Hi Wet Pixalians.
I've been lurking and learning for a while now. This is my first post concerning my experiences so far with the Aqautica A70 housing.
This is a pretty long story mainly due to some problems that I have had along the way. The short version for those who donâ€™t want to read the entire post is that in the end my Aquatica A70 housing works very well and I am happy with it. It was however not a smooth and easy process to get to this point.
The long story
After playing around with digital point and shoot cameras I was convinced that digital was the way to go for underwater photography. I was however unhappy with the performance of the P&S cameras that I had tried especially the shutter lag, poor auto focus in low light and the lack of exposure control and manual focus that I was used to on traditional 35mm cameras. Also the clear plastic housings were not rated deep enough for some of the dives that I wanted to do. After a bit of Internet research I decided that digital SLRs were the way to go and that the Nikon D70 in particular was the camera for me. I tried the D70 out in a local shop and was happy with how responsive it was. I bought it and started shooting above water to familiarize myself with the camera and to figure out what controls would be important to have available underwater.
I also made a list of what other criteria was important to me in a housing one of which was a depth rating of 300 FSW. This eliminated most housings on the market leaving only the Aquatica and the Sealux. I was quite interested in the Subal housing and contacted them about the possibility of using their housing deeper however their response was not encouraging. With about 5 weeks to go before my dive trip to Grand Cayman I decided on the Aquatica housing and ordered it along with the various ports and lens gears that I thought would be useful. When the housing arrived I gave it a careful examination and did not like some of what I saw. While the housing in general looked very solid one of the control glands wiggled when the control was used. Upon further examination it appeared that the gland was glued into the housing with something like silicon RTV which did not seem very solid to me. One of the other control buttons also did not work correctly and stuck part of the time. I emailed Aquatica with my concerns and they concured that what I described did not seem correct and agreed to send me a new housing. There was a delay and the second housing arrived on a Friday only 4 days before I was set to leave for Grand Cayman. I was eager to get in into the water on the weekend to insure that all was working before I left. The second housing was quite different from the first one. It was silver in colour instead of gold, the window for the mode control was larger and the control arm for the AE/AF Lock button was different. Upon inspecting the second housing however I found that it too had problems. The gears on the aperture control were misaligned and were skipping and the shutter release actually jammed the gears when in its rest position. While correcting these issues I noticed that the aperture control shaft had no retaining clip on it and that the control could be pulled right out of the housing. Yikes! Instant flood! I installed a retaining clip from the first housing and corrected a couple of other misaligned controls. Everything now seemed to work OK except for a slight stiffness when turning the aperture knob. Further examination showed that the retaining clip that I had installed on this shaft was catching on a lip on the inside of the housing. Short of filing this lip off there was no way to make the control work correctly. At this point I had serious misgivings about the housing and considered sending the whole works back. This left me in quite a bind as I needed a housing for my trip. I mulled over my options (not many!) all night and in the morning made a call to Cathy Churchâ€™s Photo Shop in Grand Cayman. I had previously written to her shop before I settled on the Aquatica housing asking for a quote on the Subal but had never received a response. Herb answered the telephone and confirmed that they did have the Subal housings in stock and gave me a price. The housing was a lot more expensive than the Aquatica and was not rated as deep but it was a better option than no housing at all. I then called Aquatica in Montreal not really expecting an answer on a Saturday and was surprised when Norma answered the telephone. I explained my problem to her and she offered to send out a new front half of the housing on Monday to replace the one from the second housing that I had. It would arrive on Tuesday the day before I left for my trip! I agreed to give it one last try. Norma also helped me to get the Inon strobes working with the housing. I had not been able to figure out how to make the focus light work as all of the instructions were in Japanese. I waited and to my relief the new front housing did arrive on Tuesday. I looked over the new front half very carefully and then paired it up with the existing back and everything looked OK. At this point I had no time left to try it out and just packed everything up for my trip. Worst case I could always buy the Subal in Cayman and send the Aquatica back when I returned home if I had problems.
Everything arrived safely in Grand Cayman and I was looking forward to diving. I didnâ€™t get to try diving the housing empty to check for leaks for a couple of days as a brewing storm made the surf entry from the shore quite a challenge. Once the storm had moved on leaving the ocean calm I grabbed the housing and hit the water. After a nice 2 hour dive down to 140â€™ I surfaced with a dry housing. Yay! I also talked to the resident photographer who was using same housing and to Curt Bowen who had a few Aquatica housings and was reassured that they both liked their housings and had had no problems with them. Curtâ€™s housing had even been considerably deeper than the rated depth. I loaded up my camera and took it for a dive. No problems and great pictures. I dove with the camera every day for the nine days and had no problems at all. The controls worked well, I got some great shots and in the end I am happy with the housing. I would hope that my experience is not typical and indeed the other Aquatica owners on the trip had had no problems with their housings. Aquatica was quick to respond to my problems and Norma in particular was quite helpful. Would I recommend the housing to someone else at this point? I would with the caveat that you buy it from a reputable dealer and that you give the housing a thorough examination before you purchase it. Iâ€™m back home now in BC and will be trying out the housing in cold water with dry gloves. Iâ€™ll let you know how it goes.