Best Underwater Video Cameras of 2019
What makes the “Best Underwater Video Camera”? When shooting underwater video, or video in general, there are many factors to consider. To start, being able to record 4K video is now a luxury that is expected out of any respectable video camera and 4K capture is definitely something you should consider when choosing your underwater video camera. The good news is nearly every new DSLR, mirrorless or compact camera features 4K recording capabilities. Where it becomes complicated is the 4K Video Type, which basically is the way in which a camera records 4K video. There are three types of cameras when it comes to 4K recording. The most ideal camera is one that has a full pixel readout from a 35mm sensor (often shooting the initial video in 6K) that will downsample to 4K, adding additional details to the video. Intermediate 4K quality comes from cameras that use pixel binning to process their 4K video. The worst 4K quality comes from cameras that “crop” the video by using only part of the sensor to capture 4K footage. This produces the worst quality because less sensor area is being used to capture light while filming video. The Canon EOS R was a disappointment for videographers for this reason.
The next most immediate specification to consider would be the frame rate that your video camera allows you to record in. Top-of-the-line video cameras record at 4K resolution and 60 frames per second (fps), giving your footage that smooth, slow-motion cinema look that everybody loves. This is a highly sought-after capability and only a select few cameras on the market (excluding high-end cinema systems) provide this feature.
Another highly sought-after, and relatively exclusive, feature within the video camera realm is the ability to record in RAW or ProRes. These are uncompressed formats that maximize the information gathered by the sensor and provide you with extended flexibility when it comes to color grading and post-processing. As mentioned, this feature is quite an exclusive one and only available in a select few cameras on the market with good processors (again, excluding high-end cinema systems). Some select cameras can record in ProRes Raw with an Atomos Ninja V external recorder. Nauticam offers a housing for the Ninja V for use with your underwater system.
Other factors to consider when choosing an underwater video camera are in-body image-stabilization (IBIS), autofocus capability, pixel design, color science, bit rate, low light sensitivity, lens options, and, well, of course, the price tag.
Here, we have outlined the best cameras for underwater video in order from best to last-best. Yes -- indeed the last camera mentioned has been classified as ‘last-best’ since if it were not an excellent choice for underwater video, we would not put it on this list! Here we will walk you through some of the key points that make each camera great for underwater video and hopefully make the process of choosing which underwater video camera is best for you, a little bit easier.
1. Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera 4K
The Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera 4K (BMPCC4K) is known as a disruptor camera, as it offers most of the features videographers hold in high regard at an impressively affordable price. The BMPCC4K has a Micro Four Thirds sensor, records 4K video at 60fps and even records RAW and ProRes files. This small, highly affordable cinema camera offers key features that were previously held captive by top-of-the-line, high-budget demanding cinema systems like the Canon C200, RED Digital Cinema Cameras, or the Arri Alexa Series. Recording in RAW or ProRes provides you maximum flexibility during post-processing and allows you to apply professional color correction to your footage.
The BMPCC4K has a built in 5” monitor, which makes viewing and framing your subjects underwater a breeze. The LCD screen on the BMPCC4K is lovely -- it’s sharp, bright and has good contrast. The BMPCC4K has no in camera stabilization, but this can be solved in post-production with the free Davinci Resolve subscription that comes included with the camera. Also, the BMPCC4K only has single-point autofocus, which is challenging when shooting video underwater. The solution to this, which most videographers prefer anyway, is to use manual focus. With the Nauticam BMPCCII Underwater Housing, there are numerous MFT lenses that Nauticam supports manual focus for. To see a list of supported lenses with the Nauticam BMPCCII Underwater Housing, see our Nauticam Port Chart.
The Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera is one of the most exciting cameras on the market right now for video. It provides the average videographer with high-end recording options that were previously inaccessible with a small budget. For underwater video, the Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera with the Nauticam BMPCCII Underwater Housing is arguably the most enticing video system on the market right now.
See our Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera Review and the Nauticam BMPCCII product page for an in depth look at this new cinema system.
BlackMagic 4K Underwater Housing Options:
2. Canon 1DX Mark II
The Canon 1DX Mark II has been a staple DSLR camera for professional video since its release in early 2016. It comes equipped with a 20MP, 35mm Full Frame Canon CMOS sensor and records 4K video at 60fps or Full HD video at 120fps. Very few full-frame cameras can record video at these high frame rates and a high bit-rate, which can then be slowed down for slow-motion video.
The full frame sensor characteristic of the 1DX MkII is something videographers highly value and provides not only better resolution and detail but also drastically improves low-light capabilities, which can be very useful when shooting underwater in dark environments.
Canon is consistently a leading manufacturer of cameras and lenses in the video realm and the 1DX MkII is their flagship camera. The color science that is characteristic of Canon systems is highly sought-after and the sharpness of their lenses is not to be understated. If you are looking for a top-of-the-line DSLR that functions not only as an amazing stills camera but also as a professional-grade video camera, the Canon 1DX MkII is for you. The downside, is that the underwater housings are somewhat larger than the other housings listed in this guide.
1DX II Underwater Housing Options:
|Nauticam 1DXII||Aquatica 1DXII|
3. Panasonic Lumix S1
Panasonic is the latest manufacturer to release their line of mirrorless full frame cameras. They released the Panasonic S-series in March of 2019 and swept the photo world of its feet with these impressive new mirrorless cameras. The Panasonic S1 is the S-series camera designed for video, as it incorporates fewer, larger pixels that yield impressive low-light capabilities. The Panasonic S1 incorporates a 24MP, full frame sensor with a new Leica-L lens mount. The S-series cameras bested all other full-frame mirrorless lines in many categories. The Panasonic S1 (and S1R) is the first full frame mirrorless camera to shoot 4K at 60fps -- a feature that full frame mirrorless shooters have been waiting for for years. Not only that but with the latest firmware update, the Panasonic S1 can record 4:2:2 10-bit footage internally, making it an absolute workhorse for color science and post-processing workflow.
One of the best features of the S1 for video is the 5-axis image stabilization. In addition, the lenses have their own image stabilization, and combined you can get an incredible 6 stops of image stabilization, which helps tremendously with video.
Now, as mentioned previously, the 4K Video Type is an important factor to consider as well. In order to record 4K 60p, the Panasonic S1 crops the sensor to a APS-C sensor at 4:2:0 8-bit. Although this is not as impressive as the Full Frame 4K 60p recording available with the Canon 1DX MkII, it is still a leap forward in full frame mirrorless technology and a particularly favorable feature.
The Nauticam Panasonic S1/S1R housing offers an M28 bulkhead, designed to be used with the HDMI 2.0 cable with the Atomos Ninja V monitor/recorder. When shooting the Panasonic S1 with the Atomos Ninja V monitor/recorder, you will immediately be able to record 10-bit 4:2:2 HDR footage direct to Apple ProRes or Avid DNx. This is highly advantageous and the Nauticam housing for both the Panasonic S1 and the Atomos Ninja V work hand in hand to provide a particularly user friendly system.
The downside to the S1 is that, not many native-mount lenses are out right now, with the 24-105mm lens being a notable exception. Of course, this will improve over time.
Underwater Housing Options:
4. Nikon Z6
The Nikon Z6 is the Nikon equivalent of the Panasonic S1 -- Nikon’s lower-megapixel version of their Z Series full frame mirrorless cameras. The Nikon Z6 offers a 24MP, full frame sensor with fewer, larger pixels than the Z7 making it a more favorable choice for video due to the low light advantages. One benefit of the Nikon Z7, as compared to the Panasonic S1, is its size. The Z7 is small and compact -- a major reason why people are turning from DSLR cameras to mirrorless cameras. The Nikon Z7 has phenomenal autofocus capabilities with 273-point hybrid phase-detection contrast autofocus technology. It tops out at 4K 30p but can natively output 10-bit 4:2:2 over HDMI in the new N-log color profile, promising greater dynamic range and flexibility in post. Beyond that, with its new firmware, it will become the first hybrid camera to offer RAW video output when coupled with the Ninja V monitor/recorder.
When coupled with the Atomos Ninja V, the Nikon Z6 will output RAW video over HDMI -- similar to what the Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera 4K can do internally. RAW video capture, similar to RAW photos, preserves more data than compressed formats and allows you to record more color and capture more detail in the shadows and highlights. This firmware update makes the Nikon Z6 with the Atomos Ninja v recorder one of the most competitive video kits on the market, competing with high end cinema cameras costing tens of thousands of dollars.
The Nikon Z6 also has 5-axis image stabilization, referred to as IBIS - allowing the user to get smooth handheld footage.
Underwater Housing Options:
5. Panasonic Lumix GH5s
Panasonic released the GH5s in early 2018 as an upgraded, video-centric version of the GH5. For the Lumix GH5s, Panasonic opted to ditch the 20.3MP Micro Four Thirds sensor that the Lumix GH5 uses, replacing it with a 10.2MP multi-aspect sensor. This makes it possible to shoot in 4K DCI (17:9), UltraHD (16:9), and Anamorphic 4:3 aspect ratios.
While the GH5 was the first mirrorless camera to record 4K 60p, the GH5s takes it one step further and can record 4k 60p in Cinema 4K (4096 x 2160) -- a version of 4K recording that maximized resolution. The GH5s is also capable of internal 4:2:2 10-bit recording, which delivers even stronger than the color reproduction. It can also shoot HD at 240fps, and you can use a Vlog-L color profile for great dynamic range.
The Panasonic Lumix GH5s has been the go-to mirrorless camera for video use over the last two years and even with the advent of newer full frame mirrorless cameras (as listed above) the GH5s still holds its own as a professional video system. There are various underwater housings available for the GH5s and with Nauticam’s newest version of the NA-GH5 you have the option of including an M28 bulkhead for use with HDMI 2.0 and the Atomos Ninja V recorder.
The GH5s is popular for underwater video because the camera is at a great price point, the body is relatively small, there is a multitude of micro-four thirds lenses available for any lens requirements, the video bitrate is quite high, and camera supports many video features that other micro-four thirds cameras do not support. It crushes all other micro-four thirds cameras at high ISOs with respect to noise.
The downside to the GH5s? Besides being only 10 megapixesl for stills, it does not have image stabilization as the GH5 does.
Underwater Housing Options:
6. Sony A7 III
The Sony A7 series has led the charge in full frame mirrorless cameras and the A7 III and A7R III have been some of the most popular cameras on the market since their release in April 2018. Similar to the Nikon Z6 and the Panasonic S1, the Sony A7 III has fewer, larger pixels compared to the A7R III and therefore, a more favorable for video use due to the resulting low light capabilities. The A7 III tops out at 4K 30p and records internal 4:2:2 8-bit video. You also have the ability to shoot on various picture profiles like HLG & S-Log3 Gammas, which offer less-compressed video capture and facilitate maximum color rendition and dynamic range for post-production flexibility. It also has impressive autofocus capabilities with a 693-point hybrid autofocus system.
The A7 III, with its compact and ergonomic design, has been a very popular camera for video recording. The battery life is drastically improved compared to the previous A7 Series cameras, which was a primary complaint of Sony Alpha users and is particularly beneficial for underwater video, as it allows you to shoot for much longer without the need to open the housing. The A7 III also has dual SD card slots, which play an additional role in the maximum allotted time you can record underwater without having to open the housing. The auto-focus during video works very well.
If you want to shoot both stills and video, the A7 III should be one of your top choices. It does both exceptionally well, and there is a large number of choices for both lenses and housings on the market.
Underwater Housing Options:
7. Sony A7S II
The Sony A7S II has been a go-to mirrorless camera for underwater video since its release in September of 2015. For the Sony loyalists looking for top-of-the-line image quality in a small and compact form, the A7S II is for you. It embodies a 12.2MP full frame CMOS sensor and can shoot true cinema 4K video at 24fps, as well as UHD 4K at 30fps and smooth slow-motion video at HD 1080p video up to 120fps. Paired with an impressive 5-axis in-camera image stabilization you can get ultra-sharp, steady footage even when shooting hand-held.
What makes the Sony A7S II really stand out is its impressive low light performance for a particularly reasonable price-point. The three S-Log picture profile options offered by the A7S II support a range of cinema-compatible outputs that give you the flexibility that you need during post-production.
Underwater Housing Options:
8. Sony A6500 and Sony A6400
The Sony A6500 and A6400 are Sony’s top-of-the-line cropped sensor mirrorless cameras. They feature a 24MP APS-C CMOS sensor and records UHD 4K up to 30fps. The Sony A6500 offers many of the same pro-level features characteristic of Sony’s a7 series cameras, such as 5-axis image stabilization and S-Log picture profiles. The Sony A6400 offers the capability of shooting with hybrid log gamma, and an improved color science from the A6300 and A6500. Thanks to the smaller sensor, however, both cameras come at a much lower price point than the full frame a7 series.
Despite having a cropped sensor the A6500 and A6400 boat a highly reliable focusing system made up of 425 phase detection points. Not only that but they are two of the lightest and most compact cameras on the list despite having a fairly competitive sensor pixel count. If you are an aspiring or professional video shooter, the Sony A6500 and A6400 prove to be a great option for underwater video.
The 4K video details with both cameras are amazing because they have a full pixel readout, meaning they capture video in 6K and downsample to 4K, adding additional details.
For video, the biggest differences between the Sony A6400 and Sony A6500 are that the A6500 has in-body image-stabilization (IBIS). This is essential for getting nice, stable video, but the A6400 has had improvements has well including hybrid log gamma and an improved color science.
Underwater Housing Options:
|Ikelite Sony a6400|
9. Panasonic Lumix LX10
The Panasonic Lumix LX10 is arguably the best compact, point and shoot camera for underwater video on the market. It uses a whopping 20MP sensor and shoots beautiful 4K video that you could expect from a high-end mirrorless camera. The footage is sharp and detailed due to the high megapixel count for such a compact camera. The f-stop ranges offered by the built in 24-72mm (35mm equivalent) lens allow for beautiful bokeh as well.
Panasonic is well established brand in the video realm and their reputation definitely precedes this product. They included a fast working DFD feature that calculated the focus distance to help prevent your video from being blurry or out of focus. If you want a simple, compact camera that will render high-quality underwater video, the Panasonic Lumix LX10 is a great camera for you.
Underwater Housing Options:
Many would argue that video capabilities on cameras are now developing faster than photo capabilities with increased resolution and the increasing ability to record in RAW and Log profiles. Therefore we thought it would be a good idea to note two systems that we are excited for when it comes to future video cameras.
One of the most exciting announcements that have come out in recent months was the expected release of the Panasonic S1H later this year. The Panasonic S1H will be the first interchangeable lens camera to shoot 6K video! It won’t be cheap, but it could change the industry.
Sony a7S III
Another particularly exciting camera that we are anxiously awaiting, and which should be released anytime time now, is the Sony a7S III. Due to the success of the Sony a7s II we think the a7S III will be an even more exciting release. When Panasonic announced 6K capability in the S1H, there has been some speculation that Sony may try to match this capability with the a7S III, but it’s impossible to know.