The best underwater cameras and accessories give you a whole new frontier to explore! Either by equipping yourself with waterproof digital cameras or by outfitting your regular camera with underwater housing, you can take things in a whole new direction. The technology for underwater photography has come on leaps and bounds, and these days it’s commonplace to see underwater photographers using professional DSLRs and underwater strobe lights and flash.
In this guide, we’re going to take you through everything you need to know about underwater photography and the best cameras for underwater photos and videos. We’ll discuss the advantages and disadvantages of using natively waterproof cameras versus standard cameras with underwater housing, and we’ll look at the best accessories for underwater photography.
We’ve divided our top picks into sections to make it easier to navigate. However, if you’re already feeling a little lost at sea, click the link below to jump straight to our “Underwater Photography Explained” section, where we run through all the key concepts involved.
You don’t need to spend a lot of money to shoot underwater. There are loads of great budget underwater cameras out there, and provided you don’t need to dive too deep, they will reliably take underwater images and videos. For underwater shooting, you can look at action cameras, which are optimised for video, or tough cameras, which tend to be geared a little more towards photography. Here are our picks from both categories...
Pro: Excellent video stabilisation
Pro: Dual LCD screens
Con: Stabilisation can cause lag
Con: No HDMI port
Waterproof depth: 11m
The best action camera for underwater photography, the DJI Osmo Action is a highly capable and dependable little shooter. While it’s well-suited for stills – capturing high-quality images with that classic ‘action-camera’ perspective – the DJI Osmo Action comes into its own when shooting video.
With a maximum resolution of 4K at a frame rate of 60p and a bit rate of 100 Mbps, the DJI Osmo Action puts professional-quality video in the hands of ordinary users. Best of all, its sophisticated RockSteady image stabilisation system is one of the best in class, making it possible and even easy to capture silky-smooth footage on the move.
Waterproof down to 11m, the DJI Osmo Action is a fantastic way to capture your underwater exploits. You don’t need to sweat the technical stuff, and can just get on with capturing top-notch underwater images and videos.
Pro: Great in low light
Pro: Punchy colours in images
Con: Not much waterproofing without housing
Con: Headline feature unusable underwater
Waterproof depth: 5m natively; 45m with housing
The Insta360 One R Twin edition is a clever action camera – really it’s multiple cameras in one. Its modular design allows the user to swap between the 360-degree module and the 4K module, opening up multiple perspectives and different shooting options. Of course, you’re not exactly going to be swapping modules underwater – and natively, when everything’s sealed, the camera can only go down to 5m.
However, combine it with the Telesin 45M Underwater Housing and it’s a different story. Taking the Insta360 One R Twin Edition down to depths of 45m allows you to really make the most of some of its imaging strengths, such as its strong low-light performance and punchy colours, and allows you to explore different perspectives in the deep.
Pro: 4x optical zoom lens
Pro: Tough exterior
Con: No 4K
Con: Only 8m waterproofing
Waterproof depth: 8m
The Panasonic Lumix FT30 is a great choice of budget underwater camera. It’s a compact tough camera, and while it doesn’t have the high-end video capabilities of the Osmo Action, it does have an optical zoom lens. This allows you to get closer to the action without compromising on image quality.
Shooting stills at a resolution 16MP and capturing video in Full HD quality, the Lumix FT30 is a capable camera in the water and out. Like many tough cameras it has a hard shell that’s also shockproof and freezeproof, making it an excellent choice for all-around adventuring.
There are definitely underwater cameras that can offer you more features and a broader suite of options, but the Lumix FT30 is excellent value, especially for family holidays.
Pro: Very easy to use
Pro: Underwater face-detection modes
Con: No manual exposure controls
Con: Can’t zoom while recording video
Waterproof depth: 10m
It’s hard to find a purer point-and-shoot experience than the Nikon Coolpix W150. It doesn’t have manual exposure controls or anything like that – while this will be restrictive to experienced photographers, it makes the camera a superb choice for families with children. It’s simple enough for a five-year-old to use.
With a range of bright colour options and a hardy tough shell, the W150 is waterproof down to depths of 10m. It also has some handy face-detection modes that work underwater – great for capturing a child’s first swim in the sea! It records Full HD video too, and has a 3x optical zoom lens for getting in close. The 2.7-inch LCD screen makes it easy to monitor your shots, and the sensor does pretty well in low light.
Olympus Tough TG-6 Digital Camera - Red
The Olympus Tough TG-6 joins the ever-growing Tough series of all-weather compact cameras as the flagship model. Designed for outdoor enthusiasts and extreme sports lovers, the TG-6 is waterproof to a depth of 15m, shockproof to 2.1m, crushproof up to 100kg, freezeproof to -10°C, and dustproof. It boasts a bright f2 wide 25-100mm 4x optical zoom lens and 12-megapixel backlit CMOS sensor.
Pro: Can be improved with underwater accessories
Pro: 4K video
Con: Only 12MP stills
Con: Limited manual control
Waterproof depth: 15m natively; 45m with housing
The Olympus Tough TG-6 is probably the best tough camera you can buy right now. As such, it costs more than contenders like the Panasonic Lumix FT30, but if you’ve got the budget then we reckon it’s well worth it. With a native waterproof depth of 15m, it outstrips its contenders in this field, and it also produces fantastic images and videos with its 25-100mm equivalent 4x optical zoom lens.
What really sets the TG-6 apart in underwater terms, however, is the fact that you can add the PT-059 underwater housing to extend its waterproofing depth of 45m. This puts it head and shoulders above its competition, and it’s worth factoring in as well that you can use the Olympus LG-1 LED Light underwater, further augmenting your setup. A fantastic tough camera for serious photographers, the Tough TG-6 is a superb underwater compact camera.
If you’re more serious about underwater photography, an underwater housing is the way to go. These are effectively waterproof shells that fit around a camera, allowing you to still operate the controls while keeping the valuable electronics safe from harm. They tend to be able to handle much greater depths than tough cameras and action cameras, and also have the advantage of allowing you to use a regular camera, which likely has a superior sensor to a standard tough camera. The trade-off is that underwater housings add expense and are considerably more cumbersome than a natively tough camera. But ultimately, if you want to shoot underwater, this is your best option.
Sony Marine Pack MPK-URX100A
The Sony Marine Pack MPK-URX100A allows you to dive to 40m/130ft with your Sony RX100 series camera. Dual gaskets offer double waterproof reliability, and it is designed to perfectly fit the compact the RX100-series cameras whilst allowing use of the built-in flash. It features an accessory shoe to attach an optional flashgun, a large shutter button and zoom levers, and a 67mm filter mount.
Pro: Superb image quality
Pro: Housing works with older RX100 cameras
Con: Battery life is an issue
Con: Short-ish lens reach
Waterproof depth: 40m with housing
The Sony Marine Pack MPK-URX100A is an underwater housing designed to protect the famous RX100 series of pocketable compacts, allowing them to be used underwater. These cameras are so popular that they’ve got seven iterations, with all models still in production, and this housing works with the RX100 Mark V (or VA) and all the models that preceded it.
Producing stills and videos in top-notch quality, the RX100 VA is a superb camera, with a 1-inch sensor that’s far superior to what you’d find in any tough camera. Its 24-70mm equivalent lens covers a good range, too.
The housing itself is highly sophisticated, with double gaskets for total waterproof security. Handily, it also has an accessory shoe, making it simple to attach extras like an underwater flash if you have one. It’s still easy to control the camera with the housing fitted, and any RX100 user will feel right at home.
Canon PowerShot G7 X Mark II Digital Camera
Save £100, was £569
The Canon PowerShot G7 X II brings expert-level control and uncompromising image quality into a classically styled compact small enough to take anywhere. With a 1.0-type sensor, bright f/1.8-2.8 lens and superior DIGIC 7 processing engine, this pocket-sized, large-sensor compact offers DSLR-like creativity when capturing both stills and Full HD video. The camera's 5-axis Advanced Dynamic IS and MF Peaking will ensure pin-sharp focus and steadycam-like footage, while the 3.0" vari-angle LCD with Touch AF permits low-angle shooting and quick fingertip control for cinematic focus pulls.
Pro: Good for burst-shooting
Pro: Built-in flash diffuser
Con: No 4K
Con: Middling battery life
Waterproof depth: 40m
The Canon PowerShot G7 X Mark II has proven popular with a host of users, from amateur photographers to YouTubers. The Canon WP-DC55 Underwater Case is a case specifically for this compact camera, allowing it to be used up to 40m underwater.
The clear-plastic construction of the housing is designed to protect the camera while preserving as much image quality as possible. Handily, it features a diffuser for the G7 X II’s built-in flash (built-in flash is a much more useful tool for underwater photography than it is on land).
While there’s no 4K capabilities on the G7 X Mark II, its Full HD video looks fantastic – there’s a reason it’s become hugely popular among YouTubers. It’s capable of burst-shooting stills at up to 8fps, and has a generous shot buffer that’ll let you capture a good number of images.
Panasonic Lumix DMC-G80 Kit with 12-60mm lens
Free 25mm lens worth £148
The rugged Panasonic Lumix DMC-G80 with 12-60mm lens incorporates a host of advanced technologies and practical functions, including an updated dual Image Stabilisation system. Furthermore, it has 4K video recording capability, with 8-megapixel stills extraction. The 16.0-megapixel DMC-G80 and 12-60mm f3.5-5.6 lens work together to deliver distortion-free, high-quality videos and stills.
Pro: Class-leading depth rating
Pro: Excellent image stabilisation
Con: Ships without lens port
Con: Can’t use built-in flash
Waterproof depth: 61m
The mirrorless Panasonic Lumix G80 is a highly capable camera that’s ideal for underwater exploration, and this is made possible thanks to the Ikelite Panasonic Lumix G85/G80 Housing. Providing access to almost all camera functions, this is a well-engineered housing that’s ideal for serious underwater photographers.
The Ikelite housing is rated to depths of 61m, and features an ergonomic control layout that makes it almost as easy to operate the camera underwater as it is on land! Having the G80 at your disposal also means such useful features as 4K Photo Mode, which allows you to extract an 8MP still from 4K footage. Crucial for ensuring you never miss the moment!
The clear polycarbonate body of the housing is rigid and strong – perfect for exploring the deep seas! While the camera’s on-board flash won’t work in the housing, it is possible to attach an underwater strobe, to ensure you always have light when you need it.
Canon PowerShot G1 X Mark III Digital Camera
The Canon PowerShot G1 X Mark III joins Canon's G-series range of high-end compacts as the flagship camera for enthusiasts and professionals. Boasting a large APS-C 24.2MP sensor, Full HD recording, a 3x optical zoom lens (24-72mm f2.8-5.6), and Dual Pixel CMOS AF, the Wi-Fi enabled G1X MK III packs superb DSLR image and movie quality into a stylish, lightweight body that's easily portable.
Pro: Generous APS-C sensor
Pro: Stunning images and videos
Con: Shorter zoom range
Con: f/2.8-5.6 maximum aperture
Waterproof depth: 40m
One of Canon’s flagship compacts, the Canon PowerShot G X Mark III is a hugely impressive machine. Packing an APS-C sensor into its relatively diminutive body, it offers image quality that’s streets ahead of any tough camera. Its lens is a 24-72mm equivalent optic, with a variable maximum aperture of f/2.8-5.6.
Having the Canon Waterproof Case WP-DC56 allows you to take the G1 X Mark III down to depths of 40m. The case features a built-in diffuser for the on-camera flash, and offers easy access to most camera functions.
With Canon’s Dual Pixel CMOS autofocus system and good high-ISO performance, the PowerShot G1 X Mark III ticks a lot of boxes for underwater photographers. It’s basically a little DSLR, and merits serious consideration for any underwater photographer.
Types of underwater camera
Pocketable and affordable, action cameras are the simplest type of underwater cameras. They tend to be distinctive cube shape. A prominent example would be the DJI Osmo Action.
Action camera advantages: Extremely portable and able to take a pounding, action cameras are also generally equipped with impressive video specs – so much so that they are sometimes used in professional filmmaking. Action cameras can often be extensively customised with bespoke or third-party accessories, and have sophisticated features like 3-axis video stabilisation. For watersports and shallow-water adventures, they’re superb.
Action camera disadvantages: There’s a reason that the wide-angle action camera perspective is so distinctive – it’s the only one they can really produce! The small design of an action camera generally prohibits an optical zoom lens is included, which limits the user’s options. They also lack other basic camera features like a built-in flash, and generally can’t be submerged much deeper than 10-15m.
Tough cameras (or underwater compacts)
In many respects, these resemble entry-level compact cameras, but with the difference that they are housed in a protective shell that protects them from water, dust, bumps and other outside dangers. They are physically larger than action cameras, and tend to be brightly coloured – which helps if you drop them in the water.
Tough camera advantages: Unlike action cameras, tough cameras can field an optical zoom lens, meaning you can get closer to your subject without any loss in quality. They are more comfortable to hold without a grip than small action cameras, and tend to be very easy to operate, which makes them good for children and beginner photographers.
Tough camera disadvantages: Tough cameras resemble entry-level compacts in more ways than one – they tend to have a very small 1/2.3-inch sensor, which can inhibit their light performance in low light. They also don’t tend to play well with accessories, meaning what you see on the box is pretty much what you get.
Underwater camera housings
These aren’t cameras exactly, but instead are a way to convert your regular camera into a machine capable of shooting underwater. They are waterproof shells that encase a camera completely while still allowing access to its controls. In sheer quality terms, this is the best option for underwater photography – any professional underwater photographer you see will absolutely be using a housing setup.
Underwater camera housing advantages: As mentioned – it’s all about quality. No more do you have to put up with small sensors or minimal features; with a housing, you can get professional image quality underwater. Housings tend to be rated to go much deeper than tough cameras or action cameras, further expanding the user’s options.
Underwater camera housing disadvantages: High-quality cameras are already large, and putting a housing on them only makes them larger! The added expense also means the stakes are higher if something goes wrong. Also – and this can vary from housing to housing – sometimes an underwater housing will restrict certain functions, most commonly a camera’s built-in flash unit. This can necessitate buying more accessories, further adding to the cost.
Underwater photography accessories
There are plenty of accessories for underwater accessories that can make life much easier when you’re shooting in the deep. Here are a few options to consider
Being able to effectively use flash is a hugely important part of underwater photography. Available light is significantly reduced once you get underwater, and this only gets more pronounced the deeper you go. There’s no point in finding the coolest underwater subjects if all your camera is capable of capturing is a muddy blur.
On-camera flash really comes into its own when shooting underwater. On dry land, the conventional wisdom holds that on-camera flash is mostly best off not used, as it tends to create a harsh and unflattering light on a subject. Underwater, however, this isn’t a problem. Some underwater cameras are equipped with built-in flash, and some underwater housings allow you to access and use the flash on the camera.
If this isn’t the case, however, then it’s worth picking up an underwater light to make sure you always have illumination for the job at hand. The Olympus LG-1 LED light, for example, is a really good choice, providing both constant illumination and a ring-flash for video and stills alike. There are also bespoke speedlights available for specific underwater systems, like the Nikon SB-N10 Underwater Speedlight for the older Nikon 1 series of compacts.
It’s hugely important to have a good memory card equipped in your underwater camera to record and store all the images and videos you take. When shooting underwater, more so than on land, you want to make sure you get a high-capacity card, as you won’t exactly be able to swap it out for a new one while you’re mid-shoot! Check which type of card your camera is compatible with before buying, though it will very likely be a Secure Digital (SD) card.
We’d recommend choosing something like the SanDisk 128GB Extreme PRO 170MB/Sec UHS-I SDXC Card, as these cards are not only high-capacity, but also waterproof! This gives you an extra layer of protection in case a moment of clumsiness causes a very unfortunate accident near the water.
Underwater cameras may be hardened against water ingress, but they don’t float! If you drop one while swimming, it could spell disaster, so it’s a good move to get an inexpensive wrist strap so you can keep it secure. This means you can swim without having to keep a secure grip on the camera at all times.
We’d recommend something simple like the Peak Design Cuff Camera Wrist Strap, as this will create a secure hold on your camera while also allowing for quick separation thanks to Peak Design’s bespoke anchor system. You can browse our full selection of camera straps here.
So, you’ve got your underwater camera and it’s time to get started with underwater photography! Here are a few tips and good things to remember so you can ensure you get the best images possible.
Try out the gear before you dive
Whether you’re using a simple compact camera or a more complicated setup involving a housing, it’s worth making sure you’re comfortable using it before you head underwater. Figuring out how a new camera works can be tricky enough – no need to make it harder on yourself by trying to do it underwater! Spend some time online making sure you’re comfortable with your camera controls, and you’ll maximise the effectiveness of your time underwater.
Don’t shoot alone
This goes double if you’re diving, but even if you’re messing about in shallower water, it pays to have a buddy there to look out for you. Try to always be with at least one other person on your underwater shoots, and you’ll be able to keep an eye on each other in case something goes awry.
Shoot in RAW if you can
It’s murky down there, and you may find that even with flash, your camera struggles to pick out details. If your camera gives you the option to shoot in RAW format, you will find that it gives you much more latitude to get a usable image when you come to editing the shots. Shooting in RAW will also mean you have to worry less about settings like white balance – can be fiddly to change underwater – as you’ll be able to correct any issues in post.
Remember how depth affects your images
The deeper you go underwater, the less light you’re going to have to work with. Skin tones will look pretty vibrant just below the surface, but once you start going deeper, they’ll start to lose their lustre and look quite drab. You’ll get more of a green/blue colour cast too. Using flash and, again, shooting in RAW are good ways to counteract this.
The lack of light underwater significantly reduces your camera’s vision, even with flash, and this means you need to be much closer to your subjects than you would normally. As a rule of thumb, try to get closer than you think you need to for the best results.
Dive in the sun
For all this talk of the lack of light underwater, one of the best things you can do to mitigate the issue is simply to try and time your underwater shoots for bright sunny days! You’ll be amazed at the difference it makes, particularly to the quality of the water near the surface, and you’ll find your images look much better as a result. Just remember to use sunblock!
Here’s a quick overview of some of the key terms you will encounter in underwater photography.
Q: How long can underwater cameras stay submerged?
Each model of underwater camera will have a different rating here, and it’s important to familiarise yourself with the relevant starts for your camera or housing. Water pressure is a powerful force, and if any device spends too long underwater it can potentially be compromised.
Q: Can you use underwater cameras above water?
Absolutely! Many are tough cameras that are designed to be used in all sorts of extreme situations such as freezing temperatures or dusty conditions.
Q: When did underwater photography start?
It’s older than you think! The first underwater photograph was most probably taken by an Englishman named William Thompson. An avid underwater enthusiast, Thompson constructed a metal box that was effectively the first underwater housing, in order to shoot an image on wet collodion plate.
Q: What lens is best for underwater photography?
As we’ve discussed, underwater photography is characterised by a lack of available light. This means that any lens used should have two qualities – a larger maximum aperture to maximise the light that hits the sensor, and a short minimum focusing distance that lets you get up close to your subjects.
Q: What should you wear for underwater photography?
Assuming you don’t have your own wetsuit, you should really just wear clothes that are comfortable. If you’re photographing another person (or being photographed yourself) then a good rule of thumb is to wear long, flowy clothes that will move with the water, for more visually interesting results.
Here are some more of our expert guides and round-ups...
Read more: Here's some more great tips for underwater photography
- Shooting underwater with the Nikon 8-15mm FX Fisheye
- Under the surface underwater photography with Lexi laine
- Underwater filmmaking - testing the EWA Marine U A100 housing
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About the Author
Jon Stapley is a professional journalist with a wealth of experience in a number of photography titles including Amateur Photographer, Digital Camera World and What Digital Camera. See more of his writing on Jon's author page.