Underwater housing and camera

To take pictures under water, I use a normal camera in a water-sealed housing. You can find cameras that are waterproof by their own. However, most of them will only withstand the water pressure of a few meters down (if that), and of the very few that you can take down to 40 meters or so, I am not impressed by their quality and their range of controls.

Camera in opened underwater housing

I use a Sony RX100 II in a Nauticam underwater case. The latter is made of aluminium-alloy, which is not only way sturdier than the (cheaper) plastic housings, but has much better characteristics regarding build-up of condensation fog on the window in front of the camera lens, which was a constant battle when I used them. The Sony RX100 II (or its siblings) is one of the best cameras you can find at its compact size, for above and under water. It has Zeiss optics and a large sensor. A next step would be to use my Canon D6 DSLR also under water, but the corresponding underwater housings are huge and very (even more…) expensive. My current rig is small enough to easily carry around, and also to keep on me when back-rolling into the water from the boat, even with the external flash mounted to it. A DSLR-based rig needs to be passed down from the boat to the photographer.

A good, modern underwater housing such as the Nauticam is easy to handle. Each and every control of the camera itself is also available through the housing, often via seemingly Rube Goldbergian contraptions of levers, cogs, push-rods, and wheels, as the picture demonstrates.

They are also easy to maintain water-sealed, so that your precious camera stays dry and safe even down under.

In principle at least. Unless a careless user kicks in. Such as me. So last week I managed to leave a tiny object between the sealing O-ring and the housing counterpart, and – bottom line – my Nauticam housing was not water-tight anymore below 25 meters. My poor little camera caught humidity. I knew something is wrong when I got strange messages on the display. Low-power electronics and water don’t go along very well. Oh well. My mistake, or sloppiness. Layer eight problem.

Rice to the rescue

On my way home, I stopped to buy some kilos of rice and a plastic container. Immediately, I immersed the camera into the rice. Even if I had salvaged humid electronics this way before, my hopes were not high. A camera not only has electronics, but also optics, or a combination thereof, mainly the sensor. If water had entered this optical path, there would be salt stains, even if dried out completely.

My fears were confirmed when I tested the camera after one day in the rice. It was still acting up, strange messages, it didn’t focus, and other malfunctions. At this point – silently swearing at the stupid user – , I couldn’t lose anymore and just placed the camera back into the rice. And started to look around to buy a replacement, which turns out to be not so easy. You can buy all kinds of cameras here, but the offering is mostly targeted at tourists, and I couldn’t yet find a shop that sells high-end cameras. The replacement must be exactly the same, as otherwise it does not fit the underwater housing.

However, yesterday, when I freed my poor little and tortured camera from its rice prison, after four days overall, it worked again! I guess I should still expect one or the other problem as soon as I put it to real use, but up to now, things operate normally. Most importantly, the pictures look clean – no salt stains from what I can see in my test shots.

So I guess I am off to the races again. Rice rocks.

PS: another application of the rice trick (from/copyright xkcd):