|Review of Sea & Sea’s DX-350D Underwater Housing for the Canon 350D
First Things First
When I first saw the Canon 350D I knew that this camera could be the basis of a good, compact underwater system. I wish I had waited as I had already bought the 20D, however I didn’t feel bad because Ikelite had lazily packaged this neat little camera in a monstrous one size fits all housing, after all, the Ikelite has 20D and 5D versions in the same unit. A year had passed, I had saved my pennies and was poised and ready to buy an Ikelite housing for the 20D. I did a quick internet search and tripped over Sea & Sea’s new offering for the 350D at Alan James Photography and thought wow! nice. Not only that, Alan is local to me so I rang to check if he had one and I was on my way.
In the shop it looked well made, neat and very compact. Alan advised that nearly all lenses could be housed with just 2 ports and one extension. (NX Compact Dome, NX standard Flat and an extension ring, more on this later). I left the shop with the Sea & Sea catalogue under my arm.
For me, having a compact easy to handle set up is important so to cut a long story short I was sold and I found the 350D body for a good price and returned with camera and lenses to buy the housing. I had already decided that the sigma 18-50 3.5-5.6 dc I owned was much better than the Canon kit lens, had real close focusing capability and was a sharp lens so this is what I wanted to use.
This is where the Sea & Sea offering begins to fall apart compared to Ikelite. Sea & Sea have no port suggestions for this lens. We soon found that the lens was ok in the NX Compact Dome, possibly a little too far forward. With Alan’s suggested extension ring it was too far back. So I go for just the Dome. The cost hurts as it is a little over 2 times the Ikelite dome. Next problem - no zoom gears, Sea & Sea zoom gears are purpose built for each lens and cost from £80. Ikelite is one size fits all and comes free with the housing. All-in-all the Port and zoom gear can be more than 3x the cost of Ikelite. Alan suggested that a gear could be adapted (since then I have worked out how to do this with one gear and adapters for the lenses)
I walked out of the shop with the housing, an NX compact dome port and a sync cable for the YS90auto strobe that I already had.
Back to Alan’s advice on ports and extensions. Most lenses will fit, however when we tried the flat and his suggested Extension Ring 40 with the large Canon 100mm macro, there was a lot of free air between the lens and the lens port face which would suggest that balance would be upset by buoyancy at the front. Another new owner (Jonas Vannar) had this problem with the catalogue suggested port set for the EF-s 60 macro lens. Armed with this info, I did a careful survey and I think Alan’s suggestion will work, but using the SX Extension ring instead for the lenses I am most likely to buy or use, with the exception of Canon’s 17-40L and 16-35L.
Unpacking the housing the important contents were the housing, instructions, instructions on how to look after the ‘O’ ring, spare ‘O’ ring, ‘O’ ring removal tool, grease and an allen key for removal of the handles. Likewise for the Dome port included was a spare ‘O’ ring etc. A minor irritation was that there was no protective cover for the port, another costly £39 extra…and all it is, is a bit of neoprene.
Everything was nicely built. The main housing is in two pieces the front is cast aluminium alloy, and the rear is thick polycarbonate, obviously based on the technologies derived from the point and shoot underwater housing market making nearly all the controls available, however the drive mode button is not which is not important.
Prior to assembly a few things need to be done to the camera. First the lens was fitted and then my adapted zoom gear fitted to the lens. Secondly the eye cup needs to be removed from the view finder, and finally the housing quick release plate fitted to the tripod socket on the base of the camera.. Assembling the camera into the front housing is via the quick release plate and is straightforward. At this point my adapted zoom gear required very slight repositioning to ensure good meshing with the zoom control. The zoom control is smooth, and if required can be disengaged.
The dome is attached and the port lock mechanism engaged. This ensures that the dome cannot inadvertently be undone underwater; somehow I don’t think this could be done anyway with the pressure differential. The housing flash and focus light umbilicals are then connected to the camera.
Time to fit the housing back. This is the only difficult bit, it takes some care to ensure that the on/off control is engage properly, following the instruction book instructions doesn’t help. Additionally the housing can be assembled with the AE/AF lever in the wrong position.
Now that I am over these minor hurdles I have a functional system, it is neat and the controls are accessible. Changing the aperture or shutter speed via the front dial is a little awkward because you cannot operate it without taking your hand off the handle, almost impossible in air, hopefully not difficult in water. I can’t see how this could be improved upon as this is primarily dictated by the camera design. One problem control is the main mode dial, you can only see the right half of it through the window, the setting point is on the left side so you will need to commit to memory the mode sequence if you want to change. All I will ever use is manual or aperture priority which is one click away so shouldn’t be too much of a problem.
The dome is quite large compared to the housing my suspicion is that some ballast may be required to counter the buoyancy at the front, a lot will depend on the balance of the plastic rear metal front of the housing body.
Final points are that the flash does not indicate in the view finder if it is ready and operation is not compatible with Canon’s E-TTL. This latter point should not be a problem as Sea & Sea YS90Auto strobe provides 12 steps of F-stop Auto power level control that should provides all of the creative flexibility you will need.
In the pool
In preparation for the pool the ‘O’ rings are greased as per instruction, the housing assembled and all is ready. The housing is fitted with a leak detector but no means to check if the leak detector is working, the battery may have run out!
In the pool the housing was found to be neutrally buoyant but slightly unbalanced with the port wanting rotate to point up, however it did not require any effort to keep level. The buoyancy should translate to a slightly positive in sea water which is good if the rig is attached via a lanyard it will float out of the way when you let go.
Next is looking through the viewfinder, this turned out to be a surprise as I could clearly see the all of the frame and the data along the bottom. The zoom control was smooth, very easy to operate and could be reached without moving your hand from the grip
The dome port setup seemed to work fine with the wide angle capability of the lens not lost which would happen if the lens was to far forward. I was planning to try and measure any discrepancy, however I left this as I was happy with what I got.
Close focusing of the lens was what I hoped for but I am only really going to find this out in the sea. Operating the shutter speed and aperture was, as I suspected, a little awkward, it helps that the housing was neutrally buoyant but still slightly difficult because you need to apply a slight downward pressure to engage the control with the camera. It was a really good insight that Sea & Sea included a twist lock down on the Av button. The camera still takes photos with this button locked down. This in effect adds to the camera a facility available to the Canon 20D that otherwise would not be available on the 350D and I would miss a lot.
Surprisingly, what I did miss was the cameras E-TTL facility, I had got used to using it on land. Now I need to develop a flash strategy, the pool is not a good place to work this out, as there is too much white.
Selecting the focus point became an issue, a couple of days before I had changed custom function 1 and the camera no longer behaved they way I was expecting it to, my fault. I am going to have spend more time topside learning, getting more familiar with the camera to get the best setup.
At home I carefully washed and checked, brilliant, no leaks.
Easter has come and the diving club is off to Plymouth for a long weekends diving. I have got the camera kit sorted out and the first dive is on HMS Scylla, a Leander class frigate purposefully sunk as a dive site and haven for life.
I attached the camera housing via a lanyard and allowed it to float out of the way during the decent. During the decent I noted that is was just about neutrally buoyant. On the wreck I gathered in the camera and started taking photographs. Operating the zoom control was easy and just in the right place. At the top of the wreck the camera picked up focus easily, however after descending to the sea bed at 26m on the shady side of the wreck the camera on occasion refused to operate. So far I have put this down to not enough light for the autofocus, as it always worked at the shallower depths and lighter areas. This indicates the necessity of having a focus light either on the camera or the flash unit.
I was really pleased the way the housing could easily be handled, in fact it seemed easier than my Olympus C5050 point & shoot setup.
As mentioned previously the one control that always seemed a little difficult was the aperture/shutter dial control. The solution may be to pad out more the pad that is in contact with this camera control.
Once again, I missed the lack of E-TTL, the current fix that I am going to include is a lookup table of aperture vs max range although I am not sure where to place it. As far as I am concerned the trial and error methods advocated by thee sea & sea flash guide is not workable because I don’t want to spend ½ an hour getting the exposure right. Maybe I will just learn it after a while or do guide number calculations.
The second dive I took the camera on was the very scenic Mewstone Ledges. Immediately on reaching the seabed was the ubiquitous dogfish. It posed long enough for one picture and I managed to get another shot of it swimming off. This was only possible due to the fats recharge time of the flash and the very quick response of the camera.
On this dive the close focussing capability of the lens was not quite good enough for some of what looked like small juvenile jewel anemones.
Overall I was very happy with the handling of the package with only a few minor niggles
Photos from the dive s can be found here
Verdict So Far
A very, very nice piece of kit. I am going to enjoy using this, I have a few things to sort out but I can’t wait to use it properly.
If Sea & Sea can sort out the pricing strategy for the ports and extras then this is an all around winner, I don’t mind paying a little more for the housing ‘cause it is a cut above the competition, but the cost of ports and extras can be painful especially if you want everything in one go.
Reader Comments or Questions
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I hope you have found this review usefull
To come –
Low cost Zoom/Focus adapter designs
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