What is the right underwater housing for my camcorder? First, you need to decide how much money you have to spend on an underwater housing for your camcorder. Are you going to use it once a year or several times a year? You might spend more on the housing if you are using it frequently.
Second, do you want manual or electronic controls? Usually manually controlled housings are less expensive than electronic and require less maintenance. Less problems are likely to occur with manual controls. However, you are limited on what the manual controls can do versus the electronic controls.
Underwater houses are specific to different camcorders. Before you go buying one that is new or a used one on eBay or from your buddy, make sure your camcorder fits into it and all the controls are usable.
about Underwater Camcorder Housings
What is the right underwater housing for my camcorder?
Should it be manual or electronic?
Flat or dome port?
Fixed or Changeable lens?
What other considerations?
Do you have these questions about underwater housings? Then read on....
PRACTICE, PRACTICE, PRACTICE...will give you great underwater Video.
a question about underwater video or equipment? Send questions to
Sheryl Brakey at SJB Productions.
We will try to answer them or give another opinion.
There are a number of manufacturers
of underwater housings.
I started with an Ikelite housing. They are affordable at around $800. If you get a new camcorder, Ikelite sometimes will take the old housing back in exchange for a new housing for the new camcorder. Their controls are manual and control record/standby, zoom, and auto/manual focus. Very basic, but a good entry level or low budget housing.
My current underwater housing is electronic. It is the Light and Motion Bluefin housing for the Canon Vixia HF S21. Electronic housings can give you a lot more flexibility in controlling your camcorder, besides everything being at a thumb tip.
On the Bluefin housing, the right side has the record, zoom, manual focus and off buttons. On the left side there is the photo button, the light control button, a display of photos taken button(this camcorder can take photos with a flash card), and thumbing through the photos button. Frankly, I have never used the display photos or thumbed through the photos underwater. Also there is access to the menu.
But, since the electronics are controlled by batteries in the handles, they can sometimes wear out on one side (usually the record side) during a dive. There is a very nice feature that allows you to reverse the controls from one side to the other. So you don’t miss that Whale Shark at the last moment because a battery failed in a handle. This is also nice if you are left handed. This housing cost about $2800.
The back of an underwater housing usually has a port with a magnified view to look through the eyepiece of your camcorder. Your eye piece on your camcorder may only see black and white.
Some manual housings also have a plexi-glass back so you can open the viewing screen and look at that instead.
The Bluefin housing has an LCD back to the housing. This allows you to see exactly what you are shooting in color without having to be close to the housing. In day light, it has a sun shield to making viewing easy. The only draw back is that the LCD housing is powered by the battery on your camcorder. This feature is now standard.
Is your housing Fixed or Changeable Len? Some manufacturers don’t give you an option on which port you are going to get on your housing. Ikelite housings comes with a fixed dome port. My Bluefin housing comes with flat macro zoom lens but does have changeable lens that attach over the flat port. There are wide angle lenses available for this housing. It depends on what kind of creatures you want to videotape as to which kind of housing and lens you want to look for. The macro zoom lens on the Light and Motion housing is a good compromise. It allows a 65° viewing angle while still providing a macro ability for the tight shot.
The other type is internal. Some manufacturers place the filter in a slot inside and it is always in front of the lens. But the best way is a filter which is on a moveable arm and can be moved or removed from in front of the lens when required. My Mako housing has this feature.
What is the difference between Dome and Flat Ports? They are exactly shaped the way they sound. Dome ports are rounded and are excellent for wide angle. Flat ports are flat and are good for moderate wide-angle, close-ups and macro.
Using your Housing has some other considerations. All O-rings which are accessible need to be lubricated with a silicon grease. Most housing manufacturers supply this grease with their housing.
They all have their instructions on how to do this, but remove the O-rings by prying them out with a credit card or other blunt instrument. Don’t use screw drivers or sharp object as you can damage the O-rings without being aware of it. Put on some silicon grease by running the O-ring through your fingers with a little grease on it. More grease is not better.
Make sure the O-rings are fitted back in place and not damaged. Also look that no lint or hair is caught in the O-ring or enclosure.
Other considerations: Lights, extra batteries, and recharger. Lights are discussed under my underwater video lights tips, so check out that page.
You should use the largest battery which your housing can accommodate and you should have at least two of these. Some housing drain more battery power than others. Some housing only require the power to run the camcorder, but housing like my Mako with the LCD external screen use the camcorder battery power.
On any trip where you are going to be diving for several days, a battery recharger is a must. If you are using a Sony camcorder, invest in the Sony recharger. It is dual voltage (110 and 240V) and can be on most live aboard boats and for international travel, without having to have a transformer or converter. There are inexpensive battery chargers for Sony and their equivalent batteries, but they are not dual voltage.
Maintenance: Always rinse your housing well after every dive. A good soaking doesn’t hurt when you get home. Use only fresh water. Don’t put vinegar in the water as it can etch the lens glass.
Let it all dry out thoroughly before packing it away after a dive trip.
Depending on usage, once a year, send it back to the manufacturer for an annual inspection. O-rings which you can not reach tend to dry out and will eventually leak.
There are many manufacturers of underwater housings for camcorders. I have given you some tips on what to look for and the differences between manual and electronic housings.
Make sure you can access Manual Focus Controls on your housing. What you need to consider is whether you can turn off the automatic focus and lock the focus. This feature usually comes with the manual focus controls. The reason you want this is when in murky water or low light water, especially when trying to capture video of larger animals which aren't close, your automatic focus may go in and out of focus. I usually point at something close to me that is in focus--like my fin if I I am away from the reef and lock the focus. Then I point at the animal and continue to shoot.
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