Ikelite is a well known underwater housing manufacturer with decades of experience creating housings for all kinds of underwater camera systems. The DL200 housing system is their latest iteration made for DSLR & mirrorless cameras and is made to work with most modern lenses. In this article we are going to have a detailed look at how this housing system works, what are its pros and cons and how it compares to other underwater housing brands.
At the time of writing this article I have owned and used the Ikelite DL200 housing for the Panasonic GH5 & GH5s for nearly 3 years in a professional capacity.
The Ikelite DL200 housing is custom made to fit specific cameras, meaning each housing is adapted to work with various button layouts & lenses. Each model housing will allow the user to control their camera almost as well as on land, mostly with the exception of some joysticks. The housing comes with a base mount that goes on the bottom of the camera(where you'd attach a tripod mount), allowing it to slide in and out of the housing effortlessly.
Each opening is guarded by an o-ring, allowing for a safe seal and keeping the water out. You'll also find a bulkhead connector with manual hotshoe & a vacuum seal port (more on that later).
The housing is made up of 2 main parts, the completely white body and the see-through back. On the back there is a optical magnifier for the viewfinder, allowing for a better viewing experience.
It also allows for single operation of either the focus ring or the zoom ring of most lenses through its zoom gear system. Meaning that for zoom lenses you'll need to choose manual operations of only one function.
The button layout is generally good, with most buttons working well and placed in good spots for easy control of the housing. Ikelite utilizes various types of buttons, levers and wheels to give you the best possible control of your housing and each button is usually protected by 2 sets of o-rings.
The various placements of buttons and levers are of course different and if possible I recommend getting hands before buying to make sure you are happy with the button layout for your specific camera.
The housings are made out of plastic, or more specifically ABS-PC. It is corrosion resistant and allows for dives down to a maximum depth of 60 meters or 200 feet. As mentioned the back of the housing is made out of see-through plastic, giving full view of the camera and back LCD screen. Generally speaking I would say the housing is well made and securely build. I should also mention that with hundreds of dives I have not experienced a leak or any other major issues.
Ports & Domes
Lenses are protected by ports of various lengths, and they are all stackable. Meaning that for some lenses you might require one port, others two. Ikelite currently makes 3 different domes for wide and medium angle use, two 8 inch domes and one 6 inch dome. There are also alternatives for larger domes from 3rd party manufacturers. Ikelite also makes flat ports for use with macro lenses.
The physical opening of the front will restrict the use of certain large lenses with any housing system. Ikelite has a fairly large opening, allowing for the use of most full frame lenses. However certain lenses are simply too large and won't be able to fit inside of the housing. There can also be restrictions on manual zoom or focus operations, especially on larger lenses. To make sure your lens fits, check out the Ikelite port chart system for the Ikelite DL200 series of cameras here.
Each housing comes with a vacuum port, where you can attach an Ikelite vacuum pump. This will allow you to check whether you have achieved a correct seal before taking your housing underwater. The pump itself is sold separately and is quite large and takes up quite a bit of space for travelers, but it does works fine. Having peace of mind before entering the water is great and I'm very happy that it's part of the system.
The DL200 housing had quite the weight reduction compared to the predecessor from Ikelite, and depending on your camera, lens and port/dome setup it can be quite positively buoyant. This is usually balanced out by using larger strobes or video lights, but it can be quite a pain for shallow diving, freediving or snorkeling where you don't utilize lights.
More problematically for me is the weight system that Ikelite designed. It's essentially a large, L-shaped attachment that screws onto the bottom of the housing. It sticks out a lot, makes the housing very uneven when putting it down anywhere and gives you less room to maneuver when close to the sea floor. So just be aware that if you plan to use the housing without lights and want a neutrally buoyant setup, this is quite a con.
If you ever need any service done there are many options around the world. Here in Thailand we have an official Ikelite service center, and there's also one in Singapore. But for any major repairs, the housing must go back to the states. I've not had to send back my DL200 rig, but I did have my previous Ikelite setup over there a few times for tune-ups. I have to say that in my experience, their service department is nothing short of excellent! They are quick and if you are going to need your setup for a liveaboard trip, they will make the extra effort of having it sent out as soon as possible.
Comparison to other brands
So how does the Ikelite DL200 stack up to other brands? There is a large number of manufacturers out there that produce their housings out of more solid aluminum, and most of them allow you to take your housing down deeper than 60 meters. In other words, for most tech divers it's an obvious choice. Another obvious advantage is that most of these housings are made to fit for each camera. DL200 housings are basically a big box that holds several types of camera housings, and only the button layout is changed between each housing type. So the overall physical size of aluminum housings are smaller and better formed.
I also find that some other manufacturers have more secure housings, some offering double o-ring seals for added protection. So while I find Ikelites build quality adequate, there are levels above that will help protect your camera better.
Another huge difference is the various domes you can attach and the image quality you can achieve. One of the weaknesses of the Ikelite system is wide-angle rectilinear lenses. I find that once you get wider than roughly 18mm full frame equivalent, you start to get problems with corner sharpness. Of course this is also connected to aperture, and I do find that it effects corner sharpness substantially. But other manufacturers have developed better systems for wide-angle, giving you incredibly sharp images with very wide lenses.
But the difference comes down to price. As a friend of mine says, you can get 3 Ikelite setups for the price of one Nauticam. And depending on your needs, the Ikelite system can perform just fine. I do think the Ikelite system still has room to improve, but you can't deny that the base price of $1695 is tempting! Other accessories such as ports and domes are also cheaper than most of the competition. You always get what you pay for, but I recon Ikelite has a very good system for the price, and it's one that I'm personally happy to continue using. Hope you enjoyed the article, if you have any questions please post them in the comments below. Happy diving!