There are few places more worthy of high-definition video than the underwater world. Sure, photos are great. But SCUBA diving is such a dynamic, otherworldly experience that still photography has always seemed a bit two-dimensional as a means to convey the experience to landlubbers or to re-live adventures back home. Coral reefs teem with thousands of life forms and things happen so fast that it makes sense to run video nonstop from back roll to safety stop so you don’t miss a thing.
But let’s face it, underwater video is intimidating – the expensive-looking lenses, heavy housing and light rig, all those buttons… It was enough to keep me clinging to my small point-and-shoot Olympus for underwater imaging. Then I bought a Canon high def video camera and couldn’t stop wondering what it would be like to take it diving. Light & Motion, a California-based company that makes video housings, offered to lend me their advanced industry standard Bluefin ($4,299) model to test for a week in the diving Mecca of Bonaire (see map after the jump).
They assured me that I’d find it easy to use. With some trepidation, I took the plunge.
The first thing I noticed was how heavy the housing is, which wasn’t hard to overlook while carrying the kit through airports and across hot, tropical tarmacs. The 20-pound Pelican case full of lights, batteries, lenses and housing lets you know it means business. The kit Light & Motion sent me included the Bluefin housing, an extra wide angle lens and one of their new SOLA 600 lights, which mounts to the housing on an articulated arm. Assembly was surprisingly easy, with the camera fitted to a sliding tray via the tripod mount. Plug in the cables for microphone and camera controls and lock the tray in place inside the housing. The back of the housing seals in place with a reassuring click and you’re good to go, 300 meters deep if you want.
You may ask why these housings are so special, when many camera companies sell plastic housings for much less. Well, for one thing, the Bluefin is more than a housing. The controls on the right handle “talk” directly to the camera via a circuit board in that sliding tray you connected the camera to. So the housing is custom programmed for each model camera. Also, the heavier aluminum housing means it’s more durable, watertight and doesn’t fog up like so many plastic housings do once submerged. Did I mention Light & Motion designs and builds all its housings right here in the USA?
The lens choices provided with the Bluefin are also professional-quality. I chose to use the wide-angle lens exclusively in Bonaire but a macro lens is also available for shooting the mating rituals of nudibranches if that’s your thing. A built-in flip-down red filter on the housing accounts for the disappearance of the color red at depth, which accounted for more vibrant footage.
In use, the Bluefin was a dream. While heavy topside, the housing’s weight disappears underwater (actually it is slightly negative, in dive parlance). The controls are simple to use – wide/telephoto, record/stop and menu functions all at your fingertips. The hi-res viewfinder screen at the back of the housing pulls live action right from the lens and swimming along piloting the Bluefin made me feel like one of Emilio Largo’s goons in Thunderball (note to Light & Motion: built-in propulsion would be appreciated). One additional use for the Bluefin not advertised by Light & Motion: we stashed our pocket cash and credit card inside it, on top of the camera while diving. This made the beer run afterwards a lot easier.
The SOLA 600 light was easy to use and provided ample fill light at depth, where sunlight is filtered and colors get dull. We ended up duct taping a second dive light to the top of the case for deeper dives and a couple of night dives for even more lighting.
Back home, dive footage was predictably spectacular. Bonaire was the perfect place to test out the Bluefin and the housing made even a novice like me feel like Stan Waterman. Check out some edited footage from our Bonaire dives above. While the cost of the Bluefin housing may scare off casual divers, those who are ready to get serious about underwater video and take it to the next level should definitely consider Light & Motion. (If the price scares you, Light & Motion offers a less expensive model, the Stingray.)
Weight 6.95 lbs | Dimensions 4.75″ x 5.5″ x 8.75″ long
Buy Now: $4,299
Special thanks to Brian Skene for his help with filming on this review.