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Saturday, March 17, 2012 

Putting Your PEN in Place Underwater

The Olympus E-PL3 ($699) is a good camera and they've made some nice improvements over the E-PL2 this year in terms of speed; particularly AF, as well has now having full 1080i HD video now. The flash is now an external, which means that the housing had to become taller again. There is a nice tilt screen for above water shooting.

There are 3 housings that Optical Ocean Sales offers and one alternative.

Olympus made sort of a lame new port of the housing in the PT-EP05L this year. The housing is about the same design as previous years with plastic construction rated to 135'. It now has 4 very small LEDs that supposedly would be a focus light for macro, but the lights are completely dim, useless and bulky. The also added a metal screw on ring w/67mm threads which is good for macro. And they raised the price $200 to $799, which is overpriced for what it is.

I can't say I like this housing unless you also buy a Zen dome port ($499) which would give you good wide angle with the kit 14-42mm lens and very good wide angle shots with the 9-18mm lens. I think it also supports the new Olympus 12mm lens as well.

Another Olympus setup we're promoting as an alternative to the E-PL3 is the Olympus PEN E-PM1 camera and the PT-EP06 housing. Functionally about the same camera, not quite the software or direct controls, but it has the same sensor, video, lens and processor, etc. Smaller body too - and it's $499.

They made the same sort of housing with lights for it as the E-PL3 (the PT-EP06L), BUT we've been able to order the PT-EP06 housing without the lighted port for $599. There is no threaded ring to mount a macro lens, so you have to use the external holder. But we feel it is a better replacement for last year's E-PL2 camera/housing combo.

We've been selling the 10Bar housings in the US now for several years, and have worked closely with them to improve their housings and parts over that time.

I feel they offer a good value for the price. They are aluminum, rated to 200', have all controls, double oring construction. Fairly rugged. The 10Bar E-PL3 housing has interchangeable ports that cover most of the available lenses for Olympus or Panasonic. The housings are as small as possible, and fit the camera closely. You can buy them with different port configurations, but generally most people buy it with the semi-dome port that works with both the 14-42 or 9-18. They offer both electrical (manual only) or optical strobe sync. The housings come complete with gears, port, extra orings, cleaning kit and small carrying bag. Optical Ocean Sales housing kits also include a "spare parts" kit of control parts and port caps (which aren't standard). They have a 2 year warranty, but have to be serviced in Hong Kong.

They are heavier, and I would say the controls can be "fussy" at times. Knobs are a bit small for divers with gloves, not a good choice for cold water divers in that respect. I can't say I like the zoom control, you have to push it in and turn, which is awkward and not direct. 10Bar is a good, but small company and can be slow to respond to issues. But I have a good relationship with them and generally can help with communications. Again, I feel they are a good "value" housing and we sell lots of them.

As far as Nauticam, they really do offer the best housings available. Rugged aluminum, cam shell opening, very ergonomic design and layout of controls and buttons. The NA-EPL3 housing like all of their diverse housing offerings high-quality gearing offering precise control. They include an audible and lighted leak sensor. Locking bayonet ports are easy to change. Smaller than the Oly housings, lighter weight than 10Bar, with a good supply of ports, gears and accessories. Optical sync only. Excellent support with a one year warranty, serviced in the US or internationally. They are more expensive at $1650 for the housing alone. Right now they are offering a free, high-quality and very adjustable Flexitray with mounts included with the E-PL2, E-PL3, GF-2 or GF-3 housings - a $202 value.

So I guess you pay you're money and make your choice - in underwater photography like life - you pretty much get what you pay for.

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About Jack

  • Adventurer, diver, sailor, photographer, writer and sometimes graphic designer. Proprietor of Optical Ocean Sales, LLC. Enjoy the blog, check back and please leave comments!
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