The Best Compact Camera for Diving
Every day I get emails asking me what cameras I use underwater, so I wanted to make one whole guide, listing all of my camera gear that I use to get great videos and photos on my dives. I did mention the basic setup in my big dive camera guide, but I want to show more details.
I also want to note, that this is just my compact camera setup. I do also have a DSLR setup, but I honestly get just as good or better content with the compact equipment than I do with the giant and expensive DSLR. At 1/3 the price and and even bigger reduction in weight for travel, my compact camera gear is my favorite by far. If you want more information on camera gear, check out our guide on the Best Dive Cameras of 2018.
So what gear am I using?
The core for this setup is the camera itself, and in this case a Canon G7X II. I have dove with a lot of other compact cameras, including Sony’s equivalent the RX100, but none can compare. In my opinion the G7X and G7X II are the best compact cameras you can get for diving.
The color and contrast is perfect, and even with really big macro lenses, the focus works great. The RX100 on the other hand, had horrible focus with wet lenses, to the point where I stopped using them.
On top of this, with this camera you don’t need a red lens, like you do a GoPro. It has a custom white balance feature, where you can set custom presets based on your depth and lighting. It’s amazing.
Check out the Fantasea housings at around $400. They are a good brand and are built for 60m. They have a 67mm thread, so that you can attach the macro or wide angle lenses, that I will list below. Of course there are more high quality housing, such as ones from Nauticam, but they will put you back around $1100. I find that the Fantasea housing works great, so no need to spend loads more.
If you click the link above (or THIS ONE), it will take you to the housing, and the lens adapter you will need for the lenses below.
I use a aluminum stabilizing tray with pistol grip handles, to mount the housing on, and to hold the lighting arms. The tray is wide, and I can also use it on my DSLR camera/housing. Each of the grips has a ball joint, where the arms clamp on.
For light arms, I use two 5 inch i-Das arms, and two 7 inch i-Das arms, one of each on each side. With this setup you will need 6 1-inch ball clamps; two to connect arms to tray, two to connect top and bottom arms, two to connect bottom arms to the lights.
Some people only use one arm on each side, and I tried that but there was a very limited amount of movement you can do, or angles you can get the lights to. With an extra 7 inches and a swiveling ball join in between, I can get the lights to any angle I need.
I am currently rocking 2 of the Kraken Hydra 5000 video lights, which will give you more light at a super wide arc, then you will ever need. These babies have 5000 lumins each, and I love lighting up entire caves or wrecks. They are the perfect light for underwater video, and don’t give you a spot of light, just an even arc.
They are a little expensive at about $700 each, but you won’t find better. If you want to spend less, they also have the Kraken 3500 lights, that are also good.
I don’t really use strobes as much, since I am usually making videos, and need the video lights. But when I do, the Sea and Sea YS-D2J Underwater Strobes are what I use. These dudes are insanely bright, and perfect for getting the right colors. You really can’t do better than these, but if you want to save money, you could get away with using only one. Although, two is better, so you can light up all angles. The Sea & Sea YS-03 is much cheaper, but not as great.
The good thing about the strobes or the video lights, is that you can use them with any other system you might use. I use them with my DSLR as well.
For wide angle shots, I use a wet lens, that I can take on and off. I use the macro lenses on tiny critters the most, but like being able to switch over to the wide lens if a shark goes by or something else big. The camera housing has a 67mm thread on the front, where different lenses can be screwed on fast.
For the wide angle, I use the Inon H100-DOME. It is slightly heavy but has great picture and video quality. It is one of the best quality wide angle lenses you can get. There is also a Fantasea Lens, that is some-what popular.
I use the Fantasea UCL-09F +12.5 Super Macro Wet Lens, which is pretty great for tiny critters. I am really happy with the colors, with the G7X at least. a +12.5 lets you get a TINY subject on the screen, such as tiny nudibranchs and things. Even just a +3 helps a little, but after using this +12, you wont go back.
Before I had this diopter, I had to hold either the wide lens or the macro in my BCD pocket, and it was a pain. Now I am trying this out, and so far it is a much better setup. It’s not perfect however, because the wide angle lens is so heavy that it makes it awkward when it isn’t in use and is flipped to the side.
If you are doing mainly video like I do, and don’t mind spending $700, then this is the best tripod I have seen. It folds up when not in use, and to lower the legs into position is a easy twist action that tightens it. It is really easy to use in a hurry, and makes no noise. It is also a little heavy which makes it easier to anchor solidly into the sand. Of course the tripod isn’t necessary, but it really helps get rid of shake in your video and make them competely smooth.