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Nauticam Housing

'The beautiful beast' by Nicolene Olckers
LET'S FACE IT.  MANY SAY PHOTOGRAPHY CAN'T BE TAUGHT, AND THE PURITANS WOULD SAY YOU HAVE TO HAVE AN EYE FOR IT.

In reality, anybody can call themselves a photographer these days. Creating images is fine if you have a good-quality-camera or cell phone camera. Digital imaging equipment makes it easy for anyone and everyone to develop acceptable imaging published on social media and printed. Several manufacturers have now also produced housings and waterproof cases for action cameras and various mobile phones.

SCUBA DIVING PHOTOGRAPHER | Many scuba divers invest in photographic equipment they can carry on their dive excursions. The GoPro action camera and the smaller compact cameras, such as the Olympus TG6, are sure favourites among underwater photography enthusiasts. Becoming an underwater photographer was never my plan. I started my photography career during the analogue era, started diving in the early 1990s and never considered doing underwater photography. With analogue film-type cameras, it was challenging to take underwater photos, and digital cameras made it much easier to create images underwater.

As a diver, starting with a smaller compact system that you can handle easily while diving will be best. Consider that you must be much more aware of your surroundings, practice good buoyancy, and monitor your air while trying to get that ultimate shot. Also, remember that you will most likely need to learn to use a surface marker buoy when you get into underwater photography. Remember to stay within the limitations of your dive qualification and experience.  

I was most fortunate to be offered the professional-looking Nauticam NA-5DMKIV housing with a 180mm dome port and extension tube. This enabled me to take the Canon 5D MK IV DSLR fitted with a 16-35mm F2.8 MKII lens and explore the underwater world. The underwater housing from Nauticam is made of durable, sturdy aluminium that is ergonomically shaped to feel comfortable in any photographer's hands. All the functioning features of the camera are accessible on the housing, making it very easy for the photographer to change settings and review images underwater.

WEIGHT WATCHING | The assembled Nauticam housing with 180mm glass dome port, extension ring 70mm, DSLR camera with lens and two large Ikelite DS160 strobes, weigh in at an approx 5kgs on land. You would think that with all that extra weight, I would sink like an antique ship's canon. However, this setup has closer to a neutral buoyancy in the water and I actually needed additional weights on shallow depths to keep the housing with the dome port and myself stable. This was on a rare, 'hare-brained' dive in 6-8 m of water, waiting for a great white to swim by in Plettenberg Bay, Western Cape, South Africa. Exciting, yes, but only advised with a proper briefing and checks. We did not have the privilege of seeing the apex predator underwater.

Extra weight tends to produce another concern. Your buoyancy control will differ, and you might use more air at deeper depths. Once you become accustomed to diving with this underwater set-up, you soon realise the full potential of the DSLR housed inside. 'The Beast', as the 5DMKIV camera is often referred to, is well-known for its technical capabilities. The Auto White Balance (AWB) in video mode is one to note.

STROBES, VIDEO LIGHTS AND FLOAT ARMS | Depending on which strobes you have, you will either use fibre optic cables or electric sync cables. In my case I’m using the electric sync cables with my Ikelite strobes. I am not using TTL settings as the hot-shoe connector is not wired to allow this. Ikelite advises that one use an E-TTL converter to protect the camera's electronics. 
Adding lighting to your housing is always an issue for beginners. Like many, I started with one strobe and quickly got it right. That was with some hot tips from my favourite underwater photo coach. Using two big Ikelite DS 160 strobes that pack an excellent light punch also makes for an insane amount of backscatter when I get the positioning of the strobes wrong. This also happens accidentally. While diving at the world-renowned dive site of Aliwal Shoal on the East Coast of South Africa, the strong surge motion underwater pushed me around, and I knocked the strobes out of position and was rewarded with backscattered images. Lesson learned: Keep checking your strobe or light positioning when diving in rough sea conditions.

A further consideration you should note in rough or fast-moving water is to stay safe and prevent bumping your glass or acrylic dome into the reef. These unexpected knocks can become a potentially expensive accident. Once again, buoyancy is vital.

To get the correct positioning for your strobes and lights, it would be best to use a combination of a float arm with a double ball arm. this attaches to the mounting ball on each handle. This gives you the flexibility to get the optimum positioning for your strobes or lights and you can use them for wide-angle and closeup shots. The float arms assist with the buoyancy of your underwater camera system with the extra weight in the strobes, lights and glass dome ports. The ideal for me is to have a 20cms and a 13cms double ball arm which will allow you to utilize the best light for your fabulous wide-angle photography. It also enables you to position both the strobes or lights to one side, to get creative with side lighting. Once again, I advise you to speak with your housing supplier regarding the correct float arms. I liked the blue trim finish on the Nauticam float arms. I can be swayed by a bit of colour, but most dive equipment should be fashionably black.
I am unfamiliar with video lights and have only recently started experimenting. I'm looking forward to developing some skills and techniques with these for another article. My limited experience with video lighting was with a compact camera – the legendary Canon G12 and canon housing – to which I added two dive lights. With this, I had great success, but we all want to progress to better and bigger cameras that provide higher and better quality images.  

FIRST & LASTING IMPRESSIONS | Access to every function on the camera is a sign of well-thought-out engineering and design, which is evident in the Nauticam housing. My first impression of the Nauticam housing was that the engineers and design team have seriously considered safeguarding your valuable camera equipment. They have a patented port locking lever to secure your extension rings and ports, in addition to housing locking latches to prevent you from accidentally opening the housing. This all helps to give the underwater photographer peace of mind. Essential to take your equipment underwater is to be sure that you keep the O-rings clean, dust-free, hair-free, sand free and adequately lubricated. Use lint-free cloths when cleaning and drying O-rings. With proper lubrication, I have been told that you should be able to feel the silicon grease but not obviously see it.
 
Last but not least, every good camera housing should have a vacuum system. This Nauticam housing feature takes time to get familiar with. What I liked about it is that you don't have to guess when it is active and the housing is safely sealing. The suction pump also does a quick job of evacuating the air with little effort. Get familiar with your housing systems by reading the user manual. The battery system in the housing has a good lifespan if appropriately used. I used only one battery over three weeks while doing six dives.

In some cases, I prepared the housing well before the dive and, on average, had the vacuum system active for 4 to 6-hour excursions. I also like soaking the housing in fresh water for a good while after diving and would not vent the vacuum for the duration. I also left it active while waiting for the equipment to dry appropriately.

Thanks to the expert team at Dive Action in Cape Town for providing me with a truly professional experience. They are a great team who can supply you with Nauticam equipment and professional servicing.

GET IN TOUCH
Web: www.nauticam.co.za | Email: info@nauticam.co.za
+27 83 414 1664 or +27 82 881 1660 or +27 21 511 0800
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