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Underwater Camera Housing Buyer's Guide

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Buying Guide for Underwater Camera Housing

 

Welcome to the world of outdoor and underwater photography. If your curiosity brought you here or you’ve been wanting to get into underwater photography, you’ve found the right guide. It’s easier than ever – and great fun – to get professional results in underwater photography. This guide will help you avoid potential mistakes and help improve your technique, so you feel confident about the gear you purchase for your journey anywhere outdoors, even below the surface. In this guide, we will focus on film, DSLR, Mirrorless, and Medium Format cameras and exchangeable lenses. Mobile phones and GoPros are a great complementary tool but limited in comparison to the optical recourses of a camera + interchangeable lens combination.

About Outex

The Outex Underwater Camera Housing system was developed by 2 photo enthusiasts* who love the outdoors and wanted a better solution for the cameras – something that combined professional results with optical glass ports, universal design to accommodate multiple cameras and lenses, complete functional control so all camera and lens functionality is accessible and operational and travel friendly. 

About Outex

Ten-plus years later we’ve exceeded our goals beyond our original intent. Outex has become more than just a camera water housing. We’ve had the honor to support hundreds of award-winning professional photographers around the globe, from Red Bull and National Geographic to the armed forces. Outex is used by crews for film, streaming series, and television shows. Apple, Netflix, and multiple TV Networks use Outex in virtually all environmental conditions on the go. And we’ve built a community of camera enthusiasts that share our passion and enthusiasm for everything in between.

* JR deSouza is an Olympic swimmer who also loves surfing and the beach. Roberto Miglioli is a mechanical engineer who loves camping, hiking, and the great outdoors. JR & Roberto are cousins and business partners behind Outex.

 

Outex Camera Housing Buying Guide for 2021

Buying an Underwater Camera Housing

  1. WHAT KIND OF CAMERA AND LENS DO I NEED?

Best camera bodies for outdoor and underwater photography

There is no “absolute” when it comes to camera bodies. Stick with the brand you love. If you rely on a GoPro or another device, use it as well. In this guide, we’re focusing on cameras like DSLR, Mirrorless, Film, or Medium Format because they are powerful tools that offer the most options in terms of quality, image-capture, control, and optical flexibility, such as focal length, viewing angle, etc. Your creativity should not be limited or bound by technology. If your vision requires the use of multiple devices, go for it.

Professional Surf photographer Matt Catalano used the analogy of cameras being paintbrushes. The camera choices you make depend on your creative vision and on the kind of images you’re trying to paint. Try to find housings that will not limit your film, DSLR, Mirrorless, or other camera selection, so that you can use as many of them in combination with as many lenses as you wish to use. The best camera for the job may be the one you have with you which may also apply to your waterproofing case or housing solution.

Best lenses for underwater photography

Lens choice depends greatly on your vision for the result and water conditions. Underwater photography differs most from the air or normal photography, as the color pallet is different, lighting and sharpness are greatly affected by water conditions, and gravity rules no longer apply. As a result, wide-angle lenses are often preferred for underwater capture, because:

  • Proximity to the subject reduces water variance from being a factor, allowing you shaper, precise optical focus.
  • Proximity to the subject reduces lighting variance from being a factor, allowing you to control the lighting as desired.
  • Lack of gravity allows you to frame/compose the shot more freely, allowing you to capture the subject from virtually any angle while managing lighting and clarity in ways that fit your desired outcomes.

In other words, using that 50mm you love in the studio is not likely to deliver the same results underwater. This does not mean you should only use wide-angle lenses. But keep in mind that shooting in a new medium requires you to rethink “traditional” rules of engagement and execution. Consider wide-angle lenses (35mm, 24mm, or shorter focal lengths).

 

  1. WHAT MAKES A GOOD WATERPROOF CASE OR HOUSING?

Bags

  • On one end of the spectrum, bags are inexpensive and fit most cameras.
  • Bags are made of all plastic, making them lightweight and compact (travel-friendly).
  • They are often one-size-fits-all and not molded or conforming to camera gear. The plastic restricts tactile feedback and limits the ability to navigate your camera and lens controls, including focus. Users report a clumsy experience, like using oven mitts.
  • Most of them are not optimal for image quality since you’re shooting through plastic or acrylic at best. This has a degrading effect on image quality.
  • High-end bags offer acrylic optical ports for the lens, but they do not connect to the camera, and the lens is floating inside, forcing the user to negotiate focal length, viewing angle, and focus through the port opening, causing vignetting on wide-angle lenses.

In conclusion, bags are cheap options, and you get what you pay for. Not a professional solution, but convenient for the occasional user.

Hard-cases

  • At the other end of the spectrum, hard cases require a serious financial investment.
  • Hard cases are often built for specific uses, such as scuba diving or surfing. For example, a surf housing is not suited for diving because it is heavy and bulky. And a dive housing may rely on pressure for its seal, making it a poor choice for shallow use (such as a pool).
  • Hard cases are built for specific camera models. The buttons are set and you cannot use a different model camera in that housing. The buttons are often not specifically aligned based on physical constraints, so a camera’s back button may be on the side of the housing, for example, or vice versa. These housings often don’t accommodate all of your settings either, not all functionality is supported. Cases also prevent LCD screen use.
  • Dive-specific cases can resist pressure upwards of 80-100 feet in depth (24-30 meters).
  • The hard materials add impact-protection to the camera. They protect the camera/lens if/when hit.
  • Most hard cases use plastic ports (acrylic), despite the high cost. Acrylic scratches more easily than glass but can withstand more underwater pressure at depth. Only a few high-end models offer optical glass port options.
  • Hard cases are also difficult to transport because they are heavy and bulky, often requiring custom heavy-duty transport cases. These factors can significantly increase the overall cost of the case and also increase travel costs such as luggage fees on airlines, trains, cars, etc.

In conclusion, dedicated hard cases are the ideal solution for specific uses and dedicated cameras and lenses. They offer professional optical results if the expense and transport constraints are not an issue.

 

Outex housings combine the best of both worlds.

  • Outex offers professional results, a universal design for multiple cameras and lenses, complete functional control of all settings, modular upgradeability based on growing needs, transport friendliness, and affordability.
  • Because all its front ports are made of American-made optical glass, Outex outperforms most underwater housings in terms of image quality capability – both flat and dome ports. Our front glass also becomes one with every lens by attaching to the lens’s filter thread, which ensures it moves with it, and accommodates for focal length, and guarantees no zooming or wide-angle vignetting at all of the lens’ focal lengths.
  • The flexible, malleable, molded housing design stretches to accommodate the gear and maintains tactile control, and optimizes dexterity and user-feedback. This means it accommodates any camera or lens, regardless of brand, make, or model, whether it’s film, DSLR, Mirrorless, Medium Format, etc.
  • The patented housing design also means the user can access all of the camera and lens’ functionality – controls, buttons, focus, rings, knobs, and even touch-LCD access.
  • The cover’s tactile feedback means you don’t have to re-learn how to operate your camera. All the buttons are familiar, and you have access to all of them, which enables you to completely change settings in mid-shoot without having to remove it from the housing.
  • The Outex product line functions like LEGOS, in that they are a system of parts that work together interchangeably. You can mix and match as desired, so you can use different cameras, lenses, tripods, cables for tethering, lighting, etc. You can purchase incremental parts as needed, and they work with the Outex products you already have.
  • The lightweight and compact design adds virtually no weight or bulk to the gear, making it ideal for use in any environment (not just underwater) – sand, dust, dirt, mud, spray, paint, etc. It also makes it ideal for travel and transport.
  • Outex products can be purchased a la cart or as ready-made kits. Covers start at $99 USD, and kits start at $295 USD.
  • Outex is tested to 10 meters or about 33 feet underwater. The housing is not so sensitive to water pressure, and we’ve had customers go twice that deep, but we do not recommend it. Below a certain depth, the water pressure will start pressing your camera’s buttons and it will eventually not operate properly until you return to shallower depths.
  • Outex does not protect the gear internally from impact.

In conclusion, Outex is a great all-around solution for professionals or enthusiasts using multiple cameras or lenses in various environments – rain, dirt, mud, sand, dust, etc. – and not just in one particular field. Its modular design and affordability is the reason so many professionals make Outex part of their arsenal, even if they also use other dedicated housings.

 

  1. DOMES VS. FLAT OPTICAL PORTS

Outex dome 180mm

 

Dome ports are popular for underwater photography because they help correct for aberrations caused by distortions that occur as light changes speed as it travels from air into water. Distortions can be a common issue to overcome in split level images, where part of the frame is above, and part below water. Domes reduce the distortional effects created by the bending of light from air to water, as well as making it easier for the camera and lens to find focus in the desired area of the image when appropriately adjusted. As with most things-photography, everything is on a continuum or spectrum. In other words, you can still capture footage using flat ports, but dome ports make it “easier” to capture amazing split-level images and create a more “spectacular” wide-angle result in ideal circumstances.


Domes make a much bigger impact for wide-angle lenses (wider than 24mm). Longer focal length lenses are less impacted by the use of a dome compared to a regular flat port.

Domes do not alter the image in any way above water, so there’s no downside to using them above water, even though there is also no benefit.


Size, materials, and storage

With domes, bigger is optically better, but the advantages are offset by the bulk, weight, and price of the dome. Consider storage and portability for your purchase. The larger dome is the best optical solution and will yield the best optical results, with a more spectacular split-level effect.

The smaller dome is ideal for travel because it provides you with most of the benefits in a much more travel-friendly size.

Domes are often sold in acrylic, but come in glass, too. Glass domes are more expensive, but they offer superior optical quality for your images and are more resistant to scratches from improper storage and use. Many housings cost thousands of dollars but offer acrylic ports because of their size & weight. The best optical ports, both flat and domes, are available in optical glass.

Your lens

If you plan on shooting with a fisheye or wide-angle lens, you will likely need a dome for your lens. If you look at the front of your lens and do not see filter threads and your lens glass bulges out past the lens body, a Flat port-style solution will not work. You will need the cavity of the Dome to allow for your lens to sit inside. Learn more.

 

  1. HAVE A VISION

As obvious as this may sound to some, thinking through your desired outcomes is often more important than anything else since both preparation and execution depend on it. All of the other points are important, but they can only shape the outcomes based on how you prepare and execute your vision. If you don’t know where you’re going, that’s exactly where you’ll be.

Whether it’s your creative motivation, a specific shot you’re painting with your camera, or the client’s articulation of the results, having a vision for the work will help you get there, as well as the timing and budget.

 

  1. YOUR FIRST SHOOT

When you experiment for the first time, you should try to work within elements you can control before you jump in. And don’t forget: practice makes perfect. Get to know your housing and how to access all of your controls on land first. Depending on your housing system, make sure you do not need to configure any settings before sealing your camera inside the cover. This includes making sure you have a battery and memory card installed.

When you are ready, work in the shallow end of a pool. Test your housing for leaks and settings. Recruit the help of a friend or family member. Find a prop to add some character to your shot.

Be prepared to regulate for float, both for the housing, your own, and that of the models. Not all housings allow you to control float, and some may sink. Keep that in mind and inquire to learn if your housing allows for some sort of float/air control.

You may notice that buoyancy and shooting in deeper water are also challenging for you and your subject. If you have access to a weight belt, you can use that to help pull you down. If you are using a wetsuit, you will likely need a weight belt. Wetsuits increase your buoyancy significantly. Your models will have to learn to control their breath such that they can sink to the desired depth for the photo and backdrop.

 

  1. LENS FOGGING

There’s no getting around physics, and certain conditions are a direct result of competing elements that don’t usually come together. All cameras are different, and some generate or isolate more heat than others. User conditions are also different, so if you’re running video and tethering in the Bahamas, your heat coefficient is likely different from a casual snorkeler in Southern California. Rather than explaining all the variables associated with fogging, we’re focusing on some tips and tricks:

  • Turn your battery on only as needed, since that’s the heating element for the trapped air inside your housing.
  • If you can, reduce the amount of trapped air inside the housing.
  • Seal your housing in a cool environment. Cool air has less moisture, which will inherently condense less than warmer air.
  • Pack a silica-gel pack inside the housing. The moisture-wicking qualities of these desiccant packs help reduce internal humidity.
  • In case of overheating of the gear, turn it off, allow it to cool, and vent it by opening the housing.
  • Avoid direct sunlight to prevent overheating.
  • Keep the gear in the housing in an environment that’s similar to your shooting environment. In other words, avoid extreme changes such as direct sunlight for several minutes right before you jump into a very cold body of water. For example, if you’re in a boat, keep the camera in the shade, covered, or in a cooler to regulate the temperature.
  • Acclimatize in the shooting environment. In other words, wait for the fogging to subside on its own. For example, if you see fogging from jumping into the water, give it a few minutes. The water temperature itself may counterbalance the camera’s battery heat and self-regulate.

 

  1. WATER VISIBILITY

Opacity may seem like the obvious variable. But it’s more than that. Aside from visibility and debris in the water that may come into frame inadvertently, you have to consider temperature and lighting conditions. So keep those things in mind.

  • Factor water visibility and color characteristics into your vision. In other
  • words, research the conditions before you shoot, or be prepared to accommodate the realities of the environment into your artistic vision or in post-production. Water conditions vary greatly from beach, ocean, lake, river, or pool and can vary greatly within each of those. The same shore break can look wildly different in various currents, weather patterns, and tides. And even pools can look different depending on filtration, debris in the water, size, paint color, and surroundings. Consider these factors in your thinking. Pool chemicals can also greatly affect the cloudiness of the water.
  • Lighting travels much differently in water than in air. Most, if not all, of the visibility in most bodies of water, are within 10 meters (or 33 feet) of water. Below that, you’ll need a light supply. Keep in mind that opacity will impact how far the light will travel. Consider these factors in your strategy and gear settings.  
  • Temperature is surprisingly important, too. This is because it will impact your comfort and those of the subjects if they’re not in their natural habitat. It can require additional planning that novices may have not considered, such as wetsuits, weights, length of the shoot, etc.
  • Backgrounds add a nice touch to a pool photoshoot. Remember that the background may not look perfect. Cloudiness of the water, wrinkles in the fabric, and direct lighting in the pool will add new creative elements to your photos.

 

    1. WATER VISIBILITY

    Underwater lighting is perhaps more varied, nuanced, and complex than airborne lighting. Experience comes over time, and the rules of engagement are dramatically different. Just as with all photography, beauty is in the eye of the beholder, so we’ll focus on some obvious differences: 

    • Embrace the color differences water will introduce. Let them guide, inspire, and push your creativity.
    • Consider both strobe and constant-on lighting options. Some housings will accommodate flash and strobe lights inside or tethered to the camera. There are powerful, capable, waterproof lighting options that are ideally paired for mirrorless cameras’ inherent capability.
    • Embrace reflection and refraction. Light changes speed (and therefore direction) as it travels from air into water. Therefore, it not only reflects from surfaces but also refracts within the water, creating visual effects that are uniquely aquatic. So, whether it’s water droplets on the lens or rays of light flowing through the water, learn to identify them so you can control their effects accordingly.

     

    1. TALENT AND MODELS

    If you’re capturing native species or natural environments, your concern will revolve around getting them to “behave” in ways that suit your vision or to show up at all. So again, preparation and understanding of the environmental conditions are key. You can’t direct marine life or script a set of circumstances to suit your requirements. But you can be in the right place at the right time to capture that special moment.

    Conversely, if you’re hiring a model, keep in mind that dry land skills are completely different from those required underwater. Things to consider:

    • Water comfort: Someone not comfortable in the water will not be able to hold their breath and “make faces” if they can’t open their eyes, blow their air out, or hold their pose underwater. Recruit accordingly. “Water people” such as swimmers, divers, synchronized swimmers, surfers, lifeguards, etc., often make better models than regular models.
    • Attire: Free-flowing, water-resistant materials are best. They can be reused and help convey movement and fill up the frame. Bright colors are helpful since the water can dampen some of the dynamic range. Avoid blending in with the background unless you can control it.
    • Hair and makeup: Waterproof makeup is fairly easy to find, and hairspray can add a “layer of protection” to conventional makeup when lightly applied over it. Because of the water’s dampening effect, accentuate the desired level and intensity of the makeup to compensate and accentuate it accordingly. Hair is inevitability a dynamic component of underwater work. Embrace it or control it. It can add a tremendous element of movement and mystery if desired but can be a nuisance if not accounted for.
    • Movement: Fluidity is key – pun intended. Think of the difference between
      a dancer and a cheerleader. Water tends to reward gradual and graceful movements instead of fast, jerky motions. Use the lack of gravity to fill your composition. Hand and arm movements can fill up the frame, while floating leg movements differentiate them dramatically from what’s possible on land.

     

    1. Maintenance and Care

    Maintaining your housing system is important. Consult your manufacturer for instructions for maintenance and care for the equipment. Housing maintenance increases the effectiveness of the gear when in use and prolongs the life of the product overall.

    Frequency and use conditions have as big an impact on wear and tear as the time of ownership, so adjust your care accordingly. Most housings are not designed to serve as storage for your gear, so remove the gear from the housing when not in use. Store it in a cool, dry spot, and recheck it before using it again. Environmental conditions such as humidity, or lack thereof, can cause O-rings or hinges to age or deteriorate over time. Cleaning, drying, or lubing may be required for certain parts.

     Use your online resources as well. There are underwater user communities, your housing’s website, YouTube channels, etc., that offer tips, tricks, and additional insights that you may find useful.

    Take Good Care of your Camera Housing

    Underwater housings are like any other product. Most offer warranties and stand behind the product when used as directed. But they are not insurance. Just like any product, accidents can happen. Most insurances will cover casualties, but if you plan on making underwater part of your frequent/daily routine, you should account for potential accidents. There are plenty of insurance options available online.

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