7D first impressions

The Nauticam NA-7D, underwater camera housing for the Canon 7D, is here. Is it an engineering marvel or a work of art? A masterpiece of design or a very functional piece of purposeful gear? One very well respected person in the industry has called it the best designed underwater housing he's ever seen, and he has seen hundreds of housing designs. I myself have added to the din by noting how anxiously I've awaited it's arrival. Ok, ok, that was a lot of hyperbole, so does it really measure up?

NA-7D Front NA-7D FrontWell, I was able to do a couple of dives with a pre-production unit, and wanted to share my experience with you. I'd like to get more dives in with it before telling the story, but based on the level of interest, I'm feeling like I need to get this out now before I get any more emails telling me I need to get moving.

NA-7D set up for macro NA-7D set up for macroFor the first dive I did, I used the Canon 7D with a Canon 100mm macro lens, in the NA-7D housing with compact port and the Nauticam 180º Viewfinder, plus dual Inon Z-240 strobes fired optically. For the second dive, I switched to a Tokina 12-24 F4 DX II lens with a Zen 200mm dome port. I also added two Fisheye FIX 1000 LED lights for video, which I mounted on seperate strobe arms, and switched from the 180º Viewfinder to the standard .66x Viewfinder.

NA-7D set up for wide angle NA-7D set up for wide angleThe Canon 7D itself is an awesome camera. There are plenty of 7D reviews on the internet, so I won't really review the camera here other than to say that I am very pleased with it so far. Some of my images are ever so slightly noisier than similar shots I got with my buttery smooth 5D, but other than that and having to re-think my lens selection for the cropped sensor, it is great. This camera just feels better in the hand than the somewhat clunky 5D, and of course, the 7D does video, which I will talk about below.

Shot with 7D and Tokina 12-24 Shot with 7D and Tokina 12-24While the 7D is a great camera, sliding it into the Nauticam NA-7D is truly a remarkable thing (there I go with that hyperbole again). One of the first things you notice is that you don't have to pre-set any of the controls to get into into the housing correctly. Everything just lines up and works. Even if a control is initially misaligned, one turn and it lines itself up. For example, if you have the camera set to off, but the on-off switch on the housing is set to on when you insert the camera,no worries - just flip the switch to back to off to align it and then when you are ready to turn the camera on, flip it to on. If, like me, you've ever started a dive with a misaligned control, you know how nice this feature is.

NA-7D right rear - note piano keys NA-7D right rear - note piano keys

This housing features a new and innovative style of button called "Piano Keys". Edward Lai, lead designer for Nauticam, seems to have a habit of coming up with innovative new features for his housings. What's more, these new features are not in any way gimmicky, but instead very useful and makes one wonder "why didn't I think of that?". The piano keys are no exception - they make access to the +, - and set button easier than they are on the camera itself - a remarkable achievement. These keys have just the right amount of tactile design to them and are very easy to reach. It really makes chimping (looking through and editing your pictures while still underwater) remarkably easy.

 


Similarly to the NA-D90 housing which I wrote about a few days ago, the ergonomics on this housing are awesome. The three key controls for me are the shutter, the AF-ON button and the front command wheel. All three of those are perfectly placed, and like the buttons I mentioned above, are actually easier to use on the housing than they are on the camera itself. There is also easy access to the rear command dial, and like the NA-D90, easy access to the live-view and record buttons. All of these controls are available without removing your hands from the handles.

7D Right Side 7D Right Side

As with the D90, the TTL set up with the Inon Z-240's worked very well. With the exception of the few times I caused the onboard flash to fully dump, I didn't notice much lag at all using TTL. I was also able to put the camera in manual at low power and shoot continuously at about 2 fps. So again, you kind of get the best of both worlds, TTL and the ability to shoot manual with a quicker recycle time. Keep in mind too that we offer bulkheads to work with your old-school electrical sync cables for those of you who want to shoot manual or use an external TTL converter.

Shot with 7D and Canon 100mm macro Shot with 7D and Canon 100mm macroThe 180º Viewfinder works great, see my previous post for my thoughts on it. Switching between the two viewfinders couldn't be easier - just remove the retaining ring, slide one out, slide the other one it and replace the ring. That takes all of about 10 seconds. Being able to remove the viewfinder so easily will make for easier packing for your trip.

 One of the key features of the 7D is of course the ability to shoot video. The Nauticam NA-7D housing makes it remarkably easy to switch from stills to video - as I mentioned above, the controls for live view and record are actually easier to use on the housing than the camera. I didn't spend much time on video - after all, I've only had two dives with this setup so far, but was able to capture enough video to give you a little idea of what it can do. I have a lot of work to do with the 7D to get proficient with it's video capability, but I'm thinking it will be a lot of fun getting there. One of the challenges of sharing video on the internet is the compromise between download time and quality; nothing worse than spending a lot of time editing video only to have the final compression mess it up with artifacts in your nice blue background. Anyway, I've tried to upload something that still gives you a sense of what the camera can do but won't take all day to download; hopefully Vimeo and YouTube won't compress the stuffing out of it. Here's Vimeo's take on it; click the video below, click HD, then through to the Vimeo site to watch it in HD.



Nauticam NA-7D housing for Canon 7D.

So bottom line, how does the NA-7D housing to relative to the hype? Extremely well - I am very pleased and can't wait to own one myself.