Best Underwater Cameras in 2021 - Compact

 

 
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What makes the "Best Underwater Camera?"

Features To Look For In A Compact Camera:

What is the best compact 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. They tend to be the most affordable options for underwater photo and video.

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 controls. Larger sensors, faster focusing, and more controls have all led to a selection of compact cameras that work smoothly and are very 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 made an excellent camera for macro photography with the Olympus TG-6. SeaLife continues to offer an excellent selection of cameras that are great for first time underwater shooters.

Take a look at our top picks for best underwater camera in 2021 below.

 

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 with the G7X Mark III.

Key Features:

  • 20.1 megapixel 1.0” stacked CMOS sensor
  • DIGIC 8 image processor
  • 4.2x optical zoom lens (24-100m f/1.8-2.8) with optical image stabilization
  • 3.0 inch touch panel LCD screen with tilt option of 180 degrees for selfies and vloggers
  • Compatible with USB charge/power supply
  • Contrast-detection autofocus (no dual pixel autofocus)
  • 20 fps burst mode (upgraded from 8fps)
  • 70 shot RAW buffer (upgraded from 21 shots)
  • Slow motion video (120 fps in 1080p)

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

 

 

SeaLife Micro 3.0

The Simplest Underwater Camera for Photo & Video

 

Read the SeaLife Micro 3.0 Review

The SeaLife Micro 3.0 Camera  just might be the easiest underwater camera to use for both photo & video. We receommend it to any diver who is looking for a no-frills, ergonomic source of underwater content. These are the shooters that may not be looking to get a professional image, but need a simple tool to document their dive and what they see in the beatuiful underwater environment. The SeaLife Micro 3.0 is designed to be permanently which makes it flood-proof for the lifetime of the camera. There is no need for any o-ring maintenance and no need to think about a flood. The battery life is also wonderful - it can be operated for more than 3 hours which is great for a full day diving.

Operating the camera is easy - it's equipped with three wide piano key type buttons that are easy to locate and control even while wearing thick gloves. The camera is also equipped with the  "Easy Setup" feature that quickly guides you through the correct settings based on the shooting environment, depth, and lighting accessories that are being used.

Camera Features:

  • 16 MegaPixel Sony CMOS image sensor
  • Permanently Sealed
  • 3+ hours battery life
  • Built-in 64GB memory card
  • Easy Operation
  • "Easy Setup" feature
  • Capable of manual white balance and RAW format for post processing
  • 100° Lens

SeaLife Micro 3.0 Packages:

Check out other SeaLife Products & Accessories

School of Ta’ape Lanai,HI. SeaLife taken with SeaLife Micro 3.0

School of Ta’ape Lanai,HI. SeaLife taken with SeaLife Micro 3.0

 

best compact camera 2019

Sony RX100 VA and RX100 VII

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

Best Underwater Camera

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. 

 

RX100 VII Key Features:

  • 1-inch 20.1 MP stacked CMOS sensor
  • BIONZ X processor
  • Built-in 24-200mm (equivalent) f/2.8-4.5 zoom lens – same as the RX100 VI
  • Electronic shutter up to 1/32000s
  • 4K video with full pixel readout (no pixel binning)
  • S-LOG2, S-Log3, and HLG picture profiles
  • Pop-up EVF (2.36 million dots)
  • No more built-in ND filter
  • Tilting touch screen LCD
  • Wifi and Bluetooth capability

RX100 VA Key Features:

  • 20.1-megapixel 1-inch Exmor RS BSI CMOS sensor
  • 315-point phase detection autofocus system - focuses in 0.05-sec
  • 24 fps RAW burst with AF tracking for up to 233 photos
  • Zeiss Vario-Sonnar 24-70mm F/1.8-2.8 lens
  • Anti Distortion Shutter minimizes rolling shutter effect when recording video
 
 


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:

Bext 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

We recommend the Panasonic LX10 as the best compact underwater camera for video. 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.

Key Features:

  • 20.1MP 1" CMOS Sensor
  • 5-Axis HYBRID Optical Stabilization 
  • 24-72mm Lens Equivalent
  • 4K Photo Mode
  • 4K Video @ 30p
  • Post Focus and Photo Stacking Modes

Panasonic LX10 Underwater Housing Options:

Panasonic LX10 Packages:

 

 

Sony RX100 VII

Read our Full Review of the 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.

Key Features:

  • 1-inch 20.1 MP stacked CMOS sensor
  • BIONZ X processor
  • Built-in 24-200mm (equivalent) f/2.8-4.5 zoom lens – same as the RX100 VI
  • Electronic shutter up to 1/32000s
  • 4K video with full pixel readout (no pixel binning)
  • S-LOG2, S-Log3, and HLG picture profiles
  • Pop-up EVF (2.36 million dots)
  • No more built-in ND filter
  • Tilting touch screen LCD
  • Wifi and Bluetooth capability

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:

 

 

 

Olympus TG-5 or TG-6 Fantasea G7X II Package of SeaLife Micro 3.0

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. The SeaLife Micro 3.0 is also a notable budget option for a compact camera. It is fully sealed and needs no underwater housing. 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.

 



Canon G7X Mark II Key Features:

  • 20.1 Megapixel, 1" Sized CMOS Sensor
  • DIGIC 7 Image Processor
  • Full HD 1080p recording
  • Multi-angle 3.0 inch capacitive touch panel display

Olympus TG6 Key Features:

  • 12MP Hi-Speed Image Sensor for Improved Low Light Performance and Noise Reduction
  • Dual Quad Core TruePic™ VIII Image Processor
  • F2.0 High Speed Lens
  • 4K and High Speed Video
  • Field Sensor System w/ GPS, Manometer, Compass & Temperature Sensor
  • Waterproof,  Shockproof, Freezeproof, Crushproof 
 
 

Fantasea G7X II Package:

Olympus TG-6 Underwater Housing Options:

Aluminum Housings:

Olympus TG-6 Packages:

Best TG-6 Wet Lens:

 


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

 


Smartphone are quickly becoming more popular, more advanced, and more capable than compact underwater cameras - even for underwater photography. Highend smartphones like the iPhone 12, iPhone 11, Samsung Galaxy S20, and the Google Pixel 5 are all phones that perform at least as good or better than top compact cameras like the Olympus TG-6. We have been on many dives with smartphones inside of underwater smartphone housings and have been thoroughly impressed with the underwater video and photo quality - especially when combined with an underwater video light. Smartphones also present the unique opportunity of posting directly onto social media as soon as you come back from your dive - something you camera cannot do. 

 

We have had the opportunity to dive with some of the top smartphone housings on the market. They are all very safe and secure and will easily protect your smartphone. Many of them offer a vacuum system for additional protection from leaks and floods. Currently, all smartphone housings must be used with a video light and cannot be used with an external strobe. All smartphone housings can be used with multiple models of smartphone. If you're unsure that your smartphone will work with a certain model, then please contact our knowledgeable sales staff at sales@bluewaterphotostore.com. These are some of our top picks:

 

Kraken Sports KRH04 Universal Smart Phone Housing

The Kraken Sports KRH04 Universal Smart Phone Housing is one of the best smart phone housings available in the market. The build quality is outstanding and is packed with lots of awesome features. It has a built in vacuum pump and sensor which allows you to draw out air from the housing and check if there are leaks prior to diving. This gives you the peace of mind the your phone is safe inside. There are also 2 options, basic and pro version (with temperature and depth gauge). To enhance your shooting experience, wet lenses are compatible with the housing. Most important feature of the housing is that it is compatible with the lastest and most popular smart phones available in the market. 

KRH04 Packages:

 

 

SeaLife SportDiver Housing

The SeaLife Sport Diver iPhone Housing has been designed to be used with you iPhone 7 and up. It is compact & lightweight which makes it great to travel with. It built from polycarbonate, stainless steel, aluminum and optical grade glass. It can also withstand a beating as it is durable and robust. It is also very simple to setup and operate which makes your shooting experience wonderful with its large shutter lever and rear control buttons.

Check out other SeaLife Products & Accessories

 

Nautismart Smart Phone Housing

The Nautismart Smart Phone Housing is the most afforable and bang for the buck underwater housing for smart phones. It is made from polycarbonate material which makes it lightweight yet durable. Operation is a breeze with its easy. It also features a 67mm thread attachment which is compatible with most wet lenses. With its clear back, it is capable of capturing underwater selfies! Compatbile with both Android and iOS phones. 

 

 

Colors of the wrecks. Sri Lanka. Shot with iPhone 6s Plus in Kraken Smart Phone housing, UWL-09 wide-angle wet lens and dual Kraken Hydra 5000 lights. Photo: Brent Durand
 
Wreck reefscape in Sri Lanka. Shot with iPhone 6s Plus in Kraken Smart Phone housing and dual Kraken Hydra 5000 lights. Photo: Brent Durand

 


 

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