How to Build an Underwater Camera Housing

Underwater photography can result in spectacular images. Commercial underwater housings are very good, but very expensive. With some practice and experimentation, you can make your own underwater housing that should be good for dives shallower than 20 feet. Because each camera is different in shape, size, and design, the exact dimensions of your housing will vary according to the type of camera you have. However, with some planning and experimentation, making an underwater housing is not difficult.

  • Camera with digital remote release
  • Lumber
  • Saw
  • Drill
  • Screws
  • Screwdriver
  • Marine sealant
  • Plexiglas
  • 1/4-inch hanger bolts
  • 1/4-inch wing nuts
  • 1/16-inch rubber gasket material
  • Utility knife
  • Paper hole punch
  • Appliance strapping tape
  • Marine varnish
  • Paint brush
  • Coping saw
  • Camera mounting stud
  • Small screws
Measure the size of your camera with the remote release attached. Make sure to allow enough space to detach the release while the camera is in the housing. If you are using a zoom lens, make sure that you measure the lens at its longest extension while focusing. This will prevent the lens from hitting the front of the enclosure.

Cut the top, bottom, and two sides from the lumber. 1-by-12s should work well for most small digital SLR cameras. Use pressure-treated lumber to reduce the risk of rot.

Drill pilot holes for the screws that will attach the sides to the top and bottom. Pilot holes will prevent the wood from splitting when you screw it together. Screws should not be more than 2 inches apart.

Screw the sides to the top and bottom and place the camera in the box to make sure it fits as you expected.

Unscrew the sides and apply a bead of marine sealant to the edges of the box before screwing it back together. Allow the sealant to cure per the manufacturer's instructions.

Drill a 5/8-inch hole for the remote release button. Look at your remote release, as some may require a larger hole.

Mark the location of the camera's tripod mount on the bottom of the box.

Drill a 5/16-inch hole through the box for the camera fastening screw.

Cut two pieces of Plexiglas the size of the exterior dimensions of your box.

Drill regularly spaced 1/16-inch holes around the perimeter of the Plexiglas for the hanger bolts. The holes should be spaced no further than 2 inches apart. Loose fit the Plexiglas on the front of the box and mark the centers of two corners for hanger bolt pilot holes. Remove the Plexiglas and drill the pilot holes you have just marked. Hanger bolts have wood screws on one end that fasten into the box and threads that match the hanger bolts on the other end.

Install the first two hanger bolts and fasten the front Plexiglas to the box using two wing nuts.

Remove the front Plexiglas and insert the rest of the hanger bolts. Replace the Plexiglas and bolt it down to check the fit.

Remove the front Plexiglas and repeat the process with the rear Plexiglas.

Make two square gaskets that are slightly larger than the width of the wood that meets the Plexiglas. Use a utility knife to cut the gasket. Make an extra set of replacement gaskets at this time. You will use these in Step 25.

Cut two 4-inch square pieces of rubber gasket for the shutter release cover and to seal the camera mounting screw. You will use these in Step 24.

Mark the position of the bolt studs on the gaskets carefully. Marking a hole incorrectly could cause the gasket to bunch up and not seal properly. Carefully punch out the holes with a paper hole punch.

Place the remote release in its approximate position and bend metal appliance strapping tape to the correct shape to hold the release in place.

Apply several coats of marine varnish to the outside of the box.

Fasten the strapping tape to the inside of the case in such a way that the remote is held securely in place but can also slide out of the housing.

Cut two 4-inch square pieces of Plexiglas. Cut the centers of these out so that you have a square hole in the middle with a 1/2 inch of Plexiglas all around. A coping saw should work well for cutting out the center after drilling a start hole.

Install the camera mounting stud in the hole previously drilled in the bottom.

Place the the square Plexiglas sealing piece in place over the newly installed camera stud. Drill 4 pilot holes per side and loose fit the plate with small screws to check fit.

Remove the plate and insert one of the two 4-by-4-inch squares of rubber. Screw the square plate over the gasket tightly to ensure a tight seal. You made these gaskets in Step 15.

Install the rubber gasket over the shutter release hole and secure it using the other small square Plexiglass plate and screws.

Install the front and rear gaskets you made in Step 14 and bolt the front and rear Plexiglas windows in place tightly. Test the housing in a bathtub to make sure it is water tight. If it leaks, replace the leaking gasket. After the housing is watertight, install your camera and test the mechanism in the bathtub.

Tips and Warnings

  • Rinse your housing with fresh water after every dive and allow it to dry before opening.
  • Remove the gaskets after use to allow them to dry and to prevent water from softening the varnish.
  • Test your gaskets regularly.

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