View Full Version : Underwater?

Joseph O'Neil
1-Mar-2008, 07:37
Really stupid question of the day.

After a recent trip to the Keys, I've discovered snorkeling. I bought one of those plastic 35mm point & shoot underwater cameras and I was amazed how good a couple shots turned out with such a crappy camera. Now I'm hooked.

Underwater housings for digital and other cameras are quite expensive, so right now there are used 35mm underwater systems that can be had very reasonably. But before I plunge (litterally and figuratively) here's the dumb question:

Is there such a thing as an underwater 4x5 system of any kind?

1-Mar-2008, 08:09
I would be very surprised, but there were lovely, nearly bulletproof, metal underwater housings for Rollei TLRs and, it turns out, for some of the Rollei 6x6 SLRS too. Look for a Rolleimarin or


Peter K
1-Mar-2008, 08:19
Why not build a housing from aluminium or plexiglas for a 4x5 camera? But a changing system between groundglass and film needs realy skilled craftmanship. So an underwater housing for an Aero Technika 45 with motorized 5 inch rollfilm back should be the easiest way. This camera is used with a view finder.

Walter Calahan
1-Mar-2008, 08:36
Just get a DSLR with a SCUBA housing and a 16 gig card.

How are you going to change film underwater? Geez

1-Mar-2008, 08:57
Another idea - If you can find a Speed Graphic with one of those 6 sheet holders and then build a custom housing out of some acrylic, it might work well for shallow dives you would do in snorkeling. The trick with the housing would be to design a mechanism that could advance the film. The housing could be large if needed, because underwater weight isn't as much an issue. Finding a lens port shouldn't be too much trouble either. A wire frame would do the trick for composition and viewing.

Make an attachment for a strobe and preset your focus and aperture. Sounds like an interesting and fun project.

Brian Sims
1-Mar-2008, 11:27
Underwater 4x5....that is a provocative question. It might be worth doing just to set the record. Instead of building a housing for the camera and trying to have controls for all the movements, lens-shutter settings, film, etc. protruding through the housing, try building a housing for the camera and YOU. It might take a lot of lead weights and I wouldn't go very deep or take my best camera down. It would simply be a rich man's challenge. Because image quality would be superior with an underwater housing on a hasselblad.

1-Mar-2008, 11:32
Why not a Nikonos - they seem to be available at very good prices. OK, it's not a 4x5 but...

Bill L.
1-Mar-2008, 11:53
I've seen housed 6x6 and 645 systems (including a hasselblad full of salt water - ouch!), but think about the air bubble that a housed 4x5 with, say, a 150mm lens would create, and the amount of weight needed to make it neutrally buoyant. Also, as noted, think about what you would need to do to arrange more than one shot before returning to the (dry) surface to change film.

For snorkeling, a sea and sea mx-10 is a great camera that you should be able to pick up for a reasonable price. The strobe is far enough away from the lens that you can get pretty good results without too much backscatter. You could go to a nikonos, but to a large extent if you're not on scuba, I doubt it is going to make that much difference.


Frank Petronio
1-Mar-2008, 12:05
submerge, shoot, rise, open the box, flip the holder, repeat...

Actually why not try it with plastic bags and really cheap stuff just for one shot to see if it is worth the trouble to engineer a real solution?

Dave Parker
1-Mar-2008, 12:10
We tried this when I lived in Hawaii in the early '90's with speed graphics, alls we ended up with was speed graphics full of saltwater and ruined. There are far better options in underwater photography, than trying to control a housing that is virtually twice the size of the camera, your dealing with quite a large housing that is very buoyant and very difficult to control...any type swell action and your getting beat by the thing....which don't feel good upside the head! We never found a reliable system for removing the dark slide, without getting leaks in the housing, and it was basically a one shot system..we were just a bunch of goofy scuba divers with a wacky idea...


1-Mar-2008, 12:18
I have a friend who specializes in underwater photography and uses Nikon gear. He loads several cameras with 35mm film. Once the film is shot the camera is expired until it comes back to the surface. He also had a hammer-head shark try to consume his lighting system. He has a great shot of that.

I would think the sheer complexity of changing film and view camera settings would make the task difficult at best. I could see 4x5 being done in shallow waters around reefs.

David A. Goldfarb
1-Mar-2008, 12:24
Martha Casanave has been doing some underwater and partially submerged pinhole work with 4x5" pinhole cameras in lucite boxes.

There are a few underwater solutions here from Peter Gowland, including a Rollei Marine housing, homemade underwater housing, and a roomy homemade sub--that's the ticket--


Kevin Crisp
1-Mar-2008, 12:30
I have to admit I had thought about this. Film speed and holding still is a real problem, and LF would make it much worse. Slow lenses would make it much worse. And it all would get harder and harder the deeper you go. A lot of money can go into getting you to a place you want to dive and down there and if you're limited to one shot that's a problem. The Nikonos V prices have come down a lot and they do this very well, if you've maintained them properly, which takes about a one per year CLA, including quite a bit of disassembly. For LF you would need an incredibly expensive custom made housing that would be remarkably awkward to use. Except for flash photography this would be darned near impossible without an underwater tripod.

1-Mar-2008, 13:05
Except for flash photography this would be darned near impossible without an underwater tripod.

Everyone I know uses a flash system underwater, the bigger the better. I would think a wide Fotoman type 4x5 rig would be the best solution as there is little need to do anything but snap the shutter. Changing film is THE challenge. If you could get a mechanism to work a 6 shot Graflex holder that could be the best way to go but definitely additional lighting is pretty much essential unless shooting very close to the surface.

John Schneider
1-Mar-2008, 20:59
I've thought about this many times over the past 15 yrs. I thought about using a K-20 or F-56 aerial cam with rollfilm to shoot u/w "landscapes" inside of shipwrecks. I was always put off by the complexity and size of the needed housing, in addition to the expense/effort to construct a proper one from marine alum., along with the huge dome port, and all the through-glands for the controls. Although the housing could be made neutrally buoyant, it would still have a lot of mass (imagine the effort to raise it onto a boat, especially in waves), and also lots of drag (it would be useless in any kind of current). I eventually decided my Nikonos and housed F2 were quite good enough.

I did buy a Pentax 67 housing when I found one, but as I have yet to swap MF systems, I haven't used that housing. But that housing is a beast compared to 35mm ones, so I'm sure a LF housing would be practically impossible in the situations I like to dive.

I'd recommend either a Nikonos system (w/ either a III or V camera), or looking for a 35mm or MF aluminum housing (Giddings, Dyfo, Hassie, Ikelite, or there were several other aluminum ones made by a few places in San Diego in years past). Rollei housings are collectible and they sell for far too much these days.

2-Mar-2008, 04:25
You know this underwater photography stuff is not easy, intuitive, or automatically productive of good results. It is not remotely like putting your camera in a box or a bag and taking some snaps while wading round the reef. At a minimum, you need to be an experienced diver as well as photographer. I would urge anyone who is seriously interested in taking it up to rent a basic Nikonos and flash setup to get a feel for what is involved in the endeavor (and using the Nikonos is much simpler than using a housed camera). If you are comfortable and like the experience and get some results that are pleasing, then by all means go for it. But beware of making a major investment (and it is) before you know what you are getting into. That said, it can be wonderful, though never effortless.

Joseph O'Neil
2-Mar-2008, 07:27
Thanks for all the weird and wonderful ideas. There is a used 35mm underwater film system at the local camera store, complete with electronics (flash) for a very reasonable price, as even underwater, everyone seems to be going digital.

Still film isn't that expensive, especailly if you only have the film developed and scan & print your own negative.

If I find a way to ever take my crown graphic underwater, I'll let you all know. thanks much

Robert Oliver
22-Aug-2009, 09:32
Bruce Mozert....


brian mcweeney
22-Aug-2009, 09:46
Like David said, ... submarine.

John Jarosz
22-Aug-2009, 09:48
All of the obvious problems aside (changing film, etc), UW photography must be done with artificial light to get the colors. Below 10 feet reds & yellows start to disappear and by 30 feet everything is blue and there is far less light (even blue), so long exposures and lousy depth of field would result without a strobe.

You also would like to have as wide angle lens as possible so you can get close to your subject.

I shot UW for many years. I'd triy to get an all mechanical camera. Everyone uses the digitals these days, but one little leak and the electronics is toast. Toss the camera if that happens. The yellow Sea&Sea cameras are probably the most bulletproof these days. The UW cameras that use film or the UW housings for film cameras can be had for a song these days.

QT Luong
22-Aug-2009, 09:52
If someone builts a working LF underwater system, I will want to borrow/rent it to take pictures as part of my National Park project. There would be some publicity for the creator of the system. Please keep me in mind.

John Jarosz
22-Aug-2009, 10:19
I just realized this thread is 18 months old. Wow.

Anyway, I believe National Geographic was the first to publish UW photos and I believe they were taken with a LF. I will check my books, but they are a little buried away.


Tim Meisburger
22-Aug-2009, 10:29
Hey Joe, there are a few simple solutions to this. First, since you will only be snorkeling, and will presumably be in shallow water, why not shoot from the surface. I forget the exact term, but you used to be able to buy a viewing bucket, which is just a bucket or bx with a glass or plastic bottom. Stick that in the water and its just like looking through a mask. You could stick your Crown in their and get some nice color shots if the water was flat and the reef shallow.

Second, since you are snorkeling, not diving, you have to come to the surface anyway. Why not make a small wooden pinhole camera for a 4x5 double dark (I made one a few months ago in about an hour). You could easily house one of those in one of the plastic housing bags they sell (you will need a sliding cover for the pinhole, so you can pull the darkslide before you load the bag). Then, throw some weight in the bag, dive down and take a shot, then surface and hand off to your partner for a reload. If you wanted something sharper, you could do the same thing but mount an old cheap 90mm graflex lens to the box at a fixed fcus of about three feet. Still only one shot at a time, but not too onerous for snokeling.

Sounds like fun. Goodluck.

Oh, by the way, Nikonos are finicky pieces of crap.

Robert Oliver
22-Aug-2009, 10:42
from http://www.legendarysurfers.com/surf/legends/ls07.shtml#water_box

There is a picture of Doc Ball's first housing... for a Series D graflex.


"The Water Box

By 1937, Doc's reputation as a surf photographer was well established. That year, he built his first waterproof camera housing. The watertight "shoots box" housed Doc's replacement for the Kodak folding Autographic - a stripped down Series D Graflex. Not only could he get closer to his wave sliding buddies, but the images were clearer.

"By that time," Doc told me, "I made a water box. I got a stripped down Graflex Series D Graflex camera -- 3 x 4 -- and put a water box around it. So, that way, you could open it up and make your shot and then shut it up real quick and it didn't get all wet." Doc laughed. "That thing really did work. I got some terrific shots with it."

Doc's water box had a large brass handle attached so that when he was caught inside, large sets would not wrest it from his grasp. Although the Graflex was big and bulky compared to today's camera bodies used for surf photography, it used large format cut sheet film - 3 X 4 -- which made for sharp enlargements. "I traded the chief of photography in the Los Angeles fire department arson squad for one of my Graflex cameras," Doc told Gary. "I made him a three-unit gold inlaid bridge."

26-Aug-2009, 00:49
A few things that came to mind:

-shoot from within a submarine or diving bell
-clear dry bag with port
-glass bottom boat
-giant upside down periscope of sorts?

It also occurred to me that you could make a relatively simple air-tight fixed focus camera. You might have to modify the lens so it is air tight and pressure fit it without shutter, (or a barrel lens with the iris control inside the camera) but I think it could be done. As other members pointed out exposures would be long so a lens cap or cover would be sufficient. To use the camera you would simply weight yourself and the tripod, sink to the bottom and stabilize the tripod, frame the shot, and expose with available light; or swim around painting with a light/strobe. It would be a one-shot deal, and you would be limited to shots from the bottom, but I am guessing if you go to that much trouble being limited to one shot at a time won't be the end of the world.

Jim Michael
26-Aug-2009, 04:13
To solve the mass/bulk issue you could design a streamlined self-propelled housing.

26-Aug-2009, 06:10
One type of camera could be build into a watertight housing: an areal camera with an roll film back, I gues.....
Never seen one however.


John Schneider
26-Aug-2009, 09:00
One type of camera could be build into a watertight housing: an areal camera with an roll film back, I guess.....
Never seen one however.


I've considered all these criteria and as you go bigger you start chasing diminishing returns. A bigger camera means bigger flat surfaces of the housing, which means more weight (and mass) to get the requisite strength and stiffness. A bigger housing means more buoyancy, which often means adding weight to get to neutral buoyancy. And even though the camera may now be neutrally buoyant, it still weighs as much topside, a big problem entering and exiting the water. And regardless of neutral buoyancy, the mass is unchanged underwater, a factor when trying to swim with the camera. And a bigger housing has much more drag; in dives with any decent amount of current (drift dives/springs/caves/Gulfstream wrecks) a Nikonos with a small flash is about all you want to handle, much less a housed 35mm-size system or larger.

You could certainly build a 4x5 u/w system, but due to the size of the resultant system I think it would not be very practical to *dive* with. It would be better suited to use in carefully-scouted locations where you would drop it in, get your shots, and then bring everything out.

26-Aug-2009, 09:42
Like a lot of people I've wondered about this myself. A large ziploc (they make huge sizes now) with a hole cut to size for the lens and a tight band around the hole was my fanciful solution.

Of possible historic interest is a book on the subject titled "The Photography of Aquatic Animals in their Natural Environment" published by the Bureau of Fisheries from, I believe, 1908. You can download a copy for free as it's in the public domain: http://www.archive.org/details/photographyofaqu00reigrich

Dan Fromm
26-Aug-2009, 10:09
I just realized this thread is 18 months old. Wow.

Anyway, I believe National Geographic was the first to publish UW photos and I believe they were taken with a LF. I will check my books, but they are a little buried away.

JohnAre you sure? I remember underwater shots in NG taken with a Rollei TLR in a Rolleimarin housing.

26-Aug-2009, 10:15
I don't know how accurate it is but that book I mentioned from 1908 has this to say (p.51)

"Photography by means of a submerged camera was first attempted by Dr. L.
Boutan, of Paris, at the seaside laboratory of Roscoff, in 1893. His work was continued
through the seasons of 1895, 1896, 1897, and 1898, and the results have been
published in four communications (Boutan, 1893, 1898, 1898a, 1900). Boutan's
apparatus was used wholly in the sea, and he has given to his method the title 'la
photographic sous-marine.' "

Robert Oliver
26-Aug-2009, 10:19
Is there anything practical about shooting 4x5 on land? My wife asks me why I shoot 4x5 all the time as she clicks away on her Digital Rebel.

You could certainly build a 4x5 u/w system, but due to the size of the resultant system I think it would not be very practical to *dive* with.

26-Aug-2009, 10:32
I know it's an old thread, but it comes up because somebody was searching for the information and found it, so I'll presume to add my comments to the mix.

A camera in a box that is, say, 8x8x10 inches would displace about 20 pounds of water. It would need to weigh 20 pounds to float neutrally, it seems to me.

The largest surface would be 80 square inches. 10 feet or so down, the pressure will be about 1/3 ATM, or 5 psi. That will apply a force of 400 pounds to that surface. Forget a plastic bag around a bellows camera--the water will collapse both the bag and the bellows.

Also, consider the refractive effect of water, which has a dramatic effect on the apparent field of view. You need wide-angle lenses--28 looks normalish on a 35mm Nikonos. For 4x5, you'll be working with about a 90mm lens to gather much scene. Considering the thickness required in the box to withstand the pressure, and the shallow angle of view, you'll get nasty chromatic aberration. The solution is to provide a small, thin port for just the lens in the middle of the heavy stuff--a 3"-wide port would only have to withstand 35 pounds 10 feet or so down--but then you have GREATLY increased the complexity. Housings often solve this problem with a spherical port, but then the inside surface of the sphere becomes a lens and changes the optical formula profoundly.

The subject must be very close to the camera to retain clarity, unless you are diving where the water is exceptionally clear. Most underwater photographers are working in a range of up to 3 or 4 feet at most, for most images. With large-format, this working distance will have magnifications of 1:10 or less (if in air), and at those magnifications, the depth of field is going to be incredibly small. By comparison, a Nikonos with a 28mm lens at the same working distance and field of view will be at 1:30.

The ritual complexity of opening and closing enclosures on a boat is not to be underestimated. First, the salt water has to be thoroughly rinsed off to prevent abrasive salt crystals from forming as the water dries. Second, the outside of the enclosure must be very thoroughly dried--if it isn't water WILL get INSIDE the camera. Just keeping track of which towels are dry, which are corrupted by salt water, and which are wet only with fresh water is a big job. The O rings are lubricated, and try as I might I could never open and close the camera without getting goo on my fingers. My impression of the plastic-bag products is that they work best when you leave the camera in the bag until you get back on shore and can deal with it in your kitchen. The point is that the process of dealing with an underwater camera requires considerable practice even when the camera is simple.

Then, there's the issue of the water itself. The guys who get good results know more about the water than they do about the cameras.

Story: I bought a Nikonos for a trip my wife and I took to Oz, and spent a day trying to make use of it at the Great Barrier Reef. First, I was seasick. Second, despite being a well-trained triathlete (at the time--alas, no longer) and despite having swum competitively at a distance of several miles within the previous month, I was not an experienced snorkeler and found that being able to hold myself still under water sufficiently to compose and focus the image was not possible. Third, even 10 feet down and even in that extraordinarily clear water, everything turned out blue and yellow. I could not hold still enough to avoid motion blur, or focus accurately enough. You have no tripod underwater. And that was with a purpose-built and compact underwater camera.

The amateur telescope makers have a saying, if you want to grind your own 12-inch mirror, grind a 6-inch mirror first. I would buy a used Nikonos and learn to make good pictures with it, or use an underwater digital camera. One must surmount that non insignificant challenge before contemplating a larger format. If one cannot produce good images from that stuff, forget doing it with a big camera. If the experiment fails, sell it. (A Nikonos will be worth what it now costs if one doesn't flood it.) Those buying a used Nikonos should have it serviced before using it--those O-rings do get stiff and leaky after a while.

I had to chuckle at the statement that the Nikonos was fiddly. On a DSLR forum, okay, maybe it's true. But to a group of people who routinely adapt 100-year-old lenses to 100-year-old cameras, the notion of a Nikonos being fiddly really seems rather silly.

Rick "forewarned is forearmed" Denney

Robert Oliver
26-Aug-2009, 10:56
I'm thinking about building a housing for a speed graphic just for the challenge. Both building it and using it.

I already own housings for my EOS 1D and EOS 3 systems, and I am very comfortable using them. But...

I think the look of the 4x5 underwater would be just different enough to help it stand out from the crowd.... which is why I shoot 4x5 in the first place.

Plus I hope to enjoy having the satisfaction of knowing that it is more difficult to create an image on a 4x5 camera in an underwater housing than it is for the digi masses with their 5D in a Subal housing.

If practical was the goal, I wouldn't be on this forum or using any of this equipment.

I assisted an NFL films shooter once on a surfing shoot of an NFL lineman... we drug an Arri 35mm camera out into decent sized surf... He got seasick, so I continued on with the shoot with out him. So far, my specs for my 4x5 housing are way smaller than the Arri housing, and I don't plan on shooting surfing in 4x5. Should be lighter too.

even though it would be fun to try and recreate Doc Ball's original surf housing. It might be fun.

The more I read that it is impossible, or not recommended... the more I want to build one.

If it was easy.... "THEY" would do it!

26-Aug-2009, 11:15
I took a class in Underwater Photography at RIT in the late 70's. The instructor was not only an underwater photographer but he also built his own housings. In one lecture (yes, we actually had lectures and pool work) he discussed the underwater housing he build for an 9" aerial camera so that Kodak could shoot an underwater Colorama for Grand Central Station. It could only be used down to about 10-20 feet and had to be pumped up with a bicycle pump before submersion to balance some of the pressure. It was used to photograph an attractive couple scuba diving on a shallow coral reef using an underwater camera to photograph the colorful reef fish.

It was shot by Neil Montanus and was displayed in Jan/Feb 1970:


The link is not unique, click on gallery and just search by date.


Struan Gray
26-Aug-2009, 11:39
Why not make the housing the body of the camera? Put the lens under an appropriate o-ringed dome on the front, and the film holder in a small watertight compartment at the back. Make the housing out of metal to help with bouyancy. Fix the focus and aperture, and the only control you need to bring outside the housing is the shutter release.

Robert Oliver
26-Aug-2009, 12:03
The speed graphic would make a decent underwater camera if you chop off the front bed and use a 90... my 90mm angulon sits flush inside of the main camera. would work for fixed focus.

the biggest problem is changing film. Roll film is the most viable option.

6x12 would be easiest.

It's still easier to build a plexiglass box around the camera and slide it in, than to build a camera that is the housing. Dale Kobetich made a waterproof canon A2 that was pretty cool and very light, but it was a lot of work.

3 controls. 1. shutter release 2. knob to reset focal plane shutter 3. knob to advance film roll.

Inside dimensions of a speed graphic housing would be around 5 1/2 L x 8 w x 8 h. if you chop off the front bed and 13 x 8 x 8 with the front bed remaining. might need to be a little big bigger on width to allow room for focal plane shutter control.

very manageable underwater, or on the surface.

add a flash port. only problem with flash is you'd have to use leaf shutter and not the focal plane, but still not too difficult.

anybody have a speed graphic with a trashed front bed and working focal plane shutter they want to sell for a cheap price? I don't have the heart to chop up any of mine because they are all in perfect working order.

Jay W
26-Aug-2009, 12:28
The lack of light is the problem with underwater photography. So you can haul along a ton of flash gear, stay near the surface, or shoot fast B&W. I chose the later (and I Nikonos) since I couldn't afford the flash gear. (More expensive that the camera.) To me, it seems idiotic to use LF for underwater since it's the wrong tool for the job, but it you want a challenge, go for it. Instead, I would look at the new digital stuff since they perform well under low light and you can shoot a bunch of pictures per flash card.

BTW, the cool thing about a Nikonos is the sound of the shutter.


Robert Oliver
26-Aug-2009, 15:36
Change the word UNDERWATER in your sentence to BACKPACKING or PORTRAIT or SPORTS or PHOTOGRAPHY... it's the same argument people use to try to make me realize that 35mm digital is superior to large format..

If you read my post... I own the new digital stuff. I own housings for my EOS 1D and even one for my EOS 3 and consider myself an accomplished underwater photographer (not scuba, but underwater sports). The point is I think digital capture is boring and unchallenging, and since I'm not doing photography for a living anymore.... I like the challenge. If a client calls up and needs an underwater shoot, I'll whip out the EOS and click away.

If I'm doing work for myself, why not do something that nobody else is willing or able to do.

Isn't LF obsolete with the invent of HDR and Photoshop and all of that anyway? Yet a bunch of us choose to make our lives more difficult by ignoring modern technology and using the tools of the old school. My whole interest was spurred by an image of Bruce Mozert, underwater large format photographer, who took some of the most famous underwater photographs ever using large format equipment.

but thanks for lecture....

To me, it seems idiotic to use LF for UNDERWATER since it's the wrong tool for the job, but it you want a challenge, go for it. Instead, I would look at the new digital stuff since they perform well under low light and you can shoot a bunch of pictures per flash card.Jay

I changed the quote for arguments sake.

To me, it seems idiotic to use LF for BACKPACKING since it's the wrong tool for the job, but it you want a challenge, go for it. Instead, I would look at the new digital stuff since they perform well under low light and you can shoot a bunch of pictures per flash card.


26-Aug-2009, 15:50
If you read my post... I own the new digital stuff.

I can't speak for others, but I wasn't responding to you--I was responding to the original post and to the concept it represented. You sounded like you already knew what you were doing and didn't need my comments. That could not be said for those who made several of those suggestions (a bellows camera in a plastic bag?:eek:)

Rick "who doesn't think listing all the pitfalls and challenges is the same as saying it's impossible" Denney

Dave Jeffery
27-Aug-2009, 02:47
I built my own underwater lighting systems and housings for small TV's that I would use as monitors above my video cameras. The combined weight of the IMAX camera and housing in a ton, so large housings are made and used.

The underwater photographers I worked with would shoot two army duffle bags full of slides on a trip and throw 99% of the shots away due to the low percentage of keepers so I think shooting 4x5 underwater is really impractical but it can be done. Making a housings out of aluminum plate and round plastic is not practical due to the excessive volume. For small cameras that will be used in less than 130 feet of water Ikelite makes great housings in the round housings but for a larger square camera avoid the excess bouyancy and weight needed of square or round housing. You can get a custom housing cast in aluminum if you have money to burn.

This is how I would build a housing.
Figure out the lens that you will use and talk to the people at Ikelite about purchasing the correct port. Make gears for the focusing knobs and the matching gear that will go on the stainless steel shaft of the control arm the goes through the housing, Find the amount of focusing movement that will be needed and extend the camera to that length.
Figure out how large the openeing needs to be where the camera will be removed from, and make a foam or wooden blank that is smooth and rounded enough so the main port's o-ring will to be able to seal in the epoxy that will be formed over it. Make another form for the port seal at the front. Make another form at the back where the darkslide movement will happen for a housing extension that will be added once the camera is in place and the movents are figures out. I would leave this to the last. If you are going to use a camera that won't need a darkslide moved you won't need this.
Cover the camera and both port forms with paper, foam or whatever, and a final outer layer of plastic with form release on it and lay a light layer of epoxy fiberglass over it. Make sure and leave lots of room for any gears, camera mounting plates, control arms, solenoids or air powered actuators that need to be inside the housing. If you forget to leave room in an area just cut off the fiberglass in a beveled manner and cast in a new shape. Keep the initial fiberglass form thin and easy to cut and work with.

Set up the camera mounting plate system first and make sure the camera will not move in the housing. Find the correct distance for the port in front of the lens and continue to cast and cut the thin initial fiberglass mould until the distance is correct and the port is square. Design the rear cover that will have a glass plate sealed in it by an o-rinig which mounts onto an epoxy fiberglass form that will have the o-ring in it that will seal the rear of the housing. Figure out how much room and what controls you need to move a darkslide and cast a form for that. I would use a long stainless steel control arm that slides out of a port seal that is the length of the dark slide movement. This arm must be kept properly lubricated and it will no doubt get bent a some point.

Here are some more design points

Anywhere that the SS control arms are going to go through the housing require a flat outer surface for the port mount to screw into. Once that housing casting is thick I would drill out these areas as far as the port mount needs to screw in and cast in epoxy only so no fiberglass is in the thread area. I would do the same for anywhere that a seal is important including where the o-ring grooves will be cut. You can also drill out areas where bolts need to screw in, pour in epoxy only, and then drill and tap threads into it.

To cast a final flat surface on any piece where there needs to be a good seal, just put a thin even layer of mould release on a flat piece of glass and cast a final layer of epoxy only on it. Sanding hardened epoxy with 1500 grit sandpaper will also make a watertight finish.
I used to cut my o-ring grooves with a small round Dremel bit and sand the grooves smooth with sandpaper and I never had a leak down to 280 feet deep. This slow work is a true test of patience though and having a machinist cut the grooves would be better.

Any time you make a mistake just cut the housing and change it. If the housing is too short grab a skill saw, cut it in half, bevel the edges of both sides of the new joint and cast it back to shape layer by layer again. If you mess up a hole or surface just drill it out or sand it away and cast another one.
You will need to wiegh down the housing and drilling through large divers weights and bolting them to the housing is the easiest.

If you cast your housing correctly it will go as deep as you need it to.

Whenever we tested housings we would add on some extra weight and go offshore a ways and tie them to a long rope and lower them down 200 feet. My buddy was doing this one day and I heard him say OH Sh*t. He felt a pull on the rope when the port popped and the housing flooded as it lost some of it's bouyancy from the air which escaped.

The camera and housing will be heavy but neutrally bouyant in the water. If I were planning to shoot with this I would use a boat for sure and have a support diver on the boat to change film holders or film. Make a rope with a bungee cord tied into it to and hang the camera off the boat at least ten feet below the boat. The bungee will absorb the shock of the boat yanking the rope and you can climb into the boat and then pull the camera in. Forget about trying to hand a heavy housing up to someone, trust me.

I would plan to have someone on the boat changing film if you plan to dive at any depth as you don't want to make multiple slow ascents to the surface. It you will be working with a boat at anchor tie a line off the back of the boat with a bouy on it away from the boat and put a heavy weight at the bottom. After a shot clip the housing to the line and inflate a small lift bag to sent it to the surface. If the line is tied to the boat the housing will hit the bottom of the boat hence the need for a bouy that is away from the hull. You should also have an underwater note board that can be clipped to the housing so you can write down any special instructions for the camera tender. If you are moving around underwater and are not at anchor just have a line with a float attached to you that the boat can retrive to send the camera up on.

Contrary to what was written earlier you can open up housing on the boat carefully and reload the film. Just quickly dry the area over the rear port and tilt the camera back so when the port is opened any drops that may be left won't fall on the camera. Wipe excess water off with a towel and remember that only the inside of the housing needs to be dry, not the outer housing or the rear face. Remove the camera and close the housing even if the parts are not dry. Change the film. Open the housing and stick the camera back in. IMPORTANT- the lubricant on the o-ring is not what makes the seal, the o-ring does. Most people put far too much lubricant on o-rings and it helps hold all kinds of bad things to the o-ring which causes leaks. Since your o-ring has very, very little lubricant on it all you have to do is wipe one of your fingertips clean and then 1. wipe the surface that the o-ring will mate to with one continuous wipe all the way around the whole surface. 2. Wipe the fingertip clean again 3. wipe the o-ring with one continuous movement all the way around and past where you started. Now close the housing. You don't need to get the outside parts dry and clean at all. Clip an exra weight and the note board to the camera and clip it on the line that will return it down to the photographer.

To figure out how much weight you will need for the housing to be nuetrally bouyant just fill a container of water to the brim, push the housing into it and measure the volume of water that is displaced, and then figure out the bouyancy in salt water. I had two battery packs to build with two 12 amp hour, 12 volt batteries in each one. I wanted each box to be 8 lbs negative so the lighting system would replace my weight belt. The weight of the batteries and materials for each box was calculated and I make the boxes square by casting epoxy fiberglass over foam to work with simple dimensions and it worked out perfectly.

For lighting I suggest 4 of the best strobes made, 2 on each side. There are lots of nice aluminum arms to mount them with. Most pros used the latest DSLR's in a housing with a strobe on each side of the camera. You can play around with other underwater set ups but any professional is using the set up mentioned as there is no better solution.

Strobes seem to be the hardest thing to keep working an most of my friends had many boxes of dead ones and related parts.

It can be done but......

Erick Regnard
8-Sep-2009, 02:42
Hi All,
I am new to this forum but i did post Q&A in uwphotochat.com before regarding all this... i was trying to put a 4x5 underwater for an exhibition project and all those type of problems i encounter. But i finally did it... got the housing made and shot the photos in 2007, hope that you enjoy the pic. Getting the images was time consuming but very rewarding... in this day of instant digital world something that took us so much problem and work to get it right was a fantastic personal achievement. if any of you have any question, please email me.

Carsten Wolff
9-Sep-2009, 07:11
Wow, I can't believe I missed this thread. I started building an underwater 5x7 with tilt and flash synchro capability in 2007. I was going to shoot GBR and Antarctica scenes in shallow water with it, but have since temporarily moved to the northern hemisphere and the project is halted. Here is an old photo of an early stage in its construction to give you an idea: http://huk7nq.blu.livefilestore.com/y1pa-bXUXce9v8dYB2sCiEPE2gvitAJlFkEV-64qa0s_4AO62Fi28Ja2OjNoHvyzW7vTmFcsKFbiyA_dAaFyF5KNA/617%20underwater%20wshop2.jpg
Per dive it can either do 2 sheets of 5x7 or 4 frames of 6x17 thanks to the Canham back. I'm planning to use a different lens and thus the front port may need a re-design, but in the pool it's been great so far. Max operating depth in its current shape is about 50m, limited by the current dome port type. I might post more pics once I unpacked the removalist box it slumbers in if you're interested. Although the set-up is complete now there is not that much additional to see, other than details like a finder and a black anodized finish. I was going to write a little article about it at some stage and post it here, or submit it to magnachrom, ViewCamera, or openphotographyforums, or such... any suggestions for best impact? Am possibly getting my act together and put some film through it this month off Ireland.

Dave Jeffery
10-Sep-2009, 00:28
Wow Carston, that's some heavy duty aluminum! It must be nice to have access to a machine shop.

The ports on the Gates housings will go deep so if you need heavier duty ones than what you have you might contact them. I would use acrylic Ikelite housings to about 200 feet deep and was amazed they didn't implode but that was in warm water. Gates aluminum housings would be used below that depth.

I was in the boonies and had to make things by hand and below is a link to some pictures of making the underwater lighting system which was 300 watts / 150 per side. It never leaked and a housing can be hand cast for a 4x5 as mentioned earlier.

The stainless steel control arms and ports on the acrylic and aluminum housings never leaked either for any photographer I knew of and I would use them for most controls for a 4x5 camera. Simple two part plastic gears can be made for the aperture ring and the other controls are simple.

The camera hidden in the last picture is a VX1000 in a Gates housing that has the stainless steel control arms.


Erick Regnard
10-Sep-2009, 18:33
Hi Carsten, like Dave J says pretty heavy duty, my housing was design to only go to about 5m max 10 meters as i loved using natural light underwater.The housing was made out of a mix of fiberglass see the attached photo, and i was shooting PN55. The handy reason for using PN55 was to be able to direct the model better so she can see what was just photographed and what was wright/wrong for the pose. So each time i shot i had to go back to the boat and the assistant was changing and processing the film, and we would go back down again. This took three weeks with a couple of days break to get all the poses i thought of with nearly 8 hour days.... so pretty hard work. I think now that the housing we got built has room for improvement and definitly need fine tuning. we also got a Aerial back for it ( housing was design to accomodate the back) and had a hasselblad electric winder moving the film forward. but i haven't tried it yet as i'm getting problems getting film for it.
I need to do a few more testing before going back and shoot some more stuff.
Any reason you are building a housing that will go to 50 meters?

Dave Jeffery
11-Sep-2009, 02:44
Nice Erick!

What changes would you like to make to the housing? Some generic control arms and sealing ports for underwater housings can be ordered from Ikelite here in the U.S. and once you have the through ports (seals) you can cut and bend stainless steel rod to whatever shape you need as you probably already know.

To work with a darkslide a rectangular box can be added to the side of the housing. As the controls for the aperture, shutter release etc need to stay put up front the focus adjustment needs to happen in the rear and some room can be added to the area where the darkslide needs to move to accomodate this. After further consideration I would use two ports side by side to support the darkslide pull rod, and have the inner port on a flexible sealed mount to compensate for the focus adjustment angle.

The beauty of staying shallow is you don't need strobes as I would think 4 strobes would be needed below 33 feet to get nice color with a 4x5.

Divers that worked installing dock pilings at 18 feet deep for 8 hours a day used to get the bends so even though you are working shallower than 33 feet deep you need to be carefull as you may know. If you make a lot of slow ascents up to the boat to change film you're probably OK. If I were diving 8 hours a day I would have a 120 CU inch high pressure steel tank with a 32% Nitrox mix for inwater recompression just incase I took a hit. If you are further than an hour away from a deco chamber you may look up the U.S. Navy decompression treatment tables to get an idea of recompression times, mixes and depths. Inwater recompression will probably be the new news in diving once experienced divers understand the benefits of recompressing bubbles quickly before they can do a lot of tissue damage, and as well the benefits of higher oxygen mixtures to help flush out disolved nitrogen in the body. Not in the cards for a novice diver though, and once they are reduced in size the bubbles can circulate to the brain which can be deadly, but, if you're not going to survive the trip to a chamber anyway why not treat yourself? I was lucky that I took such a major hit that I knew I wouldn't make it to shoreline so I treated myself inwater as I had done previously in decompression chambers. The guy I was diving with didn't join me and the bones in his shoulders died and he had to have plastic shoulder joints put in. One diver I knew told me he took a huge hit and was blacking out completely so he put his full face mask on an jumped in and woke up at 50 feet deep and he was OK. He used to run deco chambers and he treated himself inwater. Lots of fun!!!

PM me if you want any hairbrained design ideas or parts for the housing. I would make a box for the darkslide and throw a little more glass on the housing where the box gets connected.

Have Fun!

Carsten Wolff
11-Sep-2009, 07:08
Erick: What a nice housing! - I also like the natural light idea.
re: My housing being good for ~50m: No "pressing" reason. Like you, I was going to shoot (on a tripod) in fairly shallow water and may be upside down under sea ice. Although there are a few deeper wrecks (one I really like lies at 56m) off Townsville, Australia, were I was based and there are some great coral reefs with 100% coral cover even deeper, that wasn't really on my mind WRT this camera. However, I had nice thick aluminium tubing handy, so I didn't even occur to me to make anything else. Also, with thick materials it's easier to get away with/modifying small design issues during the manufacturing process. On top of that, I thought the volume of the camera is going to be substantial, so, since I have to offset that otherwise with weights to get negative buoyancy, I might as well make a solid housing in the first place. Thats all. (It weighs maybe a kilo underwater and I still have to add lead weights to the tripod to add stability).

Erick Regnard
11-Sep-2009, 19:26
Hi Dave and Carsten,
Thanks Dave for all the info regarding the housing. My main aim at first was able to shoot polaroid negative underwater (PN55), so the housing has a 90mm super angulon lens for me to get as close as the subject and eliminate the particules problems. i was shooting at 1/125 at just under f8 and hand holding the camera. the camera was prefocus for the desired position of the model and I had a tape measure with me which the model would swim out to the distance calculated and i would then real back the tape. All this was done on shallow dives with just holding our breaths going down, waiting for the moment and coming back up for breath to go back down again.... reason for that is that i did thought of getting an air tank for me but i needed to give constant direction to the model, so each time she was coming back up i was telling her what she was doing wright or wrong. I had no flippers to minimize the silt being lifted and the housing was negetively buoyant (about 1 kg) which was helping me stay down.
We had a weight belt tied around the housing of about 15kg.
Regarding the bends, i must say that your thoughts are well calculated and good to be aware of it, but in our case it was just like snorkeling in two meters of water, with breaks in of 15 mins after i shot a photo (that's about how much time it took to reload).
What i need to adjust on the housing which i'm having problems with is the triger. at the moment i have a cable release that is screwed to the lens and attached to the side of the housing, where i have a leaver (just like a door handle on both side of a door but both of them fixed) so that when would press on one side (outside the housing) the other side (inside the housing) would go down and push the cable release down and hence pressing on the shutter. It seems to have a lot of friction with the cable has it is coiled (only one turn) to go from shutter to lever, so i'm trying to find something that will be smoother.
All the modification you mention before are definitly food for thought as later on i might want to do something different with it (hence i might need to see and focus the subject underwater).
To Carsten, my original idea was to make the housing in Aluminium, but since i'm not and engineer it would have cost me about $5000.00 to make it if i was lucky, so i resume to the fibreglass mixed which can be modified. So having it in aluminium i think is the best and a lot more versatile if you want to go deeper than 10 m... and i think shooting a wreck underwater could be amazing...
talk soon,

Dave Jeffery
12-Sep-2009, 03:02
By what you describe, if I understand you correctly, I would hazard a guess that the outer sheath of the shutter release cable needs to be prevented from flexing outward. It sounds like the cable is wrapped in a loop and as pressure is applied to the inner cable the outer sheath just flexes outward in a curve minimizing the force at the end of the cable.

If this is in fact the the case I would cut some square pieces of fairly hard foam and cut a slot in them so that the cable sits in the middle of the foam, and then secure them to the cable, but not permanently. If you are able to look into the housing when the camera is in, as the cable is pressed you might be able to see where the cable flexes outward and the supports are needed. You can also get an idea of how much foam is needed between the cable and the inside of the housing. Once you have the foam supports on the cable, as you push the camera into the housing you would also need a rod of some type to push the cable forward so it forms an fairly even circle.

And of course lube the cable with a very light touch of light machine oil. Too much and with condensation you could get some oil film on the inside of the port.

Without seeing the housing though this is just guessing and throwing out some ideas so feel free to correct me.

Good Luck

Dave Jeffery
12-Sep-2009, 03:14

Erick Regnard
21-Sep-2009, 01:04
Hi Dave,
Sorry i 've been away. anyway here is a couple of pics to ilustrate more of the mechanism that is on the housing. I am meeting with a housing engineer in Hawaii in December so i will bring him the housing for him to fix it (if he can).
Thanks for helping, if you have any idea please let me know.
Basically when you look at the inside, when the trigger is down that's when i'm encountering friction problems and it makes the firing hard espacially at the end of the movement (where the cable will actually press on the lens trigger).
The first shot is outside the housing.
the second shot is when the trigger is up, cable release up, ready to fire
and third trigger is down and cable release down too.. the lens is triggered via cable.

13-Oct-2009, 12:15
I just saw this bad boy on eBay:

If someone buys it for me I'll be their best friend forever. For reals.

From the listing:



I don't know if it's okay to post links to auctions, but you should be able to find it without too much trouble by searching for "Graflex" and "underwater"

Erick Regnard
14-Oct-2009, 15:23
Hi Bosaiya,

Amazing housing, looks a little rusted and perished, but i'm sure someone could get it up and going. the idea of the ground glass up is unreal and it seems that there must be a mirror that lift up or something in there.. i'll try to find out more about those type of camera's... the only downside is that you don't have tilt possibilities, whichi really wanted for my housing.
Thanks a lot for posting this.

14-Oct-2009, 15:33
Isn't that something? There's a lot more photos up on the auction, I just didn't want to clutter the thread. I have the item saved so if you have trouble locating it let me know and I'll post some more. If you used a Mentor instead of a Graflex you'd have movements.

The Graflex cameras are a lot of fun, I've been re-kajiggering one to be extremely durable in harsh environments - but not quite full submersion.

Erick Regnard
14-Oct-2009, 17:53
yes incredible, i did saw the ebay listing with all the pics that i saved. i'll definitely look up on the net on the Mentor.

14-Oct-2009, 18:09
Someone had one for sale here on the board a while back. It might still be available, I believe it was around US$850 or so at the time.

16-Oct-2009, 19:27
Looks like the underwater RB went for a pretty penny. Was it someone from here?

16-Oct-2009, 19:36
ha, thats a one of a kind i would gander. not to mention is has THE best lens possible for the graflex, the cooke f/2.5 6 1/4 in.

17-Oct-2009, 08:33
Joe: There is a group that meets at Gibbons pool, bottom of Diving Well. Winter meeting at the Ceeps. Barry at Stan C.'s is honouary pres.

Home of the Bluenose (check your dime).
:D ;)

17-Oct-2009, 10:00
If you ever get to use a 4x5 underwater, I want to see a video of it on You tube!! Good luck, I hope you do it.

17-Oct-2009, 10:34
I shoot a lot underwater BUT digital. Have test before long long time 6x7 with a Mamiya RZ II and it was posible but not that easy. 4x5 or 8x10 underwater would be cool but practically it would be hell especially if you shoot people. I have with digital a hard time to shoot fine art so i imaging those big cameras would be more as a submarin:-)

But yeah a video we need to see if you ever shoot 4x5

My UW photos are on my webpage www.apneaimages.com under Mermaids, Diving & Aqua babies for those that like to check.

Erick Regnard
18-Oct-2009, 15:51
Hi Guys,

Remember we all shoot 8x10 or 4x5 not because it's easy but because i think that there is a different feel to it and also it gives me a challenge. I did shoot 4x5 underwater and it was time consuming, but very rewarding as far as i'm concern.... sure i could have shot the same thing with a digi camera, but so anybody else. here is a couple of shot which i posted before. by the way nice underwater photos Lambis...

18-Oct-2009, 16:06
kind of all round 'wow'
Great pictures, beautiful, especially the first,
but 4x5 underwater?

From a submarine maybe...


Erick Regnard
18-Oct-2009, 17:10
Hi Joseph,
Thanks, I got a housing built for it, one shot took me a bout 3/4 of an hour (waiting for the rays and having the model in a good position) but that didn't mean it was a winning shot... we spent a day shooting each position. so was doing about 8-10 shots per day, for 3 weeks.

19-Oct-2009, 01:46
OMG Thats crazy!!! 8-10 photos for 3 weeks Erick. But then again those photos are just great and worth all long hours.

The reason i move slowly (becauce i am a beguinner in this) from Digital to Analog is exactly this.

Just the shade off greys, the highlights and the gaustics in the water.. belive me or not HARD!!! to shoot those with digital. Especially underwater you see where digital lacks total and Film shine.

Curious what equickment u as i dont recognise those camera lens.

Again great shoots and man you make me now wishing find build a housing for my speed graphic :-)

Hi Joseph,
Thanks, I got a housing built for it, one shot took me a bout 3/4 of an hour (waiting for the rays and having the model in a good position) but that didn't mean it was a winning shot... we spent a day shooting each position. so was doing about 8-10 shots per day, for 3 weeks.

Michael Roberts
19-Oct-2009, 06:36
Peter Gowland built an underwater camera using a 45 degree mirror--the camera and photographer are above water. Could work for shallow snorkeling....


Robert Hughes
19-Oct-2009, 07:18
... and how did that model hold her breath for 3 weeks? Beautiful shots, btw!

Erick Regnard
21-Oct-2009, 20:43
Hi Guys,
To Lambis, it's 8-10 shots per day for 3 weeks which was about 50-70 shots for 3 weeks still slow but rewarding, it would have been very hard to only do 10 in 3 weeks (emotionally hard I mean).
To Micheal: not a bad though to look into.
and to rob, yes the mermaid was expensive, but she could hold her breath... for three weeks (joking).
talk soon,