Choosing the best underwater camera for you can be an excruciating process. With so many options out there, how do you know which one to get?? This post will walk you through the various options currently in the market (March 2018) and would hopefully make things easier for you!
Cameras are generally divided into 4 subcategories:
Simple point and shoot cameras, usually featuring a built-in fisheye lens, or lately even 360 lens such as the new GoPro Fusion. These cameras are designed to help you document your experience in an easy and fun way. For those of you who are really interested in underwater photography, you might want to step it up a notch.
Compact cameras today are nothing less than incredible. Technology has made some giant leaps, and today’s compact cameras are high performance, top quality imaging machines, that can literally fit in your pocket. While some compact cameras are more basic and some are more advanced, most of them allow you to start small and expand with additional accessories such as lights and wet lenses as you gain more experience.
This is where things start getting serious. For those who are looking for better optics, larger sensors, interchangeable lenses, dome ports for over/under shots and top notch image quality, mirrorless cameras are the way to go. These cameras fit nicely in much more compact underwater housings, but still produce professional quality of photos and videos.
For those who want the best, DSLR cameras are the way to go. Best sensors, best lenses, best performance. There are only 3 downsides – Size, weight and (usually) price. If you can compromise on those, you got yourself one hell of a system!
Best Action Cameras for Underwater Photography
GoPro Hero 6
GoPro needs no introduction. The Hero6 is the last in line for these superb action cameras, capable of shooting 4K video at 60fps, 1080p at a whopping 240fps and includes pretty much everything you need from an action camera.
Sealife Micro 2.0
The Sealife Micro 2.0 was designed for underwater photography. While other action cams are more “general purpose”, the Micro 2.0 is meant to be used by divers, and fully engineered to handle the complicated lighting conditions we encounter underwater.
The beauty of Sealife is how user friendly their products are, and the Micro 2.0 is no exception. The Micro 2.0 features large piano keys, simple easy to use menu, factory sealed body, various automatic settings for different lighting setups and an ultra compact, lightweight design.
Sealife Reefmaster RM-4K
Sealife’s newest addition features a GoPro-like design, bundled with a robust underwater housing. The Reefmaster RM-4K can produce high quality 4K video at 30fps, 14MP photos using its Panasonic® CMOS sensor.
Most importantly, like other Sealife cameras, the Reefmaster is designed to be used underwater, with automatic underwater settings, built-in underwater color correction and ready to be mounted on a tray and arm kit to add external lights.
Best Compact Cameras for Underwater Photography
Canon G7X Mark II
The Canon G7X Mark II boasts a 20MP, 1″ CMOS sensor, capable of producing stunning images, both underwater and above.
It has been one of the most popular cameras in the world for underwater photography in 2017 and still going strong this year! Compared to its archnemesis, the Sony RX100 V, the Canon is often perceived as easier to handle, more user friendly and features a longer zoom lens. Along with the lower price tag, it’s easy to understand why this camera has become so popular among divers.
Sony RX100 V
The Sony RX100 V is the newest of the popular compact series by Sony and arguably known as the “best compact camera to date”. Sony have really outdone themselves with this model, exceeding every expectation and producing a lean mean imaging machine.
The Sony RX100 V easily slides into your pocket, but don’t be fooled by it’s small size – The 1″ sensor and tack sharp Zeiss lens can produce stunning photos and videos, with superb clarity and colors.
Sure, it has a few downsides – short battery life, hefty price tag, lack of manual flash output, but hey, this is the best compact camera in the market. Nobody’s perfect.
Olympus Tough TG-5
The Olympus TG-5 is right on the fence between an action camera, designed to handle the roughest conditions and downright abuse, and a high end compact camera, producing excellent image quality and allowing plenty of additional accessories.
While is does have a smaller image sensor compared to its rivals under the same category, it compensates for that with unprecedented built-in macro capabilities, waterproof body and terrific automatic modes for underwater. Olympus did well by integrating RAW capabilities on the TG-4 and TG-5, promoting it to the big league and giving a fight to the high-end compacts dominating the market.
The Panasonic LX10 is the one camera that gives the Sony RX100 V a real fight. Armed with 4K video and specifications that on at par with the Sony RX100 V, the Panasonic LX10 is a serious high-end compact camera, at a much lower price tag.
Image quality and optical quality of the lens is still outperformed by the Sony , but the LX10 is still a fantastic little camera and worth checking out.
Best Mirrorless Cameras for Underwater Photography
The Sony A6500 is the latest in Sony’s successful Alpha E-Mount mirrorless series and well established in the market as one of the best mirrorless cameras to date.
Boasting impressive specs – APS-C sensor, 5-axis image stabilization, 4K at 30fps and 1080p at 120fps, lightning fast AF system, compact body and more, the Sony A6500 is a clear choice for underwater photographers looking to take their photography to the next level.
There are numerous housings available for this great camera in the market, offering more choices for the consumer so you can benefit from great housings at lower prices.
Canon lenses can also be used with the help of the Metabones adapter, which is supported under most housings. This enables you to enjoy Canon’s excellent optics along with this excellent compact camera body.
The Panasonic GH5 is the videographer’s dream camera. Building up on its successful predecessor – the GH4, Panasonic took the GH5 to the next level, improving almost every aspect of this robust imaging tool. The sensor was improved to a 20.3 MP Live MOS with the low pass filter removed, video resolution was enhanced to 6K, opening up even more creative resolutions to match specific needs. AF system is twice as fast and customizable allowing to to control AF sensitivity, AF area switching sensitivity and Moving object prediction.
6K video is made available at 24p and 4K has been enhanced to 60p, as well as a whopping 180fps at full HD 1080p, allowing you to capture incredible slow motion footage.
Ergonomics have been improved, menus, connectivity and more. This is a significant upgrade and the end result is a very robust imaging machine capable of capturing stunning photos and videos.
Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II
The Olympus E-M1 Mark II is Olympus’s recent Micro 4/3’s mirrorless flagship camera. It features the best Olympus has to offer with the most cutting edge technology in the camera industry.
Highlights of the E-M1 Mark II include 15fps continuous shooting (Mechanical), 60fps continuous shooting (Electronic), 4K video, 121-Point Dual FAST AF, 5-Axis Image Stabilization and more.
Tech savvy underwater photographers will enjoy the high degree of customization that Olympus offers, allowing you to customize nearly every control on the camera to precisely fit your needs and help you reduce the amount of fiddling with settings and buttons during the dive.
Olympus offers a variety of excellent lenses which are very popular among underwater photographers, such as the M.Zuiko 60mm Macro, 7-14mm f/2.8 Pro and the 8mm f/1.8 Fisheye. In addition, various Panasonic M4/3’s lenses can be used such as the Panasonic 7-14mm and 8mm fisheye which are a bit more affordable.
In addition to the OEM housing made by Olympus – PT-EP14, more housings are available by Nimar, Ikelite, Nauticam, Aquatica and Sea & Sea.
You may be wondering what an older model such as the A6000 is doing on a 2018 list. But this is not mistake. The A6000 may be a bit outdated these days, but it’s still highly relevant, especially with the present price tag and the availability of very affordable housings for it!
For those of you who would like to enjoy the excellent Sony / Zeiss optics on a great mirrorless system, without breaking the bank, the Sony A6000 allows you to get a complete system, including camera, lens, housing and port, for only $1500 USD. This price is unmatched among underwater mirrorless systems, so we suggest grabbing it before it’s gone.
Best DSLR Cameras for Underwater Photography
When is comes to DSLR’s, it doesn’t get much better than this. Nikon’s Full Frame flagship camera, the Nikon D850, is the ultimate work horse for the professional underwater photographer.
The Nikon D850 boasts a Full Frame BSI (Back-Side Illuminated) 46MP sensor, the fastest Auto Focus system in the market, high dynamic range and incredible low light capabilities at high ISO.
If macro photography is your passion, the high Megapixel count will allow you to crop for more magnification and still use the end result for large high quality prints. The autofocus speed will come as a blessing for capturing the eyes of those little fast moving critters. Armed with the Nikon 105mm and a couple of wet diopters, you’ll be an unstoppable macro machine!
If wide angle is more your thing, then shooting in ambient light, even in dark conditions, will be like a walk in the park. You can use ISO’s as high as 3200 and barely notice any loss in quality, or use even higher ISO’s for more extreme situations. The high dynamic range will ensure your photos have deep, rich colors and allow you plenty of leeway in post production.
Bottom line – if you can get over the size and price, this is the choice for you.
Canon 5D Mark IV
Canon’s 5D series has been dominating the professional photography market for over 12 years now, since the initial release of the Canon 5D (Mark I). The 5D Mark IV is the latest Canon Full Frame flagship DSLR, immediately adopted by Canon shooters worldwide.
While specs aren’t as impressive as it’s Nikon counterpart, the D850, the Canon 5D IV has nothing to be ashamed of, with its 30.4 MP CMOS sensor, 4K capabilities, 32000 max ISO (102,400 boosted) and exceptional image quality.
Professional and advanced enthusiasts will enjoy Canon’s wide range of lenses, notably the Canon 100mm F/2.8 for macro photography and the Canon 16-35mm f/2.8 III, which are very popular among underwater photographers.
For those looking to upgrade from the Canon 5D Mark III, many of the Mark III housings are also compatible with the Mark IV, so make sure you check with us before investing in a new housing.
Canon Rebel SL2 / EOS 200D
One of the main downsides of a DSLR for underwater photography is its sheer size. Adding an underwater housing on top of it, results in a monster rig that many divers are intimidated by.
Canon’s second “mini DSLR”, designed after the popular SL1, is the perfect solution for that – a DSLR camera in a mirrorless size.
The Canon Rebel SL2 / EOS 200D has all the excellent features of a DSLR – fast AF, large sensor, great image quality, wide variety of lenses, and best of all, it fits in a much smaller housing!
Ikelite have taken their standard mirrorless housing and adapted it to fit the Canon SL2, so that divers can enjoy the benefits of a DSLR underwater without the extra baggage.
Cutting down on size also enabled cutting down on price! The complete bundle, including the camera, kit lens, Ikelite housing and dome port, is available for only $1995 USD. This is the best value DSLR bundle you can find in the market! All important lenses are supported, including the Canon 100mm and 60mm macro lenses, the legendary Tokina 10-17mm fisheye as well as the Sigma 15mm and the Canon 10-18mm rectilinear wide angle.
The Nikon D500 is basically a cropped sensor camera with all the great features from its full frame big brothers.
Nikon has waited very long with a predecessor for the DX pro camera series, with the last one being released in 2009 – the D300s. Since then Nikon shooters have been anticipating the release of a new model and the D500 couldn’t be be better! They’re calling it a “baby D5”, aimed at serious enthusiasts and professional photographers, who prefer a smaller and lighter camera, with the DX crop factor for more magnification with zoom / telephoto lenses, without compromising on image quality and features.
The D500 is supported by a variety of underwater housing manufacturers and has already gained a lot of popular among underwater photographers worldwide. Lightning fast Auto Focus, high dynamic range, stunning image quality, great low light capabilities and more guarantee you will get fabulous results with the Nikon D500, both underwater and above.
Whichever camera you get, make sure you read up on basic photography terms. Understanding the 3 basic elements – Shutter Speed, Aperture and ISO, will help you shorten the learning curve and really understand which settings to use and how to adjust them underwater, instead of using automatic modes or guessing.
If you still feel overwhelmed with the options and have trouble choosing the best camera for your needs, hit us on the online chat right here on the bottom right corner! We’ll be more than happy to advise!
Dive safe and mind your fins!
Visit his personal portfolio at www.ranmorphoto.com.