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Ewa-Marine U-AXP 100 SLR Camera Housing

by Josh Root, 2003


[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 clicked the Adorama 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 without problems."
  • "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 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 in position.

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 gently.

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 shooting.


Text and pictures copyright 2003 Josh Root

Article created 2003

Readers' Comments


Add a comment



Jaap Voets , September 08, 2003; 04:59 A.M.

Nice review. Good thinking to first test the housing with only air in it that could get wet.

The claim by EWA that the housing works upto 150 feet is a bit over the top. Pressure increases very quickly when you are in the water (I'm a scuba diver). Every 10 meter / 33 feet will give you one additional atmosphere of pressure. So the buttons and dials on your camera will lock up very quickly if the water can act upon it freely (that is without a rigid plastic or aluminium housing to counteract the forces).

I think playing with this housing at the surface or 5 meters max. is what you should do with it. But considering that most housings are equally to 2 times as expensive as the camera they house, it is an affordable solution for some under water work.

Erb Duchenne , September 08, 2003; 11:44 A.M.

At 30feet the pressure is two atmospheres. At 60 feet the pressure is three atmospheres. You must also remember that any knock or pressure on the camera at depth is on top of the pressure its already experiencing. I wouldn't bet my camera would hold up at 100 feet.

The purpose of a solid housing is that its reinforced hull withstands the pressure. Not your camera. The good news is that housings can also be used above water, in case of splashes etc. Bad news is a good housing usually costs as much as or more than your camera.

Rick Rohan , September 09, 2003; 02:20 A.M.

Speaking of low cost underwater housings, here are my experiences...

After balking at the >$1000 prices for SLR camera housings, I bought a Canon WP-DC300 waterproof housing for my more portable Canon Powershot S45.

I may go scuba diving maybe once a year, so justifying an expensive piece of hardware, is not going to happen for the few pictures I will take with it. In the past I have rented cameras, then tried an Aquashot II, then bought a Bonica Multisnapper outfit (with external flash).

The Aquashot II is a film box camera case that quickly lost its usefulness as manufacturers of film box cameras changed their designs. I managed to make a few personal modifications of my own and squeeze a few more dives out of it, but it was a pain to use and took poor pictures which often had an edge vignette from having a too small lens port. It turns out that film box manufacturers change their designs every few years so you end up blowing your investment (albeit only $80, unless you added a bunch of accessories). I definitely don't recommend the Aquashot or its successors. Besides these days there are waterproof film box cameras that can be used at depths of 50 ft, which is a much better deal for about $10.

The Bonica Multisnapper is not a bad camera for the price. Its cool feature is that it can switch from distance to medium range and to macro with a twist of its lens port. They seem to call this feature zoom, but that's not the right word for it (is focus?). It takes sharp pictures, but no chance of narrowing your depth of field in this low end camera (would you really expect to?). I had a bit of trouble with its wireless external flash. You basically put a cover over the base units flash which kinda reflects the flash around the camera and not forward. The flash itself has a light sensor that acts sort of like a slave flash to the camera's flash, so when the camera flash fires, it fires...or at least that's the theory. It worked about one-half to two-thirds of the time.

But enough rambling about the past. I have been more recently bitten by the digital bug, so I have had enough with film camera's, especially underwater ones. Diving there are so many more variables that can make for a bad photo. You have to swim to get down amoungst the coral to prevent that aerial look to your photos, you deal with constantly moving fish, your viewfinder is up against your face mask or you have to use an awkward framing goal post or plastic cross hairs that are easily misjudged, you have poor blue shaded lighting conditions, and you have to avoid problems with backscatter from your flash reflecting against plankton, kicked up silt, and air bubbles...all this while trying to deal with your diving equipment and staying alive underwater (whew!). Getting instant feedback from an LCD screen, and not having to waste a lot of film is a big boon, so underwater digital photography seems like the way to go for a beginner, and maybe even a pro.

The WP-DC300 housing was designed for Canon's Powershot S30, S40, S45, and S50 cameras. I'm sure if Canon keeps the exact same body style, it may work with a few SXX camera's to come.

Overall, it looks like quite a good housing for the price. Each camera button has its own spring loaded waterproof button on the housing, so every camera function is covered. This is a bit of a surprise because it is the buttons and other movement that usually add the most to the price, and this camera housing is only $170 (discount).

The glass on the camera lens has an antireflection coating. With the camera inside, I tested the zoom and the full range of zoom works with plenty of clearance around the lens and no discernible obstruction to camera view, even at the S45's widest angle.

The body is a crystal clear, fairly thick plastic housing which feels like it could take a deal of punishment. It feels quality built.

The clasp that holds the case closed is well designed, requiring you to slide a spring loaded slider to one side before you can pull the clasp open. This is very hard to do by accident. I've seen other cameras that had locking sliders that had no spring loading. I've seen a friend flood his camera too because of this.

To load the S45 into the case, you must first open its front cover. The front lens cover on the S45 acts as its on switch. Of course, while it is loaded into the WP-DC300 housing the S45 cannot be turned off. You can minimize battery usage by turning off the display while not in use. The camera may also go into sleep mode after a period of time (depending if you have this feature turned on). You can wake up the camera, if this happens, by pushing down the shutter button.

One of the bad things about the WP-DC300 is its lack of external flash. Once again, the camera housing is clear, so the S45's flash can flash unimpeded. As noted above, in underwater photography you have to deal with backscatter a lot. To avoid backscatter you need to have a large distance between your flash and camera lens. This reduces the illumination of particles in the water just in front of your lens (where they affect your photo the worst). It is too bad that Canon did not think about the addition of an external flash for this case (maybe like the photo-sensing wireless flash that the Bonica has).

Mind you I am writing all this with having the WP-DC300 for only a couple of weeks, WITHOUT YET DIVING WITH IT! I plan to take it on a trip in a couple of weeks, so I have yet to find out how well it takes pictures.

The S45 has been a good little portable camera for me. I often take it to get togethers or on cycling trips, anytime I don't want to carry my Canon 10D. I am hopping it make a half decent underwater camera as well.

Jeffrey Osier-Mixon , September 09, 2003; 03:02 P.M.

Regarding this great follow-up, there is an excellent article on Epinions.com regarding the feasibility of the Canon Digital Elph S400 as an underwater camera, using the Canon waterproof enclosure. Here is a link: http://www.epinions.com/content_97330040452

Regarding the Ewa-Marine review, thanks very much for providing it. I was thinking very much of buying an Ewa-Marine enclosure for my "boat-anchor" 35mm but without access to the hot shoe it might be worse than useless. I did read somewhere that it was possible to use a wireless flash with these bags, of the type that fire when they sense another flash firing---and that one way to avoid backscatter in the process was to aim the shoe-mounted flash up or to the side, as if bouncing it off a wall. Seemed like a good idea, though if one is going to spend that kind of money on a waterproof flash unit, it might make sense to buy a rigid housing.

In any case, thanks to authors for both the review and the followup

Andrew Dawson , September 09, 2003; 08:00 P.M.

Ewa-Bags are often asked about since they're cheap, and are the most often despised, for good reason. As mentioned, as a water-protection scheme for surfing, waterskiing etc. they work fine.

As a underwater outfit, they are PATHETIC. They put a flat port large enough to accomodate a wide angle lens--that's nice. Unfortunately, if you want images that are even vaguely sharp, you MUST use a dome (fisheye) port with w/a lenses; not an option with Ewa-Bags. Flat ports are fine if you're shooting macro, but how are you going to light anything? They don't allow external flash connection, another non-optional part of u/w photography. (Good luck with using some slave sensor instead...) They might keep a camera dry to 150 feet, but as mentioned, the external pressure makes the camera impossible to use below about 30 feet.

If you wanna keep your camera dry in some above water scenario, Ewa is a definite possibility. If you wanna shoot u/w, don't waste your time. There's lots of good advice on photo.net about doing u/w the right way.

David Schoen , September 10, 2003; 01:49 A.M.

I have used ewa-marine housings for years for video cameras on the surface of the water (whitewater rafting and sea kayaking) and for snorkling. Additionally, I have used the housings for my Nikon Coolpix 5700 for sea kayaking. These particular uses for the housings are appropriate. Above the surface where there is no bouyancy, a solid housing is prohibitavly heavy and overkill. I have owned 4 ewa housings over the years and have never ruined a camera. Yes, you need to be careful. But proper care will reward a user with photos one could not obtain without a housing. Not everyone is affected by the pressure of scuba. I would never take the housing below 10 meters which is what I believe it is rated to, not 50 meters as one respondant stated. For roughly $200 US, it is far cheaper than solid housings. My U-AX housing will accomodate my Nikon N-80 with Tamron 28-200 telephoto in addition to the Nikon Coolpix 5700 and many other similar size SLRs. Try that with a solid housing.

Daniel Rico , September 11, 2003; 05:14 P.M.

Hi all.

U-AXP was not the way for me. I started with a sea&sea MMII - not good due to difficult focusing + framing. Later on, U-AXP for EOS-5. HORRIBLE. Next step: Ikelite U/W case. Good choice, I use it for 'serious' photos, photo-contests and so on ... EOS-5 + EF100 MACRO USM + IKELITE S-50 + U/W case = Amazing photos.

And this month ... new toy: Canon S45 + WPDC300. Just two dives. Much better than I expected, althoug using internal flash. Fits everywhere. Perfect mate.

I posted today some samples @

http://www.photo.net/photodb/folder?folder_id=334545

Have a look. Water temperature: 21ºC. Visibility: Less than 2 m!! horrible for photography. Amazing results - I lost my buddy twice ... because of the bad visibility.

Cost: Less than 700 euro, not so expensive ... Don't think about it, go for a Canon / Olympus digital (with Av/Tv/M options).

Cheers, Daniel.

P.s.Don't spend money in plastic bags ...

Image Attachment: Pulpo.jpg

Jim McNitt , September 25, 2003; 05:43 P.M.

On Ewa-Marine for Consumer Digital Cameras:

I bought an Ewa-Marine "zip-lock" housing for a week-long whitewater rafting trip earlier this year. (Green River, Desolation Canyon, Utah)

The model I purchased for a Nikon CP 990 also fit my Canon Elura 2 DV cam. The cost (about $130 from Adorama) seemed ridiculous for a heavyweight baggy, until I considered the alternatives.

Mostly, I used the housing for protection from spray and blowing sand -- lots and lots of blowing sand -- and was supremely satisfied. As long as I kept the filter clean with a Mamiya optical cloth, I could not tell the difference between images taken with the housing or without it.

Yes, using the camera controls is tricky and viewing the LCD is difficult to impossible -- which is the case in strong light anyway, even without an extra sheet of plastic to obscure the view.

I also used the housing for some shallow dives in Mexico this summer. And I mean shallow, nothing more than 10 feet. There was some miniscule leakage, but nothing sinister. Again, I was satisified with the optics. If I had it to do over again, I wouldn't hesitate to buy one for an inexpensive camera.

Would I trust a $5,000 camera to one of these? It would take a lot of convincing. The reason I took the CP990 in the first place, and not my Canon D60, was that I didn't want to expose the D60 to either the physical shock of 50 Class III rapids, or the windy, dusty environment. Since this was a recreational trip, not an assignment, I figured the extra resolution didn't justify the risk, or the weight. --Jim

Vandit Kalia , October 10, 2003; 06:28 A.M.

For those who have an Olympus x0x0 digicam, Olympus makes a very neat underwater housing - the PT-00x series for these cameras.

They are quite reasonably priced (<$300), rated to a depth of 30m/100 feet, have a little flash diffuser built in the front (for using the camera's in-built flash) and easy to use/operate. Comes with an optional weight attachment that makes the housing almost neutrally buoyant.

All the underwater photos on my site were taken with this setup. In clear water and with good light, this setup will run circles around any of the P&S film alternatives - only a Nikonos or a housed SLR would be better. The manta ray shot was taken at a distance of 20m, for example - try doing that with a film P&S.

The Oly x0x0 cameras let you set aperture and shutter, and so allow a little more creative control than the Canon Sureshot cameras.

I believe these housings are not sold in the US, but Matthew Endo, of Mars Scuba, ships them w/w from Japan. Gem of a guy to deal with - I broke my housing recently (fell 30 stairs - only a knob broke), and he's taken it back and is going to have it repaired and sent back. A google search should reveal his URL.

HTH.

Sean Noonan , December 19, 2003; 04:06 P.M.

Here is a possibly dumb question; if you are using the housing above water (surfing or sea kayaking for example), how do you manage water droplets, spray, etc from affecting the shot? Presumably you wouldn't have easy access to a dry lens cloth, so do you just dunk it periodically to try to smooth the water out or am I missing something?

Sean
www.stnphotography.com

Alexander Grieve , January 12, 2007; 08:08 A.M.

about the coment that you can not use a ewa marine housing below 30 ft is a miss truth allyou have to do is blow enough air in to the housing to alow for expansion and contraction of the air due to the change in external presure.

about the optical performence it would be nice if dome ports where avalable but each different focal length requires a different diameter dome.

but for your uses you have made a very wise desition just do not get sand or other abrasives on the housing

Image Attachment: body bash june 2005 001.jpg

alpagut develioğlu , September 28, 2009; 11:52 A.M.

ok for inflating the bag for increasasing water preessure and how abaut when going up how does the air go out?


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