Like so many things it started as a desire: to capture small critters pictures (macro) with a Nikonos III underwater camera. At the time a Nikonos 28 or 35mm lens would close focus to only 2 1/2 feet (76cm). Being an experimenter, Elwyn first tried close up lenses -- both water contact and sealed -- with reasonable results. It was the third attempt -- with a plastic tube inserted between camera and lens and held together with rubber bands (classic Elwyn style) that actually worked, and well.
To refine the device, he then took and old Nikonos camera and glued ground glass plate at the focal plane and a plexiglass window behind it. He could then find the precise focal point with any setup. The Nikonos Extension Tube kit was born, and the rest history. Over 100,000 Nikonos Extension Tube kits were sold before finally being phased out in 2003.
On the heels of this success came the next product: strobe connectors. Third party strobes were available for the Nikonos camera, but one had to purchase the connector from Nikon. Elwyn filled the need for simple, reliable and inexpensive version, and this put Gates in the underwater connector business. Once again, thousands upon thousands of them were made.
The first underwater housing produced at Gates was Plexiglas (a brand name for acrylic / perspex). It was easy to machine, glue together and seal, and remains today the base material for housings windows -- indeed entire housings for the hobbyist. Such housings were not just for cameras, but strobes and light meters, too. Elwyn notes that "I would spend weeks building a housing that did not pay very well for the time it took to do it. With experience, I started getting more people to hire me to do stuff for them."
The 80's and 90's brought experience and opportunity. A masterpiece Sony Betacam housing garnered Elwyn an Emmy for Technical Achievement in 1987 for an episode of "Spirit of Adventure: Beneath the Sea, the Galapagos" on which Stan Waterman, Bob Sloan and Howard Hall were production crew.
The Sony Betacam was also a harbinger of technology trending toward ever smaller systems like the Sony TRV101 and PC7 Handycam in 1996. Elwyn -- against the advice of his friends-- made a small, compact aluminum shelled housing with simple ports. It took off, selling hundreds of systems -- more than any other model in Gates history. It did so well that other manufacturers quickly followed with their own flavor housing for the PC7.
After more than three decades of building a reputation for 'bulletproof' housings, Elwyn and Ann sold the company to John and Karen Ellerbrock in 2002. Building on that solid reputation, Gates today serves the professional markets: cinema, broadcast, research, military and many others. Through it all, Gates has stood on a single mantra:
John Bracewell is a commercial diver and underwater cameraman with Merman Diving Services / UK. He recently took delivery of a Gates ALEXA housing with several custom adaptations....
Richard Fitzpatrick is an Emmy award winning cinematographer based in North Queensland, Australia. His film CV is lengthy (>50 for BBC, NG, Discovery) and stock footage library extensive....