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While I have been dabbling in photography for a couple of decades, I never have ventured underwater with the craft except with the use of a small 110 film camera when I was a child and recently with a small Canon P&S. That all changed earlier this month when I was lent an Aquatech CO-7 Sport Housing for my Canon 7D from BorrowLenses.com for a trip to the Riviera Maya region of Mexico.
While this review will be specific to the Canon camera housing I was lent, Aquatech’s housing all share a commonality in making the most vital camera functions accessible. Also, the build quality and operation of the housing (opening, closing, fitting) are nearly identical across their product line.
Aquatech’s Sport Housings are intended for the recreational water enthusiast and professionals taking on the water shots. The case is only rated to 10m (33′) so it is not very useful for SCUBA diving. But it is quite handy for a range of other activities, including; surf photography, snorkeling, underwater portraiture, whitewater rafting and kayaking, windsurfing or just your average desire to take photos outside in a hurricane. It can be used in either salt or fresh water.
The housing is crafted of a single piece of high-strength epoxy resin while the back plates is clear to make viewing and control functions easier. The lens port is metal with a high quality glass covering on the end.
Each housing is made specific for the camera which it will protect. However, the lens port is purchased separately and is specific to certain size lenses. Shown here is the lens port for a shorter Canon 10-22mm lens. This port has a small control knob on the side to allow for zooming of the lens. Manual focus is not possible with this port.
The case is kept water tight by two O-rings on the front and rear. The lens port is simply screwed into place until it makes contact with the O-ring. Overtightening can cause damage to the ring so care should be taken to inspect both rings before any submersion in water. The rear plate is attached with 4 clamps, located at each of the case corners. The clamps have a self locking mechanism to help ensure against accidental opening at the least opportune moment.
To fit a camera in the case, Aquatech has provided a mounting plate specific to the camera used. The plate is fitted with a screw so a flathead screwdriver is needed (I attempted to simply hand tighten the screw and while it will work, the camera has just enough wobble in the case to make some controls not function properly). With the camera on the mounting plate, all that is needed is to slide the plate into the base that is permanently attached to the case. There is no lock on the base, but when the camera is all the way forward, is it ready.
The lens port can be attached before or after the camera is install. The zoom knob pulls out while the camera is installed to ensure the lens will pass by without having to contort anything. Once in place, the zoom knob can then be pressed in to make contact with the zoom ring on the flash. I found the control of this knob to work very well. Dialing the knob forward (away from the case) zoomed out and dialing ‘in’ pulled the zoom back. Very intuitive and without slip.
Some important notes on fitting. First, remove the lens cap!! I know this seems basic, but it can’t be stressed enough. Second, remove the eyecup. If you leave your eyecup attached (it is the rubber piece around the viewfinder) the camera won’t seat just right in the unit and some controls might not work properly. Third, check your settings before the camera goes in. There are no controls for which camera mode is being used, ISO, frame rate or any of the controls on the top of the camera. Make sure things are set. And lastly, make sure the camera is on. During testing I once installed the camera with both the lens cap and the unit off. Pretty useless once you are in the water.
If there is a neck strap attached to the camera, it may or may not fit. You will be best served by removing any strap. You may note in the photos I was able to stuff the ends of my padded neck strap in various places.
I was pleased with the handling of the camera in and out of the water. While it is not as ergonomic as the camera itself, the grip on the right side where the shutter release is, felt comfortable and easy to handle. I was able to hold the unit with either hand in the water. Also of note, the unit is positively buoyant, meaning it floats when released, which works well while snorkeling. The shutter release button was smooth and tactile enough to allow for using the camera’s ‘half-pressed’ feature, by which the camera will focus and set exposure settings before taking a photo. I found this handy in certain lighting situations where I wanted to freeze the exposure and recompose.
On the back of the unit are controls for:
The unit also has the ability to connect with an external flash, which I did not use in this review.
In practical use I tested the unit in a pool, shot with it off the back of a snorkeling boat, swam out in Akumal Bay to find turtles, plunged into cenotes (water filled caves) chillier than I expected and sped through the treeline on ziplines that sometimes ended in pools.
The controls worked as well with the exception of the switch between video and photo. It took a bit of practice before I was comfortable with it and I should have testing it on land more before getting in the water. While in theory it is designed well, the engagement of that little switch, with its slight resistance to movement (if you have the 7D, you know what I mean) was problematic at times. Because of my fussing with it, I was also left with a minor scratch on the side of the viewfinder which isn’t noticeable with the eyecup attached. My note here would be to practice when dry and not when you are surround by pretty fish who are listening to you curse.
Otherwise, on land and in water, shooting and reviewing photos, even deleting them, was easy. This was especially useful when motoring between snorkel sites as I did not have to open the case and chance salt water ingression just to review what I had shot (and learn from my mistakes). The case was ease enough to use I was able to hand it to my eight year old daughter and let her explore.
I found the CO-7 Underwater Sport Housing from Aquatech to be fairly easy to use both on land and in the water. A few points are subtracted for the pesky switch between video and still mode, but that is partial user error and just the limits of what is possible. I was still happy, once I got the action down, that I was able to have both video and still capabilities while in the water.
Installing the 7D took about five to ten minutes each time. While this may seem like a long amount of time to some, the process I took was necessarily slow to ensure I was doing everyting properly. Underwater is not a time I wanted to realize I left the lens cap on, again!
The case is a serious investment if you are looking to go this route. The body alone is in the $1500-$1700USD range and lens ports running a few hundred dollars. Rental bodies are an option through BorrowLenses.com and other dive shop
Note: Not tested on this unit was the optional pistol grip shutter release nor any of the optional light packages.
Get a price on the Aquatech CO-7 Sport Housing from Amazon.
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