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Chris Wilson

Housing brand confusion

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Hi all,

I'm new to underwater photography, despite being a diver of many years. I did a week this year with a TG6 in a housing and really enjoyed it, so I thought I'd upgrade to something mid-range to learn more on.

In doing this I'm trying to understand housings. It seems to me that most of the second hand housings available (I'm in the UK) are Nauticam, but despite being heavily discounted, they're still often more expensive than a new Ikelite housing - and definitely so when you consider adding in the dome that they don't usually come with.

Is there a reason for all this, like do Ikelite housings not last well enough to sell on, or are they poor quality so no-one buys them, or do Nauticam owners always want the latest and greatest, or is there something else I'm not understanding in this world?

Many thanks for your help with what I'm sure will be the first of many very basic questions!

Chris

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There's a few differences between the brands, first Ikelite is a plastic housing and while completely usable some housings may not allow you to access all controls.  Typically many of the the controls are directly above the camera buttons so may not be so ergonomic. 

Ikelite ports are polycarbonate only and the largest available is 8" , they are not always fully optimised to the lens with the right extensions.  They will still work of course but the placement may mean a little more chromatic abberation and distortion compared to a perfect fit dome/extension.  They don't generally provide ports that will allow full use of optics like the WWL as the flat ports may not be the right length to allow them to work as designed.  You need to read the fine print for some cameras as not all camera lens combination support zoom gears.  In some cases particularly for smaller cameras the range of ports is more limited with 6" being the biggest offered and the zoom control is only on the port.   The depth limit is generally 60m.  Vacuum check system is an add-on with only manual checks of vacuum level.

The housings are often larger physically than custom aluminium housings as they have only a few sizes of housings and they leave space to allow them to be manufactured into different models, as a result they can be positively buoyant.  They do not support fibre optics for strobe triggering in general, however their TTL option is well regarded.   If these compromises are acceptable the housings work perfectly well and are rugged enough. 

Nauticam on the other hand will generally optimise control layout so you can access key functions without taking your hands off the tray handles, are custom machined for each model.  They are setup to allow back button (thumb) auto focus which is quite useful underwater.  Most models will support both fibre optic and electrical flash triggering.  They optimise each lens they support and have domes from 4" fisheye domes all the way to 230/250mm domes.  They allow seamless use of wet lenses like the WWL with the exact port required offered for each supported lens.  As they are aluminium and custom fitted they tend to be more compact and negatively buoyant.  They are generally rated to 100m depth.   The vacuum system is fully integrated with electronic pressure monitoring and loss of vacuum alarm.  Much of this will also apply to other aluminium housings from other makers. 

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It's three things I'd say

  • Aluminium is more expensive than PVC (or other thermoplastics)
  • There is more engineering in Nauticam housings and as such, they can charge more for R&D
  • There is an excellent Nauticam dealer in the UK with whom customers (myself included) have been very happy with

Alex

Edited by waterpixel
Chris beat me to it with his more detailed answer! :)
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Hi Chris and Alex,

Thanks for the really helpful replies. I guess my thinking is that I should go for Ikelite (unless I see a really really good second hand deal on Nauticam) due to the fact that I'm only starting out in underwater photography and I don't know if I'll stick at it, or what sort of direction I'll take it in. If in a year or two I feel I'm outgrowing the choices I make at this point then I think I'll be able to at least make some money back selling whatever I buy and buying something more appropriate.

I'll heed the advice about checking out the zoom gears etc and make sure I get something that I think I can work with for what I want to do for now though.

Many thanks!

Chris

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Hey Chris

Just to add to the excellent advice from Chris and Alex:

Before you squeeze the trigger on a new Ikelite housing, it might be worth comparing what a new one costs to buy and what, approximately they sell for (if you've not done this already).

Selling housings is a bit like selling a new car: a huge drop the second it comes off the dealer's forecourt. After a couple of years use you might get 40% of the original cost. This could possibly make a second hand (say, Nauticam) buy seem a better proposition.

You're right, you need to add the additional costs of port(s) for the lens plus strobes, arms, clamps and all the other myriad bits n' bobs. The strobes, arms and clamps can generally be recycled from one system to another so tend to be the better investment part of the package. 

As we often suggest, it's always a good idea to price out the whole system. That should also give you a better idea of whether a new Ikelite or a second-hand aluminium housing could be the way to go.

Good luck with it all - and by all means come back if you have more questions.

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Thanks Tim!

My reading is that the Ikelite housing new is generally less than the second hand Nauticam for the cameras I'm looking at (micro 4/3 and similar). I'll take a deeper look at it though before I make a final call.

Cheers,

Chris

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6 hours ago, ChrisRoss said:

The housings are often larger physically than custom aluminium housings as they have only a few sizes of housings and they leave space to allow them to be manufactured into different models, as a result they can be positively buoyant. 

I am not an Ikelite user but have a question related to part of Chris's response above (note I agree with much of his response).  Small, negatively buoyant housings get a lot of positive press for this characteristic. Can someone explain why this is? The strobes, bracket, and arms are all negative so it seems unlikely that a system with strobes will be positive. Even with my present polycarbonate system, my 'float arms' to achieve a near neutral buoyancy are much more un-ergonomic (in and out of the water) than a slightly larger housing. If a system does end up with a positive buoyancy, it seems to me that adding a few lead weights would be much easier and ergonomic than adding a bunch of floats.

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Hi rwe

It can be a right pain if a housing is positively buoyant and trying to head to the surface constantly. The Ikelites usually have more empty air spaces in them - certainly compared to aluminium housings - making them more buoyant.

In contrast, slight (slight!) negative buoyancy is usually easier to manage. If you let go of the system it is usually slightly easier to retrieve if it is drifting very gently downwards rather than heading to the surface. Provided of course you are not on a wall dive - hence saying SLIGHT negative buoyancy. 

Yep, arms - and float arms especially - are less than ergonomic. You would not add arms to correct positive buoyancy but, yes, maybe some small weights (eg car tyre weights).

I agree, strobes are unlikely to add to positive buoyancy. Mine sure don't! 

With an Ikelite I'd do the usual weighing test of the entire system to see how much buoyancy is needed to make the system very slightly negative. In the unlikely event it was positively buoyant, I'd be using sticky weights to overcome that.

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One other issue (which may not be an issue at all) is their depth rating as compared to aluminum housings like Nauticam, Aquatica, Seacam etc. Because they're plastic, they aren't as strong...

There was a time when Ikes relied on little more than water pressure to hold the ports on. I think they fixed this some years ago, but if this an older housing, it bears checking out.

In any case, they are a cost-effective housing so likely a great choice for someone just getting serious about UW shooting.

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I think it is important to consider the fact that any housing is an investment in a system. You are likely to change cameras and lenses at some point in the future, and you want to ensure that strobe triggering options, port options etc. will suit this in the future.

It is also really important to build a good relationship with your local dealer/supplier. You are going to need their help in the future!

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44 minutes ago, adamhanlon said:

I think it is important to consider the fact that any housing is an investment in a system. You are likely to change cameras and lenses at some point in the future, and you want to ensure that strobe triggering options, port options etc. will suit this in the future.

It is also really important to build a good relationship with your local dealer/supplier. You are going to need their help in the future!

Thanks, good point also.

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I'll echo some of these points too.   I shot a series of Canon point-n-shoots in matching Canon plastic housings - never had a housing issue with any of them.   Eventually I wanted to 'move up' as I felt I already had all the decent shots I'd get from a point-n-shoot without strobes.   So I moved onto a Sony RX100 ii in a Nauticam housing.   I'll echo the point about housings being a system, though in my particular example not so much.  I outgrew the Sony in a year (slow focus) and then moved on to (finally!) putting a good camera underwater, meaning a D810 in a Nauticam housing.  I simply moved the two strobes and strobe arms and focus light from the Sony to the Nikon rig, needing only to get new fiber cables.  Since then though, I've moved to a Nauticam D850 housing and now a Nauticam Z9 housing.   The 180 degree viewfinder I bought with the D810 rig is still used on the Z9 rig, along with the strobes, and the 230mm dome port.  Different lenses meant changing macro port and dome extension, but all the ports and bits I bought for the D810 rig moved on to the D850 rig.

On the egonomics question - you don't know it yet, but there are ok and better ways to push buttons underwater.  You need to not overload your right hand in particular, and they may well mean NOT putting a housing button directly over a camera button.   A great example of this is the Nauticam Z9 housing.  I have three function buttons on the front of the housing, each set to a different autofocus type.   On my housing, the Fn1 button is turned into a conveniently-placed lever for the right hand.  But the Fn2 and Fn3 buttons are both assigned to a rocker lever on the LEFT hand.   The playback button, which is actually located on the right lower back of the camera gets moved to a lever on the top left of the camera.   There are a series of levers and rods inside the housing making all this stuff happen.

Buoyancy - potential issue with any housings.  Some (Canon compacts) had an accessory weight kit for them.   My big Nauticam rigs are quite negative in the water, but last June I learned how to balance them out.   Simply hook a luggage scale to them (carry handle is good) while the rig is sitting in the (salt) water.    I had four old Stix floats on my strobe arms and needed to add four more.  Now the rig is almost perfectly weightless in the water.  I can balance it on the end of a pinkie finger or just let it go and watch it stay in front of me.   You want any underwater rig to be in that state or close to it.  Unfortunately, the big dome port pitches the camera straight up, so I really need to add some tire weights or some such to trim the rotation out too.   The macro rig with the much smaller macro port needs additional floats as that small port doesn't hold much air to float the rig.

Finally, resale.   Like any big purchase, the key to doing well in resale is to buy cheap, not to try to sell high.  So if you can get a good used price on a popular Ikelite housing, you should be able to resell it at reasonable cost.  But some of this stuff is also hard to resell.   And you might not get the price you wanted either.  I thought $1700 was a good price for my used NA-D810 housing, but it turned out to be too high for my only bidder.

Finally, there is one option that really isn't optional, and that is a vacuum leak detector.  Any housing you get should have one.   That might contribute to a higher price on one housing compared to another.

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11 hours ago, rwe said:

I am not an Ikelite user but have a question related to part of Chris's response above (note I agree with much of his response).  Small, negatively buoyant housings get a lot of positive press for this characteristic. Can someone explain why this is? The strobes, bracket, and arms are all negative so it seems unlikely that a system with strobes will be positive. Even with my present polycarbonate system, my 'float arms' to achieve a near neutral buoyancy are much more un-ergonomic (in and out of the water) than a slightly larger housing. If a system does end up with a positive buoyancy, it seems to me that adding a few lead weights would be much easier and ergonomic than adding a bunch of floats.

I think the main issue is that you can dive quite successfully with a negative housing and it helps with stability - just don't drop it!.  One time I dived my Nauticam with the wrong float configuration, it can't have been more than 100 gr positive and it was almost unusable.  Yes I could have weighted it down, but I only found out once in the water.  The main problem was the housing trying to twist up with the dome - the lightest part will always try to face up.  But once it was slightly negative again the problem went away.   It seems to me that float arms are naturally in the right position to work and stay in trim whereas you need to add weight the the dome shade to weight to trim out a positive housing with a dome.

Small is always better for a housing, for travel and for pushing through the water.

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Going back to the OP question as to why Nauticam second hand housings are more expensive than new ikelite, it comes down to the fundamental fact that items offered for sale second hand are worth exactly what people are prepared to pay for them.  If people are prepared to pay a premium for a Nauticam housing new, they see extra value over the alternatives.  That extra value is still there when sold second hand as the functionality is still there, the only thing that changes is that the life before needing repair may be a bit less and the care history is a bit of an unknown. 

I'm not sure what you are basing the Nauticam second hand price point upon - the general wisdom is that second hand housing go for around 40-50% of new price. While you quite commonly see them advertised for more than that it does not mean they will sell for that price.  I'm talking private sales here of course - a dealer will charge more as the sale will often include a warranty.  Warranty is not free - it's always built into the price.  Based on US prices at least the second hand Nauticam price should come fairly close to a new Ikelite.  Ports are a different story as they are a bit more universal and there is a lot more gap between Nauticam and ikelite new port prices.

 

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There are of course other options as well. Second hand metal housings from S&S, Aquatica, Subal, et al also show up from time to time. Also you need to figure out all the costs. 

Let's say you want a micro 4/3 system

Used Olympus EM1 Mark II $500

60 macro lens $400

8 mm fisheye $800

Housing (used) Nauticam $800, AOI New($900), Nauticam new ($2800), Isotta new (2100)

Ports macro and dome ($400/$800) AOI, others higher

Strobes (2 x Inon 330/S&S D3) $1400-$1700

Arms and clamps ($400)

Total $5K at the low end (used or AOI) and the housing is only 10% or so of the total.

Of course you could go lower end everything but still you will be out some serious $. 

Call dmanfish here in the classifieds, he has a very nice EM1 system for sale.

As others have said, Ike is fine, but if I were going to get  a plastic housing it would most likely be from AOI

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Do not forget to add the fiber optic cable (pair) and flash trigger.

And of course a new handbag or backpack for packing the rig on travels.

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8 minutes ago, pbalves said:

Do not forget to add the fiber optic cable (pair) and flash trigger.

And of course a new handbag or backpack for packing the rig on travels.

I bet Chris is glad he asked the original question now.... :crazy:

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For a beginner you should have al look at RX100 VA + Isotta-Housing + Inon UWL-95 C24.

This is an excellent combination and gives the possibility for image quality just below the usual mirrorless or slr-cameras. below one shot with this combi from Moorea.

DSC01298.jpg

 

DSC01295.jpg

Edited by fruehaufsteher2
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I had a ikelite housing in 1983-knobs bound up at depth-it was to buoyant -I;m sure they are better now but after 3-5 aquaticas and a the same with Subals I would never go back to plastic. 

Just get a used aluminum housing and you will find it does it all very well and the cost is less in the used market.

I consider ikelite entry level on the way to a better housing ,save yourself this step

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I will add my perspective as a long time Ikelite user. There is a lot of good information that has been given and I don't envy your decision as a budding UW photographer. 

My first Ikelite housing was for a Canon AE1 Program. It was a rather bulky and cumbersome housing. I never was able to actually use it much. My next was a housing for a Sony CD camera. That one I used a good bit and worked reasonably well. Next was a Canon Rebel XT. I got some good shots with that one. A bit better than the AE1 housing as far as usability. It worked just fine and I never had an issue with controls underwater. Deepest was maybe 80 or 90 feet. Next was a Canon 7D. Very similar to the XT housing and worked just fine. Next up was a 5D mark 3. The housings had evolved some at this point and had a different tray and handles. Just recently I picked up a new open box housing for my R5 from eBay for $400 US. A pretty shocking amount for a $1700 housing. So yes, resale isn't that great. But seeing as I still have my last two housings I'm not concerned about resale. The new R5 housing is advanced a bit more and comes with a vacuum port. The controls are a bit better but I still don't have controls for everything and some of them are awkwardly placed. It does have an easy to use back button focus trigger though. That is the nature of the plastic box. I find good cost to value ratio with Ikelite. They have great service although I am not sure about the UK. The TTL systems they offer work very well but that requires using their strobes, but that is ok as they are very good as well. 

I certainly would like a Nauticam and I have looked at them several times but as much as I enjoy taking pictures underwater I struggle to pay many thousands more for what will probably result in just slightly better photos if I could even tell. 

If you could find a second hand Ikelite system it may be a good way to get into the hobby and decide if you like it. 

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