Best Underwater Cameras 2014, compact options

 Best Underwater Compact Cameras for 2014

Choosing a Compact Camera System

 

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. Fortunately we are now blessed with several cameras and great housings that meet these criteria. You should also check out our 2014 guide to the best mirrorless cameras for underwater photography

 

Recsea Sony RX-100 II - Best image quality & focus speed

  • Nauticam RX-100 II housing also top notch

  • RX-100 III best for video, read our RX-100 III review

For someone who wants to take amazing photos in a small package, the Sony RX-100 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 RX-100 housings here.

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

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, this change is not 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. 

  • Large sensor, 3x the size of other compacts
  • 20 megapixel F1.8-4.9 28-100mm lens
  • Takes image quality to a new level
  • Get great TTL in manual mode
  • Recsea housing is tiny, has access to all controls, has large front and back control dials
  • Amazing wet lens options with either housing, see the complete wet lens results

 

  • 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
  • Best option for people also wanting to do underwater video, the RX-100 II allows for exposure controls while taking video
  • A little pricier than other compacts
  • Cons - macro will require a wet lens / wet diopter
  • Interested in different colors? The Aquapazza RX-100 II housing ($875) is very well made, top notch ergonomics, and comes in 15 colors!

RX-100 III housings

 

Scott's son - photo taken with the Sony RX100 in Recsea housing with the UWL-04 fisheye lens.

Packages

 

 

Canon G15 or G16 in a Recsea or Nauticam Housing - best choice for macro, great controls

Fantasea G16 a great value at $399

 

There is just something about the Canon G15 and 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 G15 and G16 housings are 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

 

Canon S110 / S120 in a Recsea Housing: Great value, versatility

Nauticam S110 & S120 housings has some great features also

 

It's all about the image quality - and the newly designed, highly sensitive sensor in the high-end Canon compacts puts the image quality a step above most other compact cameras. Find the right subject, light it correctly and you will not be disappointed with your images.

With a bright F2.0 lens, a sharp 3 inch LCD, and a small size, there is not much to dislike about the Canon S110.  The S110 is the same as the S100, except is has wi-fi instead of GPS.

The Canon S120 is essential the same as the S110, but adds a much higher-resolution LCD, faster high-speed shooting, slightly better battery life, 60fps video instead of 24fps, and a F1.8 lens instead of F2.0.

Recsea housings are machined out of high-quality solid aluminum, and have gained a reputation for being the smallest housings on the market. The newly improved designs of the Recsea Canon S-series housings include a double o-ring design to prevent floods, a precision shutter release to make half-shutter presses easier, and large control dials that are easy to use even with large hands or thick gloves. Recsea designed an amazing rear control dial that mimics the camera's rear control dial - a feature that along with the large front control dial and double o-rings really makes this housing stand out over others.

One of the reasons people purchase the Recsea S95, S100, S110, or S120 is because they accept wet mount wide-angle lenses, such as the 130 degree UWL-04 fisheye lens with optional quick-adapt mount, which allows the lens to be added or removed underwater in one quick snap. 

The Nauticam Canon S110 & S120 housings have 67mm threads, making it ideal for use with 67mm wet lenses such as the Dyron +7 macro lens, or the excellent Bluewater WA-110 lens.

The Canon S110 & S120 has a 24-120mm lens (instead of 28-105mm on the S95), wifi capability, dedicated video button, the ability to zoom while taking video, 1080p video instead of 720p on the S95, slow motion video, recording, and a new sensor. However, because of the new 24mm lens, you will have slightly less angle of view with wide-angle lenses because you'll need to zoom in 1 click.

  • Offers top of the class image quality in a compact camera
  • One of the only compact camera options that can wet mount a fisheye lens, giving you the flexibility to shoot wide-angle and macro on the same dive
  • Unlike the Canon housings, the Recsea housing offers access to both control wheels, a must for photography with a strobe. It weighs 1/3 the weight of the Ikelite housing.
  • Tiny in size, fits the camera like a glove
  • Unbelievable ergonomics and build-quality; double o-ring design, large control dials; precision shutter release allows half-shutter presses. Supports 2 fiber optic connections.
  • Best price point on the market

 

 

The Ikelite S110 housing and Ikelite S120 housing are good budget choices, and are highly recommended over the Canon housings.

 

Compact camera comparison chart 

 


 

Sony RX-100 III

Canon S100 / S110 / S120

Canon G15 / G16

Sony RX-100 / RX-100 II

Auto-focus speed (normal)1
Very Good

 

Average

Good

Very Good

Auto-focus speed (macro)2

Very Good

Normal

Good

Very Good

Specs

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

12MP, 24-120mm, F2.0-F5.9 (S120 F1.8-F5.7)

12MP, 28-140mm, F1.8-F2.8

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

Max magnification

with macro lens3

1.8 inches

1 inch

< 1 inch

1.4 inches

Wide-angle capability

Accepts WA-110, Dyron super-wide

Takes fisheye lens, wet mount

Accepts regular fisheye lens, dry mount

Takes fisheye lens, wet mount, no vignetting

Battery

  Life

3 dives

2 dives

3 dives

3 dives

Control

  dials

2 dials

2 dials

2 dials

2 dials

 Size

Smallish, 290 grams

Smaller, 198 grams

Small, 350 grams

Small, 240 grams

  Hot

 shoe

Yes

No

Yes

No / Yes

Video mode

1080/60p, 720/120p

1080p, 24fps optical zoom allowed, S120 does 60fps

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

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

Price as of 9/6/2014

$798

$295 / $250 / $449

$399 / $499

$499 / $648

Notes:
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, 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.
 

You should also read our guide to the best mirrorless underwater cameras.

 

 
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