Review: Ikelite Housing for Fuji S2 Pro
Through a funny turn of events, I was lucky enough to receive one of the first Fuji S2 Pro cameras to reach the United States. Fuji had reserved 60 cameras for reviewers and product reps, but for some reason, they decided to ship them to customers on the pre-order list instead. After deciding (almost immediately) that I was going to keep the camera I immediately sent it off to Ikelite to see if they could make a housing for it. Fortunately, this camera is almost a perfect fit in their MD case.
Since I've received the camera and housing combination I've gotten to take it out on 15 dives at the Flower Garden Banks and in Kona so I feel that it's gotten a pretty thorough workout and it's time for a review of the system. I've organized this review into four sections, Housing, Camera, Overall System Lessons Learned, and Conclusions. I hope this is helpful for everyone and if you have any questions, please post them on the Message Board.
Pool test of the system to determine lens and port compatibility
Photo by Nicolas Will
-- Housing --
The camera fits pretty snugly into Ikelite's MD housing case. The tray doesn't include a massive spacer underneath and there is only about ½" of clearance between the hotshoe/sync connection and the top of the housing. This is apparent in the photos later in the review. For those used to using the very small consumer digicam housings, this setup will seem large. For those used to SLR systems, it will seem "normal." Remember, the camera is almost the size of an F5.
This shot shows the size of the housing and also the ergonomics.
The housing can be shot one-handed. Photo: Sarah Bernhardt
The setup with Ike's weighted handles is slightly negatively buoyant. That's nice if you want to put it down to adjust a finstrap or your BC. For those that like a buoyant setup - you can remove some of the weight in the handle. The ergonomics of this housing are good - the shutter release, aperture control, shutterspeed control, and camera mode are easy to reach and use. The placement of the LCD on the back is in a great spot. Ikelite included their "Super Eye" sportfinder with my housing and this is an absolute necessity with the S2's viewfinder. The viewfinder is smaller than an F5 or N90s. Thankfully I had no trouble getting sharp focus using the viewfinder though.
The following photos show the controls on the S2pro housing
Rear of the housing showing controls and location of LCD display
I especially like the handles on this housing. Ikelite has included their pushbutton handles, which have a "quick release" for the arms. I don't use this feature underwater to handhold my strobes but I'd like to try it. The rubber grip on the handles really fits my hand and they are "non-skid" so I can get a firm grip with my right hand for one-handed shooting in both the vertical and horizontal orientation.
The front of the housing showing the 3.5"macro
flat port for the Nikkor 60mm Micro
This first version of the housing does not support each and every control on the camera, but the newer version of the housing back - shown at DEMA - will support almost everything. The camera's function buttons are not accessible and the "arrow pad" cannot be used. What this really means for underwater shooters is that you cannot change metering mode while underwater, you can't use the AE-lock or AF-lock, and you can't change resolution. I'm glad that the new housing back will allow this because I am really looking forward to being able to switch between JPEG and RAW underwater.
Ports/Lens Combinations Supported:
I shot macro with this system using the Nikkor 60mm Micro lens and the Ike 5502 flat port. On the S2 this yields a 90mm lens and can do 1:1 macro at about 10 inches. Perfect!
A shot taken with the 60mm Micro
For wideangle, I use the Sigma 14mm f2.8 lens in combination with Ike's extended dome port 5503.50 This lens yields the equivalent of 21mm on a DSLR.
A shot using the 14mm Sigma
Others have reported success when using the 5503.50 dome port with the Nikkor 18-35ED lens. The system will also work with the Nikkor 16mm fisheye lens. Since the camera shoots "through the center" of the lens, you won't get a dramatic fisheye effect.
-- Camera --
The Fuji S2 Pro Digital SLR:
I won't go into great detail about the camera. Others have already done that much more thoroughly than I ever could. For a very detailed review of this camera check out Phil Askey's writeup at:
Or Thom Hogan's review at:
Instead I'll focus on a few things about the camera that are important for underwater shooters.
The light meters on this camera are really good. If you read the reviews, you'll see that the center weighted metering mode on this camera is actually center weighted : When shooting in manual, the light meter will tell you if it thinks you are underexposing or overexposing. After taking the shot, the camera pops the shot up on the LCD including the histogram.
This is the only DSLR on the market that supports TTL flash control for underwater strobes. Enough said. The camera also supports Slow Sync and most importantly, Rear Curtain Sync.
The camera has an impressive amount of internal memory or "buffer." This allows the shooter to take up to 7 frames at 2 frames per second before the camera starts writing to the memory card. The camera also takes Smart Media as well as CF/Microdrive so Olympus shooters can keep their 128meg cards as a backup.
My camera was able to quickly lock focus in everything except pure night-time conditions. The camera has a focus assist lamp built into the front of the camera, and because the Ike housing front is clear, this light is slightly blocked but it actually works! For night dives, you'll need a separate focus assist light. The AF works much like a Coolpix camera or an F100 in that you can use manual "Focus Area Mode" to tell the camera where to focus. In addition to this though is "Closest Subject Priority" mode which is something to consider for wideangle shooting.
If you're looking for a comparison between the Fuji S2pro and the Nikon D100 you're not going to get one in this review. I would recommend trying both cameras out at your local camera shop and deciding which one "feels right" in your hand and fits your needs as an underwater photographer. The image quality from the two cameras is essentially equal.
-- Overall System and Lessons Learned --
For those of you moving up from a consumer level digicam to the S2 the first thing you will notice is that there is no shutter lag! This will open up a whole new world of photo opportunities for you. Instead of trial and error (and pure luck) you will now be able to shoot fish portraits, sealions, and pelagics.
The camera takes AA batteries and it will work with ONLY AA batteries if you don't use the camera's popup flash. There's not much chance you'll use the popup flash underwater Those of us that shoot with SB105, YS90DX, or other strobes that use AA batteries will absolutely love this. Only one kind of batteries to buy and only one charger to carry with you!
Buy a 30pack of CR123 batteries from Botach Tactical and 3 sets of 2000 mAh batteries from Thomas Distributing. Get an Ansmann Energy 16 Charger to charge them all at once.
Calibrate your LCD! This should be the FIRST thing you do once you get your camera. I found that the picture on my LCD screen was actually brighter than the real photo. This was easy to fix by adjusting the LCD brightness until I got it right.
TTL Metering: I found that my camera underexposes my macro shots by about 1 stop on a consistent basis. Using Flash +/- it was very easy to correct this. When you get your camera system, make sure to take it in the pool before you head off on your $5,000 dive trip. The same advice goes for the wideangle metering - make sure to test it out first. Contrary to what I had expected, my camera won't call for a full dump - even when taking shots with a lot of blue water in them. I found that TTL would actually UNDER-expose my wideangle shots.
Shoot JPEG first to get the exposure you want, then switch to RAW.
Get the fastest recycling strobes you can! The camera is a champ at continuous shooting - at 2 frames per second. With a strobe that can recycle in 1 second, you might just be able to shoot continuously at ½ power. Consult your strobe manufacturer for details though - don't burn your strobe up after reading this review :
Buy some Sensor Swabs: Sooner or later you are going to have to clean your sensor. Fuji gives specific instructions on how to do it and you CAN do it yourself - so don't be intimidated.
Watch out for flare: That 14mm lens has a huge front element and if light hits it the wrong way, your shot will be ruined by flare. Since digital SLR's shoot "through the center of the lens" your stock dome shade won't work. Consider making your own dome shade - you can make it a lot longer than you think without the lens "seeing it."
-- Conclusions --
For a traditional film shooter switching from a housed N90s or F100, you will feel right at home using this digital SLR setup. The camera and housing behave like you expect it to and there is very little to learn to get good shots. The learning will come when you ask yourself "What am I going to do with these shots now?" : The camera has a hot-shoe on the top, controls are where you expect them to be, etc. For the few people that are shooting a housed Nikon N80 - there will be literally NO changes.
For a digital shooter who is "moving up" from a consumer camera to an SLR, there will be a lot to learn but you will also literally laugh with joy on your first dive with this setup. The camera's instantaneous response when you press the shutter is like a dream come true. No more pictures of fish butts or empty water for you. On the downside, unless you get a zoom lens, you're going to have to get used to selecting one lens and using it for one dive. One thing I liked about the Coolpix5000 was that I could switch from macro to 28mm wideangle underwater. But just wait until you see the shots from a DSLR. The sensor is literally ENORMOUS compared to a consumer camera and the ultra-smooth blue water and low-noise photos will be your reward.
To see some recent photos from Kona using this setup, check out the Reefpix Kona Photo Gallery.
Ikelite Fuji S2 Pro Underwater Housing