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
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
our everyday business is manufacturing housings for consumer and
prosumer camcorders that are used by divers around the world.
AquaVideo™ Underwater Housings:
AquaVideo has developed methods that allow us to make
a professional quality housing for virtually any camcorder, with
very short turnaround times. 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.
We also manufacture HMI/HID lights and some lower wattage, less
expensive lights as well. See our UNDERWATER
LIGHTING GUIDE for more information.
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 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
- 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
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
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
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.
During normal shooting nearly all of the functions
of an underwater video system are automatic. Standard housing controls
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 position.)
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.
Everything You Need is Included:
An UNDERWATER COLOR CORRECTION FILTER is provided
free with AquaVideo consumer housings to provide a pleasing color
balance underwater. [Filter is free with coupon.]
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 experienced user.
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 - because housing length and
dome have to be designed with the size of the wide converter in
mind and since the converters for the single chip 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
This option provides the ability to use these low
cost housing/camcorder combinations for commercial diving and inspection.
It can also be used for broadcast and professional production by
sending the output to a higher quality recorder, or live feed.
By using the latest video camcorders and the surface
monitor kit, results can be obtained that are as good or better
than many high priced commercial diving systems.
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.
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 housing/lighting
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. Most of the camcorders
that fit into a six inch diameter housing take up virtually all
of the space and do not have room for the lighting system. On the
other hand most camcorders that are too large for the six inch diameter
housings and require an eight inch diameter housing do have room
for the battery pack for the light.
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 TR600 Hi8 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 services.
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
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
(e.g. Hypertech, Ikelite, Quest, VideoSea, Gates, etc.) 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 area.
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
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
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 O-ring.
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
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
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 up unintentionally.
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 body.)
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
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 sealing methods.
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 to fail.
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.