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Aquatica AD700 Housing For Nikon D700
 April 20, 2009 @ 01:00 AM (EST)
by Karin Brussaard
From Pemba to the swimming pool...

This was my plan: go to Pemba,Tanzania to test the Nikon D700 with the Aquatica AD700 underwater housing on reefs hardly ever explored.  Unfortunately, things did not go as planned and I ended up doing the review during a series of pool sessions. I have been occupied with underwater glamour photography and the combination of a full frame camera and a 14-24 wide angle lens should provide spectacular and sharp results.  
Aquatica D700 Review

Nikon D700
Nikon D700Nikon targets the serious amateur photographer with the D700 full frame camera. The D700 sports a 36x24mm CMOS sensor with 12.1 Megapixels. The main advantage of a full frame is less noise and more detail at smaller apertures. Since the sensor is larger than the DX format, the light cells of the FX format are bigger. Every cell is able to receive more light and generate less noise, allowing the D700 to produce less noise than DX cameras with the same number of Megapixels. High ISO values can also be used without a problem on the D700. This comes in handy in waters where the light circumstances aren't very good. The native ISO range runs from 200 to 6400, and settings can effectively allow for lower and higher ranges. RAW pictures can be captured in 12 bits or 14 bits. To prevent dust particles from Nikon D700 Backclinging to the sensor, the camera's magnesium alloy has sealings on several ospots so dust and water are not able to enter the camera, and features a self-cleansing dust removal system. The D700 has an advanced object recognition system, supported by a 3D auto focus system that consists of  51 calculation points. This enables the camera to track fast moving objects and capture 5 frames per second.  The auto focus system's coverage can also be set to 21, 9 or only 1 point as well. DX lenses can also be used with the camera, but the resulting image is a much lower resolution. The large 3 inch LCD monitor makes it easy to review pictures and allows for easy display of histograms and highlights. 

Aquatica D700 Underwater HousingAquatica has more then 25 years experience in the underwater industry and as a manufacturer of underwater housings for DSLR cameras as well as flash arms and trays (under the name of Technical Lighting Support; usually shortened to TLC). Aquatica currently produces housings for Nikon cameras (D40x, D80, D90, D300, D700, D2x and D3) and Canon cameras (40D, 1Ds mark III, 5D MK II). Bulkhead connections of the Nikonos type and the Ikelite type (manual or TTL) are available. Focus rings and zoom rings are available for the most commonly used wide angle and macro lenses, thus providing manual focus and zoom underwater. These rings are not only available for Nikon and Canon lenses, but also for several Sigma and Tokina lenses. Since some lenses are too long to fit behind the lens port, Aquatica released 7 port extension rings varying from 16.5 mm to 97.5 mm in length. An extensive table of port extension rings and their corresponding lens can be found on Aquatica's website. 

Aquatica AD700
The underwater housing is machined from a single aluminum block; it is treated and anodized to military specification, then painted with a robust weather and wear resistant finish. This finish is very solid and even rough handling will not damage thie coating. Inside the housing, all D700 menu functions are accessible. The function of most of the buttons on the underwater housing are labeled. The viewfinder does not block the view on the LCD monitor. If you desire, the Aqua View Finder is  an available accessory for magnified viewing. On the front port of the camera, a special lens release lever is provided to easily change the lens. Aquatica guarantees the AD700 for use up to a maximum depth of 300ft.
Karin Brussaard Aquatica D700 Underwater Photography
Karin Brussaard Aquatica Nikon D700 Underwater Photography
Karin Brussaard Aquatica Nikon D700 Underwater Photography
Karin Brussaard Aquatica D700 e
Ease Of Use Aquatica AD700
The underwater housing not only looks large and solid, it feels that way too.
Aquatica Underwater Housing Nikon D700
Aquatica Underwater Housing Nikon D700 back
Aquatica Underwater Housing Nikon D700 open
The only slight disadvantage is its weight. The configuration I used, (D700 + 14-24 mm lens + AD700 underwater housing + port extension ring + 9.25 glass dome port + external viewfinder) was particularly heavy. Underwater the weight of the set is negatively buoyant. I could easily let it sit at the bottom of the swimming pool.  For some photographers, large and heavy gear may be inconvenient since airline companies have become more restrictive when it comes to weight. The two clips to fasten the back of the underwater housing are solid and easily accessible. When opening or closing the housing, the handles do not get in the way at all. I was able to access the shutter release button, the AF/AE lock, the aperture dial and the shutter speed dial directly from the right handle without having to move my -not too big- hand. This is also the case with the zoom button on the left handle. To operate the remaining functions, I had to let go of the housing with one hand. I liked the fact that the menu buttons were created to be ergonomic and tilt slightly outwards. This really does makes it easier to press them. Also handy is the small viewing glass on the left side of the underwater housing. A dial can be found there to set the camera to Live View and it also allows you to check your settings.
Aquatica Underwater Housing Nikon D700 back full
Dome port (9.25 inches)
Aquatica Dome PortThe Aquatica mega dome BK-7 is 9.25 inches in diameter, made of glass and has a metal lens hood. This makes the port a bit heavy. The dome port is mounted to the underwater housing with a bayonet mount and port lock. The port can be removed by simultaneously pressing a button and rotating the port a quarter. This prevents the port from accidentally coming loose. Since the 14-24mm lens is quite long, an extension ring is required in between the underwater housing and the dome port. The dome port is then mounted to the extension ring via the bayonet mount and  like all housings - that is where a lock is missing. In shallow water or topside, a bump to the port (or lens hood) in the wrong direction can indeed loosen it if you are not careful. Again, this is the same issue with most port and extension ring connections, not just Aquatica specifically.

Aqua view external viewfinder

Aquatica Aqua View Viewfinder
The standard viewfinder provides a clear image in the camera's viewfinder, but it can also be replaced by an external viewfinder, the Aqua View.  Replacing the original viewfinder with the Aqua View is easy. You only have to remove the o-ring on the inside of the housing's back, then pull out the standard viewfinder, push the Aqua View through the hole, and put the o-ring back in its place. The manual that comes with the Aqua View is very clear and mounting  turned out to be a very small job. Its design allows for quick and easy removal for storage and transportation. The Aqua View comes in a cover which provides good protection during travel. For even better protection, a hardcover waterproof Otter Box is available optionally. The viewfinder is made of hard anodized aluminum and can be used to a depth of 328ft. To improve the optical quality it has 8 glass elements, of which 5 have a special coating.  It provides 100% coverage, which is very pleasant when framing. A plus of this viewfinder is the fact that it extends straight backwards without blocking the view on the LCD screen. The external viewfinder in itself is waterproof and the o-ring guarantees the housing is waterproof.

Glamour photography
Underwater photography Karin BrussaardPhotographing models in a swimming pool seems easier than photographing in the sea. There's no current to bother you, you don't have to dive deep in the water so you don't have to worry about diving limits or the air in your scuba tank. And you don't have to search for nice fish to shoot since your model is at your fingertips. Yet there are limitations with a swimming pool and glamour photography requires a different kind of creativity and skills to those required for shooting underwater wildlife.    For example, I don't like to use swimming pool tiles as the background when shooting a model. For that reason, I purchased several colored materials to create a nice even background. The model does not have scuba equipment so he/she needs to come up for air frequently. That's why the shooting time strongly depends on how long your model can hold his or her breath. My models were able to hold it for 10 to 25 seconds. In that time, they have to look into the camera in a certain way and maintain a pose. Since a model does not wear a diving mask, he or she is unable to see clearly underwater so communication can only take place above water. I often showed my models the captured pictures on the display to let them know whether or not a certain pose appealed to me. Luckily, the D700 features a 3 inch LCD screen, which is clearly viewable tjhrough the Aquatica housing and that makes analyzing the pictures a lot easier. For thiis review I took a series of shots of several models captured in different ways.
Underwater photography Karin Brussaard
Underwater photography Karin Brussaard
Underwater photography Karin Brussaard
Underwater photography Karin Brussaard
Nikkor 14-24mm f/2.8 ED AF-S
The new 14-24mm lens is Nikon's flagship among the wide angle zoom lenses. With its fixed aperture of f/2.8, a viewing angle of 114 to 84 degrees and a minimum focal length of 28cm, this lens is unique. The sharpness of this lens is incredible. However, a wide angle lens has to be placed behind the dome port when underwater - the diameter and curve of the dome port are essential for the performance of this lens. Ultra wide angle lenses behind a dome port often cause softness in the corners of a picture. It remains to be seen how this terrific lens will perform underwater, but so far the results of this lens have been impressive. For this review, as you can see, the photos of the models are sharp and there is no distortion or blurred corners. To obtain the best results, I had to adjust the aperture a few stops. As of f/8, it is an ultra sharp lens, even underwater. It is certainly the ideal lens to capture large fish that swim around in all directions, such as mantas, sharks and whales. 

Testing sharpness Nikkor 14-24mm
Karin Brussaard Aquatica Nikon D700 Underwater PhotoI tested the lens by sticking design-covered paper on a Plexiglas board. I made a series of pictures at the closest possible focus range, and then increased the aperture by one stop on a regular basis. The results pleasantly surprised me. At f/2.8, there was quite a large blur in the corners, as expected. At f/8, this blur had already nearly disappeared. And because the Nikon D700 hardly shows noise at higher ISO values, it is ok to work with a smaller aperture. The dome port I used has a diameter of 9.25 inches. A smaller dome port would not be sufficient, as it would cause softness in the corners. Using a diopter will not solve this problem, either, mainly because the 14-24mm lens has a barrel front lens which prevents the use of screw on diopters.
Nikkor 60mm f/2.8 ED AF-S macro
The popular 60mm macro lens was replaced by a new macro lens with a similar focal length and minimum aperture of f/2.8. The differences can be found mainly in the use of super ED glass, aspherical lens elements and the 'nano crystal coating' for the new lens. All of this ensures a higher contrast level and restricts the various types of distortion that can occur. The 18.5mm (manual) and 21.9mm (auto focus) focal length can perfectly capture very small and shy animals in a 1:1 ratio. To shoot very small objects in a 1:1 ratio, you usually have to get very close to them. Not only is it difficult to position the external flash units, but most animals are not happy at all with this very personal approach. The Nikkor 60mm lens is perfectly suitable for fish portraits and pictures of a fully framed fish.

Aquatica Macro Port
Aquatica macro portThe flat glass macro port for the 60mm macro lens features a focus button, allowing for manual focus underwater. To do so, you have to let go of the left handle otherwise the focus button is not accessible. Since swimming pools are not for fish, I borrowed a plastic toy from the girl next door. The toy floated, so I had to put a piece of led on a fishing line to ensure that the yellow-purple bee was not touching the surface of the pool - thereby becoming the perfect macro model. The auto focus of the Nikkor 60mm AF-S macro is a lot faster than that of the old Nikkor 60mm macro lens that I took along for comparison. The 51 focus points make focusing a piece of cake, certainly without other objects in the fore- or background. The new macro lens also suffers a lot less from chromatic aberration. Its sharpness is also excellent. The bee remained sharp at a 100% crop.
Underwater macro
The Aquatica AD700 is a solid and nicely finished underwater housing, which is ergonomic and easy to operate. The standard viewfinder can be swapped for the beautiful Aqua Viewer by the user. It would be nice to see a port lock added between the extension ring and dome port, but as far as I know this is an industry-wide issue, and hopefully we will see it addressed soon.  The biggest advantage of the full frame D700 is the image resolution and lack of noise at high ISO values. Pictures can now be taken without noise in dark waters with ambient light only. The 14-24mm lens is specifically designed for digital FX cameras and is very sharp, although  like most wide angle zoom lenses, when used underwater some blur is visible in the corners at low apertures. The Aquatica mega dome is one of the few domne ports that can fit this lens underwater, and for that Aquatica gets extra kudos.
Do you shoot with the D700 underwater? If so, we want to hear from you, please leave your comments below!


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