Panasonic GH4 Ikelite Underwater Housing Review

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So you’re ready to take the plunge into filming underwater. Congratulations! The good news is that shooting underwater footage isn’t nearly as tricky as it appears—though, it’s still kinda tricky.

But, it’s only natural to worry about your gear getting wet (or even worse, ending up at the bottom of the ocean!). But with the right housing and a close read of the instruction manual, you, your camera, and your crazy cool footage will be all safe, sound, and stunning.

On a recent trip to Hawaii with my family, I challenged myself to shoot underwater using more than just a GoPro. Frankly, it was time to step up my family vacation home video game. I was betting that the Panasonic GH4 and Ikelite Underwater Housing would take the footage to the next level and spoiler alert: they did.

Here’s my review of the Ikelite underwater housing for the Panasonic GH4 (and why I chose the GH4 over the A7RII).

The Pros:

It’s easy to handle: Since you’ll be underwater, easy access is key.

Filming underwater is a bit like filming on another planet. Movement, light and even gear act differently underwater than they do on land. Even the most basic tasks become more complicated in this new foreign environment. So having buttons and knobs you can easily find and control is a huge help in allowing you the freedom to focus on what you’re filming. The design of the Ikelite housing is intuitive with the casing providing easy access to all essential camera functions, including autofocus and zooming, which we’ll get to in a moment.

It’s built to last: The solid waterproof shell will keep your camera dry.

The Ikelite housing was very solid and basically built like a tank, with durable, corrosion-resistant polycarbonate. I felt much better diving into the ocean knowing my beloved GH4 was safe in a well constructed waterproof shell. That being said, it’s clear—so if you ever did spot a leak (perhaps from the O-ring seal), you’d be able to spot it right away.

It’s adaptable: You’ll have the freedom to use different lenses and ports.

The replaceable/interchangeable ports for different lenses makes it adaptable. For my use with the Panasonic GH4 and 12-35mm 2.8, the port wasn’t deep but it was wide (like, really wide). Overall, I liked the freedom of being able to use different lenses and ports, as opposed to being locked into a specific setup at all times.

It won’t break the bank: Plus, it’s worth every penny.

At nearly $1,600, it’s certainly not cheap, but it’s reasonably affordable and well worth the money for what you get in return. Same goes with the ports, they’re not super expensive, which allows me to have a couple on hand for different setups.

The Cons:

It’s big: It will weigh you down a bit, but that won’t be an issue in the water.

At 5.4 lb, the housing is a bit big and bulky, but that’s generally more of an issue on land. In the water, this is a moot point. It’s moderately awkward to wield, and be warned: you’re going to get looks for just about anyone who sees you carrying it to and from the water (I certainly did!). 

It takes time: Make sure you leave time for trial-and-error.

It took me quite a while to get the camera in the housing and ready to shoot. Setting up the zoom/focus dial also took a bit of trial-and-error until I got the hang of it. So I knew I needed to pick a camera that wasn’t going to need constant battery changes or adjustment. I didn’t want to spend a ridiculous amount of time breaking the rig apart and then building it back up.

So, why the GH4?

In Hawaii, I also had the Sony A7RII and the Sony RX10II with me. But, I still went GH4 for my underwater shooting, and here’s why:

The GH4 is compact: It’s light and mobile, so it won’t weigh you down.

Finding a compact shooter which captures such impressive video isn’t easy (believe me, we’ve tried). At only 1.2 pounds, the GH4 is VERY mobile, which means it was a perfect match for an already heavy housing. Now, the GH4 isn’t that much lighter than the A7RII but the m43 lenses certainly are. The Panasonic 12-35 (effective 24-70) 2.8 IS lens is both super small but very flexible, which allowed me to go from wide to tight easily with turn of a single knob.

The battery lasts forever: This is essential when you’re shooting underwater.

When you’re shooting underwater, the last thing you want to do is have to swap out batteries in the middle of a shoot. That’s why the GH4’s long-lasting battery is perhaps the most important feature when it comes to underwater shoots. It takes time to get your underwater kit safely assembled and tested, so swapping batteries in the middle of a shoot is a real drag. Luckily, with the GH4, it’s not an issue.

It’s flexible: You won’t want to worry about focus when you’re filming underwater.

Shooting underwater is unpredictable so flexibility matters more than ever. The GH4 delivered on that front big time. Because of the smaller sensor on the GH4, there’s more natural depth of field so I could shoot at 2.8 (it gets dark pretty quickly in water) without having to worry too much about focus, allowing myself more freedom and flexibility. Speaking of focus, the AF built in the GH4 was super helpful when I did need to change focus.

Amazing image quality: Even underwater.

Ultimately, it’s all about getting the best image, right? Though the Sony A7RII produces amazing visuals (I’ve since purchased one because of how much I enjoyed shooting with it in Hawaii), so too does the GH4. Yes it’s a little noisier than the AR7II, but not by much—certainly not worth the trouble of dealing with a larger setup, batteries that die often, and a larger sensor and thus a shallower depth of field.

In the end, I was incredibly happy with how everything turned out. The Ikelite housing held up great and did exactly what it promises. And the GH4 produced killer visuals of everything from my little guy swimming in the ocean for the first time to dolphins following us around for hours.

While I was out in the water, I learned a couple of things too. Here are a few tips to help you get the most of your next underwater filming adventure. 

Tip #1: Test in a tub

Before you hit the ocean, you’ll want to test for leaks in a pool or even a bathtub—someplace where you can quickly free your gear if water starts to seep in.

Tip #2: Clean your dome often

Even the tiniest bit of dirt on your dome can ruin your footage so clean it often. If you’re not yet in the water, you can use a lens cloth, but in the water, we recommend a highly natural substance known as saliva.

Tip #3: Treat your dome like you do your goggles

Once you’re in the water, if you notice bubbles are forming, spit on the element each time you surface (it’s the same principle that scuba divers use to clear their mask). You don’t want bubbles or water spots visible in your shots and saliva will keep them from sticking.         

Tip #4: Float, don’t swim while you’re filming

If you’re staying at the surface of the water, try floating instead of swimming. Aquatic life moves quickly so don’t try to keep up. Instead of trying to swim after the fish (which will likely result in largely unusable footage), instead ride the waves, hold yourself steady, keep your wrists locked, and try to anticipate the motion of the ocean and whatever you’re filming.

Featured Gear:

Ikelite Underwater Housing for GH4 (Buy)

Ikelite 8" Dome Port (Buy)

Panasonic GH4 (Buy)

Panasonic 12-35 2.8 (Buy)

Sony A7RII (Buy)

Your turn: Got any tips for filming underwater? Or have you found a housing you dig? Share it below.