How I got here...
I love shooting near the water. I love the water, I love shooting, I love how people look wet, so hey, let’s do a shoot near the water! But when you’re carrying a few thousand dollars worth of camera and lens, there can be an element of risk assessment about whether the shot is worth it. Being the type who feels cameras need to get used, my answer is generally, “Yes!” But that doesn’t mean I haven’t had some close calls.
With that in mind, I’ve looked at housings or dry bags for my Nikon DSLRs several times, and always come away disappointed... the bags leave a lot to be desired in terms of easy access to controls or getting clear images through their optics. The true housings... well, they seem great, if a bit hefty, both in size and handling, and also in price. The good ones exceed the cost of my camera itself...
So last week, when I once again was looking, I had the thought... I wonder if anyone makes one for my Fuji X100S? It seems like a natural fit for underwater photography... great image quality, small size, manual controls that are easy to access for all the major functions, and if anything, the fixed wide angle lens is great, since you generally need to shoot wide underwater anyway. But weirdly, when I searched, I could find almost no references or information about using the beloved X100 underwater. But... I did find one custom housing, made by Meikon, a Chinese company which seems relatively new. So new there were no reviews or even mentions of it... Hmmmmm. A couple of their other housings did have decent reviews, and it was only $200, which for a real housing is almost too good to be true. So, I decided to take a chance.
Ordering was through Amazon, and shipped from China, so rather than wait the several weeks for shipment, I went ahead and paid the extra $40 for speedy delivery, and less than a week later, it arrived. The box was a little beat up, but everything inside looked to be in good shape. Next was just a matter of getting to the pool and testing things out.
As I pulled it out, I was surprised and impressed... the housing seems solid and well built, and everything seems to fit like it should. All of the control buttons and levers worked well, and the plastic port for the lens looked to be relatively good quality as well. So far, so good... After unboxing, the next thing to do was to see if the camera fit well and all of the controls worked as they should. Indeed, it did, and my first impressions seemed confirmed. This appears to be a quality piece of gear.
Next was the water test... first off without the camera. Rather than filling the bathtub, I made use of the sunny day outside and the pool. The housing closed easily and sealed well on the first dip... I took it down to the deepest part of the pool, dragged it around, in front of the jets on the sides and kept it under for a couple minutes. Then I took it out and dried off the outside completely, so that I'd know for sure that any water inside came from a leak. Everything looked great, so now it was time for the real test - going under with the camera. Once again, everything seemed to close up well, and the housing has what seems like a solid locking mechanism to keep it from being opened accidentally, or if it bumps up against something.
How does it feel?
Despite being larger than I expected, it is still possible to hold the housing with one hand and still operate the shutter. That won't be possible for everyone, as you can see from the photo, but I have average size hands, and even though it doesn't feel like a super solid grip, it's still useable. That comes in very handy if you're actually shooting underwater, when using one hand to flail around and keep yourself under, or hold onto something solid to keep from floating away is important. I can't imagine that approach really works well with a camera any larger than this one in a real housing, or in one of the bags, but with the small starting size of the X100S, it's totally doable. The housing with the camera inside is also buoyant enough to float, but not so much that it's difficult to control when submerged. If I were using it in fast water or river conditions then I'd definitely want the hand strap to have some sort of float on it, as I'm not sure it's buoyant enough to rise quickly or in fast currents, but for shooting in pools and calm water, it seems pretty much perfect as is.
I messed around with it for a good 45 minutes, opening the housing twice and resealing it with absolutely no problems and no signs of leakage at all. I was able to take good images, adjust settings, and work with it in a way that seems better than I expected when I made the purchase. I didn't have any people subjects to shoot today, so the poor self portrait is the best thing I have to show you the quality of the images, but from what I can tell, it looks good, and the Fuji seems to handle focusing and metering underwater with the same sort of ease it has above the surface. Maybe even better, as all but one or two shots were in solid focus... Maybe the less busy underwater environments help it to sort out the true subjects. In any case, I'm looking forward to doing some real work soon, and posting some better images.
Okay, there were a couple issues...
After a while, I did start to have occasional problems with the Macro button, which serves as the left arrow in the various menus or when trying to adjust the focus point. It would work the first push, then subsequent pushes would sometimes not work. That's a little annoying, but it's also an easy workaround... the center menu button is also a dial, and between that, and the wraparound action of the focus points, there was nothing I couldn't get to, even if that macro button stopped working completely.
I think my outlook on this is relative... If I'd paid $500 or the price of the camera for this housing, I'd be pissed if I started having problems, but as it is, I feel like I got a great deal on a solid piece of equipment, so one small issue which may eventually solve itself as the whole thing breaks in, or which I could fix with a dab of hot glue, or by using the controls differently, is not that big a deal.
Do you Need Flash?
The one other issue is that I feel like the built-in flash may not be super useful, as it's partially obscured. I can't tell for sure, as I was shooting in bright sun and clear water, but while the flash definitely came through, I have to wonder if it's going to be strong enough when it's needed. The housing has a hot shoe (?!) but no other ports or connections to trigger external flash units, so hard core divers may consider that a deal breaker, however for my uses, shooting in shallow and clear water, and as someone who rarely uses on-camera flash, it's not really a concern.
Despite a couple of small issues, my feeling after an hour spent messing around with it is that the Meikon housing seems to be to be a fantastic deal from a company trying to break into the specialized field of underwater photography by finding the middle-ground between the cheap bags (sometimes cheap... the ones for my D810 range up to $400) and the outrageously expensive professional housings. For anyone who has the X100S and likes the idea of taking it underwater instead of their pro bodies and lenses, this is a relatively inexpensive way to get good control and good images without breaking the bank. I was pleasantly surprised by the quality and functionality, and I look forward to using this a bunch this summer. The size of the housing will lend itself not just to underwater photography, but also, I think, to taking the camera along on the paddle board or kayak, and it will be great to be able to get solid images without constantly worrying about whether everything is safe and dry.