Diving with a camera system and shooting underwater images or video is difficult enough. Adding a camera and housing that is too negatively or positively buoyant can turn a fun dive into a challenging one, and, in some cases can be dangerous. A camera system with the correct buoyancy is much easier to use and will likely result in better photos and videos. It’s also less likely to cause problems during your dive. In this article, we will explain how to tell if a camera system is properly weighted and what to do if it’s not. Adjusting,buoyancy,float,how,to,how-to,on,underwater,camera,systems,photo,video,foam,floaty,trim

Best Buoyancy Solutions For Underwater Cameras

We consider buoyancy the number one reason divers struggle with underwater photography. A camera system with comfortable buoyancy is much easier to use, will result in better photos, make your dive more enjoyable, and protect the reef. There is no one-size-fits-all formula for buoyancy, but there are some ground rules. First, make sure you understand the smaller your housing is, the more likely you’ll need to add floats. Second, you’ll want to determine if you’re more comfortable with positive, negative, or neutral buoyancy and select the best buoyancy accessories to meet your needs. We’ll walk you through the details below. BUOYANCY VS TRIM First, we need to define two key terms in underwater photography housing use. “Buoyancy” is how heavy or light your camera feels in your hands. “Trim” is how much your housing twists forward or back in your hand. A perfect camera would feel weightless underwater (perfect buoyancy) and not further tire your wrists with it twisting up or down (perfect trim). If you’ve experienced these issues, this is the article for you. Dialing in your camera with proper buoyancy and trim will make your dives more enjoyable. Take the time to get your camera system comfortable for you. The team at Backscatter can help.SMALL CAMERAS CAN BE BRICKS UNDERWATER Customers visit Backscatter to put their hands on housings and are always attracted to the most compact option. We always warn that “While it looks travel friendly, you’ll need to add floats so that it’s not as heavy as a brick underwater.” Experienced underwater photographers quickly learn that smaller camera systems need a significant bulk of arm floats to make them enjoyable to use underwater. While compact housings may be small in travel size, they lack air space in the housing to make them easy to handle underwater. Adding additional lenses, focus lights, and hardware can increase this underwater weight. Buoyancy on the arms is a must and you’ll definitely want additional buoyancy options if adding wet lenses. While mirrorless and compact cameras are attractively small for travel, most need floats to be enjoyable to use underwater.Cinema housings are the largest for travel but are surprisingly fun to swim. Most cinema housings come with trim weights that can be positioned front or back to dial in perfect trim.POSITIVE BUOYANCY PROS AND CONS If you’re scuba diving, you typically don’t want your system to be positively buoyant. When you pull down a positive camera, you’ll go up and get annoyed. This can also result in potentially dangerous scenarios like having to chase your camera to the surface. It’s also difficult to manage a system that wants to keep floating away from you. It takes additional energy and will result in more air consumption. If you’re snorkeling or free diving, a slight positively buoyant system might be preferred as you could drop the camera in an emergency and retrieve it at the surface. Diving with a perfectly neutral rig will make underwater photography more enjoyable and you more productive. Make the time to get your rig dialed in.NEGATIVE BUOYANCY PROS AND CONS A camera system that is too heavy will become fatiguing and increase your air consumption on Scuba. A heavy camera will affect your trim and balance in the water. As you push a heavy camera forward, you’ll find that your head drops down and your feet go up. Fighting this constant change in body position will tire you out and increase your air consumption. Heavier systems can also lead to dangerous scenarios if you’re compensating with excess air in your BC. If you need to drop the camera in an emergency, you’ll quickly find yourself floating to the surface. However, some advanced freedivers prefer a slightly heavy camera to aid in their head first descent. These advanced freedivers prefer to “follow their camera down” but they are also willing to lose their camera if dropped in an emergency. OUR FAVORITE? NEUTRAL OR SLIGHTLY NEGATIVE Perfectly neutral systems are easy to push through the water and offer less fatigue for day after day of use. Most importantly, for video shooters, dialing the buoyancy to neutral can result in very smooth camera movements. A perfectly neutral camera rig can actually be fun to use underwater as your camera can float next to you hands free. Just push your camera above you and it will just float there. You can let your hands go while you adjust your weight belt or fiddle with something else. We prefer our housings just slightly negative for general use. Different divers will prefer different weights to their systems. Most of the Backscatter staff set our camera systems between 0.5-pounds and 1.5-pounds (225 to 680 grams) negative. We find a slight bit of negative buoyancy allows us to maintain smooth camera moves but also allows us to set the camera on the bottom without it drifting away when we need to use our hands to assist another diver or deal with a situation. More than 1.5 pounds (680 grams) will start to strain arms and wrists. NEUTRAL IN ALL CONFIGURATIONS IS TRICKY Our professional clients prefer to first dial in their housing at neutral buoyancy by adding a float belt or float bar to just their housing. Then they add floats to their arm system to counteract the weight of their lights. This allows them to add or remove lighting systems without the fuss of reconfiguring arm floatation when they switch from with and without lights. While it’s possible to get your housing and lights dialed on buoyancy, you’ll need a second float configuration when switching from wide to macro. DOME PORTS CAN MAKE YOUR CAMERA TRIM UP A persistent problem with large domes is that the big air pocket wants to float to the surface and cause trim problems. This imbalance often strains the wrists of shooters and takes more energy to manage your camera. Acrylic dome ports are most prone to this problem. Large glass domes perform better as the extra weight of the glass help to counteract the nose up trim. To combat the positive buoyancy of large domes, you can add 0.5-1 pounds (225-450 grams) of weight to the extension ring or the back of the dome. We offer stick-on lead weights and some divers even resort to neoprene ankle weights to help dial in trim. For Ikelite housings, a ballast system is available to hold a lead dive weight under the dome. A note of caution: Most of the Backscatter staff just deal with the twist, however some of our clients with wrist issues like trim weights. Add as little weight as possible and only if you really need it. Keep your weighting such that the dome still wants to trim up. This way if you drop your camera or need to set it down, the dome will trim up and will less likely incur costly scratches on the bottom. Adding weights to your dome can help put your rig in perfect trim, but you’ll need to compensate for the added weight with buoyancy floats.Ikelite offers the Ikelite Trim Weight System to add weight and trim the dome port.WET WIDE LENSES ARE NEGATIVE Keep in mind, wet wide angle lenses don’t have the same large air pocket that domes have. Most wet wide angle lenses will require a buoyancy collar. Collars specific to the Nauticam WWL-1 and the AOI UWL-09 PRO are available. The Nauticam WACP Wide Angle Conversion Port and the Nauticam WWL-C have built-in buoyancy to offset the underwater weight of the lenses. Wet lenses are negative. Add buoyancy collars to keep your camera neutral and trim.MACRO PORTS MAKE YOUR CAMERA TRIM DOWN With less air space, macro ports cause the opposite issue as dome ports. Macro ports want to sink, especially with flip holders and diopters attached. Camera systems with macro setups need more buoyancy. If good balance and sufficient buoyancy can’t be achieved on your light arms, we recommend adding a buoyancy collar. Stix makes adjustable 10-float and 12-float collars that will bring your macro port closer to neutral and trim. Macro ports and lenses are heavy. Keep your macro trim up with a port belt.TUBE ARMS VS. FOAM FLOATS The most common buoyancy solution is to add buoyancy to strobe or light arms. This can be done using high-density foam floats from Stix or static air-filled tube arms. Backscatter carries tube float arms from Ultralight, Nauticam, Isotta, and Aquatica in a wide variety of lengths and diameters. Each size will add a different amount of positive buoyancy to a camera system. Tube float arms are an easy way to add buoyancy to a heavy camera system. But this method has its drawbacks. Tube arms can’t be adjusted. If you have a set of tube arms that work with one port, it may be too positive or too negative for use with another port. Backscatter staff prefers using Stix adjustable floats added to normal strobe arms. These floats allow you to add or remove floats to adjust between a heavy macro set-up or a more positive wide angle set-up. A Nauticam 70x200mm Carbon Fiber Float Arm provides 13oz / 370g of positive lift. An Ultralight 8-inch Arm with (2) Stix FUL-3 Jumbo Floats provides 12oz / 340g of positive lift, but a third Stix FUL-3 Jumbo Float can be installed for a total of 13oz /370g of lift. Both tube and float arms come in a variety of sizes and lengths. See the product grid at the bottom of this article for a full list of sizes and buoyancy. Keep in mind that larger diameter tube arms require use of longer clamps such as the Ultralight Large Clamp and the Nauticam Long Clamp. HOW TO DIAL IN YOUR SYSTEM: There are two ways to get your rig dialed in perfect. The easy option is to use our default arm and float combination and make sure you have extra floats on site. The other option is to go full nerd and actually measure how much floatation you need in your bathtub or trash can full of water. With all the different combinations out there, it can be hard to know how much something weighs. The charts below are general examples of an SLR, Mirrorless, and Compact aluminum housing systems and their weights in freshwater. All of these systems include the camera, lens, dual strobes with dual 8-inch arms, and focus light. ALUMINUM SLR CAMERA SYSTEM AVERAGE WEIGHTFISHEYE4-inch / 100mm Acrylic Dome6-inch / 140mm Glass Dome8-inch / 200mm Acrylic Dome9-inch / 230mm Glass DomeMACROFlat PortFlat Port with Diopter8-15mm Lens-2.5lbs / -1.13kg-2.5lbs / -1.13kg-1.2lbs / -0.54kg-2.1lbs / -0.95kg90mm, 100mm or 105mm Lens-3.0lbs / -1.36kg-3.5lbs / -1.59kgALUMINUM MIRRORLESS CAMERA SYSTEM AVERAGE WEIGHTFISHEYE4-inch / 100mm Acrylic DomeMACROFlat PortFlat Port with Diopter8mm Lens-2.3lbs / -1.04kg60mm Lens-2.3lbs / -1.04kg-3.4lbs / -1.54kgALUMINUM COMPACT CAMERA SYSTEM AVERAGE WEIGHTWide LensNo LensMacro DiopterBuilt-In Lens-3.5lbs / -1.59kg-2.6lbs / -1.18kg-3.4lbs / -1.54kgOPTION 1: CHOOSE OUR FAVORITE FLOAT / ARM CONFIGURATION The Backscatter staff have a favorite float package that meets most needs and also gives you the ability to adjust your buoyancy in the field for both macro and wide angle configurations. We choose a double 8-inch arm system as the extra arm length lets you add additional floats. We also always travel with a macro port belt for SLR systems and buoyancy collars for wet wide lenses. Here are our favorite packages: Backscatter Compact Buoyancy Package Lift: 3.2lbs / 1.5kg $90.00BUY NOWBackscatter Mirrorless Float Package Lift: 4.5lbs / 2.0kg $145.00BUY NOWBackscatter SLR Float Package Lift: 5.5lbs / 2.5kg $150.00BUY NOWBackscatter 12-inch Float Bar Package Lift: 2.5lbs / 1.1kg $138.90BUY NOWOPTION 2: PERFECT YOUR CAMERA IN A BATHTUB To achieve perfect buoyancy with your camera, we first recommend getting an idea of what your system weighs in water. You can perform this test in your bathtub or a trash can full of water. Simply follow these steps: This complete compact camera system weighs -2.75lbs / -1.25kg in water. Adding wide or macro lenses can increase the weight of the system inwater.1. Fully assemble the camera system, including hardware and lights.2. Tie a short loop of cord to the top of the strobe arms. 3. Attach the other end of the cord to a handheld luggage Travel scales4. Drop your system into the bathtub, large container, pool, or off a dock. Make sure the system is fully submerged and not resting on the bottom. Then take a reading on the scale.5. The weight of your system in the water is how much buoyancy you need to add in floats6. Use the chart below to determine which floats are best for your needs Saltwater or freshwater is okay, as the difference in weight is negligible. Make sure the cord is securely attached at both ends. If you’re using multiple ports or different lighting configurations, make sure to weigh your system with each. FLOAT ARM OPTIONSBUOYANCY ARM LEGNTHS5 or 6-inch Arms8 or 9-inch Arms11 or 12-inch ArmsStiX Large Float Arms2-inch Diameter+5.8oz/+164g+11oz/+312+16.0oz/+454gStiX Jumbo Float Arms3-inch Diameter+11.0oz/+312g+18.0oz/+510g+31.0oz/+879gNauticam Carbon Fiber Float Arms2-inch Diameter-+5.6oz/+160g+11.3oz/+320gNauticam Carbon Fiber Float Arms2.75-inch Diameter-+13.1oz/+370g+23.6oz/+670gNauticam Carbon Fiber Float Arms3.5-inch Diameter+15.9oz/+450g+25.4oz/+720g-Ultralight Float Arms2-inch Diameter-+4.5oz/+128g+11.0oz/+312gAquatica Delta 3 Float Arms3-inch Diameter-+7.9oz/+225g+15.9oz/+450gIsotta 25mm Float Arms1-inch Diameter+0oz/+0g+1.0oz/+30g+1.8oz/+51gIsotta 50mm Float Arms2-inch Diameter+4.9oz/+140g+9.9oz/+280g+14.5oz/+410gIsotta 70mm Float Arms3-inch Diameter+14.8oz/+420g+23.6oz/+670g-WHY WE FILL OUR TRAVEL BAGS WITH EXTRA FOAM FLOATS You can’t have too many floats and they weigh next to nothing when traveling. Most travel bags have some empty space and we stuff extra floats into every last space available. This way we always have enough floats to dial in buoyancy and trim as we change lenses. Extra floats in your bag will also minimize your gear rattling around and getting damaged in travel. And if your dive buddy is short on buoyancy, of forgot their’s at home, you can save their dive, and maybe get a few free drinks back at the bar on them. OUR FAVORITE CUSTOM TWEAKS Another option to add buoyancy is to add a float arm horizontally across the top of the housing. We prefer the Stix 12-inch Jumbo Float Arm or a Stix 9-inch Jumbo Float Arm as they offer the most buoyancy in the smallest size and the flexibility to make adjustments. This configuration can add up to 2 pounds (900 grams) of buoyancy to a system and can serve as a nice mount for a spare dive computer or a solid handle. We strongly discourage the use of triple clamps for connecting this extra horizontal float arm as triple clamps will limit the range of motion of your strobe or light arms. Instead, we recommend adding two extra balls to your housing or multi-ball mounts like the XIT 404 Quad Ball mount which allows your arms full freedom of movement. Please contact us if you need help determining the best method to move from 2 to 4 ball mounts on your particular housing. If you’re not using light arms, you can add buoyancy with a float arm across the top of your housing.This is an example of our favorite buoyancy setup for video system.HAVE QUESTIONS? GIVE US A CALL Our team of experts can help dial in a buoyancy plan that gives you the most flexibility on your underwater camera system. Why buy direct from Backscatter?Free lifetime tech support with every purchase. We will beat any advertised price. Free shipping to USA and Canada and low-cost international shipping. GET A DIGITAL LUGGAGE SCALE Balanzza Mini USB Premium Luggage Scale $24.95BUY NOWSEE ALL THE FLOAT PACKAGESBackscatter Compact Buoyancy Package Lift: 3.2lbs / 1.5kg $90.00BUY NOWBackscatter Mirrorless Float Package Lift: 4.5lbs / 2.0kg $145.00BUY NOWBackscatter SLR Float Package Lift: 5.5lbs / 2.5kg $150.00BUY NOWBackscatter 12-inch Float Bar Package Lift: 2.5lbs / 1.1kg $138.90BUY NOWSEE ALL THE FLOAT OPTIONSSTIXFLOATS FOR EXISTING ARMSStix FUL-2 Large Floats for Strobe Arms Lift: 13.5oz / 323g $35.00BUY NOWStix FUL-3 Jumbo Floats for Strobe Arms Lift: 25.6oz / 726g $45.00BUY NOWFLOAT BELTSStix Float Belt FB10 Lift: 20.0oz / 567g $55.00BUY NOWStix FB12 Float Belt Lift: 38.0oz / 1077g $60.00BUY NOWStix FBAQ Float Belt Lift: 24.0oz / 680g $55.00BUY NOWStix FSB105 Float Belt Lift: 19.2oz / 544g $75.00BUY NOWSMALL FLOAT ARMSStix 4-inch Small Float Arm Lift: 0.6oz / 17g $50.00BUY NOWStix 6-inch Small Float Arm Lift: 2.4oz / 68g $55.00BUY NOWStix 9-inch Small Float Arm Lift: 4.7oz / 207g $60.00BUY NOWStix 12-inch Small Float Arm Lift: 7.3oz / 147g $70.00BUY NOWLARGE FLOAT ARMSStix 4-inch Large Float Arm Lift: 3.0oz / 85g $50.00BUY NOWStix 6-inch Large Float Arm Lift: 5.8oz / 164g $55.00BUY NOWStix 9-inch Large Float Arm Lift: 11.0oz / 312g $60.00BUY NOWStix 12-inch Large Float Arm Lift: 16.0oz / 454g $70.00BUY NOWJUMBO FLOAT ARMSStix 4-inch Jumbo Float Arm Lift: 5.7oz / 162g $53.00BUY NOWStix 6-inch Jumbo Float Arm Lift: 11.0oz / 312g $60.00BUY NOWStix 9-inch Jumbo Float Arm Lift: 18.0oz / 510g $65.00BUY NOWStix 12-inch Jumbo Float Arm Lift: 31.0oz / 879g $75.00BUY NOWNAUTICAM50mm FLOAT ARMSNauticam 50x200mm Carbon Fiber Float Arm Lift: 5.6oz / 160g $122.00BUY NOWNauticam 50x250mm Carbon Fiber Float Arm Lift: 8.5oz / 240g $129.00BUY NOWNauticam 50x300mm Carbon Fiber Float Arm Lift: 11.3oz / 320g $141.00BUY NOW70mm FLOAT ARMSNauticam 70x200mm Carbon Fiber Float Arm Lift: 13oz / 370g $146.00BUY NOWNauticam 70x250mm Carbon Fiber Float Arm Lift: 18oz / 520g $178.00BUY NOWNauticam 70x300mm Carbon Fiber Float Arm Lift: 23oz / 670g $206.00BUY NOW90mm FLOAT ARMSNauticam 90x170mm Carbon Fiber Float Arm Lift: 16oz / 450g $178.00BUY NOWNauticam 90x220mm Carbon Fiber Float Arm Lift: 25oz / 720g $206.00BUY NOWFLOAT COLLARSNauticam WWL-1 Buoyancy Collar Lift: 16.2oz / 460g $70.00BUY NOWULTRALIGHTFLOAT ARMSUltralight 8-inch Large Float Arm Lift: 4.5oz / 127g $67.95BUY NOWUltralight 10-inch Large Float Arm Lift: 8.0oz / 227g $68.95BUY NOWUltralight 12-inch Large Float Arm Lift: 11.0oz / 312g $69.95BUY NOWUltralight 14-inch Large Float Arm Lift: 14.8oz / 420g $70.95BUY NOWUltralight 16-inch Large Float Arm Lift: 18.0oz / 510g $71.95BUY NOWAQUATICAFLOAT ARMSAquatica 8-inch Large Buoyancy Arm Lift: 8.0oz / 225g $65.00BUY NOWAquatica 11-inch Large Buoyancy Arm Lift: 16.0oz / 450g $69.00BUY NOWISOTTA25mm FLOAT ARMSIsotta 25x45mm Float Arm Lift: -1.0oz / -30g $31.00BUY NOWIsotta 25x90mm Float Arm Lift: -0.4oz / -11g $33.00BUY NOWIsotta 25x140mm Float Arm Lift: 0.0oz / 0.0g $35.00BUY NOWIsotta 25x180mm Float Arm Lift: 0.4oz / 11g $37.00BUY NOWIsotta 25x225mm Float Arm Lift: 1.0oz / 30g $39.00BUY NOWIsotta 25x300mm Float Arm Lift: 1.8oz / 51g $41.00BUY NOWIsotta 25x400mm Float Arm Lift: 3.0oz / 85g $43.00BUY NOWFLOAT TUBES FOR 25mm FLOAT ARMSIsotta 80mm Float Tube Lift: 4.9oz / 140g $95.00BUY NOWIsotta 150mm Float Tube Lift: 12.3oz / 349g $110.00BUY NOWIsotta 180mm Float Tube Lift: 15.2oz / 430g $120.00BUY NOWIsotta 220mm Float Tube Lift: 19.3oz / 549g $120.00BUY NOW50mm FLOAT ARMSIsotta 50x140mm Float Arm Lift: 4.9oz / 140g $95.00BUY NOWIsotta 50x180mm Float Arm Lift: 7.9oz / 225g $110.00BUY NOWIsotta 50x220mm Float Arm Lift: 9.9oz / 280g $120.00BUY NOWIsotta 50x300mm Float Arm Lift: 14.5oz / 410g $130.00BUY NOW70mm FLOAT ARMSIsotta 70x80mm Float Arm Lift: 6.3oz / 180g $95.00BUY NOWIsotta 70x120mm Float Arm Lift: 11.6oz / 330g $110.00BUY NOWIsotta 70x150mm Float Arm Lift: 14.8oz / 420g $115.00BUY NOWIsotta 70x180mm Float Arm Lift: 19.0oz / 540g $120.00BUY NOWIsotta 70x220mm Float Arm Lift: 23.6oz / 670g $130.00BUY NOWAOIFLOAT COLLARAOI UWL-09 Pro Float Collar Lift: 25.0oz / 710g $40.00BUY NOWSEE ALL THE TRIM WEIGHT OPTIONSIkeliteIkelite Trim Weight System $95.00BUY NOWNauticam N120 Trim Weights $507.00BUY NOWAchieving the perfect buoyancy of your rig is what unlocks the path to underwater photo zen.Related PostsSony a7R V Underwater Camera Review The Sony a7R V is the newest full-frame mirrorless camera from Sony. 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