We’re pleased to have one of Arizona’s top professional photographers, Dawn Kish, share her experience field testing two waterproof DSLR housings on a Grand Canyon raft adventure. Dawn is not only a regular shooter for magazines such as National Geographic Adventure and Arizona Highways, but a former river guide as well. For a quick one-minute video review of these two housings in action, scroll to the bottom of this post. For the more detailed analysis, read on.
The two housings Dawn tested are the Outex ($319.96 MSRP – custom priced for minimal kit for a D610) and the Shape Wave full frame ($351.12 MSRP – one size fits most prosumer-sized DSLRs). Dawn tested these for their appropriateness for adventure travel shots in wet areas (such as under waterfalls and in slot canyons) and under shallow submersion such as this half-water, half air shot of “hiking” through the murky water of Silver Grotto.
She did not test these as underwater housings for snorkeling or scuba diving. Here’s her list of the pros and cons of each housing.
The Outex housing is a flexible opaque blue latex-based bag that rolls over the camera like a loose condom. It has glass ports in front of the lens and behind the viewfinder/LCD screen. The lens screws directly to the front port. It is a modular design that requires the buyer to order the specific cover (the molded blue latex envelope), LCD viewfinder (glass rear port), viewfinder adapter (hooks to eyepiece of camera body) and optical lens (front port) for any given model of DSLR supported. There are also options that allow it to be used with flash, tripod, or a cable. Due to it’s modular design it can be used with different makes/models of cameras/lenses by swapping out one or more of the components, so you need not buy an entire new rig.
- It didn’t leak.
- It’s lightweight and packs small, just roll it up.
- The glass on the front port is of good quality that doesn’t scratch easily and maintains good image quality such as in this shot below:
- Because the rear port is also quality glass, you can clearly see the LCD to assess focus, etc.
- The housing is flexible/baggy enough to allow zooming, though twisting the zoom ring through the rubber is awkward.
- The optional strap makes it easy to swim with. Without this optional accessory, this would be difficult to swim with. You need to order both the Strap Holder LCD ($24.99) and either the Neck Strap ($29.99) or Wrist Strap ($34.99).
- You can’t see many of the camera controls through the opaque housing and need to work by feel. You should be comfortable shooting your DSLR in the dark to be able to work with the Outex. Some controls on the rear of the camera are visible through the rear port and you can slide the eyepiece bracket off and wiggle the body inside the housing to see more, but this is very fiddly and time-consuming.
- It is very difficult to load and unload the camera. I dedicated one body and lens to the Outex so I wouldn’t have to repeat the procedure. If you want to move quickly, load the Outex before your shoot. Use a fully charged battery and high-capacity memory cards as you can’t replace these without unloading the housing.
Shape Wave FF
The Shape Wave FF is a clear polyethylene housing with a hinged aluminum frame. Its modular design allows use of separate lens extensions. It does not allow the use of a built-in or external flash.
- It didn’t leak.
- It’s easy to load and unload in seconds via the hinged door.
- You can see the LCD screen and most camera controls through the clear polyurethane body.
- Easy to get to the most used camera dials such as shutter release, command dial, and playback.
- There is a tripod mount that you can also screw other accessories into such as the included pistol grip.
- The front lens port scratches very easily both on the inside and outside. I’m not sure what it’s made of – acrylic? Whatever, it sure scratches easy.
- After a single use the scratching decreased image quality to the point images shot above water or with half water/half air didn’t meet professional standards.
- Shape says the WaveFF is suitable for the Canon 24-105mm right out of the box, but lenses with other dimensions require a step-up ring to fit securely. Quoting the Shape website “The lens bracket is design (sic) for the 24-105mm only. More brackets to come later.” This housing was tested out of the box – there is no separate lens bracket in the box so it appears that the item as shipped is supposed to fit the outside diameter of the Canon 24-105mm. A Nikon 24-120mm is the same 3.3” diameter as the Canon 24-105mm lens the case is specified for, and the housing flops loosely about the 24-120mm, causing extensive scratching around the periphery of the port. Even if lens rings stopped the housing from flopping around the lens, the scratching on the outside is unacceptable for shots above water. When completely immersed, the scratches become much less evident due to the closer refractive indices of water and the port material.
- The camera wiggles around in the main body of the housing. A “saddle” screws into the camera body and attaches to the housing frame with two pins. However the saddle screw is too long to pull the saddle tight on the Nikon bodies tested. This made the saddle loose and prone to detaching from the housing in use.
- No room to zoom – a 24-120mm lens is nearly impossible to zoom when inside the housing. You can only budge the zoom ring a couple millimeters while gripping it from outside the housing. It takes so many separate gripping/twisting actions to zoom that it’s impractical. Even if you could effectively twist and zoom the lens will only extend to 31mm before there’s no more room. Basically you might as well set the lens at 24mm and stick with that for your whole shoot. When used with a D7000 and 18-105, you can zoom from 18mm to 45mm.
- The connection between the lens extension and main housing body blocks the focus ring on the 24-120 so you can’t manually focus.
- No strap – hard to swim with it because you need to have it in one hand unless you add a strap yourself.
- The view of the LCD and through the viewfinder is poor because of looking through thick urethane (gives wavy look). This makes it hard to assess focus.
- The aluminum frame blocks easy access to some controls, especially the PSAM mode dial on taller bodies. If you use a body like the D600/610/750 that has a locking button on the mode dial, it’s very hard to release the lock button unless you open the case.
- With a D610 inside, the subcommand dial is very hard to work, because the material on the back is stiffer than the material used on the front of the housing.
- The polyethylene would sometimes condense on the outside – like going outside on a cold morning and finding the front windshield of your car condensed on the outside.
Generic Issues with Underwater Housings
All underwater housings are prone to condensation and fogging issues and the Outex and Shape are no exception. For tips on combating these click here.
When shooting half air/half water shots you need to clean your shooting port and get the shot as the camera dips in, not on the way back out as water sheeting off the port will cause blurring.
If you want to be an underwater photographer don’t mess around with these types of housings – go for the real deal hard shell housings custom-fitted for each model camera. These often cost as much or more than the camera inside it.
If you’re like me, working outside all the time and occasionally getting wet, the Outex is the better buy of these two housings. What would be ideal would a marriage of the two housings – the easy access hinge-opening and see-thru material of the Shape combined with the quality optical glass front and rear ports of the Outex and the more flexible Outex material used for the lens extension. Call it a Shoutex or an Outape. Happy Shooting!
NOTE: The below star rating is just for the Outex housing Dawn prefers. Note that the Shape housing would rate 2.9 stars on this scale, primarily because it would only receive one star for optical quality.
Outex Waterproof DSLR Housing
- Optical Performance
- Build Quality
- Size and Weight
- Ease of Use
Photography Life Overall Rating