A Promising Beginning
At the start of the mirrorless revolution (circa 2012), Olympus cameras were all the rage for underwater photographers - and Panasonic was the undisputed video king. Cameras like the Olympus PEN , OMD, and Tough lines were very popular at Bluewater Photo. Video shooters stood fast by the Panasonic GH5. What all these cameras had in common was their micro four thirds sensor. At a two times crop from full frame, the micro four thirds sensors produced significantly better image quality than compact cameras while allowing manufacturers to create much smaller and more affordable cameras.
As larger camera manufacturers like Sony, Nikon, and Canon took note of the success of the micro four thirds lens mount, they began to release mirrorless cameras of their own - but with larger full-frame and APS-C sensors. A larger sensor roughly translates to better image quality - including better dynamic range capability, more details, better performance in low light, and often higher resolutions. For many years, these larger sensored cameras represented a higher-end, pricier market. Olympus continued to have success with their more affordable micro four thirds options.
This Garibaldi was captured with the Canon R100 in an Ikelite R100 housing - image quality not possible with a micro four thirds sensor
Pressure from Competition
However, as the 2010s became the 2020s, larger sensors began to drastically reduce in price leading to increasing affordability. With the official death of DSLRs in 2022, Olympus suffered from stronger competition from more affordable, larger sensored cameras. Yet they stood by with their micro four thirds lens mount, not wiling to produce a large lens mount with better image quality.
In 2021, Olympus cameras was officially sold to Japanese Industrial Partners and rebranded as OM Digital Solutions. Although the company continues to produce OM line and Tough line cameras, it feels like the end of an era. The flagship OM System OM-1 clocks in at a whopping $2,000 for the body. For micro four thirds image quality, it makes little sense to invest in this camera over much less expensive full frame cameras like the Canon EOS R8, Nikon Z6 II, and Sony A7C. Each of these full frame cameras has a sensor twice as large as the OM-1 with better dynamic range, detail, autofocus, and video. This leaves a large hole in the underwater camera market. The past few years have seen a drought in affordable interchangeable lens cameras....until now.
The Canon R100 files edit beautifully with excellent color rendering
Canon APS-C Cameras Come Out with a Bang
2022 and 2023 brought a surprising deluge of Canon APS-C (cropped sensor) cameras to the market. Cropped sensor cameras are a 1.5x crop from full frame and offer better image quality and functionality over micro four thirds cameras. Over the course of a year, Canon released the Canon R10, R7, R50, and finally the R100. Each one of these cropped sensor cameras served a different purpose and price point. But what makes each special is that they all have engineering elements brought over from the high-end full frame Canon models like the R5 and R3. The R7, for instance, is equipped with the same animal eye autofocus tracking system found on the R3 - an improvement over the higher-end R5. The R10 and R7 are both capable of recording 4K./60p video. But what makes the Canon APS-C line-up so unique is the unprecedented affordability. And this is where the R100 most shines. As Canon's most affordable mirrorless camera, the R100 is only $479 for the body! That is $20 less expensive than the Olympus TG-6!!
The Canon R100 is a surprisingly small camera - allowing you to sneak up on fish easily
The Best Image Quality to $ Ratio On the Market
When we first saw this price point, we assumed that there must be some caveat - some Achilles heal. But after diving with the Canon EOS R100 off the coast of California, we can honestly say this camera is the best image quality to dollar ratio on the market! The R100 is compatible with Canon's affordable RF 18-45mm kit lens as well as the Tokina 10-17mm fisheye (with the EF-EOS R adapter), and all of Canon's top macro lenses. It's capable of 4K video and even autofocus tracking (albeit with a less advanced AF system than the R10 or R7). But if image quality is your top priority, the R100 will be the best $400 you've ever spent. The fact that the TG-6, one the world's most affordable underwater compact cameras, is more expensive than the R100 just doesn't make sense.
The dynamic range in the sensor of the Canon R100 is much better than a micro four thirds sensor - with more details in the highlights and shadows.
Once we started doing the math, we decided to start putting together a few starter kits to help get the R100 in the hands of new photographers and those looking to upgrade from compact cameras. In many ways, there's little reason to look at a higher end camera if you don't already have one. The compromise in autofocus performance and other features is minimal compared to the money saved with the R100. If image quality is the top priority, then we always recommending investing in underwater lighting and lenses first. So check out these packages designed to get you in the water for the best price possible!
Canon R100 Underwater Photography Kit
The Canon R100 underwater photography kit is designed to give you everything you need to take underwater photos with the R100, This kit comes with a professional-level Sea & Sea YS-D3 Mark II strobe. The YS-D3 provides enough power to shoot with a single strobe and still get great lighting. It's a strobe that you can grow with if you decide to upgrade your camera. This package starts for an incredible price of $2885.79 ($180 off)!
Canon R100 Ultimate Package
The Ikelite Canon R100 ultimate package is everything you need in an underwater cameras system. Two powerful Ikelite DS 160 Mark II strobes for creative lighting, TTL for unprecedented exposure accuracy, and a set of arms for maneuverability. Although $5773.35 might seem like a lot of money for a system that houses a $479 camera, keep in mind that this is a system you will grow with. We always recommend investing in lighting first, and cameras second. Lighting is what truly produces the image. This package does just that - with TTL for accurate exposures and tons of power built into the DS 160 Mark IIs, you will be able to capture beautiful colors at any depth.
Canon R100 Camera, Housing, and Lens Bundle
If you're a video shooter or you already have your lighting kit, the Canon R100 bundle is the most affordable way to get started taking underwater photos with an interchangeable lens camera. This bundle clocks in at a mere $1650 for the camera, housing, lens, port and zoom gear!