Meikon A7 underwater housing review
The Meikon underwater housing is a great piece of kit at an exceptional price.
The Meikon underwater housing for the Sony A7 family of cameras is an unassuming piece of kit. The moulded plastic body consists of a fixed port and a side hinged rear door, with an optional side handle or dual handle tray with mounting points for underwater lighting solutions. Given the light weight feel and the low price tag, it’s easy to be sceptical about the Meikon’s build quality, and in a world where housings typically cost as much as the camera body going inside them, it’s something of a leap of faith placing a US$3000.00 camera in the US$260.00 housing.
But then again, every time I put a housing - any housing - into the water, it’s always a case of what Sir Alex Ferguson calls “squeaky bum time”. Immersing several thousand dollars’ worth of electronic equipment into salt water is never without risk, and the moment the camera dips below the surface will always make my heart miss a beat. Thankfully, the Meikon comes with a moisture detection system fitted as standard. When I test the sensitivity of the sensor with my hand in the Meikon showroom, it detects the moisture present on my fingers and emits a loud warning tone. Although I still hope I’ll never get to hear it underwater, it is reassuring to know I should get an early warning of any seal failing.
Due to the fixed port design, the Meikon limits the full frame Sony A7 to lenses with a minimum 24mm focal length and a maximum of 70mm (any wider angle will bring the insides of the port into view). This is clearly a negative for underwater photography, especially when looking to shoot larger marine life or in confined spaces. However, the benefits from dispensing with an interchangable dome/port system is evident from the price point. The weak points in any housing will be the openings, and limiting the places where water could get in reduces the complexity of the system, which in turn keeps the unit cost low. The additional benefit to this approach is the light weight inherent to the system. This is an absolute blessing not just for keeping the punitively expensive excess luggage charges down on overseas dives, but also when one is at the serious business of working in the water: from tracking fast moving subjects to the simple act of getting on and off the dive boat life is all the easier when the housing is light and compact.
So with this in mind, I took the Meikon with me to Sri Lanka, where I would be working on a TV series about endangered wildlife. We were there to shoot two episodes on the threats facing whales and dolphins, and a key element of the production was to film the cetaceans in the open water. The challenges of the shoot were immense, from trying to find and film wild marine mammals in the deep blue to the challenge of operating for 8 hours a day in small 15ft rigid hull boats in high swell.
Before setting off, the production team had tested all the underwater housings in a swimming pool to make sure all worked as they should. But once in country it was decided to run another test off the beach. With some nasty breakers, the little Meikon held its own against the big housings and proved itself in violent conditions. My biggest fear was not so much the housing would flood but that it would be ripped out of my hands by the waves as I got caught off guard by one and was dragged several metres along the seabed.
In the relatively benign conditions of open water diving, the Meikon performed admirably and was a joy to use. The controls were easy to operate and the LCD screen visibility was good. But what was most impressive was the weight and buoyancy. It didn’t feel cumbersome or a drag under water, and it was easy to reset for new shot setups. Although the unit was supplied with the single handle, which was steady enough, I would probably opt for the dual handle tray in future for better grip.
Unfortunately, when we found a pod of sperm whales and our chance came to film, the Meikon was sadly left on the dive boat as we had to limit the number of divers in the water. This decision was taken on account of the Meikon’s noted restrictions on wide angle photography, and with poor visibility it was felt we would need to be shooting as close as we could on a short focal length. In hindsight, I wish I could’ve taken the Meikon in with me because the lightweight and lack of drag would’ve been worth the wide-angle penalty. Both myself and the other camera operators using the larger, more expensive housings struggled to make any progress through the water to reach the whale before it dived again. The weight and drag of the wide angle dome ports made it almost impossible for us to overcome the current and get anywhere near where we wanted to be to film.
It was a disappointment not to have been able to use the Meikon more, as the dives I made with it showed it to be a forgiving and easy to use housing. The simplicity of its design is also hugely beneficial when considering day-to-day cleaning and maintenance. After two weeks of 3am starts prepping half a dozen underwater housings, anything that helps to streamline the process will be wholeheartedly embraced, and the Meikon’s straightforward setup made the whole process quick and easy.
While the Meikon may not be the most stylish of underwater housings on the market, and the limitation of the fixed port will always hold it back from widespread adoption, its rough and ready, utilitarian design hints at a capability well above what should be expected for the money. The Meikon’s simplicity of use, lightweight portability and ease of maintenance make a very compelling case for it to be considered by underwater photography enthusiasts, and all the more so given its price. The Meikon housing for the Sony A7 range is proof that usable underwater systems needn’t break the bank.
By Ed Morris