Best DSLR Underwater Camera Choices 2021

 

Jump to:

 
 

 

For image quality, lens selection, and focusing speed, nothing can match having a full-fledged dSLR for underwater photography. Sure, it will be larger and more expensive than a compact set-up, but the results speak for themselves. Haven't you dreamed of having a professional underwater camera?

So what is the best dSLR camera to use for underwater photography? The Nikon D850 & Canon 5D Mark IV are still very hot right now. The dslr underwater housings for these cameras are excellent quality.

Cropped sensor cameras make both macro and wide-angle easy to shoot underwater. Full-frame sensors really shine for ambient light shots and professional images, with their superior auto-focus, low light capabilities and dynamic range.

Please feel free to call if you have trouble choosing between the models listed below, or want to talk about the best mirrorless cameras versus a dSLR.  Our professional and knowledgeable staff can be reached directly at 310-633-5052, or email BWP's owner Scott at scott@bluewaterphotostore.com

 

Canon EOS Rebel SL3

canon 7d housing

Read our Full Review of the Canon SL3

The Canon SL3 stands out from its class as it produces high quality results and allows you get underwater and use the Tokina 10-17mm fisheye lens with the Ikelite housing at an amazing price. No other dSLR setup can come close to this value! The camera is small, ultra-portable, and the image quality of its 24 megapixel sensor is great. It is also has dual-pixel autofocus for still shooting and video. Serious amateurs should take a serious look at this package.

 

Key Features:

  • 24.1 MP APS-C format (22.3 X 14.9 mm) CMOS sensor
  • DIGIC 8 Image Processor
  • Built In flash
  • Compatible with Canon EF Lenses
  • Dual Pixel Auto Focus
  • 9 AF points
  • 1/200sec sync speed

Canon EOS Rebel SL3 Underwater Housing Options:

Canon EOS Rebel SL3 Package - TOP CHOICE:

Kelp crab captured with the Canon SL3, Tokina 10-17mm fisheye lens, dual DS 161 strobes, Ikelite Housing. 1/160, f/9, ISO 200


 

best dslr camera for underwater photography

Nikon D850

Read our Full Review of the Nikon D850

The Nikon D850 camera is possibly the best all around DSLR camera in 2021 - especially in a world that's increasingly dominated by full-frame mirrorless cameras. It features both quick AF speed and high resolution which photographers value above all else.  The camera is packed with lots of quality features including the ability to shoot full frame 4K video.

Key Features:

  • The D850 expands the resolution on the new backlit CMOS sensor from 36.3 to 45.7 megapixels, while improving the high ISO performance, and maintaining the class leading dynamic range. Base ISO of 64 on the D850 is absolute gold.
  • New autofocus system - The D850 borrows the AF system from the flagship D5 and is dramatically faster than its predecessor, the Nikon D810. It is also does an excellent job at locking onto subjects even in dark, low light environments - the center AF point being sensitive down to -4EV
  • Capable of full frame 4K Video
  • Increased shooting speed and buffer size
  • A true professional underwater camera setup

Nikon D850 Underwater Housing Options:

Nikon D850 Packages Available:

best dslr camera for 2019
The Oil Rigs off California can be quite dark at depth, so shooting verticals with the crossbeams of the rigs and the bright surface produces a vast range of tones that the D850 has no problem handling.

 

best dslr underwater camera in 2019
Amazing detail in these spanish shawl rhinophores! 

 

Hard to beat ISO 64 on the D850! Shadows and highlights in high contrast scenes contain huge amounts of detail and are able to be pulled back without degrading image quality. 

 

 

Canon 5D Mark IV

canon 7d housing

Read our Full Review of the Canon 5D Mark IV

Many people think that the D850 has the edge over the 5D Mark IV. But Canon shooters might think otherwise. One thing is for sure - the 5D Mark IV is likely the best DSLR that Canon has ever released and will not limit your underwater photography in any way.

Key Features:

  • Choose the 5D Mark IV for the best underwater dSLR video out there
  • The Canon 8-15mm fisheye len is sharp and quite versatile for unique wide-angle images
  • The Canon 11-24mm WA lens is the widest non-fisheye (rectilinear) lens on the market, and gives amazing sharp images in a large dome port
  • Takes great hi-def video! The video bit rate on the 5D Mark IV is much higher than on Nikon dSLR cameras. Dual Pixel autofocus is also a new, practical feature that videographers will find extremely useful
  • Canon 5D Mark IV is a full-frame dSLR, offering stunning images with a full spectrum of colors and the best dynamic range of any Canon DSLR. The 5DIV produces very good high ISO results and ISO can be "boosted" to an incredible ISO 102,400 (we advise not ever using this though). It also has vastly improved auto-focus over the previous 5D Mark models.
  • Excellent ergonomics and build-quality in the Sea & Sea, Nauticam, and Aquatica housings

Canon 5D Mark IV Underwater Housing Options:

Canon 5D Mark IV Packages Available:

Shot with Canon 5D Mark 3 and Canon 100mm Macro Lens in Anilao, Philippines.  Photo: Brent Durand

 

Shot with Canon 5D Mark 3 and Tokina 10-17mm Lens in Anilao, Philippines.

 

 


Nikon D780

Read our Full Review of the Nikon D780

The Nikon D780 is truly one of the most exciting DSLR camera offerings from Nikon in a long time. With phase detect live view AF migrated from Nikon's mirrorless cameras, the D780 is a revolutionary mix of DSLR and mirrorless technology. Underwater Photographers are finally going to have a solution to poor live view AF in a DSLR. The video specs are excellent and the Nikon D780 will be Nikon's best DSLR for video yet! For any underwater photographer or videographer who is looking to move up to a full frame DSLR with great all-around performance for a reasonable price, the Nikon D780 just might be the best option out there.

Key Features:

  • Updated 24.5 MP BSI CMOS sensor
  • Extended ISO range (now 100-51,200)
  • Increased burst shooting rate - now 7 fps and 12 fps in live view (silent)
  • Changes in max and min shutter speed (900 sec to 1/8000 sec)
  • Live view focus system - new 273 point on-sensor phase detect AF system
  • 4K video up to 30fps
  • Improved LCD resolution - 2.4 million dots
  • Improved battery life - 2260 shots

Nikon D780 Underwater Housing Options:

Maui Green Sea Turtle Photographed with Nikon D780 in an Ikelite D780 housing, dual Ikelite DS161 strobes, and Nikon 8-15mm lens

 

Wide shot of wire coral in Maui, Hawaii with D780, 8-15mm Fisheye Lens, f/11, 1/125, ISO 200 Photo by Jenna Szerlag
Wide shot of wire coral in Maui, Hawaii with D780, 8-15mm Fisheye Lens, f/11, 1/125, ISO 200 Photo by Jenna Szerlag

 

wire coral shrimp
Close up of Barred Shrimp on same wire coral as above. Nikon D780, 105mm Lens, f/18, 1/200, ISO 100 Photo by Jenna Szerlag

 

 


best dslr for underwater video

Canon 1DX Mark III

Read our Full Review of the Canon 1DX Mark III

Underwater video is really where the Canon 1DX Mark III is going to shine.  As Canon's best DSLR camera for video, it's going to be a serious contender for professional videographers who are in the market for high-end video cameras and even cinema cameras. With RAW recording capability combined with 5.5K @ 60 fps resolution, there are few cameras on the market as capable for taking detailed video that can be manipulated freely in post processing. True RAW recording is always going to be better than using Log profiles, like C-Log - which is also available with the camera. The footage can be captured using the full width of the sensor, which means maximum details, no crop, and downsampled 4K video is going to look pretty tasty. Overall, underwater videographers are going to be pleased to finally have a Canon camera that doesn't compromise. There are no crops, all the frame rates you could want are there, and there are very few caveats.

Key Features:

  • 20.1 MP Full-Frame CMOS Sensor
  • DIGIC X processor
  • ISO Range - 100-102,400
  • Burst shooting: 16fps viewfinder, 20 fps live view
  • 191 (155 cross-type) AF points
  • JPEG, HEIF, and RAW image formats
  • Dual CFexpress card slots
  • Video: 5.5K @ 60fps with RAW recording, 4K @ 60fps, 1080p @ 120 fps. Capable of 10-bit 4:2:2 recording with Canon Log profiles
  • 3.2" 2.1 million dots LCD
  • 1000+ RAW image buffer

Canon 1DX Mark III Underwater Housing Options:

 


Nikon D500

Best dSLR underwater cameras 2016

Read our Full Review of the Nikon D500

The Nikon D500 slots in below the D5 and D850 as Nikon's professional level APSC camera. It has become one of the most popular cameras period for underwater shooting and for good reason. It shares the same autofocus system as the D5 and D850 for a much more wallet friendly cost and provides 4k video, 10fps shooting speed, and the best low light/high ISO performance of just about any APSC camera. We have used the camera extensively, and it is amazing. Housings are available from Nauticam, Ikelte, Aquatica and Sea&Sea. Email Scott at scott@bluewaterphotostore.com for his thoughts, as he has used the Aquatica, Sea & Sea and Nauticam housings.

 

Key Features:

 

  • 20.9 megapixel sensor
  • 4K Video @ 30p
  • ISO 100 -51,200 Expandable to 1,640,000
  • 100% circular viewfinder, with 1.0x magnification - very nice!
  • 153 Auto-focus points
  • Dual XQD/SDXC
  • No built-in flash
  • No low-pass filter for better sharpness
  • Dedicated joystick on the rear of the camera for easier moving of focus points

D500 Auto-focus & High ISO Tests:

Read Scott's Nikon D500 Auto-Focus & ISO Test Article to find out how the D500 performs in high-speed shooting scenarios, shooting with high ISOs, demanding auto-focus scenarios, and more.

D500 Underwater Housing Options:

D500 vs. D7500

The D500 has a much larger buffer than the D7500, and a higher resolution LCD screen. In our opinion, just the higher resolution LCD screen itself is worth the extra $, but you also get better low-light focusing performance - important for underwater macro shooting, plus longer battery life, a magnesium alloy body and dual card slots.

Best dSLR cameras for underwater photography
BWP Owner Scott Gietler's son Ryan, taken with the NIkon D500, Tokina 10-17mm fisheye lens

 

Best DSLR camera for underwater photography 2018
Great White Shark photographed with the Nikon D500 in a Nauticam housing with the Nikonos 13mm lens at Guadalupe, Mexico

 

Best DSLR camera for underwater photography Nikon D500
Pygmy Seahorse, photographed in Anilao with the Nikon D500, Nikon 105mm VR macro lens + Nauticam SMC

 

Click Here to View the DSLR Camera Comparison

 

Best Cameras - Further Reading