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JoshW

Housing for technical diving

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Hi all. I'm putting together another setup since I'm approaching depths where my ikelite housing wouldn't be suitable. I have been a big fan of the 5d series on land and thinking about going that route with the mkIV, but the new Nikon D850 looks interesting. Regardless, I've been researching housings from most of the big manufactures. Aquatica is a strong contender, but also considering Nauticam and Subal. I'm on a rebreather typically, rarely open circuit. Given the more demanding environment, i.e., the amount of gear I'm carrying, of this type of diving I am wondering if anyone has any experience with latches being bumped open, buttons being pushed off-center, dome ports coming lose, etc. on any of their housings. I'm thinking entry, descent, and ascent/deco would be my primary concern when the camera is most likely to be stowed. A couple of the latch designs I have seen appear to be easy to bump open even with the safety button. Experiences or thoughts greatly appreciated.

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Hi Josh,

I am technical diver as well. Maximum depth 103m/340ft and max penetration 860m/half-a-mile. My comments apply to Aquatica and Nauticam.

 

Having serviced a number of housings, there has been only one single occurance of the Aquatica metallic latch opening unintentionally. The plastic Aquatica(Amphibico) latch with a rotating motion does not have that risk. The Nauticam latches with a red button and a lever are quite unlikely to open unintentionally since this would require simultaneous action on both. However, the risk of unintentional latch opening can be mitigated by a vacuum system that holds the housing halves together even with the latches completely open. Depending on model, the vacuum valve does protrude a bit and you might consider if this would increase risk of line entanglement or not - really depends on the entire configuration.

 

For the ports, I advise using port lock mechanisms available from both vendors.

 

Considering toughness of housing, the Aquatica models are a bit tougher. This can be seen on the metallic pushbuttons, trigger and various levers. The same applies to the handles and connection points of 1" ball arms. Please note that the larger controls have also a benefit when operated with thick gloves. I have heard that some cave divers prefer Aquatica for cave diving, but, likewise I know many cave divers using Nauticam.

 

Perhaps the most important question is where to store the housing if you have to use both hands, e.g. gas switches during descent/ascent or pull-and-glide in strong currents. You definitely will want to protect the dome with a neoprene cover. I keep mine attached to a very short (5 cm) double loop bungee attached to the right handle plus a clip on the bungee. If needed, I clip the housing to my right D-ring. If the housing is neutral or just positive, it will float nicely under your right arm pit. Another choice would be to clip to your butt D-ring unless you have stage tanks clipped to same place. If the neoprene cover does come off, you'll easily end up with scratches on your dome. You might want practice clipping off your long hose on the same D-ring and emergency deployment of the long hose.

 

Please note that some of the domes, especially some glass domes, might have maximum depth of 40m/120ft only.

 

Finally, there is the question of lights. If you shoot stills and use strobes, you obviously will have light arms which will create additional questions of stowage and how to manage any squeezes. Alternatively, you could request your team to hold off-camera video lights for you. You'll need knowledgeable team members for this and some planning as well.

 

Richard

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I'm diving a rebreather, and now frequently use it with a scooter. My 'go to' rig is an Canon G16 in an Ikelite TTL housing with DS51 strobe and Sola 1200 as focus/video light.

 

My rig has been to 170ft (MV Gulfstream near Lund, B.C. Canada) and the buttons certainly "stuck" at that depth. I was told to remove the rubber button ends when going deep, but I've yet to try it. So far the camera has worked very well down to 120ft with no issues at all on several dives.

 

I also have a Canon 7D in a Nauticam housing, but have not yet taken it out with the rebreather. I find that I'm just that much too task loaded with the RB to want such a big camera rig yet. I know I could do it, but not yet. I much prefer the G16 as I can clip it off if I need to attend to something with the rebreather.

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Hi Richard,

 

Thanks for the thorough response. There is a lot of good information there. I had looked at the latches on Subal and had concerns about the safety button being located on the latch itself, probably not normally an issue with most divers but with all our could be a different story. It seems the Aquatica or Nauticam would work well. The vacuum helping mitigate an accidental flood makes sense. My current setup doesn't have this so I don't have any experience with this yet. My new setup will. I think the whole system is an entanglement hazard; arms, strobes, vacuum valves, etc. I do a lot of wreck diving and come across line and nets at times. I'll just have to treat the camera as I would anything else and heed caution.

 

Stowing is always the challenge. My current system is pretty small (Canon SL1 in an Ikelite housing dual Ikelite strobes) and tucks away easily. I have been diving a rebreather a little over a year but till consider myself new and always learning, so I have only had my camera out on 6 or 7 dives. I wear any bailout on my left so this frees up my right side. I was able to rig the camera like a bailout/stage bottle and this worked well. I plan to do something similar with the new system and see how it works. I will have strobes but will just have to play with it. I'll be introducing the camera and shooting slowly to keep task loading down as much as possible until I find a good rhythm. Thanks for the info on the domes, I hadn't thought of that until I looked. The bigger glass domes are depth limiting; luckily I was most interested in the 4" mini dome for traveling purposes for now and it is rated at 100m. Thank you again!

 

Josh

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I'm diving a rebreather, and now frequently use it with a scooter. My 'go to' rig is an Canon G16 in an Ikelite TTL housing with DS51 strobe and Sola 1200 as focus/video light.

 

My rig has been to 170ft (MV Gulfstream near Lund, B.C. Canada) and the buttons certainly "stuck" at that depth. I was told to remove the rubber button ends when going deep, but I've yet to try it. So far the camera has worked very well down to 120ft with no issues at all on several dives.

 

I also have a Canon 7D in a Nauticam housing, but have not yet taken it out with the rebreather. I find that I'm just that much too task loaded with the RB to want such a big camera rig yet. I know I could do it, but not yet. I much prefer the G16 as I can clip it off if I need to attend to something with the rebreather.

The G series are great cameras. I still have my G11 and G12 and housings, although I haven't had them out in several years. I'm taking it slow too; I've had my current, albeit small, DSLR out a handful of times and it does add to the task loading. I don't want to risk my current camera and would just prefer to get an appropriate depth rated housing. The MV Gulfstream looks like an interesting wreck. If I'm ever out that way I will have to check it out.

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I think the Gulfstream is one of my two favorite wrecks, the other being the Capilano which is nearby (120ft to the sand). The Gulfstream is just 50 ft off of Dinner rock, so it seems as if you are too close to be on a wreck, but the stern is 120ft down a sheer wall. It's on a steep slope so the bow is 170ft. It's quite broken open, but the keel and hull is still very clear. Huge lingcod inhabit it, so a photographer's delight. The Capilano is mid-channel, and teems with huge rock cod and lingcod.

 

When you come up from deco on the Gulfstream, you head up and to the right, which becomes a stepped wall full of fish to photograph. It's also nice as your deco happens on the various ledges of fish, so you end up watching and taking photos and don't even notice the deco time! It sure beats hanging off a line at 20ft! ;-)

 

The only problem I had with my G16 in Ikelite housing was when I tried to switch from taking photos to video. Pushing that button caused it to 'jam' in that the button would not then release and so the camera was unusable until I got back to about 100ft. Then it all freed up just fine. Looking inside after the Ikelite person said to remove the little rubber 'feet' off the button ends inside the camera you could see how they add just enough to make the camera jam under that kind of pressure.

 

I have not had my Nauticam deep, but everything I read about them says they can handle the pressure OK. The way most buttons work is quite different (levers mostly), so maybe that works better. I did have some stuck buttons on the Nauticam in 60ft on early dives, but it turned out it was operator error loading the camera. You must really pay attention to ensure that everything is aligned and working perfectly before you close up the housing. Once I did that, I've had zero issues with the Nauticam, although I haven't had it deeper than 60 ft. The only reason for that is because my go-to macro dive happens to be on a 60ft wall plus tons of life under the wharf at the dive's end. (otters, dogfish, grunt sculpins, etc.)

 

If I return to the Gulfstream soon (it's a boat dive with about a 30min travel time), I'll probably take the Nauticam as it's not a scooter dive.

 

The other key is to do lots of 'minor' dives where you get used to the equipment, be it scooter or camera or both. We've got a nice long dive on four sunken dry docks thats a shore dive, max 60ft deep, but quite long and so the scooter is nice. I take the G16 clipped to my right side using an under-the-counterlung d-ring (my HID stows there as well). My bailout is staged on the left side in sidemount rigging, which makes for nicer swimming and scootering. The bailout and clipped camera do slow me down compared to my open circuit buddy on small doubles, but not too much.

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I'm diving with a rebreather too and I only shoot video.

For the amount of gear I'm carrying, years ago I opted for a M43 setup, far more compact than a full DSLR one.

IMHO for tech diving, 99% of the times it means "no scooter? no party!" hence I have my housing fixed on the scooter nose with a dedicated plate.

I understand that for photography it's not the best configuration but my buddy Marco Bartolomucci is an avid UW photographer and he prefer going down like me. He brings his housing "by hand" only on rare less demanding dives. You can see him photographing a sponge with the camera fixed on the scooter 70m deep in this video at 2:20

 

 

You can see here the photo taken in that exact moment: https://photos.app.goo.gl/x4Qx0c2bDwyqeydC2

 

I think this setup is a good compromise for tech diving. Of course I know guys who prefer clipping housing and strobes on right d-ring.

 

Said that. I have a Panasonic GH3 in a Nauticam housing plus two Luna 8 CRI lights and I brought them several times at 100/110m (360ft).

As R4E pointed out, be careful with domes. Most of the times thay are the Achilles heel. My housing is rated 100m but the 6" dome is rated 60m or 75m (I don't remember) nevertheless I was much deeper a lot of time. (Lucky me).

 

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