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Nikon D3s Underwater Housing Woes: Underwater Photography Challenges
By Jason Heller, January 14, 2010 @ 02:45 PM (EST)

Underwater photographers shooting Nikon's top of the line flagship D3 / D3x series are in for an unexpected let down as it relates to housings for the new Nikon D3s. The addition of HD video (albeit 720 rather than 1080 like the Canons), and improvements in the high ISO capabilities, make this a desirable upgrade from the D3, and a nice secondary camera to the 24.5 MP D3x. 

We've all been frustrated with the pace of camera releases over the last couple of years. It seems like every time we invest in new cameras and housings, a year to eighteen months later, a new evolution in DSLR technology calls us to reinvest again. This alone wouldn't be as much of a problem if the camera bodies and button configuration remained the same and we could reuse our housings. But of course it's not that simple. The camera manufacturers don't care about the ramifications for underwater housings when redesigning their bodies.

I recently purchased a D3s and wanted to report back to our readers the underwater housing situation.  The image below indicates the problem areas with existing D3/D3x housings.

Nikon D3s Underwater

The entire left hand column of buttons was shifted about an eighth of an inch up, meaning the buttons now sit right between all of the posts on the back of our housings and cannot be used. The play and delete buttons can be accessed, and the ISO, Qual, and WB buttons can be accessed, but the entire left column cannot. This means the menu, zoom, lock, and OK buttons. For me this is an issue because I constantly use the zoom button to ensure that I have captured sharp details in my images while reviewing underwater. Of course in addition, the LV (live view) button cannot be accessed either, and this is required if you wish to shoot video underwater. All of the other functions of the camera are accessible, and in a pinch, you can shoot with the D3s in a D3 housing - you just can't access the left column or live view buttons. It's not the end of the world, but doesn't give you complete use of the camera.

So far I have confirmed that Subal is planning on making a new back for the camera, and after speaking to SEA&SEA, I hope that they will also do the same, but I have not confirmed this yet. SEA&SEA decided on making an entire new housing, complete with fiber optic connections for the D300s, rather than a new back. So we'll see. As for Nexus, the left column buttons are on the acrylic plate, so that can be retooled quite easily. I have not discussed with any other manufacturers.

As you can see here, the camera body itself fits perfectly inthe SEA&SEA housing.
But the live view button sits at the seam of the acrylic and aluminum, so a new back in required in order to use the video function 

The reality is that very few photographers use the Nikon D3 or D3x for underwater photography, so the market for housings is very small. I'd expect the manufacturers listed above to rework the models for the D3s, but I can't imagine many of these hitting the market - particularly with the next evolution of the full frame D700 coming soon (D700s or D800, we'll see).

To make a long story short - the pace of new DSLR releases and the requirement to upgrade both camera and housing this frequently is frustrating to say the least. Deciding on when to upgrade is becoming a big decision for underwater photographers. Thankfully we love underwater photography enough to do it, but it sure is taxing on the bank account.

 

 

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Matt J. Weiss
Jan 14, 2010 6:06 PM
Matt J. Weiss wrote:
Thanks for doing the research Jason. I am not surprised by your findings, the same issue occurred for those wanting to upgrade from the D300 to D300s. I, personally, like the Subal approach, which is make a new back that can be sold separately. They also did this for the D300s. I can see why Aquatica and Sea & Sea went with entire new housings for the D300s with fiber optics, but this is not important for the D3 housings.
Gavin  Parsons
Jan 15, 2010 10:33 AM
Gavin Parsons wrote:
Well done with this Jason. I've been looking to upgrade and have also been frustrated by the small changes to body design. I wonder if there is a way to control the cameras electronically the way Aquatica used to with its Sony video camera range.
I'm also not too impressed with NIkon's 720p high def video and may well opt for Canon (never thought I'd say that!)
Jason Heller
Jan 15, 2010 4:14 PM
Jason Heller wrote:
I hear you on the 720 thing. Unfortunately Nikon gets their sensors from Sony, who obviously has a video camera business and I assume won't give up the 1080 goods to Nikon. Canon on the other hand makes video and still cameras so they can leverage their own technology. Nikon seems at a disadvantage until they can get the 1080 from Sony. That all being said, while the video capabilities are nice. I am first and foremost interested in stills, and the video I will shoot will be used primarily for the web, so 720 is just fine...for now
Jason Heller
Jan 22, 2010 3:52 AM
Jason Heller wrote:
UPDATE: Now that I have the D3s I want to report another issue. To start and stop the video in "tripod mode" which allows you to focus while shooting, you need access to the PV button on the front of the camera, so the solution cannot be just a new back, unfortunately.
Bill Foster
Jan 24, 2010 7:32 AM
Bill Foster wrote:
Thanks for posting this, it is exactly the info I have been trying to track down myself for the past month, since I upgraded to a D3s and have been "housing hunting" again...
Thomas Di Nardo
Apr 23, 2010 1:34 AM
Thomas Di Nardo wrote:
Unfortunately, Sea & Sea just told me they will not be making a housing for the D3s.
Jason Heller
Apr 26, 2010 2:29 AM
Jason Heller wrote:
@thomas, a bummer for sure. I love my D3s
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