A shine Ikelite

56 years after Ike Brigham offically begain Ikelite, his children John and Jean keep the innovative alive and the company growing from strength to strength

Words by David Fleetham

Siblings John Brigham( left) and Jean Rydberg put their Ikelite underwater housings to the test in Indonesia. Photo: David Fleetham

IA ordered the first Ikelite underwater housing for my SLR in 1976 in Oakville, Ontario, Canada, from a camera store in a mall. From that day forward I have trusted my cameras to these ever-advancing containers along with the many accessories that have evolved in conjunction over time. Eventually, Ike Brigham began utilizing my images to promote his products and we remained allies up to the end, when he passed in late 2006.

In 2011 I joined Jean Rydberg( Jean Brigham at the time ), the president of Ikelite, and vice president, John Brigham, who had together taken over the helm of Ikelite, on a diving journey to Indonesia to photograph some of their new products. After many hours underwater and a glass of wine or two in the evening, I was delighted to find myself impressed by this charming duo and pleased when DIVER asked me to interview these two.

DIVER: A WhenA andA howA didA IkeliteA begin ? JeanA Rydberg : Ikelite was started by our parent, Ike Brigham. In the late 1950 as, he ran a dive store as a sideline to his major business, which was painting gadgets and refinishing furniture. He routinely drove from Indianapolis up to the Great Pond on the weekends to dive. Dive lights at the time were notoriously unreliable. One weekend, while driving home with a trunk-load of six flooded flashlights, he started to think about a new design for waterproofing lights.

The first flashlight was cast in a Westinghouse oven in the back of the dive store. The illumination was displayed at dive depicts in the midwestern US and distributed through Dacor. Word of mouth grew about aIkeas sunlights, a and eventually Ikelite was born in 1962.

The company developed from there, next producing a small waterproof cylinder to hold keys and emergency cigarettes while diving. In the mid-6 0as we put a camcorder into one of our flashlight housings and from there expanded fully into the world of underwater photography.

Ike started off painting appliances to match kitchen decor in the 1950 as. He ran a small dive store and detected reliable scuba sunlights didnat exist- aIkeas lightsa were born .
IsA everythingA done” inA housea? A TellA usA aboutA yourA operation … JeanA Rydberg : We do everything, except injection molding. Our location in Indianapolis, Indiana a less than one block south of where it all started a is our only facility. This is where all of the magic happens: design and engineering, CNC machining, electronics and product assembly, water pressure testing, shipping& receiving, marketings and marketing, service, and anything else that we can think up. Virtually nothing is outsourced, and any services we do requirealike running our moldsaare done locally within the city or at least the Midwest.

The incredible mural decorating Ikelite HQ in Indianapolis

HowA wouldA youA describeA theA workingA environmentA andA cultureA ofA theA company ?

JeanA Rydberg: A We are a group of people who have dedicated their lives to producing quality photographic products. The average tenure is 26 years, so weave basically grown up together. About half of us are divers and actually use the equipment underwater.A

TellA meA aA bitA aboutA theA IkeliteA SchoolA ofA Photography ? JeanA Rydberg : Underwater photography can be intimidating, and often it seems more complicated than it needs to be. Most users merely have one or two weeks a year to get in the water and work on their skillsaif theyare lucky. The aim of the Ikelite Photo School is to help the user get good photos out of the gate. We do this through group journeys, articles on the website, and lots of one-on-one advice.A YouA wereA inA BonaireA earlierA thisA yearA testingA someA ofA yourA equipment.A HowA didA thatA run ?

JohnA Brigham: A We shot several systems in Bonaire including the Sony a6 500, Olympus E-M1 Mark II, Nikon D8 50, and Olympus TG-5. I really enjoyed shooting all of them. The Nikon AF-S Nikkor Fisheye 8-15mm F3. 5-4. 5E ED behind our DL Compact 8 Inch Dome Port was outstanding as it reduced the overall weight and drag in the water without any reduction in image quality. I discovered it very useful to shoot the 45 Adeg Viewfinder on the E-M1 Mark II with the Olympus M.Zuiko Digital ED 60 mm 1:2.8 Macro. Because itas a mirrorless camera I never had to take my eye away to preview the image. The araila style arms that we construct let us mount the carrying cable in a way that lets you pick up the system in a way that induces it fold up nicely when traveling to/ from the dive spot. I havenat watched any other arm on the market that would allow this. A

Jean with one of Ikeliteas iconic looking ABS-PC blend housings, and red AF35 strobe. Photo: David Fleetham

YouareA knownA toA goA aboveA andA beyondA withA yourA warranty …

JeanA Rydberg: A Underwater photographic equipment is subjected to some of the harshest and most extreme conditions on earth. Pressure alterations, saltwater, and UV sunlight all wreak havoc on dive gear. Stuff happens. No was important that the situation, we want to make sure that the customer has working equipment at the most reasonable cost possible.

WhatA wouldA youA likeA toA seeA accomplishedA byA theA endA ofA thisA year ?

JeanA Rydberg: A Weare finishing the complete overhaul of our DSLR housing line. We have redesigned every model to include not only the new Dry Lock( DL) port system, but also every other functional, material, and ergonomic advancement weave induced in the past few years. Our continuing mission is to challenge the notion that you need a heavy and expensive aluminum box to get professional quality outcomes underwater.

JohnA Brigham: A I must tell you that weave worked very hard to make sure our products are some of the lightest, if not the lightest alternative on the market. With a 50 lb( 23 kg) suitcase limit, every ounce counts.

The iconic design of an Ikelite housing

WhatA makesA youA differentA fromA otherA manufacturers ? JeanA Rydberg : Accessibility is probably the single greatest distinguishing factor. Iam not sure that thereas any other company in our industry with so many direct employees communicating with customers every day. Weave been there for our clients consistently for over 56 years. Our track record for service is unparalleled. Weare one of the A few companies in the industry that design and render our products in the USA, and the
only US-made strobes. WhatA areA theA biggestA problemsA confrontingA yourA company, A andA theA industry ? JeanA Rydberg : Travel restrictions on weight, batteries, etc. can make it difficult to travel with professional-level equipment. The drop-off of the compact digital market has been dramatic, but at the same time, itas getting easier than ever for customers to get into a professional quality system. Mirrorless and compact DSLR cameras have become so affordable and so easy to use that the intimidation factor is hardly there anymore. IA loveA myA DS1 61 A strobesA andA IA wouldA guessA thatA theseA areA theA numberA oneA productA byA volumeA thatA goesA outA yourA door ? JohnA Brigham : A I have not thought about it like that, but I guess as an individual SKU that would be right. As a single product, strobes are popular because they can be used with our TTL integrated systems as well as other manufacturersa products. They just work, they are constructed like a tank and give you the performance you are looking for. They are somewhat big, but you canat ask for the performance and none of the size.A

John Brigham and sister Jean Rydberg

IsA thereA anythingA newA youA areA workingA onA that A canA youA canA shareA withA us ? JohnA Brigham : A We are always working on new items. The thing about underwater photography in general today is, it is the sum of the proportions. I mean there are so many little products we constantly address that add up to individual solutions for very specific problems. For instance, we just had to do a new dome port, a small dome port for the new Dry Lock housings for the Tokina at 10 to 17 mm specifically for APS-C sensors because there is just a better application. These little innovations and solutions, we produce dozens of them throughout the year , not to mention new housing models that always come out.A WhatA isA leftA toA achieveA forA youA andA yourA company ?

JeanA Rydberg : Weare in this for the long haul and thus will always be working on new photographic trends and challenges. Every day brings new ideas and aims. The ultimate accomplishment is helping photographers capture their vision.

Congratulations – it’s an Ikelite! A new housing is born at the machine shop .
WhatA isA yourA favouriteA storyA regardingA oneA ofA yourA products ?

JeanA Rydberg: A One of the most charming narratives was of an Ikelite housing for a Nikon COOLPIX L1 8 camera that got lost off the coast of Aruba. It cleaned ashore in Florida into the hands of a US Coast Guard investigator. The camera was still in perfect condition and the SD card contained enough photos to help him trace the human rights unit back to its original owneds. It also included a 20 -minute swim filmed by a ocean turtle along the way. The turtleas video went viral and received nearly a million hits on YouTube over the course of a few weeks.

And eventually, tell us a recent favourite personal diving story. The one you pull out at dinner parties after a glass of wine . JohnA Brigham : My story is a testament to our TTL system and proves that good underwater images require a good artist. I expended several days shooting my DSLR system in Grand Cayman when I handed it off to my wife Kim, who had never taken an underwater image before her life and was reluctant to shoot images with such a acomplicateda setup. After finally accepting her fate she seemed to effortlessly swim through the water taking paintings like it was no big deal. Later that night at the bar/ restaurant( and after we got home) everyone was like aooh I like that one! a, to all her images but not as many of mine. But hey, I have to give credit where credit is due. A

For more on Ikelite visit: www.ikelite.com

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