Underwater Camera Reviews and Buying Guide
Scuba diving is always a great experience, but being able to record or take photos of your encounters with turtles, manta rays and critters is priceless – not to mention a great hobby!
When you look online at all of the available options for underwater cameras, types of housing, lights and accessories, it’s easy to become overwhelmed. So to make things simple, here are our top picks for getting started in Underwater Photography or for updating your current gear.
One of the easiest ways to narrow down your options is to decide on which type of camera you want to invest in. We can loosely group cameras into three categories: compact, mirrorless and DSLR.
These are the smallest and usually the cheapest on the list.
Pros: Good size and weight for travel, cheapest option to buy, cheapest housings on the market, you can use wet lenses and shoot macro and wide angle, easy to operate AND Compact camera image quality is now extremely high and a good compact can take excellent images underwater. If you do not intend to fully ‘get into’ underwater imaging then a compact camera will easily meet your needs and produce high quality images.
Cons: Smaller sensors, less battery life, shutter delay in some cases, some limitations when using manual settings.
These cameras allow you to take great photos without spending the fortune you would for a DSLR camera. They combine many of the benefits of a compact with the image quality of a DSLR.
Pros: Larger sensor than compact cameras, usually lightweight for travel, you can interchange lenses, cheaper housings than DSLR, good focus.
Cons: More expensive than a compact camera, does not have all of the capabilities as a DSLR, more expensive housings than for a compact.
For those looking for a camera with the maximum performance, greatest image quality and the most options in terms of lenses, DSLR cameras are the best option.
Pros: Best image quality and larger sensor, reduced shutter lag, best focus system, best performance with low light, great choice of lenses.
Cons: Heavier and larger, more expensive and more expensive housing required, you can’t use wet lenses.
So here are our top picks for your first underwater camera OR for updating from your old one. We’ve included our favourites for compact cameras, mirrorless and a DSLR….
The Olympus TG-6 is an incredible imaging tool and we love it! Built with adventure seekers in mind, it’s shockproof, freezeproof, waterproof (to 45ft without the housing), dustproof and basically life-proof. Olympus have nicely developed the Tough series with 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.
The TG-6 has a 12 MP, 1/2.33 inch sensor and also shoots 4K video.
Olympus TG-6 Pros
- Easy to operate.
- Useful underwater modes which work great.
- Waterproof body – lower risk in case of housing flood.
- Outstanding built-in macro performance.
Olympus TG-6 Cons
- No manual mode (M).
- Small sensor, image quality not as good as its 1″ sensor rivals.
- There are more o-rings to maintain and keep lint-free.
Sony RX100 Mark VII
The Sony RX100 Mark VII is Sony’s latest edition to their compact camera series. Many underwater photographers and review sites list the Sony series as being among the best for choices for compact shooters underwater.
The lens is an ultra zoom lens which for underwater photographers 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 diopters (magnification lenses) for different types of shots.
Sony RX100 Mark VII 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
Sony RX100 Mark VII Cons
- Less housing options available due to long lens
- Requires interchangeable ports
- Macro is challenging due to the lens’ extreme zoom
- No manual flash output
Canon G7X Mark III
The Canon G7X III is Canon’s newest addition to their popular G series of compacts and they’ve improved their video capabilities and added an external mic jack, as well as the option to live stream your video to YouTube. While they are not improvements which we can use underwater the new 4K video addition certainly is!
The new Canon also supports an incredible 30fps RAW burst shooting, to ensure you capture fast action shots. It can also shoot HDR (High Dynamic Range) video.
Canon G7X Mark III 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
Canon G7X Mark III Cons
- Not the most impressive minimum focus distance (5cm)
- Same lens as G7X Mark II – soft corners at widest setting
Sony A6500 MIRRORLESS
The Sony a6500 is a great option for flexibility. The small size and light weight feels like a compact, but its exceptional performance shoots like a DSLR. This great mirrorless choice gives you 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.
This 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.
Sony A6500 Mirrorless Pros
- Size: feels like a compact but shoots like pro
- 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
- Cheaper option than a DSLR
Sony A6500 Cons
- Wet lenses lose a bit of coverage and there is sometimes vignetteing
- 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.
- Battery life low when shooting a lot of 4K video
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 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
Nikon D850 Cons
- In video mode autofocus is not good
- Larger and heavier
- More expensive and expensive housing
So once you’ve decided on your camera it’s time to choose a housing! Basically, there are two types of housings:plastic housings and aluminium housings.
Plastic housings are much cheaper than aluminium, and so you can assume that the quality is not the same. Carefully choose the housing, because in some cases it might cost you much more than the camera itself and remember to factor this in when thinking about your total budget.
If you are planning to use the housing from time to time on your vacations, a plastic housing will be enough. Ikelite has amazing plastic designs with almost the same quality as aluminium ones, and at half the price.
Underwater Camera Lighting and Accessories
We’ll cover lighting more in our next Blog but it needs mentioning here. If you are going to the expense of busying an underwater camera and housing, adding an external light source is a must. Once you’ve spent your money, you want to see good images and without light, the chances are that even with the best camera, you’ll just produce a lot of blue looking pictures.
An external light source can be a strobe or a video light. A strobe light the shot by flashing as you take the picture, a video light can be turned on and off, and when turned on it delivers a constant light beam – much like an underwater torch, but much more powerful and with a wider beam.
For anyone starting out, we recommend a video light as it gives you more options and makes shooting easier, however, if you have experience in photography on land, or you have already used a strobe underwater, starting out with a strobe shouldn’t pose any problems.
READY FOR YOUR NEXT DIVE TRIP?
All of our Two Fish Divers Resorts have facilities for underwater photographers which include water buckets for cameras on our boats, camera rinse tanks and our accommodation has plenty of charging points for your gear. Our Dive Guides are all experienced at guiding underwater photographers and love to review guests images with them after diving.
Are you ready to book your next dive trip? Check out our current special offers and discounts here
For more information about underwater photography in Indonesia, diving and staying with us, or to make a booking, fill in the form below and we’ll get right back to you!