AquaVideo's main products are
underwater cases for video cameras and underwater lights. Aquavideo
began manufacturing underwater video housings in 1981, and
was the first company to manufacture and market self-contained
underwater video systems.
has been there for virtually every development in the video world. We
have manufactured custom-fitted housings for more than 400 different
video systems of all sizes and shapes - from consumer camcorders
to Broadcast Betacams and High Definition cameras.
We have also made
many specialized systems: For NASA (Seven cameras
used to track astronaut training in the underwater NEUTRAL BOUYANCY
LABORATORY; and a self-contained system for evaluating the Shuttle
solid rockets in the water before retrieval); Remote controlled,
pan and tilt cameras for the U.S. Olympic Training Center; and
even some waterproof electronic transport cases for the US
Navy Seal Delivery Vehicles.
our everyday business is manufacturing housings for consumer
and prosumer camcorders that are used by divers around the
AquaVideo™ Underwater Housings:
AquaVideo has developed methods that allow us to make
a professional quality housing for virtually any camcorder. Most
manufacturers only offer housings for a very few camcorders or a
few housings that can fit multiple cameras. The AquaVideo method
is not a one housing or "one size fits all" approach because
to make one housing fit multiple cameras means that it probably
won't work well for any of them.
The housing diameter, length, mounting plate, front
plate with dome, controls, etc. are fitted specifically for each
camera - yet because of our experience and extensive parts inventory,
we can make an excellent housing for even a newly released camcorder
in just a few days. Obviously we have stock housings for the more
popular camcorders - but the point is there is no substantial difference
between a "stock" housing or one of our "custom fitted"
housings for one of the less popular camcorders that are not supported
by other manufacturers. The information below gives a complete description
of the features of normal AquaVideo housings.
AquaVideo™ SuperNova™ Lights:
AquaVideo's other main product is underwater video lights.
Although not inexpensive - the SuperNova 250 and 350 that we have
manufactured - with minor upgrades - since the early '80s are still
probably the finest battery operated underwater video lights available
for the serious amateur or professional underwater videographer.
See our UNDERWATER LIGHTING GUIDE for more
information. Because of the configuration of current camcorders
(with the flip out LCD screens) many of our housings have space
underneath the camera which can be used with the very compact batteries
that are now available to provide the power for a SuperNova 250
lamphead. The battery is inside and there is a waterproof connector
that goes in the side of the housing. The lamphead has a cable that
plugs into the battery connector. This configuration makes an extremely
compact and easy to use system.
STANDARD AquaVideo™ HOUSING FEATURES:
Easy slide in/slide out camera installation and removal - takes
just a few seconds.
The system is extremely simple to operate. There
is a control to turn the power on and off and with many cameras
this also allows the user to select the camera mode a (i.e. video
or still photo mode on the newer cameras) For basic operation the
user simply starts and stops the tape with the trigger control.
The iris is automatically controlled by the camera, and focus is
automatic (it can also be preset - since it is setup for extreme
wide angle shooting, with a depth-of-focus range of about 3"
to infinity in average conditions, and in bright, clear water conditions
there is true zero to infinity depth-of-focus - so close that even
subjects that are touching the front port of the housing are in
focus.) Either way there is no need to worry about focusing during
normal shooting. Although extremely easy to use for the novice,
the housing/lens system has been designed with full macro/zoom capabilities
to allow the advanced user to fully explore the creative possibilities
of true macro underwater video, as well as use the zoom for certain
special situations. As you read on you will see that our housings
for 3-chip "prosumer" housings have some added capabiities
such as manual focus, iris, white balance, etc. but they are in
the form of "overrides" that are only used if you want
them - if you choose not to use them, the system is just as easy
to use as the housings for the fully automatic "consumer"
Rugged and Reliable:
AquaVideo underwater video housings are designed
to be reliable, durable, and easy to use. Our standard construction
material for the body of the housing is a rugged, special high grade
PVC plastic. The front and backplates
are 1" clear acrylic. A high heat welding process (similar to
metal welding) used on the handle wings and internal parts, combined
with the heavy wall PVC main body, result in a tough, durable housing
- capable of withstanding almost any kind of abuse.
Working depth ratings of 300 feet for most models
make the standard AquaVideo housings suitable for any sport diving,
as well as most commercial, scientific, and professional diving applications.
PVC housings are completely corrosion proof and eliminate the condensation
and electrolytic corrosion problems associated with aluminum housings.
AquaVideo can also manufacture ALUMINUM HOUSINGS -
primarily for the much larger broadcast cameras. Aluminum is rarely
necessary for the smaller housings and in fact there are drawbacks
to using aluminum unless it is really necessary. However for very
large housings, special applications, or for those who simply prefer
aluminum construction, all AquaVideo housings are can be made in
aluminum versions on a special order basis.
Whenever possible AquaVideo housings are made with
a CYLINDRICAL SHAPE because it is the most pressure resistant, and
it is very stable. STABILITY is extremely important in an underwater
motion picture camera because any instabilities show up as unwanted
(and annoying) movement on the screen.
The front and backplates are made of one inch thick
CLEAR, HIGH GRADE ACRYLIC. Clear coverplates allow easy visibility
of the control functions and the LCD screen (yes, the normal housing
for current camcorders allows the LCD screen to be opened with excellent
visibility through the back of the housing which is clear.) Further,
any potential problem is minimized because all of the inside of the
housing is visible. If a leak would ever develop it would be seen
Due to the light weight of PVC and acrylic, most
of our systems require three to five pounds of additional weight
to make them neutrally buoyant (neutral bouyancy means it hovers
- it does not float or sink*) AquaVideo uses a removable LEAD WEIGHT,
attached to the bottom, to make the housing neutral. This also lowers
the center of gravity which increases stability. An
added benefit is that for surfing, rafting, bad weather, etc. you
can remove the weight and make it much easier to handle. This also
brings up a serious problem with most aluminum housings: underwater
lights are generally quite negative - and most aluminum housings
for consumer and prosumer camcorders (e.g. Amphibico, Gates, etc.)
are inherently close to neutral, so when you attach lights there
is no way to remove enough weight to offset the weight of the lights
- making the housing several pounds negative. (Many pros like the
housing to be slightly negative, but anything more than
half a pound or so is a definite problem.)
The HANDLES CAN BE REMOVED EASILY to allow the housing to fit into
a compact case for transport. The handles are usually mounted pointed
downward, but can be mounted upward if preferred.
The handles attach to the HANDLE WINGS that are
welded to the main body of the housing. The PVC plastic "wings"
are typically two and a half inches wide, and run about two-thirds
of the length of the body. These wings increase stability by "damping"
side to side rolling motion as well as forward and backward pitching
motions. The handle wings also provide an excellent mounting surface
for any type of underwater light. Although it seems like a small
thing - smooth, steady pictures are probably the single most important
thing that separates amateur from "pro" shooters, so anything
you can do to make the system steadier is a big help.
During normal shooting nearly all of the functions of an underwater
video system are automatic. Standard housing controls are:
Power: Control to turn power on and off. (Although all of our housings
for the more popular camcorders can be powered up from outside the
housing, a few unusual camcorders have power switches in an inaccessible
Trigger: Used to start and stop the tape.
Macro/Zoom: Primarily used to shoot true macro. (i.e. magnified
images of small objects.) Can be used to perform a normal zoom underwater,
although there are limitations.
These are the standard controls for the most common
single-chip consumer-type camcorders - but it gets a little more
complicated for the more professional cameras so this is probably
a good time to get into the three main classes of camcorders.
1) "Consumer" type single-chip camcorders. These
camcorders use one "chip" to sense all of the colors and create the
picture. The chip is a compuer chip similar to a memory or processor
chip except that it consists of 400,000 or more tiny "pixels" or
picture elements that sense the light. Over these pixels is an array
of thousands of tiny color filters and through an ingenious method
of scanning the three primary colors can be discerned and a color
picture is created and then recorded on the tape (or disc). A camcorder
that has more than about 400,000 pixels exceeds the resolution ability
of both the recorder and our current television to handleand for
video purposes the extra pixels are "wasted", however the extra resolution
is good if your camcorder also has a memory card that can store a
higher resolution still image. The filter/scanning method of creating
color video works very well, however it is not quite as good as the
3-chip method used by "prosumer" and profession/broadcast camcorders.
The current mini-DV and Digital8 formats are about as good as it
needs to be/will ever get without going to High Definition (Note:
the new DVD disc recorders actually record in a format that is not
quite as good as MiniDV and Digital8).
Although all of the current versions of these cameras
generally make extremely good pictures, and can have a vast array
of effects, titling features, etc. they often don't have some of
the overrides (in particular "settable" white balance) of some of
the "prosumer" camcorders so the standard controls on housings for
these cameras are Power, trigger, and zoom as mentioned above, since
these are about all you would normally use underwater. It is possible
to get additional controls for autofocus on/off and manual focus,
photo shot, and others for an additional $75 per control.
2) Three-chip "prosumer" camcorders:
AquaVideo housings have been designed using the
most reliable sealing technology available. A complete explanation
of our x-ring double seals, locking clamps, and many more of these
all-important reliability features is contained in a later section.
High Quality Optics:
The single most important factor that will affect the quality of
your underwater video pictures is the quality of the optical system.
AquaVideo is known for providing the best optics available. In addition,
since we offer a fully corrected underwater optical system, it is
extremely easy to use - yet provides advanced capabilities for the
Wide Angle Lens Converter: Wide
angle lenses dramatically improve the underwater clarity and colors
of underwater pictures, and they also eliminate the need for focusing
- and they are really essential for underwater video. The standard
lens on most camcorders is not wide enough for good underwater photography
- however the solution is very simple - you use a wide converter
lens on the camera which increases the angle by 50 to 100%. (This
converter simply screws into the filter threads on the front of
your camcorder and is actually a fairly common accessory for normal
abovewater shooting as well.) All AquaVideo systems are designed
to be used with one of these accessory wide angle converter lenses.
The wide converter is supplied and included in the price of the
housings for single chip camcorders and some of the smaller prosumer
camcorders - because housing length and dome have to be designed
with the size of the wide converter in mind and since the converters
for the smaller camcorders are relatively low cost it is a lot easier
to supply it than to try to figure out or anticipate which ones
the customer might have.
Dome Port Optics: The term port refers to the area
of the housing that the camera "sees" through. Although
flat ports are cheaper to manufacture and easier to design, they
cause several problems. First, due to refraction, the light rays
are distorted. Rays from the edges of the picture travel farther
so they are focused at a different point than those from the center.
Both of these factors cause a significant loss of sharpness, particularly
in low light - and the negative effect is even worse with wide angle
lenses. 2) Like a diver's flat mask, a flat port magnifies the image
by 25% which means the photographer must move back to get the same
image size, causing a loss of clarity and color - due to shooting
through more water.
The solution to both of these problems is the dome port. The light
rays travel straight through the port material and enter at the same
distance from the center point of the lens. The rays are not distorted
and they focus at the same point. The magnification effect is also
eliminated, so a wider angle is achieved.
One of the reasons dome ports are harder to design
is that they cause a shift of the whole focus range to between 0
- 9 inches in front of the dome. In the past it was necessary to
compensate for this - however the autofocus on virtually all of the
camcorders made in the last 5 years or so handle this very well and
no compensation is necessary. With some camcorders there is a limit
to how far you can zoom before this close focus won't work but you
can generally get at least 25% of the zoom range and this is much
more than you normally would (or should - since you are generally
much better off in underwater photography to move closer, rather
than zoom in.) However, if greater zoom range is really necessary
it can be achieved by adding a close up filter which costs between
$10-50 depending on the size of your lens.
In short, normal wide angle shooting, reasonable
zoom ranges, and true magnified Macro, can all be easily accomplished
on the same dive without any .
Optional Features and Customizing
Although the standard controls are usually all
that are required, controls can be fitted to operate almost any
feature on the camcorder. Cost of a typical optional control is
Surface Monitoring/Recording Kit (Option):
AquaVideo's optional Surface Monitor/Record kit gives
you the capability to use the camcorder's video output to monitor
the video picture on the surface, or to record it on a separate
Color Monitor (Option): Some customers have asked
if we can incorporate one of the small color LCD TVs into the housing
for use as a viewfinder. AquaVideo has offered this option for years,
ever since these small TVs became available. All this requires is
that the housing be about 1 and three quarters of an inch longer
than normal. However, users should be aware that because of the
way LCD monitors work, they are often difficult to see underwater,
and you also have to deal with batteries and the video cable - so
we suggest choosing a camcorder
Built-In LIGHT Capability: (Option)
Certain housings have sufficient space inside for a battery pack
for an underwater lighting system (The battery is connected by a
cable to the lamphead outside the housing). When possible, this
is an excellent use of the space and makes a very convenient underwater
The standard version of a housing for a particular
camcorder will be made as small as possible since housing size is
the overriding priority for most customers, even if it requires
using an external battery for the lighting system.
Some underwater videographers, that consistently
use underwater video lights, prefer the convenience and simplicity
of having the built-in light battery packs over the smaller size
of the standard housings. Accordingly, AquaVideo will custom build
a housing for any camcorder in the larger version that will take
the internal battery pack.
The additional cost for the larger housing is $125
over the cost of the standard housing. As an example: the standard
six inch diameter housing for the Sony TRV900 MiniDV camcorder does
not have room for an internal lighting system battery. For an additional
$125 the housing can be made as an 8" diameter - with space
for the battery. The extra charge does NOT include the battery pack,
or the rest of the lighting system, it is simply to cover the extra
cost of the increased size and custom manufacturing.
Customizing and Custom Features: AquaVideo's extensive experience
with custom housings, remote controls, and specialized systems for
broadcast, industrial and military applications, means that if you
have seen it or can think of it we can probably make it. However,
as the selling price of individual housings decreases and housings
have become more standardized there has to be some limit on the availability
of custom services.
Although we can charge extra for the custom features if we actually
make the sale, there simply is not enough time in the day for our
personnel to discuss and/or explain the hundreds of possibilities,
and really no way to charge for this consulting time. In business
terms customizing tends to be a losing proposition, so most underwater
video companies either do not offer or have stopped offering custom
AquaVideo believes that offering these custom services does provide
a valuable service to the diving community. We do not want to discourage
customers from requesting custom features to meet real needs. We
would like to continue to offer custom services and we can continue
if buyers will respect our personnel's time by carefully considering
whether the feature you are requesting is really practical. Please
realize that the standard housing designs have been carefully thought
through, and are the most practical for the vast majority of users,
and with the options offered above we can cover the needs of most
users with special applications. Beyond that if you have an unusual
application we will be glad to consider ways to handle your situation.
For more of the information on housing construction, sealing techniques,
etc. read the U/W Housing Technology section below.
UNDERWATER VIDEO TECHNOLOGY
The fundamental purpose of an underwater housing is to protect
your valuable, sensitive, and vulnerable video system. AquaVideo
housings use the most reliable sealing techniques available.
Proper seal design techniques are well known among
designers in the oil, marine, and aerospace industries, however
they are frequently ignored in the underwater camera housing industry
- either through ignorance or in order to save labor and tooling
The first rule of good seal design is that the
seal should be in a FULLY CAPTURED GROOVE. This means that when
the coverplate and the housing body are mated together the seal
is totally surrounded on all sides within its groove.
A common sealing technique used on other housings
that violates this rule is the use of a lip seal on their front
and/or backplates. The main reason a manufacturer would use a lip
seal is because because it is easy to manufacture with common tools.
The O-ring is simply stretched over the lip. The problem with a
lip seal is that the ring is surrounded on only three sides - one
side is left open. The seal can extrude outward, and also the seal
is not protected from foreign matter working its way into the seal
The second rule of good seal design is that the seal area should
be extremely SMOOTH, FLAT, AND SQUARE, if not, a great deal of pressure
is required to force the seal into rough areas or areas that are
not perfectly flat or square with the other sealing surfaces. This
is a common situation with the router cut backplates mentioned above.
Although a seal can still be made by using powerful spring clamps,
the reliability factor goes down because it is easier for foreign
matter to disrupt the seal.
All cylindrical AquaVideo housings use a LATHE CUT GROOVE for the
main seal. Because of the way a lathe works, the groove is perfectly
square and smooth, and the seal is fully captured within the groove
when the housing and coverplate are mated together. As the diagram
above shows, the coverplate sits flat against the seal. This does
two things, it allows the X-ring to seal against the glass surface
of the acrylic material, and, since the plate does not need to be
machined or routed the natural strength of the coverplate material
is retained. (Machining for a lip seal reduces the thicness - which
weakens the coverplate - and can cause stress cracks later.)
AquaVideo also manufactures some housings that do not use a cylindrical
shape, e.g. our rectangular housings for Broadcast VCRs. On this
type of housing we still use a captured groove, however the groove
is made using extremely precise, computerized milling machines.
One key to the reliability of any system is redundancy. This leads
to what is probably the most well known feature of AquaVideo housings:
the X-ring seal. In contrast to the circular cross section of O-rings,
these seals feature a four lobed, X-shaped cross section.
The four lobed design provides two sealing surfaces at every point,
instead of one, and greatly reduces the possibility that sand or
other foreign particles will disrupt the seal. Even if the seal has
not been properly cleaned, the particles will tend to collect in
the area between the two seals. If it does not, it is still likely
that it will break only one of the seal lines, leaving the other
seal intact. (Obviously, proper cleaning and maintenance procedures
should still be observed.)
A double seal is not simply twice as reliable as an o-ring. A simple
mathematical analysis would suggest that reliability for the x-ring
would be the square of whatever reliability factor you pick for an
For example, if on average users have a failure due to a piece of
sand or dirt on the o-ring seal once in every 75 uses (surprisingly,
this is not an unrealistic figure), then, by using a double seal
x-ring, the same user could expect a failure only one out of the
seventy five times the first seal failed - or one in 5625 times.
Obviously this analysis isn't perfect - there could be a particle
large enough to break both seals at the same time - but something
that large would be difficult not to notice.
A further advantage of our X-ring is that it is very long lasting.
Two factors combine to extend the life of the X-rings (and consequently
its long term reliability): 1) because it is a premium seal, the
manufacturer uses premium grade rubber and 2) O-rings tend to flatten
out causing them to lose sealing efficiency. Eventually they take
a "set" or permanent distortion and need to be replaced.
Due to their design, X-rings require very little pressure to create
a seal so they do not take a "set" as O-rings do. Consequently
X-rings tend to last for years and usually require replacement only
if they are physically damaged. Although they are more expensive
initially, X-rings tend to be less expensive in the long run.
Another redundancy feature is on our clamps. Most housings use quick
release spring clamps to hold the coverplates on and to provide the
initial pressure on the sealing ring. The clamps on the AquaVideo
housings are very similar to those you have seen on other housings
except that they feature a spring loaded security lock which prevents
the possibility of the clamps popping open accidentally.
The final factor in designing a safe, reliable housing is that it
should be easy to verify that the seal has actually been made. The
CLEAR FRONT AND BACK PLATES on AquaVideo housings make the seals
completely visible - it is very easy to see that the seal is properly
seated, in fact you can see the actual double seal line on the inside
of the coverplates.
If any sand, grit, hair, etc. is in the seal area - it is easily
seen. Finally, the clear plates provide excellent visibility into
the housing and any water leak would be immediately visible.
Many housings on the market (including the Amphibico, AquaVision,
and Sony, as well as the Ikelite housings with aluminum front) do
not allow you to see the O-ring when the housing is sealed. In essence
you are forced to make an in-water test of the seal - with your camera
inside - every time you make a dive!
The most common question about sealing is "How do you seal
the controls?" This problem was solved about forty years ago
when Ikelite developed a very reliable shaft seal (often called a
control gland) which is now used by several manufacturers - including
AquaVideo, Gates, Ikelite, etc..
The control gland is designed with an inner seal that seals against
the shaft which almost never has a problem. The outer seal is the
one that seals the gland up against the housing wall and sometimes
will cause problems, depending on how it is mounted.
The control seal "gland" has a threaded body that goes
through a hole in the housing wall. A nut on the inside of the housing
tightens the gland and keeps the O-ring on the gland pressed up against
the outside of the housing. The problem is that the nut on the gland
can work itself loose over time. If so, the O-ring seal will not
make firm contact with the housing and will leak.
All AquaVideo housings are made so that the hole is threaded. The
gland can be threaded into the hole and the O-ring will stay in firm
contact with the housing wall even if the nut on the inside were
not there. The combination of the threaded hole and the nut on the
inside means that it is virtually impossible for the gland to loosen
Most companies that make aluminum housings do not thread the gland
hole because it is difficult and time consuming. The clear LEXAN
housings (like those made by Ikelite) do not usually have threaded
holes because Lexan is a fairly brittle material subject to stress
cracks. It difficult to thread the lexan without causing these stress
cracks. (This is also somewhat of a problem at the attachment point
for clamps and other hardware. This is another advantage of the PVC
A common misconception about underwater housings is that the depth
rating depends on the seal. Although a housing with a lip seal might
have a problem with the ring extruding at great depths, on housings
that use a captured seal the seal should remain watertight even at
extremely high pressures (i.e. thousands of feet in depth).
The limiting factor for depth is usually the ability
of the housing materials to withstand the pressure without crushing.
Ironically, the first ten feet are the most difficult to seal because
there is not enough pressure to force an O-ring or X-ring into place.
The smoothness, flatness, and squareness of the sealing surfaces
are critical in those first few feet, which is why AquaVideo prefers
to use a lathe turned sealing surface, and an X-ring - which minimizes
the pressure needed to make the seal.
What is the Risk?
There are no authoritative industry or government studies that anyone
can refer to that analyze the risk factors of various housings or
However, there are large dive operations in the Caribbean that rent
these systems and have experience with all makes of housings - that
have been on hundreds, and even thousands, of dives. Operations like
Photo Bonaire, and Fisheye Photographic in Grand Cayman; Abernathys's
Underwater Adventures, etc. - say that the simplicity of the AquaVideo
system, and method of sealing has proven to be much more reliable
than the others. Our record isn't quite perfect, but we think you
will find it is the best in the industry - even though with the wide
variety of systems we manufacture we have had many more opportunities
It has been pointed out to us that one company that uses O-rings
offers a camera replacement guarantee against flooding, so they must
think O-rings are good enough. We are not saying that O-rings are
bad - we use them ourselves on non-moving parts that do not get sealed
and unsealed constantly - because under ideal conditions O-rings
seal fine. However, if you check out that guarantee you will find
that it is limited. If the housing floods, it will be tested by making
sure that the O-rings are clean and without any damage. If it seals
under those conditions (which it probably will) you are not going
to get your camera replaced.
Underwater camera systems are not used in ideal conditions. Seals
do get nicked, sand tends to be everywhere that you might be diving,
and often batteries or tapes need to be changed on a rocking boat,
usually in a hurry before the next dive. We cannot guarantee that
you can be careless and get away with it, but anyone can see by looking
at the cross section of an x-ring that the double seal is going to
be much more forgiving on those occasions where your preparation
is less than perfect. Ultimately, our design philosophy is to be
respectful of Murphy's Law: If anything can go wrong, it will go
wrong - and at the worst possible moment.