Can everyone become a good underwater filmmaker? No, not really. I’m no expert, but I know you’ll need to be a highly skilled and certified diver who feels right at home in the ocean. If you’re always worrying about your diving technique, you can’t focus on your video skills.
Any rig must, at the very least, allow the camera to perform at its full potential. This is even more important of underwater rigs. An underwater rig must:
- Protect the camera over many dives
- Provide full functionality on the camera
- Let the camera do its thing
- Must work at a depth of about 300 feet
- Resistant to sea water and corrosion
- Solid watertight body
- Must give access to all buttons and functions
- Must show LCD display or provide for external display
- Good grip
- Option to connect to operator’s body
- Tripod support for macro work
- Able to take as many lenses as possible, both wide and zoom
- Light weight
- Must have reusable or replaceable parts
An underwater rig consists of different parts, each serving a unique and important function:
- Housing – the waterproof compartment in which the camera body sits.
- Arms – used to attach lights, strobes, etc.
- Port – a transparent viewing area, of which there are three main types:
- Flat Port – used mainly with telephoto or macro lenses. Not preferred for high-end work.
- Dome or Standard Port – used mainly for wide angle lenses to prevent distortion. In general, this is the most preferred type of port, regardless of lens.
- Rebikoff Port – used to correct refraction, like when you’re shooting between air and water at the surface.
- O-ring – the gasket-like seals that stop water from getting in.
- Tray – provides stability to the housing so arms or other stuff can be attached to it.
If you look at the image above, you can see the knobs and screws that are custom made for each camera type. The same housing most likely won’t work on a different camera if the buttons are in the wrong place.
For the smaller DSLRs, try these rigs:
- Ikelite Canon 550D/T2i
- Ikelite Canon EOS Rebel T3i/600D
- Ikelite Canon EOS Rebel T4i/650D
- Ikelite Canon 60D
- Gibson Pro Panasonic GH2
- Aquatica for Canon 7D Underwater Housing
- Sea & Sea MDX-5DMKIII Housing for Canon 5D Mark III
- Sea & Sea MDX-D800 Housing for Nikon D800
The more expensive brands have been around longer, but that is no guarantee they are better than their cheaper brethren. Like everything else on your rig, these need testing too.
For the prosumer cameras, try these:
- Equinox HD10 Underwater Video Housing for SONY NEX-FS100U/FS100
- Equinox HD10 Underwater Video Housing For Sony NEX-FS700
- BMCC – fat chance. The touchscreen makes it very difficult to design a housing rig. We’ll need something similar to this for the iPad.
- Gates Housing for the Canon C300/C500
- AquaVideo for the Sony PMW-F3
For the Red cameras, try these:
- Equinox for Red Epic
- Equinox for Red Scarlet
For the Alexa try Hydroflex:
If you don’t want to buy a housing, then you could make one:
Finally, here are three important accessories to consider:
Take a look at the Wahoo Monitor Casing for the Sony CLM-V55 5-Inch LCD Monitor. The high-end housings come with support for external monitoring, even if you want to monitor above the surface via HD-SDI.
If you’re shooting the ocean floor you’ll appreciate a tripod made specially for the sea. Check out the Xit 404 DSLR Housing Tripod.
For something that looks like its cousin on land, try the Aquatica tripod.
White Balance Card
Finally, if you’re under water, everything appears blue (or whatever color the water is). Many newbies forget this vital piece of gear, and miss the brilliant colors of the sea as a result. Take a look at the Gates White Balance Slate. You could also get something cheaper, like the Digital Image Flow DGK Balance Card, as long as it’s waterproof.
There are excellent resources on the internet, and this is one field of activity that is a world on its own. For starters, if you’re new to all this, I urge you to participate in the WetPixel.com forums for some solid advice.
Now that we’ve spent enough time underwater, let’s resurface to try the other elements. In the next chapter we’ll look at aerial and vehicle rigs.