If you want to document vivid sealife while snorkeling, coral reefs and shipwrecks while diving, or major waves while surfing, you’ll need a camera that can handle more than just a little bit of water.
We talked to several professional photographers—who also happen to be divers—to get their tips on what to consider before you start shopping for an underwater camera. Plus, you’ll find advice on how to choose everything from waterproof casings for your regular DSLR or mirrorless camera to floatie handles to attach to your GoPro so it doesn’t sink if you drop it.
Tips for buying an underwater camera
- Underwater housing is key: To transform your existing camera into an underwater camera, you’ll need to make sure it has compatible underwater housing (i.e. the case that protects the camera). David Troeger, photographer and CEO of Jetlag Creative Studio, recommends AquaTech’s underwater housings for phones as well as Outex’s soft silicone cases for larger cameras. “When you’re ready to take it to the next level, Salty Surf Housings are made for even the toughest environments,” says Troeger.
- Consider size and weight: Depending on your personal preferences, you can choose a larger or lighter camera. “Generally speaking, lighter and smaller underwater cameras are always more practical,” says Troeger. “Many professional underwater cameras are large and heavy, but the benefit is they are buoyant underwater, making it easier to carry.”
- Choose the right accessories: Making sure you have the right accessories to overcome the distortion you may get while underwater is key. “For the most accurate pictures underwater, the camera needs a dome shaped lens port, which helps correct light traveling through a denser substance than air,” says Troeger. “Without it, wide-angle lenses will create magnifying glass–effect pictures. Also, the best camera is the one you’ll always have on you: look for accessories that secure the camera to the wrist, so that it won’t get lost if you’re surprised by a big wave.”
- Build a budget: With all these accessories, underwater photography can be an expensive hobby. “Be sure that your budget includes the housing, ports, and some lights or strobes, as this will usually cost much more than the camera itself,” says underwater photographer Tom St. George. “You will also want to make sure you have a solid choice of lenses too (generally we use macro, fisheyes, and/or ultra-wide angle underwater).”
Taking all of these factors into consideration, here are the best underwater cameras—plus a few key accessories—to take on your next dive.
1. GoPro HERO10 Black
Buy now: $400, gopro.com
“Having a GoPro as an underwater camera is great: it’s small, light, and sufficiently waterproof for most situations,” says Troeger. GoPro’s latest camera model, the HERO10 Black, features 5.3K video, which means you get very high resolution, along with 60 frames per second so you can capture more content in a short amount of time. It also has HyperSmooth 4.0 video stabilization in all modes.
Depending on if you are a freediver or a scuba diver, be conscious of your depth capabilities for all camera models. For example, the HERO10 is waterproof up to 33 feet. Also, capturing your content and storing it in a safe way is crucial. The HERO10 connects to the cloud, so as soon as you plug your cable in to charge it, your footage is automatically uploaded. Editing your GoPro content is also efficient with the GoPro Quik app, where you can edit, share, and manage photos and videos.
2. GoPro Bite Mouth Mount and Floaty
Buy now: $40, gopro.com
Dropping your GoPro in the ocean and watching it sink is not a great feeling, so consider using the Bite Mouth Mount and Floaty, which works with the HERO9 and HERO10 GoPro models. With the two-in-one package, you’re able to get hands-free footage using POV angles when you’re surfing or freediving. The accessory will click into any quick-release mount for easy access and the floaty allows you to have extra security in the water.
3. Nikon Z 50 Mirrorless Camera
Buy now: from $857 (body only—lenses and underwater housing sold separately), bhphotovideo.com; adorama.com; bestbuy.com
To make the Nikon Z 50 fully waterproof, you need to pair it with underwater housing (our recommendation follows). But the extra investment is worth it, because mirrorless digital cameras have more sophisticated sensors that gather more light (compared to a GoPro) when on snorkeling or diving expeditions.
This camera works well with a wide variety of Nikon lenses, whether you’re shooting macro-organisms under the sea or wide-angle shots of whale sharks. The digital camera can be used to capture both stills and video and features a 20.9MP CMOS sensor (for nuanced image quality and high sensitivity); EXPEED 6 image processor (for high-speed image capturing); a 209-point hybrid AF system with eye detection (for quality image focusing); and a low-light performance to ISO 51200 for capturing content at those deeper depths.
Video shooters will benefit from full HD recording at up to 120 frames per second for slow-motion playback, as well as in-camera clip trimming. Ready to share your content? The Z 50 comes with built-in Wi-Fi and Bluetooth that work with the Nikon SnapBridge app for wireless transfer of photos and videos.
4. Ikelite 200DL Underwater Housing for Nikon Z 50
Buy now: $1,695, bhphotovideo.com
The Ikelite 200DL underwater housing is compatible with the Nikon Z 50. Yes, it costs more than the camera itself, but also provides waterproof protection down to 200 feet.
5. Filson Small Dry Bag
Buy now: $40, filson.com
Having a safe (aka dry) place to put your accessories and camera is essential during a day out on the water. The Filson Small Dry Bag is a TPU-coated 840D nylon bag that rolls down and buckles creating a 100 percent waterproof environment for your camera and accessories. While it’s big enough to fit a GoPro or DSLR camera, it compacts to a flat, travel-ready size when it’s not in use.
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