QUICK REVIEW: SEA & SEA MDX-X10 HOUSING FOR FUJI X10
Japanese housing manufacturer Sea & Sea is an interesting company to follow. They have a great range of products ranging from hi-end SLR housings to basic light units and they also produce huge numbers of housings for other manufactures like Olympus and Canon. To be honest, over the years, not all of their own brand inventions have been very successful: the original YS-110 was a catastrophe and I have never been very keen on their re-branded DX camera range like the DX-GE5 model. On the other hand their current strobe units are really very good and competing even with Inon.
Sea & Sea has every now and then also made high end compact housings in their MDX range, like the MDX-G9 for the Canon PowerShot G9 some years back. But now, as the company has decided not to introduce a new range of more basic re-branded DX compact cameras, their sturdy aluminium compact housings have become their bread and butter offering. There are currently two Sea & Sea compact camera cases available; the MDX-GRD IV for a Ricoh camera and the MDX-X10 for the interesting FujiX10 high-end compact camera. The Fuji X10 camera is not really a newcomer to the market as it has been on sale since early this year. The Sea & Sea MDX-X10 housing has also been available for a while now but my curiosity towards this system kept me wanting to have a go and finally Geoff Sharples of Sea & Sea UK sent me his for review.
The Fuji X10 camera is a retrofied rangefinder-esque high-end compact camera with all the possible manual features and a larger than average sensor. Fuji sensors have always offered extremely good dynamic range, which will for sure work well for underwater photography, where clipping highlights are a constant problem. Fuji’s home brewed 6.6mm x 8.8mm sensor sits somewhere between the Canon S100 and the Olympus E-PL3 in image quality comparisons.
Another striking thing about the Fuji X10 is its extremely fast manual zoom lens. This lens actually has a real hand operated zoom action without a motor. The lens is f2.0 in its 28mm position and only drops to f2.8 when zoomed out fully to the 112mm position. The lens also acts as an on-off switch as you have to rotate the lens zoom ring to pop the lens out and then you’re ready for action.
The X10 has a surprisingly good optical viewfinder, which is of course useless underwater but an extremely nice thing to have topside when in very bright conditions. The camera also interestingly offers an underwater mode. I’ve only seen underwater modes on cameras where the manufacturer has plans to make a housing also. Maybe Fuji and Sea & Sea have been having talks about this camera prior to its release. The camera also offers a good custom white balance control with a wide range of colour correction, which is easy to use thanks to a nicely positioned short cut button. Obviously the camera also shoots RAW so you can alternatively do your colour corrections in the post.
This is a tough housing. If you have ever held a Sea & Sea MDX SLR housing you will know what I’m talking about. The MDX-X10 is machined to the same standard which makes this housing unbelievable sturdy for such a small unit. The aluminium walls of this housing are thick! Way thicker than your typical Recsea or Nauticam compact housings. But boy does this also make the housing heavy! With the camera, which itself is not the lightest possible, this package weights about 1.5kg. The housing is depth rated to 100m which doesn’t surprise me at all. The case also comes with 67mm threaded flat port that is attached onto the main housing body with a bayonet. There are no other ports available for this housing as I write this but Sea & Sea has definitely designed the housing with interchangeable ports in mind. It’s hard to say if Sea & Sea is planning a wide-angle port for this case but at least there is the option for somebody else to manufacture one. Increasingly I’ve seen third parties bringing out ports for popular big brand housings.
As the zoom of the Fuji X10 camera is completely manual you will need to use it inside the housing with a special gear that Sea & Sea supplies in the box. The rubber ring slides tightly over the lens and also acts as an on-off switch. You have to be a bit careful when putting the camera inside the housing as the housing’s gear actuating wheel has to be in the right position or you might find that you won’t be able to use the zoom properly once the housing is sealed.
The housing offers controls for all camera features so you will be able to do all the needed manual exposures and settings. Sea & Sea has included good pop-up flash levers so the flash can be suppressed during the dive (Many housings actually lack this crucial feature). The MDX-X10 also has a standard dual Sea & Sea type flash sync ports and an accessory shoe for your spotting light. Sea & Sea has also included a Nauticam style M10 thread on top of the housing for an extra ball mount.
One thing does worry me a bit though. Although the housing body is extremely tough, some buttons and levers seem to be almost as though taken from a different housing. I am especially worried about the durability of the slightly wobbly shutter release button as it feels almost like a cheap lump of Bakelite glued onto the robust aluminium hulk. This does not really affect the usability of the housing but I just feel that the main housings weight would easily crush the lever if dropped on it.
As the Fuji X10 camera has a 28mm lens various wet wide-angle lenses can be used on the housing’s 67mm port without issues. I quickly tested the Inon UWL-H100 M67 type 2 lens on it, which worked fine. The MDX-X10 user manual also lists a Sea & Sea wide angle lens for the housing. This must be an upcoming lens as all Sea & Sea part lists and their website do not feature this lens yet. Sea & Sea wide-angle lenses have historically been good value for money and are extremely sharp so keep your eyes peeled for this one, especially as it now must be M67 in size so it should also fit many other housings.
The Fuji X10 and the Sea & Sea MDX-X10 package is sort of an alternative product among the masses of Canons and Olympuses. Fuji has always travelled their own path in the camera tech world and results have often been interesting. If you are used to your standard camera user interface, Fuji cameras might feel slightly odd, at least for the first couple of days. The X10 has already received a couple of firmware upgrades to straighten out some of its complicated settings and menus.
As I said the MDX-X10 is an unbelievably sturdy housing. The only niggle with it is how some of the plastic levers feel. The MDX-X10 is not a cheap housing. It costs just over £1100, which is not traditionally a big price tag but today in the post-Nauticam world, where prices of high quality aluminium housings have been slashed it can be considered quite expensive. It is still a great package though especially if you like your Fuji cameras (like me!) it’s a bit of kit that will get you far and stay current longer than your average compact camera kit. Recommended