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How do underwater housings work?

There are a few different types. As to the question, "How do they work?" the answer is that they keep water away from the camera and lens. Ewa-Marine,for one example, is a company that makes a lot of different underwater housings. Most UW housings are made for a specific camera model, like say the Nikon D3s. Some of the "housings" are really more like high-tech, ultra-tough Zip-Lock bags, where the camera just goes into a large, BAG-like, well, bag!!! Ewa-Marine makes many,many bag-type housing that will handle many different models of cameras, based upon generic setups, such as "U-BXP
Housing for large, professional digital SLR cameras with an top mounted flash. Ideal for scuba diving, snorkelling, yachting, boating, canoeing and general camera protection. " or "U-BZ100
The ewa-marine U-BZ with a larger front port to accept professional, internally focusing lenses with a 77 or 82mm filter thread."

On hard-style "HOUSINGS", different lenses require "lens ports". Take a short look at the B&H Photo web site and you will see a LOT of nice hard-style housings for all popular cameras.

Underwater Cameras, Camcorders, Housings, Lenses, and Lighting
 
There are a few different types. As to the question, "How do they work?" the answer is that they keep water away from the camera and lens. Ewa-Marine,for one example, is a company that makes a lot of different underwater housings. Most UW housings are made for a specific camera model, like say the Nikon D3s. Some of the "housings" are really more like high-tech, ultra-tough Zip-Lock bags, where the camera just goes into a large, BAG-like, well, bag!!! Ewa-Marine makes many,many bag-type housing that will handle many different models of cameras, based upon generic setups, such as "U-BXP
Housing for large, professional digital SLR cameras with an top mounted flash. Ideal for scuba diving, snorkelling, yachting, boating, canoeing and general camera protection. " or "U-BZ100
The ewa-marine U-BZ with a larger front port to accept professional, internally focusing lenses with a 77 or 82mm filter thread."

On hard-style "HOUSINGS", different lenses require "lens ports". Take a short look at the B&H Photo web site and you will see a LOT of nice hard-style housings for all popular cameras.

Underwater Cameras, Camcorders, Housings, Lenses, and Lighting

That means they take all lenses with that filter thread including the giant 70-200mm?
 
Most have a clamp/o-ring combination. I have a Sealife DC800 I use when scuba diving. The camera itself has built in modes for blue or green water but can be used on land. It's just a point & shoot but does the job. Camera is place in the housing. When the clamp is applied, it squeezes down on the o-ring creating a water tight seal. The housing has buttons that extend through the housing and are directly above the correlating buttons on the actual camera. That allows you to operate most functions while under water. Housings for SLRs are pretty ridiculous. I paid around $700-800 for my camera when it first came out (they're up to a DC 1200 now). Just the housing for my DSLR is over $1300. I'd rather flood a point & shoot housing in which case I can replace just the camera for about $100 or less.
 
I just bought a G12 for underwater photography. I went w/ the Ikelite housing and strobe. Ikelite Housing for Canon Digital Camera This case allows for me to use all of the functions of the camera and TTL for the strobe.

Canon does offer a waterproof case for the G12 but it has some limitations, but very good for the price. ie. Using a strobe w/ the Canon case requires a slave type strobe. Canon eStore Canada / Accessories / Waterproof Cases / Waterproof Case WP-DC34 (PowerShot G11)

As said above DSLR's require a housing $1300-way lots, and Ports for each lens that you would like to use. The extra expense of trying to outfit my DSLR was not something I wanted to do at this time. Taking pictures underwater is a lot different than taking them above.
 

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