Appeared in DIVER February 2007

I BOUGHT MY LAST CAMERA HOUSING because it was the only one available for a two-year-old digital SLR camera that was fast becoming obsolete. It was a highly rated make, manufactured to a very high standard of finish, and it cost a small fortune.
Alas, such is the state of play in the digital world that one can rarely recoup the cost of such an investment. Digital cameras are improved by the day.
My other problem was that the housing flooded on my second trip away with it, and I was reduced to searching for a secondhand replacement camera to go inside it on eBay.
I have owned five different brands of housing without a problem, and flooding one after thousands of dives was such a painful experience that I started losing faith in the thing.
That housing might have given me credibility on underwater photography Internet forums, and even on the aft deck of dive-boats, but I was always anticipating the next flood.
The problem seemed to stem from the port O-ring, which appeared to kink on rare occasions when I rotated the bayonet lock. Also, there seemed to be nothing to stop the big 8in dome port from being rotated undone during bumpy rides in RIBs, and even while the housing was in the overhead lockers of airliners.
The only visible symptom of a kinked O-ring would be water entry. After 15 months of gingerly dipping it into the water before every dive, I watched it start to flood again.
Enough was enough. The camera and lens were undamaged, but I decided to switch to another make of housing. This also meant buying a new camera to go with it, but at least I would save on indigestion remedies.

SO I BOUGHT A NEW NIKON D200 and Sea & Sea DX housing, and started having restful nights once more. As with all other housings, it needs an extension ring between the body and the big wide-angle dome port to accommodate the Nikon 12-24mm zoom. It doesnt need this when used with the 10.5mm Fish-Eye lens.
The dome does not rotate easily because it is locked in place by an internal catch and the extension ring. The same goes for the flat macro port.
After using it, I confidently clipped it to a D-ring on my BC using a large karabiner in the final moments of the ascent and during the surface wait. There was no way it would fall undone.
The plastic dome port may be susceptible to scratching but these scratches can be easily polished out, and minor scratches dont show in use because the material of the port has the same refractive index as water.
The DX-D200 housing is very similar to the Sea & Sea NX90Z housing I had used for my old F90x 35mm film cameras and is about the same size. It is made of aluminium and finished in
a snazzy black crackle finish. Of course, it accepts the same ports that I had already acquired for the NX90Z.
The special Sea & Sea O-rings are fat, need special grease, and do keep the water out. They squeeze into their slots and there is no question of them accidentally springing out of place before the ports or housing back are sealed in place.
Thatll do for me! I dont expect ever to see the leak-detector light showing.
I never hesitated to take the camera out to change a lens or charge a battery between dives. The camera slots into place in a moment by way of a cam-lock onto a special internal chassis. Meshing gears or getting the focus-mode lever to engage were never problems.

THE NUMEROUS BUTTONS NEEDED TO OPERATE a DSLR successfully are rather garishly finished in bright chrome, the function clearly labelled on each. It may look a little cheap but its useful, especially when youre using the camera for the first time and are still rather unfamiliar with it.
Some of these buttons can be locked in the active position to allow a truly one-handed operation.
I discovered the downside of this after someone had scrutinised the housing on the dive deck and locked down one of the buttons, leaving me to identify the strange display on the cameras LCD. It took me 15 minutes at depth to fathom out what was going on.
The Sea & Sea DX housing has a nice viewfinder, if nothing like as good as those that other manufacturers supply for their housings for an exorbitant extra cost. You can easily see the internal information display, and the D200s big LCD is clearly visible through a clear panel for checking shots taken.
There are two flash synchronisation sockets but, unlike earlier Sea & Sea 35mm film-camera housings, this one is wired for two different types of flashgun rather than two used together. Without the necessary two-way adaptor, I was restricted on my first trip with the DX-D200 to the use of only one flashgun at a time.
The hot-shoe connector looks more robustly made than on its predecessors. Apparently an accessory is available that will allow you to get true through-the-lens (TTL) flash automation with standard flashguns. I stuck to manual mode and recorded my images in RAW format for final adjustment later.
After one dive I was using the housing as if I had never used any other, and took some beautifully crafted pictures with the D200, though I say so myself!
I believe that all the housings available for the D200 are good in terms of operation - as long as they can keep the water out. But there seems to be a general problem of availability from what is ostensibly a cottage industry, whereas the Japanese-made Sea & Sea DX-D200 is readily available.
It may look a little more cheaply finished than some, but it is far less expensive than some of its more exotic European-made rivals. The venerated Nikon D200 is made for Nikon in Thailand and, being far more compact than some other high-megapixel-rated DSLR cameras, is proving very popular with those who need to put one in a submarine housing. Until they bring out the next model, that is!
The economically priced and extremely effective Sea & Sea DX housing is bound to be just as popular with underwater photographers. Expect to pay around 1700 plus the cost of the ports.
  • Alan James Photography, 0117 969 9988

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    + Comparatively inexpensive
    + Effective

    - No credibility among users of more exotic hardware