Digital underwater photography cameras are incredibly useful devices that help you capture stunning images underwater. Just pack one in its housing and explore the world underwater with new eyes.
This article will list the best 5 digital underwater photography cameras of 2017.
The criteria we adopt for rating the cameras involves multiple parameters:
- The feature set relative to the price, which helps us evaluate its cost effectiveness
- Average rating based on reviews on Amazon, which helps gauge user feedback on the camera
- The frequency of complaints on the website consumerreports.org
- The warranty duration, which plays a pivotal role
- The accessories or extra bonuses that you get with the camera
The Canon EOS 5D Mark IV tops our list of the best underwater photography cameras of 2017, the main reason being the superior full frame sensor of the camera that is responsible for producing brilliant, colour rich images, which have few rivals. The colour tonality of this camera is exceptional, which is so crucial to underwater imagery.
The sensor measures 36 mm by 24 mm and features 30.4 Megapixels in its design. The full-frame sensor can produce beautiful out of focus areas (called bokeh) when you shoot underwater with an extremely shallow depth of field in macro shots.
The camera also features excellent performance in low light conditions (ISO range 50 to 102400), another factor that makes it useful underwater.
What’s more, the camera features 4K video recording at 4:2:2 colour sampling at a price of $3299, which is about $502 more than the runner up that also features a full-frame sensor but lacks the 4K feature. This is a useful feature to have if you also plan to take up underwater video apart from the stunning stills.
The camera has an HDMI output that produces uncompressed Full HD output for recording on an external recorder. The camera pairs well with the Canon fisheye and wide angle lenses, which make a perfect combination for underwater photography. The camera is also equipped with a GPS unit to geotag images.
The camera enjoys a 4.5 on 5 Amazon rating. Aquatica, Ikelite, Nauticam and Sea & Sea are amongst the most popular underwater housings for the Canon EOS 5D Mark IV.
2. Nikon D810
The Nikon D810 is our runner up in the list of best 5 underwater photography cameras. The camera has a great dynamic range and supports a vast ISO range from 32 to 51200. The Nikon is also a full-frame camera with a sensor measuring 35.9 mm by 24 mm, but, at $2797, it is $502 cheaper than the first position holder.
It features a 36.3 Megapixels sensor (which is marginally higher than the Canon)- ideal for later cropping your images without losing much detail. The camera has a flash sync speed of 1/250 sec, which is higher than the Canon’s 1/200 sec and is a useful feature to have for underwater photography.
The camera has an excellent low-light performance. It also features High Definition video, which is useful if you also wish to shoot videos underwater. A fast auto-focus is ideal for use underwater.
Several housings are available for the Nikon D810 including Ikelite, Nauticam, Aquatica, Sea & Sea, and Aquatech. The camera enjoys a 4.6 rating out of 5 on Amazon and is praised for the ability to crop images without losing much detail, thanks to the full frame, 36.3 MP imaging sensor.
The Sony A7II series (A7II, A7RII, and A7SII) ranks number 3 on our list. If you want an exceptional mirrorless interchangeable lens camera that stands above the rest, get this. The Sony features a full frame sensor packed into a small mirrorless body. The camera is ideal for underwater photographers who want to keep their shooting package small with a mirrorless camera but without compromising on the image quality of a full frame sensor.
The camera comes in three variants: the A7II, A7RII, and the A7SII. The A7II offers a full frame 24.4 MP sensor but without the expense of the high-resolution sensor of the A7RII. At $1498, it costs $1200 less than the A7RII, which offers a full frame sensor with a whopping 42.4 MP sensor that produces incredibly detailed images. The A7RII also features a 4K video recording mode, which ideal if you also plan to shoot video underwater at ultra high resolution and detail.
Those wanting to pursue video might also want to consider the A7SII for $2498 instead, which features a 12.2 MP sensor with exceptional low light performance, ideally suited to underwater video use. The ISO can be cranked up to 400,000 on this camera!
The A7RII features optical stabilization built into the camera, which helps minimise shake when shooting underwater. The camera has a 4.6/5 rating on Amazon and is a favourite amongst mirrorless fans who prefer a powerful small camera that can easily fit into the palm of their hands.
4. Sony RX100 V
This is a professional camera in the disguise of a consumer camera. Rated 4.3/5 on Amazon and 5/5 on consumerreports.org, the Sony RX100 V is a beast and a favorite amongst many underwater photographers.
The camera features a blazing fast auto-focus speed in a compact design. It also has a jaw dropping continuous shooting speed of 24 frames per second- the best in class, which ensures you’ll never miss another incredible shot to an under performing camera buffer.
There are instances when one would like to operate the camera as silently as possible. On the RX100, you can simply activate the electronic shutter and turn the sound off to capture silently. The camera is also designed with video professionals in mind (in addition to still enthusiasts of course), and can even shoot 4K video and super slow motion at a frame rate of 960 frames per second!
The camera houses a large 20.1 MP sensor measuring 13.2 mm by 8.8 mm. The camera costs $998 and features an F1.8 lens that guarantees a great low-light performance. The camera, unlike most compacts, offers full manual controls.
Various underwater housings are available for the Sony RX100 V including Nauticam, Recsea, Fantasea, and Ilekite. The camera is ideally suited to those underwater photographers who would like to shoot light with a small camera that is incredibly powerful nevertheless.
One of the best action cams in the market today, the GoPro HERO5 Black features powerful performance in an extremely compact design. At $399, it is also the cheapest. Do not mistake this camera as a fancy toy though- it is one of the most commonly found cameras on professional underwater rigs these days! Thanks to its low weight and powerful wide angle perspective, which is a useful feature to have when shooting underwater.
The GoPro even features the capability to record 4K video, which makes it useful to underwater videographers. The camera also features advanced video stabilization. The camera, by its very design, is made to offer ultra wide angle views right out of the box, which makes it ideal for use underwater.
You can use the GoPro with a red filter to add the reds back into the image when shooting underwater, where blues are everywhere, though reds diminish with depth. What’s more, the HERO5 can be taken to depths of up to 33 feet without the need for any housing at all!
With a housing though, the camera could be taken to greater depths. The camera also has a nice photo performance, though it is traditionally built as a video camera. A RAW file capability has been added to the camera, which ensures a good dynamic range. The camera features a 12 MP sensor and can also shoot in burst and time-lapse modes.
The camera has a rating of 4.2/5 on Amazon and is loved by divers the world over.
The Canon EOS 5D Mark IV features a powerful low-light performance with an exceptional colour fidelity. This is a full frame beast, which offers the very best features at its price, including 4K video. If, however, you do not need 4K video or are a Nikon fan instead, you could consider the Nikon D810, which won’t disappoint, and is also about $500 cheaper than the Canon. You could instead use this amount towards the underwater housing or the strobes, both vital accessories for shooting underwater.
If you want a powerful combination of photo and video features but aren’t willing to shell out $3299 for the Canon EOS 5D Mark IV, you can instead choose the much cheaper Sony A7II series cameras, which are mirrorless and thus lightweight too- an added benefit.
The Olympus OM-D E-M1 II camera is a great alternative to the Sony A7II series and is worth considering for its price. The Canon G7 is also a viable alternative to the Sony RX100 and delivers beautiful, colour-rich images.
The Cheaper Options
You could consider choosing the GoPro HERO5 Black if you aren’t willing to purchase a heavyweight camera. The GoPro HERO4 and 3 versions are also affordable and worth considering if you’re just starting out in the world of underwater photography.