A 7 day field test in OZ by a Photographer who is not an Aquatica employee, dealer, etc...........I'll apologize in advance for the long post.
This post is a little late due to a catastrophic PC crash (sorry Peter), however, I thought those considering the Aquatica Viewfinder might be interested in my experience with this much anticipated piece of gear.
My great thanks to Peter Mooney for his generous offer to take the now famous "production Prototype" (yellow cast) finder out to the Coral Sea for a week of intense shooting with my D200. Without his encouragement and support, I would never have had the opportunity to really shake this thing down before making a decision as to whether this gadget is really worth all the hype & price.
Before departing to lead a group trip for a week in the Coral Sea at the end of January, I stopped in to meet Peter as a fellow WetPixel member from Chicago. During that "dry" visit to Peter's shop in Cairns (well worth your time), I was able to get my hands a housing with the Finder to get a real feel for it. There is certainly a bit more protrusion behind the housing and that took a bit of getting used to. I was most interested in the amount of eye relief required to see the full frame, as well as the degree to which one's eye had to be centered in the finder.
I don't know about you, but it seems that a number of my images are a response to action and not always planned as well as I would like, and I was concerned that although magnified, I might still have framing issues. I actually found this finder to be fairly forgiving in that respect. But what really made me take notice, was that although I was initially making this judgement above water, Peter also happened to have another excellent housing made by a well known European company complete with their magnified finder with the same lens attached. So I actually had the incredible opportunity to handle them side by side many times over! My conclusion was that althouth both have a similar amount of protrusion, I felt that eye position was more forgiving with the Aquatica finder and didn't need to be centered to the same degree as the other brand and would still allow me to see the entire frame.
On a side note, it would be a nice touch to see a rubber covering on the rim of the eyepiece so that it is a bit more forgiving when it comes in contact with your mask as it sometimes will.
As for brightness, frankly even though the prototype had a slight yellow cast that the productions models won't have, I felt there was relatively little difference between the two from a practical standpoint when looking thru the same lens on both. In general, I wish they were both a bit brighter, but as I found while shooting underwater in many different conditions, the brightness of Aquatica finder served very well with no real complaints even with the yellow cast.
Another aspect that might go un-noticed unless you have the opportunity to work with more than one brand of finder, is the ease of removal & replacement. Understand that with a magnifed finder mounted on any brand housing, there is no way that you could travel with it attached to the housing. The ease of removal and replacement of the Aquatica finder was nothing short of stunning - don't blink! It was on and off in well under a minute witout the need for any special tools. Let's just say that it took a bit longer on the other brand and involved some tools & threads. Both seemed to result in a very sturdy and reliable attachment, but boy was the Aquatica easy to get ready to shoot and then get ready to travel!
When I finally got the opportunity to get the whole kit wet - it stayed wet! I used it on about 24 dives, and I can tell you that not only did it perform as well as I had hoped, but I feel that it's use actually improved my images. It took me about 2 dives to adjust myself to the ergonomics resulting from the additional protrusion, but from then on, framing required minimal effort & thought, and I found myself much more able to concentrate on capturing the image and not so much on camera to eye position.
One small obstacle that Peter helped me overcome, was that the D200 housing at the time mine was produced, had the "normal" size control knob for the metering selector. Since this knob is located just to the right and very close to the viewfinder opening, it was too tall to allow the Magnified finder to fit. Peter did some "creative maching" and reduced the height of the knob so that the finder popped on with no problem and had enough clearance to still operate the meter selector. My understanding is that this reduced height knob either now comes standard on the housing or is available as a replacement from Aquatica. Perhaps Blake or Jean can comment on this (as for my "custom machined" control knob, the salt has taken a bit of a toll since the finish was removed as well so maybe Blake can help me with a new and improved replacement).
While my experience is not a revelation to those of you who have already experienced shooting with a magnified finder. I must admit that I was skeptical based on the benefit vs. cost, but after this experience, I can tell you that if you own, or plan to purchase, an Aquatica housing - you must add this finder to your wish list. Blake and his team have done their homework and have created a high quality accessory with very practical features that performs extremely well in actual use where it counts - underwater! In fact, I believe that the availability of an Aquatica finder actuallly enhances the value of my current system as well as any future Aquatica systems I might own.
Like many of you, I have monitored these threads from the point in time that an Aquatica finder at a modest price was just a rumor. This is a great and welcomed product!
Peter - thanks again for the opportunity and your friendship, Jean - thanks for your posts and info along the way, and Blake - thanks for listening & making it happen!