Updated Jan 12, 2020 | Justin Carmack
The number one question we get from you guys, is what underwater camera gear we use on our excursions, so we 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, we have gone through a lot of different cameras, and in this guide, will list all of the best gear for every budget and experience level. If you want to get into underwater photography, or just want to upgrade to the latest and greatest, this guide is all you need!
Ultimate Underwater Camera Guide Index
Dive camera overview
Before Buying an Underwater Camera
I promise that I will give you more options for cameras you can use for underwater photography or videography, but first I think there are few things you should consider before going any further.
There are levels to the underwater photography game, and as you will see, it can get pretty expensive, so there are definitely things to keep in mind before making the purchase.
Here are things to consider:
WHAT IS YOUR SKILL LEVEL – I’m not just talking about your photography skills, but your diving as well. The vast majority of recreational divers will be happy with something small and mobile, such as the GoPro or iPhone setups, as they produce great content, and are great practice for the next level.
If you have not yet perfected your buoyancy, in a wide variety of dive conditions, then that should be your priority and you don’t need to worry about lugging around giant rigs. No matter how expensive your setup, footage will be bad if you don’t control movement.
If you are a skilled diver, and have some experience now with beginner level underwater camera skills, and you are here looking for the next level, then keep reading.
There is a too-big gap between a GoPro and a DSLR setup, and I highly recommend the compact set up. In fact, I’ve actually down graded from a huge DSLR setup back to my trusty G7X III gear, which has always been high quality.
WHAT IS YOUR BUDGET – In this guide I am going to cover ever budget, up to the high-end DSLR setups. Of course it goes on from there with Red Dragon and so on, but that can be a separate article.
What every your budget is, if you are looking for the best possible underwater photo and videos, keep in mind that your budget needs to include more than just the camera itself. The housings are of course mandatory, but the optional accessories that are highly recommended can get pricey as well.
I will include the other things you will need, depending on the level you’re at, but for the highest quality you’re going to need a tray, flex arms, strobes and/or video lights, filter, wet lenses, camera lenses and ports etc.
I’ll explain later why each are important, and the prices.
MOBILITY – Are you doing a lot of travel for SCUBA diving? This is a minor issue for most people, but keep in mind that a full-on DSLR setup like a Canon 5d, with housing and lights and so-on, is huge.
If you are on the constant move like me and need less luggage or weight, but still high quality content from your dives, consider the compact setups. I will even show you exactly what I use now as I travel the world filming each week.
Best Compact Cameras for SCUBA Diving
Video shot with a Canon G7X II with +6 macro wetlens
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.
I’ve tried out all of the compact dive cameras on this guide, and in the end, the G7X mark 1, 2 and 3, have become my favorite. It feels like they were really made for underwater, with great white balance presets you can set at depth, great video focus and more. I shot the video above with a G7x mark 1, and if you want to see more of what it can do, watch my entire documentary – Critter Hunter: The Philippines, that was shot completely with G7X.
It was really a close race when I compared the RX100 and the G7X underwater, and although I lean towards the Canon, the verdict is really split evenly between divers. On paper the Sony has much better stats, but on testing, I got better videos with the Canon, but very slightly. In the end they are so similar, that the real factor is that the Sony is hundreds of dollar more expensive.
I’ve been seeing more and more amazing footage coming out, from the TG-6, specifically the macro shots. This is because of it’s awesome “microscope mode”, that gets closer than any compact camera above, without wet lenses! It’s also waterproof up to 5 meters, making it one of the best underwater cameras for snorkeling as well. Get the housing and lights, and you have a great setup.
I have to mention GoPro, as they are technically compact, plus I do use them quite a bit. The Hero 8 is also super high quality now, with great 4k and slow motion. Some people use them alone on their own, even going crazy with trays, lights, lenses etc, just like a regular camera. Although I think if you’re going to go that crazy, you might as well get a G7X, I do think a GoPro is super useful on dives. I even have one that attaches to the hotshoe of my housing.
Best Advanced Underwater Camera Systems
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 camera setups
If you are just breaking into the DSLR scene, then this is the best entry level DSLR you can probably get. Because of the relatively ease of use, but with the interchangeable lenses and manual settings, it’s a popular camera for Vloggers and land photographers, and for the same reasons it’s a great camera underwater. I own this setup, and can say that it has an enormous housing, but once you learn how a DSLR works, it’s a good and cheap option.
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.
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.
Full frame, top of the line dive cameras
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.
In many diver’s opinions, 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.
Best Mirrorless Cameras for Diving
If you have the money, and want to step into the pro world of underwater videography or cinematography, then this might be the one to get. Even the Great Johnathan Bird from Blue world uses the GH5, when he doesn’t want to lug around his Red Cameras.
I’m listing this as my top choice, even over the Canon 5D, for a few reasons. I just got done filming with a Sony A7S II, 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 A7S II, A7r2, A7 etc, are also amazing for photos, and underwater is no exception.
Wet lenses are particularly useful for fixed lenses like on compact cameras, and mandatory if you want to get the most out of the camera you have.
A DSLR or mirrorless camera has tons of lenses for any situation. Slap on a long lens for macro critter, or a wide angle for a whale shark. It gets expensive but gets you excellent quality.
But for compact cameras, you need a wet lens. A wet lens is a lens that screws on to the outside of the camera housing, and it can even be changed underwater. Because of the versatility, my current favorite underwater setup is a G7X, a wide angle wet lens, a +10 macro wet lens and a +20 macro wet lens (plus lights ect).
My Favorite Wet Lenses
My Favorite Wide Angle Lenses
My Favorite Underwater Lights
What Gear do I Use?
I have gone through or tried a ton of different cameras, including nearly all of the ones listed above, and I think I have come up with the perfect combination and setup for my situation. If your situation is similar, I think you would also be happy with my setups.
What I needed was something that took high quality photos and videos, of both macro and wide shots, but also something relatively compact, as I do a lot of traveling for SCUBA.
MY DSLR and housing, as well as the tray etc, was a huge pain to travel with, and I got just as good of shots with my Canon G7X, and it was less than half the weight and size. Believe me, you’ll thank me when you check in on your next flight.
The G7X III also has a lot of accessories and gear made for it, so I can get a lot of epic content. I decided to make a completely separate guide, to show you exactly what my setup is, because I believe it is truly the perfect one for me, and probably you too! Check out – My Ultimate Underwater Camera Setup.