The Best Underwater Cameras from entry level to advanced
Underwater photography has exploded in popularity over the last decade and what was once looked upon as a specialist activity has thanks to advances in technology and increasing affordability brought the genre into the mainstream. Whether you're looking for simple snapshots to show friends and family, hoping to record marine life, perhaps get a little more creative or if underwater photography has become your raison d'etre - then there is a whole gamut of equipment readily available to suit your demands.
Mobile phone cameras may have made inroads into the compact's traditional territory but they do still offer an easy and affordable entry into the world of underwater photography. Many are small enough to clip onto a D-ring or fit inside a BCD pocket and can be used inpoint-and-shoot mode for the complete novice. For those with a little more know-how the addition of a fibre-optic strobe to provide off-camera flash or accessory wet lenses can be utilised to provide greater control and improved results.
Sony RX100IV / Nauticam NA-RX100IV
This fourth incarnation of Sony's RX100 retains the familiar body style and 24-70mm zoom lensofit's predecessor. With the addition of a new 20.1 Megapixel 1” Exmor RS sensor the camera provides serious improvements in both autofocus and continuous shooting speeds plus the capability to shoot 4k video. Nauticam's close-fitting machined aluminium housing provides access to all the camera's controls via labelled and colour-coded push-buttons and levers.Depth-rated to 100m, it also features an updated fibre optic connection block plus a vacuum check/leak system as standard and is compatible with a variety of add-on lenses.
Canon PowerShot G7 X / Canon WP-DC54
Canon's Powershot G7 X is a pocket-sized 20.2 MP compact camera featuring a 24mm, f1.8-2.8, 4x zoom lens, continuous shooting at 6.5 fps and HD 1080/60p video. With an ISO range of 125-12800, eight white balance presets plus custom white balance, the camera can be paired with the manufacturer's own 40m-rated WP-DC54 housing. Supplied with a removable flash diffuser, the housing also allows the G7X's internal flash to be used with an external fibre-optic controlled strobe. Expansion of the system is provided by a number of third-party manufacturers providing compatible mounts to enable the use of wide-angle and macro lenses.
Olympus TG-4 / Olympus PT-056
Olympus' Stylus Tough TG-4 is not only freeze-proof to -10C, crushproof to 100kg and shockproof to 1.2m but is also depth-rated to 15 metres - even without its housing. Featuring a 16 megapixel CMOS sensor, the TG-4 has a 4.5-18mm zoom lens (equivalent to a 25-100mm on a 35mm camera) and records video at 1080p. Auto, preset and custom white balance settings are available along with a top rate of 5fps for continuous stills. The high-quality polycarbonate housing, also suitable for stablemate the TG-3, gives complete access to the camera's various functions, an optical connection for an external strobe and has a screw mount for Olympus wide and macro underwater conversion lenses.
A step up from the compact camera, the mirrorless – or micro four thirds - camera provides a larger sensor than its compact counterpart but without the bulky mirror and pentaprism mechanism of a full-sized DSLR. This increasingly popular hybrid provides an attractive proposition for many divers and a great system choice for travelling. Dedicated strobes and a variety of interchangeable wet or dry lenses provide the opportunity to shoot wide-angle or macro photography in conjunction with the relevant port selection.
Panasonic Lumix LX100 / Ikelite LX100
With a built-in f1.7-2.8, 24-75mm zoom lens, the aluminium-bodied LX100 has an ISO range of 100-25600 and a stills resolution of 13 megapixels with a burst rate of 11 fps. Offering video recording at 4K, the camera also provides a 4K stills function to utilise different aspect ratios unavailable in filming mode. Ikelite's polycarbonate housing accepts colour filters, wide-angle and macro accessory lenses in addition to the advantage of TTL flash protocol via the LX100's built-in hot shoe with a direct sync cord connection to a compatible strobe. Depth-rated to 60 metres, the housing supports the major camera functions and features a tray and quick-release handle for attachment/removal of accessory arms.
Olympus OMD-EM10 II / Nauticam NA-EM10II
The OMD-EM10 II has a delightfully retro-looking full-metal body, but while its exterior harks back to yesteryear its 16megapixel 4/3” MOS sensor, 5-axis image stabilisation and 8.5 frames-per-second, plus 1080p video recording puts its features very much in the present. Also capable of 4K resolution in time-lapse mode, the EM10 II is compatible with over forty Micro Four Thirds lenses. Manufactured from aircraft aluminium, Naticam's NA-EM10 II compact housing has a single rotating housing lock, dual fibre optic sync ports, shutter release extension and rubberised zoom and focus control knob.
Panasonic Lumix DMC-GH4 / Aquatica AGH4
Camera $1,299.00 www.panasonic.com Housing $1,995.00 www.aquatica.com
With a tough magnesium-alloy body the Lumix DMC-GH4 provides a16.05 megapixel sensor plus professional-level 4K video capability, including focus peaking, zebra settings and luminance control. With ISO sensitivity from 100 to 25,600 the camera also features a stills burst rate of 12 fps, five white balance and three custom white balance settings and benefits from a wide range of interchangeable lenses from various manufacturers. Depth-rated to 90 metres and upgradeable to 130m, Aquatica's marine-grade aluminium housing is ergonomically tailored to fit the compact GH-4 camera and provides full access to its features via double o-ring sealed stainless steel control shafts and push pins. A moisture and vacuum sensor alarm is fitted as standard, along with dual sync strobe sensors and a pair of hand grips with mounting points for strobe arms and accessories. A comprehensive selection of 4/3 Micro series ports and accessories are available as well as an upcoming step-up adapter that will allow existing customers to utilise their DSLR ports with the system.
A top of the range DSLR offers underwater photographers a greater choice of lens and port configurations. Fast focusing, full-frame sensors, manual control, ETTL strobe compatibility plus HD video - in fact everything the serious underwater photographer could demand of a system. But hot on the heels of the DSLR is the mirrorless full-frame camera, offering similar performance and adaptability but in a much more compact form.
Canon 5D III / Hugyfot 5D Mk III
Camera £2,179.99 www.canon.com Housing £2,850.00 www.hugyfot.com
Canon's full-frame 5D Mk III offers 22.3 megapixels, 6 fps continuous shooting and the same fast 61-point autofocus system as the manufacturer's flagship professional 1DX model. However, those looking for even higher definition should take a look at the almost-identical 5DSR and 5DR. Both variations have a 50.6 MP CMOS sensor contained within the same body shell so a single housing fits all three models. Equally adept shooting in still or video mode the camera records at 1920x1080p resolution and offers full manual control from frame rate to audio. Machined from a solid block of high-strength aluminium, Hugyfot's 5DIII housing ishard-anodised, Teflon-coated and pressure tested to 100 metres. Providing access to all major functions, the housing has two rigid handles, a bayonet port mount, bolt closing mechanism and two Nikonos 5-pin bulkheads plus an extra bulkhead for the option ofa HDMI monitor. The integrated HugyCheck pre-dive vacuum system allows the integrity of the housing to be checked prior to diving.
Nikon D7200 / Nauticam NA-D7200
Nikon's high-end APS-C DSLR may have been around for a while in modern-day camera terms in what is a very competitive market but the D7200 still holds its own and remains a popular choice. Featuring a 24.2MP CMOS sensor, 51-point autofocus system, six frames-per-second shooting, 1080/60p video and an ISO range of 100-25,600 the camera has multiple manufacturers housing choices including Nauticam's NAD7200. This 100m-rated housing is 15 per cent lighter than previous versions, allows access to all key camera settings and utilises a patented Multi Controller Pad to duplicate the camera's multi-selector feature. Complete with rubberised ergonomic handles, housing and port lock system, optical strobe connectors and vacuum/leak monitoring, the NA-D7200 is compatible with Nauticam's extensive range of ports and accessories.
Sony A7II / Nauticam NA-A7II
Camera £1,269.00 Housing £2,463.00
Sitting midway between the four-third and DSLR categories, Sony's A7II appeals to serious amateur users and professionals alike by combining a full-frame 35mm 24.3MP Exmor CMOS sensor with a compact, mirrorless design. Features include an ISO sensitivity of 50-25600 and 5-axis image stabilisation making the camera ideally suited to low light photography. With video capability of 1080p the camera is compatible with Sony E and A-mount lenses as well as those from the likes of Canon and Nikon via readily-available adapters. Also available in 42.4MP (the A7RII) and increased sensitivity (A7SII), 4K-capable versions, Nauticam's 100m rated NA-A7II housing is compatible with all three variants. Complete with a Nikonos bulkhead for electrical strobe synchronisation, adjustable handles, a vacuum leak system and the capability to switch between LCD and electronic viewfinders, this setup makes an interesting alternative to a more bulky DSLR system.