Canon Sl3: The World's Smallest Underwater DSLR
When I first heard about the release of the Canon EOS Rebel SL3 as “the world’s smallest DSLR,” I thought the phrase sounded a little gimmicky. Afterall, isn’t that what mirrorless and compact cameras are for? But then I got a call from John at Ikelite. John is a very frank individual, and he swore by the camera and the images it produced. So I decided to give it a try and took the SL3 underwater for the first time in June, 2019. As I’m writing this review it’s the end of August, and I still haven’t given it back!
If you’re looking for a DSLR camera that is small, easy to travel with, and produces truly professional quality images, the Canon SL3 ticks all of these boxes. It’s a unique camera because it’s an oxymoron. It manages to be a small, intuitive DSLR. Most underwater photographers are under the impression that a DSLR is supposed to be huge, clunky, and difficult to operate - despite taking professional images. But with underwater and topside camera technology constantly innovating, this isn’t always the case anymore. After the camera was released, Ikelite decided to create a specialty housing for the Canon SL3 that preserved its small size and included built-in TTL capability for use with Ikelite DS strobes. The housing is as simple to use as this entry-level DSLR camera is. We can now introduce the world’s smallest DSLR system for underwater photography… and at an accessible price point.
Canon EOS Revel SL3 Retail Price: $749.99
Ikelite SL3 Housing Retail Price: $1294.95
Canon EOS Rebel SL3
The Canon EOS Rebel SL3 is an excellent entry level DSLR weighing in at just under a pound (449g) – Canon’s smallest and lightest DSLR camera. Despite its small size, it manages to pack a punch with a 24.1 MP APS-C format CMOS sensor, 4K video recording, and Canon’s famous dual pixel autofocus. Here are some quick specs:
• 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
• 4K video at 24 fps; 1080 at 60 fps; 4K time-lapse movie
• 4.82 X 3.65 X 2.75 inches; 449g (0.99lb)
Are the specs the best in the world? No, but certainly what you would expect for a $750 DSLR. Will you get excellent images? Of course! For most underwater photographers, 24.1 MP sensor, dual pixel auto focus, and 4K video is more than you need. Canon’s EF lenses are at the forefront of the industry. When it comes down to it, image quality is in the glass. The big downside with this camera is that there are only 9 AF points and a lack of in-body image-stabilization - a feature that is becoming increasingly popular. For underwater photography, there’s a lot of potential. For an entry-level DSLR it’s a great start.
However, it may not be the best camera if you need a tool specifically for underwater video. Although it shoots 4K, other cameras at this price point can offer higher quality 4K video without a crop - cameras like the Sony a6100. There is a 60-fps option at full HD which can help stabilize underwater video. So if you’re ok shooting at 1080p, this is still a good camera for underwater video – especially with “Canon Colors.”
From my personal experience with this camera, the Canon SL3 has met and exceeded my expectations. The Tokina 10-17mm fisheye lens and the Canon 60mm macro really blew me away when paired with this body. At the end of the day "glass is king," and with this camera you're getting royalty. The dual pixel AF is on part with many other Canon cameras. I found the AF in live view to be better for some situations (like low light macro) and the normal AF through the viewfinder to be better in other situations (like wide angle with a lot of light). The AF in live view tends to be less accurate overall. Unfortunately, there are less AF points then you might find in a mirrorless camera and no option for AF tracking. That being said, the lenses compatible with the Canon SL3 are quicker than competing Sony lenses to focus underwater.
The Canon SL3 is very easy to use if you're new to underwater photography due to its intuitive and simple ergonomics. In fact, the camera is almost set up to teach you how your changes will affect your images. If you are used to higher end set ups and are looking at this camera to "step down" to a smaller system - then you might find the ergonomics frustrating. Although the camera is more intuitive than a professional camera, it is not as quick. There's only one control dial, and that can really slow things down.
Ikelite 2000DLM/C Underwater TTL Housing for Canon SL3
Ikelite has gone out of its way to produce a specially-designed, super compact and light underwater housing for the Canon SL3 – resulting in the world’s smallest and lightest underwater DSLR system. The housing has been made with Ikelite’s classic lightweight and corrosion-proof ABS-PC, acrylic, and acetyl construction. The housing meets Ikelite’s standards of functionality and affordability. Here are some quick specs:
• 3 lbs, 7.5 X 5.9 X 6 in
• Depth rated to 200ft (60m)
• Ikelite flash bulkhead connector with built-in TTL circuitry - fine-tuned to Canon SL3 flash exposure protocol
• Accessory port to be used with Ikelite ½” hole vacuum kit
• Strobes can only be fired via electronic sync cord – fiber optics not compatible
• Controls: All important camera functions (controls are not provided for Diopter Adjustment Knob, Display Button, Wi-Fi Button, Depth-of-field Preview Button, and Flash Button)
When it comes to real world use of the Ikelite Canon SL3 housing, there are some useful features to keep in mind. The TTL circuitry is built into this housing which means you can get amazingly accurate exposure if you use an Ikelite DS strobe(s). DS strobes tend to have great recycling times which means you will be in for some very fast and accurate photography.
Recommended Set-Up for the World’s Most Compact Underwater DSLR
What’s the fun in shooting the world’s smallest underwater DSLR system if you don’t have good port and lens options? Well fortunately there are excellent options! In fact, there is one particularly great wide-angle and one great macro set-up that jumps out at us for being great for the budget friendly photographer
- For Wide-Angle: Canon EOS Revel SL3 Camera, Ikelite Housing, Ikelite 6 inch dome port (budget friendly), Tokina 10-17 mm f/3.5 – 4.5 DX fisheye lens (budget friendly, and excellent image quality), and Ikelite DS-160 strobes (work’s great with TTL). The perfect wide angle set up for a budget conscience photographer looking for a compact start-up DSLR.
- For Macro: Canon EOS Revel SL3 Camera, Ikelite Housing, Ikelite flat macro port (budget friendly), Canon 60mm EF-S f/2.8 Macro USM (budget friendly, and excellent image quality), and Ikelite DS-160 strobes (work’s great with TTL). The perfect macro set up for a budget conscience photographer looking for a compact start-up DSLR. If it's still a bit high for your budget, you can look at the Ikelite DS 51 strobes for macro shooting.
Bluewater Photo Canon SL3 Packages:
Who should buy this camera and housing combo?
The market for the Canon SL3 and Ikelite housing combo is pretty clear. Anyone looking for an excellent quality, budget friendly, and compact DSLR system should seriously consider this camera and housing combo.
But in the age of mirrorless cameras, I might also consider mirrorless options.There are plenty to choose from with excellent image quality and specifications. For full-frame mirrorless systems (which are much more expensive, higher-end systems), I would look at the Nikon Z6, Panasonic S1, and Canon EOS R. The Olympus OM-D EM-1 Mark II and OM-D EM-5 Mark II are great 4/3rds systems with similar pricing. The micro four thirds sensors on these cameras are going to be slightly lower in quality then the SL3 because the sensor size is smaller. The Sony A6400 offers a similar APS-C type sensor, but worse lens choices. The options are endless! Truly. It makes my head spin.
Ultimately, if you want the pzazz of shooting the worlds smallest DSLR, you only have one option – the Canon SL3 and Ikelite housing.
All in all, I think the Canon SL3 fills a gap in the camera market that is in sore need of innovation. Especially if new underwater photographers are going to have something available to them to get a strong foothold in to the world of underwater photography. Even though this is an “entry level” DSLR, I would be very happy to own the SL3 and likely shoot it for many years. You really can’t beat great image quality and on that front, this camera delivers.