This is often a difficult decision.
Underwater housings come in all shapes and forms. The price category can also be a defining factor in what you can afford and what you would like. Whether you need a waterproof camera or an underwater housing for a digital camera, there are certain criteria that you need to think about before making your selection.
Some cameras are self-contained and do not necessarily require a housing. These type of cameras have limited depth, usually around 10 – 15m. The underwater housing is not removable and is inexpensive, compared to a stand alone, underwater housings made for DSLR cameras. These type of underwater housings come in either metal or plastic. Some well known brands offer custom made, underwater housings for their most popular cameras. Third party housing manufactures, such as Ikelite, Sea and Sea, Subal and Nauticam are just a few to mention from the many.
Depending on what you actively do with the camera, it is indeed a no-brainer to choose a compact camera (amphibious camera with no housing) that will not meet your depth requirements. If you are a scuba diver, often these amphibious cameras will not meet your diving depth, but are fully adequate for snorkelling and skin diving. One major factor that comes into play is pressure. The chosen underwater housing needs to withstand the pressure of the depth you intend to take images at. If the pressure is too great, the housing will leak, or worse case, implode and ruin the camera inside. Check your manufactures guidelines for depth and pressure, and do not exceed these in any way. Compact camera underwater housings tend to be rated around 40m, where as some DSLR housings can go to 90m.
Aluminium versus Plastic
Here we find that most compact camera housings, and in some cases DSLR underwater housings are modelled with high-strength plastic. Often they are less durable than their counter-parts in aluminium. Plastic underwater housings tends to fog up inside, due to the heat generated by the camera. They are often less bulky then aluminium and are by far cheaper.
Aluminium underwater housings, although expensive are more durable. They are rugged in appearance, but much more finely constructed than the plastic ones. Price is often a big factor here when choosing an aluminium housing, they can cost up to and beyond Euro 4,000 with accessories.
You may also be limited in choice too, depending on what camera model you have. Not all camera models have available aluminium housings, or the model is already obsolete.
Ergonomics and Controls
These two are important factors to be looked at. Make sure the housing allows you to be able to control your camera conveniently, and you are able to access the features that you require.
Can you change the settings that you mostly need? Can you change ISO settings, or turn on or off the flash? These functions should be carefully checked out before making a selection. Look at all the buttons and levers which are available. Are they close enough so you can comfortably operate the camera? Is it easy to handle, large enough or small enough for your hand size? Check out the manufactures website for more details.
Lenses and Ports
Standard compact cameras generally come with an integrated port. This causes less expense, but you may wish to purchase a wide angle correction lens that can be attached to the outside of the underwater housing. DSLR housings usually have optional ports. They can be made out of glass (expensive) or acrylic…these are prone to scratching, but less expensive. Flat ports provide the opportunity for Macro and mid-range photography.
If you have an on-camera flash, check that you have a flash diffuser to reduce backscatter in your photos. If you plan to use strobes, make sure there are sufficient and correct bulkhead connections to wire the strobes to the housing and camera. Fibre optic sync cords can be added, this allows the strobes to be triggered by the on-camera flash.
Care and Maintenance
Read your manufactures guidelines and take care of your housing correctly. Servicing and warranty play a part of purchasing an underwater housing. Check where you can buy spare parts eg: O-rings.
Underwater Photography has become a big part of scuba diving, but please adhere to the guidelines of how to treat our underwater world with respect. Do not harass or disturb the marine life and leave nothing but bubbles behind…. Dive safe