Buying Guides

The Best Underwater Compact Cameras for 2014

As technology develops, compact cameras become more and more advanced and capable of fantastic results considering the small size and low price point. A lot of divers, even photographers who shoot only with DSLR above water, consider using a high-end compacts or mirrorless for underwater.

We have gathered for you our choices for 2014:

Sony RX100 II

49320-rx100_2

 

The RX100 II is our leading choice for the moment among the high-end compacts.

The main things I liked about the RX100 II are:

  • Very sharp images.
  • Incredible low light capability, comparable to my Nikon D90 (maybe due to the cameras superb noise reduction)
  • High MP that allows cropping, very useful in UW photography.
  • Front and back dials, easy to use, compact size.
  • Very long battery life, like a DSLR. Can go through 5 dives with no problem.
  • Great LCD screen (maybe too great making photos look better than what they really are).
  • Excellent Manual focus feature and one of the best AF capabilities I’ve used on a compact (only in flexible spot mode).

Taken with the RX-100 II in Nauticam housing
Taken with the RX-100 II in Nauticam housing

Specs:

Sensor 1″ (13.2 x 8.8 mm) CMOS, 20 MP RAW Support Yes Flash Control Built-in, TTL in All Modes, No Manual Flash Level
Continuous Drive 2.5, 10 fps ISO 160-25600 Focal Length / Aperture 28-100 mm F1.8-F4.9
Max Shutter Speed 1/2000 sec Macro Focus Range 5 cm (1.97″) Video Resolution 1920 x 1080 (60 fps), 640 x 480 (30 fps)

Housings:

Get the RX-100 II Nauticam housing here

Get the RX-100 II Ikelite housing here

Update – The RX100 III is now available here.

Panasonic LX7

LX7k_slant_VF1_700

 

The LX7 is the successor of the LX5 and is quite a substantial upgrade.

Some of the most important features for underwater use improved on the LX7 :

  • Light Speed AF – New and improved auto-focus system.
  • F1.4 – F2.3 Max Aperture – Unique aperture among compact cameras and a very important feature when shooting with ambient light.
  • 1080p Full HD video recording.
  • High speed movies
  • Excellent battery life – 330 shots (manufacturer rating)
  • 1cm focus distance on Macro mode.

Specs:

Sensor 1/1.7″ (7.44×5.58 mm) CMOS, 10 MP RAW Support Yes Flash Control Built-in + Hot-Shoe
Continuous Drive 2,5,11 fps ISO 80 – 12800 Focal Length / Aperture 24–90mm (3.8x) F1.4-F2.3
Max Shutter Speed 1/4000 sec Macro Focus Range 1 cm (0.39″) Video Resolution 1920×1080 & 1280x720p @ 60, 50, 30, 25 fps, 640×480 @ 30, 25 fps)

These features along with excellent image quality create a superb package for underwater.

Housings:

Get the Nauticam housing for the LX7 here

Get the Ikelite housing for the LX7 here

Canon G1X II

Earlier this year, we have noted this excellent Canon model as a serious competitor for the RX-100II as a leading high-end compact for underwater.

Key features include:

  • Huge sensor for a compact (1.5″!), nearing the size of a cropped DSLR’s sensor.
  • Excellent macro capabilities – 5cm on wide end and 5ocm with full zoom (120mm).
  • Nice and bright lens with an aperture range of  2.0-3.9.
  • Auto Focus has undergone a significant improvement from its predecessor, the G1X.

There are no housings available yet from the leading manufacturers, but we expect them very soon and they will be available here.

Specs:

Sensor 18.7 x 14mm CMOS, 13.1 MP RAW Support Yes External Flash Control Built-in, E-TTL
Continuous Drive 5.2 fps ISO 100-12800 Focal Length / Aperture 24-120mm (x5) F2.0-3.9
Max Shutter Speed 1/4000 sec Macro Focus Range 5cm Video Resolution 1920×1080 (30 fps), 1280×720 (30 fps), 640 x 480 (30 fps), iFrame Movie, Miniature Effect

Not yet available

Canon G16

The G16 is probably the most popular choice this year in terms of value for money.

The Canon G series has always been very popular with prosumer users, and the G16 is living up to its reputation.

Features which are appreciated with underwater photographers are:

  • 28-140mm lens with minimum aperture of f/1.8-f/2.8 (maximum aperture is f/8.0)
  • Full HD 1080p Video @ 60fps
  • RAW shooting and continuous at 10fps
  • 2 Programmable dials, dedicated EV+/- dial and One-Click video button
  • Superb macro capabilities with 1cm minimum focusing distance.

The G16 is paired with a perfect Fantasea housing in this $854.95 bundle.

The Fantasea housing allows full control over all the camera’s functions, including raising and lowering the pop-up flash, which is a valuable feature in UW housings. The moisture alarm keeps your camera safe and the ergonomics are so good that it feels as if you are handling the camera itself.

Read our full hands-on review for the G16 here.

Specs:

Sensor 1/1.7″ (7.44 x 5.58 mm) BSI-CMOS, 12 MP RAW Support Yes Flash Control Built-in + Hot-Shoe
Continuous Drive 12.5 fps ISO 80 – 12800 Focal Length / Aperture 28-140 mm F1.8 – F2.8
Max Shutter Speed 1/4000 sec Macro Focus Range 1 cm (0.39″) Video Resolution 1920×1080 (60/30fps), 1280×720 (30fps), 640×480 (30fps)

Housings:

Get the Nauticam housing for the G16 here

Get the Ikelite housing for the G16 here

Get the Fantasea housing for the G16 here

Canon S120

Canon-S120-product-shot-3

This is the “lowest-end” camera on our list, but it is not by any means an underdog. This highly compact camera packs in quite a robust set of features and image quality that is comparable to the G16 if not slightly better, in terms of color depth and low light capabilities.

The wide aperture (f/1.8 max)and wide field of view (24mm) are appreciated and the additional ring function on the lens differs it from other ultra compacts in ergonomics.

I personally love the touch screen for reviewing the photos after you set it free from the housing, making it great for passing around the dinner table after a successful day of diving.

For those who prefer traveling light without compromising on image quality, the S120 would be a superb choice.

Specs:

Sensor 1/1.8″ BSI-CMOS, 12.1 MP RAW Support Yes Flash Control Built-in Only
Continuous Drive 12.1 fps ISO 80 – 12800 Focal Length / Aperture 24–120 mm (5x) F1.8 – F5.7
Max Shutter Speed 1/2000 sec Macro Focus Range 3cm (1.18″) Video Resolution 1920×1080 (60/30fps), 1280×720 (30fps), 640×480 (30fps)

Housings:

Get the Nauticam housing for the S120 here

Get the Ikelite housing for the S120 here

Olympus Tough TG-3:

The recent addition to the Tough series by Olympus is by no doubt the best one yet. The TG-3 has so many cool features, you wouldn’t know where to start:

  • It is waterproof, shockproof, crushproof, freezeproof and dustproof. It’s built to last.
  • Built-in Wi-Fi, GPS and Compass.
  • Extra wide aperture – f/2.0 for low light conditions.
  • Interval Shooting and Time-lapse Movies, allowing you many creative options.
  • Microscope mode (a maximum magnification of 44.5x is possible from a distance of 1cm), Focus Bracketing and Focus Stacking, allowing you to take extreme macro shots straight from the camera, no additional accessories or lenses.
  • Had enough? It even has built in LED light, which operates as a ring light for macro photography, along with the optional LED Light Guide accessory ($40.99,  not compatible with PT-056 housing).

So yes, it doesn’t have the same image quality as all the cameras above offer, but oh boy, this camera is pure fun!

The TG-3 starts shipping June and is available for pre-order here.

The PT-056 housing + Camera bundle is available here.

Update Nov 2014

We feel it’s important to add two cameras to this list – The Sony RX100 III and the Canon G7X. These two great additions to the underwater photography lineup are the most promising compacts for 2015 and housing are starting to roll in.

Sony RX100 III

Z-SONY-RX100M3-FL-EVF-FLASH-L

The latest addition to the successful RX100 series and possibly the most promising yet. The RX100 III is a high-end, ultra compact, 1″ sensor camera. The biggest differences from its predecessor are the faster, wider 24-70 lens (vs the old 28-100), better processor, and a built-in EVF and ND filter.

These new features including all previous ones result in:

  • Excellent image quality.
  • Super fast Auto Focus.
  • Excellent details and easy cropping thanks to high MP count.
  • Impressive low light capabilities. You can actually shoot at 12800 ISO and get good results!
  • Easy ergonomics for underwater including front and rear dial to get better manual controls.
  • OK macro abilities, much better with an add-on macro wet lens.
  • Did we say EXCELLENT image quality?

Check out the specs:

Specs:

Sensor 1″ (13.2 x 8.8 mm) CMOS, 20 MP RAW Support Yes Flash Control Built-in, TTL in All Modes, No Manual Flash Level
Continuous Drive 2.5, 10 fps ISO 160-25600 Focal Length / Aperture 24-70 mm F1.8-F2.8
Max Shutter Speed 1/2000 sec Macro Focus Range 5 cm (1.97″) Video Resolution 1920 x 1080 (60 fps), 640 x 480 (30 fps)

Housing are available here:

Ikelite RX100 III Housing

Fantasea RX100 III Housing or Fantasea RX100 III Camera + Housing Bundle

Nauticam RX100 III Housing

Sea & Sea RX100 III Housing

Canon G7X

ZURFRONT

The new Canon G7X was released as a direct competitor for the RX100 III.

Just as the RX100 III, this is a high-end, 1″ sensor, ultra compact camera. It features a fast and wide 24-100 F1.8-2.8 lens, 1920 x 1080 60fps video and more similar features to the RX100 III.

Main features include:

  • Excellent image quality.
  • Built in ND filter.
  • Tilting LCD screen.
  • Great low light capabilities up to 12800 ISO.
  • Super fast Auto Focus.
  • Dual control dials (front and rear).
  • Built in WiFi.
  • Priced competitively $100 less than the RX100 III.

All in all, a fantastic camera which is perfect for underwater.

Specs

Sensor 1″ (13.2 x 8.8 mm) CMOS, 20 MP RAW Support Yes Flash Control Auto, on, slow synchro, off
Continuous Drive 6.5 fps ISO 125-12800 Focal Length / Aperture 24-100 mm F1.8-F2.8
Max Shutter Speed 1/4000 sec Macro Focus Range 5 cm (1.97″) Video Resolution 1920 x 1080 (60 fps), 640 x 480 (30 fps)

Check out the housings available:

Ikelite Canon G7X Housing or Ikelite Canon G7X Camera & Housing Bundle

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Ran Mor

Sales and Marketing at Mozaik Underwater Cameras
Ran is a professional photographer for over 14 years. His passion for scuba diving and photography has pushed him to combine his profession and hobby and become a professional underwater photographer. Teaching is one of his greatest passions and over the years he has shared his experience with many divers and aspiring photographers. Along with his wife Danielle, an experienced Scuba Instructor, they have founded Dive and More, leading dive trips and UW photo workshops all over the world. Ran is also an electrical engineer and an avid internet marketing specialist.
Visit his personal portfolio at www.ranmorphoto.com.
Ran Mor
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