Best Underwater Cameras in 2020 - Compact

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What makes the "Best Underwater Camera?"

Features To Look For In A Compact Camera:

What is the best camera for underwater photography? 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 and macro wet lenses. We need to look at not only the camera features, but the quality of available underwater housings. A compact camera is often defined as a camera with a fixed lens.

Fortunately, we are now blessed with several great compact cameras and great underwater housings that meet these criteria for the "best underwater camera". Whether you are looking for the best underwater camera for scuba diving or snorkeling, we are sure you will find it here.

 

Compact Camera Improvements:

There have been many improvements in the compact camera lines over the past few years. Compact cameras are better than ever and even compete with larger mirrorless cameras when it comes to image quality, useability, autofocus speeds, and manual control. Larger sensors, faster focusing, and more controls have all led to a selection of small and compact cameras that work smoothly and are functional with a variety of lenses and accessories to round out your underwater photography experience. Sony and Canon have both given their compact cameras one inch sensors, and improved focus speeds. Olympus has continued to add features to their cameras while keeping both price and size down.

Take a look at our top picks for best underwater camera in 2020 below.

 

best compact camera 2019

Sony RX100 VA and RX100 VII

Both are excellent for image quality, autofocus speed, & shooting video

Best Underwater Camera

Read our complete Sony RX100 VII Review

Read the Sony RX100 VA Review

The Sony RX100 VA & VII cameras are the latest additions to the Sony RX100 series and are packed with lots of awesome features for underwater photography. They are the top of line compact cameras to date. Autofocus is lightning quick in both cameras, which is great if your shooting quick animals like sharks and sea lions. All three cameras feature a large 1" sensor with 20 MP resolution. Each camera is equipped with excellent image quality, fast autofocus, useful video modes (like slow motion), and full manual controls. The RX100 VI's key upgrades is its enhanced zoom using a 24-200 mm f/2.8 – 4.5 lens. The RX100 VA's key upgrade is 24fps sequential shooting, enhanced image buffer, and a customizable menu system. The RX100 VII has some minor improvments over the VI including quicker autofocus with a better autofocus tracking system, burst modes without blackout, and quicker processing. The RX100 VII comes at a heftier price tag, but it's a great option for people who want to take advantage of its autofocus tracking system - especially for video which can now be captured for an unlimited amount of time.

There are three things that make the RX100 series one of the best underwater compact camera series. First, the 1-inch sensor size is larger than most other compact cameras besids the Canon G7X Mark II and III. The larger sensor produces better image quality and better low-light performance due to a larger pixel size. Second, the auto-focus speed is faster than traditional compact cameras. Last, but not least, the advanced 4K video features available in the RX100 series are the top-of-the-line when it comes to compact camera video systems.

You can get great wide-angle photos with the RX100 VA and VI and the UWL-09 super-wide lens,the Kraken KRL-01, Kraken KRL-12, or the Nauticam WWL wet wide-angle lens.  For macro with the RX100 VA/VII cameras, we recommend using the Bluewater +7 if you are just getting the hang of macro and super macro photography. The Nauticam Compact Macro Converters (CMC-1 & CMC-2) are top of the line wet lenses with amazing lens sharpness but have a lot of magnification and can be a little more difficult to use. Because of the impressive zoom capability of the Sony RX100 VI and VII, it might be a good idea to start with the Bluewater +7. If you're a supermacro junkie, consider pairing the RX100 VII with the CMCs. 

 

Why Choose the RX100 VA or VII?

The RX100 VA is an upgrade form the RX100 V with an increased image buffer, burst shooting up to 24fps, and customizable menus. This is excellent for photographers seeking to capture quick pelagic animals that need good burst speed and more processing power. The RX100 VA still carries all of the advantages of the RX100 V including the 315 point phase detection autofocus system and the 20 MP/1" Exmor RS BSI CMOS sensor. The main advantage of the RX100 VA over the VI and VII is that the RX100 VA is able to shoot with both macro and wide-angle wet lenses on the same dive. This is because the lens is shorter and has less zoom capability than the RX100 VI. You also don't need to purchase additional ports/adapters for dedicated wide angle and macro set ups.

The highlight of the RX100 VII over the RX100 VA is its unprecedented macro capability. The zoom on the 24-200 mm f/2.8-4.5 zoom lens cannot be beaten by other compact underwater setups. Details captured with this lens are remarkable. When combined with a wet macro lens (diopter), the realm of super macro photography is attainable. The tiniest details of the smallest subjects can be captured with this set up (once you get a little practice in of course). Sony made minor upgrades to the RX100 VII from the RX100 VI. However, the Sony RX100 VII does have the best autofocus system of any compact camera to date. It's not as fast as the RX100 VII's mirrorless cousins, like the A6100 or the A7R IV, but it is still excellent and a huge advantage for photographers that like to shoot quick moving animals. The RX100 VII is also a huge draw for videographers because those autofocus speed and autofocus tracking updates can be applied to video. Moreover, there is now no limit to how long you can film 4K video with the RX100 VII. 

 

Sony RX100 Mark VA and VII Underwater Housing Options:

There are a lot of underwater housing options for the Sony RX100 VA and VI in the market, check out the list below:

Nauticam Housing - high-quality aluminum, great ergonomics, vacuum electronics included, and it uses a unique port system allowing you to swap the front port for a more wide angle or macro dedicated shooting set up.

Isotta Housings - high quality aluminum housings

Ikelite Housing - Affordable housing with remarkable ergonomics and uses high-quality polycarbonate material.

Fantasea Housing - high-quality polycarbonate with a leak detector, double o-ring seal and full camera controls.

 

Sony RX100 V/VA Underwater Packages:

 

Sony RX100 VII Underwater Packages:

 

Best RX100 Series Wet Lenses:

octopus photo taken with underwater camera

Day Octopus Sony RX100 VII f/6.3 1/250 ISO 10

 

Panasonic LX10

Excellent Image & Video Quality

underwater camera - compact - best video quality

For shooting underwater video, we recommend the Panasonic LX10 as the best underwater camera. Its 4K video delivers a high-quality video experience with a four times larger resolution (3,840 x 2,160 pixels) than Full HD, resulting in a much higher level of detail. Moreover, the camera also features 4K photo modes.

As with many of its competitors, the Panasonic LX10 also features a 20 MP/1" sensor resulting in excellent image quality. The LX 10 is equipped with a 24-72mm f/1.4-2.8 with the potential to yield beautiful bokeh, 5-axis image stabilization, 7 fps continuous shooting, and focus stacking modes.

The F1.4-F2.8 lens is the brightest lens out of all the cameras that we considered for the best underwater camera for video in the compact category. giving it an edge in low-light situations when setting its aperture to F1.4.

Panasonic LX10 Underwater Housing Options:

Panasonic LX10 Packages:

 

 

Sony RX100 VII

The Sony RX100 VII is our choice for best underwater camera for macro. This camera boasts a 24-200mm lens that can produce incredible magnifcation for even the tiniest subjects. The zoom and optical quality of this new lens is capable of producing stunning, detailed macro, and super-macro images – especially when paired with a wet lens. It's important to mention that the long focal distance of the lens creates a long minimum focusing distance. For best results during macro photography, it's a good idea to use a macro diopter. For a compact camera, the autofocus on the RX100 VII is incredible. The RX100 VII is equipped with the same autofocus and autofocus tracking system as the Sony A9. Although it's doesn't perform quite as good as it's mirrorless cousins, a photographer would be hard pressed to find a better autofocus system in a compact camera. For small macro critters on the move, this is the camera you want.

When combined with a wet macro lens (diopter), super macro photography is within reach. The tiniest details of the smallest subjects can be captured with this set up (once you get a little practice in of course). With the RX100 VI we recommend using the Bluewater +7 if you are just getting the hang of macro and super macro photography. The Nauticam Compact Macro Converters (CMC-1 & CMC-2) are top of the line wet lenses with amazing lens sharpness but have a lot of magnification and can be a little more difficult to use.

Sony RX100 Mark VII Underwater Housing Options:

The Sony RX100 VI and VII are physically very similar. Therefor, the Ikelite and Fantasea housing for the RX100 VI is compatible with the RX100 VII. However, this is not true for the Nauticam housing.

 

Sony RX100 VII Underwater Packages:

 

 

 

 

 

 

Canon G7X III

Read the Canon G7X Mark III Review

The Canon G7X III is a tiny camera with a large 1-inch, 20 MP sensor, a direct competitor to the Sony RX100 series cameras. It is an excellent, fast-focusing camera with great image quality and has dedicated macro focus. The camera also boasts 4K video, slow motion video, a bigger image buffer, a new stacked sensor, a better image processor, and quicker burst shooting over the G7X II.

With all of these features at an affordable price, we have chosen the Canon G7X III as the Best Value Camera. The Canon G7X Mark III also has advantages over recent RX100 series cameras like the RX100 VII, because you can shoot both wide angle and macro on the same dive! The Canon G7X Mark III has advantages over the Olympus TG-6 camera because you can have full manual control over the G7X Mark III.

Canon G7X III Underwater Housing Options:

Because the Canon G7X III is a new camera, currently only Nauticam and Ikelite offer housings. However, we expect a great housing from Fantasea to come...

Canon G7X III Packages:

 
A nudibranch photographed with the Canon G7X Mark III in the Ikelite G7X III housing with dual Ikelite DS 161 strobes. f/11, 1/160, ISO 400
 
 
A close focus wide angle shot of a diver and zooanthid anemones with the Canon G7X Mark III in the Ikelite G7X III housing, Kraken KRL-01 wet lens, and dual Ikelite DS 161 strobes. f/7.1, 1/100, ISO 400

 

 

Olympus TG-5 or TG-6 Fantasea G7X II Package

Olympus TG-6 Review

Best Beginner Underwater Cameras

 

With the price drop of the Canon G7X II, you can now get the Fantasea G7X II bundle at an amazing price. It is a much better camera than the TG series, and we highly recommend you consider it. If you are interested in the TG series, read on!

The Olympus TG-6 is the same size as the TG-5 and has very minor improvements which you can read about in the review above. The TG-6 will work in TG-5 housings. So if you're really on a budget, take a look at the TG-5 camera. This section applies equally to both the TG-5 and the TG-6. Either of these cameras can also be considered the best waterproof camera, outside of a housing. The TG-5 is just as good as the TG-6, and we have a great deal on it.

Although we are calling this a budget option, the TG-6 is a very good underwater camera. It's a good option for snorkeling because it's waterproof without a housing down to 50 feet (15 meters). In fact, it is the only camera mentioned in this guide that is waterproof.

The TG-6 has a high speed 12 MP sensor designed for excellent low light performance and noise reduction. It shoots 4k video, RAW photos, and includes built in WIFI, making transferring photos on the go a breeze. It's important to mention that there is no full manual control on this camera like the Canon G7X and Sony RX100 series. This should be fine for any casual shooter who doesn't want to have to think about their camera settings. But if you want more control, you'll be happier with an of the other cameras we mentioned above. For the best budget housing option, we recommend purchasing the Ikelite Olympus TG-6 Housing. This housing option is more flexible than the Olympus housing option because you can customize the housing with an Ikelite TG-6 fluoro kit if you're into fluorescent photography or equip it with an FCON-T02 fisheye lens and port

Pros - compact size, great macro capability for still subjects using microscope mode, and support for beautiful wide-angle images when used with the Kraken KRL-02, KRL-11, or UWL-04 fisheye lens.

Cons -  lacks a full manual mode - aperture priority mode will have to do.

Fantasea G7X II Package:

Olympus TG-6 Underwater Housing Options:

Aluminum Housings we recommend:

Olympus TG-6 Packages:

Best TG-6 Wet Lenses:

 


Wolf Eel photographed with the TG-6

 

 

Click Here to View the Compact Camera Comparison

 

We hope you enjoyed this underwater camera guide, and your search for the best camera for underwater photography. Don't hesitate to reach out to us with any questions or comments.

Best Underwater Camera - further reading