Updated in March 2019! We reviewed dozens of options and picked the best cameras suited for underwater photography. Top rated cameras for our 2018 review include the GoPro HERO7, Olympus TG-5, Panasonic LX10, Canon G7 X II, Sony RX100 VI and more!review,best,underwater,point,shoot,camera,photography,waterproof,scuba,diving,gh5,hero5,gopro,canon,sony,olympus,nikon,hero7,hero,7,2019,2018

Best Underwater Cameras of 2019: Compacts Cameras

We at Backscatter all fondly remember the excitement (and trepidation) we felt as we purchased our first underwater camera system. This guide is diligently compiled each year to eliminate the hassle and headache often associated with shopping for underwater camera gear. Whether you are just getting started with underwater photography, an intermediate shooter looking to upgrade his/her system, or an advanced image-maker looking to assemble a more compact rig for travel to combat those ever-rising baggage fees, this BEST UNDERWATER COMPACT CAMERAS article is for you! We've searched and tested dozens of compact cameras over the years to find the best match between portability, price, and the goals of aspiring and experienced underwater shooters. From our own waters of Monterey, to the Caribbean, and the Coral Triangle, we've spent hundreds of hours shooting compact cameras underwater. These top performers will enable you to capture stunning images underwater. As the field of compact cameras is changing extremely rapidly, we will update this article on a continuous basis. Last updated March 2019.Summary of the Best Underwater Cameras of 2019Best Entry Level Compact Camera GoPro HERO7GO TO HERO7Best All Around Compact Camera Olympus TG-5GO TO TG-5Best Advanced Compact Camera Panasonic LX10GO TO LX10Compact Runner Up Sony RX100 VIGO TO RX100 VICompact Runner Up Canon G7 X IIGO TO G7X IIPlease scroll down to read a short review for each camera.How We Selected Our 2019 Test CriteriaTarget Users 1) New underwater photographer wanting an easy point & shoot camera with growth potential. 2) Advanced underwater photographer wanting a compact camera solution. Camera Feature Requirements 1) Great to excellent image quality. 2) A camera must be compact and lightweight when used topside. 3) A camera must be point & shoot easy, but offer intermediate to advanced controls. 4) Underwater housing must offer wide-angle potential. As in last year's review, more cameras seemed to meet our minimum criteria, and the best cameras quickly bubbled to the top of the list. To help you understand our criteria, please review the following concepts. Wide-Angle Lenses Many cameras are incompatible with underwater wide-angle lenses. Most of these cameras feature a 5X or greater zoom lens. While this might be attractive for topside photography, long zoom lenses require underwater housings designs with long lens ports. Accessory wide-angle lenses must mount to the end of these ports and suffer from severe vignetting (dark corners) when the camera is zoomed wide. You can zoom in the camera lens to clip out the dark corners, but an extreme zoom will negate any benefit. Our point & shoot camera finalists in this review offer great wide-angle lens solutions by the original manufacturer or a high-quality third-party solution. In recent years we have seen more cameras have a 28mm equivalent (to film) lens and some even have a 24mm equivalent lens. As the lenses on the cameras get wider, optically it becomes harder to design an underwater wide-angle lens. While 24mm may sound wide to a land based shooter, we generally consider an angle of over 100 degrees to be the starting point for an underwater wide-angle setup. This will allow the photographer to get very close to the foreground subject but still maintain an expansive background. On most 24mm lens cameras, you may need to zoom to 28mm for use with a wide-angle lens to avoid vignetting. Some manufacturers have resorted to an air dome on these wider lens cameras to bring back the above water angle of coverage. If you remember from your basic scuba class, your mask reduces your field of view by about 25 percent. The same thing happens with your camera lens behind a flat lens port. The air dome will restore the angle of coverage to what it is above water. However, the angle for a 28mm is only 75 degrees, and a 24mm is only 84 degrees, making it harder to photograph very large objects like large reef scenes and shipwrecks that really require a lens with a minimum of 100 degrees to be close enough to get proper contrast and color. Mirrorless cameras offer interchangeable fisheye and wide lenses on the camera that can be matched up to a dome port for some seriously wide coverage up to 180 degrees. While these lenses can't be changed underwater, they offer optically the best solution for wide-angle photography. That being said, in the past couple of years, we have seen high optical quality wide-angle lenses that can be used in combination with a standard “kit” lens from a mirrorless camera that will sometimes exceed the optical quality of dedicated wide-angle optics. Manual vs. Auto Exposure All cameras in this review are point & shoot easy, but a few offer more growth potential. Auto exposure cameras can take great snapshots, but adding a strobe or video light and selecting a camera with manual exposure options will provide more rich and saturated colors. All cameras in this review are point & shoot easy, but a few offer more growth potential. Auto exposure cameras can take great snapshots, but adding a strobe and selecting a camera with manual exposure options will provide more rich and saturated colors.Highlight Warning and Histograms It's disappointing to download photos from a great dive only to learn they are too dark or too bright. Better to be warned of errors while we're still in the water and able to correct our mistakes. Professional SLR cameras offer highlight warning and histogram feedback displays to help pro shooters dial in their exposure on the spot. These tools are the primary method of determining whether you nailed the exposure or not. Most of the cameras in this review feature a version of these essential exposure guides. The Highlight Warning will blink a warning color in areas that are overexposed. The Histogram is simply a bar graph of the tones in the image and provides refined feedback to help you on the ultimate digital exposure goal--to make the exposure as bright as possible without losing too much detail in the highlights. Highlight warnings alert the photographer of over exposure. Histograms are a bar graph of tones in the image and can guide the photographer to the ultimate goal of a proper exposure. These tools are the primary method of determining whether you nailed the exposure or not.Slave TTL Strobes In recent years strobe manufacturers have developed what is called slave TTL. When set to slave TTL mode, the underwater strobe simply mimics the camera's built-in strobe to produce an automatic strobe exposure. While no automatic system will yield perfect results 100% of the time, this system works reasonably well and can help someone who is just starting out to get some good shots in the can on their first trip. Understanding how TTL systems work, how to judge exposures, and working within a camera system's limitations will be a photographer's best tools for getting the picture you want. Movie Mode Over the past few years, movie mode has evolved from a novelty feature to full blown primary video camera. Many of the cameras in our lineup produce video that is surprisingly good for the cost and what is a secondary feature of a camera. Some of these cameras can now be a preferred choice for a video shooter over a camcorder. With advanced video features like focus peaking and zebra stripping that are normally found in pro video rigs, a shooter can truly use one system without compromise to capture both video and photo. All but one of the cameras in this review shoot 4K video. Custom White Balance In order to shoot good-looking video, getting an accurate white balance is crucial. A custom white balance is a user telling the camera what area of the picture is white and the camera building the rest of the colors off of that baseline recording. Correct white balance makes the video look more natural, and helps to bring back colors that are filtered out by water when shooting at depth. Even when using a color correction filter such as a Magic Filter, a custom white balance setting can yield superior results. Unfortunately, getting an accurate white balance is not a given on a point and shoot camera. On some cameras it is a convoluted process, on others, an accurate reading is not even possible underwater. Choosing a camera that makes it easy to get an accurate reading is a must if you're planning to use it for shooting video. We gave additional points to cameras that have an easy to set and accurate white balance. White balance in video is so critical in natural light shooting that it is more important than what video resolution or frame rate the camera is capable of. The best resolution doesn't matter if the colors look bad. Our Breakdown of Categories We divided our top picks into four categories: Best Entry Level Compact CameraBest All Around Compact CameraBest Advanced Compact Camera There is no one camera that is the best at everything. One was the best for image quality, but couldn’t execute a custom white balance underwater. Another was the fastest shooting camera we’ve ever seen but was not great for wide angle movies. And another was great at movies, but would not be our top pick for someone only interested in stills. Because of this we also included runners up in this review in addition to our top pick. Our top picks are our best all around choices taking into consideration serving the needs of the broadest segment of users for both photo and video. Depending on an individual’s shooting style, subject interest, and shooting goals, a runner up may be a better option than one of our top picks for that particular individual. The staff at Backscatter have extensive experience with every camera in this article and can help guide your decision on which underwater photography camera is best for you. Best Entry Level Compact CameraBACK TO TOPThe GoPro HERO7 Black EditionCamera & Housing Starting at $449With new Hypersmooth Stabilization, improved Image Quality, and 4K 60p recording, it's easy to say this is the Best GoPro for shooting underwater that we have seen yet! GoPro is out with the latest in its HERO line, the GoPro HERO7 Black. Below is everything you need to know when taking this powerful little action camera underwater. So what’s new and exciting about GoPro HERO7 Black? The biggest new features are the Hypersmooth image stabilization, overall improved image quality, and some tweaks to their performance tiers, specifically the GoPro HERO7 Black, GoPro HERO7 Silver, and GoPro HERO7 White editions of the HERO7 camera. Key Info on the HERO7:Hypersmooth—Pro Level Gimble Like Image StabilizationImproved Color, Contrast, & ClarityOnly One HERO7 for ScubaEven More FeaturesLimited Macro ControlConclusion Overall, it’s easy to say that the GoPro HERO7 Black is the best GoPro yet. Hypersmooth gives clips buttery stability. The image quality packs solid contrast, clarity, and color, especially when paired with FLIP Filters. It’s got some creative features and modes to use for creating stories and compelling shots. Whether it’s your first underwater camera system or just a component of something larger, it’s worth packing for your next dive. ProsPro level gimble like image stabilization in video using HyperSmoothBetter color, contrast and clarity underwaterNew creative tools, including TimeWarp and 1080 at 240fpsConsLimited adjustment of field of view when sealed in Super Suit dive housingFor more information on the GoPro HERO7 and FLIP7 filter system, check out our GoPro HERO7 article and GoPro Solutions article.READ THE GOPRO HERO7 REVIEWREAD THE GOPRO SOLUTIONS REVIEWGoPro HERO7 Black Camera $399.99BUY NOW GoPro Super Suit Dive Housing $49.99BUY NOWIsotta GoPro 7 Housing $400.00BUY NOWRecsea WHG-HERO5 Housing $599.00BUY NOWSubal GO5 Housing $528.94BUY NOWCompact Camera Vital StatisticsOlympus TG-5Canon G7 X IISony RX100 VIPanasonic LX10Resolution12.0 MP20.1 MP20.1 MP20.1 MPImage Size4000 x 30005472 x 36485472 x 36485472 x 3648 Sensor Size1/2.3" (6.17x4.55mm)1" (13.2x8.8mm)1" (13.2x8.8mm)1" (13.2x8.8mm)Lens (35mm equiv.)25-100mmf/2.0-4.9 24-100mmf/1.8-2.824-200mmf/2.8-4.524-72mmf/1.4-2.8ISO Range100-12800125-12800125-12800125-12800Frame Rate (Stills Burst)20 fps6.5 fps24 fps10 fpsMovie Resolution4K1080p4K4KMax Frame Ratein 1080p120p60p960p60pLCD Size3" 460K px3" 1.04M px3" 1.23M px3" 1.04M pxRAW FormatYESYESYESYESClosest Macro Focus0.39" / 1 cm (telephoto)2.0" / 5 cm (wide)3.5" / 8 cm (wide)1.2" / 3 cm (wide)Waterproof Without Housing YESNoNoNoCamera + Housing PriceStarting at $750Starting at $1,100Starting at $1,695Starting at $1,250Best All Around Compact CameraBACK TO TOPThe Olympus Tough TG-5 CameraCamera & Housing starting at $750We were impressed with the versatility the Olympus TG-5. In this video see wide angle and macro shots for both video and photo along with our breakdown of all the new features of the camera. The Olympus TG-5 is the long awaited update to the every popular TG camera series and we think this update is the most significant Olympus has done yet for the TG camera line. The Olympus TG-5 won our hearts by being not only being able to execute our top requirements well but also with ease for the user. Key Info on the TG-5:All New Sensor With Impressive Image QualityBest in Category AutofocusAdded Advanced Features—Focus Peaking, Manual Focus, Manual FlashStill the King Of Macro4K Video and High-Speed HDNo Manual Exposure, But Easy Exposure Compensation Gets You ThereConclusion For the macro junkie, this camera will more than satisfy your fix. The ability to do both wide angle macro with ease, 4K video, the incredibly easy to use microscope mode makes for the most diversely capable compact camera we have seen. If you are primarily a wide shooter and don't care about macro that much you’re probably better off being served by the more advanced manual capabilities of the Panasonic LX10. But for a shooter who wants an easy to use, great all around camera with excellent image quality for macro and wide, photo and video, the Olympus TG-5 comes as our top pick. ProsUndisputed king of macro All new sensor with massive improvements in image quality, with sharper images and improved low-light performance4K 30p and 120p HD videoConsCan’t execute a custom white balance in movie mode4K and 120p HD are only available in movie mode, not in microscope mode or aperture priority We were hoping this new release would have full manual exposure control, but alas we have been let down againFor more information on the Olympus Tough TG-5, check out our in-depth review article & best settings guode.READ THE FULL REVIEWWATCH THE BEST SETTINGS GUIDE Olympus Tough TG-5 Waterproof Camera $449.99 BUY NOWIkelite TG-5 Housing $299.00 BUY NOWOlympus PT-058 Housing $299.99 BUY NOWNauticam NA-TG5 Housing $800.00 BUY NOWRecsea CWOM-TG5 Housing $525.00 BUY NOWRecsea WHOM-TG5 Housing $725.00 BUY NOWBest Advanced Compact CameraBACK TO TOPThe Panasonic Lumix LX10Camera & Housing starting at $1,250With its accurate custom white balance, advanced manual capabilities, and great looking color, the Panasonic LX10 is the best compact camera in this review for video shooters. When the Panasonic LX10 was released, all the specs pointed in the direction of a perfect compact camera—large sensor, 4K video, and a zoom lens that does not require any housing port changes for wide angle. The Panasonic LX10 is Panasonic’s answer to the 1-inch sensor sized Sony RX100 V and Canon G7 X II, our runners up in the Advanced Compact category. Image quality is excellent and is comparable to these other 1-inch sensor cameras. Where the Panasonic stands out is the control set, white balance, and 4K video. Key Info on the LX10:Advanced SLR Like Control SetEasy to Add on Wide Angle and Macro Lenses4K Video and Accurate Custom White BalanceConclusion The Panasonic LX10 excels in every area for a camera. Excellent image quality, 4K video, accurate white balance, and a control set that reminds us more of an SLR than a compact camera makes this the best advanced compact camera of the year. If you are a stills shooter, a video shooter, or do both, this is our top pick. For more information on the Panasonic LUMIX LX10, check out our in-depth review article.READ THE FULL REVIEWProsExcellent image quality, for both stills and video4K video with stabilizationFeatures like zebra stripping, focus peaking, and back button AF remind us more of features from SLR, not a compactAccurate custom white balance even at depthConsNo manual flash controlMacro shooting requires powerful external macro lenses to overcome the lackluster native macro performance. Panasonic LUMIX LX10 Camera $699.99 BUY NOWIkelite LX10 Housing $550.00 BUY NOWNauticam NA-LX10 Housing $995.00 BUY NOWBest Advanced Compact Camera Runner UpBACK TO TOPThe Sony DSC-RX100 VICamera & Housing starting at $1,695 The Sony RX100 VI follows a long line of excellent cameras that has evolved over the years in the RX100 line. With the Mark VI, Sony has made a major change with an all-new 24-200mm lens, making this the most versatile RX100 camera to date. This is the biggest game changer and has both pluses and minuses. Read on to see how awesome this new lens is, albeit with a few caveats. Key Info on the RX100 VI:All New 24-200 LensFinally, Super Macro Capability with an RX cameraSpeical accommodations for 200mm lens underwaterSpeed and Performance—Best Compact We've Seen Yet4K Video and High-Speed HDCustom White Balance—Improved, But Could Still Be BetterConclusion The Sony RX series has been around for quite a while now, and while improvements over the years in performance have been substantial, the Sony RX100 VI takes it in a radically different direction with an all-new lens. This new lens makes underwater super macro viable with the 200mm focal length when an additional macro lens is added on. It’s not the easiest camera to shoot for super macro and we can definitely say you’d have a much easier time shooting super macro with an SLR than with the Sony RX100 VI. On the wide-angle side, photos look excellent with great colors and sharp images. Manual white balance has been improved, but it still needs more work to match the standard that Canon has set for underwater ambient light color. Video with lights look great, so if you prefer video lights to ambient you’ll be very pleased. Having a camera with a 200mm lens that can fit in your pocket with the level of quality you get from the Sony RX100 VI is really an incredible thing. Combine that with 24 frames per second RAW with over a 100 shot buffer, there is no better compact camera for carrying around for all of your land adventures. For someone who wants this level of versatility on land and has something they can take underwater all wrapped up in one, this is the best camera for the task. While it probably won’t be our favorite compact camera for underwater, it definitely is our favorite for both topside and underwater use. For more information on the Sony RX100 VI, check out our in-depth review article.READ THE FULL REVIEWPros24 FPS in RAW, with focus24-200mm lens allows super tight macroLens zoom range is fantastic for dual topside/underwater use, but still fits in your pocketVideo quality is excellentAF speed and tracking in continuous mode rivals top-end mirrorless and SLR cameras Cons24-200mm lens requires different ports for true wide angle and macro Long or multiple back to back clips in 4K video can lead to overheatingImproved, but not great manual white balanceNo manual flash output controlVersatility and compact size comes at a price that’s not far off from an SLRSony RX100 VI Compact Camera $1,199.99BUY NOWFantasea FRX100 VI Housing $399.95BUY NOWIkelite RX100 VI Housing $495.00BUY NOWNauticam NA-RX100VI Housing $1,100.00BUY NOWNauticam NA-RX100VI Housing Package $1,350.00BUY NOWBest Advanced Compact Camera Runner UpBACK TO TOPThe Canon Powershot G7 X IICamera & Housing starting at $1,100 The Canon G7 X II is another great compact camera. We’ve always liked the color reproduction that Canon has, especially with underwater shots. Underwater custom white balance color has consistently been the best in the industry for years, with Panasonic only being able to catch up more recently. Another great feature of the Canon G7 X II that is missing from the other two cameras in the Advanced Compact category is a manual flash option. The camera's internal flash can be set manually to a low power allowing a quick recycle time. We prefer this shooting method to TTL as we can pull off a lot more shots in a shorter period of time to get that perfect shot. But the Canon G7 X II barely missed the top pick in our Advanced Compact category for a few reasons. First, it is the only camera in the category that does not shoot 4K video. We feel that in this day and age 4K is no longer a nice "to have" feature, but is now a requirement to be named a "Best Of" for the category. Second, is how the camera executes a custom white balance. The previous model was our favorite camera to white balance underwater. A user could assign a custom function button to execute and assign a custom white balance with a true 1 button push and instantly have perfect color. That feature is now gone. With the new imaging processor, (which does give a bump in image quality) the process is now the same as the company’s SLR procedure. To execute a custom white balance one needs to take a properly exposed picture, go to the menu, assign it to the custom white balance menu option, then choose custom from the white balance menu. In all, it takes around 10 button pushes now to execute a custom white balance. It does become more of a muscle memory procedure once you get used to it, but it’s nowhere as easy as pushing 1 button. Third, is for the extra gear required to use an accessory wide angle lens. The Canon G7 X II zoom lens has too much of a zoom range for it to be used with a standard housing port. The standard lens port necessary to accommodate the built-in zoom lens of the camera is too long for it to be effectively used with external wide angle lenses. The standard port needs to be removed and a shorter port installed to use external wide lenses. This in of itself is not enough to knock it out of top contender status, but it is a negative that we would rather not have to deal with. With its relatively large 1-inch sensor, the Canon G7 X II can have a more out of focus background to make the foreground subject pop off the background. If someone wasn’t interested in 4K video, we wouldn’t hesitate to recommend this camera or use it ourselves. The Canon G7 X II does have great color, image quality, the best native macro capability of any of the cameras in this category. Unfortunately, the Panasonic excels a little bit more in each of the areas where the Canon G7 X II falls just short. ProsGreat custom white balance colorBest macro capability in the Advanced Compact categoryManual flash exposure option for rapid fire shootingCons10+ button push custom white balance procedureShort port required for wide angle accessory lensNo 4K videoCanon G7 X II Camera $699.99BUY NOWCanon WP-DC55 Waterproof Case $399.99BUY NOWFantasea FG7X II Housing $399.95BUY NOWIkelite G7X II Housing $549.95BUY NOWIsotta G7XII Housing $920.00BUY NOWNauticam NA-G7XII Housing $1,100.00BUY NOWRecsea WHC-G7XMKII Housing $1,120.00BUY NOWCONCLUSIONWe hope you have enjoyed this in-depth survey of the underwater compact camera market. At Backscatter, our team is staffed with active divers who get out and shoot with all of the equipment that we sell. Our sales staff have direct experience with the gear you purchase with us and are just a phone call away if you ever need help. It's that level of expertise that we put into this annual roundup of compact cameras so that we can share with you what we've learned, and why we recommend certain cameras over others. Please support the development of more content like this by purchasing your gear from us.Why buy direct from Backscatter?Free lifetime tech support with every purchase. We will beat any advertised price. Free shipping to USA and Canada and low cost international shipping. Back to TopRelated PostsOlympus TG-6 Underwater Camera Review We were able to get our hands on a prerelease Olympus Tough TG-6 camera and Olympus PT-059 housing and spent a few dives with it in our home waters of Monterey. On paper, the Olympus TG-6 looks very s... Read More Panasonic LX100 II Underwater Camera Review The Panasonic LX100 II is a compact-body, fixed-lens camera with the large sensor and fast-shooting ability of a high-end mirrorless system. We love it for producing the best image quality and fastest... 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