Buying Guides

Best Underwater Cameras – 2021

Best Underwater Cameras for 2021

As divers and underwater photographers ourselves, we at Mozaik Underwater Cameras understand the difficulty of choice. With so many great cameras out there, which type of underwater camera is best for you – compact / mirrorless / DSLR? And which camera model is right for you?

In this in-depth article, we’ve put together a thorough list of the best underwater cameras available in 2021 in all categories, as well as detailed the top features you have to consider when selecting your underwater camera.

We hope you find this information helpful, and in case any questions arise, we’re always here to help!


This article was co-written by Ran Mor and Brandi Mueller and  updated by Tal Mor. We’ll keep updating the article as new models are released or discontinued. Last updated February 2021.


Quick links:

Top 3 entry level compacts for underwater photography

Top 3 high end compacts for underwater photography

Top 3 mirrorless cameras for underwater photography

Top 3 full frame mirrorless cameras for underwater photography

Top 3 dslr cameras for underwater photography

Here is a quick list of our top underwater cameras:

Entry Level Compacts (Camera+Housing Below $899)

Olympus TG-6 | Canon G9X II | Canon G7X II

High-end Compacts (Camera+Housing $900-$1500)

Sony RX100 Mark VII | Panasonic LX 10 | Canon G7X Mark III

Cropped Sensor Mirrorless Cameras

Sony A6600 | Panasonic GH5 | Olympus E-M1 Mark III

Full Frame Mirrorless Cameras

Sony A7R IV | Nikon Z6/Z7/Z6 II/Z7 II | Canon EOS R5

Cropped and Full-Frame DSLR

Nikon D850 | Canon 5D IV | Canon EOS 250D / Rebel SL3

What to consider when looking for the best compact Camera for Underwater Photography?

In many ways, compact cameras are an ideal choice for underwater photography.

As divers, we all know how difficult it is to carry all this gear, especially when traveling to remote locations. Size is a huge consideration! Since external housing is needed and is usually 2-3 times larger than the camera itself, you want the camera to be as small as possible, to begin with.

A few years back, getting a compact camera was a major compromise on quality, compared to higher-end DSLR’s. However, these days, technology has advanced so much, that compact cameras are extremely capable and produce stunning image quality, which can be used even for commercial purposes, large prints and photo contests.

When choosing a compact camera for underwater use, these are the top features you should consider:

  1. Size
    Small size is a big advantage when choosing an underwater camera. However, some people actually prefer a larger camera and feel more secure or steady with it. Especially when shooting topside. A small camera in big hands may feel somewhat awkward.
  2. Battery life
    A smaller size means a smaller battery. Having good battery life means fewer battery swaps which require opening the housing and risking the seal between dives.
  3. Lens and minimum focus distance
    Since compact cameras have fixed lenses, it’s important to notice which lens you’re getting. Sony has excellent Zeiss optics, which are regarded very highly in the industry. Panasonic uses Leica which is also famous for super sharp optics.
    Make sure you notice the zoom range and how wide your widest setting is (24mm is standard these days).
    The minimum focus distance is very important if you plan on shooting macro photography without any additional accessories.
  4. Housing options
    This is crucial if you plan to use this camera underwater. Some camera models have little or no housing options, so even if the camera is perfect for you, you may end up disappointed with your housing. Some models are very popular among housing manufacturers, such as the ones mentioned here, so there are plenty of options to choose from.
  5. Video Capabilities
    Many compact users like to shoot a mix of both photos and videos. Compact cameras are excellent for this since most of them produce great video and make it very easy to switch between the video and stills. If you plan on shooting a lot of videos, make sure you compare the video capabilities between different models. Some offer more features and can do neat tricks such as super slow motion.

Best Entry Level Compact Underwater Cameras


Olympus TG-6 for underwater

Olympus TG-6

The Olympus TG-6 is an incredible imaging tool. This camera is still the best selling compact camera for underwater photography as of Feb 21, 2021. Built with adventure seekers in mind, it’s shockproof, freezeproof, waterproof (to 45ft without the housing), dustproof and basically lifeproof. It was only natural that divers would adopt it as the go-to camera to document their adventures. Olympus has always targeted its Tough series towards divers by producing their own underwater housings to increase the depth limit and allow external accessories to be mounted such as lenses and lights.

The TG-6 is the most recent in the popular series and like its predecessors, it has become incredibly popular among underwater photographers.

TG-6 Highlights

Sensor 12 MP 1/2.33″ inch
Lens 25mm – 100mm , F2.0 – F4.9
Video 4K (30fps), 1080p (120fps)
Minimum Focus Distance Standard – 10cm, Super Macro: 1cm – 30cm
ISO 100 – 12800
Burst Shooting Up to 20fps
Special Features Lifeproof, Microscope mode, Field Sensor System (GPS, Temperature and more), HDR

Pros

  • Easy to operate.
  • Useful underwater modes which work great.
  • Waterproof body – lower risk in case of housing flood.
  • Outstanding built-in macro performance.

Cons

  • No manual mode (M). This is the main drawback of the Tough series, likely done purposely by Olympus for various reasons.
  • Small sensor, image quality not as good as its 1″ sensor rivals.
  • More o-rings to maintain and keep lint-free.

Underwater Housing Options for the Olympus TG-6

 


Canon G9X Mark II

Canon G9X II for underwaterCanon’s entry level compact – the G9X II is a fantastic choice for beginners and advanced users alike. The simple interface relies mostly on the camera’s touch screen, but with proper initial settings you can control everything you need inside a housing as well without compromising on ease of use.

The G9XII features Canon’s 1″ sensor, so image quality is at par with its bigger brothers from the G series, but the price tag is much more affordable, and most users don’t need the advanced features on the pricier cameras.

The major compromise compared to the G7X or G5X series, is the lens on the G9X II which isn’t as sharp.

Canon G9X Mark II Highlights

Sensor 20 MP / 1″ inch BSI-CMOS
Lens 28mm – 84mm , F2.0 – F4.9
Video 1080p (60fps)
Minimum Focus Distance 5 cm (1.97″)
ISO 125 – 12800
Burst Shooting Up to 8.1fps
Special Features Control all settings via touchscreen

Pros

  • Small and affordable
  • 1″ sensor – great dynamic range and low light capabilities
  • Wi-Fi / NFC / Bluetooth connectivity

Cons

  • Relies mostly on touch screen, requires initial setup to use all features
  • Lens not as sharp as other G series cameras
  • No 4K video

Underwater Housing Options for the Canon G9X Mark II


Canon G7X Mark II

The previous model of Canon’s top selling compact, the G7x II, is still in the market and being sold at an incredible price which puts it in our entry level category.Canon g7x II

The G7X II is a fantastic choice for beginners and advanced users alike.

The G7XII features Canon’s 1″ sensor, so image quality is at par with its bigger brothers from the G series, but the price tag is much more affordable since this is an older model.  The difference is basically only the lack of 4K video support.

G7X Mark II Highlights

Sensor 20.2 MP / 1″ inch CMOS
Lens 24mm – 100mm , F1.8 – F2.8
Video  1080p (up to 60fps)
Minimum Focus Distance Standard – 5cm – infinity, Macro: 5cm – 50cm
ISO 125 – 12800
Burst Shooting Up to 30fps (RAW only)
Special Features Live streaming to YouTube

Pros

  • Small and affordable
  • 1″ sensor – great dynamic range and low light capabilities
  • Wi-Fi / NFC / Bluetooth connectivity

Cons

  • No 4K video
  • Old model, may be discontinued soon.

Underwater Housing Options for the Canon G7X Mark II


Best High End Underwater Compact Cameras


Sony RX100 Mark VII

Sony RX100 VI for underwaterThe Sony RX100 Mark VII is the newest addition to the world’s leading compact camera series – the RX100’s. It’s safe to say that to date, the Sony RX100 series is the leading choice for compact shooters underwater.

With the Sony RX100 VI, Sony ventured into the world of ultra zoom compacts, by modifying the lens on the RX100 VI to 24-200mm, significantly more than its predecessor with the 24-70mm lens. The same lens was carried on to the RX100 VII. For underwater photographers, this is both a curse and a blessing – on one hand, you get more zoom to play around with, and utilize it for increased working distance and more magnification when shooting macro. On the other hand, housing manufacturers have a harder time supporting it, and compromises like interchangeable ports need to be made, in order to properly support the full range of the zoom.

Using it for macro can be challenging but very rewarding and you may require different diopters for different types of shots.

RX100 VII Highlights

Sensor 20.1 MP / 1″ inch Exmor RS CMOS
Lens 24mm – 200mm ,F2.8-F4.5
Video 4K with full pixel readout (30fps), 1080p (120fps)
Minimum Focus Distance 8 cm / 0.27 ft
ISO 64 – 25600
Burst Shooting Up to 90fps (WOW!)
Special Features Microphone input, 1/32000 sec max shutter speed, S-Log2, S-Log3 and HLG profiles

Pros

  • Long zoom range – 24-200mm (x8)
  • Fastest and more responsive compact in the market
  • Stunning image quality and sharpness
  • Excellent video capabilities
  • Super macro can be achieved with the proper diopter

Cons

  • Less housing options available due to long lens
  • Requires interchangeable ports
  • Macro is challenging due to the lens’ extreme zoom
  • Pricey
  • No manual flash output

Underwater Housing Options for the Sony RX100 VII


Panasonic LX10

Panasonic LX10 for underwaterThe Panasonic LX10 is a more affordable competitor for the Canon G7X II and the Sony RX100 V / VI.

Panasonic did a great job with this model, packing excellent features into this compact camera, without compromising on image quality. The LX10 produces stunning 20MP stills and 4K videos. Actually, video is where it really shines. Panasonic have plenty of experience with video from their popular GH4 and GH5 cameras and they have integrated that experience and some great advanced features, into the LX10. Zebra striping and focus peaking are available and incredible useful for videographers.

The LX10 is the only compact we know that offers back focus AF – a feature usually found in DSLR’s or mirrorless cameras and very useful for composing shots properly in-camera.

A significant advantage is has over the Canon and Sony alternatives, is accurate and easy white balance, even at deeper depths.

Panasonic LX10 Highlights

Sensor 20.1 MP / 1″ inch High Sensitivity MOS sensor
Lens 24mm – 72mm , F2.0 – F4.9
Video 4K (30fps), 1080p (120fps)
Minimum Focus Distance Standard – 30cm, Macro – 3cm
ISO 80 – 25600
Burst Shooting Up to 10fps

Pros

  • Excellent image quality – video and stills
  • Great WB capabilities
  • Advanced features for video shooting
  • Affordable
  • Back focus available

Cons

  • Not many housings available for it
  • No manual flash control

Underwater housing Options for the Panasonic LX10


Canon G7X Mark III

Canon G7X III Silver Screen for underwaterThe Canon G7X III is Canon’s newest addition to their popular G series. This time around Canon is targeting vloggers, so they’ve significantly improved video capabilities and added an external mic jack, as well as the option to live stream your video to YouTube. While we probably won’t be using the mic jack underwater, or broadcasting ourselves live from 100ft, the 4K video makes this upgrade worthwhile!

The new Canon also supports a mindblowing 30fps RAW burst shooting, to ensure you nail fast action shot. It can also shoot HDR (High Dynamic Range) video.

Important note – when first released the G7X III had some issues with Auto Focus. You may encounter some online reviews mentioning this. However, Canon quickly released a firmware update which rectified those issues and the auto focus is now lighting fast and accurate. An even newer update released on Dec 12 allows you to capture videos at 24fps which has a more cinematic look.

G7X Mark III Highlights

Sensor 20.2 MP / 1″ inch CMOS
Lens 24mm – 100mm , F1.8 – F2.8
Video 4K (30fps), 1080p (up to 120fps)
Minimum Focus Distance Standard – 5cm – infinity, Macro: 5cm – 50cm
ISO 125 – 12800
Burst Shooting Up to 30fps (RAW only)
Special Features Live streaming to YouTube

Pros

  • Excellent image quality
  • 4K video
  • Capture stills while recording videos
  • External mic jack – if you use it for video above water
  • Portrait video mode for social media

Cons

  • Not the most impressive minimum focus distance (5cm)
  • Same lens as G7X Mark II – soft corners at widest setting

Underwater Housing Options for the Canon G7X Mark III

What to consider when looking for the best Mirrorless Camera for Underwater Photography?

Mirrorless cameras have taken the underwater world by a storm. Gone are the days when you had to carry a massive rig to get professional quality and interchangeable lenses. Mirrorless cameras nail it when considering the requirements of the avid UW photographer.

Many underwater photographers today believe that mirrorless is the best type of underwater camera.

Divers who are looking for a more professional kit than your average compact, with control over their optics and the ability to change ports according to different shooting types, would be wise to consider a mirrorless before opting for a bulky DSLR.

The advantage is clear – A mirrorless rig weights about half and takes up much less space in your already overloaded baggage when traveling.

When looking into a mirrorless setup, the important things to consider are:

  1. Lens Options
    This one is first for a good reason. Mirrorless cameras greatly depend on the actual optics produced for them, and brands vary greatly on the lens selection they offer. The kit lens usually has an important role and functions as an all-around lens. Fisheye lenses are awesome but only offered with Olympus and Panasonic (as of late 2018), whereas with Sony you have to settle for a fisheye converter.
    Some say the Sony macro lenses are better, whereas some swear by the Olympus 60mm.
    The new full-frame cameras do allow using regular DSLR lenses so the selection is wider. Look at adapters and make sure you know which lenses are supported with them and whether they work well.
    Bottom line – research your lens options, not only your camera body!
  2. Housing options
    Again, this is crucial if you plan to use this camera underwater. Some camera models have little or no housing options, so even if the camera is perfect for you, you may end up disappointed with your housing. Some models are very popular among housing manufacturers, such as the ones mentioned here, so there are plenty of options to choose from.
  3. Customization and advanced features
    Some mirrorless cameras offer a very high level of customization. Olympus are notorious for that. While some users would love that and will set up the buttons exactly how they want them, others may be overloaded by that and get confused with so many custom buttons.
    In addition, some cameras offer very specific advanced features which are great for videographers, such as the GH5, so that would be an important consideration.
  4. Price
    Mirrorless cameras vary a LOT in price. From a simple older model like the Sony A6000 ($600 USD with lens) to the high-end full-frame Sony A9 ($4000 USD body only).
    When considering your options, take the camera body into consideration, but also the lenses you plan to get and the housing and ports for those lenses. You may opt for a more advanced camera and get a more basic housing, or the other way around, depending on your preferences.

Best Mirrorless Underwater Cameras


Sony A6500 for underwater

Sony A6600

The Sony a6600 is a great option for flexibility. The small size and light weight feels like a compact, but its exceptional performance shoots like a dSLR. Shooters have the ability to keep it simple and small with easy to use auto functions and just a single lens; or expand its capabilities by shooting in manual and adding other lenses and accessories. Even underwater it can be set up as a simple underwater rig or with many lenses and ports, wet mount lenses, and strobes fired by slave or sync, etc. Not only will Sony lenses work on this camera, but with an adapter you can use Canon mount lenses including the underwater photographer favorite, the Tokina 10-17mm fisheye.

The 24MP camera can shoot 4K video and particularly shines when shooting macro underwater and focus peaking makes it easy to confirm focus on the 3” screen or optical viewfinder by showing areas in focus as a color. Improvements from the a6300 include 5 axis in-body image stabilization, improved autofocus and burst shooting, and a touchscreen LCD.  One downside from the a6300/a6500 is that the built in flash was removed.

A6600 Highlights

Sensor CMOS APS-C 23.5 x 5.6 mm), 24 megapixels
Lens Mount Sony E-Mount
Video 4K (30fps)
Weight 453g with batteries
ISO Auto, 100-32000 (expandable to 102400)
Burst Shooting 11fps in RAW with 100 shot buffer
Special Features Weather-sealed magnesium-alloy body. 5 axis in-body image stabilization.

Pros

  • Size: feels like a compact but shoots like pro
  • Versatility
  • Lens choices: Sony; Canon mount lenses with an adapter; wet mount lenses
  • Low noise performance and great image quality
  • Focus Peaking to confirm focus.
  • Excellent 4K video, particularly for macro shooting

Cons

  • Wet lenses lose a bit of coverage and there is sometimes vignetting
  • No ability to set manual flash power on internal flash
  • Slow recycle time of internal flash which slows down shooting when slave connecting strobes
  • Fastest flash speed sync limit is 1/160
  • Video crop is 20% of sensor area.
  • White balance capabilities not ideal for underwater (tops out at 9900K)
  • Battery life low when shooting a lot of 4K video
  • No built in flash for strobe triggering

Underwater Housing Options for the Sony A6600


Panasonic GH5

Panasonic GH5 for underwaterFor underwater shooters with a passion for both videography and still images, the Panasonic GH5 is one of the best for video. It is one of the few cameras using the full width of sensor for 4K and currently the only shooting 4K 60p with plenty of options for bit rate, color space, frame rate and bit depth. Its improved white balance functions make it one of the most accurate mirrorless cameras for white balancing underwater without the use of filters.

Upgrade from GH4, the GH5 has improved the video overall, but also better low light performance, improved white balance functions and 5-axis stabilization. The camera also has focus peaking which confirms focus by outlining in color areas in focus and other exposure aids like zebra striping, vector scope and waveform display. The GH5 also has several custom function buttons which are great for underwater shooters.

GH5 Highlights

Sensor CMOS, 20.3 megapixels
Lens Mount Micro Four Thirds
Video 4K (60fps)
Weight 725g with batteries
ISO Auto, 200-25600 (expandable to 25600)
Burst Shooting 12fps in RAW with 100 shot buffer
Special Features Magnesium alloy body, environmentally sealed, 5-axis stabilization

Pros

  • 6 custom function buttons and other buttons can be reassigned to do other functions
  • 4K 60p video and ability to shoot 10bit 4:2:2
  • Excellent stabilization in video
  • Better ability to white balance underwater
  • Focus peaking
  • Low light performance
  • Better battery performance

Cons

  • Size –larger and heavier than many other mirrorless cameras.
  • Quality reduced at higher ISO
  • No built in flash, so only electric syncing for strobe use
  • Autofocus, particularly in live view, is slow both in stills and video.

Underwater Housing Options for the Panasonic GH5


Olympus E-M1 Mark III

The Olympus E-M1 Mark III is Olympus’s top consumer mirrorless camera, highly customizable, packed with pro features mirrorless camera. It has a large 3″ LCD screen making images easy to view underwater. The Mark III has improved Auto Focus and AF tracking, improved image stabilization (5.5EV, compared to 4EV on the E-M1), completely revamped video mode with higher 4K resolution, faster frame rates, and it comes with an accessory flash allowing for strobe triggering both electrically and slave. Many lens options are available as well as wet mount lens.

The camera also features a brand new image sensor TruePic IX. At 20 megapixel, this camera also has to possibility to create composite images up to 50MP by capturing multiple frames through pixel shifting the sensor. This is great to make super high resolution images, although in order for it to work underwater there can be no motion, so a tripod may be necessary for sharp images. Focus peaking mode will show which parts of an image are in focus using color lines.

E-M1 Mark III Highlights

Sensor 20.4 Megapixel Live MOS
Lens Mount Micro Four Thirds
Video 4K/30p
Weight 574g with batteries
ISO Auto, 64-25600
Burst Shooting 60fps (electronic shutter), 15fps (mechanical shutter)
Special Features Dust, splash and freeze proof, improved 5-axis stabilization, Bluetooth support

Pros

  • Customizable – Buttons can be customized (select from 35 functions)
  • Great image stabilization for both stills and video shooting
  • Easy to use menu and control panel
  • Plenty of lens options perfect for wide angle and macro underwater images
  • The Olympus camera and housing bundles are a great package deal

Cons

  • Flash sync speed is only 1/250
  • Burst mode not compatible with strobes, so not as useful underwater
  • Accessory flash prone to becoming disconnected and cannot reattach without opening housing.

Underwater Housing Options for the Olympus E-M1 Mark III


Best Full Frame Mirrorless Underwater Cameras


sony a7r IV underwater camera

Sony A7R IV

The Sony A7R IV is a full frame mirrorless camera that while still smaller and lightweight competes with larger dSLRs when it comes to image and video quality. The A7R IV’s sensor is a giant leap from the A7R III, boasting 61MP back illuminated full frame sensor. The means incredible image quality, unmatched dynamic range and superb low light capabilities. Autofocus speed and accuracy have improved over previous models, particularly in low light. The camera has room for two memory cards and battery life has improved.

The A7R IV is a top performer for video as well, shooting 30fps 4K which is initially sampled from 6K as opposed to 5K on the predecessor. This means better quality video overall. It also utilizes AI technology for subject recognition as well as Real-Time Eye AF ensuring that every subject you shoot is tack sharp and focused on the eyes.

This camera is great for the underwater shooter because it has lots of customizable buttons, focus peaking in manual focus mode shows focused areas highlighted with color to guarantee image focus. White balance has improved from the previous model and is better than most other mirrorless cameras, although it still isn’t perfect for blue water. The pixel shift feature lets image makers create super high res composite images, however, while taking the images the camera must be completely still (like on a tripod) for it to work. The A7RIV competes with dSLRs for quality but in a smaller package.

A7RIV Highlights

Sensor BSI-CMOS, 42 megapixels
Lens Sony E-Mount
Video 4K (30fps)
Weight 657g
ISO Auto, 100-32000 (expandable to 50-102400)
Burst Shooting 10fps in Raw with a 76 image buffer
Special Features Environmentally sealed, 5-axis stabilization

Pros

  • Size – small and lightweight but takes incredible images and video
  • 61MP sensor
  • Autofocus fast and accurate
  • Full sensor 4K video
  • Lots of lens options including Canon with an adapter and wet mount lenses
  • Focus peaking
  • Increased battery life

Cons

  • For a mirrorless it is larger and heavier than others
  • White balance better that previous model, but still gives blue water a purple hue (can usually be fixed post-process)
  • While autofocus speed and accuracy have improved, it still struggles with super macro
  • Need high speed/high performance SD card when shooting and lots of storage space for post processing

Underwater Housing Options for the Sony A7IV


Nikon Z6 for underwater

Nikon Z6/Z7/Z6 II/Z7 II

Nikon’s first full-frame mirrorless cameras, the Z6 and Z7 do not disappoint. The Z6 is a 25 megapixel camera and the Z7 is 46mp. Consistently compared against the dSLR, Nikon d850; this camera comes close to producing comparable images and some of the best results from any mirrorless camera. The autofocus is fast and accurate (and although still slower than a dSLR, one of the best when compared to other mirrorless cameras.) The Z mount for lenses allows for the use of Z mount lenses and there is an adapter to use F mount lenses (Nikon.)

This mirrorless has an improved electronic viewfinder than other mirrorless cameras which often lack dynamic range and detail, which leaves a photographer uncertain of the final image when reviewing underwater. You can also review playback images in the viewfinder, so you never have to take your eye away from the viewfinder.

The Nikon Z7 has the same video specs as the Nikon D850 with no crop factor which is great for wide angle video, although it is possible to crop to DX mode which is better for macro video. The main difference between the Z6 and Z7 is megapixels (sensor resolution) and autofocus, with the Z7 being better at both. The video capabilities are the same, so if video is most important, the less expensive Z6 is for you and if the ability to shoot larger images is required, then the Z7 would be your choice.

Nikon Z6 / Z7 Highlights

Sensor CMOS, 25 megapixels (Z6); 46 megapixels (Z7)
Lens Nikon Z
Video 4K (30fps)
Weight 675g
ISO Auto, 100-51200 (expands to 50-204800) (Z6); 64-25600 (expands to 32-102400) (Z7)
Burst Shooting 9fps (Z6); 12fps (Z7)
Special Features Environmentally sealed, 5-axis stabilization

Pros

  • Size – although on the larger side for mirrorless, still smaller than dSLRs
  • Electronic viewfinder is excellent
  • Sharp resolution
  • Great image stabilization for both stills and video shooting
  • White balance better than other mirrorless cameras
  • Can use other Nikon lenses with adapter

Cons

  • Autofocus slower than a dSLR
  • The size and price may make a dSLR a better option
  • Flash sync speed 1/200s
  • Battery life
  • Single XQD slot

Underwater Housing Options the Nikon Z6 / Z7 / Z6 II / Z7 II


Canon EOS R5

The Canon EOS R5 is Canon’s most recent challenger in the full-frame mirrorless market, particularly aimed at competing with the powerful Sony A7R IV.

Building off the popular DSLR workhorse, the Canon EOS 5D IV, the R5 inherited similarly solid ergonomics but with a bevy of new features in a mirrorless body. With a new, full-frame 45MP Dual-Pixel CMOS sensor, in-body image stabilization, 8K video recording, and fast shooting speeds, Canon has raised the bar in their commitment to high-end mirrorless cameras.

Underwater photographers will be especially pleased with the excellent resolution and dynamic range, and for motion shooters, the increased burst shooting rates.

This camera is also particularly attractive to Canon shooters looking to upgrade to a powerful full frame mirrorless body. For Canon shooters who already own Canon glass, this camera is a logical upgrade over similar models from other manufacturers like Sony or Nikon, as it can be used with EF (with an EF-RF mount adaptor) or RF mount lenses. Adapted EF lenses perform superbly in terms of autofocus on the R5.

EOS R5 Highlights

Sensor Full-Frame CMOS Dual-Pixel, 45 megapixels
Lens Canon RF
Video 8K (30fps), 4k 120 fps
Weight 660g
ISO ISO 100-51200, expandable to ISO 102400
Burst Shooting 12 fps mechanical, 20 fps electronic

Pros

  • Size – although larger and heavier than other mirrorless, still smaller than dSLRs; solid ergonomics
  • Speed: shoots at an impressive 12 fps / 20 fps burst (mechanical/electronic shutter)
  • Powerful video features: 8K video, with option for Raw or 10-bit 4:2:2 C-log or HDR PQ, 4k 120p
  • Easy to use, especially for previous Canon shooters
  • Extremely fast, accurate autofocus: 100% coverage Dual Pixel II AF system with human and animal detection
  • Autofocus tracking is excellent
  • Great resolution for cropping in post
  • With an adapter, Canon EF mount lenses can also be used with no change in autofocus performance

Cons

  • Expensive
  • RF native lens lineup incomplete (but growing)
  • 8K video feature can experience overheating issues at longer recording times

Underwater Housing Options for the Canon EOS R5


What to consider when choosing the best DSLR Camera for Underwater Photography?

Even with the advancements in technology and the introduction of mirrorless cameras, DSLR cameras still hold an important place among professional and enthusiast underwater photographers. Some say it’s the optics, some talk about sensors and others simply prefer the big camera feeling above water and end up getting housing for their topside camera. Either way, the reality is that DSLR cameras are still very popular among underwater photographers who are willing to lug this massive setup around the world, pay excess baggage fees and impress their fellow divers with their big rigs.

If you do plan to get a DSLR setup, the main things you want to look at are:

  1. Brand
    Get a Canon or Nikon. Don’t bother with the rest. They simply aren’t supported. The DSLR underwater market is rather small, so manufacturers don’t produce housings for any cameras that aren’t mainstream. They simply don’t justify the costs of engineering an underwater housing.
    If you already have an older Fuji or Sony DSLR, consider changing to the leading brands before getting into underwater photography.
  2. Budget
    Housing a DSLR is not cheap. In addition to the housing itself, you will also need ports, zoom gears, extensions and perhaps adapters, for every lens you choose to use. Take all of that into account before spending too much on a camera and lenses, then realizing you can’t afford the housing and accessories! Not to mention strobes or video lights, which are quite necessary with a system like this.
  3. Diving Skills
    Handling a big rig like this underwater isn’t easy. Make sure your buoyancy is perfect and you are experienced enough to handle emergencies while carrying that big rig with you. Even without any emergencies, you don’t want to break any corals that took hundreds of years to grow just because you found a cool nudibranch to shoot…
  4. Strobe Triggering
    Some DSLR’s include a pop-up flash, some don’t. Some housings allow using the pop-up flash, some don’t (Ikelite). Some cameras have an optical trigger available for them and some don’t. Check this with us before making your decision so that you know what to expect when adding strobes to your system.
  5. New vs Old Models
    New DSLR housings cost the same for new DSLR models or old ones (if still available). Since housing is quite a significant investment, we highly recommend getting a newer model rather than an old one that may become obsolete quite fast, leaving you stuck with the housing.
    If you already have all your lenses and an older body, consider upgrading the camera before purchasing a housing.

Best DSLR Cameras for Underwater


Nikon D850 for underwater

Nikon D850

For shooters looking for great images and video, the full frame D850 does it all. Capabilities include extensive dynamic range, beautiful color and sharp detail. It shoots true full frame 4K video and has one of the fastest and most accurate autofocus systems (153 AF points and 99 cross type). It does well even at extreme ISO ranges including low light situations where even when getting an underexposed shot, details can be pulled from the black in post processing. Shooting 7 frames per second with 51 shot buffer allows you to take many images before the processor slows down to catch up. It also makes switching from video to still very easy and fast as it holds the previous settings from both.

The d850 does well in all underwater situations from lightning fast autofocus on tiny, fast moving, macro subjects to extreme detail in deep and dark ambient light situations like wreck diving. It also has some of the best 4K video capabilities in a dSLR.

Nikon D850 Highlights

Sensor BSI-CMOS, 45 megapixels
Lens Nikon F
Video Full frame 4K/30p
Weight 1005g
ISO Auto, 64-25600 (expands to 32-102400)
Burst Shooting 7fps (51 frame buffer)
Special Features Environmentally sealed, 151 point autofocus

Pros

  • No 4K video crop factor (although it is possible to shoot in DX crop mode)
  • White balance and low noise capabilities
  • Autofocus is excellent
  • Better ISO and dynamic range performance
  • Dual memory cards: XQD and SD

Cons

  • In video mode autofocus is not good
  • Larger and heavier

Underwater Housing Options the Nikon D850


Canon 5D IV for underwater

Canon 5D IV

The Canon 5D IV is a full frame, 30mp camera that shoots 4K video is known for its autofocus capabilities in video mode. This camera performs well in high ISO levels creating images with little noise and takes high quality images. The white balance in underwater settings with ambient light is one of the best on the market. Its ability to shoot live autofocus means shooters do not have to lock autofocus and refocus as the situation changes. It does have a 1.64x crop, but this can be advantageous in macro video. The Nikon d850 has a slightly higher image quality, but if video is your main concern, this camera wins.

Canon 5D IV Highlights

Sensor CMOS, 30 megapixels
Lens Canon EF/EF-S
Video 4K/30p
Weight 890g
ISO Auto, 100-32000 (expands to 50-102400)
Burst Shooting 7fps (21 frame buffer)
Special Features Environmentally sealed, 61 point autofocus

Pros

  • Live autofocus in video mode
  • White balance and low noise capabilities
  • Better battery
  • Built in flash allows for fiber optic connected strobe firing (or electronic via hot shoe)

Cons

  • 64x video crop in 4K
  • Slower burst shooting
  • No Zebra stripes or focus peaking in camera

Underwater Housing Options for the Canon 5D Mark IV


Canon 7D Mark II for underwaterCanon EOS 250D / Rebel SL3

The Canon SL3 is a unique camera in the dSLR space. Nicknamed “mini-dSLR”, this tiny interchangeable lens camera packs some incredible features, just like its larger counterparts, but without compromising on size.

For underwater photographers – this is perfect! We all want excellent quality but hate lugging huge gear across the world.

Thanks to the small size of the SL3, Ikelite’s engineers managed to fit it into their standard mirrorless housing which makes it easier to travel with and more affordable.

Cropped sensors are often favored by underwater photographers because the cameras are slightly smaller and lighter than full frame dSLRs and the crop factor gives extra magnification in macro photography. It allows for the use of the Tokina 10-17mm fisheye lens, which is a favorite among underwater photographers. DSLRs outcompete mirrorless cameras when it comes to fast-action photography such as big animals because autofocus is faster and this is key when you may only have one change to get the shot of a shark or dolphin.

Ikelite’s housing allows you to use all important lenses – Tokina 10-17mm and Canon 10-18mm for wide angle, Canon 60mm and Canon 100mm for macro.

Canon EOS 250D / Rebel SL3 Highlights

Sensor CMOS APS-C, 24.1 megapixels
Lens Canon EF/EF-S
Video 4K / 24fps, 1080p / 60fps
Weight 450g including battery and card
ISO Auto, 100-16000 (expandable to 51200)
Burst Shooting 5fps
Special Features Fully articulating rear LCD screen

Pros

  • Size size size – smaller and lighter than most dSLRs
  • Excellent battery life (1000+ photos)
  • 4K video
  • Exceptional image quality
  • Quick Auto Focus

Cons

  • Can’t use built-in flash in Ikelite housing
  • Slow auto focus in video or live view

Underwater Housing Options for the Canon EOS 250D / Rebel SL3


Conclusion

Choosing the best underwater camera for you might sounds like a daunting task, but remember this – it’s not the camera, but the person behind it!

With the right tool, it may be easier or faster to get good results, but in the end it’s all about improving your photography skills, deepening your understanding and knowledge of the technical terms and the artistic elements, practicing as much as you can and, most important – improving your diving skills! Great underwater photography starts from your fins and works its way up. Not the other way around.

Improving your diving skills is by far the most important thing you can do to become a better underwater photographer.

If you need help choosing the best camera for you, don’t hesitate to contact us via the online chat on the website!

Ran Mor
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6 comments

  1. David Sausjord January 10, 2020

    As a snorkeler I’ve use the Olympus TG series from the TG-2 through the TG-5. Mostly in Hawaii, the Caribbean, and more recently Fiji, including free diving down 10-15′. Have been mostly pleased with ability to capture fish portraits, turtles, rays, coral. But now would like to step up to something with a 1″ sensor for topside as well as UW use. Also ready to get a housing, for better waterproofing, and perhaps to get into using flash. Can you comment on your recommended compact cameras for a snorkeling perspective?

  2. Ran Mor
    Ran Mor January 16, 2020

    Hey David!
    The next step would be the Canon G7X III or the Sony RX100 series.
    Both cameras will be a big improvement in quality, with a far better sensor and much more crisp photos.
    For freediving / snorkeling I would recommend a wide angle lens as well and since the Sony supports wide angle lenses better and you can get the more affordable UWL-400 for it, that would be my recommendation.
    As for a strobe, I would start with the YS-01 which is a great entry level strobe to get you started.
    To summarize, I would recommend the following:
    https://www.housingcamera.com/id4842-fantasea-15075-housing-sony-rx100-v.html
    https://www.housingcamera.com/fantasea-5142-wide-angle-lens.html
    https://www.housingcamera.com/id3924-sea-sea-ys-01-package.html (upgrade to longer base tray recommended)

    Let me know if you have any further questions! Also available at ranm@housingcamera.com

  3. Jessica Link September 12, 2020

    Hi Ran! So I have for 6 years a compact camera underwater (Canon G15), a simple one cause in the past it was the camera I could afford it. I would like to update my camera for underwater – I had a look on Sony RX100 and SeaLife DR2000 and I am not convinced is worth it for the price and quality of photos. I have a Canon T5i, I read reviews and I also saw its not worth buy housing for this camera cause the manual focus it’s not possible use underwater. So I thought to buy a mirrorless cause it is smaller and lighter. All cameras have pros and cons, so quite difficult to decide which one. In your experience, what cameras do you recommend? Thank you!

  4. Ran Mor
    Ran Mor September 15, 2020

    Hey Jessica!

    The G15 is wonderful. I can understand why you used it for so long. I’ve used it a lot myself and I still think it was one of Canon’s best compacts.
    But there are definitely better options out there now.
    The Sony RX100 is waaaaay better than the Sealife in pretty much every way. So between those two it’s a very easy choice.
    I agree that it’s not worth buying a housing for the T5i now as it’s quite old and the housing is a very big investment.
    Mirrorless is a great choice and would allow you to grow and upgrade to new lenses as you gain more experience.

    I think the RX100 is already a significant upgrade compared to what you have, in every aspect – image quality, video, AF, colors and features.
    Deciding between compact and mirrorless boils down to whether or not you want to mess around with ports and additional lenses. The difference between the RX100 vs a mirrorless with a kit lens isn’t huge, but a mirrorless has the ability to be upgraded to a native fisheye lens with a dome or a dedicated macro lens which makes a massive difference.

    If you go for compact, RX100 V / VI / VII are the best choices.
    If you go for mirrorless, I would consider the Sony A6XXX series and the Olympus E-M5 III.
    Another great option to consider is the Canon SL3 with the Ikelite housing. It’s a really good deal, very small camera, large sensor, great housing, can be upgraded with the Tokina 10-17mm fisheye or the Canon 100mm macro lenses and very very affordable.

  5. Grethe Hillersøy March 26, 2021

    Hello. I am the very happy owner of a Sony RX100 (with ikelite housing). I have been looking into upgrading my UW-camera and was wondering if the RX100 VII would make a big difference in picture quality as compared to the one I have now (I) or if I should be looking at a completely different camera? What kind of cameras are there now that would provide a significant increase in picture quality without the price becoming too much more than the VII?

  6. Morgan Bennett-Smith March 30, 2021

    Hi Grethe, the RX100 VII definitely has some newer features that would be a significant upgrade over the original RX100–for example, it shoots much faster (20fps vs 10 fps), has a newer BSI sensor, touchscreen, wifi, etc. If you really enjoy the RX100 (which is a great line of compact cameras!), the newest model in the line certainly could make sense. However, if you want to look for improving image quality beyond compact cameras, I’d suggest taking a look at the Sony A6400 or A6600. Coming from Sony already, you’d be familiar with this system, and the price (at least for the A6400) would be relatively comparable, a little more for the A-series after factoring in lenses and ports. The A6400 body is a few hundred dollars cheaper than the Rx100VII, but, you would need a lens or two, which add to the cost. The housing will also cost a little more for the A-series cameras, I think the Ikelite is ~$500 for the RX100VII and about ~$700 for the A6400, and you’d need a port or two. However, you would gain significant image quality in this transition, especially with dedicated macro and wide angle lenses. In summary, for a little more money, an A6400 in a housing with a macro and wide setup would provide an upgrade in image quality from your current compact setup, with a trade off in the cost difference and portability. The A-series will be a larger setup; so if portability is key for you, sticking with a compact camera may be best. Hope this helps!

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