Nauticam D700 underwater housing review
Scubazoo recently received a new D700 Nauticam housing and I have had the job of putting it through its paces in the Maldives during a recent shoot. The following review is based on about 80 dives. Since playing with a NikV back in 1997 all my underwater photography has been with Nexus housings and Nikon cameras like the F90X, D200 and D2X. All my comparisons are with those housings and not Subal, Sea & Sea or Seacam etc.
OUT OF THE BOX
When I unpacked the box everything was very well organized. For example all separate parts were in labeled boxes – this may sound like a minor point but there are plenty of manufacturers that just throw it all in one box and leave you to scratch your head and assemble the jigsaw puzzle.
My first reaction when I picked up the housing was that it looked very nice, and the engineering seemed well thought out. It was obviously designed by an underwater photographer, which makes a nice change.
The labels on the housing are all engraved so there was no need to add stickers to remind myself what the controls are. This is a small detail, but important.
The Nexus port adapter is a great idea and having the choice to use my existing Nexus ports, or even ports from other manufacturers such as Sea & Sea or Ikelite, is a great option and makes the switch from Nexus to Nauticam so much easier. The locking system for the ports looked to be very well thought out. Also the fact that Nauticam sent two adapters so that I could use one with my macro ports and the other with the wide angle is fantastic as I get to use that lovely new locking system.
The camera tray is something else I am not used to (as Nexus do not have this feature) and is a most welcome method of placing the camera in the housing and having the option of a quick removal to replace batteries.
The choice of ball joints is nice, and to be able to have them placed on the housing or the arms is nice (more on them later). There is also the option to have three ball joints on the housing, rather than the usual two. Having a spare one for a spotting torch is great.
Bulkhead placement – having only one bulkhead for electronic sync cables is an interesting choice. Although I use dual cables, I like to have an extra bulkhead for my polecam release cable, or for one of Scubacam’s mini pump adaptors. I still use electronic over optical cables but this may change in the near future, therefore I could use the bulkhead for the polecam release cable but still no space for the pump/pressure tester.
I have been using the set-up mainly for wide angle. My lens of choice was the Nikon D700 SLR with the AF-S Zoom-NIKKOR 17-35mm f/2.8D IF-ED, used in combination with the Nexus 6” dome with 40mm & 20mm extenders.
The housing does feel very heavy compared to my old Nexus unit, and in the water it is actually quite negatively buoyant – I have tried adding buoyancy aids to the arms but that’s not really adequate.
I started with the ULCS strobe arms mounted on the handles, but they felt too flexible, and the strobes were bouncing around underwater, so I changed to the mounts on the housing. This felt much better, however it does restrict your access a little to certain controls. This is how I used the housing until the fourth day when one of the ball joint mounts on the housing ‘snapped’ underwater. As I tried moving the strobe arm the ball connection on the housing literally sheared straight off.
I therefore mounted the left strobe arm on the handle connector, however the following day the right ball joint mounted on the housing also snapped, so that strobe arm was also then mounted on the handle ball joint. This is how I used the set-up for the restof the trip but it really does feel too flexible in my view.
As I just mentioned, the handles really do feel too flexible even without the strobe arms mounted on them, I understand they have been made this way to save weight however I have always been use to aluminium handles. They are also too far away from the housing. I am used to taking photos with one hand, and being able to control both the aperture and the shutter controls with my thumb and middle finger. This cannot be done comfortably with the Nauticam housing. It may be because I have freakishly small hands!
This takes me back to using the D200 and the lack of seeing all four corners at once, although I can cope with this for wide angle, which is somewhat forgiving in terms of framing, I probably would not use it for macro with this restricted view. Nauticam do have a 180 degree viewfinder which enhances the view so I will be testing this out as soon as I can get my hands on one.
Focus mode switch
Switching between Continuous, Single and Manual focus is simple and hassle free
This is very smooth and the focus rings line up nicely. I’ve had no issues.
MODE, QUAL, WB & ISO control buttons all align well and work nicely.
I love the huge window on the back of the housing and all controls work well except the cursor buttons, these need a little tweaking. I found it easier to scroll through the images by using the rear shutter speed dial.
Trigger & playback levers – love the spring action on those.
Although I have experienced a few negative things with this housing, having reported them to Nauticam they have immediately started to look at ways of improving them. This is no ordinary company that just wants to follow other housing designs – they want to create the best and therefore take all constructive criticism on board to constantly improve the product. Their support has been fantastic and they even offered to send replacement parts to me in the field to make sure my shoot went smoothly. I have never had any other company offer this. The main housing design is solid, and will certainly take the kind of abuse that our staff photographers will dish out. I’m confident that Nauticam will be reactive to my feedback on the existing minor issues, and that fact, together with the compatibility with our existing Nexus ports mean we will be looking to house all our future cameras in Nauticam housings.