The Best Underwater Camera For Scuba & Water Activities In 2020
Have you ever come home from a vacation with amazing stories to tell your family and friends, only to have them look at you with cynical smiles and questions of disbelief? If only you had taken an underwater camera with you to record that awesome dolphin that swam right up to you at the beach. But what is the best underwater camera that will let you capture these natural wonders?
The answer to this question is simple, yet complex—different cameras offer different features and work well with different skill levels. I have been working with underwater photography for over ten years, and have put together this guide for the best underwater camera with an emphasis on models that will work well for people who are not professional photographers.
I have selected five underwater cameras that are easy enough for beginners, but offer features that will please veteran photographers as well. I also include an overview of features to look for when selecting an underwater camera.
Table of Contents
- Best Underwater Cameras - Comparisons
- 3 Best Underwater Cameras - Reviews
- How to Pick The Best Underwater Camera
Best Underwater Cameras - Comparisons
up to 50 ft
up to 98 ft
up to 200 ft
3 Best Underwater Cameras - Reviews
The Olympus TG-5 is one of the easiest and most forgiving underwater cameras I have ever used. Out of the box, this camera is waterproof up to 50-feet underwater—you just need to take it out, turn it on, and it is ready to capture great photos. I have been using the TG line of cameras for years, beginning with the TG-2, and loved diving with this camera. For deeper diving, you can pick up the accessory housing that makes it waterproof up to 147 feet.
To make the most of your underwater photos, the TG-5 has three modes designed specifically for getting the best underwater shots. The Underwater Snapshot has a higher shutter speed to capture fast-moving animals, and the Underwater Macro mode is perfect for getting in close to those sea horses and coming away with seriously impressive photos. The HDR mode uses a composite technology for a bigger contrast ratio between light and shadow.
The TG-5 has the capability of shooting up to 12-megapixel images, and its high-speed lens is capable of shooting up to 20 frames per second. The Video mode shoots up to 4K video, with the ability to even record at 120 frames per second. Replaying video at this speed can help you create an epic slow-mo video of that whale as it breaches the surface right in front of your dive boat.
What we liked
- Simple to use
- Super macro capable
- Compact and easy to carry
What we didn't like
- Limited manual adjustments
- Difficult to use with dive gloves on
Action cameras are the newest in camera fashion, and for good reason—these cameras allow almost anybody to capture amazing videos of their adventures. The Aokon ARC100 by itself is not a waterproof model, but with the included housing this camera can reach a depth of up to 98feet.
Using this camera is the literal definition of point-and-shoot. You turn it on, point it the direction you want to record, and press the shutter button. This camera doesn’t have a whole lot of options for shooting settings, so it is automatically designed to optimize the available 4K, 1080p, and 720p video modes. In addition, the 720p mode can shoot up to 120 frames per second.
On the back of the camera is a 2-inch LCD display that shows what you are looking at. Not all action cameras have this feature, so you have to guess at what you are shooting. The screen on the ARC100 lets you know for sure what you are capturing so you don’t miss that awesome shot.
The photo mode can shoot photos up to 12 megapixels, and has a 170-degree lens that gives a wide view of what you are shooting—this is helpful since it reduces the chances of cutting off the scene you are looking at.
What we liked
- Camera and housing are easy to use
- Great video and photo quality
- Comes with mounts and accessories
- Works well above the water too
What we didn't like
- Battery only lasts about an hour
- No flash or light for dark situations
The SeaLife Micro HD+ is specifically designed for the highest performance for underwater adventuring while still being simple. The camera is permanently sealed and waterproof up to 200 feet—in fact, even the USB interface is waterproof, so connecting it to a computer doesn’t compromise its waterproof properties.
The Micro HD+ is small enough to fit in the palm of your hand, making it easy to pack and carry, and the camera still boasts a maximum image size of 13 megapixels. The continual shooting mode is a cool feature that allows time-lapse photo taking, for example getting frame-by-frame pictures of an octopus gliding across the sea floor.
The Micro HD+ has a Video mode capable of shooting 1080p video, but the coolest feature is the “picture in video” that lets you take still photos while you are taking a video. The built-in 32GB memory has room to store almost 8000 high-resolution photos, or 6 hours of video. When you’re done, you can even transfer your pictures and video wirelessly to your smartphone or tablet. Of course, you still have the USB interface to quickly transfer your footage to your PC for storing and editing.
What we liked
- Buttons are easy to use even with gloves
- Great color in photos
- Very compact and portable
- 200 feet depth limit (though I will never go that deep)
What we didn't like
- Very few manual adjustments
- No Macro mode
How to Pick The Best Underwater Camera
Waterproof vs. Underwater housing
Underwater cameras use one of two methods in order to be truly waterproof. Some cameras have a body that is built to withstand increasing atmospheric pressure without allowing water to seep into the vital electronic innards, while other cameras come with an additional waterproof housing that protect them from the water getting in.
For novice photographers, choosing a camera that has a waterproof body is often the easier way—even though housings allow you to take the camera deeper, there is a higher degree of error associated with using a housing you manually put on the camera, which can lead to flooding the device.
The size of a camera will have several implications. Pretty high on this list is how much space the camera takes up in your luggage—the type of camera systems you see in HD nature videos and National Geographic require their very own, large plastic case with lots of protective padding.
But for most vacationers, that size is far too large for some recreational vacation shooting anyway—acompactdevicethat you can easily carry around on your wristor putin your stabilizer’spocket is more than enough. Small,pocket-sized cameras take up less space, and often less padding, so you can take them anywhere with ease.
Nowadays, everything from trying to impress your friends to creating professional quality prints are achievable with underwater cameras—so you first need to decide how exactly you are going to use your camera and the pictures taken with it. Taking the time to figure out what you want to accomplish with your camera will go a long way to help you make this decision. Here are a couple common features to look out for:
RAW Capability—RAW is the professional format for photos, and cameras that shoot RAW will allow you a lot more options for editing and cleaning up photos.
Megapixels—essentially, more megapixels mean higher quality edges and clearer images when a photo is blown up or expanded. This is important when it comes time to printingyour pictures. Cameras with higher megapixel capability mean you can make larger prints, however, for amateur photographers,8 to 10 megapixels should beenough—a camera with this capability can print photos up to 8x12-inch photos.
Manual Adjustments—for more experienced photographers, this will allow you to adjust the shutter speed, white balance, aperture, and ISO of your shots. Each of these have an effect on the lighting, color, and exposure of your photos. Skilled photographers know how to manipulate these modes to create the best possible images, and cameras that allow manual adjustments will help you bring out your inner photographer.
Macro Mode—many sea animals that are colorful, vibrant, and beautiful are also tiny, so having a camera with a good macro mode will allow you to grab excellent pictures of these animals without having to rely on digital zooming, which would inevitably lower the quality of your images.
Video and Photo Capability
Personally, I think this is one of the most important features in a camera. I love taking photos, but when it comes to capturing compelling moments, video has a higher degree of forgiveness for shaky movements. Most cameras on this list are photo first, but they also have quality video modes that will allow you to record those majestic manta rays in high-definition.
A note on maintenance
It is vital that every time you take a camera in the water, you rinse and soak the camera in clean fresh water afterwards to remove any salt, sand, or sediment. If the camera has a housing,remove it and soak the entire housing inside and out, and then dry it completely using a soft cloth. By keeping the camera and its housing clean and free of buildup you can make sure it doesn’t develop water spots or leaks.
Shoot for the starfish, and the dolphins
Modern cameras make even the most novice photographer capable of capturing amazing vacation photos—today I gave you a list of compacts, because they are the best way to get started. And even if you already have plenty of shooting under your weight belt, these cameras can still offer great capabilities while not taking up a lot of space in your bag.
My personal favorite is the TG-5 because of the great performance both on land and under water. The underwater shooting modes capture incredibly life-like colors. I also like that it lets you shoot and edit your photos in RAW file format.
Whichever of the best underwater cameras you choose, you will quickly be on your way to wiping the disbelieving looks off your family’s and friends’ faces—and more importantly, you will be able to immortalize your favorite vacation memories.