No doubt it has joined those thousands of plastic ducks that we are told are making their way around the world after being lost from a container in the Pacific. The fact that a camera floats does not mean that you can find it easily – not unless you’ve just dropped it from a boat and can see it before it bobs away at the mercy of the waves. On the other hand, before the digital revolution I had a video outfit that weighed 100kg. We had to winch it to and from the water. It was a pleasure to use once submerged, however, because I had made it neutrally buoyant with attached blocks of high-density foam that did not compress at depth. Since then, I’ve had camera rigs that are negatively buoyant. Some have been so negative that I’ve suffered aching wrists with them on long dives. That’s because, inevitably, the main weight has been the underwater flashguns. These are usually positioned high up so put the centre of gravity up high, wanting to turn the camera topsy-turvy. This has become less of a problem lately, because flashguns have become lighter just as top-end DSLRs have resulted in heavier housings. It’s nice to be able to put something down while you’re under water without it floating away, but think how nice it would be if you could just let go of your camera for a time and know that it was still hovering in the water beside you, just where you left it.If you are using a little GoPro POV camera, a Dive Buoy handle can be manually adjusted so that it neither floats nor sinks. This is achieved by undoing the stopper at the base and allowing so water in. Otherwise it will float. For a more complex camera rig such as a DSLR in it housing, perhaps with twin flashguns, you’ll need to fit some buoyant arms between housing and flashgun. These are available from Nauticam, H2O, and Inon for a start. The question is which? Float arms are available in a variety of sizes so that they displace various amounts of water. They are simply fatter than simple arms but have the standard one-inch ball at each end so that you use them in exactly the same way. The problem comes when trying to estimate what exactly you need for your rig - and of course it varies depending on whether you are in fresh water or the sea.
Hugyfot, the Belgian manufacturer of housings for top-end cameras has come up with a solution. We suggest, with bigger rigs, you use Hugyfot Float Arms as a set of four pieces. These arms are a meaty 6cm in diameter. They are available in different lengths so that they put your flashguns sufficiently distant from your camera-housing mounts. Their diameter is large because presumably they’re filled with air. Anyway, they float. As any underwater photographer knows, putting a large air-filled dome port on a housing changes the buoyancy characteristics considerably from that of a small macro port. So this is the clever bit: one arm of each pair has a red button. Take your rig under water and you can be pretty sure that, using these arms, it will float. Pressing the button on each of the arms so equipped allows them to bleed water in so that their buoyancy can be adjusted. It doesn’t happen in a moment. You have to be patient and wait a few moments to get everything trimmed out just right but, once you have, it will stay the same for that rig as long as you stay in sea water rather than fresh water. Once adjusted for one location and one camera rig, they stay adjusted for all subsequent dives. Should you swap from dome port to macro port or vice versa during a trip you will need to readjust.
If you adjust the buoyancy of your rig at, say, ten-metres deep, the air will within the buoyancy arm will be compressed to two bars. If you over do it, coming up a little and pressing the red button will cause the air to expand and force a little water out. Do the adjustment deeper and you can be confident that the air within the buoyancy arm will be so compressed that coming up and readjusting will quickly force the water out. In reality, you don't need to be so precise and once you are submerged, you can adjust and leave it for that at any depth. You can, of course, fine-tune the buoyancy via this mechanism so that your camera will hover beside you. It might drift away on a current, so unless you’re in a swimming pool I suggest you use a tether of some sort. When you pack up to come home, you simply hold each of the adjustable arms upright and press the red button to allow the compensating water to escape. With smaller housings and one flashgun you may only need a single adjustable-buoyancy arm alone and naturally you can combine an adjustable arm with any you might already have. The Hugyfot Float Arms go one step further than ordinary float arms.