I was privileged to be asked to do testing for the Seacam housing for the Canon 7D Mark II DSLR camera. It was a lucky coincidence, as I had just acquired a Canon 7D Mark II through a collaboration with Canon Singapore, so the timing was perfect to test the housing as I was also considering which housing to select for this camera.
My first impression of the housing was that it is an incredibly sleek and smooth design, which is nicely weighted as you hold it with the nice handle grips, which incidentally have an option for smaller handed people, so if you are Asian and female, you will love that! As soon as my husband saw it he remarked that there is something ‘Porsche like’ about this, as in it has great style but is also incredibly well engineered. If I have to be critical about the housing, then it would be the stick on labels used for the button identifiers. This does not go well with the whole sophisticated look of Seacam housing and for heavy users I would be concerned about how well these stickers will wear.
I was diving with Abuddy, a Seacam photographer from China, so after admiring the sleek looks, he give me a tutorial on how to assemble the housing. As Abuddy doesn’t speak English and I don’t speak Mandarin most of this was done by hand gestures. It’s a testament to the simplicity and quality of the housing alignment that this wasn’t a problem at all and in no time I was able to assemble it.
For me alignment is particularly important having experienced housings in the past where it was always difficult to get good alignment and repeatability of button operations, but I needn’t have worried. With this Seacam design everything falls into alignment easily allowing the front and back part to marry together smoothly, giving me the confidence that the camera housing is safely secure. As an added security you also get an excellent sealing system using double o-rings for Seacam’s ports and extensions.
Changing the camera memory card is as simple as opening the back end of the housing while leaving the camera secured as it is. Changing lenses is simple also, as you can do so by detaching the port without having to open the whole housing and removing the camera.
Seacam has lived up to its principle “Precision is not a lasting phenomenon but rather the continuous striving for perfection”. Each button and wheel is aligned perfectly to work, as it is intended, even when subjected to pressure underwater, with no loss of functionality that you often experience with some housing as alignments shift. The buttons feel nice to operate, solid but smooth, although I would prefer the tip of the buttons to be concave, instead of convex, for greater comfort on the finger when pressing it. The shutter trigger lever also has a firm feel to it, but with a smoothness that seems to damp out the sensitivity which I like to allow me to find the auto focus point without triggering the camera shutter accidently. After comparing the engineering behind the shutter trigger lever with a different housing, it maybe just needs some adjustment to the spring tension to reduce damping and firmness. There are also some shims provided in the set up to allow you to make small changes to the feel of the shutter trigger point.
Setting changes on the camera can be easily done via the shooting function setting screen on the back of the camera (the only screen accessible once in the housing). Quick changes of speed and aperture can be done easily while looking through the viewfinder using the wheel on the side of the housing. At first I thought the use of the back screen for so many function changes would be a hindrance, having being used to housings with function access via dedicated buttons, but I soon got used to this.
I was looking forward to test the performance of the Canon 7D mark II, which is a long awaited upgrade for the Canon 7D. With 20.2 Megapixel, CMOS APS-C Sensor and 10 frames per second, with video ability 60 fps 1080p video, dual memory card slots (DF and SD), this is offering features you expect from a Canon 1DX but packaged in a 7D APS-C body and with a 7D series price!
We were in the Philippines for the test dives, in Moalbaol, Cebu, a place I had not dived before so I was looking forward to capturing some interesting macro subjects plus seeing the large shoals of Sardines that gather in this area. On the first day, after discussing the dive site options with the dive guides, Abuddy and I opted for the macro set up. I was spoilt on our first dive by encountering xeno crab, warty frogfish, pygmy Denise leaf scorpion, boxer crab and plenty of colorful reef fish around. The Canon macro 100mm lens is renown for its super fast and smooth autofocus and it still performed well underwater and even under slight low light condition. Together with Canon 7D mark II, the autofocus worked perfectly every time. With the camera in the Seacam housing, it is a simple one-button push to play back the picture taken and by use of the wheel on the front right hand side of the housing, you can operate the image zooming. When checking after the dive on the downloaded pictures on the computer, I was very satisfied with the RAW result, and found no visible distortion.
Pic 1. Xeno Crab on a Whip Coral
Focusing on either macro or wide angle is fast and smooth. The 150D Seaflash also provide a focus guiding light to help focus on the subject. Even when doing video, focusing worked well and fast. It would be advisable to add a constant focus light for doing video to help with smooth focusing.
Pic 1.1. Leaf Scorpion
I like to shoot using manual mode and to have the ability to adjust the strength of the strobe output is a ‘must have’ strobe feature for me. The Seaflash 150D has 7 steps of +5 power adjustment, which is very easily adjusted underwater by turning a knob on the back of the strobe. It also provides an inbuilt TTL system, which will provide convenience to photographers and especially help when there is a rapid change in situation, removing the worry to have to adjust the output of the flash or change the camera setting. Working with the powerful Seaflash 150D (GN 14, 150Ws/4400 K) gave good results in manual mode, but in TTL mode they were often a little too powerful for macro subjects, probably because the distance to the subject was small and the position of the strobes relative to the camera lens became more critical. I did find the Seaflash 150D strobes on the heavy side when using for macro, their weight tending to tilt the camera downwards, but use of buoyancy floats on the arms will help to eliminate this easily.
Pic.2. Showing how the positioning (distance) of the strobes relative to the subject makes a difference using TTL on macro. The two pictures was taken using same setting, iso 100, f/22, 1/100 but the strobes was pulled back from the subject on Pic 2B.
On the second day, we selected our dives to allow us to explore the housing’s wide-angle performance. Equipped with Canon 7D mark II, 10-22mm lens, Seaflash 150D and using the big dome port, there was no need to add any buoyancy on the arms as the set up was pretty neutral in itself, making it easy to carry and handle underwater. This was a big plus as on one of our wide-angle dives we were amongst the fast moving sardines and spotted a turtle and a ‘resident’ frog-fish enjoying easy food.
Straight away I noticed how easy it was to use the Seaflash 150D for wide angle. The light distribution was even and the warm temperature of the 150D is excellent and very complimentary for underwater wide angle.
Pic.3. Seaflash 150D gives even light distribution
The big test for any strobe is its recycling time, a feature that many strobes still perform poorly, but one that photographers most require for fast moving wide angle photography. To test how the 150D performed, I set the camera to f/14, speed 1/30 and strobe output 0.24 and started shooting in continuous mode with the strobe battery in full condition. The result is very satisfying, only on the 6th frame was the strobe power completely depleted, but by the 7th frame, it was back to full power. Obviously this performance will deteriorate with battery life and at half battery power, the strobe power depletion was occurring at around the 4th frame, but back on full power for the 5th frame.
Pic.4. Performance of Seaflash150D continuous function, on output 0.24, camera setting f/14, 1/100
The other thing that I noticed and would like to see improvement on is the battery life, especially when using TTL function when battery life runs out quickly. This means for heavy usage with lots of shooting, full power or using TTL, it is better to have spare battery packs and to change after each dive. The battery pack with its integrated charger design and simple connection is easy enough to swap though, even if you are out on a boat.
Overall, I found the Seacam Canon 7D MkII underwater housing a very well-engineered, easy to use piece of equipment that didn’t get in the way of the photography, which for me is what a housing is supposed to be. It allows access to all the camera functions you will need and is engineered to last and perform effortlessly, the same as the other housings in the Seacam range. This combination of camera and housing without doubt offers a performance that is hard to beat and I actually appreciated the more simple approach to function adjustment, reducing the complexity of the housing and no doubt contributing to its long term reliability.