In an industry known for getting what you pay for, I am always skeptical of cheap, new solutions where only expensive ones existed previously. But curiosity got the better of me before a trip last year to Barbados when I wanted to take photos of turtles underwater, but lacked funds for a $3000 underwater housing for my DSLR. That’s when I dropped $60 on a housing and prayed it would not kill my Canon 7D.
The housing I chose is from a company you probably have never heard of – Dicapac USA. They have a few models for different sized cameras and mine is the WP-S10 model, suitable for normal size DSLRs (they have smaller size bags for point and shoot as well as mirrorless cameras).
The lay of the bag
For lack of a better term, the Dicapac is a heavy duty Ziploc bag with a special port for your lens. But unlike your average sandwich bag, the plastic on the Dicapac is heavy duty PVC/TPU and the seams are all welded tight on the inside.
With a clear plastic back, LCDs are easy to view and there is a softer rubberized plastic opening for a shutter release finger. Extending out the front of the bag is the lens tube with a special screw on port for the end. The tube also has two of the finger holes to allow for adjustment of zoom (typically on zooms that use a dial, rather than push/pull type) and focus. It is also conceivable to activate side-of-lens controls, such as VR/IS or manual focus modes.
The top of the bag is where the sealing happens. There is a double industrial plastic clamping zip along the top and then strips of Velcro to hold things in place.
Inside, the bag is fairly sparse but it does come with a one inch thick foam pad to place beneath your camera.
How it works
Following trial and error and then searching the Internet, I found it easiest to insert my camera with the lens off. I was using a Canon 7D without the standard battery grip. This made it easy to slide in the top with the zip open. I was then able to take off the front port and insert my Canon EF 10-22mm lens, attaching it to the body inside the bag. A smaller camera, like the Digital Rebel lineup of cameras, would probably fit easily without removing the lens. For me, it wasn’t required, but it was easier.
I then checked the front optics of my lens for smudges or dirt before screwing on the lens port. It was a little tricky finding the beginning thread but easier after a couple of practices. Now, like any Ziploc, I had to squeeze out the excess air and then clamp shut the top zip. This isn’t a sandwich in a bag so this too took a few practice tries to get most of the air out. So far, nothing earth shattering.
Next, you need to roll down the zip a few times and then attache the first velcro strip to hold it in place. Lastly, you attach one last, larger velcro strip, to hold everything closed. There is also an additional neck strap that can be clipped into the buckles, but I usually didn’t use it.
As an operational note, I practiced zipping up the bag with only paper towels inside a few times. I then dunked the unit in my bathtub to make sure no water got inside. I suggest new owners do the same to ensure their unit is not faulty.
After a few very boring photos of the drain in my bathtub, and a flight to the Caribbean Island of Barbados, it was time for a real world test of the case. With no pretty coral out front our hotel, I took some inspiration from Clark Little and decided to shoot through wave tubes toward the setting sun.
The camera was already in the bag when I realized my best bet was to use manual focus and simply set it to a given depth, rather than miss shot after shot in the fast breaking surf. With the holes in the side of the lens tube I was able to switch over to manual focus without much problem. Setting my focus took a little more effort as the holes don’t allow a wide range of movement. Meaning I had to spin my focus ring about half an inch at a time. No biggie, it just takes longer and won’t work well for lots of fast action.
Because my lens didn’t fully fill the lens tube, I had to pull back on the tube with my fingers in both tube holes to keep the port flush against the front of my lens. In time this causes fatigue and after about 30 minutes of shooting I was starting to feel cramps in my hands. Not bad, but I wouldn’t want to shoot a weddings with this setup.
This is what happens if you don’t pull back on the tube with a wide angle lens installed:
But it can be used to create a nice “porthole” effect:
Shutter activation was easy but most controls, especially the rear wheel, on my camera were not accessible. This meant I had to think ahead and set the frame rate to continuous and choose my metering mode as well as shooting mode. I could spin the front/top dial which controlled my aperture but the back dial was useless as I couldn’t reach it.
Here is the range of motion you can expect from the activation access hole. That black thing at top is my finger:
I was able to adjust my zoom with the same effort needed for focusing. So, again, not swift but doable.
How did it do?
My first run with the bag in the surf showed me that it could take a pounding but after a while I needed to check to make sure the top Velcro was still tight. It needed to be adjusted a couple times because of this specific use and I noticed a few droplets of water on the inside of the case. nothing much. I was able to dry the bag off with a towel on the beach, remove it (this time leaving the lens on so as to not let water get in the threads of the front port) and review images. After making some adjustments, I placed the camera back in and waded back to the surf for more.
Closing down my aperture made motion blur possible:
While use of the viewfinder is possible, it is difficult in waves with goggles on. Later, when I was snorkeling and shooting turtles, I was able to better line up shots. But truth be known, it was just easier to shoot blindly and let experience help me line up the shots. Use of the rear LCD in LiveView mode is also possible with slower moving action, like the turtles.
For my three times taking the the bag into the saltwater, including duck-dives in the waves and 15 foot dives to meet turtles, the bag never leaked significantly. It does get a little hard to hold after a while as your hand is in a non-normal grip.
For the money and intended use, this bag is worth the expense. As proof, I have already sold a stock photo of one of the turtles, which covered the cost of the bag.
This bag is good for recreational use but not SCUBA. It is rated to 16’/5m (JIS IPX8 standard). Some people have voiced concerns about cameras overheating but I left my camera on inside the bag for over two hours with no problem (the 7D has a warning when it gets too hot).
It also works well as a general dry bag and I think it would be great for times you want to keep spray or sand out of your gear. It would be idea for whitewater rafting or piece of mind while ocean kayaking. I heard talk of an adapter which helps the front port attach to your lens as a filter would, which would greatly aid in shooting and cramps. I have not yet found it.
I will be heading to Mexico, Belize, Alaska, Jamaica, Australia and New Zealand this year and plan to take the bag with me for each trip. I will also get a small bottle of Rain-X to help with beading when taking wave shots.
- Cheap – $70 on Amazon.
- Can be used with multiple cameras.
- Packs small for traveling as compared to hardshell housings.
- No need for different ports for different lenses. Would work well with a 100mm macro, for instance.
- Viewfinder use is possible, but not often used.
- Port window comes off for easier camera and lens insertion.
- Neck strap and loops you can clip to keep it with you, hands-free, while swimming.
- Functions as a drybag out of the water.
- Limited button and dial control. You have to think ahead about some settings.
- It takes practice to seal properly.
- It’s hard to zoom and focus quickly, but it can be done.
- Holding the lens to the port is tiring.
- While not holding the camera, it flops around inside the bag.
- Lens port has a coating which makes polarizing filter use impractical (shows rainbows). Otherwise, it is fairly neutral.
- No flash use, internally nor with external flash, although it may be possible with a wireless transmitter.
If you have specific question, I am happy to answer them in the comment section below.