The Best Dive Cameras for 2018: Underwater Cameras for Every Budget

The Best Underwater Cameras of 2018

I get a ton of people asking what underwater cameras I use, mostly for our daily underwater videos on Instagram, so I finally decided to put together the ultimate list of the best dive cameras out there, as well as camera housings, lighting, trays and more.

While learning to shoot underwater videos and photos, I have gone through a lot of different cameras, and in this guide I will list all of the best gear for every budget and experience level.

Things to consider before buying dive camera gear:

For me, filming or shooting photos underwater has not only turned into an amazing hobby, which later evolved into a career, but also a way of life. From the first time I took a camera underwater to show people what I was seeing under the waves, I was hooked.

But the quality of my photos and videos were horrible at the beginning, and I quickly figured out that it takes a lot of practice before I could call myself a photographer. I couldnt blame the camera, I had a lot of work to do.

My point is, if you have never tried underwater photography, and especially if you are a relatively new diver, I highly recommend starting with a smaller, cheaper camera, before going all out with professional gear. Because without practice, it wont matter  how expensive your gear is.

So start small, with competent, yet cheaper camera gear, and put as many practice dives in with that as possible, perfecting your buoyancy with a heavy object, and holding very still. Once you see your skills and photos improve, then you can upgrade.

dive cameras Start with simple dive cameras

 

The Best Beginner and Budget Underwater Cameras

Here are my recommendations for the best underwater cameras for new divers or on a budget. You can’t really go wrong with any of these dive camera setups, and none of them are too complicated to learn on a dive. In other words, they are perfect for most recreational divers!

Be sure to to get red lenses and other wet lenses, to easily make your photos and videos much higher quality. Especially with the IPhone and GoPro housings, where a red filter will completely transform the colors of your shots. 

underwater iphone case

IPhone with underwater housing

Smart phones actually take great photos and videos, and they do make great hard polymer dive housings for them. This is what I first started with, and highly recommend it for occasional recreational divers. You can even buy an old Iphone 4 to dive with, if you don’t want to risk your phone. I HIGHLY recommend getting a red filter attachment, as it will completely improve the quality of you shots’ color. 

GoPro 6 with Dive Housing

There are pros and cons to diving with a GoPro, but in my opinion it is a great action cam that every diver should carry. Even though I use a giant DSLR, I have a hotshoe attachment for the GoPro on top, to catch even more. If you get good at filming with a GoPro, you’ll be good at any other camera; It’s so small and light, it can be difficult to keep truly steady. So this is a good starter. NOTE: You NEED a red filter if diving deeper than 5 meters, or your shots will be ugly blue or green.   

Olympus Tough TG-5 & Housing

The Tg-5 or Tg-4 is a seriously great starter or backup camera for everyday divers. The camera itself can go up to 15 meters with out a housing, which is cool. One thing I love about it is that it has a “telescope” mode, which gives you some seriously close up macro shots of critters, without a wet lens. Add a housing, some macro or wide angle wet lenses, and you have a seriously good dive camera that wont cost a ton. 

Canon G7X II       (MY TOP CHOICE)

I can’t say enough about the G7X or G7X2, I seriously think Canon built it for diving. Although I do have an expensive DSLR rig, my G7X is still my go-to underwater camera. It takes some incredible macro shots, and when I compared it to the Sony RX100, it made in my opinion, way higher quality shots, was able to focus way faster, and able to get much closer macro. The best aspect is the manual white balance settings I can set underwater, so no need for red filters. Combined with a good housing, wet lenses, and proper lighting, more compact for travel, this is my ultimate choice, for beginners and experienced alike. 

Sony RX100

The Rx100 and RX100 2, are Sony’s answer to the Canon G series, so for Sony lovers, this is the compact for you. Although I generally prefered the G7X, for its higher quality macro shots and ability to focus close up faster, if you must have a Sony, the RX100 is great for lots of reasons. Its small and easy to travel with, there are tons of housing and accessory options, and its a popular land and vlogging camera as well. If you don’t care whether you get a Sony or Canon, go with the slightly cheaper G7X, but if not, this is a great camera as well.

underwater photography Photo taken with Canon G7X, Recsea housing, and Inon +20 macro wet lens

The Best Advanced Underwater Cameras

If you are a experienced diver, and want to try out some of the best underwater cameras in the world, and have the budget to do so, this is the list for you. These are the cameras that pros use, to produce some of the best underwater photo and videos there is. 

Most of these cameras are actually well known to regular photographers, or even everyday people, but it is the underwater housings, ports for different size lenses, trays and arms, wet lenses, video lights and strobes and more, that is required with these rigs to make such high quality content. Jump to the section explaining the difference between ports and wet lenses HERE.

Here is my recommendations for the best DSLR and mirrorless camera underwater setups, as well as the best gear you should get with each, to take your underwater content to the next level. 

Cropped sensor DSLRs

Canon T2i, T3i, T4i, T5i, T6i

In my oppinion, this is the best entry level DSLR you can get, which for me, as a unexperienced DSLR user, was important. I found it very easy to learn and use underwater, and have createed great shots with it. There are tons of housings for it, and this is now the DSLR I use, not only for its ease, but also becuase it is super cheap compared to most others. I found that using a cheap body like the T3i, with a high quality lens such as a Tokina 10-17, or a 60mm macro, make this an awesome rig that wont break the bank. Oh, and it also does video!

Nikon D90

Here is the crop sensor answer for Nikon lovers. I wanted to mention the D90, because it is a favorite “land” camera for many, so if you already have one, it would be cheap to just get a housing for it. Plenty of companies make good housings for the D90, such as Ikelite, Nauticam, Aquatica and more, so you have plenty of options. 

Canon 7d Mark II

Canon 7d Mark II

Another favorite among regular photographers, the 7d is also an awesome rig underwater. Get some good macro lenses, and a good wide angle, and you have a very high quality set up. Add in some strobes for photos, or video lights if you are filming, and you can’t really go wrong. The auto focus, which is always a problem underwater for video, is very impressive with the 7d. Many underwater photographers recommend this camera highly. 

Top of the line dive cameras

Nikon D3, D4

This is an excellent camera, but unless you are a Nikon fanatic, I prefer to go with Canon or other cameras that offer much more underwater accessories. For instance there is no full frame equivalent for the Tokina 10-17mm lens, and some divers are having problems with the 14-24mm Nikon lens in a dome port. But still, if you are a Nikon fan, this is an excellent camera. 

Canon 5d Series

In many diver’s oppinions, this is the best full frame rig you can get for underwater cameras. If you have the budget for the huge price tag for a 5d series  setup, this is the go-to camera for many pros. Some of the best content I have ever seen, both video and photo, has been produced by a Canon 5d Mark 3 or mark 4, and it is seriously impressive. Pair it with the Canon 8-15mm fisheye lens, or a long macro lens (with correct ports) and you will have one awesome setup. Scroll down below to see a frogfish video shot with a 5d mark3, and you’ll see what I mean. 

sony a7s underwater camera

Sony A7 Series  (MY TOP CHOICE)

I’m listing this as my top choice, even over the Canon 5D, for a few reasons. I jsut got done filming with a Sony A7S, and am convinced that this is the ultimate underwater camera for video you can get. I was blown away. And Sony lovers know that the A7, A7r, A7r2 etc, are also amazing for photos, and underwater is no exception. The low-light function on the mirrorless A7s was impressive, and we even filmed at night in Philippines with no light. Another thing I LOVE is that, although this rig has a high price tag like the 5D, it is a MUCH smaller/compact camera, which also means a much smaller housing etc, making it much easier to travel and dive with. 

sony underwater housing Photo taken with Sony A7s, Nauticam housing, 17-22mm lens, 10” dome port

What dive camera setups do I use?

I actually have two different underwater camera rigs that I use, as well as always carrying a GoPro, either in my BCD pocket, or on a hotshoe mount on top of my regular camera’s housing.

Most regular divers definitely do not need this much underwater camera gear, but I’ll let you know what I use, as I can definitely recommend them. You definitely wouldn’t be disappointed in anything I list below.

My reliable, go-to gear

Canon G7X II – As mentioned above, this is the ultimate compact camera for diving

Recsea aluminum housing – This housing is a little more expensive than plastic ones, but very high quality with all button functions

Inon +5 and +20 macro wet lens – These stackable lenses screw onto the 67mm threads of the housing, and make for INCREDIBLE macro shots.  I’ve never stacked them, and just take the +20 now, for tiny critters.

Fantasea UWL-09F Wide Angle wet lens There are cheaper wide lenses out there, but I like this one. Its nice being able to switch back and forth from wide and macro underwater with wet lenses.

Aluminum tray with handles and 1 inch ball clamps – My housing bolts to the tray, and the lighting arms connect to the clamps one the handles. You basically need a tray to keep everything together.

2 4-inch and 2 8-inch aluminum arms These connect the strobes or video lights to the try with ball clamps. having 2 on each side with a ball join in between give me a ton more flexibility and range to extend the lights.

2 Kraken Hydra video lights These video lights are the best I’ve tried, and each one is 5000 lumins, and light up the whole area. They are pretty expensive, but they also make 3500 lumin and cheaper ones. You can also get away with just one if you need.

I don’t dive with strobes anymore, as I only shoot video, but if you want to just shoot photos, I recommend two Sea and Sea strobes

My DSLR setup

Because I’m cheap, and they work together great, for both rigs I use the same tray, arms, and lights, as well as my new underwater tripod. I dont dive with both at the same time, so I can just use that stuff with either of the cameras I use that day.

Canon T3i (600d) – As I mention above, this is the best entry level DSLR, and also pretty cheap. With good lenses it takes some great photos and videos.

A Tokina 10-17mm lens – This is a great and popular wide angle lens, perfect for those shark close-ups.

A 60mm macro lens This is the best over all macro lens for the camera, and if you are also using the standard 55mm kit lens, the good news is that the 55mm and the 60mm can both be used in the same port, so no extra expense you’ll have with a 100mm lens.

A Sea & Sea housing – This is a popular housing company, and works great, with every button functioning on the camera.

Sea & Sea DX Macro Lens Port for 60mm lens – You’ll need this port to fit the 60mm lens. Ports fit onto the front of the camera housing. 

Sea & Sea 8 inch port Dome – You’ll need this dome port for a wide angle lens. They also make bigger domes if you like. All good for over and under water split shots, as well as those big critters.

An Exit404 tripod – This was an expensive investment at about $700, but it instantly smoothed out my videos. The tray bolts on the bottom of your housing tray, and had three ball joins that hold the pivoting legs. I love this thing.

Underwater video created by Mike Corey in Mexico, with Sony A7S, Nauticam housing and dome port

 

 

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Justin Carmack
Justin is a dive master and world traveler on a mission to dive and document the top 100 dive sites in the world. In doing this he hopes to bring love for the marine environment to the world!

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