Most divers who get their first underwater camera aren’t too worried about the in-water weight of their housing kit. But usually, after a while, everyone starts to realise that the situation could be made better by adding buoyancy. For me as completely self-learned suck-it-and-see-type of underwater photographer, the realisation came quite late. As a beginner diver and photographer (I had a camera with me from my third dive onwards) I always thought my legs must be extremely buoyant, as every time I got into a position and started to take pictures, my feet shot up. In the end, it was just that my camera kit was quite heavy and it destroyed my trim when in a horisontal position with the housing and my arms stretched out in front of me.
Finding the combined perfect buoyancy of you and your camera kit can be tricky and take years to perfect. Every time you change some part of your set-up, like a port, for example, you will also need to adjust the amount of floatation. For this blog article, I wiped the dust off my old trusty Nauticam EM10II housing and built a few different float arms arrangements for different situations. It was fun… like playing with adult Meccano! There are lots of options out there and these examples hopefully serve as a starting point when you want to take the next step and perfect your housing buoyancy.
Here's a typical starter package that will work well but eventually is going to be too heavy in water. Remember that adding different ports to this housing will alter its underwater weight. A large dome port will make it lighter and small macro port a lot heavier.
The classic M is the next step. Typically this type of arm set-up prepares the underwater photographer for most situations and allows to position the gas-filled buoyancy arms above the housing. This way even when the buoyancy is not always perfect the housing stays in the correct position without a need to wrangle it for every shot. For extra buoyancy add another pair of float arms. Great for macro and wide-angle photography.
When you have two large-diameter float arms next to each other in the classic M shape, you might need to invest in a special long clamp like the SUPE AC42 extended compression clamp in this example. With a standard clamp, you won't be able to bring the two arms parallel to each other.
Different types of carrying lanyards are popular with underwater photographers. With sizeable lighting set-up, it makes sense to add the lanyard from the middle arm joint/clamp instead of the housing. This kind of set-up makes it easy for the housing to be handed to you from the boat and vice versa. You will of course need to unclip the lanyard before using the lights. Various clamps now come with a loop for lanyard connection like the Nauticam MP clamp and the SUPE AC42 extended compression clamp.
Underwater videographers are not always happy with the classic M style arm set-up and prefer to bring the “buoyancy effect” as near as possible to the housing. This definitely helps keep the housing steady in water and results in less shaky footage. Also, most underwater videographers don't need to move their lights about in water that often and don’t necessarily need the extra flexibility the M shape configuration brings. A central arm can be added with help of triple clamps to increase the balance. The centre float arm can also be a good place to strap your computer on especially when you have your hands full otherwise.
What if you want to use something on the top of your housing but still need extra buoyancy? For videographers, this could typically be an external monitor housing or an additional light. Here stubby Inon Mega Float arms provide extra lift and trim and leave the central connection points unobstructed.
You can still use a central float arm even with single light set-up. A single side float arm setup can make the housing feel a bit lopsided in water.
What if you already have drawers full of “non-buoyant” lattice-type arms? Swapping them to a full set of rigid carbon fibre floats can be pricey. Stix hard foam floats offer a great value option. Set of 4 jumbo size Stix floats costs just under £50 and give decent buoyancy. Simply slide them on most standard size arm sections when needed. They might not last forever and if you dive a lot it makes sense to invest in a proper rigid arm set but for us occasional holiday divers they make complete sense.
See all float arm options Mike's Dive Cameras offer HERE