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The new Aquatica OM-D E-M1 housing is Aquatica's first jump into the micro-four thirds camera market. Their Sony NEX housings were stylish, ergonomic and well-made, and we found their E-M1 underwater housing to be just as excellent.
Aquatica uses high quality materials and engineers these housings to stand up to the test of time. All control dials, buttons and levers are easy to manipulate with high quality springs that do no stick easily and maintain their strength at depth. They have crafted the housing so that important controls are in easy reach, like the AEL/AFL button. This has been turned into a lever control on the housing for easy access when using it for focus lock - a popular set up when shooting macro.
Port changes are easy with the bayonet mount - just push the port into place and twist to lock. The housing includes port locks so there is no worry of not having the port installed incorrectly.
Taken with the Aquatica E-M1 housing, 8mm fisheye lens while diving Anilao, Philippines
Aquatica E-M1 with 60mm Macro
Aquatica E-M1 with 8mm Fisheye
E-M1 with 9-18mm Lens
Waited almost a year and 2 extended trips with a total of 75+ dives to review this housing. Don't really dive much or photograph at all in the cold murky waters of New England so really shoot on vacation exclusively.
This housing replaces my Nikon D7000 DSLR in an Aquatica housing that flooded in 2013 (don't let your kids mess with your stuff before jumping in) and was hesitant to go mirrorless thinking I would lose the fast focus and low light versatility I had with the Nikon. Motivation was solely for a quality package more compact for travel. Once I had decided on the Olympus OMD-EM1 contacted BW Photo with housing, lighting questions. Scott was fantastic!! Took the time to contact me by phone and walk me through my options for almost an hour.
Ended up choosing the Aquatica housing with the moisture sensor / vacuum system (love this feature). Added super wide 8" dome, macro port and 2 fiber optic connectors with convertors to my Ikelite DS161 strobes so I could keep them. Was originally planning to replace them with Sea and Sea YS-D1 as they are less bulky but LOVE the Ikelites power, color temperature & movie option so Scott suggested this alternative. Thanks again!! Lenses: 9-18mm, 14-42mm, 60mm. Set up instructions provided for both the camera and housing were excellent. Everything still fit nicely in a standard carry on instead of two. One suggestion: focus / zoom gears should include extra set screws & allen wrench, SO small and easy to lose.
Bit of a learning curve but by the 10th dive or so was feeling pretty comfortable with the setup. The housing performs wonderfully. Locking, port release, sensor and vacuum are top quality. All functions are easily managed without removing your hands from the handles / trigger. Everything functions smoothly and button locations on the housing are very intuitive. Not missing my Nikon even a little. Saw NO distinguishable drop in image quality unless printing > 24x30. Needed to get a bit used to 4:3 vs 3:2 ratio but not a big deal for me. Really just an amateur out for some fun and some great shots to bring home memories with and this package delivered beyond my expectations. Next addition, Panasonic 8mm fisheye. Won't match the flexibility of the Tokina 10-17mm I was using with the Nikon but a minor sacrifice. I would highly recommend this housing and BW photo to anyone.
A little background on me - I have worked in broadcast television and professional video and photography for over 15 years. I am also a PADI instructor in San Diego and have long wanted to bring my 2 passions together. Though I have a lot of experience shooting on land, I consider myself an advanced novice underwater and still have a lot to learn. I have owned and used GoPro's and point and shoot cameras with cheaper strobes for underwater photography but until recently had not made the investment for a more professional underwater rig.
The time finally seemed right for me and after a ton of research as well as input from the awesome folks at Bluewater Photo, I purchased an Olympus OM-D E-M1 in mid 2014. After years of carrying around larger full frame DSLR's I was looking for something a bit smaller without sacrificing image quality and features. The Olympus fit the bill. Next I had to select a housing. While there are a couple of good options on the market, Scott and the Bluewater team ultimately helped me narrow it down to the Aquatica AE-M1 housing.
I knew I wanted the durability of aluminum if I was going to make the investment and the thing that pushed me over the edge vs. the competition was that at the time of purchase (fall 2014) Aquatica offered the only 8" super wide dome port (SW8) for this camera. I have always wanted to be able to shoot a decent over/under shot and the extra real estate makes this more doable. I did opt for the Surveyor moisture and vacuum sensor on the unit Bluewater assisted me in selecting the correct lens ports and extension rings to work with the Olympus 9-18mm wide zoom, Olympus 12-40mm 2.8 Pro lens, and Olympus 60mm macro lens. Last but not least, Bluewater helped me select a pair of Sea&Sea YS-D1 strobes along with ultralight arms and other accessories.
I should add here that everyone at Bluewater Photo was exceptional throughout this process. Since they are a couple of hours away I had many, many phone calls with them and they were patient and attentive to my needs and helping me find the best solution. It was one of the better customer service experiences I have had in a long time. They kept me informed as we waited for my housing to ship and then when it arrived I made the drive up to their store and spent several hours going over setup, care, tips, making sure everything was as it was supposed to be, etc. It gave me confidence with all of the new gear and accelerated my learning curve immensely. They have offered ongoing support on the back end answering questions and providing me with more tips and I really cannot say enough about this wonderful group of people.
So what do I think now that I have it? I love it and couldn't be happier! I was only able to get in a couple of practice dives locally in San Diego with the rig before an 8 day trip to Palau over Thanksgiving. Palau is 1 of my bucket list dive destinations and I was a little concerned that I didn't have more time on the camera/housing before going. Needless to say I was learning throughout the trip but the housing performed flawlessly, controls were intuitive, and very quickly I was quite comfortable diving with it. The moisture and vacuum alarms gave me confidence as I submerged my new investment and each day my shots improved as I learned how to put it all together through continued practice. I have come back with some images I am very proud of and they will serve as a lifelong reminder of this amazing trip.
I did not shoot the macro on the trip as our dive sites didn't lend themselves to macro but did spend a lot of time with the 9-18 and more than I expected with the 12-40 Pro. The wide angle was my bread and butter for capturing reefs, walls, wrecks, and all of the life of Palau. The 12-40 came in useful for fish portraits where I physically could not get closer such as at Blue Corner where you are on a reef hook with everything cruising by and at German Channel where there are manta cleaning stations and you can only get so close. I was impressed by both and swapping is super easy on the housing. One cool thing is that the 9-18 and 12-40 both use the SW8 dome port so for the relatively low cost of an extra extension you have 2 working lenses on your rig. On 1 day conditions changed and so our dive sites changed and I actually had to make a lens swap on the boat which can be sketchy. It was super easy to do on this housing and the vacuum system followed by a quick dunk let me quickly be reassured I was good to go again for the next dive.
Underwater the housing/camera is a little back heavy but the addition of 2 small floats on the arms easily compensated for that and it was easy to maneuver even as I did a couple of penetrations on some of the wrecks. The handles were super comfortable even on the days when I did 4-5 dives and spent a lot of time with it. Once I relearned where my controls were, navigating menus, aperture, focus, ISO, and all of the other settings was a breeze. That was critical for me as I was/am learning. I could find the subject I wanted, take a shot, evaluate, make a couple of fast changes to my settings and reshoot my way to better images It was quite frankly the difference between coming back with a ton of mediocre photos vs. some ones I am proud to have taken.
I don't know what else to say other than reiterate how happy I am with the investment I have made. Between the capabilities of the camera and the solid construction and ease of use with the housing, I have something I will grow in to for years and continue to better capture this underwater world we all love. 2 thumbs up to Aquatica on a well designed and built product and thanks again to Bluewater for helping me land on a package I am thrilled to call my own.
I had the chance to use the Aquatica E-M1 recently and really enjoyed it. The housing felt extremely well built, high quality aluminum with buttons and levers that were placed perfectly for me to use easily. I have average sized hands, and sometimes housings place buttons too far away to reach easily but this is not the case. The latch on the Aquatica was very sturdy and clicks nicely into place. They have made the AEL/AFL button a lever that is placed on the side of the housing which is perfect for splitting out the focus lock when shooting macro.
Ports lock into place with a nice click, even the extension rings have locks on them so you know your gear is secure in place. The ports were easy to put on and remove, it is a basic push and twist bayonet system. The zoom gears were easy to attach and Aquatica offers port options for all the popular lenses.
The housing is a little heavier than some of the others I've tried, but that lends to the robust nature of the Aquatica brand and is a result of the manufacturing process. Aquatica housings are rugged and designed to hold up well under a lot of use and this housing definitely feels like it will do just that. Add some buoyancy floats when using the 60mm Macro lens / port and you'll be good to go. With the larger SW8 dome, there is more air inside so the bouyancy is actually good.
I would definitely recommend this housing!!
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