Mini Review: Nauticam NA-5D mkIII Deep Test
Descending down a vertical wall in the Coral Sea, I watched the depth exceed the 100m rating provided by Nauticam and thought to myself “I hope the engineers I spoke to really know their stuff!”. Stopping at a 125m (410ft) to observe a deep sea fan, I paid some attention to life support before testing out the functionality of the 5D mkIII housing. I’m glad to say, there were no leaks, no creaks, and no issues of any kind.
I took the Nauticam NA-5D mkIII housing on a Deep Reef Coral Sea project with Mike Ball Dive Expeditions, for both still and video work. The real question was ‘how deep can the housing go and function properly?’. The absolute depth is still unknown, but I’m happy to say it functions perfectly at 125msw (410ft) and no signs of pressure related issues were observed.
My first impression was that Nauticam have come a long way since I’d last looked at one. Specifically the controls were very impressive, such that the primary underwater controls had been routed to your fingers tips, rather than the easier solution of just putting a hole through the housing to engage a camera button at the closest location. Examples of this advanced ergonomics include the Start/Stop, ISO and Playback buttons, which are all thumb paddles (not small push buttons). The piano keys for Set and Q-Menu were also nice; the latter prompting me to actually use the function which had not been something I’d liked on other housings.
I experienced no issues with stuck buttons, problematic control or knob issues, which are typical problems when housings are taken near or past their rated depth. Nauticam engineers said their 100m rating was based on what they could functionally test with their vacuum machine, rather than what the housing could actually handle. As such, I took up the challenge of actually testing it in the field at that depth. I should also mention that I tested the 8.5” acrylic dome, not the glass one, which the engineers weren’t as confident with past the 100m rating.
The shutter release, shutter speed, aperture and zoom control all worked as advertised – and actually were very responsive with positive feedback. I had no issues with the housing after a week of deep diving, with most dives in the 70-80m range. The grips seem to have evolved a fair bit since I’d last looked at them, with the stainless steel brackets at the top of the grips providing a fair bit of rigidity which was nice.
Assembly of the housing was something that impressed me. The ports and extensions are easy to seat and lock (out of the box – including past the extension to dome), and the markings make it simple for a first time Nauticam user like myself to put together. I will confess to having to resort to the manual to understand the port extension locking mechanism, as I assumed this would unlock from the housing side (which it does not), but I was quickly in the water a few minutes minute later.
A nice feature of the Nauticam solution was the Flash Trigger for Canon cameras, which allows optic fibre strobe syncing to be used. On technical dives I often sling my camera or push it through a restriction in a cave or wreck. Not having to worry about cutting or breaking a wired sync chord is just a nice and something I miss since switching to the 5D MKIII.
One problem with an SLR setup and very deep diving is the weight of the setup. A heavy rig will increase your breathing rate (particularly shooting video), and at serious depths (e.g. > 90m/300ft), the increased work of breathing (or breathing resistance) on a closed circuit rebreather can be life threatening.
One solution is to use buoyancy arms, though to date the solutions I’ve seen and used have been sub-optimal. Stix float arms work in shallow depths but compress massively past about 40m – incidentally they return to form when you come back up which is quite interesting for such hard foam.
For a while now, I’ve been testing the Nauticam Carbon Fibre Float Arms in 12” configuration. Also rated to 100m, these had not problems at 125m and have seen repeated dives to depths in excess of 100m over the last few months. Nauticam apparently reinforced the inside with a honeycomb structure in order to ensure no flexing ad depth, which might otherwise crack the carbon fibre and cause leaking.
With the 60x300mm (12”) float arms and 8.5″ dome, I found the Nauticam rig to be far too buoyant. The same arms were perfect on my Aquatica setup (with 8″ dome), but the Nauticam housing is not as negative so the 200mm (9”) arms would suit better I think as I like my rig to be slightly negative rather than positive.
Configuration for Deep Dives:
Model: Nauticam NA-5DMKIII
Dome: 8.5” Acrylic Dome Port (18802)
Extension: Extension Ring 70 with 70 (21170)
Lens: Canon 16-35mm f/2.8 II USM
Strobes: 2 x Inon z-240s /w Optic Fibre Sync via Nauticam Flash Trigger
Viewfinder: 180° viewfinder
Focus Light: Fisheye Fix Neo 2000W /w 6” arm
Disclaimer: A test housing and peripheral equipment was provided by Nauticam for the purposes of testing and review.