10 Bar, via their UK supplier, Cameras Underwater, supplied the first housing for this review. The housing is a relatively simple design, with a 6061 aluminum front section with screw on interchangeable ports, and an acrylic rear door. It is supplied as standard in a compact padded travel bag with a port for the Sony 18-55 kit lens, with a set of spare o rings and appropriate zoom and focus rings for the lens. In short, the kit includes all you need to get the camera into the water.
The housing provides access to almost all camera controls and buttons with the exception of the lens release. On the 18-55 port’s left side, two “push and turn” controls allow zoom and manual focus, assuming that the supplied gear rings are installed onto the lens.
There is a further push and turn control on the housing’s left side, that is intriguingly listed as “reserve” in the housing’s documentation. It does not have a function currently. The next control is the flash raise/lower control, which is spring loaded and simply flips the NEX-5n’s flash up or down.
The acrylic rear of the housing attaches via two spring loaded “key-hole” catches that push and twist to hold it in place, and to ensure that the o rings seal.
The housing has two o rings, one in a groove in the rear panel that seals onto the surface just within the front body of the housing and the second contained within a groove on said body and face seals onto the rear panel.
The acrylic rear panel provides access to the majority of the camera’s controls and functions, and allows user to view the LCD screen. The screen area has a shallow shade around it, which will help with viewing in bright conditions, but the housing design does not allow for the camera’s screen to be tilted.
On the left hand side of the screen are buttons that give access to review, video record on/off, the three soft buttons and the control dial.
A total of 10 controls is contained within an area no bigger than 2” (50mm) by 1” (25mm). This is to some extent a feature of the camera’s design but it does present very serious limitations for use by those with big (or clumsy) fingers or wearing gloves. The actual exposure controls are contained within an area of 3/4” (19mm) by 3/4” (19mm).
The right-hand side of the housing has the second of the rear panel key-hole latches, and a shutter release lever. This is large and easily used. The length of the lever gives great sensitivity, allowing the user to get the camera to autofocus without releasing the shutter.
On the right-hand side top of the housing is the camera on/off push and turn control. Also on the top, but offset towards the left hand side is an aluminum housing into which the pop up flash goes in its active position. On the front of this is a single Nauticam fitting fiber optic bulkhead.
As mentioned above, the housing is supplied with a port for the Sony 18-55mm kit lens. This has a removable shade. 10 Bar has other ports available including models for the Sony 30mm macro and the Sony 16mm “pancake” lenses. There are also port extensions and a dome port available. These are all attached via a simple screw thread onto the aluminum front section of the housing.
On the bottom of the housing is a single tripod mounting threaded hole. Rather then drill this into the housing itself, and hence needing to thicken its walls, 10 Bar has opted to attach a block with the tripod attachment on to the base. This does cause some issues with third-party tray compatibility. The housing has no integrated options for mounting strobe arms.
Internally, the camera is simply held in place via several foam pads.
The housing is very small and light and almost neutrally buoyant in fresh water with the camera and 18-55mm lens. Practically though, once a tray, arms and strobe/strobes are attached, the set up becomes quite negative. We used Stix floats to offset this, and found that with a tray and single Inon Z240 strobe, 2-3 Stix arms segments were needed, and with two arms and strobes, this doubled. Compact sized housings will always be more negative. Of course, the addition of a dome would dramatically affect this too.
I have already mentioned the issues of the NEX-5n’s control as being somewhat awkward. The positioning of the review and record on/off buttons on the housings back plate does mean that the controls are very close together. If these were moved up onto the housing’s body, this would give more access to the other controls. The push buttons for the soft buttons and control wheel do differ in length somewhat, which help to differentiate between them, but they are very close to the shade for the LCD screen, and are awkward to access. The NEX-5n does offer custom control set ups with the allocation of functions to the soft buttons for example, which does ease a complicated control set up. Unfortunately, the 10 Bar housing does not really take this into account and both soft buttons are quite difficult to access. The other custom functions can be assigned to up/down or side to side pressing of the control wheel. If anything, these buttons are even harder to access due to the closeness of the housing controls.
I mentioned the clever use of a long lever for the shutter release above, and would also say that the focus and zoom controls are well spaced and easy to use. The flash raise/lower is also relatively easy to use as well.
However, it is with the flash control that my major misgiving about this housing surfaced. The most common form of attachment for SLR cameras in housings is some form of tray that precisely and reliably assures that the camera is sitting in the correct position within the housing. This ensures that the camera controls correctly align with those of the camera. By contrast, most compact housings use a friction fit with the relatively soft polycarbonate of the housing and placement lugs within it to hold and maintain alignment. 10 Bar have adopted most of the latter, but have actually used foam inserts to align and position the camera. As a result of this, the flash would at times not stay raised, requiring the user to actually hold the control knob inn the up position if flash was required. The problem was not always repeatable either. It would function perfectly for half a dive before failing, suggesting that the foam was not holding the camera still enough to guarantee control alignment and position, or possibly, utilizing other controls caused the flash to misalign.
The 10 Bar housing with a retail price of around $1,000 (about £800) retails at some $700 (£500) or so cheaper than other housings of similar construction technique. It is important to bear in mind that the $1,000 gets you in the water taking pictures with the NEX-5n, whereas most of the other housings are priced without ports. It is however at least $800 (£550) more expensive that the polycarbonate housings that have become available for the camera
With this housing, 10 Bar have used many features associated with compact housings, and attempted to use them with an EVIL camera. Whilst this concept does work to some extent, I guess its merits will be determined by your underwater photography goals. If you are seeking a significant step-up from a compact camera, for great record shots and video, then this housing and camera combination may provide just that. If you are anticipating a camera and housing combination that will rival the performance of an SLR underwater however, I think you may be disappointed.
FTC disclosure: As mentioned above, the 10 Bar NEX-5n housing and ports was loaned by Cameras Underwater for the review. Many thanks to Jenny and her team.
Page 1: Introduction.
Page 2: 10 Bar housing.
Page 3: Nauticam NA-NEX5N housing.
Page 4: Aquatica AN-5N housing.