aquatech-sm-11Last weekend I had the opportunity to do some SCUBA diving with an Aqua Tech DC-5 v2 Underwater Sports Housing for the Canon 5D Mark II. I’ve already posted some preliminary pool test footage from the housing, what follows is my full review of the system, as well as a video with my thoughts on the system. I’ll also be posting some underwater footage from the housing soon, so stay tuned for that.

GEAR
I dove with the dive shop Aqua Rica in the murky green waters off the Northern Pacific coast of Costa Rica, near Tamarindo. My camera kit consisted of a Canon 5D MKII, a 32GB Transcend CF card, and a Canon 14mm f/2.8 II lens. And of course the Aqua Tech UW housing, built specifically for the 5D DSLR body. I also had a couple Magic Filters, designed to restore natural colors underwater, as the red and orange wavelengths of light (longest wavelengths, incidentally) are filtered out a few meters below the ocean surface. As Costa Rican waters tend to be greenish, I went with the Magic Filter Green for the 14mm lens, kindly provided by the very helpful folks at Reef Photo & Video (excellent service from Reef Photo, highly recommended!). The Magic Filter for the 14mm is a small gel that slips into the lens rear filter gel holder, but they also have screw-on versions for other lenses.

Here’s a video overview I shot in Costa Rica, my full written review and housing photo gallery follows below…

VIDEO
AquaTechReview720p.mov

CONSTRUCTION
The housing consists of a main polyurethane casing built in the shape of your camera. There is a thick clear plastic back that snaps onto the poly casing with solid locking fasteners. Aqua Tech offers interchangeable lens ports, you’ll want to consult their lens compatibility chart to ensure you have the correct port for your lens(es). Additionally, many lenses require metal port extensions. In my case with the 14mm lens, I needed the LP-1 wide angle dome port, and a 25mm port extension tube. I experienced no vignetting issues with the LP1 dome and 14mm lens combination.

The metal fasteners that seal the back plastic piece to the housing are reassuringly solid, and include a built-in lock that minimizes the risk of accidentally knocking one of the snaps open. On the top of the housing there are two accessory counter-sunk screw holes about where the camera’s flash shoe would be. There are four similar mounting screw holes on the bottom of the housing as well, used for an optional pistol-grip accessory (but you could mount your own accessories I’m sure). The dome port and port extension tube are made of solid anodized metal, with a great knurled grip surface around the outside for tightening things down. The internal screw threads that lock everything together are wide and deep. There is little danger of cross-threading anything, and it goes together very cleanly, fit and finish is excellent.

ASSEMBLY
Assembly of the system around the camera is quick and simple. The housing contains a small DSLR plate that attaches to the bottom of your camera 1/4-20 mount, and slides into the housing. This ensures your camera won’t slip or rotate, and it places it perfectly in the center. From there, you ensure that the rear cover seal is in place, and free of debris. You simply line up the plastic back cover over the seal, ensuring that the hard buttons also line up with the buttons on your camera. Snap the fasteners in place, and make sure the locks are engaged. Now just screw on the port extension tube, ensuring that you’ve make good contact with the rubber seal at it’s base, and that it is tight (but don’t overtighten and damage the rubber seal). It should be hand-tight. Finally, screw the dome port on the front of the extension tube, ensuring that it’s rubber seal makes good contact. When you can no longer see the grey port seal when peeking inside, you’ve tightened it down enough (again, hand-tight should accomplish this).

CAMERA SETUP
Now before I get too much farther, I should note that you need to pre-set a few things on your camera first. Before you put your camera inside the housing, make sure it has a good battery, storage media, and that the media is formatted. You can do most of this after the fact, but it’s easier with your own fingers. The camera should also be ON before you seal it inside (there is no ON/OFF control on the housing). You should also have the mode selector dial where you need it (this is required, no hard-control for mode dial). In the case of the 5D for video, I wanted mine in Manual mode. I also pre-set my Aperture, Shutter, and ISO settings roughly where I’d need them. You can of course change these settings underwater using the mechanical buttons on the housing, but it requires a little fiddling and it’s best to get everything as close to where you want it as possible before you get into the water and start burning through your limited air supply. As you dive deeper, it obviously gets darker underwater, so you’ll need to make adjustments on the fly. On one of my two dives, I chose to run everything manually except for ISO. On that dive I left ISO on Auto for simplicity and the footage turned out fine. When fully manual, in most cases I was shooting at between 640-1250 ISO, and f/4 – f/5.6 aperture on the lens. I shot 1080p30, so that I could conform the footage later for a 20% slo-mo at 24p. Obeying the 180-degree shutter rule, my shutter was locked at 1/60. I pre-set my focus before diving, but occasionally used the AF Quick button to re-focus at certain distances prior to rolling video.

OPERATION
The housing with camera inside is slightly positively bouyant. So it will float. It’s a very subtle buoyancy though, and feels great in the water. The left side handgrip is big and easy to grab. The right side of the housing near the shutter release button also has a textured grip built into the poly casing, you can single-hand hold it from that side as well with your right hand. When swimming underwater, it’s sometimes difficult to maintain a perfect horizon, there is at times some wobble due to your movement in the water. This is more about technique though, and in my opinion no fault of the housing. With practice, I’m confident that I could remove most of that movement from my footage.

Changing settings on the fly is straightforward, but requires just a little practice to do quickly. On the 5D, use the housing’s hard button for Info to toggle the grey info screen on the camera LCD. Now it’s a matter of using the multi-directional joy-button on the camera to flip between settings on the info screen, and the dial control to adjust them (shutter, aperture, ISO, etc). I’ll explain…the housing has a button above the camera’s multi-directional button that can push inward (to activate and select a setting on the Info screen), and the button also twists, turning a little nub in a circle. So with the Info screen on, you push the multi-button. Now you’ll see one of the settings highlighted…let’s say it’s Shutter. If you wanted to adjust the shutter, all you now have to do is to roll the housing’s dial controller left and right to adjust the Shutter. But if you wanted to adjust ISO or Aperture, you need to use the spinning nub controller to nudge the multi-button left or right to highlight the appropriate setting, then use the dial controller to adjust the setting value.

The multi-button nub can spin around on either side of the button, so to nudge it left you’d spin it all the way around clockwise to nudge it. Likewise, you would spin it counter-clockwise to nudge it right. And to toggle the highlight, you have to center the nub on the button, then depress it to push the button. Sounds complicated, but it is actually pretty straightforward once you grasp the concept and see it working in front of you.

aquatech-sm-1The AquaTech DC5 v2 is officially rated to 10 meters (33′), and you should probably stick to those limits for the safety of your gear. However, after receiving the housing and testing it, and seeing how well built the housing was, I decided I was willing to push past the rated depth limit with my DSLR. We did two dives on this trip, and dove mainly in 30′ to 45′ water. The deepest I took the housing was about 55′. There was zero leakage or equipment issues, the gear performed flawlessly. Dry as a bone. That said, I don’t believe that this housing is intended for those type of depths, and you’ll be risking your equipment if you push past the manufacturer’s guidelines as I chose to. It also may void your housing warranty. As a side note, I had no problems with fogging or condensation in the housing while diving. I had brought along some dessicant packs just in case, but after having no issues in the pool test, I ended up not even using them.

MAINTENANCE
Maintenance of the housing is simple enough. Rinse the exterior thoroughly with fresh water, and Aqua Tech also includes some guidelines for oiling the rubber seals. Do not use any cleaners or sheeting sprays like RainX on the dome port, as they could damage it. If you wish for the water to sheet better off the glass without leaving droplets, wipe it with your spit like you would a SCUBA facemask. Or keep it dry with a soft chamois (for surface applications). Underwater, the dome becomes invisible if it is clean.

CONCLUSION
Overall, I really enjoyed working with the Aqua Tech housing. It was simple to use, lightweight and painless to setup, and I’m really happy with the footage. It’s one of the more affordable DSLR housings on the market, and a great way to quickly get up and shooting underwater or in wet surface applications. While they have a full dealer network, you can also buy the Aqua Tech DC-5 v2 and also other DSLR model housings at B&H (and we thank you kindly, as a B&H affiliate, such purchases help to support FreshDV). As equipped for this review, this housing would cost about $2,500. It’s worth noting as well that there is a similar model Aqua Tech housing that is intended for the Canon 60D that comes at a very affordable sub-$1,000 price tag for the base housing (sans ports and extension tubes). You can see the whole B&H Aqua Tech lineup here.

PHOTO GALLERY
Here’s a gallery of detail shots that show the gear close up, individual parts as well as fully assembled. You can see the detail shots of the back plate rubber seal, both with the plate off and also fully compressed with the back plate attached. Also note the thick rubber seals on the dome port and port extension tube, the fantastic camera mounting-plate system, and the internal hard button controls that protrude through the back plate.

You can watch the video embedded above for a look at the housing and some more of my thoughts on the system. And check back soon for the underwater footage that I shot using this housing. The previously posted pool test footage is embedded below.

POOL TEST VIDEO
freshdv_aquatech_pool_test_720p.mov

Purchases via B&H links in this post help support FreshDV.


4 Responses to “Aqua Tech 5D MKII Underwater Housing Review”  

  1. 1 Steve

    Just ordered my GoPro. My 5D is going nowhere near the water!

  2. 2 Matthew Jeppsen

    Hey Steve, I’ve done dives with a GoPro before, and you’ll need a flat-port housing mod to ensure sharp footage under water. There’s one available from Eye of Mine that works well.

    In my experience the GoPro works great when it has enough light. Once you start getting deeper though, the footage isn’t nearly as solid when the camera begins to add gain to the image. For these dives in Costa Rica, I’m glad I had a proper DSLR that does well in low-light…it was rather dark at the bottom, and I don’t think my GoPro would have held up like the 5D did.

    The other issue with a GoPro is the size…it’s nearly impossible to hold steady underwater. If you can find a way to build a larger handle framework around it, your footage would be much better overall I think. Very difficult to maintain smooth movements with it’s tiny size.

    All that being said, the GoPro performs far better than it should for the price. Work within it’s limitations and be amazed. :-)

    -MJ

  3. 3 Kevin falk

    This is great!
    I’m planning my first destination wedding to where? Costa Rica. Perfect.
    Anyway and i was looking at what options there was for housings.
    I saw this on borrowlenses and i think i;ll be renting it now.
    I called some local companies that make housings in town (san Diego) but they were $600 a week for rental. Thats more then my plane ticket!

    Great review.
    feeling more confident that i won’t flood a camera my first time using a housing.
    Would love to see some of the ocean footage.
    I would think you would shoot everything in Manual.

    I won’t be doing any diving on my shoot though. Just getting some surfing shots and playing around the beach.
    I think i’ll get housing for the 70-200 is 2.8 and a 50mm 1.2.

  4. 4 Patrick

    Hi Matthew,
    I always enjoy watching Fresh DV.
    Do you have any footage from your ocean dive that you can put online for us?
    I’d love to see video from the 5DM2 in action at depth.
    Cheers.