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Best Underwater Cameras 2015, compact options

 Best Underwater Compact Cameras for 2015

Choosing a Compact Camera System

Also check out Best Mirrorless Underwater Cameras of 2015

and Best dSLR Underwater Cameras of 2015

and Best Underwater Cameras for X-mas 2015


Features to look for in a compact camera

As you may know from reading the Underwater Photography Guide, it is important to select a compact camera that offers full manual controls, the ability to shoot in RAW, HD video, and the ability to accept wide-angle lenses like a fisheye lens. Fortunately we are now blessed with several cameras and great housings that meet these criteria. 


Recsea Sony RX100 II - Best image quality & focus speed


For someone who wants to take amazing photos in a small package, the Sony RX100 II in a Recsea housing sets a new standard for compact cameras. Sony has done the impossible - pack a large sensor in a camera the size of the Canon S100. Compare the Recsea, Nauticam and Ikelite RX100 housings here.

The Sony RX100 II adds these features to the RX100 (hot shoe, tilting LCD, wi-fi), but if they aren't important to you then you can just get the RX100 camera for less. The housings for the RX-100, RX-100 II, RX-100 III & RX 100 IV are essentially the same.

RX100 II Compared to the RX100 III & IV

The RX100 II can give greater magnification with a macro lens than the RX100 III or IV. Also, the wide-angle results are better, because it works with the amazing UWL-04 fisheye lens, and the RX100 III & IV do not. For the best underwater photos, the RX100 II is the clear choice.

RX100 II - Nauticam vs Recsea housing

Both housings are excellent quality. The Recsea housing offers a nice quick adapt system for easily changing between macro and wide-angle lenses underwater that we really like. Both are small with good ergonomics.

Sony RX-100 III for underwater photography

The RX-100 III changes the lens from a 28-100mm lens, to a brighter 24-70mm lens. Although better for video, fish, and indoor photography, this change is not as good for macro shooters, and also eliminates the excellent UWL-04 fisheye lens as a wide-angle lens choice, although the Dyron super-wide angle lens is almost as good on the RX-100 III as the UWL-04 on the RX-100 II.

  • Interested in different colors? The Aquapazza RX100 III housing ($799) is very well made, top notch ergonomics, and comes in 15 colors!
  • Cons - macro will require a wet lens / wet diopter
  • A little pricier than other compacts
  • Best option for people also wanting to do underwater video, the RX-100 II allows for exposure controls while taking video
  • No vignetting on the RX-100 II with the wet-mount UWL-04 fisheye lens or Bluewater WA-110 lens, very wide angle of view; quick adapt system available with the Recsea housing
  • Amazing wet lens options with either housing, see the complete wet lens results
  • Recsea housing is tiny, has access to all controls, has large front and back control dials
  • Get great TTL in manual mode
  • Takes image quality to a new level
  • 20 megapixel F1.8-4.9 28-100mm lens
  • Large sensor, 3x the size of other compacts

Scott's son - RX100 II, Recsea housing with UWL-04 fisheye lens


Sony RX100 III - best for video, ambient light

The bright lens of the Sony RX-100 III camera makes it an exception choice for video and ambient light shots. You can also get great wide-angle photos with the RX-100 III.

RX100 III housings

Best underwater cameras of 2015
Sony RX-100 III photo with wide-angle wet lens


Sony RX-100 II, III Packages


Canon G7X or G16 in a Recsea or Nauticam Housing - best choice for macro, great controls

Fantasea G16 a great value at $399


Canon G7X Overview

The Canon G7X is a tiny camera with a large 1-inch sensor, a direct competitor to the Sony RX-100 III. You can read our Canon G7X review. It is an excellent fast-focusing camera with great image quality, and has better macro capability than the Sony RX-100 III. Macro magnification is almost as good as the Canon G16. Image quality is outstanding.

Recsea G7X housing is $1,099
Nauticam G7X housing is $1,100

Recsea CW G7X housing is $550 *best buy*
Fantasea G7X housing at $499, "great value"

Canon G16 Overview

There is just something about the Canon G16- the G-series consistently produces some of the absolute best underwater photos I've seen in a compact camera, just a small notch better than the S95/S100/S110/S120. The Canon G16 is Canon's highest end compact, and everything about it just works better. This is something that doesn't come out in the specs, but it certainly does in the reviews and more importantly the images.

The Canon G16 is essential the same as the G15, but Canon added wi-fi and improved the auto-focus speed. When we tested the G16 underwater, we were quite impressed by the auto-focus speed.

The Recsea G16 housing is a work of art. Machined from a solid block of high-quality aluminum, it offers front and rear control wheels, and a small, light size. Adding the high-quality UWL-04 fisheye lens gives you a stunning 165 degree angle of view for wide-angle photography. 

  • The new Canon G15 offers slightly faster auto-focus, an updated 12 megapixel sensor, better video, and a brighter lens over the Canon G12. The Canon G16 auto-focuses even faster, at a speed comparible to the RX-100.
  • The Canon G16 is the best options for macro photography. The G16 has the sharpest lens on the market in our opinion for macro, and offers the most magnification
  • The Recsea G16 is a great option for wide-angle when coupled with the UWL-04 fisheye, and offers the widest angle of view on a compact. The only downside is that the fisheye lens is a port change done on land, not a wet lens.
  • The Nauticam G16 offers the widest wet-lens option, if you get the Inon S100ZM80 lens with the dome unit. ($550 total).
  • Unlike the Canon housing, the aluminum housings offer access to all control wheels, a must for photography with a strobe. 
  • The Recsea & Nauticam housings supports 2 fiber optic connections. The Ikelite G16 housing supports an electronic sync cord connection, and will do TTL with Ikelite strobes, a great feature.
  • Battery life is great, this is one of the few compact cameras that can actually last for a full 3 dives on 1 battery

G16 housing packages



Canon G16 underwater shooting guide

For more details on G16 settings, wet lenses and housings read our Canon G16 underwater shooting guide.


best underwater cameras 2012
Taken with a Canon G12 + fisheye lens taken while diving La Paz, Mexico


Olympus TG-4 + Olympus Housing: Best budget choice

You can't beat the price of the TG-4 + housing combo. Although the camera is technically waterproof, you definitely want the housing. For a small, inexpensive setup it takes surprisingly good photos. Add in good wet-lens support and you have a nice budget setup. As a bonus, the TG-4 can shoot in RAW (the TG-3 could not).

Major drawbacks a lack of a full manual mode - aperture priority mode will have to do. Because of these limitations, if you can afford the next step up - e.g. Fantasea G16 - you should do it.

TG-4 underwater photo with fisheye lens

Compact camera comparison chart 



Sony RX-100 III

Olympus TG-4

Canon G16
Canon G7X

Sony RX-100 / RX-100 II

Auto-focus speed (normal)1
Very Good



Very Good

Very Good

Auto-focus speed (macro)2

Very Good


Very Good

Very Good


20MP, 24-70mm, F1.8-2.8

16MP, 25-100mm, F2.0-F4.9

12MP, 28-140mm, F1.8-F2.8
20MP, 24-100mm, F1.8-2.8

20MP, 28-100mm, F1.8-4.9

Max magnification

with macro lens3

1.8 inches

< 1 inch

< 1 inch
1.25 inches

1.4 inches

Wide-angle capability

Accepts WA-110, Dyron super-wide

Takes fisheye lens, wet mount

Accepts regular fisheye lens, dry mount
Dyron super-wide

Takes fisheye lens, wet mount, no vignetting



3 dives

2 dives

3 dives
2 - 3 dives

3 dives



2 dials

1 dial

2 dials
2 dials

2 dials


Smallish, 290 grams

Smallish, 247 grams

Smallish, 350 grams
Small, 304 grams

Small, 240 grams






No / Yes

Video mode

1080/60p, 720/120p

1080p, 30fps; high speed 240fps at 240p

1080p, 24fps, optical zoom allowed, G16 does 60fps
1080p 60fps, .mp4, zoom allowed

1080p, 60fps, optical zoom allowed, full manual controls during video

Price as of 9/30/2015 in USD




$448 / $598

1) All cameras tested in similar low-light conditions, focusing 2-10ft away
2) All cameras tested together in similar low-light conditions, focusing 2-12 inches away
3) Results are the approximate width of the smallest photo possible, taken with a Bluewater+7 macro lens. Widths will be similar with a Subsee +10, and larger (less magnification) with a Subsee +5.

Other camera choices

There are certainly other good compact cameras out there - like the Fuji X10, Olympus XZ-2, Panasonic LX7, and the Nikon coolpix models - and we did check them out. However, after looking at all the choices, looking at the macro and WA capability, housing options, sensor ratings, etc - we feel that the options listed above are the best options.


Also check out Best Mirrorless Underwater Cameras of 2015

and Best dSLR Underwater Cameras of 2015