Best Sony Camera For Underwater Photography

Mirrorless cameras have evolved at a break neck pace over the last decade. In fact, they are now the top choice for most underwater photographers. Unlike compact cameras, mirrorless cameras have interchangeable lenses.

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Best Sony Camera For Underwater Photography

Best Mirrorless Cameras of 2022 for Underwater Photography


 

Brief Introduction to Mirrorless Cameras:

The most obvious physical difference from a DSLR camera is their lack of mirror inside the body. This gives engineers more space to work with when they are designing camera technology. Therefore, mirrorless cameras feature cool new capabilities like in-body image-stabilization, electronic viewfinders, a single hybrid autofocus system (that works great in live view), autofocus point coverage over large areas of the sensor, advanced autofocus tracking, larger lens mounts for higher quality lenses and more. Mirrorless cameras also tend to be slightly smaller than DSLR cameras but they can be a lot smaller as well, depending on the model (check out the Sony A7C if you want a small full-frame model!). That makes them a great choice for traveling. If you want to shoot at the cutting edge of camera technology with the best image quality and autofocus the industry has to offer, than you should shoot a mirrorless camera.

Different Types of Mirrorless Cameras:

Mirrorless cameras are now featured in multiple sensor sizes including micro four thirds, aps-c, and full frame. Full-frame (35mm sensor) mirrorless cameras have become the top cameras for underwater photography. Full frame sensored mirrorless cameras have the best dynamic range, low light capability, autofocus, and image quality on the market. They also have less depth of field than their smaller counterparts. Currently, there are full frame mirrorless camera offerings from Canon, Nikon, Sony, and Panasonic. These cameras are equipped with the world’s best photographic technology and are some of our top recommendations as underwater cameras. The Canon EOS R5 and R6 are two of the top full-frame mirrorless cameras on the market, equipped with ground breaking technology like in-body image-stabilization with up to 8 stops of correction and animal eye AF tracking that works on fish. New underwater housing options for these models are coming out regularly. The Sony A7R IV remains the top camera for high resolution photography with an amazing 61 MP sensor. The Nikon Z7II and Z6II should be given a nod as the top Nikon full-frame mirrorless cameras, but Nikon’s innovation lags slightly behind Canon and Sony. Panasonic has tantalized video shooters with their S series cameras, the S1, S1R, and S1H – but not as much as the truly ground breaking Sony A7S III.

Sony and Nikon currently make aps-c, or cropped sensor, models. These cameras are smaller than their full-frame counterparts but produce high quality, professional images. An APS-C sensor can be a great option for macro shooters. APS-C sensors offer more depth of field than full frame sensors and offer a closer field of view with macro lenses. Currently the Sony A6400 and Nikon Z50 are two of the top APS-C mirrorless options on the market.  

Olympus and Panasonic both use the micro-four thirds sized sensor, the smallest of the mirrorless sensors, for their mirrorless cameras. They share a lens mount with a lot of high quality, small micro four thirds lenses on the maket. The Panasonic GH5S is still one of the top mirrorless choices for underwater video. The Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark III is the current, top flagship model from Olympus. The micro-four thirds sensor is quickly going out of fashion after Olympus sold its imaging business last year. If any new models come out with this sensor size, we anticipate video orientred systems from Panasonic and Blackmagic. 

Left: Nikon Z7 (Full Frame Camera).  Middle: Sony A6400 (APS-C Sensor).  Right: Panasonic GH5S (Micro-Four Thirds Camera)

Mirrorless Versus Compacts:

If you want a smaller system, less expensive setup, or the ability to change between macro and wide-angle underwater, check out our best compact underwater cameras.

Mirrorless Versus dSLR Cameras:

A dSLR camera can be larger in size compared to mirrorless offerings but they offer quick autofocus, and some of the top, most mature camera technology on the market. Check out our best dSLR underwater cameras.

Still confused?

If you are still confused by all the options, call us at 310-633-5052 or email us at sales@bluewaterphotostore.com(link sends e-mail). We try to shoot all of these models when they are released, and we can talk you through the subtle differences.


Best Overall For 2022 – Canon EOS R5

Read our Full Canon EOS R5 Review for Underwater Photography

The Canon EOS R5 is the best camera for underwater photo and video. A wide range of new technology introduced in this system makes it optimal for underwater creatives ranging from a 45 megapixel full-frame sensor that captures clean, beautiful images to 8K/30p and 4K/120 internal RAW 10-bit 4:2:2 video recording capability. The in-body image-stabilization system built into the camera is second to none with the ability to recover up to 8 stops of exposure. This means you can shoot at very low shutter speeds and not have any motion blur. In our underwater tests, we took photos at 1/8th of a second with no issues! Moreover, the autofocus system in the R5 is one of the best on the market and is as good as Sony’s or better. We were very impressed that the R5 was able to track fish eyes underwater in many situations – especially when shooting macro photos. We are very excited to see where animal eye autofocus technology will go in the future. Finally, the video this camera can capture is truly wonderful. 8K/30p video is useful for underwater video shooters that want to crop in their video footage. It will be very helpful to macro video shooters especially. When you combine 4K/120p video with the R5’s IBIS system, there is no other way to get more stable handheld video footage. We had no problem shooting handheld video with a 100mm macro lens! That being said the Sony A7S III is still our top pick for underwater video as it has a wider variety of video-oriented shooting options. But if you are looking for the best underwater photo camera on the market, there isn’t another camera as capable as the R5.  

Key Features:

  • New 45 Megapixel Full-Frame CMOS Sensor and Digic X processor
  • Canon’s first 5 axis In-Body Image-Stabilization (IBIS) which works in conjunction with optical IS RF and EF lenses. Up to 8 stops of correction
  • Improved Dual Pixel II Autofocus
  • 5,940 AF points
  • 100% of the sensor has AF coverage!
  • ISO 100 – 51,200
  • Animal eye AF detection (for birds, cats, and dogs) – it works on macro fish 20-40% of the time!
  • 12fps burst shooting with mechanical shutter
  • 20 fps burst shooting with silent (electronic shutter)
  • 180 shot RAW image buffer
  • Dual card slots – 1x CFexpress and 1x SD UHS-II
  • 8K video @ 30p, 10- bit 4:2:2 – using the full width of the sensor!
  • Internal RAW and C-Log recording
  • 4K oversampled video up to 120p, 10-bit 4:2:2

Underwater Housing Options:

  • Aquatica Canon EOS R5 Underwater Housing – Rugged & Compact ($2,879.10)
  • Nauticam Canon EOS R5 Underwater Housing – Excellent Ergonomics & Durable ($3,965.00)
  • Ikelite Canon EOS R5 200DL Underwater Housing – Affordable & Great TTL Option ($1,695.00)
  • Sea & Sea Canon EOS R5 Underwater Housing
  • Isotta Canon EOS R5 Underwater Housing

Sample Underwater Image:

Spectacular resolution with the Canon EOS R5. Photo of a mosshead warbonnet captured with the Canon EOS R5 in an Ikelite housing, Canon 100 mm macro lens, dual Ikelite DS 161 strobes, Kraken +13 diopter, and Ikelite Canon TTL converter. f/16, 1/160, ISO 100


Best Hybrid Photo & Video Camera – Sony A1

Read our Full Sony A1 Camera Review

The Sony A1 did not make the top of this list for only one reason – price. On paper, the A1, Sony’s flagship full frame mirrorless camera is the best full frame camera in the world. And in fact, during our underwater photo and video review of the A1, we found that the camera met all of our expetations. We were able to capture beautiful, high resolution 50 megapixels with a 1/400s stobe sync speed. The ability to shoot at such high sync speeds allows photographers to recover an additional stop of exposure which is great for shooting sunballs and freezing action. We also successfully fired Ikelite strobes with Ikelite TTL and the electronic shutter – a first for underwater photography. But in many other way, the A1 is very similar to the Canon R5. Both cameras take high resolution photos with high burst rates. Both cameras can capture 4K/120p and 8K/30p video. And finally, both cameras have excellent, industry leading autofocus systems. But the Sony A1 is $6500 and the Canon R5 is…not. Yes, the A1 features novel shutter technology and a wider range of video options. But we think the Sony A1 is the best camera on the market for existing Sony shooters or hybrid shooters who are willing to spend a premium to get the absolute best photo and video features from their camera. We would like to point out that the Sony A1 and Sony A7S III fit the same housings currently available for the A1 – giving underwater shooters an economic path to taking Sony’s two best camera bodies underwater. 

Check our our detailed comparison of the Sony A1 vs the Canon R5

Key Features:

  • New Full-Frame 50MP Exmor RS Stacked CMOS Sensor
  • 15 stops of dynamic range with improved colors, tones, and gradation
  • New BIONZ XR Processor 
  • Continuous shooting up to 30fps w/ electronic shutter and 10fps w/mechanical shutter at full resolution – AE and AF operable throughout
  • Updated Carbon-Fiber Mechanical Shutter for a more quiet and vibration-free performance
  • Records video up to 8K/30p (oversampled from 8.6K), 4K/120p (oversampled)
  • Improved electronic shutter – greatly reduced rolling shutter and flicker under artificial light
  • THE ELECTRONIC SHUTTER WORKS WITH EXTERNAL FLASHES (and strobes, with a TTL converter)
  • FLASH SYNC SPEEDS: up to 1/400sec (mechanical shutter; 1/500 in APS-C mode), 1/200 (electronic)
  • Lightning-quick AF with its 759 phase-detection points with 425 contrast-detection areas – covering 92% of the sensor
  • AF system recalculates 120 times per second – 30% more accurate than A9II
  • Better animal eye AF that can track birds – does not track fish
  • 5 axis IBIS with 5.5 stops of recovery
  • 10-bit 4:2:2 internal recording with 16-bit RAW external recording
  • Full range of Log recording options – Cine, HLG, and S-Log
  • Viewfinder: Electronic (OLED) – 9.44 million dots
  • Dual CFexpress Type A / UHS-II SD Card
  • Dimensions: 5.07 x 3.81 x 2.74 in (128.9 x 96.9 x 69.7 mm)
  • Weight: 1.6 lb (737g)

Underwater Housing Options:

  • Nauticam Sony A1 Underwater Housing
  • Ikelite Sony A1 & Sony A7S III Underwater Housing
  • AquaTech Sony A1 Edge Housing
  • Isotta Sony A1 Underwater Housing
  • Aquatica Sony A1 Underwater Housing

Autofocus tracking on the A1 resulted in sharp rhinophores on this nudi. Janolus nudibranch photographed with the Sony A1, 90mm macro lens, Ikelite A1/A7S III housing. f/22, 1/200, ISO 200


Best Entry Level Full-Frame Camera – Canon EOS R6

Read our Full Canon EOS R6 Camera Review

The Canon EOS R6 is Canon’s newest prosumer level full-frame mirrorless camera released alongside the EOS R5. The only real difference from the R5 is a drop in resolution for both photo and video and a drop in retail price of $1400 – which is why we are naming it the “best value” camera this year. In fact, we think it’s the perfect camera for anyone thinking about getting into full-frame photography. The R6 features a 20.1 megapixel full-frame CMOS sensor and is capable of 4K video at 60 fps using 94% of the sensor width. The R6 has been updated with new features like in-body image-stabilization, animal eye autofocus, 100% AF coverage, and 12 fps/20 fps electronic burst shooting. Due to these impressive specs, the R6 is a top camera for underwater photographers and videographers and a top focus for underwater housing manufacturers. It’s a great camera with excellent image quality, fast autofocus, and compatability with both RF and EF lenses (when using an EF-R adapter). 

Key Features:

  • 20.1 Megapixel Full-Frame CMOS Sensor and Digic X processor
  • Canon’s first 5 axis In-Body Image-Stabilization (IBIS) which works in conjunction with optical IS RF and EF lenses. Up to 8 stops of correction
  • Improved Dual Pixel II Autofocus
  • ISO 100-102400
  • 100% of the sensor has AF coverage!
  • Animal eye AF detection (for birds, cats, and dogs) – we’ll see if it works for fish!
  • 12fps burst shooting with mechanical shutter
  • 20 fps burst shooting with silent (electronic shutter)
  • Dual card slots – 2x SD UHS-II
  • Internal C-Log recording
  • 4K video up to 60 fps, 10-bit 4:2:2 (16:9, 1.07X crop)
  • 3.69 million dot EVF

Underwater Housing Options:

  • Ikelite Canon EOS R6 200DL Underwater Housing – Won’t Break the Bank, Lightweight ($1,695.00)
  • Nauticam Canon EOS R6 Underwater Housing – User Friendly & Built-to-Last ($3,965.00)
  • Isotta Canon EOS R6 Underwater Housing
  • Aquatica Canon EOS R6 Underwater Housing

Sample Underwater Image and Video:

This image shows the beautiful image quality and dynamic range that the R6 is capable of capturing. This anemone was photographed with the Canon EOS R6 and Canon 8-15mm fisheye lens in an Ikelite EOS R6 housing. The image was slightly underexposed and adjusted in post processing. This image shows the quality of the details recovered. f/13, 1/60, ISO 320


Best High Resolution Camera – Sony A7R IV

Read our Sony A7R IV Review

The Sony A7R IV camera  is still the best camera on the market if you are looking for a high resolution sensor. It builds upon the high-end Sony Full Frame mirrorless line with some great improvements over the previous A7R III. The most notable is the increase in resolution to 61 megapixels, making the Sony A7R IV the highest resolution full-frame camera in the world. There have also been some awesome improvements to the A7R IV’s autofocus capability, with more phase detection autofocus points. The difference in autofocus acquisition from the A7R III is noticeable and the A7R IV still has one of the top autofocus systems on the market. If you are looking at the Sony A7R IV for its resolution, it’s important to note that 61 megapixels is a lot of pixels stuffed into a full-frame sensor. So the sensor does introduce some noise at higher ISO. But if you are a macro shooter that wants to crop to your heart’s desire than the Sony A7R IV is the way to go! 

Key Features:

  • 61.0 MP Exmor R CMOS Sensor
  • BIONZX Image processor
  • 567 phase detection AF points, 425 contract detection AF points which cover 99% of the height of the sensor and 74% of the width
  • Autofocus tracking system updated with touch tacking AF and Eye AF in movie mode
  • New Eye Animal AF Tracking!
  • ISO sensitivity of 100-32000
  • 15 stops of dynamic range at low ISO
  • 4K video @ 30P 
  • 1/250s flash sync speed
  • 5-axis in-body image-stabilization
  • Continuous shooting Hi+: 10fps, Hi: 8fps
  • 530 shot battery life

Underwater Housing Options:

  • Isotta Sony A7R IV Underwater Housing – Ferrari of the Sea ($2,590.00)
  • Sea & Sea Sony A7R IV Underwater Housing – Compact & Features Buoyancy Pocket ($3,895.95)
  • Ikelite Sony A7R IV Underwater Housing – Made from ABS-PC, Lightweight Yet Sturdy ($1,695.00)
  • Aquatica Sony A7R IV Underwater Housing – Rugged & Built for Ease of Use (2,564.10)
  • Nauticam NA-A7R IV Underwater Housing – High Quality & Supports Various Lenses ($3,189.00)

Camera Body & Lenses:

  • Sony A7R IV Camera – $3,499.99
  • Lens Options 

Sample Underwater Image:

One of the world’s first underwater photos with the Sony A7R IV. Taken with the Ikelite A7R IV housing, dual Ikelite DS 161 strobes, and the Sony 16-35mm rectilinear wide lens aboard the Socorro Vortex liveaboard. 1/250, f/10, ISO 320


Best Camera For Underwater Video – Sony A7S III

Read our Full Review for the Sony A7S III Camera

The Sony A7S III is a spectacular video-oriented full frame mirrorless camera that is shaping up to be 2020’s best camera for underwater video. The A7S III is our favorite underwater video camera because of the wide range of options available from frame rates to bit rates and codecs to picture profiles. It can record 4K video up to 120fps for slow motion and stable video, with 10-bit 4:2:2 internal recording for the best color science Sony has to offer when paired with a wide variety of Log profiles. It is also an excellent stills camera with 12 megapixels of resolution – enough for social media and most day-to-day useage – but likely not enough for working photographers that shoot macro or print large prints. Sony didn’t holdback when it came to autofocus options, equipping the camera with Sony’s excellent AF tracking and animal eye AF capability. True to form, the A7S III succeeds the A7S II as a lowlight masterpiece, it’s ability bolstered by a lower resolution sensor and close to “dual gain” ISO (more on that below). The A7S III does not have recording time limits and did not overheat in our underwater tests, despite some topside users complaining about overheating in direct sunlight.

Key Features:

  • 12 MP BSI CMOS Full Frame Sensor
  • Bioz XR Image Processor
  • ISO 80-102,400
  • “Low Base” and “High Base” (effectively dual gain) ISO capability for better low light shooting
  • 4K video up to 120 fps
  • No recording time limits. Could be limited by heat (4K @ 60p for at least an hour)
  • 10-bit 4:2:2 internal recording
  • S-LOG, HLG, Cine logarithmic picture profiles available
  • 4K @ 60p, 16-bit RAW recording with an external recorder
  • 5 axis in-body image-stabilization (IBIS)
  • Dual card slots (either SD or CFexpress Type A)
  • 9.44 M dot Electronic Viewfinder (EVF) – the best resolution on the market!
  • Movie File Formats: XAVC S (Long GOP, H.264 MP4); XAVC HS (Long GOP, H.265 HEVC); XAVC S-1 (All-Intra, H.264 MP4)
  • AF tracking with human and animal eye AF capability
  • 759 point hybrid AF system with 425 contrast detection points

Underwater Housing Options:

  • Ikelite Sony A7S III 200DL Underwater Housing – Compact, Lightweight & Affordable ($1,695.00)
  • Nauticam Sony A7S III Underwater Housing – Excellent Ergonomics & Durable ($3,189.00)
  • Isotta Sony A7S III Underwater Housing – Stylish & Robust ($2,690.00)
  • Sea & Sea Sony A7S III Underwater Housing

Camera Body & Lenses:

  • Sony A7S III Camera – $3,499.99
  • Lens Options 

Sample Underwater Video:


Best Value – Sony A6400

Read our Full Review for the Sony A6400 Camera

The Sony A6400 Camera is packed with lots of great features taken from full-frame camera siblings at half of the cost. The image quality is awesome. An APC-S sensor is a serious step up from compact and smaller mirrorless cameras (e.g., micro four thirds), with better image quality. The camera can be combined with a broad array of lens options. Another noteable feature is the autofocus. Offering a quick 425-point phase detection AND 425-point contrast detection autofocus system, combined with a variety of focus modes, there is a setting for every situation. The A6400 also offers 4K video at 30 fps, fast 11fps bursts, and more.

Key Features:

  • 24.2 Megapixel APS-C type Exmore CMOS sensor for outstanding light sensitivity.
  • 425-Point Phase-detection Fast Autofocus with Real-Time Tracking AF A.I. Technology
  • 4 Focus modes with 6 focal area settings
  • 4-speed Sequential Shooting.  Hi+ – 11fps; Hi – 8 fps Mid 6 fps; Lo: 3fps.
  • 4K Cinema Video at 30/25/24 fps
  • 1/160th Shutter Sync for flash
  • Lightweight and Weatherproof Body

Underwater Housing Options:

  • Fantasea Sony A6400 Underwater Housing – Affordable & Durable ($6,74.95)
  • Ikelite Sony A6400 Underwater Housing – Lightweight & Affordable ($1,695.00)
  • Nauticam Sony A6400 Underwater Housing – Excellent Ergonomics & Durable ($3,189.00)

Camera Body & Lenses:

  • Sony A6400 Camera – $899.99
  • Lens Options 

Sample Underwater Image:

Wolf eel photographed with the Sony a6400, 16-50mm lens, UWL-09F wet lens, single Sea & Sea YS-D1 strobe and Fantasea Sony a6400 underwater housing. f/8, 1/160, ISO-400


Best APS-C Mirrorless Camera – Nikon Z50

Read our Nikon Z50 Full Camera Review

The Nikon Z50 is Nikon’s first attempt at creating an APS-C mirrorless camera – something Sony and Canon have been doing for quite a while. The Nikon Z50 is akin to a mirrorless version of the Nikon D500 or an APS-C version of the Nikon Z6. During the Z50’s initial release many dubbed it a dud for it’s lack of Z mount lens options and large lens mount on a small body. But this didn’t necessarily mean that the Z50 wasn’t useful for underwater photgoraphy. In fact, we think the Nikon Z50 is one of the best, if not the best, cropped sensor for underwater photo and video! Off the bat, the Z50 produces unbeatable image/video quality for its price points. The reason we have chosen the Nikon Z50 over other cropped sensor mirrorless cameras like the Sony A6000 series cameras, is because Nikon f mount lenses perform better underwater than Sony E mount lenses. The resulting effect is better image and video quality, even if the autofocus system is a little slower.

Key Features:

  • 20.9 Megapixel Resolution CMOS sensor (APS-C – DX format)
  • Hybrid phase-detection/contrast AF with AF assist, 209 points
  • 11 fps sequential shooting
  • 4K Video @ 30/25/24 fps
  • FHD video up to 1080/120p
  • ISO range of 100-51200
  • Lens mount system: Z mount, can use F mount lenses with FTZ adaptor
  • 3.2 inch tilting touchscreen monitor. It can also be flipped for selfies and vlogging
  • Built-in WiFi and Bluetooth

Underwater Housing Options:

  • Nauticam NA-Z50 Underwater Housing – High Quality Aluminum Housing, Easy to Operate ($2,672.00)
  • Ikelite Underwater Housing for Nikon Z50 – Lightweight ABS-PC Material, Compact ($1,695.00)

Sample Underwater Image:

Nikon Z50, 8-15mm Fisheye, f/18, 1/160, ISO 100


Best Nikon Camera – Nikon Z7 II

Read our Full Nikon Z6 II, Z7 II Camera Review

Yes, we created a special category for Nikon. The reason for this is because Nikon cameras have been lagging behind Canon and Sony cameras in technological innovation over the past three years. Therefor, it was difficult to place any new cameras from Nikon on this list. However, there are a lot of avid Nikon DSLR shooters out there, and we think it’s time for Nikon underwater shooters to make the switch to mirrorless. The recent Nikon Z7II camera release has answered many initial concerns that Nikon DSLR shooters had with dual card slots, longer battery life, and better autofocus. Video shooters will be even more pleased with 4K/60p recording capability for more stable video underwater. As a camera goes, the Nikon Z7II is by any measure a professional camera. And it’s important to consider that Nikon lenses are some of the best for underwater photography on the market. But the Z7II just doesn’t quite measure up to the Canon EOS R5 or Sony A7R IV, especially when it comes to autofocus.

Key Features:

  • 45.7 megapixel full-frame BSI CMOS sensor (no lowpass filter)
  • ISO 64 – 25,600
  • 5 axis in-body image-stabilization (IBIS)
  • dual Expeed 6 processors
  • 3.6 million dot EVF
  • 1/200s flash sync speed
  • Dual XQD and UHS-II (SD) card slots
  • 10 fps burst shooting
  • 77 image buffer @ 12-bit lossless RAW files
  • 493 point phase detect hybrid autofocus system
  • -3 EV low light AF sensitivity
  • 4K video recording up to 60 fps
  • 10 bit 4:2:2 recording with N-Log over HDMI output
  • 360 shot battery life
  • Weight: 615 grams
  • Size: 5.3 X 4 X 2.8 inches

Underwater Housing Options:

  • Isotta Nikon Z6, Z7, Z 6II, Z 7II Underwater Housing – Innovative Design, High Quality Aluminum Housing ($2,690.00)
  • Ikelite Nikon Z6, Z7, Z 6II, Z 7II Underwater Housing – Well Built, Affordable, Lightweight ($1,695.00)
  • Aquatica Nikon Z6 II, Z7 II Underwater Housing
  • Sea & Sea Nikon Z6 II, Z7 II Underwater Housing 
  • Nauticam Nikon Z6 II, Z7 II Underwater Housing – User Friendly Controls & Robust ($3,965.00)

Sample Underwater Image:

Whale shark photographed with the Nikon Z7II and the Nikon 8-15mm wide angle lens. 1/125, f/13, ISO 640


Best Micro Four Thirds Camera For Photo – Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark III

Read our Full Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark III Camera Review

Yes, Olympus may have sold its imaging business, but micro four thirds shooters should not despair! Olympus left us with one last OMD model that rounds out its line of cameras in a last hurrah. The Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark III camera produces stunning and tack-sharp photos. It is packed with lots of awesome features that were originally introduced in the Olympus EM1X and is a great option for all levels of photographers. If you want to upgrade your Olympus camera one last time, you can’t go wrong with the Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark III.

Key Features:

  • 20.4 Megapixel Live MOS Sensor
  • TruePic IX Quad Core Processor (faster upgrade to Mark II)
  • 121 point cross-type phase detect AF system
  • 5 axis image stabilization up to 7 stops
  • 2.36M dot electronic viewfinder
  • 3 inch touch LCD
  • Weathersealed
  • 15fps [H]/10 fps [L] burst shooting with mechanical shutter
  • Topside features including handheld high res shot mode, live ND filter, electronic shutter
  • 4K video @ 30 fps with an OM-Log mode

Underwater Housing Options:

  • Isotta OM-D E-M1 Mark IIII Housing – Stylish, High Quality Aluminum Housing. Excellent Ergonomics ($1,790.00)
  • Nauticam NA-EM1III Underwater Housing – Sleek, Streamlined & Lots of Lens Options ($2,068.00)
  • Ikelite Housing for OM-D E-M1 Mark III – Lightweight, Affordable ($950.00)

Sample Underwater Image:

 

Beautiful low light wolf eel portrait captured with the Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark III camera, Ikelite OMD EM1 Mark III housing, dual Ikelite DS 161 strobes w/ Ikelite TTL converter, Olympus 7-14mm Pro lens.


Best Micro Four Thirds Camera For Video – Panasonic GH5S

The Panasonic GH5s is not the newest mirrorless camera in the market but it is still one of the best mirrorless cameras for video on the market. The Panasonic GH series has long been known as a video powerhouse with more options and higher quality recording codecs available. The GH5S is no different than previous versions and continues to build off that foundation, offering 4k / 60p video record that uses the full sensor to capture video. It features 20MP resolution with a high res – 6k photo mode. The Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera 4K was a close runner up, so be sure to check out that camera as well!

Key Features:

  • 10.2MP high-sensitivity MOS sensor with multi-aspect
  • Dual native ISO with a range from 160 – 51,200 and extendable to 80 – 204,800.
  • 4K DCI or UHD video recording, up to 60p
  • V-Log L Gamma and HDR Hybrid Log Gamma
  • Impressive low-light performance 
  • High speed focusing and 14-bit RAW Burst
  • Slow Motion Video – C4K/4K (60-fps maximum 2.5x slower*) or Full HD (240-fps maximum 10x slower)
  • 225-area Advanced Depth-From-Defocus AF system
  • 12 fps with single-shot autofocus or up to 8 fps with continuous autofocus
  • Advanced DFD autofocus
  • Dual UHS II card slots (V60 ready)
  • 3.2″ RGBW free-angle touchscreen LCD 
  • 3,680k-dot, OLED viewfinder
  • Splash, dust, freeze proof design
  • 5GHz Wi-Fi, NFC and Bluetooth

Underwater Housing Options:

  • Ikelite Housing for Panasonic GH5 – Small & Compact, Lightweight ($1,695.00)
  • Nauticam GH5, GH5S, GH5II Underwater Housing – Sturdy & Robust ($2,499.00)
  • Aquatica GH5 Underwater Housing – Rugged and Built to Last ($1,944.90)
  • Isotta GH5 Underwater Housing – Stylish, Ferrari of the Sea ($2,540.00)

Camera Body & Lenses:

  • Panasonic GH5S Camera – $2,499.99
  • Lens Options 

Sample Underwater Video:

Underwater Digital Cameras

Choosing the best underwater camera can be difficult, even with an underwater camera guide. New cameras from compact type to dSLR are constantly being released.  Deciding which one is best for your underwater photography can be challenging but this comprehensive guide helps break down the specs of current, premier cameras in each category.

If you are looking to purchase a new underwater camera, we recommend also checking out Bluewater Photo’s Best Underwater Camera Guide.

Jump to:

Best Compact Cameras for Underwater Photography

Best dSLR Cameras for Underwater Photography

Best Mirrorless Cameras for Underwater Photography

Links to:

Camera Reviews

Underwater Housing Reviews

Bluewater Photo – Expert Advice on Underwater Housings & Accessories

Compacts vs. Interchangeable Lens Cameras for Underwater Photography

Which type of underwater digital camera should you buy? What is the best underwater camera? There are compact cameras, mirrorless, and dSLRs each with their own pros and cons.  

Compact cameras have one attached lens while both mirrorless and DSLRs use interchangeable lenses. After shooting with a compact underwater camera, many people consider switching to a mirrorless or a DSLR. The obvious advantage is the interchangeable lens choices. This is a significant difference that limits the flexibility of a compact camera, although wet lenses can help bridge this distance to some extent. You also have more flexibility with different focal lengths and better image quality from superior optics and a larger sensor. Interchangeable lens cameras also have reduced shutter lag and better focusing capability. These are huge advantages. Shooting with a DSLR is quite a joy and very few people regret changing. However, a compact camera in the right hands can sometimes take shots that rival a DSLR shot.

For more information on how compacts differ from DSLRs underwater, and how to use your compact camera underwater, read about using compact cameras underwater. 

The best camera for underwater photography may be a full frame high resolution dSLR or a full frame mirrorless camera. New models like the Nikon Z7 and the Canon EOS R are setting a new standard for stills and video in one package.

Let’s look at more advantages and disadvantages of a compact camera, when compared to a dSLR:

Compact cameras can deliver stunning image quality, like this image shot with the Canon G7 X Mark II. Photo: Brent Durand 

Compact Digital Underwater Cameras 

All compacts involve tradeoffs. If you just want to take snapshots underwater, well then there are dozens of cameras that will all produce similar results. Most of the Sony, Canon or Olympus cameras will be excellent choices. The cameras I list below are the best ones I feel for underwater photography, especially if you ever want to grow past taking a few snapshots.

Is full manual mode important for a compact camera?

Anyone considering purchasing an external strobe at some point, should get a camera with full manual controls. Most of the time, but especially when using an external strobe, it is very helpful to have complete control over how much ambient light comes into the camera. Although exposure compensation can be used to accomplish this to a limited degree, setting the shutter speed and aperture yourself is the best way to control the ambient light.

Sony RX100 VI Compact Camera

Compact underwater camera advantages:

  • Smaller size for travel
  • Less drag underwater
  • Ability to change lenses underwater (wet lenses only) giving the ability to go from wide angle to macro during the dive
  • Much less cost (although the cost of a high-end housing, wet lenses, adapters, etc. can start to add up)
  • Less weight, easier to carry and beach dive with

Compact underwater camera disadvantages:

  • Smaller sensor (more noise, less detail, smaller dynamic range, etc.), although the Sony RX100 series offers a larger sensor
  • Shutter delay and focus delay is slow compared to a dSLR – this is the biggest complaint
  • Optics are of lesser quality
  • Less battery life
  • Noisy at high ISO
  • Less control over depth of field. A large sensor dSLR will have a smaller depth of field at a large aperture, giving a blurred background. This is difficult to accomplish with a compact camera.

Olympus Tough TG-6 Camera 

What To Look For In A Compact Underwater Digital Camera

  • Full manual mode – I think this is very important
  • Good quality underwater housing available. It should be easy to access and adjust the camera controls. Some housings make it very difficult to use in full manual mode.  
  • Be sure the housing has the ability to take wet lenses – macro & wide angle
  • Macro mode (although this is less important if you are going to use wet lenses)
  • Ability to take a fisheye lens. This can be important for people who want to shoot wide angle, because really great WA photos means getting really close, and the best way to do that is with the UWL-04 fisheye lens. Not many cameras, however, support full manual mode and accept a fisheye wet lens. Scuba diving photography requires you to get close to the subject in order to get the best colors, which a fisheye lens makes easier.
  • Low shutter lag
  • Long battery life
  • Raw mode. This is only important if you plan on shooting in RAW and most compacts offer this now. It’s nice to have it, but not everyone will shoot in raw. If you don’t have the right settings and the right lens, then having RAW won’t matter anyways.
  • Ability to fire strobes via sync cord. This is helpful because otherwise you must use the camera’s pop-up flash which can be slow to recycle and use up battery time. However, sync cords can be a pain, so if you can find a fiber-optic solution that has decent battery life and a decent recycle time on the internal flash, this is the way to go .
  • Good auto focus capability. Some cameras are very slow to focus in less than ideal conditions, which is what we often experience underwater. All compacts come up short in this category usually.

Bluewater Photo Guide to the Best Compact Cameras for Underwater in 2019


Best Underwater Compact Cameras

A few of my top underwater camera recommendations are the Sony RX100 VII, Canon G7X III, and Olympus TG-6. Read our Sony RX100 VII review, the Canon G7X III review and the Olympus TG-6 review.

For older models, the Canon G16 and Olympus XZ-1 are also good choices. The Canon G-series and Sony RX-100 series have both taken some of the best compact camera photos that I’ve ever seen. The Canon G16 performs great for macro, but the Sony RX-100  set a new standard for compact cameras for wide-angle with their larger sensors and amazing wet lens results. (Not so much for the Sony RX-100 III, IV, V or VI, find out why in our Sony RX-100 III review).

Here is a list and quick notes on popular compact camera models available today.  If the camera you are looking at is not on this list or the chart below, it is probably because I think there is a better option listed. 

Canon G5X MKII – The 20mp CMOS Sensor with DIGIC 7 image processor features 14-bit RAW files and 4k video. The pros that make the G5 MKII stand out are its exceptionally fast focusing capability with dedicated macro focus, slow motion video setting, and 20 fps burst shooting Jpeg. 

Canon G7X MKIII – One of the best overall value underwater compact cameras with a fast startup and longer battery life. Specs are very similar to the G5X MKII however, the camera does not have a viewfinder and has a slightly less zoom at  24-100mm compared to 24-120mm. See the Canon G7X MKIII review here.

Canon G16 – An older camera released in August 2013 with housings still available. The macro on the Canon G16 is superb and it is fast to focus. The G16 was the top in its class of compact cameras for a long time but has since been outnumbered by the newer, updated Canon Powershot G series compacts.

Sony RX100 VI – Considered one of the best underwater compact cameras available today along with the Sony RX100 VA. Upgrades include improved quick auto focus and a new 24-200mm lens (compared to the 24-70mm.)  Macro images are stunning especially with added wet lenses such as the Bluewater +7 close up lens. 4k video with full pixel readout and 24fps burst shooting sets the Sony RX100 VI apart from all others.  Read the full review here.

Nikon Coolpix W300 – If you’re on a budget, this is the camera to consider.  The camera itself is waterproof to 100ft and costs less than $400.  It shoots 4k video, has a zoom range of 24-120mm and a 16mp CMOS sensor.  Of course it has limitations which is mainly that it lacks RAW capabilty (it only shoots Jpeg) but if size and weight are priorities (it only weighs 8oz!) then this is one to look into or carry as a backup solution.

Olympus TG-5, TG-6 – Both models are rugged, shockproof and waterproof to 50ft on thier own without a housing. They are without a doubt popular for all kinds of watersports and have many housing options for diving.  The TG-6 is 12mp, 4k video and shoots RAW. Read our full review on the TG-6 here.

Panasonic Lumix DC ZS80 – 20.3mp, 4k video with 5-axis optical image stabilization and RAW 10fps

Panasonic Lumix LX100II – 17mp, shoots Raw, 4k video. Considered a top-quality compact. A little on the pricey side for a compact at at just under $900 new.  Check out recommended settings and further reading on the LX100 series.

Panasonic LX10 – The LX10 has excellent video quality with 4k photo capture.  At 20mp, the image quality is great especially recording as RAW format. See the LX10 at Bluewater Photo Store.

SeaLife DC2000 – A solid choice for compact and simplicity. Often sold / rented by dive shops and always sold as a camera/housing combination. It is up to par with the 20mp sensor, RAW and depth rating of 200ft in the housing or 60ft on its own. It shoots 10fps per second for those looking to shoot in burst mode but only records 1080p video.  

SeaLife ReefMaster– For those whose priority is wide angle video, the ReefMaster records 4k video at 30fps, is waterproof to 130ft with a 14mp image sensor but does not offer RAW format.

Sea & Sea DX 6G – A popular choice for water sports as it is waterproof to 46ft on its own and to 180ft with the housing.  28-140mm focal length with digital image stabilization and a 16mp CMOS sensor. Does not offer RAW or 4k. Check out our detailed review of the DX 6G here.Mirrorless cameras deliver exceptional image quality in a much smaller package than a DSLR. This goby was shot with the Sony a6300. Photo: Brent Durand 

Mirrorless Cameras for Underwater Photography

Mirrorless cameras are all the rage right now and certainly the most popular type of camera on the market. What makes them so different? Interchangeable lens cameras use a mirror to reflect the scene back to the viewfinder so the user can tell what the camera “sees”. By omitting the mirror, the entire system is smaller and much lighter. The mirrorless design was first developed in 2008 by Olympus with Pansonic for micro-four thirds cameras. Choosing a mirrorless camera can be tough – there are many excellent models out there, many with only small differences between them.

Micro-Four Thirds

MFT cameras produce a higher quality image than point and shoot compacts. Although the 4/3 sensor measuring 17mm x 13mm is larger than a compact sensor, it is smaller than the APS-C and considered to be the “in between” compact cameras and cropped sensor types. Our top choices for mirrorless cameras with a micro-four thirds lens mount are the Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II and Pansonic GH5. You can read more in our micro-four thirds and mirrorless camera guide. 

Olympus OM-D M1 MKII – 20mp micro 4/3 sensor.  Fast auto focus with a wide range of quality lenses.  Considered the best MFT camera for photography. 

Panasonic GH5 – 20mp micro 4/3 sensor. Excellent for 4k video with 5-axis image stabilization. Options for a range of wide angle to macro lenses.

Click here for a Complete Overview of MFT mirrorless cameras for Underwater Photography.

Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II

APS-C Mirrorless Cameras

APS-C or “cropped” sensors, measuring approximately 22mm x 15mm, are larger and better quality than the smaller micro four-thirds. The bigger the sensor the more image fits into the frame. But don’t let the name confuse you; cropped sensors are actually getting their name from being smaller than the full frame sensors explained in the full frame section below.

The Sony a6500, a6400, a6300, a6100 are excellent cropped sensor mirrorless cameras, with great image quality and video capability. The sensor size is the same as a Nikon D500 or Canon 7d MKII. Image quality, dynamic range and focus speed is excellent. The cameras, lenses and housings are much smaller than a dSLR and less expensive. Read our Sony a6400 Mirrorless Camera Review.

Sony a6100 – Sony’s latest budget base model with many perks of the a6400. 24.2mp, 4k at 30fps and super fast auto focus.  

Sony a6400, a6500 – Probably the most popular interchangeable lens cameras for underwater photography today. Read the full a6400 review here.

Nikon DX Z50 – A newly released cropped sensor camera with all around great entry level features for less than $900. 20.9mp, 4k. We are looking forward to getting this one underwater. 

Canon EOS M6 MKII – Great for the advanced amateur photographer.  Small overall size, 32.5mp, 4k.

Sony a6500 Camera

Full Frame Mirrorless Cameras

Nikon’s Z7 has proved to take the stage in the full frame mirrorless category.  Although Sony is more popular, the image quality from Nikon is superior. Canon EOS R probably has the best, fastest focus ability underwater, but not topside. 

The Sony A7r series are small, full-frame mirrorless cameras that can take exceptional images. Although Sony lens selection is a little limited, there are adapters to use high quality lenses from Nikon or Canon. The A7r II improved on the less than stellar auto-focus of the A7, making the A7r II, III and now the A7r IV the top choices for underwater photographers although the auto focus topside is still faster than its performance underwater.  A full-frame sensor, plenty of megapixels, a range of lens choices, a small size and professional video capability make the A7 line a popular choice. Battery life has much improved but don’t expect it or the responsiveness to be at the level of a high-end dSLR.

Nikon Z7 – Nikon’s flagship full frame mirrorless camera. 45.7mp, built in 5-axis image stabilization, 4k, 9fps Read why this is a favorite.

Canon EOS R – Canon’s 30.3mp full frame mirrorless, great focu speed underwater with Canon’s tried and true high quality optical glass lenses.  Read more about the EOS R here.

Sony A7r IV – 60mp high resolution full frame sensor, 10fps, improved autofocus. We had the opportunity to be the first to take it underwater with a prototype housing from Ikelite. Check out the details of shooting wide angle and macro close ups with the new A7r IV.

Canon EOS R, Sea & Sea housing, Canon 100 mm macro lens, f/16, 1/160, ISO 200

APS-C Cropped Sensor vs Full-frame

Cropped sensor type cameras are great for advanced enthusiasts looking to step up the quality of their images. They are the most popular mirrorless and dSLR’s underwater. So who shoots full frame? Generally people who already own a full-frame camera (for indoor sports, weddings, and landscape photography), and want to house it, or pros that have specific shots in mind with a wide-angle lens, often of sharks, dolphins or other pelagics. Professionals who have a requirement to print larger than 20×30 at 300DPI also must sometimes shoot full frame to get the required resolution. Full frame sensors measure 24mm x 36mm with an unsurpassed quality right down to the pixel level.

Why did I get a Nikon D500? I shoot a lot of telephoto and wildlife photos topside, so the low-noise and fast frame rate of the D300 was perfect for my topside use. The increased dynamic range will help my WA shots “pop” like those Canon full-frame shots, and the Nikon 60mm and 105mm VR lens are excellent macro lens. But I must say, after shooting with a Nikon D810 on several trips, having 36 megapixels is truly amazing – and you should definitely consider that camera if you can afford it. Read out full Nikon D810 review here. The D850 gives improved low-light auto-focus performance over the D810.

Crop Sensors Advantages

  • Generally considered better for macro, especially for super-macro
  • Approximately 60% more depth of field than a full-frame sensor, given an equivalent field of view
  • For most people, cropped sensors are “good enough”

Full Frame Sensor Pros

  • Less noise in high ISO (limited use underwater, except in dark conditions shooting ambient light)
  • Some cameras have more megapixels for larger prints
  • Slightly better IQ and dynamic range for more “pop” in WA and pelagic photos
  • Better viewfinders
  • High resolution for the best detail

Full Frame Cons

  • Housings are generally a little more expensive
  • Technique, lenses and dome optics all must be top-notch to take advantage of any increase in resolution
  • More difficult to get good corner sharpeness with rectilinear wide-angle lenses

DSLRs have long been the top choice of serious photo and video shooters. This scene shot with the Canon 7D Mark II. Photo: Brent Durand  

DSLR Underwater Cameras for Underwater Photography

There are a large number of dSLR camera bodies out there. The main 2 brands used in UW photography are Nikon & Canon. Whichever brand you choose, make sure you are happy with the lens selection that brand supports. 

A good lens, proper composition, and proper lighting are important for making great photos. The camera body is less important, and excellent shots can be made with Canon or Nikon bodies. Your photography is unlikely to improve dramatically just by switching camera bodies.

If you choose Canon or Nikon, you will also have to choose between cropped sensor or full frame sensor cameras.  If size and cost are less of an issue, a full frame dSLR may be the best underwater camera for you due to exceptional image quality and the fastest focusing speed and response time – but mirrorless beasts like the Nikon Z7 and Canon EOS R are not far behind in those areas.

APS-C dSLR Cameras

Nikon d7500 – 20.9mp, 4k and 8fps.  Paired with Nikon’s quality optical lenses this is a great mid range choice.

Nikon d500 – Nikon’s flagship DX camera. 20.9mp, 4k. Read the review specs. 

Canon 7d Mark II – 20.2mp, Rugged semi-pro dSLR with good auto-focus during video. See the review and compatible lenses.

Canon SL3 – Excellent entry-level and the smallest dSLR. 24mp, 4k. Read the review here.

Canon 7d MKII dSLR Camera

Full Frame dSLR Cameras:

The Nikon D850 and Canon 5d MK IV are top choices for the ultimate pro underwater photography and video.  With unsurpassed quality lenses from Nikon and Canon, the following are the best underwater cameras available today. 

Nikon D5 – Excellent camera, but keep in mind people have been having problems getting the 14-24mm lens sharp behind a dome port. 

Nikon D850 – 45mp high resolution sensor, true 4k full frame, max flash sync 1/250 Read the full review on the D850

Canon 5D Mark IV – The latest camera in this long line, and one of the most popular dSLR choices for underwater video. Read our 5D Mark IV review. 

Canon 5DSr – High resolution, professional camera with advanced mirror vibration control and low pass filter effect cancellation to take full advantage of the 50mp clarity right down to pixel level. Dual memory card slots.

A tube anemone photographed with the Nikon D850, 105 mm macro lens, and ReefNet fiber optic snoot, Santa Cruz Island, CA

Some Personal Suggestions (mirrorless / DSLR cameras)

On a budget? Go for a Mirrorless camera like the E-M1 II, E-M5 II, Sony A6400 / A6500 series or OM-D E-M10 III

Into macro? Get a Nikon D500 or NIkon D850 (although great macro shots can be taken with Canon or Olympus cameras)

My top choice for a dSLR? Get a NIkon D500, Canon 5D Mark IV or Nikon D850

Looking for an entry-level dSLR? Try a Canon T5i or a Nikon D7500

Into wide-angle? Canon 5d Mark IV & Canon 5DSr take some excellent wide-angle shots 

Really interested in live view underwater, or great image quality in a smaller package? Look into the Sony A7R IV, Sony A6400 or A6500, or the Olympus OM-D E-M1 II or E-M5 II. The Panasonic GH5s / GX9 and Sony A7 III cameras take the best video.

Looking for the most compact setup with a larger sensor? Look at a mirrorless camera setup.

What’s the hottest bodies out there right now for underwater use? Look at the Nikon D500 or a Canon 5D Mark IV, or a Nikon D850, Sony A7R IV, Sony A6500 or the Olympus OM-D E-M1 II.

Sync Speed and Underwater Photography

The faster the sync speed, the easier it will be to light up subjects with your strobe with the sun in the background. With a slower sync speed, you need a small aperture to properly expose the sun, and therefore even stronger strobes.

New or Used Camera?

Used cameras are fine; just make sure you check the shutter count. Mechanical shutters will eventually fail. The shutter count is also referred to as the number of actuations.

Checking actuations

If you’re buying used, and your camera uses a mechanical shutter (e.g. – D90,D7200) – check the number of actuations (shutter clicks) by getting a jpeg file from the camera and using an exif viewer. You can’t check on the camera, so you’ll need to bring your laptop and a card reader if you’re meeting someone to buy a used camera. Look for “shutter count” or ” camera actuations”

  • You can get one for the Macintosh here: http://homepage.mac.com/aozer/EV/index.html
  • And for the PC here: http://www.opanda.com/en/iexif/index.html

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