The Backscatter staff have spent plenty of time shooting mirrorless cameras in the water around the world in all sorts of conditions, from our home waters of Monterey, CA, to the Caribbean, and the Indo Pacific. We’ve compiled this guide to help you figure out if a mirrorless camera is right for you, and if so, which one is best for your particular interest. Whether it's upgrading from a compact or going full pro, video or photo, we’ll break down these cameras and go over our top pics. Best,Underwater,Mirrorless,Cameras,2021,Housing,Case,Review,Buying,Buyer's,Guide,2020,Sony,Canon,Nikon,Olympus,Panasonic,Fuji,Full Frame,MIL,Micro,Four Thirds,4/3

Best Underwater Cameras of 2023: Mirrorless Cameras

The Backscatter staff have spent plenty of time shooting mirrorless cameras in the water around the world in all sorts of conditions, from our home waters of Monterey, CA, to the Caribbean, and the Indo Pacific. We’ve compiled this guide to help you figure out if a mirrorless camera is right for you, and if so, which one is best for your particular interest. Whether it's upgrading from a compact or going full pro, video or photo, we’ll break down these cameras and go over our top picks. Summary of the Best Underwater Mirrorless Cameras for 2023Best All-Around Full Frame Advanced MirrorlessSony a1 The Sony a1 is hands down the best performing hybrid camera to shoot both video and photo, period. However, this much capability doesn’t come cheap at $6500 for the camera body only. LEARN MORE ABOUT THE a1Best Full-Frame Advanced Mirrorless For PhotoSony a7R IV Our top pick in this category, the Sony a7R IV, has the best still image quality and resolution we’ve ever seen from ANY full frame camera. At a much more affordable price than the Sony a1 coming in at $3499 for camera body only, it falls a little short in the video department. LEARN MORE ABOUT THE a7R IVBest Entry-Level MirrorlessOlympus E-PL10 Anyone who is looking at a compact camera should seriously consider the Olympus E-PL10 as a great alternative. It will have much improved image quality over a compact but is not all that different in underwater size, and has a price less than most compacts at $699 for a camera and included lens. LEARN MORE ABOUT THE E-PL10Best Mirrorless for VideoSony a7S III If you’re a pro level video shooter, the Sony a7S III is the most pro level mirrorless video rig available. It will come in at a fraction of the price of a cinema system at $3499 body only, but will still deliver high bit rate 4K 120p all day long. LEARN MORE ABOUT THE a7S IIIAdvanced Runner-up #1 Canon EOS R5LEARN MORE ABOUTTHE EOS R5Advanced Runner-up #2 Nikon Z 7 IILEARN MORE ABOUTTHE Z 7 IIEntry-Level Runner-up #1 Olympus OM-D E-M5 IIILEARN MORE ABOUTTHE E-M5 IIIEntry-Level Runner-up #2 Sony a6600LEARN MORE ABOUTTHE a6600Video Runner-up #1 Panasonic GH5LEARN MORE ABOUTTHE GH5Keep reading for more information about each camera and our testing criteriaABOUT OUR MIRRORLESS REVIEW 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 about which camera for underwater photography is best for your individual needs. Please don’t hesitate to give us a call, we love to geek out and guide you to the best camera for you. JUMP TO A SECTIONWHAT IS A MIRRORLESS CAMERA?BENEFITS OF A MIRRORLESS OVER A COMPACT CAMERAMIRRORLESS MYTHS: MIRRORLESS VS. DSLR DEBUNKEDCATEGORIES & WINNERSWHAT IS A MIRRORLESS CAMERA? A mirrorless camera is basically just a DSLR camera without the optical viewfinder. It still has an interchangeable lens like an SLR, but rather than looking through the optical viewfinder to compose an image, it is either done by looking through an electronic viewfinder, or on the screen on the back of the camera, like a compact. While all mirrorless cameras have a screen on the back, not all have an electronic viewfinder. HUGE RANGE OF OPTIONS FROM ENTRY LEVEL TO FULL PRO Mirrorless cameras are the largest category of cameras for underwater imaging. It also has the biggest price variance and user experience range of entry-level, mid-level, to high-end of any camera category. Prices start from as low as $599 for an entry-level model and go up to $6500 for a top-notch pro-level body. The main difference between a mirrorless and a DSLR is the mirror box, prism, and optical viewfinder have been removed, making it possible to have a smaller camera.BENEFITS OF A MIRRORLESS OVER A COMPACT CAMERA Anyone looking at a compact camera should also seriously look at entry-level mirrorless cameras as an alternative. While compact cameras by themselves can be pocket-sized, once placed in an underwater housing and the addition of strobes, arms, and external lenses, it winds up not being all that much of a difference in size. The benefits from a mirrorless are going to be in a huge jump in image quality and speed of shooting. The image quality jump comes from the sensor size and the quality of the lens optics. The much larger sensor gathers more light and results in better image quality, better dynamic range, and lower noise. The image sharpness increase comes from higher grade optics in the lenses. The shooting speed comes from bigger image processors and the ability to use a hot shoe and a flash trigger for rapid-fire shooting, or the ability to have manual flash output. There’s only a handful of compact cameras with manual flash capability to increase the speed of shooting. The Panasonic LX10 and Sony RX100 VII compact cameras are small in size, but the flash recycle time can stretch to 5-10 seconds after a few shots in a row, which can be extremely frustrating in the heat of the action and speed of shooting is paramount. While a mirrorless camera system CAN be configured to be significantly more expensive than a compact system, several entry-level mirrorless systems can outperform high-end compacts and come in LESS expensive. When configured for underwater shooting, an entry-level mirrorless system isn’t all that much different in size or weight. This Olympus E-PL10 system is about the same size but comes in at a lower price with much greater performance and image quality compared to a Sony RX100 VII system. Price as shown: Olympus E-PL10 $2,181.63, Sony RX100 VII $3,116.63.MIRRORLESS MYTHS: MIRRORLESS VS. DSLR DEBUNKED Over the years we’ve come across quite a few misconceptions people have had regarding mirrorless cameras, especially when compared to DSLRs. Here a few of the more popular misconceptions to be debunked. Myth: Mirrorless cameras make for a smaller underwater camera system. Truth: By eliminating the optical viewfinder, a mirrorless camera can be made smaller than a traditional DSLR camera, sometimes much smaller. The size of the camera will depend on the size of the sensor. Mirrorless cameras range from full-frame (same size as 35mm film) to half that size. The smaller sensor mirrorless cameras like the Olympus E-PL10 can rival the size of a compact camera and the entire underwater camera system can fit in a backpack for easy carry on while traveling. A full-frame mirrorless camera has full-frame size optics which just can’t be made smaller than their DSLR brethren due to the physics of light. A full-frame size mirrorless camera in a housing with a port, strobes, arms, and everything else comes out to about the same size as a similar fully kitted DSLR rig. Myth: The image quality from a mirrorless camera is nowhere near what a DSLR can do; or the image quality from a DSLR is no match for what can be had from a mirrorless. Truth: We see people attacking this topic from both sides. The image quality from a mirrorless camera and the overall performance compared to a DLSR has nothing to do with whether the camera is a mirrorless or a DSLR. It comes down to the differences between individual cameras themselves. As mentioned previously the mirrorless camera range is really wide from beginner to full level pro. It’s not an apples-to-apples comparison if one tries to take an entry-level mirrorless and compare it to a DSLR or vice versa. As it stands right now the Sony a7R IV has the best image quality out of any full-frame camera, but that is because of the sensor, not because it’s mirrorless. Myth: A DSLR camera can focus faster and more accurately than a mirrorless camera. Truth: This used to be a thing, but not anymore. DSLR cameras have a focusing screen in the mirror box that is used for autofocus. This technology has been around for decades and every last bit of development has been squeezed out of it, making it extremely accurate and fast. Since a mirrorless camera does not have a focusing screen, it has to focus off of the sensor. At the beginning of mirrorless, this resulted in very slow performance that could not even be close to keeping up with a DLSR. As the years have gone by much more development has advanced for mirrorless autofocus and I can say from personal experience that top-end mirrorless cameras from Sony can directly compete with my favorite fast focusing DSLR of all time, the Nikon D850. Myth: Optical Viewfinders are better than electronic viewfinders; or electronic viewfinders are the future and optical viewfinders are dead. Truth: This is often the most common topic that will start a bar fight among DLSR or mirrorless cult members. The truth is there are advantages and disadvantages to both depending on the type of shooting one is doing, and one’s personal preferences, so let’s break it down. Optical Viewfinder Advantages An optical viewfinder is a direct light path through the camera lens. Your eye is looking directly through the lens and as such you can see with the same dynamic range of bright to dark as the human eye. You can also see critical focus directly through the lens. In a mirrorless camera, an electronic viewfinder is a hi resolution screen with the image taken from the sensor of the camera. As such it does not have anywhere near the dynamic range of the human eye. This makes it difficult with wide angle backlit scenes to actually see details of subjects when framing shots. If one is trying to shoot a sunball for example, the sunball and everything around it will be completely blown out and you just can’t see where the sunball is positioned in the frame. In this situation foreground subjects are completely shadowed, also making it difficult to frame the foreground. If you’ve ever used a compact camera before to shoot underwater wide angle, it is a similar experience. Another minor advantage to an optical viewfinder is that electronic viewfinders when shooting macro have a horrible cyan-ish color cast that makes it difficult to see contrast and the subject that one is shooting, but this is easily remedied by using a focus light. It’s impossible to see what you’re shooting in a heavily backlit scene like this with a mirrorless camera. When looking in the EVF, the sun was completely blown out and all of the surrounding water was blown out too, making it impossible to see where the actual sunball was in the frame until taking the picture and reviewing it in playback.Sony a7R IV | Canon 8-15mm | 1/250 | ISO 200 | ƒ16Electronic Viewfinder Advantages While the optical viewfinder easily takes the cake for underwater wide angle photography, macro is where there are more options for the electronic viewfinder shooter. An electronic viewfinder offers focus peaking which will show areas of the image that are in focus by outlining the in-focus edges in a color of your choice. Focus peaking allows you to see areas that are in focus WITHOUT the need to see critical focus. This is great for subjects that are in constant motion where it’s hard to see focus because it never stops moving, or for shooters whose eyes might not be able to see perfect focus. Another advantage of macro is being able to see playback in the viewfinder to review an image. Firstly, it is a nice dark environment compared to a rear screen to make it easy to evaluate an image, especially in bright ambient light conditions where it is difficult to see the screen. Secondly, one does not have to move their head and ruin the camera position to see the back of a screen for image review. One could simply tap the playback button, see the image in the finder, then continue shooting in a much quicker manner without having to move position and potentially lose the subject and have to require. Electronic viewfinders are also a good substitute for a video monitor when shooting macro video, especially when paired with a 45 degree expanded finder. Trying to compose a macro video shot off of a screen on the back of the camera is almost impossible due to the screen being so close to the bottom and not being able to get your head low enough to see the screen. The long and short of it is that optical viewfinders are much better for wide angle photography, while an electronic one has more options to make macro easier. While not related directly to a viewing experience, with the elimination of the mirror box, a mirrorless camera can have in-body image stabilization where a DSLR cannot. This is a great feature for video shooters to get more steady video shots. The Panasonic GH5 focus peaking feature is critical for macro video work to see critical focus. For shooters who have problems seeing critical focus through an optical viewfinder, focus peaking eliminates the need for seeing the actual critical focus and outlines in focus areas in the color of your choice, in this case, red.CATEGORIES & WINNERS With such a huge range of camera capabilities and prices, we broke out the mirrorless offerings into 4 categories. JUMP TO A SECTIONBest All-Around Full Frame Advanced MirrorlessBest Full-Frame Advanced Mirrorless For PhotoBest Entry Level Mirrorless Best Mirrorless For VideoBACK TO TOPBEST ALL-AROUND FULL-FRAME ADVANCED MIRRORLESSSONY α1 The Sony a1 was just released this year and immediately rocketed to the top of the list. It is a Swiss Army Knife of a camera that can do all things and do them well. It’s not only the best all-around mirrorless camera, it is in our opinion the best all-around camera period. That’s not to say that there aren’t some things that other cameras can do better, but that list is really short and the differences not so great. Others can't come close to the breadth of what the Sony a1 can do. Hi-Res, Fast Shooting, Great Image Quality Usually, these three things do not go together, they are in tension with each other. A high megapixel sensor camera used to be slow due to the amount of data to be processed. Even only a few years ago a 40+ MP camera doing over 5 frames per second was considered fast. A lower resolution camera at about 18-20MP doing 10-12 frames per second was considered fast for a “sports” camera. The Sony a1 is 50MP and shoots at 30 frames per second which is mind-boggling to think about. Sony has also in the last few years massively improved the image quality of their high-resolution sensors. While the noise and dynamic range of the Sony a1 will fall just shy of what the leading Sony a7R IV can do, that small cost comes with the blazing-fast speed the Sony a1 possesses. Sony a1 | Sony 16-35mm | 1/250 | ISO 640 | ƒ14Top Level Tracking AF Performance Anyone familiar with Nikon’s 3D tracking or Sony’s AF Tracking in continuous AF will never use another way to autofocus ever again. The hit rate on autofocus accuracy is near perfect. The autofocus tracking has improved over the Sony a7R IV with quicker, more accurate tracking and 1 stop improvement in low light conditions. 8K 30p, 4K 120p Movie Mode—No Overheating When the Canon EOS R5 was announced the 8K movie mode was the most head-turning spec to come out. However, in practical reality, there is some limitation to its use due to overheating, which also occurs in shooting 4Kk 120p. The Sony a1 also shoots 8K, but without any practical limitation on overheating for an underwater shooter. While 8K 30p may be the eye-popping headline, 4K 120p is the more practical and sought-after spec. Being able to shoot 120p and slow down to half speed and still have 60p footage will allow for some very life-like crispness to the image while still getting a dramatic slo-mo effect. Custom White Balance Performance Custom white balance at depth underwater has always been the Achille’s heel of any Sony camera, however, Sony has made incremental improvements over the last few models. Starting with the Sony a7S III (our top pick for Best Mirrorless Video Camera) the white balance has been massively improved and will now white balance at depths over 50 feet without the water turning magenta. This makes it a truly viable hybrid camera for the still/video shooter. 1/400 Flash Sync Speed—A First for a Full Frame Camera Wow! That’s all I can say for this spec. Folks, we haven’t seen this before. Now we can shoot high ambient light shots (think sunballs) and use a higher shutter speed (which won’t affect strobe light) to pull in the exposure of the ambient light rather than being stuck with adjusting ISO or aperture (which affects BOTH ambient light and strobe light). This effectively means in these shooting situations one can shoot a higher shutter speed instead of a higher ISO or aperture and preserve 1 full stop of strobe light over what a Nikon Z7 II or Canon EOS R5 that only have a flash sync speed of 1/200. ProsThe holy grail of megapixels, speed, and quality8K 30p and 4K 120p movies with no overheating in practical usageAwesome tracking AF means you’ll never miss a shot1/400 flash sync speed is amazing and is 1 full stop faster than either the Canon EOS R5 or Nikon Z7 IIIt white balances at depth for great-looking ambient light videoConsStill has a limited lens selection for underwater photographers, but Canon lenses easily work with an adapterIt’s pricey but worth itThe Camera:Sony a1 Camera $6,499.99ORDER NOWThe Housings:Aquatica Sony a1 HousingORDER NOWIkelite Sony a1 and a7S III HousingORDER NOWIsotta Sony a1 HousingORDER NOWNauticam NA-a1 HosuingORDER NOW Sea & SeaMDX-aU HousingORDER NOWSeacam Sony a1 HousingORDER NOWBACK TO TOPBEST FULL-FRAME ADVANCED MIRRORLESS FOR PHOTOSONY α7R IVA WHOLE NEW LEVEL OF RESOLUTION WITH NO COMPROMISE IN IMAGE QUALITY Conventional wisdom in-camera sensor design is that when pixel density on the sensor goes up (higher resolution), the light gathering capability goes down. This is due to smaller pixels not being able to gather as much light. This increases the noise level of the image and also results in diminished low light performance. When the Sony a7R III came out with its 42MP sensor, it was the first of its kind to have such high resolution but also no compromise in image quality despite the more tightly packed sensor. Sony has pulled a rabbit out of the hat once again with the Sony a7R IV. With almost 50% more resolution than the previous model, its impressive image quality and resolution can’t be overstated. It is a giant leap ahead of any other full-frame camera. An obvious benefit of the high resolution is the ability to crop and still have more resolution than most cameras out there. Don’t take this as a license for poor camera technique! You’ll still get a better shot by framing and lighting the scene properly. Being too far away from something and cropping leads to lower image quality due to more water to shoot through between the lens and subject. The most practical application of cropping would be to do a vertical crop from a horizontal. This is especially useful in shooting super macro, where critters tend to be on the bottom in the sand. It would be impossible to frame the shot for a vertical due to the handle of the housing preventing the camera from getting low enough. Tiny critters that are still too small in the fame at the limits of the super macro are also good candidates for a purposeful post-shot crop. There’s plenty of resolution to crop a vertical from a horizontal when it’s impossible to position the camera for the proper composition. Even a vertical crop with the Sony a7R IV still yields a resolution of 26.8MP.Sony a7R IV | Sony 90mm | 1/250 | ISO 100 | ƒ22BEAUTIFUL AMBIENT LIGHT VIDEO COLOR IF YOU STAY SHALLOW The previous model Sony a7R III had massively improved ambient light custom white balance, and this same white balance carries on with the Sony a7R IV with no noticeable changes. It has 3 available custom white balance banks with easy access and simple execution. The white balance performs best at shallow depths and looks good in bright ambient light conditions, but only up until about 45 feet deep. At around that depth the water in the background tends to shift towards a magenta hue that becomes more difficult to correct in post the deeper it’s shot. The Sony a7R IV video looks really good in the right conditions. Macro is its strong point, but the ambient light wide angle looks good down to about 45 feet.CONCLUSION The Sony a7R IV is a massive leap forward in image quality. With 61MP of resolution, it will produce big prints with tons of sharp detail like no other camera before it. Cropping a vertical from a horizontal is not a problem and will still yield more resolution than most other cameras at full frame. The color of the still images look great right out of the camera, and the dynamic range is among the best of any camera. With both image quality and resolution, you can have your cake and eat it too. 10 frames per second continuous shooting with this much resolution is crazy good performance. 10 FPS used to be reserved for sports cameras with much lower resolution, but now this camera can push those boundaries and shoot fast action. This being said, it is a little clunky to shoot fast and review, requiring extra taps of the playback and shutter buttons to switch back and forth from shooting to image review, but this is something common to all mirrorless cameras. In this area, an SLR is still king. The Real-time Tracking AF is a major leap forward in autofocus for Sony. It can now compete with the likes of the Nikon D850 for that top autofocus performance slot. In our testing however the macro autofocus capabilities of the Nikon D850 still outperform the Sony a7R IV, but you can get closer with the Sony a7R IV than ever before to the Nikon macro performance if a Canon macro lens with an adapter is used. We wish Sony would develop a proper fisheye lens and a better performing macro lens, but thankfully there is a good solution with using an adapter for some Canon glass, even if it adds a little bulk and isn’t as streamlined as native glass. For video shooters, whether this camera fits their needs will depend on the type of shooting they do. It’s disappointing to not see any 4K/60p from Sony yet. Canon and Panasonic both have full-frame cameras now that are shooting over 4K resolution at 60p. That coupled with the rather shallow limitations of the custom white balance, make this camera a choice for more casual video shooters whose real main interest is photo. If you’re looking for the hands-down best stills image quality and biggest resolution, there is no other place to look than the Sony a7R IV. Pros61mp sensor produces the best still image quality available yetutstanding low light and dynamic range performanceReal-time autofocus subject tracking makes it easy to nail focus on every shotWide angle autofocus is super-fast, accurate, and matches or exceeds the performance of other top camerasSuper 35 mode offers more shooting crops while still maintaining 4K resolutionNatural ambient light color looks good up to about 45 feetConsBest lens choices require Canon lenses and an adapterMacro autofocus still not quite as fast as an SLRNatural light custom white balance turns water to magenta after about 45 feetWhere is the 4k/60p? It is in the Sony a7S IIIREAD THE FULL REVIEWWatch our Full Review Video for the Sony a7R IV camera.The Camera:Sony a7R IV Full-Frame Mirrorless Camera $3,499.00ORDER NOWThe Housings:Aquatica A7rIV HousingORDER NOWIkelite Sony a7R IV HousingORDER NOWIsotta Sony a7R IV HousingORDER NOWNauticam NA-a2020 HousingORDER NOWSea and Sea MDXL-a7IV HousingORDER NOWSeacam Sony a7R IV HousingORDER NOWBACK TO TOPBEST FULL-FRAME ADVANCED MIRRORLESS: RUNNERS UPCANON EOS R5 Don’t get us wrong here. The Canon EOS R5 is a great camera. The image quality is the best to date from Canon and it is easy to use existing Canon EF lenses with an adapter. The video and ambient light white balance look fantastic, but that’s where the rub comes. The much talked about overheating when shooting 8K or 4K 120p is too much for the camera to handle, even with the typical short clips underwater video shooters tend to do. The heat builds up over time, is cumulative, and only dissipates to a certain extent during a typical 90-minute surface interval on the boat. This isn’t to say you can’t shoot 8K or 4K 120p, we clearly did in our video sample clips below. But the heat has to be managed by turning the camera off between clips to allow the camera to cool (or more accurately, not continue to build heat). At the end of the day with monitoring air, deco limits, and where the $#@! is the boat, it’s just another thing to have to manage on a dive which is why we can only recommend this camera for stills shooters who only have a passing interest in video. If you’re a Canon shooter who does primarily stills, this is the best image quality Canon has ever put out and you won’t be disappointed. Canon EOS R5 | Nauticam WACP | 1/200 | ISO 640 | ƒ18This wide angle demo reel was shot on location in the Maldives by Backscatter Video Pro Joel Penner with a pair of Backscatter Macro Wide 4300 Video Lights and the Canon EOS R5 Mirrorless Camera.The Camera:Canon EOS R5 Full-Frame Mirrorless Camera $3,899.00ORDER NOWThe Housings:Aquatica AR5 HousingORDER NOWIkelite Canon R5 HousingORDER NOWIsotta Canon R5 HousingORDER NOWNauticam NA-R5 HousingORDER NOWSea and Sea MDX-R5 HousingORDER NOWSeacam Canon R5 HousingORDER NOWBACK TO TOPNIKON Z7 II The Nikon Z7 II is a minor upgrade for the most part from the Nikon Z7. It has the same image sensor and will produce the same image quality as the Nikon Z7, which is not a problem at all since the Nikon Z7 did some amazing photos. The Z7 series are the only cameras in this review to go down to an actual ISO of 64, allowing for a more dynamic range by preserving highlight detail while maintaining low noise in the shadows. The Nikon Z7 II gains a faster processor that allows for 4K 60p video, a faster 10 frame per second for stills, and a bigger shot buffer. The autofocus is improved in low light over the original Nikon Z7. With a relatively shallow ambient light white balance depth of about 40 feet, the Nikon Z7 II is best for stills shooters who have a passing interest in video. Anyone with previous experience with a Nikon DSLR and the killer 3D tracking autofocus will be a little disappointed that the autofocus system is completely different and unfamiliar with the Z series. The camera body is quite small and lightweight and great for topside shooting. We recommend this camera for Nikon shooters who are looking for great image quality but aren’t primarily interested in video. The Camera:Nikon Z7 II Full-Frame Mirrorless Camera $2,996.95ORDER NOWThe Housings:Aquatica Nikon Z7 II HousingORDER NOWIkelite Z7 II HousingORDER NOWIsotta Z7 II HousingORDER NOWNauticam NA-Z7II HousingORDER NOWSea and Sea MDX-Z7II HousingORDER NOWBACK TO TOPOTHER FULL FRAME MIRRORLESS CAMERAS Here’s a list of other full-frame mirrorless cameras. Contact one of our underwater imaging experts if you have any questions. Sony a9 II Sony a7C Canon EOS R6 Canon EOS R Nikon Z6 II Nikon Z7 Nikon Z6 Nikon Z50 Panasonic S1 Panasonic S1H Panasonic S1R Panasonic S5BACK TO TOPBEST ENTRY LEVEL MIRRORLESSOLYMPUS PEN E-PL10The Best Bang For Your Buck in Underwater Photography Striking a balance between value, performance, and ease of use is the ideal trinity of underwater photography equipment. The Olympus E-PL10 camera and limited edition Backscatter E-PL10 Octo Housing create a system that is not only more affordable than similar rigs, but also has outstanding shooting specs and image quality while staying compact and easy enough for even the first-time underwater photographer. The Olympus E-PL10 can be shot like a point-and-shoot camera with external wet conversion lenses or shot like an SLR with dedicated wide angle and macro lenses and ports. Keep it simple and versatile, or go for the best image quality possible – the choice is up to you. Straight out of the box the system has everything needed to get started and can be upgraded and expanded to pull off any shot imaginable. At only $699.99 for the camera with lens and $649.00 for the housing, it’s truly the best bang for the buck in underwater photography. An Ideal Upgrade from TG Cameras—Or Any Other Compact Camera If you’re one of the thousands of underwater photographers who have fallen in love with their Olympus TG-series compact camera but are now ready to take their gear to the next level then look no further than the Olympus E-PL10. Any Olympus user will feel right at home with the familiar menus, controls, and operation of the camera. The ability to swap between such a wide variety of lenses is the standout feature of this camera when compared to the Olympus TG-6 because it allows the user to get wider shots, more macro working distance, and sharper overall results. When shooting macro with the Olympus 14-42mm EZ and a diopter you’ll have a much greater working distance to the subject than with the Olympus TG-6, which will make macro shots much easier to pull off. The Olympus E-PL10 offers full manual exposure control, which is a major advantage over the Olympus TG-6 when it comes to obtaining great underwater image results easily. This is especially helpful for wide-angle background exposure control, which is where shutter speed control becomes essential. The Olympus TG-6 offers limited shutter speed control at best, and never without an Auto-ISO caveat. The Olympus E-PL10 can completely separate shutter speed from ISO just like any other fully manual camera providing the user with complete exposure control for the perfect image. For shooters that are ready to graduate from their tried-and-true TG camera but aren’t quite ready to go all-in for a full-frame SLR, then the Olympus E-PL10 is the best choice for a major step up in performance at a fraction of the price of other options. Fast-action scenes where rapid firing is required are much easier to pull-off with the Olympus E-PL10 than the Olympus TG-6.Olympus E-PL10 | Backscatter E-PL10 Octo Housing | Olympus 8mm | 1/200 | ISO 400 | ƒ11Exemplary Image Quality from a Micro Four Thirds Rig The Olympus E-PL10 produces satisfyingly sharp image detail and crispy resolution. High-key highlights don’t look blown out, and dark shadows aren’t noisy or grainy. Color saturation is vibrant and packs plenty of pop. Whether shooting backlit sunballs or black-background macro, the results across the board were excellent and among some of the best from current-gen Micro Four Thirds sensor cameras. Overall the results are comparable to cameras such as the Panasonic GH5 and Olympus OM-D E-M1 III. When compared to the Olympus TG-6, the larger sensor of the Olympus E-PL10 creates much sharper image detail, better dynamic range, and lower noise in low-light situations. Given the relatively minor size increase of the Olympus E-PL10 body, the user gets all the benefits of a larger sensor higher-end camera without adding significantly to the overall weight or underwater system size. Balancing perfect foreground and background exposures is made much easier thanks to the full manual control of the Olympus E-PL10.Olympus E-PL10 | Backscatter E-PL10 Octo Housing | Olympus 8mm | 1/125 | ISO 400 | ƒ14Responsive Autofocus for All Situations Autofocus speed is snappy and accurate in both wide angle and macro scenarios. Whether tracking moving a subject through the frame or locking on to the eye of a close-up critter the camera does a great job of sticking the sharpest part of the frame right where desired. Using dedicated wide and macro lenses will yield even better results than the kit lens with wet-mount conversion lenses. The controls can be configured to enable back-button autofocus operation. By separating the focus control from the shutter button we gain a huge advantage over compact cameras and take the next step towards SLR-like camera control. This custom control assignment is easy to set up in the menu and can be simply set once and forgotten about. CONCLUSION The Olympus E-PL10 and Backscatter E-PL10 Octo Housing are the “best bang for your buck” in underwater photography. Together they can be operated as easily as a compact camera by utilizing wet-mount conversion lenses. Alternatively, the system can be set with dedicated lenses and ports for either wide or macro just like an SLR, but at a mere fraction of the overall SLR system price, Starting at $1,349.99 for both the camera, lens, and housing. The image quality produced by the camera is just as good as any other current Micro Four Thirds sensor camera, with sharp detail, vibrant colors, and great dynamic range detail. This is our favorite system for striking an ideal balance between affordability, high-end performance, and simple ease of operation. ProsBest bang for your buck in underwater photoCompact-like size and simplicity with SLR-like performance at a competitive priceShoot it like a compact with wet lenses, or like a pro with interchangeable lensesOffers an ideal upgrade path for new shooters, or those moving up from a beginner rigBackscatter E-PL10 Octo Housing has cooler graphics than your buddies housingConsRelatively shallow ambient light white balance limit for wide angle video shootersREAD THE FULL REVIEWWatch our Full Review Video for the Olympus E-PL10 camera.Camera Options & HousingOlympus E-PL10 Camera Mirrorless Camera Body $599.99ORDER NOWOlympus E-PL10Camera and 14-42mm EZ Lens $699.99ORDER NOW Backscatter E-PL10 Octo Underwater Housing $649.00ORDER NOWBACK TO TOPBEST MIRRORLESS FOR UPGRADING FROM A COMPACT CAMERA: RUNNERS UPOLYMPUS OM-D E-M5 III One could think of the Olympus OM-D E-M5 III as an all-around upgraded Olympus E-PL10. It has more resolution, faster shooting, an upgraded autofocus system, better image stabilization, faster maximum shutter speed, an electronic viewfinder, and a bigger body with more dedicated control dials and buttons. It's is a very nice camera, but it does come with a higher price and a significantly larger system size when put in an underwater housing. While camera geeks and pixel peepers will salivate over these extra features and performance, the end result is an image that is not lightyears ahead of the PEN. We still think most people coming up from a compact camera will be impressed by the combination of small size, performance, and value that make the PEN what we call the "best bang for your buck" in underwater photography. The Camera:Olympus OM-D E-M5 III Camera $1,199.99ORDER NOWThe Housings:AOI UH-EM5IIIHousingORDER NOWIkelite Olympus OM-D E-M5 III HousingORDER NOWIsotta Olympus OM-D E-M5 III HousingORDER NOWNauticam NA-EM5III HosuingORDER NOWBACK TO TOPSONY α6600 The Sony a6600 is the flagship model of the 6000 series of mirrorless cameras from Sony. The 6000 series has a larger sensor than the Micro 4/3 size from Olympus and Panasonic but still smaller than full-frame. This makes image quality top-notch, on par with that of a Nikon D500 cropped sensor DSLR. However, there are some limitations with this camera, with two of the biggest being related to flash. The internal flash is TTL only, with no manual option. This results in some really slow shooting waiting for the camera’s internal flash to recycle when using it to trigger an underwater strobe. This can be overcome with some compatible housing models by either using a flash trigger or a hardwired electrical sync cord circuit. The second flash issue is the relatively slow flash sync speed of the shutter at 1/160. That means one cannot use a shutter speed faster than 1/160 if using a flash which is quite limiting in high ambient light conditions such as sunballs or shallow reefs with bright sun. All other cameras in this review have a flash sync speed of at least 1/250. READ THE FULL REVIEWThe Camera & Housing:Sony a6600Camera $1,399.99ORDER NOWIkelite Sony a6600 HousingORDER NOWNauticam NA-A6600 HousingORDER NOWBACK TO TOPOTHER OPTIONSOther Mirrorless for Upgrading From a Compact Camera Here’s a list of other entry-level mirrorless cameras. Contact one of our underwater imaging experts if you have any questions. Sony a6400 Olympus OM-D E-M1 III Olympus OM-D E-M10 III Olympus OM-D E-M1 X Panasonic GX85 Panasonic G9 Fuji X-T4BACK TO TOPBEST MIRRORLESS FOR VIDEOSONY α7S IIIA Mirrorless Camera Tailor-Made for Video The Sony a7S III camera looks and feels similar to other cameras in the a7 series, but under the hood, it is dramatically different. This camera was made for video shooters. The camera allows for shooting up to 4K 120p at 280mbps with 10-bit color in a 4:2:2 color space with no practical limitations for an underwater shooter as far as time limits or heat concerns. The lower resolution 12MP sensor won’t turn heads for photo shooters, though a 12MP image is great for social media and online use, and can scale up to a moderate size for printing. The excellent low light performance and video specs are what sets this camera apart. This macro demo reel was shot on location at Lembeh Resort by Backscatter Photo Pro James Emery with the Backscatter Macro Wide 4300, Backscatter Optical Snoot OS-1, Backscatter Color Filter System, and Sony a7S III Mirrorless Camera.White Balance Massively Improved—Finally On Par With Canon In the past, the weakest link in the Sony a7S series of cameras was the underwater white balance performance. Every other spec and feature of the camera was fantastic. However, none of that matters if the color isn't right, but this time Sony got the color right. Taking a manual white balance underwater in wide angle ambient light only conditions is the true test of any camera’s worth for use underwater. We tested underwater manual white balance in various conditions and depths and are very pleased to report that even in excess of 70 feet, the color still looks great. We see none of the magenta water that would creep in at about 45-50 feet with the Sony a7R IV. With 4 white balance banks and an easy to execute procedure, this camera is one of the top picks for all-around video use. We’re very pleased with the ambient light wide angle manual white balancing of the Sony a7S III. Even at depths exceeding 70 feet, the colors look fantastic. Although the clip at 95 feet doesn’t show a lot of color, the main thing to look at these extreme ambient light depths is that the water stays true to color. Previous Sony cameras and other poor performing custom white balance cameras typically render the water a magenta color, which is near impossible to fix in post. This is a major upgrade and makes the Sony a7S III a truly viable underwater video camera.Best Choice for a Mirrorless Video Camera Sony clearly chose to make an all-out video camera with the Sony a7S III. The video specs of shooting up to 4K 120p with a lower resolution, faster readout, low noise, high dynamic range sensor on paper make this a great choice for a video camera. But in real-world performance, Sony has always fallen short, sometimes really short in earlier models, of being able to execute the most important task of a manual white balance underwater for wide angle ambient light scenes. As we have said many times before, a camera can have all the best specs in the world, but if the color is crap, nothing else matters. And now that problem is solved. Being able to capture 4K 120p at 280mbps with 10-bit color and a 4:2:2 color space in such a small package, and on top of that to an internal card, makes this a great run and gun camera for shooters who want top pro-level image quality, but want a relatively small package. In the past specs like this required a large external recorder or a much larger cinema camera. While it’s not necessary to have an external recorder some folks will still like to have an external monitor. Even without an external monitor, the camera's screen and super hi resolution EVF are all that’s needed to get in the water and start shooting. The quality of the footage in 4K will rival that coming from other 4K 60p full-frame capable cameras. While the Sony a7S III lacks being able to shoot 5.5K like the Canon 1DX III, 6K like the Panasonic S1H, or even the 8K of the Canon EOS R5, in the end, it doesn’t really matter. What everyone wants is a 4K 60p timeline with the ability to shoot 4K 120p and slow it down. There’s no overheating issues like the nearest competitor to this camera, the Canon EOS R5 has in 8K or 4K 120p. If you already own Canon glass, the Sigma MC-11 mount converter allows you to use Canon lenses on the Sony body if one was so inclined. The next time we need to shoot some video, the Sony a7S III is at the top of our list for its small size, killer video specs, and excellent ambient light white balance underwater. ProsFinally, an underwater white balance Sony can be proud ofTop level 4K 120p 4:2:2 10 bit color, no external recorder neededExcellent low noise performanceGreat dynamic rangeSame great Autofocus for stills as the Sony a7R IVNothing holding this camera back from being someone’s top choice for an underwater video rigCons12MP resolution is a great sensor for video, but not enough pixels to be a true photo cameraBetter off to lock focus in movie mode due to constant AF updatesREAD THE FULL REVIEWThe Camera:Sony a7S III Camera $3,499.99ORDER NOWThe Housings:Aquatica Sony a7S III HousingORDER NOWIkelite Sony a1 and a7S III HousingORDER NOWIsotta Sony a7S III HousingORDER NOWNauticam NA-a1 HosuingORDER NOWNauticam NA-A7SIII HosuingORDER NOWSeacam Sony a7S III HousingORDER NOWBACK TO TOPBEST MIRRORLESS FOR VIDEO: RUNNER UPPANASONIC GH5 & GH5S The Panasonic GH5 has been a video workhorse since it came out. It was the first mirrorless camera capable of shooting 4K 60p and was the camera to beat. Countless pro-level productions used this camera for broadcast and cinema. However, by today’s contemporary standards, 4K 60p is now a quaint video spec, more of a requirement for any camera at this point rather than a standout feature. The white balance looks good, which is why this model became so popular. The camera has been out for a while, but that doesn’t take away from its great-looking video capabilities that can be had for a relative bargain compared to other 4K 60p or 120p cameras listed in this article. If you've got the cash, the Sony a7S III is the clear choice, but if you’re looking for a budget mirrorless video camera to shoot 4K 60p, then the Panasonic GH5 is the go-to rig. READ THE FULL REVIEWThe Panasonic GH5 is the best camera for video in this entire article review. 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.See our in-depth breakdown of the Panasonic GH5 camera in our first look review.Panasonic GH5 & Nauticam NA-GH5 Housing Underwater Review by Adil Schindler.Panasonic GH5 & Aquatica AGH5 Housing Review×The Cameras:Panasonic GH5Camera $1,599.99ORDER NOWPanasonic GH5sCamera $2,099.99ORDER NOWThe Housings:Aquatica AGH5 HousingORDER NOWIkelite GH5 HousingORDER NOWIsotta GH5 HousingORDER NOWNauticam NA-GH5 HousingORDER NOWSubal GH5 HousingORDER NOWSeacam GH5 HousingORDER NOWCONCLUSION We hope you have enjoyed this in-depth survey of the underwater mirrorless 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 PostsThe Best Underwater GoPro Wide Angle Lens & Filter System Get a significant upgrade in image quality from your GoPro camera with the Backscatter Sharp Wide Lens Pro (SWLP). This optical grade glass wide conversion lens will dramatically increase the sharpnes... Read More HOLIDAY DEALS - OUR BEST PHOTOGRAPHY DEALS OF THE YEAR This holiday season we're offering unbelievable deals on the hottest gear every underwater photographer wants! 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