How to select the right type of camera and housing for a range of shooting situations.


How to select the right type of camera and housing for a range of shooting situations.

Although some photographers may be reluctant to take their expensive digital cameras into risky situations where water and dust could damage its delicate electronics, a number of manufacturers have released waterproof cameras, while others have developed plastic housings that protect cameras against environmental damage. Before taking a closer look at waterproofing options, it is important to understand the standards that apply to waterproofing so you can choose the camera and housing type that best meets your needs.

JIS Standards
The most common quoted standards for environmental protection are those developed by the Japanese Standards Association (JIS), which cover dust and water protection. You can assess the protection offered by different cameras by checking their JIS grading. For dust protection, JIS Grades 4, 5 and 6 provide protection against dust ingress, ranging from exclusion of particles over 1 mm in diameter (Grade 4) to total dust exclusion (Grade 6). When it comes to waterproofing, JIS Grades 1 and 2 provide protection against rain, Grade 1 covering only vertical rain, while Grade 2 excludes rain when the device is tilted up to 15 degrees. JIS grades 3 and 4 provide protection against spraying and splashing water respectively, while JIS Grades 5 and 6 give protection against water sprayed at the device from a distance of between 2.5 and 3.0 metres for one minute. The higher grading protects against a stronger jet of water.
JIS Grade 7 is the protection provided by most cameras that claim to be ‘waterproof’. It is conferred upon cameras that can withstand “the effects of temporary immersion in water”. Cameras with this rating have been tested by immersing them in water so the base of the camera is 1000 mm below the water’s surface. They remain submerged for a period of 30 minutes. Cameras with JIS Grade 7 ratings are, therefore ideal for all the applications outlined above – but not for diving, where JIS Grade 8 protection (total water exclusion) is required.

Waterproof Cameras
Only a few manufacturers produce digital cameras that are totally water proof and designed for scuba diving, Sea&Sea being the leading supplier with its DX-3100 Aquapix system. Several manufacturers have produced waterproof cameras that can be used in wet and dusty conditions but are not designed for diving. If you’re interested in boating, surfing, skiing or bushwalking or you simply need a camera with good dust protection, these can be more attractive than putting a regular digicam into an underwater housing as their viewfinders can be used in situations where the LCD screen is difficult to see. Most of these cameras have larger control buttons that can be operated by gloved fingers and many of them can be rinsed off under a tap to remove salt, dust and grime. Models in this category include the Pentax Optio 33 WR and Ricoh’s Caplio 300G.


Ricoh Caplio 300G
[JIS Class 7 water resistant cameras are ideal for photographers who enjoy boating, surfing, skiing or bushwalking because they provide good water and dust protection. However they are totally unsuitable for diving and snorkelling at depths below one metre.]

When to Use a Housing
Underwater housings are not just for scuba divers; Photo Review staff have used them in the following situations:
1. For snorkelling and surfing. These are obvious applications and housings need only be waterproof to about 10 metres.
2. For taking photographs while canoeing or boating. Here, the housing provides protection against accidental splashing or immersion of the camera. Most housings float, making it easier to rescue a camera that falls overboard. These benefits apply to any situation where there’s a risk the camera will get wet.
3. For taking photos in the snow.
4. For dust protection.
5. For protection against inadvertent mishandling when digicams are used by small children. We discovered this benefit when a family three-year-old turned photo enthusiast and wanted to take pictures on her own. Putting the camera into a housing allowed her to shoot to her heart’s content – and discover what did and didn’t work – while protecting the lens from finger-marks!

Housing Types
Available housings range from flexible ‘bag’ type containers that allow cameras to be immersed to depths up to 10-15 metres to rigid plastic capsules that allow compact digicams to be used at depths of up to 40 metres (which is deeper than most recreational divers will go). Special housings are available for technical divers who go deeper.
Ewa-Marine produces the most comprehensive range of flexible housings, with products to suit most types of compact and SLR cameras (both film and digital), camcorder housings and protective shields and housings for professional video cameras. They also produce a range of rain protection ‘capes’.
Each housing ‘bag’ or ‘cape’ has a rigid optical glass lens port to ensure high-quality pictures and the camera is loaded to place its lens against this port. In some cases, the port is larger enough to include the flash; in others, the flash light is diffused minimally as it passes through the transparent plastic of the bag. Some Ewa-Marine housings are only waterproof to 10 metres, while others can be taken to 50 metres. Product details are available at


[Some of Ewa-Marine’s housings include built-in gloves that allow you to manipulate the camera’s controls in much the same way as you do above water. (Photo Courtesy of Ewa-Marine.)]


[Rain ‘capes’ are also available to shield cameras against rain. (Photo Courtesy of Ewa-Marine.)]

You can find rigid housings for most popular digital cameras and most are priced under $500, which is a small cost when you consider the security and flexibility they provide. Many allow full control over all camera functions via large, spring-loaded button that operate the corresponding buttons and levers on the camera and are big enough to be used with gloved fingers. A list of housings developed by camera manufacturers for their most recently-released digital cameras is provided below. Note: all depth ratings are maximum figures, which should not be exceeded.

AW-DC10 for Ixus i (depth rated to 3m) – RRP $159
AW-PS200 for Ixus V and Ixus (depth rated to 3m) – RRP $302
WP-DC10 for Ixus IIs and Ixus II (depth rated to 40m) – RRP $329
WP-DC20 for PowerShot S1 IS (depth rated to 40m) – RRP $399
WP-DC30 for PowerShot A75 (depth rated to 40m) – RRP $399
WP-DC40 for PowerShot S60 (depth rated to 40m) – RRP $346
WP-DC200S for PowerShot A10, A20, A30, A40 (depth rated to 30m) – RRP $346
WP-DC300 for PowerShot S30, S40, S45, S50 (depth rated to 30m) – RRP $346
WP-DC400 for PowerShot A100, A200 (depth rated to 30m) – RRP $347
WP-DC500 for Ixus 300 (depth rated to 30m) – RRP $347
WP-DC600 for Ixus V3, Ixus V2 (depth rated to 30m) – RRP $347
WP-DC700 for PowerShot A60, A70 (depth rated to 40m) – RRP $346
WPDC800 for Ixus 500, Ixus 430, Ixus 400 (depth rated to 40m) – RRP $346
WPDC900 for PowerShot A80 (depth rated to 30m) – RRP $399

EWC-40 Underwater housing for Exilim EX-Z40 (depth rated to 40m) – RRP $349

WP-FX440 for FinePix F440 and F450 (full controls, depth rated 40m) – RRP $299
WP-FX701 for F810 (full controls, depth rated 40m)) – RRP $299

MC-DG300 for DiMAGE Xg (depth rated to 30 m) – RRP $329
A housing for the DiMAGE X50 will also be released before the end of 2004.

Fantasea Housing CP-4 Sport: For Coolpix 4300 and Coolpix 885 (key functions only, depth rated to 40m) – RRP $279
Fantasea Housing CP-4 Pro: For Coolpix 4300 and Coolpix 885 (multi-function, depth rated to 40m) – RRP $369
Fantasea Housing CP-3: For Coolpix 2100 and Coolpix 3100 (depth rated to 40m) – RRP $329
Fantasea Housing CP-3N: For Coolpix 2200 and Coolpix 3200 (4 function control buttons, depth rated to 40m) – RRP $345
Fantasea Housing CP-3.7: For Coolpix 3700 (4 function control buttons, depth rated 40m) Due August 2004
Nikon WP-CP2 for Coolpix 4200 and Coolpix 5200 (full controls, depth rated 40m) – RRP $429
Nikon WP-CP1 for Coolpix 4100 Coolpix 2200, Coolpix 3200 and Coolpix 4100 (full controls, depth rated 40m) RRP $429

PT-016 for mju digital cameras (depth rated 40m) RRP $349
PT-019 for C-5000 Zoom (depth rated 40m) RRP $449
PT-020 for C-5060 Wide Zoom (depth rated 40m) RRP $449
PT-021 for C-360 Zoom, C-460 Zoom (depth rated 40m) RRP $299
PT-022 for C-760 UZ, C-765 UZ and C-770 UZ (depth rated 40m) RRP $399
PT-023 for C8080 Wide Zoom (depth rated 40m) RRP $549
Olympus also produces a number of accessories for its housings, including:
PPO-01 standard port for PT-020 lens unit RRP $299
PPO-02 for WCON-07C wide lens port for PT-020RRP $329
PPO-04 standard port for PT-023 lens unit RRP $299
PPO-05 for WCON-08D wide lens port for PT-023 RRP $329
PFL-01 for FL-20 electronic flash RRP $499
All are depth rated to 40m.

O-WP2 for Optio S4i (depth rated to 40m) – RRP $399
O-WP3 for Optio S40 (depth rated to 40m) – RRP $399

MPKPEA for DSCP73 and DSCP93 models (depth rated to 40m) – RRP $349
MPKPHB for DSCP100 (depth rated to 40m) – RRP $349
MPKTHA for DSCT1 (depth rated to 40m) – RRP $349

Sea&Sea also makes housings for the Ricoh Caplio G3, as well as several digital SLR cameras (including the Canon EOS 10D and ESO1Ds, Fujifilm FinePix S2 Pro and Nikon D100). It also produces underwater conversion lenses and accessory flash units that complement certain cameras and housings. Details can be found at, local distributor of the Sea&Sea range. Other rigid housing manufacturers include Amphibico (, Aquatica (, Gates Underwater Housings (, Ikelite ( and Light & Motion ( These products are stocked by some dive shops.

Practical Limitations
While housings can be an excellent solution for many digital photographers, they have some frustrating limitations, the most serious of which is that many make it difficult for users to shoot with the camera’s viewfinder – and some totally prevent the viewfinder from being used. When you are in taking pictures outdoors in bright conditions and spending most of your time above the water or in water no deeper than about five metres, most cameras’ LCD screens are difficult to view so shooting becomes a point-and-guess exercise. Being able to switch to the viewfinder to compose your shots is a huge advantage in such conditions. For this reason, a flexible housing – or one that allows the viewfinder to be used – is preferable for snorkellers, surfers and canoeists.


[A housing that lets you use the camera’s viewfinder is ideal when you’re shooting pictures in bright conditions. (Photo Courtesy of Ewa-Marine.)]

Having to rely on the LCD screen is less of a problem for scuba divers as the deeper they go, the more sunlight is attenuated. Furthermore, it is easier for divers to angle themselves and the camera to optimise viewing conditions. With care, the LCD screen can provide a better view of the subject than the viewfinders or framing aids provided by some underwater film cameras. It is also easier to frame the subject accurately with an LCD screen when you are wearing a face mask. Digital cameras also have more depth of field, making it easier to obtain sharp focus in macro mode.


[Divers often find it easiest to frame subjects accurately with the camera’s LCD screen. (Photo Courtesy of Ewa-Marine.)]

Keeping Cameras Dry
As you enter the water, the air inside the housing cools down and water can condense inside the housing. Air with relatively low humidity can cause condensation to form on the lens port, while high humidity can unload enough moisture to cause potential damage to the camera’s electronics. Many housings have space for one or more packs of silica-gel, which absorbs air-borne moisture. The more humid the air, the more desiccant you will need. Silica gel sachets should be inserted and the housing closed approximately 15-20 minutes before diving to give the chemicals time to act.
When the camera is unpacked from the housing, remove the silica gel sachet(s) and dry them out in the sun or with a hair dryer. The moisture will change the colour of the crystals from blue to pink, when saturated and drying will restore them to blue again. Each pack can be used and re-dried 4-5 times.