Intro: Under Water Housing for a SLR or DSLR Camera
This under water housing for a DSLR camera is made from a water tight box from Wal-Mart and plumbing parts from Home Depot. In total I think the cost to "go deep" (Well 6' or so) was less than $40.00 and the photos are both fun and amazing!
Step 1: Step One: Gather Your Materials and Tools
(1) Water tight box from Wal-Mart (Found in the camping dept.)
(1) Automotive push button switch (auto marine)
(2) 5/8” ID hose washers
(1) 16d nail (stainless would be great if you can find it)
(2) 6” lengths of 1/8” x 1” aluminum angle
(2) ¾” lengths of 1/8” x 1” aluminum angle
(1) 6” length of very small floral wire
(1) 5” hose clamp
(1) Chrome or SS drawer pull (as shown) with screws (cut screws to ½” long)
(4) button head cap screws (ss) ¼”-20 x ¾”
(8) washers to fit above screws (ss)
(4) lock nuts
(4) small rubber washers
(2) large rubber washers
(1) 4” female thread / female slip ABS fitting
(1) 4” male thread / female slip ABS fitting
(1) 4” male slip / female thread ABS fitting
(1) piece of ¼” plate glass cut to fit in the bottom of the female thread end of the above 4” male slip / female thread ABS fitting. Plastic or poly carbonate sheeting can also be used but the camera junkies will tell you that the glass is better.
(1) Black Rapid “FasterR-2” or ¼”-20 x 3/8” bolt (for mounting camera body)
(1) 6” length of rubber grip tape
(1) Small spring (the kind that pushes not pulls)
100 % Silicone Sealant
Marking gauge or calipers with depth gauge or combination square
Dozuki or back saw
Heavy wire cutters
¼” drill bit
5/8” speed bore bit
Step 2: Step Two: Build and Install the Camera Mount
Deburr and clamp the two 6” lengths of aluminum angle into a “C” shape as shown. Drill a ¼” hole 1” inch from either end of the lengths. Bolt together. As they are put together lay the fine floral wire into the valley of the rear length of aluminum. This will function as a shim to “open” the “C” a little and compensate for the angled side of the water tight box. This will level the camera in the box and aim the camera lens straight down the lens housing.
Set the mount into your box and mark the locations for the mounting screws on the box and the aluminum mount. You want the camera to sit as close to the closed lid as possible without interfering with the water tight seal or the lid latches. Also with the aluminum mount in the box hold your camera body (without the lens mounted) centered in the box and mark the location of the tripod mount on the bottom of the camera on the aluminum mount. Drill the holes, trim and attach the rubber grip tape (make sure to drill out the grip tape for the tripod mount screw) and dry install (without any silicone) the aluminum mount into the water tight box. If using the Black Rapid FasteneR-2 cut the bail off and set the fastener into the hole in the mount. I use a small allen wrench inserted into the bail holes to tighten the fastener into the tripod mount on the camera. Depending on where the tripod mount is located on the bottom of your camera the nut and bolt that hold the camera mount into the box and the fastener used to mount the camera might run into each other. That one you are going to have to work out on your own.
Dry install (no silicone) the camera mount into the box. Install it in this order: screw, metal washer, small rubber washer, box, large rubber washer, aluminum angle camera mount, small rubber washer, metal washer, lock nut.
Step 3: Step Three: Prep, Cut and Install the Lens Housing
It is time to chop up some ABS. I cut mine with a dozuki back saw. I like the control it gives, the blade (kerf) is very thin and those suckers are sharp! These cuts can also be made on a chop saw, but this is super dangerous and I don’t recommend it. Or with a jig saw. Though safer, tends to wander a bit. The cuts can also be made with a dremel installed with a cut off bit. Do what you are comfortable with and keep in mind that the cleaner cut means less work sanding afterwards.
Here is where the written instructions might get a little confusing so follow the pictures and hopefully you will get through this part without another trip back to the hardware store.
4” female thread / female slip ABS fitting: From the slip side measure to the valley of the slip, mark that distance on the outside of the fitting. Cut and discard the female slip portion of the fitting. Sand flat and de-bur the cut surface.
4” male thread / female slip ABS fitting: This fitting will be used as is, with out modification.
4” male slip / female thread ABS fitting. Measure to the bottom of the female thread and mark that length on the outside of the fitting. Cut and discard the female Thread portion of the fitting. Sand flat and de-bur the cut surface.
The ABS fittings are now ready to install into the box. Next step prepare the box to receive them.
Step 4: Step Four: Mark and Cut/drill the Opening for Shutter Release and Lens Housing
Install the camera body (without lens) into the box and mark the center of the lens mount and the shutter release. Make sure the camera is mounted square to the back of the box. The slightest bit of slant could put the shutter release in the wrong spot.
Remove the camera body from the box and drill a 5/8” hole centered in the cross hairs at the shutter release. Set the male slip fitting centered on the cross hair on the bottom of the box and mark the outside diameter. Drill an access hole and cut out for the fitting. Tradition teaches you to “cut inside the line” but because of the taper on the male slip, it is larger at the base than it is at the end so “cut on the line” and it should be just right. I cut mine with a jig saw but a dremel with a cutting wheel would work fine too.
Test fit the fitting into place and carefully enlarge the hole if/as needed. Clean up the edges with a little sand paper.
Depending on your camera and the location of the lens opening on the body it might be necessary to remove the camera mount in order to install the fittings into the box.
“Dry fit” all of the parts before you start spreading silicone. If glitter is the herpes of the craft world then silicone is the herpes of the construction industry . . . . . . that and fiber glass insulation.
Once you have checked for fit you are ready to install them into the body of the housing.
Step 5: Step Five: Install the Base of the Lens Housing
Lay a bead of silicone onto the base of the flange of the male slip fitting and insert into the large hole you cut in the water tight box. This is inserted from the inside of the box and protrudes out the face of what would be called the “bottom” of the box.
Lay a bead of silicone in the valley created by the now installed fitting and the outside of the box. Prepare the female slip / male thread for installation by laying a bead of silicone into the seat inside the female slip side of the fitting and spreading ABS cement on both the inside of the female slip fitting and the outside of the male slip fitting just installed into the box. Quickly slip those suckers together.
Because of the thickness of the box bottom there is a little “looseness” in the slip fit. Plenty of silicone and a pair of clamps to hold everything in place till the silicone and the cement cures and will take the worry out of that.
Set the assembly aside to cure over night. The next step (Step Eight) involving the lens housing will include come cranking on the assembly so allowing the silicone to cure is important.
Step 6: Step Six: Make the Handle
While the silicone and cement is curing on the box assembly you can make up the handle that will attach to the ABS fittings. The handle while not necessary provides a nice hand hold for the housing and looks kind of cool. It also can be used for attaching a lanyard or wrist strap as well as a place to attach a sand bag or weights. (As it turns out the housing is quite buoyant and takes a lot of work to keep it under water. I haven’t tried it yet but weighting the housing down might help).
To make the handle start by cutting a 5” hose clamp in half and drilling a 3/16” hole in each of the cut ends. Cut a 4” length of either another hose clamp or a piece of metal strapping (the stuff that is used to bind lumber or crates). Everybody uses it and they all throw it away so it is easy to find if you are a keen dumpster diver. Drill holes in each end of this strap that line up with the screw holes on the drawer pull. This will keep the handle from being pulled apart when the hose clamp is tightened. Take the ¾” pieces of the 1/8” x 1” aluminum angle and drill a 3/16” hole in one of each of the legs. Lay them on the ground and bend them with a hammer to better fit on the ABS fittings. There is no great way to do this other than to eye ball it. See the picture. Do that. In order to tighten the screws down on the hose clamp halves, strapping and the aluminum angle you will need to cut down the standard screws that come with the drawer pull hardware.
Assemble it in this order: screw, strap, angle, hose clamp and finally the drawer pull. Repeat for the other side. Tighten it all down and now it is ready to install on the base of the Lens housing assembly.
Step 7: Step Seven: Make the Shutter Release Switch
Now it is time to make the shutter release switch. Begin by pulling the black plastic thing out of the bottom of the switch assembly. Remove and chuck the guts. Keep the metal and rubber cap, the part with the threads and the black plastic thing you just pulled out of the back of the switch. Remove and discard the contact screws from the back of the plastic base.
Now take the button part of the switch and with JB Weld, epoxy the 16d nail into the center of the back of the button. It is important that the nail is centered on the switch and that there is a little space left in the switch for the spring to compress into. The nail will be cut to length after the switch is dry fit into the box. So for now leave it long and use the length to “site” for plum, level and square. (In hind sight, the 16d nail is the only non-chrome or stainless steel part in the housing and true to form it is the only one that rusted. If a stainless or hot galvanized or even a copper roofing nail can be found that might be a better choice. Just remember that it will need to be “trimmed to fit” but that could be done with a cut off wheel on a dremel easily enough so go for it!
So back to it! Drill a hole in the black plastic switch back just large enough for the nail to slide through. Now drop the small pusher spring on to the nail. The spring when compressed should mostly fit into the space left from not completely filling the push button with the JB Weld. Without seating the back into place test the switch to see if it works and does not bind. It should move easily and freely up and down. Adjust as necessary. The first time I did this I had too large of a spring and seated the switch back into place only to find that I had no “throw” left in my switch and had to tear the switch back apart to make the change. I found that the smaller springs provided for a better “feel” of the shutter release on the camera.
With the button and its nail in place and the proper spring installed, snap the back into the switch and dry fit the switch into the 5/8” hole in the housing with two of the 5/8” hose washers. Now with the switch in place set your camera on the mount and sight and mark where the plunger (the 16d nail) needs to be trimmed. I cut mine right in place with a pair of line mans pliers and then filed the end smooth with a hand file. Set the camera in place and see if it works! Trim again if it is too long and if you cut it too short smack yourself in the head and start again.
Step 8: Step Eight: Set the Lens Glass
With the silicone and cement fully cured (24 hours according to the labels) you are ready to attach the female threaded fitting and the ¼” glass window. You need to be able to crank these two down tight enough to hold the glass firmly in place. There are two ways to do this. Use some very large pipe wrenches or channel locks or apply a little whit and do it by hand. If proper wrenches are available, getting the fittings to seat should be easy if not you can do what I did. I placed my housing with the male thread into the freezer to cool it and used a heat gun to warm the female fitting. With the male part cold and the female part hot I was able to tighten them by hand enough to get them to seat. Whichever method you use here is the rest of the instruction. Lay a bead of silicone into the valley inside the female threaded fitting. Place the glass lens into place and gently seat it into the silicone. Now lay another bead of silicone on the new valley made by the glass and the female threaded fitting. Place Teflon tape on the male threads and screw the female threaded fitting with glass installed on to the male threaded fitting. You need to get it tight enough that the silicone begins to “squeeze” but obviously not tight enough to break the glass. As you tighten test the glass and see if it moves. Once you can no longer “rattle” the glass, you are there.
Step 9: Step Nine: Put It All Together
Now with the lens housing completed you are ready to seal it all up. Dismount the switch and camera mount and remount them using a little silicone on the threads and rubber washers to seal all penetrations through the box against leaks.
One thing to note is that the rubber on 5/8” hose washers was a little “hard” and without the silicone it was tough to get the switch tight enough to get a good seal. If a softer washer can be found, that would be very helpful. If not a good bead of silicone will take care of it.
Install the handle onto the base of the lens housing. Exactly where you install the handle is your choice. The nice thing is that it can be easily adjusted by loosening the hose clamp, making an adjustment and tightening the clamp back down.
Let the whole thing cure overnight and you will be ready for the next step.
Step 10: Step Ten: Test It!
Before you jump into the cement pond with your $$$ DSLR camera mounted into this thing make sure it is water tight, fill the sink with water, close up your new camera housing, and throw it into the drink. You will need to weight it down with a big rock or something heavy to hold it under. After a while pull it out and see if you have any leaks. If it leaks, fix it! Tighten up the screws holding the camera mount in place, crank down on the switch cap, add a little more silicone to the fittings, and even a little white lithium grease to the seal on the box.
Test it again. Once you have eliminated any leaks mount your camera set the picture settings, close up the box and get your bathing suit on!
Step 11: Step Eleven: Use It!
A couple of things to keep in mind:
You will want to see under water. I used a pair of swim goggles and with them and my face pressed up the back of the housing I found that I could use the camera view finder just fine.
Under water white balance is a huge issue. Water is blue! And when you add the natural light, it is doubly blue, so all your pictures are going to come out. . . . . blue. If your DSLR will allow it, set the white balance to compensate for the high K or if it is an option set it for “direct sunlight”. I shot with my white balance on “AUTO” but ended up adjusting the blue out of my whites in post. Adobe Lightroom has a great white balance adjustment tool and it made it a snap
I found it best to set my camera, close up the housing and leave it. I tried climbing out of the pool, and drying everything off and opening up the housing to make adjustments to my camera settings but it caused problems. When I opened the housing the littlest bit of water would sneak around the seal or a drop or two would get inside from my hands. Sealing even the smallest amount of water inside the housing would cause the glass to fog and who knows what that kind of damage humidity can do to the sensitive electronics in my camera. I haven’t tried them yet but have read that desiccant pouches can be placed inside under water housings to help keep them dry.
While shooting I found that floating was an issue. The use of dive weights will make it easier to get down and stay down. The air in the housing actually makes the thing quite buoyant. That combined with my own buoyancy made it hard to get down and stay down in the water. While shooting my daughters in Grandma’s pool I ended up filling my swim trunks with rocks. While somewhat uncomfortable it was very effective in helping me stay under water for a little longer.
Disclaimer stuff would include: Don’t stick your D3x in this thing! It won’t fit and the whole thing might flood. My “back up” camera is an old Nikon D40x it works great and takes dandy photos and if it dies in a horrible swimming accident, it won’t be the end of the world. Don’t try to breathe water. It won’t work. If you use weights, use them properly and be careful. Always have a buddy watching your back. I have only used this in a swimming pool and have no idea what will happen if you take it deeper than the deep end of my mother-in-laws pool. Let me know what happens if you go deep. Have fun and I would love to see your images!