Photo packs have come a long way in the past decade, especially those that are targeted toward outdoor and adventure photographers. Alaska-based adventure photographer Dan Bailey takes a closer look...
[Note: One of the perks for volunteering at photo.net is sometimes getting
to try out photo equipment for a few weeks, before deciding to buy. But
Ewa-Marine in Germany wouldn't talk to me. They told me to contact the U.S.
distributor, RTS Inc. I called RTS and talked with head guy there. But he failed
to return a call which made me feel that he wasn’t that interested in
cooperating. This was strange considering that Ewa bags are the most asked about
product (and also the most made fun of) in underwater shooting. So I bought one
for myself. This may serve as a comment on the type of customer service you can
expect from them if you had a problem. Incidentally, to help support photo.net, I
link on the photo.net homepage.]
Uwa-Marine U-APX 100 Features - in the words of Ewa-Marine
"The U-AXP is designed for larger AF SLR cameras such as the Nikon F5 or the
EOD 1n, the U-AXP 100 is a special version of the U-AXP housing."
"It has a wider front glass allowing the use of lenses up to 82mm in
diameter. This enables you to use wide-angle lenses with a focal length of 17mm
"All lenses used with this housing must have an internal focus."
"Lenses with a smaller filter diameter can also be used in this housing as
long as they have internal focus. You just need the right step-up ring."
"Designed specifically for 35mm SLR cameras, the U-AXP housing is
manufactured from double laminated PVC and has an integrated, optically neutral
flat glass port."
"The external flash that is commonly used on SLR cameras fits into the
specially designed section on the top of the housing.“
The first thing you notice when you pull the housing out of the box is that it
looks exactly like what all the jokes say it is: a large $300 ziplock bag. The
material is about as thick as a heavy raincoat, but is fairly floppy and pliable.
There is a glass lens port of about 85mm and a space above where the camera sits
for a hotshoe mounted flash.
Installing my Canon EOS 1d and 17-35 Sigma f2.8-4 lens in the housing is a
real pain. While it gets easier with practice, it still takes far longer than
with a hard under-water (UW) housing. The best method is to put the camera in
upside down (with the lens in the lens port) and rotate it into position.
Alternatively, put the lens and body in separately and attach them once they are
There are two foam pads provided that allow you to adjust the height of your
camera so the lens fits correctly in the lens port and the eyepiece is near the
“viewing hole” (a double layer section that you are supposed to look
into). Because the whole housing is clear, you can see through the eyepiece
wherever it is, but you should try to get it as close to the hole as possible
because the bag has a tendency to flop around which may allow the double-layer
seam to get in the way. It takes some work to get the foam pads to stay where you
want them in the housing. I think if I were going to use them all of the time, I
would use some gaffers tape to secure them in place.
Sealing up the housing is a simple matter of sticking the screws on the
“sealing bar” through the holes on each side of the housing, and then
turning thumb screws. The holes aren’t reenforced, so I’d treat them
The manual is completely useless. Not only is it mistranslated, but it seems
to have been written a number of years ago for a different housing all together!
I looked at it for a couple of minutes and threw it away.
U-AXP 100 in the water
So now it was test time. What better way to test a big plastic bag than to
stuff $4,500 worth of camera equipment into it and throw it in the water?
Actually, like a smart person, I filled the housing with air and held it
underwater to check for leaks. I did see a few tell-tale bubbles sneaking up, but
I fixed this by further tightening the thumb screws.
Putting the camera in the housing and forcing myself to give it the big dunk
was nerve wracking but honestly no big deal since I have GOOD camera insurance
(meaning: NOT connected to my homeowner's policy).
Given how flexible the housing is, it was easy to press any button on the
camera that I might need to use. Spinning the thumb dial was a little harder, but
could be done in a pinch. There is an index finger “pocket” made of
more flexible (but more opaque) material that you are supposed to use to hit the
shutter button. For one reason or another, the pocket didn’t reach my
shutter button very well, but it was very useful for pressing the top buttons and
easily spinning the upper dial. Pressing the shutter through the regular part of
the housing worked just fine for me. Though I did tend to take an extra second to
make sure that I had my finger over the button, as it wasn’t easy to feel
it through the thick plastic.
How was it in the water? Just fine. The floppiness of the bag was a bit
annoying, but nothing horrible. And I think it would be a non-issue if you kept a
flash on the camera every time you used the housing. Ewa-Marine says that their
housings are good to at least 150 feet (the problems with going deeper
aren’t that water leaks in, but that the pressure starts to suck the bag to
the camera which can press buttons and mess with things). It’s important to
note that I am not a scuba diver or even much of a snorkeler (the water is COLD
up here). So I haven’t gotten the housing down much below ten feet. I
bought it to use when shooting wakeboarding from an inner tube. So for me,
it’s really more of a splashguard with accidental dunking protection.
After pulling it out of the cold lake water and into the summer sun, I started
to get some condensation inside the housing. For this very reason, Ewa-Marine
includes a couple packets of Silica gel with the housing, and there is a little
slot inside where you place one.
Would I buy it again?
Yes, for what I want to do with it -- shooting from the tube and a bit of
light underwater photography, which it has worked wonderfully so far. Would I
recommend it to someone who wanted to get into underwater photography? Probably,
but it really depends on what their budget is. For about the same money, you can
get an old Nikonos. Or you can throw some money down and have a custom hard
housing made by various places specializing in such items. I don’t expect
that the life span of this housing will be nearly as long as a Nikonos or a
custom case. For a vacation or just some funny photos underwater without any real
diving the Ewa-marine product works very well.
You can ignore the “ziplock bag" comments that you may have read on the
internet and at least consider Ewa-Marine as one of your options for underwater