found this a frustrating at first but after I got used to it I found that I liked the new arrangement. The excellent controls on the new Nauticam NA-7DMKII housing had a lot to do with this, but more on that later.
- Autofocus – The autofocus system on the 7D MkII is awesome, better than the original 7D (and it was the best in its class in its day) and in my opinion the best reason for upgrading to the 7D MkII. The 7D MkII’s autofocus system key features are:
- Versatile – More AF focus points than the original 7D (65 vs 19), more options for AF focus points in use (7 vs 5) and there is a menu for optimising the AF performance for any situation with five pages of options, the original 7D does not have this.
- Fast and Accurate – In use I found the 7D MkII’s AF system to be very fast and accurate. It grabs hold and tracks focus of fast and/or erratically moving critters easily. On critters such as ribbon eels moving all over the place quickly and banded sea kraits moving towards me quickly I was able to get most of my shots in focus, previous experience with the original 7D was the opposite with the majority of shots out of focus. I also found that focussing when shooting macro and super macro near minimum focus distance to be much easier with the 7D MkII than the original 7D.
- Low Light Performance – Fortunately for me the low light focus performance of the 7D MkII is outstanding. My focus light failed right at the start of our trip and would only put a very weak beam of light and ambient light levels were low on most dives due to heavy cloud and rain. However, the low light performance of the 7D MkII’s AF system was so good that the overall impression I came away with after the trip was that “if there is enough light for me to see something, the 7D MkII will be able to focus on it”. On one very dark dive site under a fleet of fishing boats tied together called The Twilight Zone there were some mandarin fish. All the other photographers were unable to get any decent in focus shots of them because it was too dark for their cameras to focus and when they turned their focus lights on the mandarin fish disappeared. I was able to reel off a series in focus shots with the 7D MkII just using the available ambient light.
All other things being equal (and they aren’t, the 7D MkII is a much better camera all around than the original 7D) it is worth upgrading to the 7D MkII just for the new AF system.
Nauticam NA-7DMKII Housing for Canon 7D MkII
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Since I started using my original 7D nearly five years ago I have watched with interest the improvements made in each new housing released by Nauticam since then. I’m happy to say that it appears that all these improvements and more have been incorporated into the new NA-7DMKII housing. Impressed as I was with the original NA-7D when I received it back in 2010 it had some shortcomings. I’m happy to report that apart from a couple of very minor quibbles the new NA-7DMKII housing is an exceptionally good housing with no real shortcomings.
The design, quality of manufacture and the finish of the NA-7DMKII is excellent.
A lot of thought has been put into minimising the weight of the housing, for example:
- Where the stainless braces from the housing to the top of the handles on earlier housings is a solid piece of metal, the same fitting on the NA-7DMKII has cut outs to reduce weight
- The port locking lever on the front of the housing is now made of plastic instead of metal as used on earlier housings; and
- Hollow control rods inside the housing have been drilled to remove metal to reduce weight.
The ergonomics of the housing and location of controls is excellent:
- Nearly all controls on the housing have been located so they can be easily operated without having to remove your hands from the handles
- The only two exceptions to this are the White Balance/Metering Pattern and AF Drive buttons. This is not a problem for me as I have rarely if ever used these buttons on the original NA-7D and the new NA-7DMKII housings. These functions are much more easily done without having to remove your hands from the handles by using the “Q” (Quick Control) button and Multicontroller.
- I’m more than happy to say goodbye to the three fiddly suitcase type latches on the original NA-7D housing (I believe this was the last Nauticam housing to use them). The new NA-7DMKII uses two very easily operated latches similar to what is used on Subal housings, I like them a lot.
Internal Flash Controls
I’m very happy to see a full set of controls on the NA-7DMKII housing to raise, lower and control the 7D-MkII’s internal flash. No more:
- Cursing after putting my rig together and realising that I didn’t raise the camera’s internal flash having to put the camera into Auto mode to raise the flash and then returning it to manual mode.
- Having to dive deep into the camera’s menu to disable the flash so I can shoot at faster shutter speeds faster than 1/250 for ambient light only shots and then having to go back into the menu when I want to enable the internal flash again.
The NA-7DMKII has one button on the left side of the housing to raise the flash. Once the flash is raised, another press of this button takes you straight into the flash control menu so you can easily change the flash from manual to ETTL, change from first to second curtain sync, change manual flash power, etc, etc. There is a second control on the top of the housing next to the on/off switch which lowers the flash and disables it to enable shooting at shutter speeds faster than 1/250.
Image Review Controls
As previously mentioned the image review controls on the 7D MkII have changed a lot from earlier Canon DX dSLRs. The controls on the NA-7DMKII housing to perform image review are excellent and made it very easy to adjust to the new (to me) method of image review, these controls are:
- A double side lever control at the top left hand side of the housing. Pushing the lower side of the lever enables/disables image review. Pushing the top half of the lever enables zooming/panning of the image and zooms in by about 100%. If already zoomed in returns the image to non-zoomed in size
- Once zooming in is enabled the amount of zoom is controlled using the Main (front) dial and panning around the zoomed in image is controlled using the Multicontroller which is located top right of the housing back directly under your thumb
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Controls on Right Hand Side of Housing
The controls on the right side of the housing are:
- Shutter Release – Although the shutter release on the original NA-7D housing was very good the same control on the NA-7DMKII is much better. Instead of being a direct lever onto the camera’s shutter button it is now put through a series of gears which reduces the travel of the internal lever contacting the camera’s shutter button in relation to the exterior lever. As a result the shutter release has much more feel and it is much easier to hold a half press when focussing and recomposing.
- Main (front) and Quick Control (rear) Dials – These are a huge improvement over those fitted to the original NA-7D housing. Located flat against the housing side and with a highly textured surface they are very easy and smooth to operate (even with gloves)
- ISO and M-Fn Lever – Although located on the top of the camera these controls have been combined into one double ended control lever on the right hand side of the housing just behind the shutter release. These controls are very easy to use, push on the lower half of the lever with your thumb and the ISO/Flash Exposure Compensation menu is activated. ISO is adjusted using the Main (front) dial and Flash Exposure Compensation using the Quick Control (rear) dial. . When changing AF point selection options, after pressing the AF Point Selection button on the back of the housing pressing on the upper half of the lever with your thumb cycles through the available options. When finished with either control press the Set button and it’s done. Couldn’t be easier and all without taking your hands off the handles
- AF-On and Start/Stop – Located on the same spindle with AF-On to the left away from the housing and Start/Stop closest to the housing. Both controls are directly under your thumb and very easy to access and use
Controls on Left Hand Side of Housing
Apart from the previously mentioned Image Review Lever and Raise Flash button the other controls on the left hand side of the housing are:
- Lens Release Button – Located centrally towards the front of the housing and allows changing lenses through the front port
- Zoom/Manual Focus Control – A large control with large lobes and a rubberised finished that is very easy to turn. It has a lever that moves it in and out of contact with the gear on the lens in use. This has a couple of benefits compared to the original NA-7D housing. Loading the camera with a lens fitted with a zoom/focus gear is much easier. With the gear on the control moved out of contact range it very easy to push the camera into position in the housing. On my old NA-7D housing this wasn’t possible as the gear was fixed and you had to jiggle the zoom/focus control to get the gears on the housing and lens to mesh properly as you pushed the camera in. The other big improvement with this arrangement is that the gear on this control is now spring loaded and when engaged with the gear on the lens imparts some sideways force onto the zoom/focus gear on the lens. This appears to improve the grip between the zoom/focus gear and the lens and feel of zooming or manually focussing is very much more positive in the NA-7DMKII than with the same lens and gear in the original NA-7D.
Controls on Top of Housing
Apart from the previously discussed White Balance/Metering Pattern and AF Drive buttons the other controls on top of the housing are:
- Movie/Live View Control – Located on the right hand side and easily accessed and operated using your right hand thumb without having to remove your hands from the handles
- On/Off Switch – Located on the left hand side and easily accessed and operated using your left hand thumb without having to remove your hands from the handles
- Mode Control Dial – Located on the left hand side and can be accessed and operated using your left hand thumb and forefinger without having to remove your hands from the handles. In their wisdom Canon decided to add a button to this control on the 7D MkII that has to be pushed in to turn it. Nauticam have added a spring loaded lever inside the NA-7DMKII housing that automatically keeps the button depressed at all times. When putting the camera into the housing sometimes this lever can also turn the dial as it engages with the button and the mode is changed from what was set, it is prudent to check what mode the camera is set to after assembling your rig. I don’t see this as a fault with the NA-7DMKII housing, if Canon hadn’t added the button to the dial (it was not on any of my previous Canon dSLRs) it wouldn’t be a problem.
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Controls on Top of Housing
Buttons on the left hand side are:
- Picture Style/Multiple Exposure/HDR
- Rate; and
All are easily accessed and operated using your left hand thumb.
Buttons on the right hand side are:
- * (AE Lock)
- AF Point Selection
- Q (Quck Control)
- Set (Piano key style button)
All are easily accessed and operated using your right hand thumb.
The Multicontroller is also located on the top right side of the back and is very easy to reach and operate with your left hand thumb. It is a huge improvement over the equivalent control on the original NA-7D which was located in the middle of the housing and couldn’t easily be reached without taking off your hand off the handle. It was partially blocked by the 180° magnifying viewfinder and the up button couldn’t be used. The Multicontroller on the NA-7DMKII is a dream to use in addition to moving up/down and left/right you can also control movement diagonally, makes moving your focus points around very easy. It also has a central button which returns whatever you are adjusting to the central position (great for returning you focus point back to the middle).
What didn’t I like about the NA-7DMKII? Not much, I have only a couple of very minor quibbles. Apart from the problem with the mode dial moving when putting the camera in the housing I mentioned above the only other issue I have is to do with changing out the CF memory card with the camera in the housing. On the original NA-7D housing the CF card could be easily changes without having to remove the camera from the housing. Because the NA-7DMKII has two memory card slots the CF card is now moved a few millimetres forward in the camera body to make room for the SD card. While the SD card is easily removed from the camera in the housing the CF card cannot be removed unless camera is unlocked and slid back a couple of millimetres.
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From reading a lot of reviews of the Canon 7D MkII it appears that it is aimed at a particular market niche, wildlife and sports photography. As such it may not be everyone’s cup of tea for general photography and video. For what I do with it, underwater still photography, it is an excellent camera mainly due to its auto focus system. I am very happy with it.
I’ve been using housed film and digital SLRs since 1984 and have used seven different housings (Canon Marine Capsule, 4 x Subal, 1 x Aquatica and 1 x Nauticam) before purchasing the Nauticam NA-7DMKII. It is without a doubt the best housing I’ve owned. Exceptionally well made and designed. The ergonomics are superb and it is a dream to use underwater.
A very special thanks to the Nauticam distributor in Australia, Peter Mooney from Scubapix. He moved heaven and earth to get the Nauticam NA-7DMKII to me after it was released to in time for me to take it on my trip to Ambon. It only made into my hands with a few hours to spare before I left on the trip.