As the field of Compact cameras is changing rapidly, we will update this article on a continuous basis. Last updated in May 2017.
My Compact Camera Already Has A Lens, Why Do I Need Another One?Compact cameras do not offer interchangeable lenses, so these recommendations are for externally mounted wet lenses. The native lens on your compact camera is going to be great for doing fish portrait shots right out of the box, but will fall short of being truly wide enough for wide angle and not tight enough for macro. This is because your lens will lose 25% of it’s field of view when behind a flat port underwater due to refraction, thus eliminating wide angle capability. The lens will also not have enough reproduction ratio or long enough focal length to produce true macro.
What Will Work With My System?Also keep in mind that the design of some cameras may limit your choices on compatible lenses. For example, some lenses will have a different thread size than the housing, or may cause a vignette effect. Please see the Best Compact Cameras for Underwater article for a list of compact systems that are compatible with these lenses.
Your Wide Lens Might Need A Short PortSome compact cameras, because of their long zoom range, will need a shorter port that limits how far you can zoom in. A wet wide-angle lens needs to be up close to the front of the camera lens, so you need a shorter port to eliminate any extra distance between the two.
How we chose our favoritesWe pick the lens that is best suited for the task at hand. Our favorite lenses were picked according to these criteria in this order:
1. Pick the right tool for the jobWhen shooting wide angle, we always go for the lens with the widest field of view. This will allow your compact camera to capture SLR-style compositions of large subjects and scenes.
When shooting macro, we default to lenses with the most reproduction ratio.
2. Image quality and sharpnessIf you’re a pixel-peeper than you’re going to want the most resolution and clarity out of your lens. Cheap lenses usually do not have a very wide field of view and may not be as sharp or could have chromatic aberrations and soft corners. That being said, sometimes our favorite pick may not always be the absolute top quality lens. This is because in some cases versatility and ease of use become a deciding factor. Don't get us wrong, we're not going to recommend a lens that we wouldn't shoot ourselves, and we are more than satisfied with the image quality of every lens in this artice.
When it comes to shooting macro we choose the lens with the most macro capability, specifically the most reproduction ratio and sharpest image quality. There are situations where you may want a less powerful macro lens, such as when shooting a slightly larger subject.
The 3 Types of Wide LensThere are 3 different types of wide-angle external lens. They are listed here from narrowest to widest field of view.
1. Corrective DomeThis solution offers the least field of view from any lenses in this category. A corrective dome lens will restore the native field of view for the camera. It compensates for field of view lost due to refraction behind a flat port.
2. Wide Angle Conversion Lens Without DomeA flat wide angle lens, these conversion lenses usually widen the field of view of the camera lens to about 100 degrees. Because they lack a dome, they also suffer from refraction and dramatically reduce their field of view when shot underwater as compared to topside.
3. Wide Angle Conversion Lens With DomeDome ports can expand your field of view from 130 to 165 degrees. The dome will cancel the narrowing effect of the refraction, giving the lens the same angle of coverage as it has topside. This category is our ultimate top pick for wet wide-angle lenses, since it opens up the widest possible field of view.
Shot With: Olympus TG-4 Camera, Olympus PT-056 Underwater Housing, UWL-04 Wide Lens & Dual Sea & Sea YS-D2 Strobes
Macro MisconceptionsWet macro lenses are not magnifying lenses. They are “close-up” lenses. A close-up lens will allow the camera to focus closer than its minimum focus distance, so getting closer to the subject will make it appear larger on the sensor. The entire focal range of the camera shifts closer, so the camera can no longer focus on far distances. This is why there are different powers of close-up lenses available, such as +5 or +10. A lens with a high power might be too much for a subject if it’s a bit larger. You can’t just back off and fill the frame since you are now out of the focal range of the lens at that distance.
Shot With: Canon G7X Camera, Nauticam G7X Underwater Housing, Inon UWL-H100 Wide Lens & Dual Inon Z240 Strobes
OUR WIDE LENS FAVORITES
165° Angle of View
The UWL-04 offers the widest field of any of the wide lenses in this article. It is also the least expensive and lightest weight. It's usually our top pick for cameras that it is compatible with due to the wide field of view and good image quality, but it is not capable of doing a full zoom through. The image quality comes in behind the Nauticam WWL-1, but not so much that we wouldn't be happy shooting this lens.
130° Angle of View
The Nauticam WWL-1 uses a 67mm thread or an optional bayonet style mount for quick disconnection. It is the only lens in this article that supports full zoom-through ability of the compact camera lens instead of requiring a short port to mount. This is the highest resolution wet wide-angle lenses available, so much so that even top end mirrorless cameras use this lens. The drawbacks are that the field of view is limited to 130 degrees, and the lens is quite heavy. The heftiness of the lens is due to the weight of the high grade glass optics, but can be offest by a buoyancy collar. This reduced field of view (as compared to the iTorch UWL-04) is the only drawback.
100° Angle of View
The Inon UWL-H100 is a flat wide-angle lens that increases the cameras field of view to 100 degrees. When combined with the optional dome unit it increases to 144 degrees. The glass elements of this lens make it a bit heavy, but not as much as the WWL-1. This is a great pick when other lenses may not be compatible with your particular camera.
OUR MACRO FAVORITES
Nauticam CMC-2 Macro Lens
With up to 2:1 reproduction ratio and a comfortable working this distance, the Nauticam CMC-2 lens has outstanding optical clarity and image resolution across the entire frame. The CMC-2 was designed specifically for compact camera. It is the lightest lens in this article for as much reproduction ratio as you get from this lens, making it a perfect fit for macro shooters wanting to capture the smallest critters on the reef.