Not Awful UW Photography

Contact e-mail: kristaps at bsd.lv

I recently purchased a second-hand Nimar NID5300 for my Nikon D5300. After five years of smooth diving with a Nauticam housing for a Sony RX100IV (the NA-RX100IV), maybe I'm spoiled, but the Nimar so far has caused me nothing but trouble. This page is a rant about housing design in general, using my Nimar as an exemplar.

Avoid housings with face-plate clasps and single-screw arms, and factor in extra-but-really-required addons like flash triggers and ball mounts.

So you want to get a housing! There's a lot to take in at first glance, so here's a quick list of things that might bite you.

missed (strobe) connections

This regards optical strobes—those using fiber-optic cables.

Do you see the little black bar at the top of the housing? It has two holes that look like fiberoptic slots, so it looks like you can just pop the internal flash and sync with your strobes like with my prior Nauticam or my buddy's Fantasea A6400. And the product literature clearly states that you can use the internal flash.

Well, you can indeed pop the flash in the Nimar housing, but there's no way out-of-the-box to connect external strobes to the signal. Great. You can only use strobes if you buy the flash trigger, which comes with a clear bulkhead port. The fiber-optic cables then connect to the bulkhead and carry the signal through it. Without the clear bulkhead port, there's nowhere to connect the cables.

For internal flashes, make sure that there's a documented way to carry signal to your strobes. Or if you're going the hot-shoe trigger route, make sure your cables can carry the weaker signal emitted by the trigger.

After buying the trigger, I found my cables wouldn't carry a signal—the trigger needs high quality fiber. (What constitutes quality is a mystery to me.) While waiting for new cables, I installed the clear bulkhead plug without the trigger attachment, engaged the internal flash, and used that with my old cables. It worked, though spottily and with a face full of flash.

Be careful connecting multiple strobes to each other unless your cable can be threaded through your arms.

Another annoyance of the Nimar is that it only has a single bulkhead for strobes. This means I need to attach the strobes to each other with a cable that stretches between the two—I don't currently have one long enough to thread. This poses an entanglement hazard.

in these (tray) arms

In many housings, the housing arms are part of a separate tray that screws in to the base in several places. Despite being expensive, I liked my Nauticam tray because it attached both to the housing base and also to the side of the housing, making the arms sturdy and stable.

Make sure that integrated arms attach at multiple points and won't loosen or break when twisted.

In my Nimar (I see this in some Ikelite models as well), the arms are integrated and screw in directly at the point of rotation. The left-hand arm is attached (at the rotation point) with an external screw that has an eye-hole. It's secured by a groove that prevents free rotation. Unfortunately, the screw has a tendency to loosen, and when it does, the left arm can rotate and even detach.

Two separate dives have featured a detaching left arm. Don't think you can reattach easily: if the washer comes off, the screw is too long and will leave the arm spinning around. Furthermore, that eye-hole looks like you can attach that to a double-ender—very convenient! Don't: unless you have a swivel, putting torque on the eye-hole will cause the screw to unscrew even faster.

No problems yet with the right arm, which attaches with a slightly more sturdy hex screw, except that it wobbles a bit. So maybe I should add emphasis: no problems yet, because a wobble in time produces breakage.

Next, and this applies to both integrated and external trays, is to make sure that your tray connects to both your housing (if external) and existing accessories. Most external accessories connect with the standard underwater 1" ball mount. And most tray/housing companies are guilty of a cash grab by requiring a special ball mount adapter. After all: why bundle something useful when you can sell it for extra?

Factor in that you'll need to buy special ball-mount adapters to connect the arms to anything useful.

The Nimar's terminal slide attaches by sliding onto the arm and being secured with an external screw. Yes, this screw will loosen, but you can fix that in the water. Assuming it hasn't slipped off entirely and taken your strobes with it.

unstable relationships: the tripod

One slightly non-standard, but not exactly rare, tool for underwater photography is the tripod. Not with the Nimar!

Anticipate long-exposure photography with a tripod—that is, make sure that your housing has a ¼" screw mount possible.

I get it: it's not standard usage. For the Nimar, or for any clasp-mounted design without a special mounting point between the bottom clasps, you'll need to get inventive for your tripod. If your tripod has a ball mount, use a three-way clamp and connect with two arms to the tray ball mount. It's shabby, but works.

Of course, it's worth noting that this puts strain on the arms. And do remember that the Nimar's arms are attached with a single screw.

face-palmplate clasps

As of writing this, my D5300 is dead. It's dead because the housing flooded. The housing flooded because of the clasp (latch or fastening) design.

The face-plate is affixed to the housing by four metal clasps. The clasps open by pressing a metal tongue and lifting. The burden is upon you to make sure that nothing applies pressure to those clasps in the right way, such as your stages, hoses, etc., etc.

If it opens, your housing will flood. Game over. I was lucky enough to only lose the camera body, not the lens or the electronic strobe trigger.

If the face-plate clasps are easy to open, they'll open. If any one clasp catches on something and there's pressure on the tongue: game over.

I know that some Ikelite housings have the same construction. Even expensive housings, like the EasyDive family, use clasps. On the Nauticam (and the Fantasea, I think), the housing face-plate is hinged and locks with a swivel lock. This is much safer, as opening requires a jointed operation.

There are numerous other problems with the Nimar's clasp design. For example, when setting the housing down, the ground is touching the clasps. I'm 100% sure that someday I'm going to set the housing down prior to a dive, something will depress a tongue and loosen the clasp, and it'll come off when I enter the water. (Not even to mention that this can damage the clasps themselves.)

There are trivial ways to fix this, such as having the clasps lie in grooves (this would also allow room for a tripod mount, or screw mounts for external trays. Some of the EasyDive housings, for instance, only have clasps at the top and hinge the faceplate.

vacuums and flood detection

The latter is an absolute necessity that seems optional until you have a hair in your o-rings and a tiny bit of water seeps in, bit by bit, where early detection would have saved your rig. Remember: it's not if you have a leak, it's when.

Make sure there's a way to test your moisture sensor's battery; or better yet, to test that the moisture sensor in general is functional.

Make sure that the sensor itself is at the bottom of your housing, where water will accumulate before reaching your camera and lens!

I like the vacuum detection, which will reveal if you have a seepage point prior to the dive. Either way, get used to greasing and painfully checking your o-rings.

button-on, button-off

This is a problem that only reveals itself with time: button construction. This only applies to housings with mechanical buttons. On the Nimar, I'm not even sure why they bothered putting push-button controls: they aren't aligned properly and some are already sticking.

Push-buttons are used for mucking around with settings in the water. Usually you won't do this, and only use the dials for changing aperture and shutter. The only time I need to use the push-buttons in the water is to change ISO, which happens rarely.

Getting these buttons to line up and depress under pressure requires careful machining.

Anything spring-loaded (buttons, some levers) eventually sticks. Wheels and gear-based levers are more reliable.

There's nothing you can do to check for dodgy buttons beyond using the housing, but you can assume that anything with a spring will fail first. This is a problem with most any housing with mechanical buttons, but I didn't expect it to happen so soon.

Make sure you can map all important interfaces (shutter, critical settings, zoom) are reachable by the main levers and gears. No small push-buttons!

If any buttons stick at all when you purchase the unit, send it back immediately! They'll just get worse.

If you hate mechanical buttons, there's always the EasyDive, which interfaces with your camera electronically. Cool! (Except it uses face-palm clasps…)

the gears of war zoom

I usually dive with wet lenses on a flat port. Switching wet lenses requires zooming: out for wide-angle, in for macro. So zoom lens housing ports come with a zoom gear that does this.

It's usually a toothed gear, rotated on the outside of the lens, that catches on the lens zoom ring and moves it. On the Nimar, the teeth catch on to a toothed sleeve atttached to the camera lens itself.

Of the dozen or two dives with the Nimar, three times has the zoom gear detached while entering the water. This basically means shooting at whatever zoom focal length was last used before being dislodged.

Make sure your zoom gear always catches the sleeve. And if it does, that it doesn't necessarily dislodge if jostled. Once dislodged—no more zoom.

Like with dodgy buttons, I'm not sure how to check for this before purchasing. I'm always careful to make sure zoom works before sealing the housing, but all it takes is a giant stride entrance to dislodge the gear again.