Aquatica A300 Housing Review


Let me begin with a couple of qualifications. First, this is my first time with an SLR under water digital or otherwise so I have no basis to compare the camera or housing with any other SLR system. Second, Aquatica was very kind to rush ship me the housing so I would have it in time for my Thailand trip while they continued work on a few details. Items not yet completed include instruction manual, TTL interface circuit for Inon strobes, and a few focus rings.

Ryan Canon at Underwater Camera Pros has written a very good preview article . Please have a look there first for the basics. I'll make references to his descriptions and photos in my report.

Technical Issues

Before putting the housing in the water, I spent a little time going through it's functions, and decided to make an adjustment to the shutter control. As Ryan described in detail, Aquatica takes advantage of the easy-to-use electronic shutter release of the Rebel, and controls the shutter via two simple contact switch shown in the photo below. The switch closer to the housing wall sets the focus ( half press on the shutter button ) and the other one releases the shutter. My photo show the positions of the contacts after my adjustment. Since I'm too lazy to reset it, please see the photo in Ryan's article for their original positions. There you'll find the two contacts very nearly aligned resulting in a very sensitive trigger which makes it almost impossible to set focus and re-frame a shot. My reconfiguration makes focus lock much easier. This change requires removing the outer contact piece, flip it 180 degrees and reassemble.

Because the shaft rotating the two contacts is not round, the offset between the two is not continuously adjustable. I think the way I have it set is the only other useful position.

For my inaugural dive trip with a DSLR, I decided to use a Sigma 15mm FE in an 8 inch dome, and a Sigma 50mm macro and Sigma 105mm macro in the flat port. I only have the focus ring for the 105mm. Because the Similan Island of Thailand is a much better wide angle spot than macro, I ended up using the 15mm for about 70% of the dives and the 50mm for the rest except for two dives where I tried the 105mm on auto focus.

In the water, I was pleasantly surprised by how easy the setup handled; it really didn't seem that much bigger than the Olympus PT-015 system that I was used to. With the TLC arms and Inon strobes, the whole thing is only slightly negative. The housed camera by itself is actually a little buoyant for both the 15mm and 50mm setup. The viewfinder shows the full frame clearly although at a slightly reduced size. The housing worked very well except for a couple of minor issues.

The first is that I often forget to pull the front knob that controls the camera aperture/shutter dial up before removing the camera. As a consequence the O-ring that's glued to the disc came off. Fortunately, I was able to find super glue on the boat and re-attach the O-ring.

The other issue is the choice of using a lock-down button on the * key. As far as I know, the camera currently has no function that requires this key to be held down. This key locks exposure which is accomplished by a single press, and having the lock-down button hinders that operation should one choose to shoot in aperture priority mode. It would be much better to have a simple button here and have the lock-down button for the next key over which controls the auto focus points. Adjustment of these points requires holding down that key and turning the control dial simultaneously.

Even with these minor problems, I enjoyed my first outing with the A300 very much. It was a pleasure to shoot without a noticeable shutter lag. Composing on a view finder instead of a LCD took a little getting use to, but after a few days I didn't find that to be much of a problem. Most important of all I was very pleased with the sharper, cleaner images and the camera's exposure range for sun ball shots.


Here are a few shots using the Sigma 15mm FE.

To better evaluate the quality of the lens and dome port, here are 100% crops of the above image. The first crop is from the center and the other from the upper left corner.

Here are a few shots with the Sigma 50mm macro.

and one with the Sigma 105mm macro.


I'll summarize with a few pros and cons plus a few things I learned about the camera and housing that the reader may find useful.

- The housing is simple, compact and solid.
- The ports and extensions are easy to mount and dismount.
- The camera fits tightly in the housing yet it's easy to insert and remove.
- Very close to neutral and well balanced
- Dual bulkheads

- The use of the lock-down button for the * key.
- No lock-down button for the focus point control
- Unless care is taken in opening the housing, the spring loaded latches can smash a finger against the handle.
- Need more focus rings and the one for the Sigma 105mm should be made longer

- The Digital Rebel will sync at 1/320s with the Inon Z-220 strobes, spec is 1/200s
- Turn the camera off for battery change. The camera appears to function afterward if you don't, but the auto shutoff does not work which can lead to an unexpectedly early dead battery.
- The spotting light and laser on the Inon Z-220 can be made to work with this system with a little modification.
- It's better to leave the mode dial knob up. One time, I confused myself for a minute when I tried to change aperture, and turned that knob instead, ending up at a completely different shooting mode. It's an easy mistake to make if you attempt the change while looking through the view finder.