It was a big investment at around £2500, not including lenses, and I admit that part of
me did it just to keep up with the Joneses on the aft-deck camera table. No-one had complained about the quality of the pictures I made with my D700, my lowly D200 or even my now-antiquated Fuji S2 Pro.
The D800 is a full-frame (FX) camera. This means that its sensor (like the D700’s) is as big as a frame of 35mm film, which is twice the size of those used in consumer (DX) DSLRs and a hell of a lot bigger than the sensors commonly found in compact cameras.
This is part of the secret of the large pixel count, combined with incredible performance at very high ISO (light sensitivity) settings.
The downside is that the files are big, and it can record only 259 compressed RAW files
on a 16GB CF or SDHC card. It can record on either or both. It also shoots HD video.
Taking a D800 under water needs careful consideration. I’m not sure I have the resilience to stand a flood that would render toast the camera, lens and electronics.

The Housing
Every underwater housing manufacturer has rushed to make a model suitable for use with the D800.
My first full-frame camera had cost a lot more than I had been used to paying, but a housing from Hugyfot had successfully protected it, so I went back to the manufacturer for a D800 housing.
Hugyfot units are finished in a matt-black anodising that tends to mark easily. While this means that they may have less shiny shop-counter appeal than their rivals, they don’t glint in the sunlight and startle the marine animals you may be trying to record.
Made in Belgium, Hugyfot housings offer a unique feature that puts them way ahead in the viability stakes – Hugycheck.
Some rivals may be better-designed ergonomically, with elegant camera control solutions, but the Hugyfot keeps things simple.
It uses direct push-rod controls, so the camera design dictates the position of those buttons
on the housing, but that’s no bad thing on a product intended for use in harsh conditions. Witness the success of the Kalashnikov rifle compared with far more sophisticated hand-held weaponry from the West.
I want a housing that allows me to use all the camera controls and keeps the water out.
In a rolling boat, with your feet perhaps awash in a following sea, it’s easy to make an error when installing the camera, and O-rings can get displaced. Some would say it’s not “if” a flood occurs, but “when”.

Security Measures
The Hugyfot housing has an in-built pressure-sensor connected to two LEDs, one near the eyepiece and one at the bottom of the camera, visible through the large back window of the housing. A CR123A lithium battery powers the sensor.
When the air within the housing is at atmospheric pressure, the LEDs flash red.
After sealing the camera by torqueing up two bolts with a hexagonal wrench, you remove the plug to a specially designed bulkhead connection and fit the small electric vacuum pump (powered by a PP9 battery) supplied.
This sucks air from inside the housing, and can take a few minutes. The LED begins to increase its flashing rate as you do this.
When the atmospheric pressure within the case is sufficiently reduced, a pair of green LEDs flash instead.
It is now impossible to remove the port or back, and you could even remove the fixing bolts without risking the clamshell case splitting in two. External air pressure holds it closed.
Leave the closed housing for at least 30 minutes to test whether any air has leaked back in – the green LEDs will change to rapidly flashing red if it has.
If the case is proved airtight, it will be watertight too. If it doesn’t, take another look at O-ring seals. Your camera has survived – those green LEDs are very comforting!

New Features
Improvements over my older D700 Hugyfot housing include better handles that can be adjusted for distance from the controls; an extra port for connecting a monitor when shooting video; and a camera tray that slides in after the camera has been fitted to it, rather than needing to fiddle with a tripod-type screw to hold the camera in place.
I found that with the heavy lens fitted, the tray didn’t slide that easily. Of course, there are more controls than on the D700 housing simply because the D800 camera has more controls to operate.
Hugyfot has gone over to plastic-covered buttons for the push-controls. The shiny metallic buttons of my previous Hugyfot housing looked smart when new, but electrolysis between the different metals when immersed in seawater had taken its toll.
There are two bulkhead connectors for flash sync. I had both fitted with hardwired connections, although one normally comes with a fibre-optic connection to the camera’s on-board flash.
I didn’t consider the flash-arm mounting-balls atop the handles to be an improvement. They now have a bolt passing through them to a locking nut beyond, rather than being cast in one piece. I found that the balls tended to rotate under load, and I had to pack the hole through which the bolt passed with Loctite.
A third mounting-ball is fitted centrally, ideal for an aiming light, a third flash on an arm or even a GoPro video camera or suchlike, although the D800 will shoot HD video.

Ports
Hugyfot can provide a range of ports and spacers to suit the most popular lenses used under water.
I already had a large acrylic port suitable for use with my fish-eye lens, but Hugyfot had previously supplied me with an adapter so that I could use the optical glass dome-port and the macro port
I employed with my Sea & Sea housing for my older D200.
I’ve used all these combinations in the past with my D700, and have no complaints about edge-to-edge sharpness.

Conclusion
The quality of water between the port of the 36MP Nikon D800 and the subject will reduce its performance, perhaps to the equivalent of 24MP in the water I’ve used it in so far, but that’s still a lot of megapixels.
My main aim is to shoot everything as wide as possible so that magazine art editors can crop as they think fit when working with words alongside pictures.
Of course, the size of each file at around 40Mb even as a compressed RAW file, and equating to around 100Mb as an uncompressed TIF, means that the D800 owner needs to look closely at his post-processing facilities.
You need Camera RAW 7.0 to open these files in Photoshop, which means upgrading to CS6 or similar, and you’ll need a computer with sufficient RAM and storage capacity to cope – all extra expense.
But if you want the best, the D800 appears to be the only way to go, although there are reports of Canon preparing to frogleap its rival with a new product. Housing manufacturers must be struggling to keep up.
If you want to keep your D800 safe under water, a Hugyfot housing with Hugycheck will allow you to sleep peacefully between dives.

Comparable housings for a D800:
Aquatica, price on application
Nauticam, £2690
Seacam, price on application
Sea & Sea, £2487
Subal, price on application

PRICES AS TESTED
PRICE D800 Camera (Jessops) £2599
Spare Battery (Jessops) £90
Sigma 15mm Fish-eye lens (Jessops) £500
Hugyfot Housing with one hard-wired and
one fibre-optic sync connection £2692
Hugyfot Dome-Port £472
Sandisk Extreme Pro 16Gb CF Card
(Jessops) £150
Sandisk Ultra 16Gb SDHC Card (Jessops) £50
CONTACT www.hugyfot.co.uk
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