| Picture perfect |

Welcome fellow lovers of the Blue!

Nate here. There is a lot to consider when choosing the underwater camera that is right for you. The Internet is full of reviews with complicated jargon and conflicting advice. We know you need a camera to become an expert underwater photographer, but many feel as though they need to be expert underwater photographers just to buy an underwater camera. Now that is one mean Catch 22

But, do not get overwhelmed by technicalities, because while you might not necessarily be an expert yourself, our author is. Calmly keep your main reason for purchasing a camera in mind and Sam will take you through the rest. Any concern you have had before, he has had and solved ten times prior. His wife and himself are photographers at heart, so this review of the best underwater cameras for 2020 is a certain passion piece. 

To pick his brain for a more holistic understanding, scroll to the bottom of the page where he runs you through some critical camera terminology. There’s also a buyer’s guide to talk you through all the primary considerations you should keep in mind when making this exciting decision. 

Lastly, the comments bar is there for a reason. So do not be shy – ask away – Sam is happy to assist!

SUMMARY TABLE

Name

Image

Price

Rating

idiveblue black logo

OLYMPUS
TG 5

olympus tg4 vs tg5

4.6  /5

SEALIFE 
DC2000

bigtime camera reviews

4.7  /5

SONY
RX 100 Mark V
OUR TOP PICK

sports pro camera

4.9  /5

PANASONIC
Lumix LX100

gopro diving housing

4.6  /5

GOPRO 
Hero 7

4.7  /5

BEST UNDERWATER CAMERAS

1. OLYMPUS TG-5

professional underwater video cameras

Overall Rating – 4.6  /5
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GENERAL IMPRESSION:

Not only is the Olympus tg 5 waterproof to 50ft/15m without housing, but it is also freezeproof, crushproof, and shockproof to the same depth. Teaming up the ruggedness with a f/2.0-4.9 lens, 1/2.3″ BSI CMOS sensor, custom white balance, and [email protected] video shooting and you have a great camera not only for beginners but also for those looking for a little more than a simple point and shoot. The control dial at the top of the camera makes rapid switching between settings on the fly a breeze.

WATERPROOF BODY:  Yes
BEST FOR:  Macro
MANUAL MODE:  No
MEGAPIXELS:  12
SENSOR SIZE:  1/2.3 “ BSI CMOS
MANUAL WHITE BALANCE:  Yes

PROS
  • The Microscope mode produces stunning Macro shots.
  • Very compact even in the housing, makes for easy entry and exits from the water.
CONS
  • Lack of full manual controls will prove frustrating as your skills develop.

2. SEALIFE DC2000

scuba dive camera

Overall Rating – 4.7  /5
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GENERAL IMPRESSION:

The Sealife DC2000 is the perfect camera for any novice to intermediate underwater photographer. It features a 1-inch CMOS sensor that brings it into the same league as some of the top models on our list. It is packed full of features, including two underwater modes, optical zoom, shooting in RAW, and the ability to download your images via wifi to an app. The Sealife ecosystem provides a host of accessories that work flawlessly with the camera, including trays, arms, strobes, video lights, and lenses.

WATERPROOF BODY:  Yes
BEST FOR:  General
MANUAL MODE:  Yes
MEGAPIXELS: 20.1
SENSOR SIZE: 1” CMOS type
MANUAL WHITE BALANCE:  Yes

PROS
  • The waterproof camera body gives you peace of mind that even if the housing floods you should be okay.
  • Great underwater modes and manual modes allow you to grow your skills with the camera.
CONS
  • The lack of an optical zoom makes shooting shy critters a hassle since you have to creep up to get close.

3. CANON POWERSHOT G7x MARK II

scuba diving cameras

Overall Rating – 4.8  /5
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GENERAL IMPRESSION:

Macro Shooters will love the Canon PowerShot G7x Mark II, even though the model is over two years old. The camera comes with an f1.8/f2.8 24-100mm lens that is ideal for any situation but excels at Macro shooting. You can shoot 1080p full HD video, as well as great photos with the 1” CMOS sensor, inbuilt Wifi and NFC, and the new DIGIC 7 image processor. When paired with the right lens, this is an award-winning macro shooter.

WATERPROOF BODY:  No
BEST FOR:  Macro
MANUAL MODE:  Yes
MEGAPIXELS: 20.1
SENSOR SIZE: 1” CMOS type
MANUAL WHITE BALANCE:  Yes

PROS
  • The 100mm zoom capacity allows for great macro shooting.
  • Shooting 14-bit RAW files gives you a lot more data to play with in post-processing.
CONS
  • In video mode, there is no one button white balance adjustment. Also, the autofocus tends to lag a little.

4. SONY RX100 MK V

OUR TOP PICK

best buy camera bag

Overall Rating – 4.9  /5
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GENERAL IMPRESSION:

The Sony RX 100 Mk V is the Rockstar of our bunch. Marry it to a Nauticam housing, and you are almost on the way to a pro setup. This camera delivers on every front, speedy autofocus, full manual controls, a 1” CMOS sensor, coupled with a 24-70mm F1.8/2.8 lens means you will almost never outgrow this camera. To capture those stunning action shots (think of a bait ball under attack by predators) the camera can shoot 24fps in RAW for up to 150 shots. Some of the best shots taken with a compact where shot with this camera.

WATERPROOF BODY:  No
BEST FOR:  Everything
MANUAL MODE:  Yes
MEGAPIXELS: 20.1
SENSOR SIZE: 1” CMOS type
MANUAL WHITE BALANCE:  Yes

PROS
  • Blisteringly fast 315-point phase detection autofocus (AF) system.
  • The ability to shoot 4K video means you can create stunning quality footage.
CONS
  • The 24-70mm F1.8/2.8 can make getting that perfect super close macro shot or shy critter a little tricky; you will need to buy a lens for the camera.

5. PANASONIC LUMIX LX 100

underwater video camera

Overall Rating – 4.6  /5
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GENERAL IMPRESSION:

The Panasonic Lumix LX 100 is a feature-heavy beast that delivers both still and video photography. An F1.7 – 2.8 lens,  micro 4/3” sensor, 20 megapixels, combine to make this a great shooter. The image processing is impressive and provides clear sharp images, and the color processing produces vibrant warm colors that need minimal tweaking in post editing. Without additional lenses the camera is capable of producing good wide angle shots, adding a wide angle lens turns it into a wide angle monster.

WATERPROOF BODY:  No
BEST FOR:  Wide Angle
MANUAL MODE:  Yes
MEGAPIXELS: 20.1
SENSOR SIZE: 4/3”
MANUAL WHITE BALANCE:  Yes

PROS
  • The ambient light white balance is brilliant, reducing the effort of post-processing.
  • 4K unrestricted video shooting makes it an excellent option for shooting video.
CONS
  • The controls are counter-intuitive and will take some time to get to grips with.

Overall Rating – 4.7  /5
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GENERAL IMPRESSION:

By far the king of underwater video shooting, unless you want to spend tens of thousands of dollars. The GoPro Hero 7 performs like a high-end racing car shooting 4K at 60fps means you can shoot video as good as any wildlife documentary. The GoPro Hero 6 features an improved white balance that adds a lot of color and depth back into the images. The image processor is also top notch and produces excellent tones and warm colors that were not possible with previous versions of the GoPro. The touchscreen LCD makes handling the camera underwater without a housing a dream.

WATERPROOF BODY:  Yes, up to 10m without housing
BEST FOR:  Video
MANUAL MODE:  No
MEGAPIXELS: 12
SENSOR SIZE: N/A
MANUAL WHITE BALANCE: N/A

PROS
  • Image stabilization is top notch and eliminates any jitters even at higher resolutions.
  • A bewildering array of accessories to suit every situation.
CONS
  • You can’t switch between macro and wide angle modes underwater.

7. ELECGURU HOUSING FOR iPHONE 7 PLUS

iphone 6 plus housing

Overall Rating – 4.6  /5
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GENERAL IMPRESSION:

With a depth rating of 60m/196ft, the Elecguru Housing allows you to take your iPhone 8 anywhere you can breathe air. The housing is robust and has a solid feel to it. On the back, the buttons allow you access to all the functions of the camera and screen. The housing is made from strong plastic and optical glass with a stainless steel lock to secure your iPhone in the housing. The supplied wide-angle lens adds a significant field of view to your iPhone allowing you to capture some great shots underwear.

WATERPROOF BODY: N/A
BEST FOR:  General

PROS
  • Very easy to set up and use.
  • Housing comes as a complete kit with lens cap, silicone, and lanyard.
CONS
  • The results you can produce with an iPhone underwater are limited.

BUYERS GUIDE AND TIPS
Best Underwater Cameras

COMPACT VS. DSLR & MIRRORLESS:

There are three types of cameras; compacts, DSLRs and Mirrorless. Underwater DLSRs and Mirrorless cameras tend to be used by professional photographers. Not surprisingly they are expensive, and all the housings, lenses and accessories needed to use them can run into the tens of thousands of dollars.

Most divers use compacts, who have developed enough to be able to produce some stunning images. If you are worried about the quality of images you can create; there is no need. Some of the best underwater photos you see are taken with a compact camera.

MANUAL WHITE BALANCE: The white balance compensates for the loss of color underwater. Any underwater camera worth buying has manual white balance. With manual white balance, you place a white slate, sand or your hand in front of the camera lens and press the trigger to tell the camera that object is white. The process rebalances the colors and brings them back into the image. Without the ability to adjust the white balance, the deeper you go, the more your image will become blue.

MANUAL CONTROLS: Jumping in and snapping away is nice at first, but as your skill level and experience develop you will start to yearn for some more control over your images. Purchasing a camera that does not allow full manual control will lead to frustration, and you will end up upgrading sooner than you wanted. Always opt for a camera that gives you the option of full manual control.

Manual control in the camera world is the ability to modify the exposure and depth of field of your image. You can achieve this by controlling the aperture (f-stop), shutter speed, and ISO settings. Being able to control these can produce some stunning results. Adjusting your settings can add dramatic effects to your images. Pictures of critters with a black background that makes their colors pop can be shot during the day with specific settings.

MACRO: Some the most stunning underwater photos are Macro images. Good diving cameras have a dedicated macro mode (usually indicated by a pictogram of a flower). When in macro mode the camera software adjusts its ability to focus and process the image to take its small size into account. Having a macro mode is vital for any underwater camera to produce results.

TTL FLASH OPTICAL OR SYNC CABLE: Choose a housing for your camera that can sync its flash to an external strobe via a TTL sync cable or a fiber optic cable. The fiber optic option is a simple cable that relays the light from the internal flash to the strobe and triggers it. A sync cable connects electronically to the camera and strobe and communicates to the strobe how bright it needs to fire. If you use a fiber optic cable, you will have to set the strobe power manually for each shot. Manually configuring your strobe may seem a pain, but it only takes a second and most pros like to have full control over the lighting of their images.

FAST AUTO FOCUS: Always look for a camera with fast autofocus. Underwater there is little time to get focus. Unless you are taking pictures of coral, whatever creature you want to picture will be long gone if your autofocus is too slow. Slow autofocus can even be frustrating with Macro subjects moving slowly due to the magnification exaggerating small movement, and a shallower depth of field.

HOUSING AVAILABILITY: There are hundreds of models of compact digital cameras on the market. Unfortunately, there is only a handful who have underwater housings. Manufacturers have many reasons for choosing which camera they make housings for. The main one is the ergonomics of the camera and can they get everything to work smoothly. Additionally, the optical zoom plays a big part in choice, if it is too long the front of the housing has to have significant modifications to accommodate it at maximum and minimum extension and still function correctly.

LONG BATTERY LIFE: In an ideal world, you want to set up your camera in the morning and then do two dives with it. Opening your housing between dives on a busy rocking dive boat is a recipe for disaster and can easily lead to mistakes that flood the housing. Look for a camera with good battery life, and ideally one that has a power saving mode.

CONCLUDING THOUGHTS: Choosing the right camera is a balancing act. Weigh up your diving frequency, the type of photos you like taking, the capability of each camera, and your budget. Then choose one of the best underwater cameras for 2020 from our list!

Camera Terminology:

FPS: frames per second, how many images the camera can shoot in one second.

Aperture: how wide the camera lens will open. Denoted by the letter f and a number, eg. F1.8. The smaller the number, the larger the aperture.

Shutter speed: how fast the camera opens its shutter and then closes it. Shutter speeds are in fractions of a second.

ISO: short for International Standards Organization, it is a measurement of how sensitive the sensor is to light.

CMOS: Complementary Metal Oxide Semiconductor, the technology underlying the construction of the sensor.

Macro: either very close up picture (think of an image of an eye), or a tiny creature like a sea slug or shrimp.

Depth of field: how much of your image is in focus, just the foreground, or both, or somewhere in the middle. A shallow depth of field is often used in macro to highlight a creature’s eyes.