Professional underwater DSLR housings aren’t cheap — costing considerably more than even the most expensive cameras. So I was interested to see if you could achieve any decent results with ewa-marine’s U-BF 100. Basically it’s a large, clear and flexible plastic bag with a port for your lens and two metal bars that screw together across the opening to keep everything watertight. The housing retails for around £330 in the UK. I used a Canon 5D and a 17-40 f4 L lens (the housing doesn’t allow you to use a lens that extends when you zoom).
I was a little concerned when I first lowered my camera into the water, but all was well. I only snorkeled with the housing in a few metres of water (though you can use it down to 10 metres). For those interested in going deeper, where there is less light, ewa-marine also sell a version with enough room for your flash (which you can use to 50 metres).
Immediately a few things become apparent — before sealing the housing you need to expel as much air as possible, otherwise you’ll find it difficult to dive down. After a short while I also removed the carrying strap (which always seemed to find its way in front of the lens).
The U-BF 100 has an internal glove that allows you to focus and zoom and also a small finger pocket to operate the shutter. Whilst the glove allows a degree of control over the zoom and focusing rings, don’t expect to be able to operate either with a great deal of accuracy. To make matters more difficult there’s a logo stuck to the case right over the focal length indicators marked on the lens, making them difficult to read. The finger pocket works fairly well, though its sometimes a little difficult to locate the shutter release. The pocket also allows you to dial your camera’s finger wheel.
You can see through the viewfinder, but it’s not easy to do when you are swimming. It’d be a lot easier to use your cameras live-view feature if it has one. With the camera and lens combination above my images were vignetted at anything less than 24mm. You need a really wide angle for underwater landscape images and above-and-below-water shots — so this may prove a restriction for some.
The housing performed well for a couple of days, but by day three the plastic had stretched — meaning my camera moved around inside the housing and the lens wouldn’t stay snuggly in the port (the lens adapter doesn’t clip into the port). The only solution was to slide a small block of dense foam behind the camera to fill the gap. This extended the gap between the back of the housing and the camera, pretty much rendering the viewfinder useless.
The ewa-marine U-BF 100 isn’t cheap, but is well made and does everything its designed to. It’s not particularly easy to use at first, but you’ll soon get the hang of it (you might benefit from a practice session in a swimming pool before you head out to the wilds). I’d recommend it to anyone interested in photographing in or around water.
To manage expectations I should mention that underwater photography is really difficult! I shot hundreds of images and only ended up with a few acceptable ones. Nothing to do with the housing! I imagine it’d be easier if you were diving properly, where you can more easily control your position in the water.