Best Underwater Cameras 2018, compact options

 


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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. 

Compact Camera Improvements:

There have been many improvements in the compact camera lines over the past few years. Larger sensors, faster focusing and more controls have all led to a selection of cameras that work smoothly, keep size tiny and are functional with a variety of lenses and accessories to round out your underwater photography experience.

Take a look at our top picks for 2018 below.

 

Sony RX100 Mark V or IV

Excellent for video shooting & ambient light shooting.

Read our complete Sony RX100 IV Review.

The bright F1.8 lens of the Sony RX-100 IV & V cameras make both of them an exceptional choice for video and ambient light shots. You can also get great wide-angle photos with the RX-100 IV/V with the UWL-09 super-wide lens ,the Kraken KRL-01, or the Nauticam WWL wet wide-angle lens. Both cameras feature a large 1" sensor with 20 MP resolution which provides excellent image quality, fast autofocus, useful video modes (like slow motion) and full manual controls.

The RX100 V offers an improved autofocus system, a 24 fps burst mode (vs 16 fps on RX100 IV), and additional recording settings for video. It does, however, have a slighly lower battery life than the IV.

Sony RX100 Mark V and IV Underwater Housing Options:

Many of the housings from the RX100 IV will work with the RX100 V, however the manufacturers also released new housings with slight improvments. Some of these housings are backwards compatible with the RX100 IV as well. Check out the list below:

Nauticam Housings - high quality aluminum, great ergonomics, vacuum electronics included, and a variety of Nauticam accessories to round out your system.

Recsea Housings - both high quality aluminum and budget friendly polycarbonate options availble. Well designed, simple to use, full camera controls accessible in the aluminum housing, ready to accept a varitey of wet lenses.

Other great housing options:

Sony RX100 Mark V and IV Underwater Packages:

Nauticam RX100 IV underwater photo
Sony RX100 IV underwater photo, Nauticam housing

 

Sony RX100 Mark III

Excellent Image & Video Quality

If the amazing slow-motion video, fast shooting and fast shutter speeds of the RX100 IV / V are not important to you, the RX100 III is a good choice. The RX-100 III changed 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, but great results can still be gained when using high quality diopters such as the Bluewater +7, Nauticam CMC ,Subsee +10, or Kraken KRL-03.

Choose the RX100 III over the IV or V if you don't need all the fancy shooting and video modes, such as slow motion or high burst shooting. The camera is a few years older, but still produces excellent images and will save you some money overall compared to the newer Sony options.

Sony RX100 Mark III Underwater Housing Options:

Sony RX100 Mark III Packages:

 

Canon G7X Mark II

Read the Canon G7X Mark II Review

The Canon G7X II is a tiny camera with a large 1-inch sensor, a direct competitor to the Sony RX100 series cameras. It is an excellent fast-focusing camera with great image quality, and has better macro capability than the Sony RX-100 III / IV / V thanks to Canon's dedicated macro focus mode. Macro magnification is almost as good as the Canon G16.

The Canon G7X Mark II boasts improved auto-focus capability and battery life over the G7X, a new time lapse mode, and also signicantly improved high-speed continuous shooting speeds.

Canon G7X Mark II Underwater Housing Options:

We recommend the Recsea or Nauticam Housings for best controls.

Canon G7X Mark II Packages:

 

 

Olympus TG-5

 

For an excellent camera option both in and out of the housing, the Olympus TG-5 cannot be beat. The camera is waterproof to 50 feet (15 meters) by itself, making it an excellent option for the casual shooter who wants a camera that can go anywhere.

Pair it with the Olympus PT-058 housing for a compact powerhouse at an insanely low price. The TG-5 has a high speed 12 MP sensor designed for excellent low light performance and noise reduction. It shoots 4k video and RAW photos and includes built in WIFI, making transferring photos on the go a breeze.

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 or UWL-04 fisheye lens.

Cons -  lacks 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 G7X II - you should do it.

Olympus TG-5 Underwater Housing Options:

Best budget choice when partnered with Olympus PT-058 Housing

Best option for Tech / Wreck Divers:

The Recsea Olympus TG-5 Housing is very small, made of aluminum and rated to 100 meters depth. We highly recommend this housing for more serious use at depth.

Olympus TG-5 Packages:


TG-4 underwater photo with fisheye lens

 

Compact Camera Comparison Chart


 

Sony RX-100 IV / V

Olympus TG-5

Canon G16
Canon G7X Mark II

Sony RX-100 / RX-100 II

Auto-focus speed (normal)1
Very Good

Average

Good
Very Good

Very Good

Auto-focus speed (macro)2

Very Good

Average

Good
Very Good

Very Good

Specs

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

12MP, 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 Dyron super-wide, UWL-09, Nauticam WWL

Takes UWL-04 fisheye lens, wet mount

Accepts regular fisheye lens, dry mount
Dyron super-wide

Takes fisheye lens, wet mount, no vignetting

Battery

  Life

3 dives

2 dives

3 dives
2 - 3 dives

3 dives

Control

  dials

2 dials

1 dial

2 dials
2 dials

2 dials

 Size

Smallish, 298 grams

Smallish, 247 grams

Smallish, 350 grams
Small, 304 grams

Small, 240 grams

  Hot

 shoe

No

No

Yes
No

No / Yes

Video mode

1080/60p, 720/120p,

4K video,

960fps slow-mo

4K, 1080p 120fps; 720p 240fps for slow-motion; 

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 March 2018 in USD

$898 / $998

TG-5 $399
Discontinued $679

$448 / $598

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.