What to Consider When Purchasing an Underwater Housing

What to Consider When Purchasing an Underwater Housing

Trying to choose the right underwater housing can be overwhelming. Depending on the camera body you have, an underwater housing can easily be double what the camera cost. How can you be sure it’s the right fit before you splurge on this expensive piece of gear?

The most important thing to take into consideration when purchasing an underwater housing is the way the housing feels in your hands, not its aesthetics. If you aren’t comfortable with it now, it’s highly unlikely you’ll get used to it just because it’s pretty. Make sure your hands feel comfortable and that you can reach all of the buttons and gears with ease. Some housings offer handles that can be adjusted for small hands or for use with thick gloves.

Another factor to take into consideration when shopping for an underwater housing is whether or not the case provides users with access to all of the camera functions. Sometimes housing manufacturers choose which buttons to give photographers access to. While not having control over all of the functions isn't the end of the world, it’s good to know this before you make this big investment.

While most housings are rated to depths most of us will never venture to, it’s always a great idea to be aware of the limitations of the housing you are considering purchasing. As more and more housings come to the market, it’s difficult to say that will remain true. Think about what it is that you want to photograph and at what depth the subject is found. Of course, this may change over time, but it’s a good starting point.

underwater housing, underwater photography

One item that you will likely need to budget for is a dome port. The sort of dome port you need depends upon which lens you intend to shoot with. Be sure to sort out whether the port fits into your budget with your intended lens. Another item that you want to consider are strobes. While you may not be thinking about strobes to start off, having the ability to add them down the line is something to take into account. Is the housing capable of attaching strobe arms and sync cords to it? All good things to be aware of.

Having a tripod mount is another thing that is often overlooked when purchasing a housing. While you might not have an immediate use for it, you will sorely miss it if the time ever comes that you decide to shoot underwater macro or even some wide-angle video, such as a reefscape. And yes, underwater tripods exist!

Lastly, whether you are out on a boat or resting your housing on a rocky shore, having a housing that is made from a durable material is going to help your investment last longer. Other things to look into are how long the warranty is good for, if there are many online tutorials or articles about the particular housing, reviews, and the sort of customer support that is available. But, most importantly, get into a shop and feel the housing for yourself. While underwater housing shops can't be found on every corner, as I mentioned at the end of my last post, there are events where you can test underwater housings, strobes, and cameras in the field.

Hopefully this has helped in some way. If you have any questions or anything you’d like to add please feel free to reach out or comment below.

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Andy Deitsch's picture

"The sort of dome port you need depends upon which lens you intend to shoot with." - not sure if you meant to say dome port or just port. For people who only want to shoot macro, there is no need for a dome port. I'd say that having a housing system with interchangeable ports is something to take into account.

I have never used a tripod underwater and I've shot super macro so I think it's a bit of an overstatement to suggest that a tripod mount will be sorely missed for those who might want to shoot macro. Perhaps for those who want to shoot macro video, this is true.

You mentioned strobes and sync cords. I think the bigger question is whether the housing supports both electronic sync cables and/or optical cables. There are advantages and disadvantages to either system so understanding needs are important. Having a housing that supports both gives flexibility down the road.

Other things to consider are the ability to add a vacuum system and perhaps support (some housing manufacturers are not located in the US and support can be tricky).

Going to a big dive show (e.g. Beneath the Sea in NJ, Our World Underwater in Chicago, or the Scuba Show in Long Beach, CA etc.) is another good way to see a lot of different housing systems.

Brian Pernicone's picture

I recently spoke with another surf photographer who said she uses a cheaper body and lens kit when she gets in the water. In case the housing fails, she won't lose as big of an investment. For me, my Canon 5D Mark IV is significantly better for sports photography than my older 70D, so I'd be losing some functionality if I were to take this advice (it's not a dealbreaker, but I definitely prefer my 5DMKIV). Have you had any experience with housings failing and your gear suffering water damage?

Andy Deitsch's picture

I am currently housing a Nikon D850, a significant investment for me. Before that I housed a Canon 7D.

I have been lucky and never had a leak. I have always used a vacuum system and take my time when putting my housing together making sure I have no distractions.

I have had friends who have had full on floods (they didn’t have a vacuum system). Some had insurance and everything was covered while others did not and lost the camera and lens (the housing typically survives a flood with some cleaning).

So my advice would be to definitely get a vacuum system. If insurance makes you feel better, then purchase that too.