Review: Sea and Sea DX100 Housing

After spending the last 3 weeks on the Bay Islands Aggressor IV conducting digital workshops and diving every day, I had a great opportunity to give my new Sea and Sea DX 100 housing a complete workout. I was able to shoot a variety of subjects using a number of different lenses and ports, and based on my previous experience with both digital still and video housings, I have come to some conclusions.

Let me preface my comments by saying that, since there have been a number of reviews and articles commenting on the specific functions of this housing I am not going to describe the housing’s functions and layout. I will make references to the features that I feel are strong and others that I wish had been designed differently.

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Things I like

  • Generally I found the DX100 a reliable and easy to use housing. Problems with the control dial and menu function buttons which were reported in earlier releases have been completely fixed. I was using the latest revision housing and every function worked flawlessly.
  • I have read a number of comments describing this housing as "bulky" or "big". For the past year I have been using the Light & Motion Titan housing which is much smaller than the Sea and Sea housing. However, after many years shooting video and currently using a Sony VX2000 camera and Light & Motion Blue Fin Housing, I must say that by comparison, the DX 100 is quite small and easy to use. I guess it’s just what we get used to.
  • I also did not find the viewfinder particularly difficult to use either. While I would love to see some type of "sport finder" or magnified viewfinder, I was able to judge focus and composition quite nicely.
  • The clear back did have the advantage of being able to see inside the housing and it did give me a feeling of security. I found myself always checking the back as I made my descent just to make sure there was no water found its way inside.
  • Virtually every camera control is available on the housing. One very cool aspect of the DX 100’s camera controls is having the AF/AE Lock button accessable as one of the controls. If the Nikon D100 is set up to have auto focus activated with this button, rather than by pressing the shutter 1/2 way, you can auto focus underwater using your right thumb and release the shutter using your index finger. This provides excellent control over focus and shutter.

dx100controls

  • I used the custom flat port and the fisheye dome port and both were easy to get off and on. I needed zoom rings for 2 of my lenses and while the Sea and Sea spec sheet lists only certain lenses to use with each port, I found that some lenses that were not listed will still work. Certainly fixed focal length lenses will likely work even though not listed while zoom lenses will need to accept the specific zoom ring in order to work properly inside the housing. I was able to use both a Nikon 18-35 and a Tamron 19-35 with the same zoom ring.
  • While using the custom flat port, 2 Sea and Sea YS90-DX strobes with Ultra Light arms, the housing was slightly negative and very well balanced. Personally I prefer a housing that is slightly negative as it is easier for me to control since it doesn’t want to float up and away.
  • The main O-ring on the back of the housing is very large and easy to remove and maintain. The same goes for the O-rings on the lens ports. As long as you are careful when putting on the back or changing ports I would feel very confident with this housing.
  • The Sea and Sea DX100 is a totally manual housing. The only electronic part is the hot shoe connection which connects to the strobe sync cord. With proper maintenance and care there is very little that should go wrong while you are miles from home.

Concerns

  • My biggest complaint with the DX100 is while using the fisheye dome port. As reported, with this port the housing becomes positively buoyant and wants to "roll backward" with the dome port facing up. I experimented with some soft weights and while I could counteract the buoyancy problem I was never able to get the housing balanced. I was constantly turning my wrists to bring the housing into an upright position.
  • I am not a big fan of the "latch" system that Sea and Sea uses. There are 4 latches: 1 on each side, and 1 on the top and bottom of the back. If 1 latch is not open in the correct position it can get caught between the back and the front of the housing and prevent it from closing properly. Even more of a concern is if a latch does get caught in the wrong position it could easily put a "ding" in the main O-ring. The latch configuration also makes it necessary to tilt the housing forward when removing the back after a dive. This could result in water drops getting on your camera if care is not taken.

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  • Another problem associated with the dome port is the difficulty in changing the "single-continuous" focus control. While this control is easily accessible while using the custom flat port, the lever that moves this control is very short and is blocked by the large size of the dome port, making it almost impossible to change underwater.
  • While the housing controls performed flawlessly in most conditions, as soon as I reached 110 feet none of the controls would work. As soon as I moved up everything worked normally.

Finally

By and large I really like this housing. By comparison, its price point is very reasonable and if you are already using a Sea and Sea housing your current ports and accessories will likely fit. As exclusively a digital imagemaker, I found that the DX100 and the Nikon D100 are a great combination. A few modifications to the concerns listed above would make this housing really shine.

Gallery

Visit Rod’s Gallery from his trip here

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