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12-09-2011, 10:41 AM   #1
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Homemade Waterproof Case

Has anyone tried to build their own waterproof case for surf photography/shallow water? I'd love to get into the field of surf photography, however, the price for splash housings are above a grand. I was thinking about building my own by modifying a waterproof box (Otterbox 3500) which will snugly fit my Pz-1 camera. I'm gonna do this with film since the camera+M28 3.5 lens costs me around $150.

Since the box is already waterproof, the real challenge is modifying it with a lens port and a viewfinder port and a shutter release. I was planning on using a 58mm UV filter for the lens port and a small filter for the viewfinder. I will be cutting a hole on the side of the box for the lens to poke through an inch. A tube will be epoxied to the box to surround the lens barrel, with the 58mm UV filter epoxied to the other end of the tube.

I was planning to just cut a hole in the box above the shutter release and replacing the hard plastic with a soft flat piece of rubber. That way I will be able to feel the shutter button.

This case will need to be watertight down to at least 6 ft. I am assuming the glass filters would be able to withstand the pressure at this depth (correct me if you know otherwise). Does this setup sound feasible? Any suggestions or tips?

12-09-2011, 10:46 AM   #2
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Let me know if you make progress on this, I'd love to make a housing and attach a uw strobe for a k7
12-09-2011, 03:20 PM   #3
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I think this sounds like a worthy project, I am anxious to hear of your results as well. The only issue that jumps to mind offhand is the UV filter. The glass is only secured to the frame by a snap ring of sorts, and some are not a particularly close fit. Perhaps taking the glass out of the mounts and putting a small amount of some sort of sealant where the glass meets the frame could do the trick however. Good luck, and have fun.
12-10-2011, 03:51 AM   #4
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To be honest: Risking a camera and lens, might proof to be much more expensive, than going for a commercially available case.

Also, you don't need one of those hard shell housings, the proven Ewa Marine waterproof bags have stood the test of time and are robust and water resistant enough for snorkeling. That would be my prime choice. They are not exactly cheap, like some Chinese clones, but I would trust them - and they are way under a Grand. Example: Ewa-Marine U-A Underwater Housing EM U-A B&H Photo Video

They have a wide choice of sizes and shapes available and you should fiond a matching one.

Ben

12-13-2011, 05:31 PM   #5
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I've thought about the Ewa Marine housing, but it just seems too fragile for surf photography. I'm buying another film slr on ebay, probably a pz-20 or zx-10 for around 30 bucks, which will bring my camera expense total to $70. Not a terrible loss if things go bad. I just received the Pelican 1120 Case which fits an SLR very nicely. I'll begin construction next week and will have it done by next weekend. I have decided to permanently mount the camera into the box using its tripod mount. This means my M28 will be stuck in on the camera unless I break the seal over the bolt to unscrew the camera out. It seems like everything should work out flawlessly, except for the shutter release. Most waterhousings use a cable connected to a trigger on the handle to fire the shutter. This will be pretty difficult to create. I've thought about making just a rubber insert where I could stick my finger into the box and sort of feel for the buttons. However, I realized that this will definitely result in a broken finger while shooting in heavy surf. Instead, I think I'll mount a rubber button at the top of the box to cover up a drill hole. I'll then mount a tube through which a solid shaft will run from the rubber button to the shutter button. That way, I'll be able to press the rubber button at the top of the box and have it activate the shutter inside. Since the camera will be solidly attached to the box, I think this could work. Any thoughts on this mechanism? I will start work on it next Thursday and probably have it finished within a couple days. I'll post updates and pictures next week.
12-14-2011, 06:35 AM   #6
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I don't think I'd trust anything home-made for that, even considering your low entry price for the camera/lens. Surf can pound equipment pretty hard and even if you can manage to create a waterproof case that will withstand 6ft depth in a pool in still water, when you add the additional pressure it would need to handle by getting nailed by a wave in the surf... I just can't imaging it will stay watertight for long.

I would look into a used Ikelite underwater housing. I have one for my Canon G9 that I use for scuba diving, and it is rated for 200ft depth. That should withstand the surf quite well. I haven't checked, but I would assume used housings are plentiful, since each housing fits only a specific camera model due to control layouts. FWIW, I paid more for my G9 housing than for the camera itself, though not substantially more.
12-14-2011, 08:20 AM   #7
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Yeah that's what I'm worried about. Particularly the lens port. I'm building it out of a Kalt 58mm aluminum lens hood epoxied to a UV filter. If it hits the ground, it will no doubt snap off. I'm going to put guard rails around it so that it will never be able to be directly hit.

As for the Ikelite housing, it is an extremely good dive housing but for surf photography it is regarded as too fragile. At that pricepoint I could get an dedicated surf housing. The used market is pretty abundant with surf housings from SPL and other large manufacturers for Canon DSLRs but absent of anything for Pentax, since a couple of brands have only just started making them for Pentax. My only regret with going with Pentax is the lack of surf housings available used.

I used to have a G9 with the waterproof housing (I got it for $35 direct from Canon via a code on *************** when they released the G10, it was a steal). Its a great little P&S but the lag time from when the shutter was pressed to the actual picture taken was too long and crippled it for action photography. It was great for diving though!

12-14-2011, 08:42 AM   #8
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I have no experience with surf housings, but I'd be shocked to find out that Ikelite housings are "fragile". The body is made out of very thick acrylic or similar material, I believe it's about a centimeter thick. I certainly would not volunteer to go and bash mine against rocks, but I have a hard time believing water alone would have any effect on it at all even in rough surf.

You're right about the shutter lag, even for underwater photography. The G9 sometimes gives me problems with shutter lag, but since I invested in the Ikelite housing I figure I will stick with it for a while. Maybe someday I will get a housing for my new K-5, but that's not in my near future. I have my LBA to take care of first!
12-14-2011, 08:48 AM   #9
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Yeah the Ikelite won't be damaged by the surf itself, but if if slips out of your hands and hits the sand, one of the many buttons and levers could easily snap off. Surf housings are designed to be able to easily withstand a large shock from hitting sand. I've heard stories of them even surviving crashes into reef and rocks.

When it comes to underwater photography, the step up in price from point and shoot to SLR is so significant that you really gotta dedicated to it. Add on a external flash and another lens port and you've easily invested a couple thousand, not including the camera!
12-14-2011, 12:53 PM   #10
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I confess, I didn't even know, there are special housings for surf photography, but I can imagine, that they indeed need to be more robust than conventional diving housings. I personally wopuld simply buy a Nikonos IV, wrap some tape around it (after film loading ofcourse) and use that. Replacements are cheap and the Nikonos should withstand quite a battering.

If you want to build a housing yourself, contact some of the underwater housing specialists, they may sell something like the buttons and matching grommets/bushings to you. I have read in the past about at least one manufacturer who supplies parts to DIYers.

Ben
12-15-2011, 04:12 PM   #11
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Ben I considered buying one of those plastic things and had one in my hands for a while examining it over the summer. Problem is though no way to use a light with it. When I go in the sea I'm down to about 10ft or so and you do need extra light
12-17-2011, 09:14 AM   #12
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QuoteOriginally posted by Nass Quote
Ben I considered buying one of those plastic things and had one in my hands for a while examining it over the summer. Problem is though no way to use a light with it. When I go in the sea I'm down to about 10ft or so and you do need extra light
If you go for the original Ewamarine bags, you will also find several of them, that can be used with a hot shoe flash, for instance: Ewa-Marine U-AX Underwater Housing EM U-AX B&H Photo Video

It is only those cheap Chinese knockoffs, that are not large enough for a flash. Ewamarine is certainly much more expensive, but still many times cheaper than a hardshell housing. In the UK you will find their products here: Cameras Underwater - they also have some good basic information about the products on their website.

May be established pro dealers might also have the Ewamarine products in stock, I don't, though.

Ben
12-20-2011, 01:50 PM   #13
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You can use an Aquapac bag, it costs about 100$, and will serve for your purposes. As long as you don't go below 15 feet, you'll be perfectly safe with these.
01-03-2012, 12:06 PM   #14
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As a scuba diver, I can tell you the big issue here isn't WATERproofing, but PRESSUREproofing. When a wave falls on top of you, your camera's case will experience a tremendous amount of pressure. What might work fine in still, shallow water, could easily leak in heavy surf as all the joints will be flexed. All seals must apply absolutely uniform pressure or the seal can warp. Also has the outside pressure increases, any external controls tend to become harder to use. Otherwise the seal will warp and leak. The seals also must be absolutely clean. I've seen cases leak wear a single strand of hair got caught in the seal.

I'm not trying to be overly negative here, but there is a reason custom pressureproof case builders charge so much.

Jim Johnson
01-12-2012, 12:30 PM   #15
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I've built the case and have shot several rolls of film through it. The filter port seems to work well as the slides turned out very clear. It took a bit of getting used to as there is no viewfinder port (yet), so I have to aim with instinct alone. So far, no leaks. I used silicone grease to further waterproof the O-ring. The little green button is actually a heavy duty rubber glove tip epoxied to the box, through with a little rod connects to the shutter button. With it, I can easy feel the shutter button half compressed, and fully compressed. The camera itself is mounted to the case by a bolt running from the bottom of the case into the tripod mount. It is waterproofed by a recessed O ring and grease.

I had to cut out parts of the foam, as it was adding slightly too much pressure to the camera back and causing it to push forward, aiming the lens downwards. As you can see, I made a few mistakes that I had to cover up with plastic and epoxy. I cut the hole out for the lens/port with woodworking chisels. They are extremely sharp (out of the store they come dull, you need to sharpen them yourself on waterstones) and worked surprisingly well with this plastic. Of course, if you have 2 inch diameter hole saws that would work better (unfortunately they cost 30-50$).

I understand what you mean by the extreme pressure being the main culprit of ruined cases. The weak point of this case is definitely the glass filter. I will be taking this case only to relatively mellow breaks- no pipeline for me.

If i were to build another one, I would definitely use a wider, shorter port for my 17mm fisheye lens. I found that the 28mm is a little to long for taking shots inside the barrel of the wave.
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